Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Council Tackles State Legislation, Mobile Home Tensions Persist

Tonight, the Santa Clarita City Council met to discuss an agenda bristling with provocative phrases: “military base closures”, “marijuana dispensaries”, “date rape drugs”. But with little of substance to do about these issues, it was actually a short meeting. The council took some stances on state legislation, the boogeyman of high-speed rail was summoned, hundreds of thousands of dollars were thrown at the SCV Economic Development Corporation, and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar scolded a couple of residents for keeping him from dinner. It was all over well before 8:00.

Mobile Home Park Rent: Strained Discussion Continues
Unforuntately, I missed the invocation (to have been delivered by Councilmember Acosta, a rare chance to probe the quietest councilmember’s mind). Fortunately, I missed the awards and recognitions portion of the meeting as well (I know they’re all good and deserving groups, but…). Thus, we pick up in the middle of public participation.

Ray Henry used his phone to play an excerpt of a clip from a recent legislative subcommittee meeting where Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar and Councilmember TimBen Boydston serve as delegates. In the full clip, Doug Fraser asks for public participation at the end of the meeting. Boydston suggests that they’ve just accomplished that by having gone around the room and taken comments and questions, but Fraser contends that the agenda specifies additional public participation. He gets three minutes, which he spends speaking about mobile home park rent ordinance increases and preferential treatment of park owners compared to park residents. He closes his comments by saying that more people are ready to speak. City Manager Ken Striplin jumps in and says, “I think there’s a matter of interpretation…” He states that the City has answered Fraser’s requests many times and that there has been ample opportunity for the public to comment on mobile home park matters. Bob Kellar adds, “We did permit Mr. Fraser to make comment after we adjourned…we stand adjourned.” As Kellar gets up to leave while the rest of the room remains seated, Fraser tries to stop him, saying, “There’s people that would like to talk!” However, Kellar exits the room. He doesn't have a confrontation, he just states that the meeting is adjourned and he leaves.
Once Ray Henry finished playing this recording, he played one from a different situation in which Kellar could be heard saying, “Don’t ask out leaders, tell our leaders. And if they don’t listen, let’s get them out of office by means of the voting booth.” To add insult to injury, Henry closed his comments by telling Kellar he didn’t expect an apology: “You do have an issue where you do not apologize.”

In response tonight, City Manager Ken Striplin said that there have been many meetings about mobile home park rent increases, and he said that "in excess of 300 to 350 [public record] requests” from residents/advocates have been fulfilled by the city clerk.
Kellar's response was more pointed. He claimed that he put in the time his seat demands: “Over the years, I have probably spent 30 to sometimes 40 hours a week on my responsibilities as a city councilmember.” That said, he contended that there are limits on what can be expected of him. The meeting in question had been called to discuss legislative issues, not mobile home park ordinances, so he felt that it was inappropriate for mobile home park residents to try and steer the meeting to address their concerns. "I’m gonna tell you straight-up:  my wife had dinner on the table and we had a couple coming over. And if you think that I’m gonna set there till midnight because somebody decides to come in and hijack my life, think again. That was not the purpose of our meeting and I found that--you talking about rude, that is rude, and I think people should have more consideration for the council, for staff, and the whole process. My opinion.”

Public Participation on Other Matters

Steve Petzold wanted to know if body cameras would be provided for local law enforcement in light of all the use-of-force events in the news. He thought they were an important consideration. Petzold also attended an LA Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting, and he was disappointed by “how that operation operates.” It was a long meeting, and some members left before issues had been fully discussed. He said Ventura was very strongly represented there, and its agricultural interests have stated that Santa Clarita should be fined.

Cam Noltemeyer used her three minutes of public participation to discuss chloride wells. She said that deep well injection is not a good solution to the chloride problem, and she asked if there’s a conflict of interest between the sanitation district “serving the public and serving Newhall Ranch.” Per usual, her point wasn’t quite fully articulated, but Boydston discussed a perhaps related issue. A while ago, the City received some funds back from a water fine it paid. These were taxpayer dollars, and they had to be used on water issues. Boydston asked for clarity about what the money would in fact be used for. He was told the funds would go to increase treatment capacity at “the plant that Newhall Land was conditioned to construct….west of Interstate 5.” Boydston asked if funds from existing Santa Clarita residents were being used to benefit not themselves but Newhall Ranch. The response from Kevin Tonoian was wanting in specifics, but he said increased capacity would be a “regional benefit.”

Roundup of Additional Comments

A few other items worth noting arose during staff and council’s comments. City Manager Ken Striplin said they’re actively tackling water restriction issues. He said the grassy medians are a primary target because there are four miles of them, but the logistics of replacing all that turf and trying not to let co-planted trees die complicates things. Bob Kellar asked to agendize a discussion about naming the bridge at Golden Valley and the 14 “Connie Worden-Roberts Bridge.” He said the late community activist was known as Santa Clarita's “road warrior”, so it would be a fitting tribute.

Mayor McLean said, “One really important thing: On April 27th, at 7pm, at Canyon High School, we’re asking every single resident who can possibly make it to come out to that emergency meeting regarding high-speed rail coming through our community. We need to stick up for ourselves.” McLean hoped for numbers not seen since the fight against Elsmere Canyon—she said at least 1,500 people need to show up.

Consent Calendar

Items on the consent calendar included support for a state bill (AB 266) that would regulate marijuana dispensaries and preserve local authority to regulate or ban dispensaries. Cam Noltemeyer spoke in support of the concept, but expressed some misgivings about the language of the bill. Her worries were, perhaps, allayed when Ken Striplin and TimBen Boydston said everyone was on the same page about trying to keep marijuana out of Santa Clarita (well, dispensaries at least). Bob Kellar added that Colorado has found that legalizing marijuana wasn't as lucrative as hoped, stating, “Maybe it wasn’t the cash cow they thought it was going to be.”
All other items were approved with the recommended actions and without discussion. It was a mix of even more state legislative issues that could end up impacting Santa Clarita. Included was sending a letter of support for the LA Air Force Base, which could be part of closure/realignment efforts. A letter in opposition to a bill requiring district-based elections in cities of over 100,000 people would also be sent. Additionally, the City supported a measure to make possession of date rape drugs a more serious offense.
The council also voted in favor of giving $200,000 per year for the next three years to the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. CEO Holly Schroeder, Diane van Hook, and others (Flemwatch Alert!) were present at tonight's meeting, but it seems their mere presence was enough to secure the funds. With them, the SCVEDC will continue to try and attract more jobs and businesses to Santa Clarita, or at least take credit when businesses do relocate here.
There was only one speaker for the second round of public participation. It was Doug Fraser, and he said that the Brown Act clearly indicates when legislators have to allow public participation. He held up the agenda from the legislative subcommittee meeting that had been brought up earlier, pointed to the line where it said “public participation”, and promised to keep speaking on behalf of mobile home park residents. City Manger Ken Striplin contested his claim, saying that as a non-regular meeting of the council that public participation on other items wasn’t required. Councilmember Weste said she was sympathetic to mobile home residents. However, it was clear that she was worried about a document which they had received from mobile home park owners which threatened litigation over “regulatory taking” if the City Council did too much to adjust rent increase rates. “It’s not easy, and we’re already being threatened,” she said. With that, the meeting ended.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Future for SCV Intersections, Fire Stations, and BMX Families

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting did away with red light cameras at intersections, solidified support for a community fighting installation of a powerful telecommunications tower, and saw the dream of a local BMX track take hold. Depending on whose view of the future you believe in, this means that months from now, intersections will be about the same or have become total death-traps; a big cell tower will have been avoided or will be bathing north SCV in radiation; and a BMX track will be within reach or remain as far off as ever. With so much of the future contingent on so much else, who knows...let's stick to summarizing the recent past.

Welcome Spring

For her invocation, Councilmember Laurene Weste remarked on how blessed we are to be experiencing such a lovely spring and encouraged people to enjoy the outdoors. Fittingly, the City was then recognized as a "Tree City USA" since it has a $2+ per capita budget for urban forestry and hosts an Arbor Day event.

Public Participation

Elaine Ballace, clad in canary yellow, spoke about a perceived imbalance in the accessibility of councilmembers to mobile home park owners compared to mobile home park renters. In the wake of new information affecting the City's mobile home park ordinance, she said that many councilmembers had met with park owners, but her own requests for meetings between councilmembers and residents have gone unfulfilled. "You should take a meeting with the people...they need to be represented!" she scolded, loudly.

Al Ferdman spoke about drought, water conservation, purple pipe network (the type that carries reclaimed water) and laid out some ideas for improving Santa Clarita's water efficiency. The following speaker also addressed water issues, specifically deep well disposal of fracking wastewater. He wanted the council to take a stand against polluting water supplies in the name of oil extraction. The direct connection to the SCV wasn't apparent.

A few speakers also rose to ask the City to build a BMX track. They argued that BMX racing is a wholesome family activity and were dismayed that they have to go to Simi Valley to reach the closest tracks. After a short burst of applause for one of the BMX speakers, Mayor McLean said, "We kind of have a rule where applause isn't allowed." She then explained that the proper way to show support is to raise one's arms and shake one's hands as a visual analog of applause. So routine are Mayor McLean's explanations of proper applause procedures that the City Clerk should probably just give a demo at the start of meetings, like a flight attendant.

Steve Petzold announced formation of the "Save Open Space--Stop Deep Well Injection in the Santa Clarita Valley Committee". That's SOS--SDWIITSCVC for short. It's on file with the State and everything. Petz explained that the goal of the group is to keep an eye on billboards, deep well injection projects, and other unwelcome additions to Santa Clarita's open space. He also suggested that Councilmember TimBen Boydston should take a position on the sanitation district to better represent Santa Clarita's interests.

Dennis Conn made a characteristically memorable appearance at the podium. He spoke on a wide range of topics, including the selling of Christmas trees to local sand/gravel magnates, his wish of stocking the Santa Clara River with trout, and his hope that councilmembers received Blarney Stones for St. Patrick's Day.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to several of the speakers. To the BMX crowd, he said that a track was part of Santa Clarita's master plan for the sports complex, but it's part of the final phase of construction and there aren't enough funds to build a track right now. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar asked Striplin to counter Ballace's assertion that the council hadn't been meeting with mobile home park residents as much as they've met with owners. Striplin said that there have been "several community meetings," and Councilmember Boydston mentioned that he has personally spoken to Ray Henry and Doug Fraser about mobile home park residents' concerns. Ballace was not appeased.

Updates from the councilmembers followed. Several mentioned the recent KHTS bus trip to meet with politicians in Sacramento. Mayor McLean said that she met with the Governor's chief environmental aide on the topic of chloride mandates and fines. After Santa Clarita decided to look at alternatives to deep well injection, some LA Regional Water Quality Control Board members threatened to rescind the timetable of goals Santa Clarita must meet to avoid fines. McLean said the aide "would contact the chair of the committee and ask him to not touch the time frame." She also spoke to some officials about whether deep well injection induced quakes are exempt from being covered by insurance, and she said answers will be coming from Sacramento. Finally, McLean brought things back to the very local scale and encouraged residents to support keeping a post office in Newhall. She said it serves some older people who rely on being able to walk to the post office. That old people who use the post office are confined to a small region of Newhall was news to me, but apparently it's just not useful in the present Stevenson Ranch location.

Consent Calendar

The items on this evening's consent calendar included awarding a contract to design a new bike trail in Newhall, acquiring 174 acres of open space near Pico Canyon Park for $1.9M, and renovating the Valencia Glen Park pool. There wasn't much discussion, and all the items passed with the staff-recommended actions.

Red Light for Redflex

Redflex is the company that operates Santa Clarita's red-light cameras, and the City's been contracting with them on a month-to-month basis after questions of the cost and effectiveness of camera enforcement arose. Before the City Council considered continuing use of the cameras, traffic engineer Andrew Yi made a presentation. He started with some dramatic videos of near-collisions (and one actual collision) that have taken place when vehicles make left-hand turns on red lights. Mayor McLean gasped "Oh my goodness!" after one of the clips, and the audience was likewise on-edge watching the footage.

Yi explained that Santa Clarita has seen fewer per capita collisions and deaths on the road since the early 2000s, when the cameras went into place. Crucially, he was referring to all accidents/collisions, not just the type caught by red-light cameras, a point that would be made later. He said the decline was the result of many changes to the roadways, not just the addition of cameras. Overall, most types of collisions did decline at intersections with red-light cameras, except for rear-end collisions, which increased. If all of this sounds a bit convoluted, that's because it was: too many changes have taken place on Santa Clarita roads to clearly credit red-light cameras with specific changes in traffic accidents. One issue that was clear was that the cameras cost more to operate than they generate for the City; it's about $200,000 to keep up camera enforcement each year. Overall, Yi summarized the issue by saying that there are about 4,600 red-light violations at the seven monitored intersections each year, and he predicted that removing cameras could lead to more collisions and would require more sheriff enforcement.

Public speakers followed. First up was Scott Dwyer, a motorcyclist. He said that despite his vulnerability to being broadsided by left-turning cars, he didn't feel the cameras were effective. Jennifer Pack, a local mother, told the story of her red-light violation next. She said she was in a long-turn lane for a major intersection and had to make a split-second decision about whether to stop sharply or try to make the yellow light. (Most of us would call this "driving", but  she dramatized the turn rather effectively.) She said it's hard to guess as durations of turn arrows and yellow lights vary, so she felt she had been trapped when she triggered the cameras. The huge fine really hit her family budget hard, and she said the cameras needed to be taken down. Several more speakers followed, including Jay Beeber and Jim Farley, who have been the two persons perhaps most dedicated to fighting red-light cameras. Both brought up data questioning the effectiveness of cameras, suggested other "fixes" (like changing the duration of yellow lights), and pointed out that red light camera enforcement is on the decline throughout California.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar was the first to respond. He said that his experience in law enforcement taught him that it was necessary for a person to make judgment calls about running reds, not a camera. He had supported the cameras in 2003, but he felt engineering changes had mostly addressed intersection safety and that the cameras were no longer warranted. That is, not all violations are the same. Councilmember Dante Acosta said "I really object to these cameras on Constitutional grounds alone." He said that he's never gotten a red-light ticket, but he thinks they're an expensive burden on residents that mostly generates money for the State. It w

"This has never been about money, this has been about safety," said Councilmember Laurene Weste. "I can't put a price on your family...if you take them [cameras] away behavior will change, and some of you will have losses...there's no way to take away a person's grief when they've lost a loved one...cause I've had grief, I know what it is; I've seen people at funerals of their children, the loss of their family, and it is gut-wrenching." This was perhaps not the best thing to say while sitting directly next to Councilmember Dante Acosta, who lost his son in war. He didn't respond immediately, but a bit later on in the discussion he brought up the death of his child. He did this to make the point to Weste that he absolutely knew what grief and loss were, so he took the decision to remove cameras and the possible consequences of that action very seriously.

At this point it was 2-1 in favor or removing cameras, and Councilmember TimBen Boydston spoke next. He asked Yi how many fatalities have been caused by turning left on red, and the answer was none. This helped illustrate Boydston's contention that the cameras aren't doing much to prevent fatalities or change the behavior of people in the same way additional law enforcement might. He suggested an "incredible deterrent" might be to leave video cameras running on all major intersections, just without the associated red-light tickets. That way, motorists would know their behavior was on record and could be reviewed if there was a major accident, but they wouldn't be penalized for crossing an intersection tenths of a second too late. Boydston moved to end the operation of Redflex red-light cameras, and Bob Kellar seconded the motion, but Mayor McLean wanted a chance to speak before the vote.

She asked city staff a series of questions that began rhetorically: "How much would it cost to have seven officers and seven locations 24 hours a day?" (A lot.) She then got clarification that the cameras take pictures of license plates and drivers. This was an attempt to counter Boydston's earlier point that people do weird, unsafe things to avoid red-light tickets, including pulling down the visors so the cameras can't get a picture of their face. However, City Attorney Montes would clarify that a face picture is a requirement to enforce the ticket, so McLean was wrong in thinking that a photo of a license plate was enough. The conversation was more of the same for a whie thereafter, with Mayor McLean seeming somewhere between rhetorically questioning and legitimately confused. "When does the camera get triggered: does it get triggered on the yellow light or the red?" Her ultimate points were two. First, she said she hears far fewer brakes screeching and crashes after enforcement began at an intersection near her home. Second, she thinks it's dumb to run red lights, period. "I am really fearful if we take away the opportunity for tickets when people are dumb enough to run a red light. [Audience reacts audibly--many had spoken about missing a yellow by fractions of a second.] You don't think that anybody who runs a red light is dumb? I do. [Laughs. Audience reacts more loudly.] Alright! Alright! I'm not going to argue with you."

More discussion followed, and a representative from Redflex made a not terribly effective stand for the cameras. As a vote neared, McLean asked Boydston if he'd be amenable to a substitute motion for just a one year suspension followed by a review of changes in collision rates. Kellar and Boydston were not receptive, and the vote was called after McLean said, "Gosh sorry that you won't consider some viable options." Acosta, Boydston, and Kellar voted in favor of removing the cameras, and McLean and Weste voted against them, so the motion passed.

LA-RICS Installation Strongly Opposed

The final item of the night was consideration a communications tower set for construction on county-owned fire station property in Santa Clarita. It's part of the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) aimed at improving communication reliability for public safety agencies. Residents had only found out they were going to be living near a tower when construction began--there had been no prior outreach.

Anna Mooradian spoke on behalf of Mayor Antonovich. She said that at a meeting, Antonovich had made a motion to request an extension of the grant funding LA-RICS (this would take off the pressure to build towers immediately), halt construction at all sites except those completely unopposed, and to get a report on the possibility of co-location of other communication infrastructure. More outreach and meetings had also been called for. Residents and speakers from the fire department stated their opposition to the building of a communications tower at Fire Station 108 in Santa Clarita.

The City Council was united in feeling that the staff recommendations on the matter were too weak. So rather than asking for more meetings, outreach, and the exploration of new sites, Weste and Kellar pushed motions to express opposition to the towers more broadly. With some input from City Manager Ken Striplin and City Attoenry Joe Montes, Striplin summarized his understanding of the council's intent as being "opposed to any sites within the City of Santa Clarita." The vote was unanimous, and the City of Santa Clarita will also withdraw from the LA-RICS Joint Powers Authority, but since it's county land, the decision still lies in the county's hands.

The final round of public participation brought up more people in favor of building a BMX track in Santa Clarita. Councilmember TimBen Boydston joked that the $200,000 saved each year on red light cameras could be used to build a track. More realistically, Ken Striplin sais that staff could explore whether constructing a cheap interim track would be possible. And then, the meeting ended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No Deep Wells for Stanch, Elsewhere Fair Game?

Tonight's City Council meeting saw old issues handled in newly unsatisfactory ways. Mobile home park owners and residents are still feeling in limbo--ordinance discussions have been continued to an undetermined future date in light of new information. This left deep well injection as the primary issue about which to agonize. The council was united in opposing brine disposal wells in Stevenson Ranch/Westridge, but it split when it came to recommending no deep wells for chloride brine be built anywhere in Santa Clarita. The Stanch-dominated crowd grumbled throughout the proceedings, especially when assured that they were getting what they asked for. The only thing that prevented noisier protestations was the fact that the meeting to officially determine the fate of deep well injection will be on Wednesday the 11th.

"Show me the suffering"

For the invocation, Councilmember TimBen Boydston read a prayer by Cesar Chavez. He prayed, "Show me the suffering of the most miserable, So I will know my people's plight...Let the Spirit flourish and grow,/ So we will never tire of the struggle." Some of the more narcissistic in the audience may have imagined the golf course chloride well was the struggle of which he spoke, but Boydston explained that he had chosen to recite Chavez's prayer in light of the approaching commemorative holiday.


Public participation began with Elaine Ballace, who has come to loathe the City Council for its actions (or inactions) relating to mobile home park rents. Her mother lives at one such a park, and she doesn't think her golden years are looking very bright: "You want to kick her to the curb. Before you kick her to the curb, though, you're going to take every ounce of money she has, then kick her to the curb, call the cops and go, 'Well, she's homeless and she has no money.'" Ballace, whose speaking style is perhaps best described as loud, won applause from the audience. "There is to be no applause in the chambers," warned Mayor McLean in response. This was the first time--but far from the last--that Mayor McLean would demand the audience stop clapping so as not to disrupt the meeting.

Next, Teresa Curtis, a resident on the Pacific Crest neighborhood, brought a new issue to the attention of the council. She explained how Fire Station 108 is located on Rock Canyon Drive in the midst of their community. A new communications tower is being installed there as part of the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) for public safety agencies. Curtis explained that they had no advance warning and no opportunity to comment on the project, which had already begun construction. She said this was concerning because the cell tower will emit radiation that she felt could endanger the health of residents. Several other speakers from the community followed, echoing her sentiments and calling for the City to step in and stop the tower from being built. One woman brought up her whole family while she spoke and said, "I'm coming from a communist country, Hungary, OK? And I'm in shock, I'm shocked, that this is happening in the United States." Fire Captain Lew(is) Currier spoke in his capacity as a union director. He said that out of health concerns for firefighters and residents, the LA-RICS tower should be studied carefully, especially if it will be used for co-location of other commercial communication structures.

Since the Station 108 tower was the main topic of public participation, Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez came to the microphone to respond. He explained that because the fire stations are owned and run by LA County, the City of Santa Clarita cannot "opt out" of LA-RICS, which is what many communities with private fire/police forces have done. David Perry, a field deputy for LA County Supervisor Antonovich (I guess "Mayor Antonovich" now), explained that his office asked for construction on the tower to cease until public outreach takes place. He said they were "somewhat blindsided" by the fact that Motorola had begun construction already. A spokesperson from the company managing the project said it will be up to the LACO Board of Supervisors to determine if colocation of other communication towers will be prohibited; under present agreements it's technically allowed.

The City Council--particularly Boydston, Kellar, and McLean--was very receptive to the community's concerns about the project. Mayor McLean was already prepared to call for a new site to be found, but this sentiment was viewed as somewhat premature by Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar City Attorney Darren Hernandez. Still, the issue will be discussed at a future meeting, and a letter of concern will be sent to Antonovich's office.

Consent Given

Most of the consent calendar items concerned bookkeeping and general city services. Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked that a new program involving Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing not be used with single-family home developments. It's a program which lets energy-saving improvements be paid over time with property taxes. Boydston was also worried that money borrowed under this program is paid back preferentially before private mortgages, etc. (it's part of the property tax) and wanted to look out for the banks. He suggested that banks which have issued mortgages on a property must approve. City Attorney Montes told Boydston that the council could make its participation in the program contingent on bank agreement. It was a bit of a thorny issues, so Mayor McLean stepped in and said, "Perhaps we need some more work on it." Thus, Item 7 was continued, and the recommended actions for all of the other consent calendar items were approved.

A brief public hearing followed. The always succinct Erin Lay explained that a needs assessment had just been completed for the Community Development Block Grant Program. The council received the summary of the needs survey, but no further action was taken.

Mobile Park Owners Dismayed

Last week, mobile home park residents dominated the conversation about revisions to the City's mobile home park ordinance. They described constantly increasing rents, few park improvements, and frustration with the ordinance process. After their testimony, the council agreed to lower the standard annual rent adjustment floor from 3% to 2.6%. This rather modest change was met with dismay from mobile home park owners and managers.

One manager called the standard adjustment shift a "game changer". Most others agreed with him, saying it wouldn't allow them to keep up with costly improvements and maintenance. Mindy Johnson, manager of Parklane, said that talk of rent increases and the ordinance has been disrupting her community. She claimed people have been knocking on doors trying to win support with "false information and scare tactics." Johnson promised that, "We pride ourselves on having very strong resident relations...morning coffee is always available for residents to stop in and say 'hi'." Nancy Must, who manages two of the mobile home park communities with better resident-owner relations (at least based on public comments), said operating expenses have increased by an average of 4.3% per year. She commented, "Possibly there is no one size fits all...I hope that you'll go back and you'll discuss this."

In addition to speakers on behalf of management and owners, many renters were present in the audience. Most chose not to speak. In support of the residents, Doug Fraser did some math. He challenged the assertion that Parklane was facing financial difficulties. "He [the owner] has 400 spaces averaging $900 a space rent. That's $360,000 a month, times 12 months is $4,300,000 that he receives." He said Parklane is suffering from bad management, not low revenue.

Ray Henry and a couple of residents also spoke. However, the City Council did not, because City Manager Ken Striplin explained that new information regarding the ordinance would need to be reviewed. "The continuance is to a date uncertain," he said--definitely no earlier than April. A portion of meeting attendants left at this point, but most of the audience was there to talk about chloride wells, so the room stayed mostly full.

The Discussion Before the Discussion

Say what you will of Stanchers--they get their stuff together in a hurry. Maybe they're late to deep well injection and maybe they're very late to chlorides in general, but tonight's speakers were up to speed, had hired attorneys, and had very specific goals. However, the council wouldn't hear from them for quite a while, having to get their own stuff in order first.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked City Attorney Joe Montes whether there was any conflict in discussing deep wells when two of five councilmembers also sat on the sanitation district board. Montes said that, after conferring with the counsel from the sanitation district, he felt the matter could be legally discussed. The conversation was a bit longer and more convoluted, though. Some of the confusion resulted from previous conversations over whether it would have been proper to vote on chloride treatment preferences. Suffice it to say the conversation could be had by all members of the council, and it was.

Councilmember Laurene Weste was very eager to read a motion she had prepared in opposition of placing any wells on the west side of Santa Clarita. She read it several times, in fact. The motion got a second from Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar. Boydston thought they could do more. He said, "I think a more appropriate motion would be to move that the Santa Clarita City Council oppose the TMDL of 100 milligrams [of chloride] per liter for treated wastewater in the Santa Clarita Valley, oppose deep well injection of treated wastewater anywhere in the Santa Clarita Valley [cheers erupt from audience] and support the withdrawing of the S-DEIR for deep well injection from public circulation and suspend indefinitely the call for public comment of the said S-DEIR." Mayor Bob Kellar was quick to respond. "We have been fighting and fighting and fighting..." He said the sanitation district has been the greatest of allies to the Stanchers, and it was unrealistic to think that sweeping changes could be made. He warned the audience of the LA and State Water Boards, which are forcing the City's hand with the threat of massive fines. "I wish that you could have been in the room in some of the meetings that we have had...and they've backed up what they have threatened."

Councilmember Acosta said he felt that discussing the EIR was "opening a can of worms." He felt it was very much a conversation to be had by the sanitation board, not the council.

Eventually, Mayor McLean spoke. "I would like to add to the motion...I truly believe that we need to pursue with the state to have the limit raised to a reasonable level which will completely do away with having to put anything anywhere." Applause followed, and she added that she'd like the state to put a moratorium on fines until matters were resolved. Of her motion, she asked, "Do we wish to hear the speakers first before we vote?" Before that could happen, there was more discussion.

"Sounds like you're agreeing with TimBen," said Councilmember Acosta to McLean. She wasn't ready to accept this, saying, "Well not quite...the motion that Councilman Boydston made was way stronger." The mayor argued that her motion wasn't suggesting that Santa Clarita would ignore state mandates, but rather that it would try to work with the state to come up with new, more reasonable chloride limits. Councilmember West began pushing her motion again, promising that a new site wouldn't be on the west side of the SCV or in any populated areas, attempting to play to the crowd. "It's not going to be this area!" she promised. Mayor McLean suggested the motion be revised to state that no wells would go by any homes. Boydston asked how far away from homes she would propose the wells be. "Oh come on!" replied a tiring McLean.

"Are we going to listen to the speakers before we vote?" asked Boydston, in an attempt to move the conversation forward.. The audience applauded. Mayor McLean said, "Would you like to have a vote on your motion and then discuss my motion? [Montes came to the microphone, shaking his head to indicate this wasn't the right procedure.] No?  Not first--can't do that? Nevermind." Thus, the public finally got a chance to speak--after an intermission.

Stanch Speaks

Comments began with John Yoon. He spoke with a great deal of feeling, and his arm motions were equally demonstrative, though not quite synchronized with his spoken points. He got to the main argument of the Stanchers--that deep well injection "does not belong under any neighborhood!"--very quickly. He advocated for a pipeline to the ocean for disposal instead, or using trucks to carry ultra-concentrated chloride brine to a disposal location. The audience was amused by and supportive of the colorful speaker.

Kim Sloane said, "I'm encouraged by what I've been hearing." But she was a bit troubled to have received a flyer that was attempting to clear up deep well injection misconceptions. She pointed out that the fears refuted on the sheet--injection causes earthquakes, it's fracking, etc...--were not real misconceptions harbored by residents. They merely stated that deep well injection could increase the probability of earthquakes. It was a risk factor, not a sure thing.

Allen Meachem spoke for Boston Scientific, which has hundreds of employees in Santa Clarita. He said the project made it harder to attract workers to the valley. He wanted them to consider different methods, not just different well sites. He said Princess Cruises had also submitted a letter on the record in favor of other disposal methods that would be better for their employees' safety/peace of mind. Boston Scientific's attorney, Peter Gutierrez of Latham & Watkins, spoke after. He pointed out problems with the EIR. And he wasn't the only outside attorney/expert brought in on the issue. In short, the Stanchers had done a lot to show they would fight deep wells not just on their side of town, but in the whole community.

Al Ferdman made a financial case for the feasibility and cost effectiveness of building a brine line to the ocean. The audience got very excited as he made his points, noting that with grants, savings elsewhere, and other considerations, building a pipeline was mere percentage points more expensive than drilling deep wells. I didn't get all the numbers he dropped, but it sounded persuasive on the surface, and the audience was certainly on board with paying a little more for a pipeline instead of wells.

Many other speakers came forward, suggesting that earthquakes could be triggered far away from injection sites, worrying about migration of brine up through abandoned oil fields, and even stating that the golf course would be rendered less desirable. A big financial point was that the mere perception of more danger from deep well injection could diminish home values--several repeated the idea that perception trumped scientific studies when trying to market a property. The second big financial point was that earthquake insurers wouldn't cover quakes triggered by non-tectonic processes. This was very worrisome to homeowners, who weren't convinced the wells would be seismically neutral.

Lynne Plambeck was perhaps the sole voice not entirely in agreement with everyone else. She said pollution limits exist for a reason. Even if chloride levels are low in Santa Clarita compared to other watersheds, the underlying Clean Water Act is absolutely essential to protecting the public and the environment. She was trying to challenge people who spoke dismissively of meeting TMDL mandates and who wanted to challenge compliance with water laws.

Motions, motions, motions

The City Council discussed the matter for a considerable amount of time once speakers had finished. There was a great deal of confusion over what the motions were, which motions could be made without overstepping boundaries, and so on. There was even more confusion about the proper language for stating that an EIR would be effectively killed--is withdrawing the same as suspending?Mayor McLean asked City Attorney Montes for advice on a few occasions, and at one point he replied, "You're running the meeting..." to reinforce the obvious: the council gets to decide how it feels about the deep well site. At one point, he told the exasperated mayor, "You can vote yes, you can vote no, or you can abstain." Were he not working at the pleasure of the council, I think Joe Montes could have gotten even sassier.

The City Council first decided to support the position of no deep well injection for chloride disposal in the Stevenson Ranch area. Everyone agreed on this, and Stanchers applauded the unanimous vote.

Boydston made some individual motions next. He motioned that no deep wells be considered for anywhere in the Santa Clarita Valley. Councilmember Dante Acosta was somewhat reluctant to interfere with the sanitation board, but he said that since they were just making statements/recommendations for the board, he seconded Boydston's motion. Before the vote, Kellar angered some Stanchers. He said, "Folks, honestly, we've accomplished everything that you were hoping to accomplish. We genuinely have... I don't want to take something off the table that we might be regretting." The Stanchers forming the bulk of the crowd bristled at this, as they had very cogently communicated their wish for no wells anywhere in Santa Clarita--in line with Boydston's motion. It was plain to see they had not "accomplished everything."

On the vote, Boydston and Acosta voted for no deep wells anywhere, Kellar and Weste voted to leave that option open, and McLean abstained. City Attorney Joe Montes explained that her abstention would be considered a vote in favor of the motion per council rules. McLean quickly shouted, "No!" at this. She clarified it wasn't because she was in favor of deep wells, but because she thought it was improper to discuss at council rather than the sanitation board.

Deep into another discussion about the EIR and opposition to chloride mandates, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar was starting to get frustrated. He saw the threat of fines as very real, and he had little patience for any more discussion of alternatives or movements he regarded as unlikely to succeed and very likely to result in more fines. When he concluded his speech, Councilmember Boydston said he had another motion to make--for a longer comment period on the EIR, if it's not withdrawn. At this, Kellar asked, defeatedly, "City Manager, can we order breakfast?" It was decided that the EIR would be cancelled and, in the unlikely event it wasn't, the comment period would be extended. (Weste and Kellar voted no, but Acosta, Boydston, and Kellar got it through.)

Finally, Mayor McLean encouraged working with the state to have the TMDL for chloride raised "to a reasonable level." She got a second from Boydston, and she told the crowd, "I'm going to take you up on your offer, to work with us on this." The whole council voted for this motion, and the crowd was also supportive.

The meeting ended with McLean dismissing most people from making a public participation comment, as they had submitted cards to speak on a topic already covered earlier in the evening. This has become a newly enforced policy under McLean, and it's gotten less grumbles than I would have imagined. The meeting ended after 10.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Deep Well Injection Visual

If you're like me, it's hard to visualize the relative depths and distances involved with deep well injection. These wells, of course, have Stevenson Ranch in an uproar: based on the current proposal, millions of gallons of brine will be injected beneath their community as part of efforts to remove chloride from wastewater. Visualizing might not be absolutely necessary, but it's interesting. So here are two simple figures constructed carefully to scale (sources/calculations below if you want to check my work).

The main takeaway? The new site is only 800 feet north of the former proposed site. If you're worried now, then you probably should have been worried before. Other takeaways? Our feelings about these matters are all a matter of scale.

Heights & Depths
*Six Flags Sky Tower height = 385 feet

*Hyatt Regency height = 73 feet

*Two-story house height = 25 feet

*Minimum deep water well injection depth = 9000 feet
"...injecting it some 9,000 to 13,000 feet under the ground."

*Six Flags to Hyatt Regency = 10,800 feet
Measured with Google Earth Pro

*Old deep well site to new deep well site at Tournament Players Club = 800 feet
"Consequently, the SCVSD proposes to develop an alternate site located approximately 800 feet north of the original location"

*Maximum daily disposal = 500,000 gallons of brine, which fills a 40.6' cube
From p. 392 of pdf
"...construct a deep well injection (DWI) facility to dispose of up to 0.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of brine..."
cuberoot(500,000gal * 1ft^3/7.48gal) = 40.6 feet, so a cube of 40.6 feet/side holds 500,000 gal brine

*Maximum yearly disposal = 182,500,000 gallons of brine, which fills a 290.0' cube
From p. 392 of pdf
"...construct a deep well injection (DWI) facility to dispose of up to 0.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of brine..."
cuberoot(500,000gal/day * 1ft^3/7.48gal * 365 days) = 290.0 feet, so a cube of 290.0 feet/side holds 182,500,000 gal brine

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mobile Home & Stanch Residents Ask Council for Help

Tonight, affluent Stevenson Ranch dwellers and struggling mobile home park residents found something to bring them together: frustration with the Santa Clarita City Council. The crowd from Stevenson Ranch was upset about a proposal to dig wells for chloride brine disposal in their community. The crowd from mobile home parks was upset about plans to have a 3% floor on annual rent increases. Both groups found a council that was very ready to listen to their concerns but less ready to satisfy them.

The Kid Can Cook

The meeting began, of course, with recognitions and presentations. Fox’s MasterChef Junior is a TV competition in which kids aged 8 to 13 cook restaurant-worthy dishes and then usually cry. SCV’s own Jimmy Warshawsky competed this season, and he made it to the top four before being eliminated. Mayor Marsha McLean applauded his strong showing, saying, “I thought that you totally deserved to move forward.”

Next, representatives from UCLA Health spoke about how they are markedly increasing their presence in Santa Clarita. Some 100,000 square feet will likely be in operation by 2015, covering everything from digestive health services to dermatology. Locations are presently on McBean Parkway or Tourney Road. A woman from their marketing branch spoke next. Her tone was somewhere between eager and aggressive—they really, really, really want to become part of the community. She promised UCLA Health will be seen everywhere in Santa Clarita. They’ve already started outreach including event sponsorship and using a “huge, giant, inflatable colon” to educate people about colon health.

The Disposal Proposal

All of the speakers in the first round of public participation addressed plans to dispose of brine in wells near (or even under) homes in the Stevenson Ranch area. Many of the Stevenson Ranchers (hereafter “Stanchers”) said they had just heard about the issue, so here’s a quick summary if you’re among them: Santa Clarita has been compelled to lower the chloride (salt) levels in its wastewater. The target chloride levels seem to have been set arbitrarily low and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reach the target, which has upset many people for many years. Nonetheless, plans have been drafted to remove salt by reverse osmosis, which generates concentrated brine in the process. The current proposal is to dispose of this brine in wells thousands of feet deep. The proposed site for the wells somewhat recently moved to an undeveloped portion of the Tournament Players Club. This has greatly upset and mobilized residents on the west side of the valley. They understandably don’t want to live with a brine disposal field thousands of feet beneath their feet. In short, the City has to find the least sucky option to get rid of excess salt in its water, and right now the plan is to dump it underground in Stevenson Ranch.

The first speaker was Gary Morgan, president of the Westridge Estates HOA. He wanted the City Council to take an official position on deep well brine disposal, so he requested that they “Please put us on your agenda so we can be heard.”  A couple of speakers tried to personalize the proposal. “It needs to be put somewhere where there aren’t families,” one woman said. Others brought up the possibility of earthquakes that might be triggered by deep well brine disposal. One man said that, when he first heard of the issue last week, it was so outrageous that “It sounded like a joke.” All of the comments had the same basic message: (1)Move the wells, and (2)Agendize the matter so the council can formally promise to support moving the wells.

Mayor Marsha McLean was the first to respond. She informed the crowd that they were speaking to the wrong people. “We don’t like what we’re being mandated to do…and we tried very hard to fight it. We ask you to help us to help you.” The mayor wanted the Stanchers to redirect their energies and efforts to contacting the water control boards and the governor’s office. That is, McLean wanted them to target the people behind the chloride mandate that’s the root of the problem. Mayor Pro Tem Kellar supported McLean’s comments and stated, “This has been put upon us by the State of California.” Each time McLean or Kellar said something about the matter being out of their hands, the audience grew more restless. By the time McLean said, “We’re not the ones who can help you…you need to understand how the process works,” people were actually yelling to challenge her words.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston successfully read the crowd and seized the moment. McLean and Weste are on the Sanitation District Board, so he challenged the idea that they were powerless to do anything about the deep wells slated for Stevenson Ranch. “They absolutely do have the ability to change where those wells go!” he proclaimed. Thunderous applause boomed from the audience in response. Boydston went on for a few more minutes to even more cheers. He was the only councilmember who explicitly acknowledged that chloride mandates from the State of California was an issue separate from the choice of how to dispose of chloride brine. In other words, the council-dominated sanitation board could choose a different means of chloride disposal or select a different location to satisfy the underlying requirement.

Boydston’s approach did not sit well with Mayor McLean. She said, “Some of the statements that have been made are simply not correct and are not true. I mean it’s great to speak and incite a room, but it’s also necessary to show some integrity and tell the truth.” But the Stanchers were already Boydston’s. Amidst growing discontented murmuring she tried to tell the crowd that they needed to hear the history of the issue. “We are on your side!” she exclaimed, but they simply wouldn’t have it.

At this point, Councilmember Laurene Weste lulled the frenzied crowd with a wearisome account of the chloride issue. She went all the way back to the 1970s and the Clean Water Act, recalled the effort to eliminate water softeners, and finally got back to the present day issue. It was unduly tedious.

The City Council offered a lot of comments on this non-agendized item, which isn’t the norm, and they agreed to put it on the agenda for what will likely be an even longer, more heated discussion next week.

A Hiccup of Consent

The Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions and with few remarks. It included an item to widen Golden Valley Road Bridge at a cost of $6.4M. Alan Ferdman spoke in support, thanking the council. Two other items involved issues in Old Town Newhall. One demolished an old building on Lyons, and the other addressed the legacy of redevelopment funds

Mobile Home Ordinance Update Explained

To the surprise of many Stanchers, there was another big issue to discuss tonight. After years of meetings and dismayed public comments, Santa Clarita's mobile home park ordinance had been updated and was presented for a first reading this evening. The ordinance regulates the relationship between mobile home park owners and residents and it has been in place—and largely unchanged—since 1991.

Erin Lay presented the item in a crisp and efficient manner. She explained that there are 16 mobile home parks with about 2,000 spaces in Santa Clarita. Lay summarized the current ordinance as costly and difficult to interpret for residents and owners alike. The City of Santa Clarita has spent over $250,000 in the past three years to administer the ordinance. Registration fees, which are supposed to cover these administrative costs, cover only 8% of the amount. Appeals, consulting, and legal fees are particularly expensive, she explained.

The entire ordinance was inspected and revised, with some whole sections cut out. Key adjustments included expanding noticing requirements for rent increases and reducing the number of reasons which owners can use to justify non-standard rent increases. Staff also created an appeal petition form to help residents.

The real sticking point, however, was the annual standard adjustment. The revised ordinance proposed keeping a 3% floor and 6% ceiling on these rent increases. They’re in place to let owners collect more rent as maintenance costs grow over time. The ceiling is intended to protect residents from unreasonable increases but, as Lay would explain, the ordinance was “not intended to create affordable housing or rent control based on residents’ income.” This was the subject of nearly all comments from residents.

Two Languages, One Message

Doug Fraser, a familiar advocate for mobile home park residents, got the ball rolling. He spoke on behalf of an audience member whose anxiety precluded her from public speaking (though she seemed alright with yelling that she had an anxiety condition from way back in the audience). He explained that she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to afford increased rent. Fraser said he’d be speaking on behalf of more residents, but Mayor McLean nixed that plan, stating that people had to speak on their own behalf. An interpreter was present for Spanish-speaking residents, she explained. Fraser felt that not allowing someone to speak on another’s behalf violated the Brown Act, but City Attorney Joe Montes didn’t agree (though his language was a bit equivocal).  

Al Ferdman stated that he felt the mobile home ordinance issue had festered, and he said the council should have to hear final appeals and stand by their decisions. Next, several park owners (or their representatives) came forward to speak. Most felt that the new ordinance added clarity and that the 3-6% standard adjustment was fair. They claimed they had agreed to compromises.

Ray Henry, another familiar face on this topic, said that residents have had to rely on costly appeals because there were multiple interpretations of the same ordinance. He said they were forced to take matters into their own hands because the City wouldn’t step in. “If you cannot fix something properly, don’t break it more than it already is.” At this point, Mayor McLean asked people applauding for Henry not to applaud. Mayor McLean often uses time to tell people how time-consuming applause is rather than letting the applause play out; I don't know if she breaks even or not. From the back of the room, Elaine Ballace yelled, “The rich people can applaud!”. (McLean had told the Stanchers not to applaud, but she relented after a while, which is what Ballace was referring to. Some Stanchers were sitting to her left and nodded in approval of mobile home park residents’ right to applause.)

Felipe Rosas was one of several speakers to say of Latino residents, “We are a little bit afraid of speaking up.” Another speaker said she was speaking on behalf of many others who “were not brave enough to speak.” But ultimately, many residents did speak. With the help of an interpreter, Fausto Martinez said, “Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t contribute with any improvements. We don’t have a playground for the kids. So the owner is getting the money for his profit.” A lack of property improvements was a common complaint. Others spoke about how they worked hard but don’t necessarily receive raises while rent can increase annually. “Help us” was a refrain heard several times. One man pointed to the “In God We Trust” motto on the back wall behind the council. He said, “I’m asking God to touch your hearts.”

Beth Simon, who sits on the mobile home panel and lives in one of the parks, said “I am pleased to support the changes made.” The self-described “happy camper” felt that her park was great but understood other parks might not be managed as well. She was dismayed that so many who spoke tonight had not shown up to prior meetings. Cam Noltemeyer, who spoke immediately after, addressed Simon’s complaint with a snappy, “I assume they didn’t show up because they were probably trying to work.”

TimBen’s Curious Speech

When the time came for the council to respond, Councilmember Dante Acosta spoke first. Since the standard adjustment is intended to keep pace with the CPI-U, he proposed lowering it from 3% to 2.6%, the average increase. This was quickly seconded. He also cautioned against going any lower, noting that mobile home parks are on flat land which developers are often keen to buy up. That is, mobile home park owners have to get enough income to want to keep the parks rather than sell them for a housing tract.

Councilmember Laurene Weste suggested lowering the ceiling to 5%, and she asked City Attorney Joe Montes to clarify the legality of adjustments and how they’ve held up in court. Montes said that slight adjustments tend to fare well, but major adjustments may be overturned by the court in the interest of protecting the owners’ rights.

Everyone was more or less on the same page, but Councilmember TimBen Boydston felt that he needed to take a chunk of time to really address the concerns of Latino residents. He may have had good intentions, but his speech quickly turned into a bizarrely condescending attempt to assure mobile home park residents that their concerns had been heard.

The build-up to his speech was heightened by the fact that the professional interpreter had left at the last recess in the meeting since everyone had turned in their interpretation headsets. This led Mayor McLean to wonder if the meeting could continue, and another recess was called to look for an interpreter. During this recess, a man who volunteered his services from the audience was angry he wasn’t being used, and Councilmember Dante Acosta tried to talk him down. (In the process, Acosta explained that he’s very comfortable listening to Spanish but less comfortable speaking it.) Staff clamored to find an interpreter and then to get the headsets to work. It was a bit of a mess; City Manager Ken Striplin even got up out of his seat to try and sort out the headset situation.

The situation was resolved by getting management analyst Elena Galvez to act as an interpreter-who’s-not-an-interpreter-by-trade. She spoke into the microphone for the whole room to hear. Since she was caught a bit off guard by this new role, TimBen spoke very slowly. His gestures were pronounced and he dipped in and out of an unintentionally (I think) affected Spanish accent. For example, “increase” turned to “eencreese” and “owners” turned to “ohnairs.” I believe this was done because Galvez wasn’t a practiced interpreter so her delivery was slow and he was trying not to go too quickly, but it was a very awkward presentation in its own right. He began: “I have a heart for those who work so hard. My father came from the dustbowl back in the 1930s to California for that dream. He picked beans in the fields of Oxnard for two dollars a day. He did that so his children could have a better life, the same that you are doing for your children.”

Here are a couple recordings--you can decide if he assumed an accent or not.

After expressing this solidarity and understanding, he tried to justify his support for a 2.6% floor on rent increases. “So when we are considering this very important ordinance it’s important to know that we are looking at both sides.” And this is where it got a bit condescending: “For there to be more house built, for there to be more buildings built, we need people who will build them. So if we make the rents too low, then there is no profit or there is no money for the owners. Then there won’t be the new housing.  But this community is very expensive to live in so we have to find a balance.”

In the end, the 2.6/5% floor/ceiling were approved, and this item will be back for a second and final reading at the next City Council meeting. Mayor McLean closed the remarks with her own unfortunate attempt to connect with Latino residents, offering a soft, “Gracias.” Then she said “Oui…” and laughed that she had slipped into French.

Final Stanch Remarks

Elena Galvez was excused and received applause for interpreting on the spot and while feeling ill. A couple of speakers had stuck through the entire meeting to convey their own remarks on the deep well brine disposal slated for Stevenson Ranch. Al Ferdman thanked everyone who had come from the west side and channeled Boydston when he proclaimed, “They did not mandate deep well injection!” And, like Boydston, he received applause. Jerry Young called the deep well solution a non-permanent fix, explaining that they’d have to find a new spot every 50 years. He also cited USGS studies which had concluded that earthquakes could be triggered by deep well disposal. Allan Cameron told the council that they had not pursued all of their options to appeal fines levied for inaction on chlorides. Trevor Pooley asked for the council to lead, pleading, “We need leadership.” Comments concluded with Marilee Christofferson, a mother of five (a fact she reminded us of more than five times). She said, "Two different issues here were being lumped into one issue...we are just asking that this site be looked at and moved so that it's not under our homes any more." She was optimistic they could "fight this seemingly unfightable fight."
Boydston asked why the site had been moved in the first place, and Weste explained that LA County called the original spot a "sensitive ecological area," so it had to be moved. McLean then said, "I cannot tell you how many years I have been waiting for a huge, very effective, very intelligent community to help us fight this thing." Based on the vague pronouns, I know she wasn't trying to insult the SCV, but it still stung my Claritan ears ("Aren't we effective and intelligent like Stevenson Ranch, too?")  
The meeting ended with an adjournment by Mayor McLean over Elaine Ballace, who was yelling that she hadn’t had her chance to speak during public participation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Polticial Grant-Giving (or not), Mobile Home Ordinance Anticipation

If you cannot abide the magnificence of nature and are indifferent to the devastating beauty of wildflowers, just keep scrolling down and you'll get to usual recap.
All of these photos are less than a week old, and all were taken at Towsley, Haskell, or Quigley Canyons.
I’m 41 days into a yearlong project to find 365 species of wild, native plants in the Santa Clarita Valley. That's one plant a day for 2015. They are profiled in real time so you, too, can get out to see our amazingly diverse and beautiful wildflowers.  There are photos, ID tips, and precise GPS coordinates provided for everything from Wright’s cudweed to mountain fringepod to strigose lotus. It's a big challenge that I hope will draw attention to our incredible local flora. Please check it out!

A Quiet Chapter in Claritan History

It took almost an hour and a half to get through an agenda of practically nothing at tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting[1]. Public speakers and a Boydston-McLean spat over the politicization of grant funding ate up much of the time. Suspense was successfully built for the mobile home park ordinance hearing scheduled for the next meeting, which should be somewhere between tense and cataclysmic. But in general, this was a night where not much was said, and not much happened.

Valentine's Day, Punning on Running

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar opened the meeting with some thoughts on Valentine's Day, primarily that it's best not to forget about it. Mayor McLean and much of the audience were positively tickled with Kellar's no-nonsense approach to love and romance; grumpy Bob showed his softer side.

Next, the City Council applauded the efforts of those who organize the TPC West Ranch Art and Wine Gala, which has raised over $700,000 to support the arts in the Santa Clarita Valley. Recognition and esteem were then heaped upon Saugus High School's cross country runners for team and individual achievements. McLean read from a statement rich in puns, such as "These girls aren't afraid to go the extra mile in pursuit of greatness." When the runners and their parents left, followed by the flag salute scouts and their parents, the boisterous crowd became a quiet void.

Ruthann Levison, Chair of the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Commission came to the podium next to outline goals for 2015. She expressed her delight at following the talented group of cross country runners, gamely remarking to the empty room that "they don't have to stay for my report." Lucky them: it was a dull list of very general goals about providing excellent facilities and services. As she summed it up, "Keep doing what you're doing."

Ballace Hates Monologues, Petz Questions SCVTV on Measure S

Public participation began with Elaine Ballace, whose mother is on a fixed income and lives in a mobile home park. Ballace has been frustrated by the prevalence of monologues and the lack of dialogues about the impending mobile home park ordinance. She asked why it makes sense to have a minimum 3% increase in rents each year, reasoning that if the City allowed for smaller increases, residents would spend their savings and generate more sales tax revenue. But mostly, she yelled, asking the audience, "Are you being represented? Are you being represented properly? No! There is no representation." She anticipated that rent increases would leave many homeless, and she told the council, "I think it's time you people had a conscience and left." [Note: In a conversation with Steve Petzold after the meeting, I heard Ballace say that she was working to bring TMZ to record the next meeting, when the City Council officially discusses mobile home park rents. Apparently, she was not able to bring a big enough celebrity to tonight's meeting to get their cameras.]

Allan Cameron and Diane Trautman both spoke about the review period for a supplemental EIR that was recently released. It covers the environmental impacts of the new preferred site for deep-well chloride disposal. They asked for a longer review period--Cameron pointed out the documents are over 600 pages and cannot be adequately reviewed in 45 days. Trautman pointed out that there would be months of continuous drilling for the wells, and she said the supplemental EIR doesn't address groundwater concerns. The Sanitation District which deals with chloride issues is comprised of councilmembers (McLean and Weste).

A spokesman from FPK Security & Investigations described how homeless people have been causing problems at the sites his company monitors. He said there's been a notable increase over the past year with problems ranging from theft to vandalism to intimidation to drug use.

Finally, Steve Petzold spoke on a few topics. He pointed out that Mayor Pro Tem Kellar had improperly worried that Councilmember TimBen Boydston would misrepresent the City of Santa Clarita in chloride discussions. Petzold pointed out that the City has never taken an official position, as City Attorney Joe Montes confirmed at the last meeting. He also spoke about the finances of the Yes on S committee. While they ran ads on SCVTV, their semi-annual report didn't show that any funds had gone to paying SCVTV. It's unclear how much they paid (or if they paid) to have these political ads run online. Petzold said he spoke to Leon Worden who mentioned that "there might be an open invoice available on his desk."

City Manager Ken Striplin responded. He said that the City Council cannot discuss the mobile home park rent ordinance because the Brown Act precludes discussion of non-agendized items. That discussion will come at the second meeting this month. He said the Brown Act would also prevent the council from discussing the new chloride supplemental EIR.

Politicizing Grants, or Not

Reports and updates from the councilmembers were typically dull. It seems most members had visited various local schools to be principals for a day, and all were impressed by the intelligence of local students and the excellence of school staff. Weste mentioned the soon-to-open River Village Park. Acosta said of the Cowboy Festival, confusingly, "We're moving locations this year. It's going to be a great change for this year, hopefully only this year."

Councilmember TimBen Boydston's comments were more involved. First, he asked the Sanitation Board members to consider extending the chloride well EIR review period the next time they meet. He then asked for some clarification on the SCVTV/Measure S issue from the City Attorney, and it seemed the best course of action would be for Petzold to contact the California Fair Political Practices Commission if he thought something improper had occurred.

Boydston then brought up a controversial topic. Every year, the City gives away tens of thousands of dollars in grants to various arts and community service groups. He was curious as to why some organizations had been highly rated (there's a point system) yet had not received funds while some lower-rated organizations did receive funds. In other words, scores and funds didn't match up. Rick Gould, Director of Parks & Rec, came forward to explain. He said that a number of individuals score grant proposals and these scores are averaged. However, the Community Services Grants subcommittee (Weste and McLean) meets and, as Gould put it, "The committee can make adjustments as necessary."

In short, the scores are non-binding. Staff helps read, recommend, and rate, but the recommendation scores can be entirely ignored. Boydston pointed out, for example, that Carousel Ranch, Santa Clarita YMCA, and Gentle Barn had been highly rated but received no funds, whereas some lower-rated organizations did. "So it's political," concluded Boydston. Mayor McLean and Mayor Weste, who were responsible for what Gould termed "adjustments", responded. Weste said, "People aren't just about numbers." She said some highly-ranked organizations have been funded many times, suggesting this is why some other groups were selected to receive funds. Mayor McLean was harsher in her response to Boydston: "You can try to make something out of nothing all the Laurene said, we did the best we could, but just don't be making something out of nothing." Kellar also chastised Boydston, lamenting, "To tell the public that this is a political decision is just not fair." Boydston was not impressed by their arguments. He maintained, "I don't believe for a moment it's nothing." Highly-ranked but unfunded groups, he contended, had a right to be upset.

In short, Boydston wanted the council to fund groups strictly according to their scores. Weste, McLean, and Kellar seemed to think discretionary wiggle-room was either necessary or appropriate. Acosta was silent on the matter.

Consenting, Quickly

The consent calendar passed without discussion, perhaps because it dealt with nothing more than concrete rehab and median refurbishment. Al Ferdman did praise the City for planning to make more water-wise landscaping choices in medians. He recommended that recycled water be used to make things even greener.

Mobile home resident advocate Doug Fraser made a comment explaining how councilmembers and staff could discuss the mobile home ordinance with residents while not violating the Brown Act. Thereafter, the meeting ended.

[1]Here's the agenda.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Will of McLean, Acosta's Long Game

The Santa Clarita City Council is a group of five people whose roles are essentially identical on paper. In practice: not so much. This point was made abundantly clear by Mayor Marsha McLean when it came time to allot committee appointments this evening. Her seniority by title (mayor) and years served (since 2002) led her to self-affirm certain privileges, like taking nearly twice as many committee seats as newish Councilmember Dante Acosta. It was a big powerplay for little practical gain apart from further underscoring the "us" (Acosta, Kellar, McLean, Weste) versus "them" (well, "him", Boydston) dynamic of the City Council.

Unanswered Prayer

Councilmember Dante Acosta opened the meeting with a prayer: "Help us work together for the good of all concerned. We are of diverse opinion here, and yet we wish to reach agreements satisfactory to all. Please bless our deliberations and bring us success this evening. Amen." Several members of the audience amen-ed in response. Many were parents of the Santa Clarita Christian School girls' volleyball team, which became CIF champion. Acosta's own daughter was team co-captain last year, so he was thrilled to announce their accomplishment and call them forward for certificates and photos with the council. The audience size was more than halved when the girls and their parents left immediately thereafter.

A presentation from the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Committee came next. Don Fleming provided some introductory fluff (public-private partnership, never been stronger, 38 board members, blah blah blah) and introduced Holly Schroeder, President and CEO of the SCVEDC, to describe the past year. She said business attraction was challenged by a lack of available space but looked forward to the construction of "sorely needed" new industrial space. The SCVEDC trademarked the tagline "Still golden." (I was surprised one of our many senior living communities didn't grab that inspiring slogan first.) Her speech was at times vague, like when she remarked, "We focused our efforts increasingly and strategically on our target business clusters." All in all, it's safe to conclude that the SCVEDC did some business-y stuff in 2014 and will do even more in 2015. The City Council--and most especially Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar--was pleased.

Tagwell Haunts Council

Elaine Ballace, who regularly speaks out against mobile home park rent increases, addressed the issue in a new way tonight. After staff advised her to speak to the councilmembers directly, she called all of them three times. Only Boydston and McLean replied, so she went pretty easy on them, despite disagreeing with Boydston's contention that Santa Monica faces issues with rent control. Her attacks on the others were crafted based on the biographies posted on the City website. Ballace called out Kellar for claiming he's "available" to residents when he wouldn't even take her call. She said Weste claims to look out for the dignity of seniors and other residents, but asked how they can have dignity if they can't afford to keep their homes. Acosta's biography alludes to his being an actor. She said he has no IMDB credits (a friend of hers looked it up, she explained) and asked how the people of SCV can believe in him when "you mean to tell me you couldn't find one producer in Hollywood to believe in you?" Ballace herself has several credits on IMDB, including "wedding guest" in Robinhood: Men in Tights and "background inmate" in Jailbait.

Steve Petzold spoke next, thanking the City for opening up East Walkjer Ranch for a disc golf tournament. He then asked why the Sheriff's Department didn't get the word out about the tragic disappearance and death of the little girl from Newhall to the community more immediately than they did--several hours lapsed between when they and the community at large found out.

"Is there a George Tagwell out there?" asked Mayor McLean. He had apparently left a comment card but elected not to speak, much to the delight of Santa Clarita Community Facebook users in the audience. They knew the name to be from  a suspicious account set up to support installation of digital billboards when Measure S was in contention. Thus, McLean's question of "is there a George Tagwell out there?" was more apt than she may have known.

Finally, Cam Noltemeyer spoke about an important supplementary EIR pertaining to deep-well chloride disposal in Santa Clarita. She said the supplement came out as a response to SCOPE pointing out that the original site for the wells fell under a conservation easement. The new site would be an undeveloped area of Tournament Players Club Golf Course. Noltemeyer was outraged that this site would endure months of 24-hour drilling of test wells and another half-year or more of continuous drilling for the actual wells.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to a couple of speakers. He noted that the City Council has not yet had a chance to weigh in on the proposed mobile home park ordinance and revisions. He added that a minimum 3% rent increase each year is already on the books, so inclusion of this term in the proposed ordinance would not be a novel policy. He then addressed Petzold's critique of the Sheriff's Department, saying they were too busy investigating the disappearance of the infant to release the information immediately.

No on Trains and Mining, Yes on Post Offices

Councilmember Boydston and Mayor McLean both have eyes on "the train", hoping to keep high-speed rail from bulldozing through any sensitive part of the city. Councilmember Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Kellar, meanwhile, are still trying to work out a solution to CEMEX mining. Weste said Congressman Knight is making it a top issue. (So said McKeon, battle-weary Claritans thought.) Councilmember Acosta described a recent government conference he attended and reminded residents that even when not at City Hall, "We're out there workin', workin' hard for you." Mayor McLean closed councilmember updates by asking for Claritans to contact the US Postal Service and encourage them to keep an office in Newhall, ideally near the one they recently vacated for a site in Stevenson Ranch. My grandma strongly agrees with McLean, for what it's worth.

Olsen's Appeal

Per usual, the consent calendar was full of items relating to transportation and construction contracts. Cam Noltemeyer spoke on Item 7, which approved the final tract map for Five Knolls. She opposed the development, which she felt gives the public little benefit from the "destruction derby." Open space preservation along the Santa Clara River was essential, she said. Councilmember Boydston had to recuse himself from voting on Item 8, which recommended arts and community service grants to many groups, including his Canyon Theatre Guild.

Item 10 required preparation of a list of local appointments. This perfunctory task triggered one of the more contentious discussions of the evening. Julie Olsen asked that the appointment for the North County Transportation Coalition be tabled/reconsidered. Arthur Sohikian, who was hired to lobby for digital billboards along freeways, currently serves on this coalition. She argued that a better representative would be Moazzem Chowdhury or David Barlavi, both of whom are heavily involved in the community. This item wasn't technically the proper place to discuss such a change, but Councilmember TimBen Boydston was sympathetic to her request for reconsideration and asked City Attorney Montes if it could be discussed under committee appointments--Item 14 under "New Business." After some prodding, Montes agreed the appointment could be discussed.

And once the consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions, that's the very item the City Council tackled.

Acosta's Long Game

The mayoral rotation brings with it customary transitions in service on committees. The mayor and mayor pro tem usually serve on the key ones, and the many other appointments are shuffled around as needed. Mayor McLean began by reading the committees and the councilmembers set to serve on them. There was a brief discussion of Arthur Sohikian serving on North County Transportation Coalition, but it was clear that he had the full support of Kellar and Weste, so a change in appointment as brought up by Boydston wouldn't be discussed. Boydston would, however, vote "no" on confirming that particular appointment.

Mayor McLean was set to serve on the most committees at 9 or 10--depending on if Eco-Rapid Transit was counted since the City's not a supporting member any longer. Weste would have 9, Kellar 8, Boydston 6, and Acosta 4. Boydston pointed out that it would be fairer to have everyone serve on 7, with the mayor taking 8. The rest of the discussion was spent with him trying to get more committees for Acosta by asking others to give some up. In response, the mayor made a case that her seniority mattered and she had earned her committee appointments. I'd work this out in narrative form, but here are bits and pieces raw, presented in chronological order.

ACOSTA: "I have four committee assignments, and I'd like to, you know, participate in more. [...] I think, uh, Mayor, that puts you up to ten committees at this point."

MCLEAN (interrupting): "Not...I'm going to answer that after we discuss it because you keep throwing around that I have ten committees and I don't really." [...]

BOYDSTON: "When you've been around a long time, then you get to, you know, you get to play in the sandbox a lot more. You get to  make decisions a lot more. And I don't think that it's fair, and I don't think that it's right. [...] It goes to the mayorship as well. You all know I've been here for four years serving on the council with three of you in the past, but when my supposed "turn" [air quotes] came up, it was never even discussed. [...] This lop-sidedness where certain councilmembers seem to be more equal than other councilmembers is nonsense." [...]

MCLEAN: "Everybody likes to throw out that I have a large number. However, now as mayor, there's two that I have to be on as mayor and one does not meet, and um, I actually have six if you take a look at those. We all have different avenues of interest and such, and while it's nice to want to just divide them up, some of us have been serving and serving well, serving this council well, and not everyone can have everything they want. It has been the precedent in the past of the mayor being able to select the committees, and there's been some discussion and some changes are made. However, most of the times it's been respected...except for lately. And, taking committees away from people who really wish to remain on it, it just doesn't seem correct at this point in time. [ Acosta:] You took SCAG away from me and I would like you to not take the League away from me." [...]

BOYDSTON: "As I recollect traditionally, here in the City of Santa Clarita, when a council person is newly elected, they are given their choice of the people they would like to have on, um, the commissions, and as I recollect, you didn't feel that that was an important and necessary thing to allow me to have my first choice on the commissions. That's the first time that's ever happened in the history of Santa Clarita."

MCLEAN: "There may be an opportunity for him [Acosta] to move up."

I'll stop there. In addition to these remarks, Boydston also talked about serving on the sanitation district, but Kellar called him a "loose canon" whom he said couldn't be trusted to properly represent the City. Acosta got the public safety committee seat from Kellar, but things stayed largely the same otherwise apart from alternate spots: it was a clear victory for the status quo and seniority. Voting was a bit confused because there was a substitute motion made in the midst of trying to shut up Boydston, who went on for quite a while, but all was approved in the end.

Interestingly, Acosta had an ask-then-retreat strategy throughout. He stated that he wanted more appointments, and he even named the three big ones he was after. However, so much of what he said was couched in the language of acquiescence or apology--he's the new kid on the block; with all due respect; "that's fine"; etc. It was his way of showing that he wants to be an active councilmember, but he is always ready to defer to the seniority of the others. Basically, I read this as Acosta reaching out to say, "I'm one of you." Indeed, it seemed Boydston was pushing harder for Acosta appointments than Acosta himself. Not to be too speculative, but I daresay we'll accordingly see a Mayor Pro Tem Acosta before we see a Mayor Pro Tem Boydston.

The meeting ended shortly after Stacy Fortner came forward for the second round of public participation. She said she had intended to take a new approach with the council, being respectful, dispassionate, and reserved. However, she became emotional as she sincerely asked the councilmembers to stop their negativity, pettiness, and fighting. "It's hard to listen to you, Mr. Kellar," she said of the mayor pro tem in particular. Kellar himself got a bit worked up as he responded, saying that speaking his mind is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't proposition. Adjournment came at 7:55.
[1]Enjoy the agenda. Really, do.