Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Abomination that is Santa Clarita's Flag


I watched a compelling TED talk by Roman Mars, a call to action at once humorous and heartfelt. It's about city flags, why they matter, and designing a good one. You may be rolling your eyes, as I did at first, but give the guy a chance to prove why "100% of people care about flags":

Mars thinks all cities should have flags they can be proud of and incorporate into civic life. He puts forward five simple design rules credited to vexillologist Ted Kaye, author of Good Flag, Bag Flag: How to Design a Great Flag. They are: (1)Keep it simple, (2)Use meaningful symbolism, (3)Use 2-3 basic colors, (4)No lettering or seals, (5)Be distinctive or be related. Easy enough, right? By these criteria, good city flags include those of Chicago, Portland, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong.

Conversely, bad city flags include those of San Francisco, Pocatello, and Fort Providence.

Now, what about the flag of Santa Clarita? There's good news and bad news. The good news is that we care enough to have one. The bad news is that it's an abomination. It's not simple. It uses a seal and lettering. It has too many colors. Some of the symbols are too crudely rendered to even be interpreted. And what is meaningful about the red border and white field? The mistakes are too many and too profound to salvage the flag. We have to start from scratch.

Think of all the symbols we have to draw from. There's gold, which put Santa Clarita on the map, is the color of her hillsides, and resonates with California history. We are a community of junctions--black bars for canyons, blue for the Santa Clara River, or perhaps a dramatic gap to symbolize Beale's Cut. Claritans cherish their oaks, the leaves of which can be strikingly abstracted. Good design isn't easy, but at least there's plenty of inspiration.

Perhaps more importantly, though, we need a groundswell of support for a new flag. I think the easiest way to accomplish this is to (1)Obtain a copy of Santa Clarita's flag, and (2)Show it to people. The outrage will be immediate, visceral, and invigorating. I'm in the process of drafting a more formal plan of action, but right now, we just need to start opening residents' eyes to the horrors of the banner that is supposed to represent them and their fair city. To all those who heart Santa Clarita, let us find a flag worthy of her name.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Plan for Master's College, A Bridge for Connie Worden-Roberts

Tonight’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council was a short one. There were almost no speakers on any of the agenda items, and most of the business to be done was of the we-have-to-do-it sort.

Mayor McLean opened the meeting by asking, “What is a legacy?” She had legacies on her mind not just in anticipation of her own, but because of the passing of many notable Claritans this year.

Awards and recognitions came next. Student winners of a Sister Cities artist/author showcase were lauded for their work and got their photos taken with the whole council--they were clearly thrilled . The City received a giant $176,000 “rebate check” from Southern California Edison, equivalent to the amount saved through energy efficiency/conservation since 2010 as part of a community energy partnership. Right now, the City is at Edison’s gold tier level, but platinum level is within reach. For most, this was the most exciting revelation of the meeting.

Public Participation

Elaine Ballace opened things up with comments about mobile home parks. She cited a recent news article describing the profitability of owning mobile home parks. She said residents are getting “totally ripped off” while owners get rich. Ballace admonished the council to “take care of your residents!” and not to believe that park owners are barely scraping by.

Al Ferdman spoke next and brought up Santa Clarita’s Shangri La water deal for at least the second time in recent weeks. That community has unstable hillsides that are dewatered with pumps, and the water produced years ago was too high in chlorides. Santa Clarita reached an agreement to pay a fine, half of which would go to improving water infrastructure for the SCV. The money is still sitting around, slated to increase capacity at a plant that will most directly benefit the future Newhall Ranch community. Ferdman was upset at the mismatch between who pays and who benefits.

Finally, roller hockey enthusiasts and parents asked for the council to consider studying the feasibility of installing a roller hockey rink/facility in Santa Clarita. Currently, families have to drive to Burbank. Frank Dalessandro, the apparent guru of Burbank roller hockey, said it would be a great addition to the community.    

The City Council responded enthusiastically to the idea of SCV roller hockey. Councilmembers Weste and Boydston were on board with studying the feasibility, and Mayor McLean suggested a meeting with Dalessandro to get the ball rolling. Weste also addressed the mobile home park comments. She asked City Attorney Joe Montes to explain the concept of “fair rate of return” as it applies to mobile home park owners. (Recall that after the council voted to decrease the minimum annual increase on rents, they were threatened with litigation by these owners.) Montes said that a city can set rent increase policy, but modifying existing policies in such a way as to benefit renters at the expense of owners could lead to lawsuits. The court has usually sided with the owners in such cases. In other words, Weste was again sympathetic to renters, but cognizant of how little the council could realistically do to help them.
When Boydston asked for further explanation of the Shangri La water agreement, City Manager Ken Striplin offered additional detail. He said that it wasn’t a hasty settlement but the result of three years of negotiation. Boydston was somewhat satisfied with the answer, but he asked for Striplin to determine who will actually benefit from increased water treatment capacity and share his findings at a future meeting. Boydston doesn’t want to see developers enjoy benefits paid for by current residents.

Consent Calendar

The consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions on all items and without comment. That means the City will be purchasing a $200K patch truck unit to help with city roads, you can’t get a massage after 10 p.m. (second reading), trees will be trimmed through 2016, and investment policy will stay on track.

Public Hearings and New Business

Up next was consideration of a new low impact development ordinance relating to stormwater runoff. The City’s stormwater permit requires such an ordinance, which essentially guides development to incorporate strategies that enhance rainwater treatment and retention: lots of swales and permeable surfaces. Samples of how the Newhall Library, Chick-Fil-A, and others accomplished these goals were shown. Councilmember TimBen Boydston used the item as an opportunity to riff on burdensome mandates from the State. He said these measures can be expensive for construction that will drain large areas (e.g., big parking lots). He spoke for a while longer, eventually ending with the observation that people keep moving to SoCal even though there isn’t enough water and that we can’t pass a law against that. His venting over, the council passed the ordinance to a second reading unanimously.

Master’s College is looking to build new dorms as part of its modified master plan. Roads must grow in concert. Consequently, a couple of alternative plans are being considered. Staff proposed awarding a contract to Lilley Planning Group to weight the options. Planning Manager Jeff Hogan explained that the City awarded a contract to prepare an EIR. He continued: “The City Council also directed staff to hire an independent consultant to evaluate both roadway options as a result of the project’s location [next] to a City Councilmember’s property, Councilmember Weste. The City Council believes this report and recommendation will provide the community with additional assurance that the roadway options in the EIR would be independently reviewed.” Weste has recused herself from this item because of her proximity to the college, so I wasn’t clear on why an extra $20K was needed to be somehow even more independent in the analysis of the two road options. No one from Placerita Canyon was present to speak, and it’s just an independent analysis anyhow (no recommendation yet), so the contract was awarded.

The final item of the evening was a heartfelt remembrance of Connie Worden-Roberts, a major figure in Santa Clarita's recent history and our community’s “road warrior.” At Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s urging last meeting, the council considered naming the Golden Vallery Road bridge to honor her. He said, “She’s got her thumb on every inch of that eight-and-a-half mile road…I gotta tell you that the level that Connie Worden-Roberts served this community, I will tell you, I look at her as virtually a stand-alone citizen.” Every one supported the proposal. Leon Worden was in the audience to witness the awarding of this honor.

There were no additional public speakers and the meeting ended a bit before 9.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No CC Recap This Week Because Car

FYI: I won't be writing a recap of tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting because I wasn't there and couldn't even watch much of it on my phone. While driving north on the 405 in rush hour traffic, my beloved Ford Focus, Sydney, died in the fast lane (fuel pump issue). If my car's failure delayed you on the drive home, I apologize for being "that guy". Highway patrol was pretty quick in getting me off to the shoulder, so hopefully you didn't miss too many priceless moments like dance recitals, soccer games, or illicit affairs on strict schedules.

Despite a light agenda, the council meeting apparently went on for quite a while over the issue of vaping in public. When I have time, I'll watch the meeting here and suggest you do the same. Luke Money and Perry Smith are typically more prolific in their live tweeting of these meetings, but the tweets tonight were sporadic at best. Public shaming is the only recourse; I shall relent when they publish their accounts of tonight's events.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Council Tackles State Legislation, Mobile Home Tensions Persist

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

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

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

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

Public Participation on Other Matters

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

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

Roundup of Additional Comments

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

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

Consent Calendar

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

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

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

Welcome Spring

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

Public Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consent Calendar

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

Red Light for Redflex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA-RICS Installation Strongly Opposed

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No Deep Wells for Stanch, Elsewhere Fair Game?

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

"Show me the suffering"

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


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

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

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

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

Consent Given

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

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

Mobile Park Owners Dismayed

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

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

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

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

The Discussion Before the Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanch Speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motions, motions, motions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Deep Well Injection Visual

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

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

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

*Hyatt Regency height = 73 feet

*Two-story house height = 25 feet

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

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

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

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

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