Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Awards and Recognitions
Councilmember Bob Kellar decided to show a video for tonight's invocation. It was John Wayne and many of his famous pals singing "God Bless America" from 1970. Kellar suspected that some in the audience, which was full of young Albert Einstein Academy (AEA) students, might not recognize the faces in the clip. Indeed, most of the kids watching have been alive fewer years than the featured celebrities have been dead. But it was still well received and drew applause.
A lengthy series of awards/recognitions inevitably followed the invocation.First up was a third-grader who designed the t-shirts given away at Santa Clarita's River Rally this year. This may not have been the most essential five minutes of council content we've ever had. Mayor Weste called forward Akash Moreno, the young artist, for a photo and gushed that she "fell in love with him" when she met him earlier. Akash smiled and presented Weste with another drawing, which delighted her until she realized he hadn't signed it. She called him back up to remedy the situation but, lo and behold, he had already scrawled his signature on the back! What a fun exchange. Next came proclamations for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) and Domestic Violence Prevention Month (November). This was followed by the presentation of the Helen Putnam Intergovernmental Collaboration Award for the Drug Free Youth In Town (DFYIT) program. Mayor Weste was proud of youths who are making a drug-free lifestyle the "in thing." Finally, there was recognition and applause to mark the 20th anniversary of the Santa Clarita Teen Court Program, which creatively punishes wayward Claritan youths so they can avoid a criminal conviction on their record--at least for a little while.
After the City did so much presenting, it was time for it to receive a presentation of its own. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation lauded Santa Clarita for being a finalist for "2014 Most Business Friendly Large City". Streamlined permitting processes, no or low fees, incentive programs, and other biz-friendly qualifications were mentioned and praised.
Most comments from the public were on the topic of Measure S, which will be voted on next week. Should you be unaware, Measure S would allow three large digital billboards to be installed along the 5 and 14 in exchange for removal of many of the conventional billboards in the city itself. Al Ferdman said he was surprised and disappointed at how misleading the "Yes on S" campaign has been, mentioning a fake Facebook profile designed to help their cause. Steve Petzold cited the thorough research of SCVTalk's Mike Devlin, which revealed that all of the major Measure S supporters reside outside of California and can be linked to Allvision, which will profit handsomely from the billboard deal. Petzold lost the audience a bit when he got into the topic of "nepotistic advantage" as it relates to some of the S supporters. But as his three minutes drew to a close, his voice grew louder and filled the room with clear, booming opposition to the measure.
Patti Sulpizio's comments condemned in a more softly devastating way. She meditated on the ribbon cuttings and grand openings so often celebrated in Santa Clarita, expressing her doubt that giant billboards would be the kind of thing people turn out to welcome to the community. She wondered how Weste and McLean had gone from Elsmere Canyon preservationists and open space activists to supporters of a plan that rezones some open space to allow a large digital billboard to be built. The most succinct, accessible comment of the night came from Nanette Meister. She kept things simple for a crowd of (mostly) newcomers, explaining why she didn't want billboards in the community--better deals could be had, unsavory businesses could be advertised, they would be very conspicuous and unsightly, and so on.
Darryl Manzer was the voice of support for Measure S. He rambled for a bit about sociology experiments from several decades ago that proved people would sign anything, and he reminded the audience that outside money funded the petition drive that put Measure S on the ballot. Then he summoned all of his outrage and directed it at Councilmember TimBen Boydston. He said that he is "severely embarrassed" of his conduct, especially when Boydston speaks on his own behalf rather than as a councilman. "You are always a council member no matter where you are and what you are doing," he chastised.
Planned revisions to mobile home park ordinances drew three comments. Managers in particular seemed concerned about any moves that would dramatically change current policies, which they seem to be OK with. Mobile home rents and other concerns are a persistent topic of public comments, and the usual response from the City is that they're looking into it. Tonight's uptick in comments might signal that things are finally moving forward and ready to be more thoroughly reviewed and addressed.
A confrontation over proper campaign sign conduct was brought to a conclusion this evening. At the last meeting, Larry McClements confronted Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean over challenging his right to show support for a candidate on public property. McLean was very dismissive of his account of an exchange they had, wherein she told him he was breaking the law, took his photo, and didn't realize she herself was campaigning on the property (there was a sign on her car). "You are a hypocrite," said McClements. And he was only getting started. He took umbrage with McLean's implication that events hadn't happened like he claimed (he had video evidence to back up his version, too). "I think it is disgusting that you would try to discredit me." The take-home message from McClements was that this event provided further evidence that "our city does not tolerate dissent very well." McLean would not respond.
Finally, a resident of the Belcaro gated senior community complained about coyotes that seem to be gobbling up everybody's little pets. She was gracious that her complaints have fallen on mostly sympathetic ears, but without a coyote trapping program, the best that people can do is refer her to yet another expert or agency to make more ineffective suggestions. She half-jokingly imagined an 80 year-old having to fight off coyotes with their cane, likely breaking a hip in the process. But she was very serious about asking for someone to control the coyotes, which she says have lost all fear of humans in the area. Notably, she observed that the coyotes in Belcaro run in "gangs", not packs.
There were very few remarks during the portion of the meeting reserved for councilmember reports and updates, so let's jump straight to the items on the consent calendar. (OK, a quick pause before the jump: Boydston refuted Manzer's suggestion that he's always acting in the capacity of a councilmember. Boydston explained he tries to do what the City Attorney has advised--making it clear when he's speaking as an individual versus when he's speaking on behalf of the whole council. Mayor Weste remembered recently deceased Stanley Bronstrup and the Way Station, the establishment he built and cherished. She recalled how he'd bring coffee to those waiting in line for plates of hash browns and big pancakes).
Comments on the various consent items were few. Alan Ferdman supported Item 2, which refurbishes medians on Soledad Canyon Road. It wasn't a useful comment, amounting to "good plan, thanks", but it shows he can be supportive of some City actions and isn't a perennial naysayer unlike, say, Cam Noltemeyer. Speaking of whom...on Item 4, which approves the final tract map of Five Knolls (380 residential units), Noltemeyer said "the public benefit is going out the door because apparently you don't know how to write covenants." Her explanation of her objection to approving the covenant and agreement to develop was a bit vague, as it seemed from the text that development of community benefits was included. Dr. Gene Dorio was opposed to approving Item 4 because he has concerns about the health effects that nearby power transmission lines may have on future residents. He advised the City to do a thorough study of electromagnetic radiation impacts before proceeding.
Item 11 of the consent calendar sought approval for a revised letter to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. The Vista Canyon development is transit-oriented and hinges on the inclusion of a new Metro Station. The Via Princessa Metro Station is rather close by, however. This letter asked whether both can be feasibly operated. The letter strengthened wording from its initial presentation at the last meeting so as to indicate that the Via Metro Station is priority one for the City (i.e., if one station has to go, it would be Via Princessa). On this item, Cam Noltemeyer was upset that the City was giving the developer everything he wants with full funding. Lynne Plambeck expressed her continued opposition to the project as a whole.
After public comments, all items on the consent calendar were approved with the recommended actions. Items approved without discussion included a $60K partnership with auto dealers for a "shop local" campaign and reducing the speed limit on a portion of Copper Hill Drive from 55 to 50 mph, which means people will now likely drive at just 60 instead of 65 mph.
A short break preceded discussion of impact fee deferrals for the "Habitat for Heroes" development. I walked around a bit and heard some local captains of industry chatting about motivation. One was complaining that her husband had given her a book that explained the science of the mind, motivation, etc., when she really just wanted bullet points of how to make people do what you want them to do. Einstein parents talked teachers and speculated about when the meeting would finally wrap up. But the break was a short one, so I didn't get to hear much more than that.
The "Habitat for Heroes" program was looking for some help from the City of Santa Clarita in the form of certain fee deferrals. The City waived a presentation on this topic and was happy to approve of the deferrals as laid out on the agenda.
Then it was time for the big discussion of the night. The Albert Einstein Academy wanted to adapt a large commercial building on Rye Canyon Road into an elementary school for 650 students. After the Santa Clarita Planning Commission denied the project, they modified their plans to accommodate far fewer students, reducing the traffic impact to the area. Based on projections of staggered drop-off times, traffic would be increased by no more than if the building were used as an office, staff had concluded. It was staff's recommendation that the revised project be approved.
David Armstrong, a lobbyist and real estate advisor for AEA, did much of the speaking on behalf of the project. He explained that traffic would not be an issue, and he said the proposed location was very suitable for a school.
Nearly 20 public comments followed. Some came from people or groups whose feathers AEA has ruffled. These included a man who lives near Old Orchard Parkway, a street clogged daily as parents pick up their children from the AEA campus hastily established there with inadequate consideration of traffic impacts. Another came from David Huffaker, President of the Castaic Union School District Board. The proposed charter school would be operating in his district, and he said he didn't like their history of taking public funds without following all of the rules (e.g., starting construction before permits are pulled). If you've paid any attention to the local news at all, you know there are many strong opinions about charter schools, but especially about Albert Einstein Academy.
However, most comments against approval of the project came from businesses operating in the industrial park that would host the school. Some speakers, like Jeff Lage of B&B Manufacturing, said an industrial setting wasn't safe for kids, appealing to parental protectiveness. The owner of Technifex worried his limited parking and busy lot would be overtaken by parents waiting to pick up children. Others associated with the Chamber of Commerce, SCVEDC, VIA, etc... including Terri Crain, Don Fleming, Calvin Hedman, and Holly Schroeder didn't worry as much about the kids' safety as they worried about loss of industrial space that attracts and retains businesses. It was a question of protecting industry from schools, not schools from industry. Kathleen Mercer said that conversion of industrial space to mixed business use is what "ruined Glendale" and would lead us to that most dreaded fate of becoming SFV North. Don Fleming phrased his objection to fit on a bumper sticker: "Protect our business parks."
The property owner, Al Ferdman, and a couple others spoke in support of the location and project, but the numerous parents sitting in the audience did not get up to speak. They had brought their children and sat through an entire meeting but, when they had their chance, did not come to the microphone. So while supporters probably outnumbered detractors in the audience, the public speakers skewed very much in the other direction. This confusing choice was explained by Armstrong as an effort to respect the time of the audience and City Council, since everyone knew AEA families had shown up in support of the plan. Still, you'd think at least one of them would have said something.
Armstrong's rebuttal following public comments included assurances that parents wouldn't trespass onto business lots; that the business/industrial park was a preferred location for a school, not a last resort; that traffic plans had been expertly designed; and that AEA was an excellent school, highly ranked by Newsweek (didn't they get the some stats wrong in that ranking?).
The City Council weighed in, and Bob Kellar volunteered to speak first. He said he had read through the material for this item three times because he took the decision so seriously. He said that while the plan had been revised, as a rule, he didn't like to go against the Planning Commission, which had voted 5-0 against approval of the original proposal. He was also troubled that AEA got permits from Agua Dulce but was building in an area that falls within Castaic Union School District. He also mentioned how AEA had begun work before proper permits had been pulled. "You've not been a good neighbor," he concluded. He also believed the site was not the safest for a school, and for all of these reasons he said he was planning to vote against the project.
Councilmember TimBen Boydston spoke next, asking why AEA had begun construction before permits were pulled and why it didn't accept a site offered for a charter by the Saugus Union School District. Armstrong said they had fired the contractor that had moved forward without permits, and he let Rabbi Mark Blazer explain the reasoning behind looking for a different site. Blazer said Prop 39 made stipulations that might make serving students from a broad geographic area difficult to do at the Saugus Union site.
Blazer took the lead from Armstrong in responding to questions from this point forward. As Councilmember Dante Acosta would point out, Amstrong's inability to answer Boydston's and other basic questions about AEA was not the mark of a solid, thoroughly familiarized lobbyist. Acosta, who has been a big supporter of Einstein Academy in the past, quickly signaled that he would not be supportive of this project. He had two concerns. First, he didn't think it would be occupying a safe site in the industrial park. He painted the image of a tanker full of solvent losing its breaks and busting through the building. He knew such a fiery demise was exceedingly unlikely and that he might be thinking like a "nervous Nelly", but the site choice simply did not sit well with him. Second, he worried something analogous to the "airport effect" might happen with AEA families. He explained that people will complain about living next to an airport even if the airport existed when they bought their house. Something similar might happen with AEA parents complaining about industrial operations next to their kids, even though the industrial operations were there first.
With Kellar, Boydston, and Acosta against approval of the project, it didn't stand a chance (Kellar had actually made a motion to deny the modified project, which was seconded by Boydston, but discussion continued well after). Mayor Pro Tem McLean, however, made a solid effort to change some minds. She said she wanted to keep all of the politics that surrounds Einstein Academy out of their decision-making process, saying it really boiled down to the question of whether a school was an appropriate use of the property. She said all schools are a traffic nightmare for drop-off/pick-up, so those concerns shouldn't be held against AEA. When she asked if there are any dangerous materials used by the companies that operate near the proposed school site, nobody really knew. As City Manager Ken Striplin explained, they're private companies, so as long as they comply with various hazardous material laws and regulations, they can work with whatever materials they need. It's not as if every business reports the chemicals it uses to City Hall. Undeterred, McLean made it clear that she supported the school's right to use the property. Mayor Weste echoed McLean, saying she didn't see what was specifically inappropriate about the site. Only hypothetical dangers had been raised. Weste gave Blazer many opportunities to speak, and he made a last-ditch effort to save the project by saying that they might be able to reduce the number of students at the Pinecrest school if they could have this property to work with.
It seemed like Weste and McLean would stand together, voting to approve the modified project. Ultimately, however, the male members of council voted to deny approval of the project, McLean voted against their motion for denial, and Weste simply said, "Abstain." The audience was not pleased to hear this, grumbling more than they did when Acosta, Boydston, and Kellar had voted against the deal.
Public Participation, Part II
The timing couldn't have been better for Cam Noltemeyer, who came forward and railed against Mayor Weste's lack of leadership. She said that Weste and the rest of the Council have not spoken out against the massive Chiquita Canyon Landfill project slated for the Castaic/Val Verde area. Noltemeyer said that it's typical of Weste, who wouldn't take a stand on AEA and who often must recuse herself on major issues facing the City Council. Noltemeyer demanded an answer from Mayor Weste about support for or opposition to the landfill expansion, and when silence followed--the policy of council, incidentally, is not to address speakers during their comments--she stormed away from the podium, utterly outraged. And I do mean outraged, even by her own lofty standards. "You are by far the worst city council I have ever seen!" she growled.
It was not Noltemeyer's finest moment. But Richard Green, the next speaker, made a truly outrageous remark about Noltemeyer as he came to the microphone next: "Can you imagine rolling over to that every morning?" Thankfully, most of the AEA crowd had left the room by this point, but the few who remained were shocked by his remark. Stacy Fortner gasped, looking around the room as if to confirm that he had really said what it sounded like he said. Green then spoke in favor of Measure S.
The last speaker of the night was Fortner, who introduced herself to the City Council, reminded everyone of her candidacy for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, and promised that the community and Council would be seeing a lot more of her.
The meeting ended a bit after 10.
Here's the agenda
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Councilmember Bob Kellar is a staunch supporter of Measure S, which proposes replacing conventional billboards in town with digital billboards along freeways. One of the reasons he favors this deal is that the City has no control over the content of conventional billboards, which can advertise all manner of vices; a board promoting La Vida Gentlemen's Club is often referenced in this regard. But Kellar argues that, as the landowner for new digital billboard operations, we will finally have control over content and be able to keep objectionable ads out of Santa Clarita.
Oh, will we?
During a discussion of digital billboards tonight, a friend said, "I wonder how long until those things get hacked..." This possibility (inevitability?) has received rather little attention. So as we sat at the Rose & Crown Pub consuming chips and beer, I decided to investigate the world of digital billboard hacking.
Within 10 seconds, I had downloaded notes on digital billboard hacking from the DEF CON Hacking Conference onto my phone. In another 10 seconds, I was watching the corresponding presentation by a woman called Tottenkoph. She detailed "Hijacking the Outdoor Digital Billboard" (March 28, 2013; 1,517 views).
The vulnerabilities of digital billboards are surprisingly many. Logins and passwords like "admin" and "password" are often used. Over-eager sales teams are described as all too ready to give away technical details about digital billboards in hopes of securing a deal. Security may consist of a single camera aimed at the billboard face, not the infrastructure below. I'm guessing there are more than a few individuals in this valley who, given sufficient motivation and bravado, might work out all of the hacking particulars that went unsaid in the presentation. After all, people have managed to hack into payment information from Home Depot, into the PlayStation network, into the iCloud accounts of celebrities, and even into Iranian nuclear facilities (recall the Stuxnet Attack). Given these past breaches, it's hard to imagine that digital billboards are invulnerable.
If Santa Clarita's proposed digital billboards are, Heaven forfend, approved and installed, they may very well be attacked. It certainly wouldn't be the first time. The images at the beginning of this post show how digital billboards have been commandeered for self-promotion, mischief, or major disruption. From games of Space Invaders to hardcore pornography, the images projected by hackers can truly run the gamut.
There was a widely publicized case of skulls being projected on Los Angeles digital billboards in 2008 as part of a hack, but it was a false alarm that ended up being a legitimate, paid-for art installation (via Wired). Indeed, try as I might, I wasn't able to find any confirmed case of the hacking of an LA area digital billboard. Perhaps my concerns about hacking amount to nothing more than fear mongering--an attempt to enhance the logical objections to Measure S with anxiety and paranoia. For while we might reasonably agree that all digital things are hackable, that doesn't mean hackers will devote their energies to finding a way in. Since it's so close to Halloween, though, why not dwell on this frightful possibility just a little longer? Here's a bit of what Tottenkoph had to say in her talk:
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Chlorides. Billboards. Vista Canyon. Lobbyists. Mobile homes. Rail. Perchlorate. Campaign signage. Cemex. Drought. This was a city council meeting that exhausted attendants with a thousand issues...each its own complex narrative struggling to stay at the forefront of a fickle Clarita's collective mind. Though no single issue took center stage, all got at least a little attention tonight. It's a reminder that in Santa Clarita, much remains open-ended, unresolved, and ultimately out of the control of the City Council. Indeed, apart from agreeing to some tennis court design contracts and deciding to leave the floundering Eco-Rapid Transit Joint Powers Authority, tonight was far more talk than action. We were also reminded that if you want to get an in-meeting response to your comment to the City Council, you should be named Hunt Braly or Jim Backer.
Front Matter: "Reading is so good for us."
Councilmember Dante Acosta delivered the invocation; it seemed like more talking than he's done in the past several meetings combined. Acosta lamented the fact(?) that more people vote in American Idol than in official elections. He said that he sincerely hopes everyone votes on November 4th. After that, twenty or so scouts led the pledge of allegiance and were given thunderous applause once completed. Impressively, almost all of them sat through the meeting until at least 8 tonight. The woman sitting next to me was a scout mom, and she alternated between taking notes for Bible study and shaking her head in disappointment as residents expressed their dismay with various council actions.
I felt a profound darkness closing in on me as I looked on the agenda and saw the queue: two recognitions and three presentations. At ten minutes or more apiece, I knew I wouldn't be getting out before 8 (I was right). The first recognition was issued in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Technically that happened last month, but giving the award in October just extended the good times a little longer. Mayor Weste said that 12% of Santa Clarita businesses are Latino-owned, and added that the Latino population makes many important cultural contributions to the community. Photos followed. The next recognition went to Santa Clarita Friends of Library volunteers. Mayor Weste spoke about the many important library services supported by the Friends group and its fundraising. "Reading is so good for us," mused Weste. Photos followed.
Presentations: Heart Attack, Water Conservation, We Want Cheesecake
This brought us to the presentations portion of the meeting. A video from LACo Fire Department was aimed at informing the public about the potentially life-saving PulsePoint app. In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, quickly administering CPR can improve chances of survival, and Pulsepoint alerts people trained in first aid to help nearby victims, providing aid before emergency personnel arrive. The video was very heavy-handed, especially its soaring musical score: old couple in store, man has heart attack, wife just around and emotes, guy at store next door runs over to save the day after notification from PulsePoint. Unlike me, Bible-study lady liked the video, gasping as the old man in the video crumpled to the ground from his heart attack and expressing her own concerns that something similar could happen to a family member.
The next presentation was brought to us by Castaic Lake Water Agency General Manager Dan Masnada. Masnada can bore a crowd like few others, and tonight was no excepection as he spent more than ten minutes explaining that we're in a drought and ought to conserve water. He tried to sneak in a jab at environmental groups that have sued the CLWA, saying they would have prevented us from having water, but his vilification fell on mostly uninterested ears. Masnada said that conservation is happening, and Santa Clarita's water use for 2014 has been about 3% less than use in 2013. He noted that groundwater supplies would increase, explaining that much of this had to do with aggressively pumping water from some wells to control the spread of perchlorate in groundwater. Once treated, water formerly contaminated with perchlorate "will be available for consumptive use," he explained. Yum. Finally, Masnada noted that securing additional water supplies to make up for shortfalls cost CLWA $1.7M this year, but they elected not to pass this on to the retailers in the form of a surcharge. I looked over and saw Cam Noltemeyer shaking her head, suggesting at least one attendant didn't believe CLWA's claim of always looking out for the customers.
Before Masnada stepped away from the podium, Councilemember TimBen Boydston had a couple of questions. He said that the number one question he gets from residents is whether CLWA can assure new housing developments of an adequate water supply if we're already working so hard to conserve what we have. Surprisingly, Masnada agreed that if drought conditions were the norm, new developments wouldn't make sense based on the water supply. However, he said there will be wetter years ahead, and growth is planned based on the average water supply, not supply in severe droughts. Boydston then asked if some of Santa Clarita's water from the planned reverse osmosis facility could be pumped back into our basin. Masnada said that was being looked at, but requirements for recycled water dilution and residence times would diminish how much could be reclaimed. In the midst of this dull but rather useful discussion, Bob Kellar took to the microphone to tell Masnada and Boydston that they had the rest of the meeting to get to. Kellar, who has complained about residents voting based on incomplete information in the past, is a difficult man to please in terms of how much conversation about a topic is acceptable.
The final presentation was a fun one--the public opinion poll of Santa Clarita residents that comes out every other year. City Manager Ken Striplin explained that for the first time, cell phones were called in addition to landlines, giving a more representative picture of what Santa Clarita thinks and wants. 400 were interviewed, and the margin of error on the poll was +/-5%. Some 80% of residents trust the City of Santa Clarita. (Cam Noltemeyer darkly chuckled at this number). Striplin spent most of his presentation giving breakdowns on what people liked best about Santa Clarita, such as when he presented a slide entitled "Reasons for Residents' Satisfaction with City Services." There was no sister slide explicating reasons for residents' dissatisfaction. He revealed that the most coveted businesses for town are Cheesecake Factory, Nordstrom, and Porto's. (I credit Porto's being on the list to the rumor-mongering efforts of news-breaking blogger Mike Devlin. He gave us hope for delicious pastries and then took it away.) In response to the survey, which found very little wrong with Santa Clarita, Mayor Weste said, "I feel like we shoud just say 'Bravo!' or something." City Manager Striplin's job seems secure.
Public Participation: Larry Has Video
We were well into the 7 o'clock hour at this point and the real business of the meeting still hadn't started. Public participation included comments from a representative of Parklane Mobile Estates in Santa Clarita. Mobile home rents and ordinances are being examined city-wide effort, and he expressed his feeling that "the vast majority [of residents] are happy," and didn't want to foster more tension between management and residents. Cam Noltemeyer scolded the City for passing on expensive water projects to ratepayers. Al Ferdman said that City Attorney Joe Montes had not written an impartial analysis of Measure S, the billboard swap deal, because he didn't mention that 22 billboards will come down regardless of whether Measure S passes or not due to another agreement. This makes it a poorer deal than the impartial analysis seems to suggest. Hunt Braly asked for the City to defer some fees on the homes being built for veterans in the community. Steve Petzold spoke passionately against Measure S. He also questioned whether Montes had penned an impartial analysis of the deal, and he was dismayed to report that out-of-state interests have been big funders of "Yes on S" efforts. Patti Sulpizio asked whether it was legal for SCVTV, which is heavily subsidized by the City of Santa Clarita, to run ads for "Yes on S" during broadcasts of city meetings.
Al Ferdman says 22 are coming down anyways, even if measure s doesn't pass
Finally, Larry McClements came forward and spoke about a run-in he had with Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean during the last elections. She told him he couldn't campaign while on public property--he had a sign and was at the Newhall librbary--and McClements asked for clarification as to whether he and Marsha--who had a sign on her own car in the same lot--were acting properly or ought to be thrown in the slammer. His extensive detailing of the confrontation was thoroughly enjoyable.
Responses & Updates: "So far beyond reality..."
After a hearty round of public participation, the only comment that really got a response was the one from Hunt Braly about fee deferments for veteran housing. It will be agendized for discussion.
Councilmember Boydston pushed for City Attorney Montes to say more about some of the legal questions which had been brought up, especially campaigning on city property. Boydston said his own vehicle had a sign and joked that he might have to run out and move it to a different lot. Montes said he would discuss the issue more fully after some additional research, but said that signs would be really problematic if displayed with one-hundred feet of a polling place on election day.
Mayor Pro Tem McLean couldn't leave the comments from Larry McClements entirely alone, so she said that the claims he made were "so far beyond reality" they didn't deserve to be dignified with a response. From the audience, McClements shouted back, "I've got video." And so he does.
Updates from the council followed. McLean thanked the Valley Industrial Association for a work program with high school students, and she held back tears as she spoke about a gravely ill Henry Schultz, longtime advocate for Santa Clarita and its open spaces. Acosta thanked the City for recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, and he encouraged everyone to visit our city's many trails, which he toured extensively in recent weeks. Kellar read some emails from residents thanking City staff for performing City services. Weste mentioned the recently declared San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, noting that it is near the planned Cemex mining site and Santa Clarita's open space district. She also touched on recent meetings about chloride treatment, and contended that moving forward with a $100M+ treatment plan was much better than the initially feared $500M+ plan. She also asked that staff agendize discussion of LA County's recent allocation of $3M for the SCV Senior Center; the council will talk about what they can contribute to continue supporting the center's mission. Updates from the council ended with a plea from Kellar, who wants people to donate to the Boys & Girls Club.
At 8:08, we finally arrived at the consent calendar. There were two comments on Item 7, which simply lays out a list of local appointments. Al Ferdman and Patti Sulpizio were dismayed to see that Arthur Sohikian,who is a lobbyist for Allvision, represents Santa Clarita on the North County Transportation Coalition. They argued there is a conflict of interest since Sohikian is being paid to push for digital billboards along freeways. City Attorney Montes said he didn't see a problem so long as Sohikian recused himself from commenting or voting on issues where he had a vested interest. Councilmember Kellar made a point that the City doesn't pay Sohikian to serve.
Other items approved on the consent calendar included extending a parking enforcement contract with Data Ticket. It's a $300K contract, and revenue from citations is expected to exceed costs. The item included a survey saying that the
New Business: Controversial Letter, Bye Eco-Rapid
At the urging of the council, the City composed a letter inquiring about whether the Via Princessa Metro station could continue to operate even after the Vista Canyon Metro station is operational. Developer Jim Backer thought it made more sense to go ahead with the plan (he accused the Council of going back on its stated plans and preferences) to have a station for Vista Canyon and turn Via Princessa into a park. He didn't want Vista Canyon's planned station to be in jeopardy. Councilmember Kellar said, "we looked like a bunch of goofballs to Metro" for going back and forth on station plans, and he said he stood with Backer. Boydston tried to calm worries by stating that the letter wants both stations. "We don't want to upset the Vista Canyon project at all" promised Acosta to Backer. At Acosta's suggestion, the letter will go back for revisions to state even more forcefully that Santa Clarita wants to support the station for Vista Canyon.
The final bit of new business was a decision to leave Eco-Rapid Transit, a joint powers authority that was originally the Orangeline Development Authority. Mayor Pro Tem McLean, who has worked with this group for years, said it has moved away from a planned magnetically levitated (maglev) train system. Other cities have jumped ship. Worst of all, she said, they rejected going forward with issuing a request for interest even after the Japanese and Korean governments expressed considerable interest in partnering on a maglev train. She summarized her recommendation to leave on the grounds that "our interests are no longer being met" and that she's "really saddened" by the reduction of scope, lack of vision, and poor feasibility of Eco-Rapid's projects. The Eco-Rapid Director made a comment, but he could not keep Santa Clarita involved and excited. The City will even try to get its past dues (about $30,000 a year) reimbursed. McLean hoped things will get back on track (get it?) because an innovative rail project for SoCal is "such a worthwhile endeavor." With that, the meeting ended.
Here's the agenda.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Billboard Plans Began in 2010?
There will be 25 conventional billboards left even if Measure S passes. This includes one billboard presently advertising for a gentlemen’s club (Kellar and Boydston are both opposed to it, for whatever reason). Kellar, whose ideas of the proper role of CBS and Clear Channel varied throughout the night, said he hoped they or others might approach the City with a second deal after this first one passes that will result in the removal of all remaining boards.
*Kellar did not touch on the utility of billboards to public safety officials, a major talking point in the Yes on S literature. Again, he seemed to be playing more defense than offense. He did manage to get in a disclaimer that the electronic billboards would not be Vegas-type billboards.
Reena Newhall introduces herself to Allvision lobbyist Arthur Sohikian with, "So you're the bad guy."
The Last 100-or-so Closing Words of Each Spokesman
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Stevenson Ranch, a community unremarkable in most every regard, holds one unique distinction: the Guinness Word Record for largest tree transplanted, Old Glory. At the time it was transplanted, the oak weighed over 458 tons—about the same as 50 bull elephants—and measured 104 feet across, which is twice as wide as a typical Stevenson Ranch lot. The tree's record-breaking move resolved a standoff between tree-sitter John Quigley and the developer who wanted to cut it down for road expansion. Quigley had perched in the tree for 71 days to save it, saying “the tree has a miraculous spirit.” Or, as Dave Bossert chose to remember the events, “local environmental terrorists used the tree as a pawn to prevent the widening of Pico Canyon.”
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I don't think city council meetings leave much in the way of an impression on the scout troops that routinely lead the pledge. Tonight's cub scout troop wasn't too far from the usual: the leader instructed the kids that they were addressing Mayor Laurene "WEEST" ("I didn't know we had a girl mayor," one scout replied). Their time in city hall was spent saluting the flag, having their parents take pictures of them with a council they didn't know, and listening to some people get upset about billboards for three minutes at a time behind the microphone (they left shortly thereafter). City government must be bewildering with this as the only direct exposure the kids and their parents may ever get in their lives. And sadly, they missed the biggest events of the meeting--two purchases of land, one to hold as open space and the other to use for a Canyon Country community center. The purchases were popular. Indeed, it was a meeting of billboard discord and real estate harmony.
Mayor Weste began the meeting with an invocation on the topic of diversity. She said that "culture [is] a strong part of our lives," and she noted that many different groups would be in the spotlight this month, from Hispanics to Native Americans to Jews. But she was quick to point out, "We are all just human beings," and that we have much in common with one another. This was one of the more thought-provoking and informative invocations that I can recall.
Awards and recognitions went to some people for earning gold medals in an international (USA, Japan, Russia, Canada) karate tournament. They were actually called forward but, since some hadn't arrived yet, sent back to the audience, then invited back up again during public participation when the other couple of winners had finally arrived. Mayor Weste warned that if you enter the arena with any of these formidable folks, "You're in serious trouble." The Rubber Ducky Regatta event to benefit Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers was heralded next. As usual, someone in a large yellow duck costume came forward to accept the proclamation of Rubber Ducky Day. "You gotta love that duck," remarked Mayor Weste.
Apart from some words on mobile home park residents from Ray Henry, everyone during public participation spoke about billboards and Measure S, which would swap conventional billboards for new digital billboards along the 5 and the 14.
Speaking in favor of Measure S was Mark Hershey, who said new digital billboards would fund public safety personnel and equipment. Perhaps he doesn't know that others have already unofficially earmarked the anticipated proceeds to, variously, the senior center, buying out remaining billboards, city events and programs, more holiday light displays, and so on. B.J. Atkins didn't seem to know what B.J. Atkins wanted to say, and he rambled vaguely about Measure S, ultimately saying that people will like it. Finally, Glo Donnelly reminded us twice in the span of three minutes that she co-chaired city formation over a quarter of a century ago. She found time between these reminders to say that she supported the take-down of conventional billboards, and said the new digital billboards will only be seen by people on the freeways, whom she apparently doesn't mind forcing to look at them.
Speaking against Measure S were Steve Petzold, Patti Sulpizio, and Al Ferdman. Ferdman estimated $9M in start-up costs for the new digital billboards, and he asked when the city would actually see any share of net revenue flowing into the coffers. He also noted that he had invited Councilmember Bob Kellar, others local billboard advocates, and even individuals from Allvision to debate Measure S at a meeting of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, but he had been rebuffed by all. What's up with that?, he asked, just not in those words. Sulpizio delivered a powerful rebuke to the council on the topic: "We will vote 'no' on Measure S because you didn't listen to us...because you never asked if we want digital lights in our bedrooms at night...because we know Santa Clarita can get a better deal." Petzold called Bob Kellar's/the City of Santa Clarita's association with the website YesMeasureS reckless and irresponsible, and he said a billboard advertising La Vida Gentlemen's Club would stay up in Santa Clarita even with the billboard swap deal. This was in response to a father who had earlier remarked that he didn't think such billboard content was appropriate and that he worried his children would see it and start asking troublesome questions.
City Manager Ken Striplin responded to some of the speakers. As is the custom, he told Ray Henry that he and staff are working to update and unify ordinances that govern mobile home parks, and that, contrary to Henry's claims, the City is not working against mobile home park residents. Striplin also mentioned that the City "unfortunately" lacks control over billboard content, like the gentlemen's club ad, because of the First Ammendment. Whether free speech was generally problematic or problematic only in this instance was unclear.
The updates from council were dull and tedious with few exceptions. Councilmember Bob Kellar said he would make a presentation and field questions on the topic of Measure S, but he refused to enter into a debate. Why ever might that be? Later, Councilmember TimBen Boydston delivered one of the sassiest of backhanded compliments when he told Councilmember Danta Acosta, who spoke at a recent event, that he "wasn't sure" about Acosta's public speaking abilities, but was "proven wrong." That is, Boydston was pleasantly surprised that Acosta could handle himself behind a microphone.
The consent calendar included items to improve roads and an item to remove Arundo donax, a noxious invasive weed, from the Santa Clara River. But Item 6, which recommended a $75,000 contract for development of an Arts Master Plan, was the real point of contention. Councilmember Boydston wondered whether the plan proposal was too dismissive of ideas to build arts-supporting spaces like museums and performance centers. Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean was worried whether enough was being spent on the master plan. Indeed, the bid had come in at $94,000, but the budget was set at $75,000, which meant not everything in the initial proposal was guaranteed to make it to the final master plan. A considerable amount of time was spent debating this rather routine negotiation tactic. Arts Commissioners Shapiro and Millar came forward to say they thought it was important to give adequate funding for a complete plan. Mayor Weste said it didn't make sense to be "penny wise and pound foolish" by saving a little only to get an unsatisfactory master plan. These points were countered by the fact that the plan could be reviewed and revisited later, and additional funding could be put forward. In the end, the consent calendar items passed with the recommended actions.
Parks & Rec Director Rick Gould presented two big purchases to the council under new business. 114 acres adjoining the City's Rivendale Ranch property (Towsley Canyon) were proposed to be purchased with $1.8M in open space preservation district funds. This price is well below the $4.6M the owners listed the property for in 2008. Indeed, for a little over $15,000 an acre, the council voted to acquire the area. Gould helped sell the deal by calling it a "fabulous opportunity", and noting "I don't use the word fabulous very often.
Gould was enthusiastic about the next purchase as well--though he withheld the f-word. It was six-and-a-half acres near the intersection of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road. The property has some issues, but it's been a parcel many have wanted to purchase and develop, so the City wasn't doing too badly getting it for $4.7M. The land will be used to develop a community center for Canyon Country. Al Ferdman and Glo Donnelly were both quite pleased about the purchase when they have comments on this item. And like the purchase of the land in Towsley Canyon, this purchase was unanimously approved.
The meeting ended with Dorothy White giving a comment in the second round of public participation. She said, "I feel like we've been carpet bombed" regarding all the new traffic clogging roads near the new Albert Einstein Academy location. She said she knew there was little that could be done, however: "As I was researching this as an angry resident, I realized how tied your hands are." City Manager Ken Striplin said the school has taken some measures to try and improve the situation, but apprently these have proven unsatisfactory to White. With that, the meeting ended.
Who's got an agenda? Why the City of SC, that's who. Agenda.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Should you replace your lawn with a landscape of plants native to Santa Clarita—or at least Southern California? For me, the answer is an unqualified yes, but that’s because I’m weird and do things like make ink out of the husks of our native walnut, fantasize about stumbling across the new species of sunflower discovered in the SCV, and rejoice in encounters with small indigenous annuals like claspingleaf wild cabbage. These days, though, it’s not just weirdoes like me who have reason to be thinking about our native flora.
Saturday, September 20, 10am-4pm, Westwood
Their Autumn Garden Party includes a talk about "Reimagining the California Lawn" by Carol Bornstein (10:30am this Saturday, the 20th), which I suspect just might be based on a recent book of the same name which she co-authored. It will be a timely, trendy talk. If you go, heckle her for not pushing natives only.
Is there anything more unusual or emasculating than a native flower arranging contest? Oh well, small price to pay for a chance at free plants or discounts from Matilija Nursery. It's out in the boonies and a mostly-one-man-operation that does an interesting side business in non-native irises, but I like it. They have wholesale quantities of many LA and Ventura County native plant staples, the species likely to be the foundation of your native landscape. Plants aren't "over-grown"--they're well rooted but might not have the most luxuriant top-growth--which can be unnerving, but the prices are the best around. It's really economical if you show up for a promotion or buy big sizes, like 5- and 15-gallon plants, which are almost always more pricey elsewhere.
Be sure to browse the inventory online and show up with a list of what you want. This will make Bob Sussman (the man behind Matilija) like you instantly. It really isn't a place where you can show up and browse rows of cute little 4" dudleyas of 18 species like you'd do at Grow Native or Theodore Payne. It's a native plant nursery that, once discovered, will make you feel like you're in the know and a serious buyer more than a dabbler. But I'm sure dabblers are welcome, too.
Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery
Fall Plant Sale
October 10/11, 17/18, 8:30-4:30, Sun Valley
LA-Santa Monica Mountains CNPS Chapter
Into the Garden: Native Plant Sale 2014