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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Old Woes in the New Year

It's been a while since the last Santa Clarita City Council meeting, but things picked up right where they left off.[1] Indeed, all of 2014's issues are now issues in 2015. Mobile home park rents? Still a thing. Advertising and signs in public spaces? Still a thing. Chiquita Canyon Landfill? Now an even bigger thing. The present looks very much like the past--some people are just sitting in different chairs now.

Great Men and Great Works

To kick off the evening, Councilmember Laurene Weste delivered one of her most puzzling invocations yet. She alluded to the approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but then waxed abstract, talking about America's various other "great men." She described how Teddy Roosevelt saved a lot of wilderness acreage. She mentioned Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. She even detailed Franklin Roosevelt's hopes for the social security system. And then she got to King ("who was also a great man") and civil rights and such. And there, the curious journey ended.

There was but one award to be received this evening, and it came from the august stewards of the Southern California Chapter of the American Public Works Association. They declared the Newhall Roundabout to be the project of the year. Mayor Marsha McLean went so far as to say that it has helped rejuvenate Old Town Newhall. So the next time you drive around that small, circular bit of road, know that it's an award-winning small, circular bit of road.

Public Participation

During the first bout of public participation, several speakers addressed mobile home park rents. The City's draft ordinance calls for annual rent increases of at least 3% and no more than 6%. The 3% floor has many residents upset because they live on fixed incomes that don't necessarily grow as quickly as their rents will. Doug Fraser spoke, per usual, but the most fiery remarks came from a woman speaking on behalf of her mother and seniors: "I think you all should be appalled at your behavior." She went on to say that the city councilmembers should step down if they won't stand up for residents, and she attacked City Manager Ken Striplin for collecting a substantial income while not doing more for mobile home park residents.

The owner of Fiesta Auto Insurance came up to express his dismay that the City won't allow his mascot--a person in a crow suit--to stand on the curb and advertise insurance. You may have seen the Fiesta bird:
City Manager Ken Striplin confirmed that these avian advertisers aren't allowed to roost on public sidewalks.

Dennis Conn, a man we might describe as a "colorful local personality/aspiring politician", rose to ramble. He spent a while describing how his arms were hurt in a bicycling accident, his visions for the future, and his strategy for effecting change, using just one word at a time.

Steve Lee and Cam Noltemeyer spoke about Chiquita Canyon Landfill, which will become the biggest landfill operation in the United States if the planned expansion is approved. Both implored the council to take a more active role opposing it. Noltemeyer said that Elsmere Canyon was outside of Santa Clarita's boundaries when McLean and others fought plans for a landfill there, so Chiquita should be no different.

The topic of the nation's largest landfill operating next door would seem to be the most important thing to address, but what really got to Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar was the story of Fiesta Auto Insurance being unable to advertise via bird costume. He asked that compromises be considered and help be offered. As for mobile home rents, City Manager Striplin said that the ordinance final draft will be presented to the council on February 24th. He said that there have been a number meetings to discuss the ordinance drafts, and that since mobile homes weren't on the agenda, the council couldn't really discuss rents at this evening's meeting. Mayor McLean seized on what Striplin said and suggested that people just needed to be informed about the process. To the contrary, it seems the residents are very much involved in the process and simply trying to stop some provisions (like the 3% annual rent increase) before they come to the council as a final draft.

The Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion was spoken of in mildly sympathetic terms. Striplin and McLean noted that a letter had been sent in response to the draft EIR for the project. The mayor explained, "I don't like landfills. I think landfills need to go away." She wished there were other viable options, but since there aren't, she concluded it's just an unfortunate situation without a clear solution. Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked if there could be another meeting to bring up concerns. City Attorney Joe Montes said these concerns could be communicated, but Chiquita would not be obligated to respond to them in writing.

After covering public participation, the city councilmembers shared news and updates. Several touched on Charlie Hebdo, and there were quite a few remembrances of recently deceased Claritans. The death of 98-year-old Melba Walker was particularly poignant. She was one of the children who lived in the cabins of Placerita Canyon and was truly a pioneer, as Councilmember Weste put it.

Consent Calendar

Nothing on the consent calendar prompted much in the way of support or protest. Cam Noltemeyer spoke on Item 5, which awarded a contract to prepare an EIR for a large mixed-use development in Canyon Country. A project at the site had been proposed before, and she felt they were recycling much of the old work, but Striplin informed her that the project was undergoing a complete, new evaluation.

Item 6 recommended that Accela, Inc., be awarded a contract  to update permitting systems. Boydston was concerned there was no bidding process, but a member of staff assured him that other cities have been "very happy" with Accela.

Alan Ferdman questioned Item 7, in which staff recommended awarding a contract for a reserve study of the city's landscape maintenance district operations. About 1,200 acres are involved, and the study would be used for long-term financial planning. He thought it seemed somewhat redundant with other efforts, and Boydston pursued this notion in conversations with staff, but he was willing to vote for it in the end.

Finally, Jim Farley submitted a written comment expressing his approval of a switch to outdoor LED lighting along paseos in Northbridge.

In sum, the consent calendar passed with the recommended actions on all items.

Public Hearings

After a relatively routine annexation into a landscape maintenance district (protested by a routinely outraged Cam Noltemeyer, who was upset that developers vote to join the districts only to pass costs on to eventual residents), there was a very unnecessarily drawn-out discussion of the Soledad Canyon Road Corridor Plan. I can summarize the plan more succinctly than staff: the style will be the same, only possibly a bit better and more uniform. There was grand talk about "creat[ing] a clear identity" for Canyon Country and "rustic Californian" architectural style, but changes for new development aren't exactly sweeping.

Councilmember Boydston ruined an already over-wrought discussion by making some points about traffic on Soledad. He argued that the plan was based on certain traffic assumptions, and he spoke more generally about the sorry state of traffic congestion in Santa Clarita, predicting the eventual SFV-ification of SCV if something wasn't done about it. Mayor Pro Tem Kellar countered Boydston with a useless anecdote about how quickly he can get from point A to point B on Soledad, contending that it's better than it used to be. In the end, everyone voted for the corridor plan except Boydston, who felt it missed addressing some real issues.

Public Participation, cont.

Stacy Fortner brought up Chiquita Canyon Landfill again. She pointed out that Kellar showed more concern for the auto insurance mascot than the people of Val Verde. "They're not being heard," she argued. A couple from Val Verde also spoke, using a map, news stories, and statistics to build a case that the planned landfill expansion would harm residents and diminish quality of life valley-wide. Patti Sulpizio asked the council "to advocate for us" on the landfill, since it's within the city's sphere-of-influence. Overall, people just wanted the council to give the landfill expansion some consideration and discussion, which has been fairly minimal to date.

There was a bit of a discussion over a point Sulpizio brought up in regard to SCVTV. She recalled that it had run political ads for Measure S during council meeting broadcasts, and she asked if this was proper for a channel so heavily subsidized by the City of Santa Clarita. Boydston took up and pressed her points with City Attorney Joe Montes. Montes didn't see any overt wrong-doing, but he was reluctant to render a firm legal opinion without knowing more details. The meeting ended a bit after 8:30. 

[1]Here's the agenda.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why You Should Help Count SCV's Dinosaurs

Would you be interested in seeing some living, breathing, flesh-and-blood dinosaurs? Well then you’re in luck, because thousands of them call Santa Clarita home, and on Sunday, December 21st, there will be a valley-wide census. We love our dinosaurs, and this count helps us keep track of how their populations are doing year after year. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about taking a dinosaur safari on your own, worry not: there will be plenty of experts to guide you, and the dinos don’t bite—not often, at least.

I probably can’t sustain this come-watch-dinosaurs pitch much longer without making a confession. I’m talking about birds, or avian dinosaurs (things like T. rex and Triceratops are classified as non-avian dinosaurs). They’re the only dinos we have left, so we best keep an eye on them. One of our best means of doing so is the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year marks the 115th annual CBC, a massive effort that will span the Americas and enlist the help of well over 50,000 birders, ranging from amateur bird-watchers to professional ornithologists. Santa Clarita’s count is an invaluable part of the effort.
If counting birds is so awesome (it is), why tease with dinosaurs? Well, Santa Claritans have a miserable record of showing up for their own CBC, instead relying mostly on the efforts of birders who drive up from the Valley or LA. We've got great birds like bald eagles, greater roadrunners, phainopeplas, orange-crowned warblers, and red-naped sapsuckers, to name just a few. But this means little to most Claritans. So I'm unashamedly going the dinosaur route. The SCV CBC may be your best chance to give the whole family the priceless holiday magic that is encountering real life dinos.  
Here's a simple but scientifically sound phylogeny/tree-of-life for Archosauria to prove my point. It shows that while not all dinosaurs are birds, all birds are dinosaurs. 
Whether you call them birds or dinosaurs, there's no arguing that these counts are key to conservation. The nationwide dataset amassed since 1900 is enormous, and it allows for comprehensive analyses of the status of America's birds across space and time. But the counts are even useful at the local level. For example, we can say California quail are undergoing a statistically significant decline in Santa Clarita based on a 10-year time-series, shown below. Who doesn't love these anxious, talkative, crisply-attired little butterballs? And we know their decline is a mathematical trend, not merely an anecdote, so maybe it's time we start paying closer attention.
The total number of quail counted at each Santa Clarita Christmas Bird Count has declined from hundreds in early 2000s to dozens in recent years. Effort among years has remained nearly constant at about 50 hours of observation spread across the SCV.
If you don't know a goldfinch from a golden-crowned kinglet, you can still show up for the CBC and be a big help. Locals who can navigate Santa Clarita or keep tally of the birds people shout out are much beloved but in short supply. So mark your calendars for next Sunday. It's the day to count all the amazing dinosaurs flying around your home town.
Pertinent details:
*Meet at 7:00 am sharp on December 21, 2014 at Western Bagel (Kmart shopping center at Bouquet/Soledad).
*Ready yourself as you would for a day of leisurely hiking: dress in layers, don hat, select boots or shoes that can get some nature on them. Complete ensemble with water, sunblock, snacks. Binoculars ideal, but unaided eyes and ears work, too. If you can neither see nor hear, your enjoyment of this activity will be limited to the refreshment of strolling through nature on a brisk winter morning.
*Find a destination of your liking (Placerita? Bouquet Canyon? Castaic?), join the group, and carpool or caravan to site, taking notes on the identify and count of all birds observed.

*Regroup at lunch (typically at Tacos y Burritos el Pato, perhaps since it's named for a bird) to share findings.

*Take the rest of the day to do last-minute Christmas shopping or attend a holiday party, remarking to all who you encounter about the surprising abundance and diversity of dinosaurs in Santa Clarita.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Weste the Silent replaced by McLean the Perplexed

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting saw some title shuffling[1]. Mayor Marsha McLean is in command once again, with Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar waiting in the wings. This largely ceremonial business demanded some 90 minutes of the evening, pushing the City Council meeting proper back to 6:30 pm. Once underway, there was some discussion of the final results of Measure S, acceptance of a gift of 10 acres to be preserved as open space, and a slew of announcements since the next meeting won't be held until 2015. Let's review.

Singing the Praises of Laurene the Silent  

If Santa Clarita City Councilmembers bore sobriquets, Mayor Weste's would surely be Laurene the Silent. The most remarkable accomplishment of her fourth reign as mayor, by my reckoning, was complete avoidance of the billboard issue that so consumed the news and conversation this year. She recused her way out of the matter entirely. Nevertheless, people found plenty of reasons to laud her for the past year of service as mayor.

The ceremony kicked off with the musical stylings of Valencia High School's choir, singing a cappella. They belted out a couple of Christmas carols, one of which included some kid beatboxing, which I guess is still a thing. They ended with "Silent Night", which was well done and sufficiently moving to color Mayor Weste's voice with emotion as she recalled the year that was. She cited progress on the Canyon Country Community Center, the successful DFYIT program (youth anti-drug outreach), and work resolving CEMEX as some of her proudest accomplishments. She spoke for quite a while, remembering 2014 as thoroughly as she remembers Santa Clarita's departed souls during her frequent eulogies.

City Manager Ken Striplin spoke next. While the mayoral role is largely symbolic, he did point out that Mayor Weste had some extra work this year since she was the City's face of CEMEX opposition. This meant taking a 4:00 am drive to the airport for an important trip to Washington, D.C. "Do you know what it's like to feed horses at 3:00 am?" asked Weste when Striplin brought up the trip. Without missing a beat he said he'd heard all about it more than once. Laughter followed. Once Striplin had completed his comments, the following individuals/groups or their representatives recognized outgoing Mayor Weste: State Rep. Scott Wilk (there in person; he actually brought the wrong proclamation for Weste, joking he had grabbed the one meant to recognize Steve Petzold's ("Petz") 70th birthday in a few days--he then had to explain he was joking when someone said Petz, who was sitting in the audience, didn't look 70), Castaic Lake Water Agency, College of the Canyons, Rep. Buck McKeon (his representative explained that the flag Mayor Weste received was the US Congressman's last official public award before retiring from office), State Sen./US Rep.-Elect Steve Knight, State Sen. Fran Pavley, LA County Mayor/Sup. Mike Antonovich, William S. Hart School District, and Safe Action for the Environment. Most praised Weste for her commitment to growing open space and for opposing CEMEX mining in the eastern Santa Clarita Valley.

Her last action as mayor was handing over the gavel to the City Clerk, who then asked for nominations for mayor.

McLean and Kellar In, Boydston Left Out

Public participation preceded nominations for a new mayor of Santa Clarita. Steve Petzold and Patti Sulpizio both advocated for Boydston to serve as mayor. Their reasons were several. They explained that he has served on the council for some time but never in the mayoral capacity, he is deeply involved in the community with his work, he was aligned with the majority of the public's view during the contentious digital billboard debate, and he might not be reelected during the next go-around, whereas Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean has most of a 4-year term left to be mayor yet again. However, the council didn't discuss any of these points, instead unanimously electing Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean as the new mayor. This was expected. She received the gavel and applause.

After McLean read a speech about what the upcoming year would bring, presumably prepared by Gail Morgan and her minions, it was time to get Santa Clarita a mayor pro tem. Again, Petzold and Sulpizio asked the council to consider the merits of TimBen Boydston. And again, their pleas were rebuffed. Councilmember Dante Acosta made a motion for Bob Kellar to be mayor pro tem, despite the fact that Kellar was very recently mayor (2013). Again, there was no discussion, and again, the motion passed unanimously.

A Side Note on Rotations and Kellar's Flip-Flopping

Now, there is an unofficial rotation of the mayoral title among councilmembers. It's a title without much power, but the mayor gets to advocate/advance a special project (think "Mayor Dude" during Frank Ferry's term), runs the meetings, cuts the ribbons, and represents Santa Clarita at home and abroad. It doesn't make one's votes count more or give one immunity in elections (Laurie Ender lost her election even when she was mayor), but being mayor still matters somewhat. The rotation is a means of giving everyone a chance to assume the role and its additional responsibilities. Boydston has served for years on the Council and has never held the title, while conventional wisdom says Acosta is much too new (in his seat for mere months) and McLean, Weste, and Kellar have all been mayor multiple times. So it was Boydston's turn--unofficially, of course. That he wasn't made mayor pro tem was an unmistakable shunning of Boydston by the rest of the council. He is regularly the odd man out on votes, and here he was the odd man out yet again.

During her remarks, Patti Sulpizio tried to elicit some sympathy for Boydston from Bob Kellar. She said that Kellar has also been the odd man out before, as with votes pertaining to the library and the Newhall Memorial expansion, but he was still allowed to serve as mayor/mayor pro tem. Kellar also knows what it feels like to be skipped over during the mayoral rotation. Frank Ferry cut in front of him for mayor pro tem, and Kellar voted against Ferry, saying "I would prefer to go with the usual progression." In other words, Kellar was upset when he didn't get his turn, whether the concept of a rotation/turns was taken as official or not. Yet Kellar did the exact same thing to Boydston this evening that so upset him in December of 2011, the only difference being that he did not self-nominate. It seems he only wants to go with "the usual progression" when it brings him a mayoral title.

Cake Break

A spice cake and a chocolate cake were served after all of the mayoral pomp and circumstance. I chose the latter, a decision I do not regret.

Deaths, Events, Public Participation

For his invocation, Councilmember Boydston read from Isaiah on the topic of leadership far more Divine than the distinctly human leadership of the council. Weste and Boydston told Mayor McLean they'd need to discuss/abstain from votes on a few items, and we moved to public participation.

Patti Sulpizio rose to speak again. She explained she "wasn't prepared for what just happened," and deemed it "completely despicable" for Boydston to have been passed over. No offense to the speaker, but she was likely the only one surprised that the City Council chose Kellar over Boydston. A woman named Elaine (I missed her last name) spoke about mobile home rents, a matter to be discussed fully by the City Council early next year. Her mother lives in a mobile home community and is on a fixed income, so proposed minimum annual rent hikes are a real concern. She said she was particularly frustrated that she felt like she was doing staff members' jobs for them and not being adequately served. That is, she's had to do a lot of research and make a lot of phone calls on her own time.

Cam Noltemeyer brought up a small basket as a prop for her remarks. She said that she is deeply offended when she sees councilmembers on their phones at the dais instead of paying attention to public speakers, and she gave the City Clerk the basket as a receptacle for phones so that everyone may give their undivided attention. Noltemeyer suspected Weste and others were texting consultants during important council discussions and deliberations for advice or instruction. Finally, Steve Petzold spoke approvingly of the response he received when he filed an eService request pertaining to some street lights in his neighborhood.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded, saying that he appreciated praise for the eService program's responsiveness. The program has addressed 19,000 requests over the past year (that's over 50 requests a day). He also said discussions of rent and mobile home policy were premature, as the council has not yet formally considered ordinance changes. Additionally, Councilmember Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Kellar said they never used their phones during council meetings (Kellar leaves his in the car, he told an audience hopefully not comprising thieves). City Attorney Joe Montes said phone use would be allowed, but that anyone getting information influencing their decision would have to disclose it (or better yet, avoid it in the first place).

Committee reports and updates from the council spanned a variety of mostly dull topics. One highlight was the revelation that the Cowboy Festival found a home for next year in Hart Park and Old Town Newhall. Acosta and Weste remembered several recently deceased Claritans in whose names the meeting would adjourn. Mayor McLean advised audience members to watch out for an IRS phone scam, and she asked the lady who called her and left a scrambled message to call back, as she couldn't hear her name/number due to the poor quality of the recordning. In case you need reminding, Mayor McLean freely gives out her home number so that anyone may call her about City issues. "I'm in the phone book," she's often said, to which Claritan youth reply, "What's that?"

Consent and Dissent

The Consent Calendar mostly dealt with landscaping issues (beautification projects, landscape maintenance district contracts), about which speaker Alan Ferdman advised the City to make sure its getting its money's worth--he's seen many dead plants in medians lately.

Item 7 was the official declaration/certification of the Measure S vote, which revealed that the majority of Claritans have a distaste for digital billboards. Several speakers noted that it was a unique vote in many regards (went against the majority of the council, was put on the ballot by citizens, showed an unambiguous result to finally resolve the billboard debate, etc.). Most suspected a similar matter could be brought back a year from now, when it's legal to do so. Petzold hoped they might only propose digital billboards near voting precincts that weren't strongly opposed to them. Sulpizio asked for a round table discussion of digital billboards, and she asked the council to reverse ordinances that had zoned areas in anticipation of erecting digital billboards.

Here's a chart showing what made the Measure S vote unique in terms of numbers--a product of it falling with a midterm election and eliciting a surprising amount of community passion and involvement. To put it in words, 21,488 voters voted "no" on Measure S; this means 19% of all eligible voters opposed digital billboards. That's 1 in 5, far more than the 1 in 25 eligible voters, for example, who voted for Dante Acosta in 2014.
[Note that Santa Clarita wasn't a city when the vote for incorporation occurred, and I couldn't find the exact number of voters eligible to vote, so the estimated percentage of eligible voters voting in favor of it is an estimate based on the city population in 1989. All the other numbers come from]

This led to a rather tense discussion among the whole council. Mayor McLean contended that the Norland Road site that had been re-zoned from open space to accommodate a billboard wasn't "honest-to-goodness open space." (It might be helpful if Mayor McLean generates a map of the various grades of open space for future discussions--honest-to-goodness, not quite honest-to-goodness, not honest-to-goodness, etc.) Councilmember Weste added that the land in question hadn't been purchased with Open Space Preservation District funds. Councilmember Boydston countered that the land was originally going to be used by LA County as the site of a homeless shelter, but Weste had opposed this plan by saying that the area needed to be bought by the City and preserved as open space. All of this played out years ago and has been brought up many times. Councilmember Acosta even weighed in, saying that he knows "there doesn't seem to be an appetite" for digital billboards among Claritans. Nonetheless, he believes the land should be left zoned as is, and not revert back to open space, because the City needs all the options it can get as it considers a new billboard deal in a year or so. He also said the plot was so small no business could really build there anyhow, so it was going to be safe as open space for the time being, even if not officially designated as such. Essentially, Boydston pushed hard for the council to recognize that they had turned open space into a business zone, but Weste, McLean, and Acosta tried to say it was more complex than that.

Once this discussion ended, there was a similarly unproductive talk about landscape maintenance district planting policies. Boydston asked that no new plants be installed until the drought is over, but the rest of council seemed OK with installing drought-tolerant plants which they contended would not use much water and would give ratepayers of landscape maintenance districts some landscaping for their tax dollars.

Ultimately, the consent calendar passed with the recommended actions. Boydston dissented on the matter of installing landscaping, and both Boydston and Weste abstained from an item each, but this had no real effect.

Drainage Benefit Assessments: Controversial?

A public hearing on establishing a drainage benefit assessment area for the River Village community upset Cam Noltemeyer. She said these assessments are passed by developers before people move in, and these residents end up actually paying the assessments. Indeed, there was only one vote on this matter, and it came from the developer in favor of the assessment. But, as City Manager Ken Striplin explained, environmental impacts must be mitigated as a condition of development, and if the community-to-be weren't assessed, other Claritans would have to pick up the tab. Weste noted people can choose to live elsewhere if they don't wish to pay a drainage benefit assessment.

A Gift of Land, Acosta Doesn't Nominate Boydston a Second Time

A couple donated 10 acres of land near an existing area of Santa Clarita's open space, and it was graciously accepted. Weste called it a "remarkable gift", but Kellar abstained from voting because he said the donors were very good friends of his, whether that's an official conflict of interest or not.

Finally, Mayor McLean was automatically appointed to the LA County Sanitation District Board, a big appointment because it deals with the chloride issue that is costing Santa Clarita nine figures. The other member and an alternate needed to be nominated and confirmed. First, Cam Noltemeyer spoke, saying that no one on the board over past years (Weste and Kellar, especially) had really looked out for Santa Clarita and defended its best interest. After her comment, Mayor Pro Tem Kellar gave a long speech explaining that the City has done so, so much to look out for ratepayers in the unfair chloride battle, which mandates that we pay to treat chloride to a concentration that seems arbitrarily low.

Kellar said he would nominate TimBen Boydston, a passionate advocate for Santa Clarita on chloride matters, but he gave Boydston some patronizing marching orders to "not create havoc" and cooperate positively with other parties if he served. (This is actually why Kellar had been criticized by Noltemeyer--she felt he hadn't done enough to force hard discussions and create workable alternatives). It was a bit unclear if Kellar was nominating Boydston to be the other member or an alternate, but Acosta took over the floor again by nominating Weste to serve. Weste was approved, and then Acosta and Boydston tried to push the alternate spot on one another. Neither wanted it, Boydston explaining that it's an unsatisfying spot to occupy with no real power. In the end, Kellar was chosen to be alternate. This was another rejection of Boydston by the council at large, and Acosta couldn't quite fight back a satisfied smile as he helped orchestrate it--he'd worn the same smile when nominating Kellar instead of Boydston for mayor pro tem.

The Choice that Wasn't There

Al Ferdman gave the only closing public participation remark. He was far louder and, frankly, angrier than normal. He felt that re-zoning a chunk of open space to accommodate a billboard meant no parcel of open space was safe from being re-zoned on a whim to accommodate something more profitable. He made some good points, but the response was...odd.

Rather than discussing the ordinances that regulate how open space can or can't be re-zoned, Mayor McLean asked the City Manager to describe the options that had been on the ballot regarding billboards. Striplin looked utterly confused. Eventually, it was realized that McLean was talking about the original petitions against digital billboards, and she mistakenly believed signers had a choice to say they opposed the billboard deal or simply wanted to put it to a public vote. Having confused the issue with this discussion, the meeting ended.

[1]Here's the agenda.