Big movement on progress towards a new Senior Center, an end to the billboard battle and a new congressman for Santa Clarita – all these things and more have made 2014 an eventful year for our valley. Here’s a recap of the big events that happened this year, as well as a look towards what to expect in 2015.
Major happenings in 2014:
1. The Billboard Battle
A continuing story in the pages of the Gazette, the controversy erupted last January after the city planning commission approved ordinance 14-02. The legislation called for the removal of a large number of billboards along the railroad right-of-way in Saugus and Canyon Country, land owned by LA Metro, the county agency that oversees the railroads.
Metro profited from the rent paid to them by the outdoor advertising companies who operated their billboards on the railroad. In exchange for Metro canceling its agreements with these companies, Metro would receive three permits from the City of Santa Clarita to construct digital billboards along the 5 and 14 freeways.
Community members raised several concerns about the proposal, including the effect of the digital billboards on the environment, the viability of small businesses advertising on them, and the fact that the ordinance was negotiated away from the public eye.
The Santa Clarita City Council approved the deal in February, but a successful referendum drive from citizen group CABB (Citizens Against Billboard Blight) forced the Council to put the measure to a vote of the people. Even though vastly outspent in its campaign against the measure, CABB prevailed, with the ordinance, termed ‘’Measure S’’ at the polls, getting defeated by more than 10 percentage points in the recent November election.
2. Steve Knight’s Victory
Former State Senator Tony Strickland (R-Ventura) seemed to have every advantage a Santa Clarita congressional candidate could need: the endorsement of outgoing representative Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), well-funded Super PACs in his name, and the endorsement of national political figures like former Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. But, it wasn’t enough to ensure victory.
Instead, State Senator Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), armed with a unanimous endorsement from the Santa Clarita City Council and a strong pro-veteran record in the California Legislature, won the 25th congressional seat. Strickland’s attempts to tarnish Knight’s electability by sending out mailers in regard to his strong pro-life stance on abortion and his past relationship with controversial Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) did not stick with the district’s voters, who have been represented by Knight on some level in each of the public offices he has held.
3. Progress Towards a New Senior Center
Late in the fall, the Santa Clarita City Council appropriated $3 million in funds for a new Senior Center in town, matching the amount of money currently put up by L.A. County. The project, spearheaded by the Committee on Aging, a local non-profit, is headed by Patti Rasmussen, wife of Larry Rasmussen, a prominent local developer. According to sources with knowledge of the project, a conceptual drawing for the new center has already been completed and the committee is in the process of choosing a site for the new center.
“I believe the Senior Center is a very important aspect of the city, it performs a very valuable service for our seniors,’’ said Alan Ferdman, president of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee and a community activist.
However, Ferdman argued that the new funds should not go towards a replacement of the current Senior Center in town, but towards the construction of a second senior center to fit Santa Clarita’s immense population.
4. Seven-year Plan to Clean Up Whittaker-Bermite Site is Finalized
This year, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control unveiled a seven-year plan to clean up the ‘’Whittaker-Bermite’’ parcel of land in the middle of Santa Clarita.
The area, 996 acres in total, was owned by Whittaker Corp., Bermite Power Co. and other corporations during the 20th century for the purpose of producing munitions.
A weapons plant was built there, and while the plant was in operation, contaminants seeped into the ground, polluting local water aquifers that served the residents of Santa Clarita.
Two types of contaminants are on the land, according to Jose Diaz, project manager for the Department of Toxic Substance Control. One type is perchlorates, a chemical that experts say is a harm to the thyroid gland; the other chemicals causing concern are volatile organic compounds.
5. Positive News for SCV’s LGBT Youth
Santa Clarita’s gay community had two positive reasons to rejoice this spring. The first was the successful resolution of student protests at last April’s William S. Hart School District Board meeting. Students wore red shirts as a way of demonstrating against the District’s failure to comply with California’s fair education act, legislation passed in 2011.
According to non-profit Equality California, an LGBT advocacy group, the bill requires schools to include information about ‘’social movements, current events, and the history of people with disabilities and LGBT people into existing social studies lessons.’’ It also prohibits the California State Board of Education from advancing any curriculum that discriminates.
At the Hart School Board meeting the following month, Board Member Gloria Mercado-Fortine called on the Hart District’s Assistant Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht to develop a concrete proposal to bring the Hart School District within compliance of the law.
Secondly, late May saw the success of a BBQ celebrating the birthday of gay rights advocate Harvey Milk and LGBT Youth. The event, held at Stevenson Ranch Park, was attended by more than 500 people, according to members of PFLAG, the non-profit that organized it. The BBQ received sponsorship from KHTS Radio, Nissan of Valencia, and many other local businesses.
Things to look for in 2015:
1. Councilman Boydston to Call for a Traffic Study
Councilmember TimBen Boydston is voicing concern about the potential effects currently planned housing developments may have on city traffic. According to the City of Santa Clarita’s current general plan, an acceptable grade for city roads from Los Angeles County is “E,” one level above the failing grade of “F.” This is in stark contrast to the old general plan for the city, Boydston said, which set the target for roads to be graded at a level of either “B” or “A,” the two highest possible scores; although a grade of “C” was also considered acceptable.
According to Boydston, an “A” intersection, for example, is one where drivers who were going the speed limit can approach the intersection, stop and pass through after one green light. In comparison, an “F” intersection is one in which drivers who go the speed limit must sit through several cycles of the stoplight.
“The more housing you build, the more cars you put on the road,’’ Boydston said. “What you have to do is make sure your road infrastructure is keeping up.’’
2. A Potential Snag in California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit
A 2014 agreement between the City of Santa Clarita and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City, who are alleging violation of the California Voting Rights Act, may not come to fruition, due to concerns in Los Angeles County and the State Government.
The solution to the suit, which alleged that Santa Clarita’s current election system diluted the vote of racial minorities, called for two changes. One, the City was to move its elections to the same day in November and year as elections for state and national offices.
Additionally, the City was to employ cumulative voting, a system which gives voters more flexibility in how they use the votes available to them.
For instance, if a city council election occurs in which three seats are up for grabs, voters may cast three votes for one candidate, two votes for one candidate and another vote for a different candidate, or cast a single vote for three different candidates.
Los Angeles County must approve the change in election date. County government officials have shown resistance to the idea, according to sources, who say that the County is concerned about not having enough room on the ballots to include Santa Clarita’s elections.
The cumulative voting change is facing resistance from California government officials, who are the means of approval for that solution. Santa Clarita would be the first municipality in California to use cumulative voting in its elections.
3. Steve Knight to Begin Anew Efforts to Stop Cemex Mine
In one of his last acts as Congressman, Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) introduced legislation mid-November to prevent the controversial Cemex sand and gravel mine from being constructed in Canyon Country.
The mine, which would remove enough sand, rock, and gravel from the area to fill the Rose Bowl 127 times, has long been a concern of Santa Clarita citizens. Residents have worried about its effect on air quality and the fact that it would be built within proximity to local residents and businesses.
Per terms of the bill, the Federal Government would buy out Cemex’s contracts to build the mine. As a way of offsetting the cost of the buyout, the government would sell Cemex 10,000 acres of federal land in San Bernardino County. The bill failed in the Senate after Senator Mark Heinrich (D-NM) protested the idea of the federal government using the sale of federal land to offset the cost of a piece of legislation.
Congressman-elect Steve Knight has pledged to begin anew the effort to stop the mine this January when the new congressional session begins.
‘’That’s our top priority right now: to jump on this quick,’’ Knight said in an interview with the Signal. “I’m going to pick up this torch and run with it.’’
Time is running out for legislative leaders to prevent the mine from breaking ground. After the failure of McKeon’s bill, Cemex released a statement saying that because of the ‘’uncertain political climate,’’ the company would ‘’continue to pursue implementation’’ of the mine while still holding deliberations with the City of Santa Clarita in regards to possible solutions.
Some federal officials, such as Steven Ellis, deputy director for the Bureau of Land Management, argue that the mine is necessary. In Senate testimony last spring, Ellis said that the raw materials CEMEX would be able to produce from the mine are needed to meet current needs in Northern Los Angeles County.
4. Major Developments in the Construction of Castaic High School
According to Hart School District Board Member Gloria Mercado-Fortine, several significant developments are expected in 2015 in regard to the construction of Castaic High School. Among them are the completion of the primary and secondary access roads to the school site, the completion of the pad, or ‘’skeleton’’ on which the actual school will be built, the completion of the bidding process to find a company to construct the school facility itself. Once a company is selected, actual construction of the school should begin in 2015 as well, Mercado-Fortine said.
‘’[The beginning of the school’s construction in 2015] looks realistic and it’s what we’re pushing for,’’ Mercado-Fortine said. ‘’However, I’ve been around several schools now. I thought building Golden Valley was challenging. But this was much more challenging.’’
Mercado-Fortine expects the school’s construction to take 15-18 months, all leading up to an anticipated official opening of Castaic High School in the fall of 2017.