It rained most of the day Thursday, and Thursday night at College of the Canyons, it rained City Council candidates.
Fifty Santa Clarita residents have applied for the vacant seat on the Council—and 24 of them braved wet roads to take part in a Signal and COC sponsored issues forum attended by a crowd that varied between 30 and 50 spectators at any one time.
Taking questions from Signal Vice President and Editor Jason Schaff and Managing Editor Jana Adkins, the 24 participants were looking to make themselves stand out in the 50-person field that will go before the four sitting Council members on Tuesday night during a special Council session.
At that time, the sitting members hope to select a fifth member to complete the Council’s roster—a vacancy that occurred when Dante Acosta stepped down on Dec. 6 to join the state Assembly. Ultimately, the Council’s appointment of a new member might spill over to the body’s regular meeting of Jan. 24.
Chuck Champion, publisher and co-owner of The Signal, moderated Thursday night’s COC forum.
Earlier this week, each of the 50 contenders was emailed two questions by The Signal concerning key issues facing the city. Thirty responded —their answers appeared in Wednesday’s paper—and only those 30 were invited to participate in the COC forum.
Of those 30, 24 showed up.
Each was asked two questions and got the chance to deliver a closing statement.
Among the spectators at COC were two of the people who will vote on the Council appointment – Councilwoman Marsha McLean, taking notes throughout, and Mayor Cameron Smyth, who stayed briefly.
Traffic, one of the dominant issues in the city, was a subject broached with each of the applicants during the roughly two-hour proceedings.
“We’ve been here for an hour and a half, and we’ve all become traffic experts,’’ joked Dikran Melkonian, a LAPD officer and one of the applicants on hand after hearing the applicants’ myriad of potential solutions.
On the subject of traffic, better synchronization of lights was one often-heard refrain among the applicants—as were improved and expanded public transportation, more protected turning lanes, luring more jobs to the city to minimize cars on the road, building new roads through the 996-acre Whitaker Bermite site once it is cleaned up, and working with the state to improve the I-5 and state Route 14.
“We need a three-fold approach,’’ said Alan Ferdman, who finished fourth in the November Council race, when two seats were up.
“One, better use of our roads, with more turnout (lanes)…and we can look to improve public transportation. Second, we can look to the building of additional roads. (And building) infrastructure…as new developments come in (while making developers contribute).”
“We need to create (local) jobs so people don’t have to commute,’’ said Brent A. Braun, a lawyer and retired FBI agent, who also called for a “summit” with tech companies to enable the city to “think outside the box’’ for more creative traffic-flow solutions.
Former Councilman TimBen Boydston, who finished third in the November race, said, “It’s important to redo the master plan…to make sure we are continuing to build out the city’’ with less high-density housing and “more commercial and industrial.’’ He also called for more high-tech synchronization of lights, taking the system “to the next level.”
“What we need to do is, take the entire system and tie it together …so people with their smart phones can tie into our traffic grid,’’ he said.
Diane Trautman, a former Planning Commission member, said, “We’re going to have to do some long-range planning’’ to “get ahead of” population and development growth.
She added, “We can’t just do this with roadways, we need to get people out of their cars. We need to improve public transit.’’
Cristen Farrell, a senior human-resources administrator for Quest Diagnostics, also pushed for long-range traffic planning, saying, “What I haven’t heard is, what are we doing now to plan for 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now? … I think we have to look farther.’’
Ken Wiseman, CEO of Santa Clarita’s AMS Fulfillment Center (and the top honoree in The Signal’s 2016 list of 51 civic contributors to the city), called for businesses to explore “point to point” busing, among other possible solutions.
Beyond traffic, issues broached with the applicants included development of the Whitaker Bermite site, attracting jobs, public safety, homelessness, senior-citizen issues, and the city’s recently enacted moratorium on recreational marijuana shops, now that Proposition 64 has passed.
Some snapshots from other comments made by the applicants:
* Kenneth Dean, a November Council candidate and a member of the city’s Foundation Committee 30 years ago, said he would oppose widespread housing on the Whitaker Bermite site, fearing that long-buried toxins from years of weapons testing in the site would seep up (despite cleanup assurances) and pose heath dangers. “I can see this area for roads, but as far as development of schools, homes … absolutely not,’’ Dean said.
* Michael Cruz, a paralegal who just completed a four-year term on the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission, said he is worried that the new Trump administration will be friendlier to Cemex, the Mexican mining giant that hopes to open operations in Soledad Canyon. The Council “will need to be more vigilant,” he said, to continue local opposition efforts.
* Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy, a lawyer, said city council “needs to look at going to districting” rather than its current at-large voting system – which made the city the defendant in a recent lawsuit, and – Baldwin-Kennedy warned – could once again subject the city to such litigation.
THHe complete list of Thursday night’s participants (in alphabetical order): Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy; TimBen Boydston; Brent A. Braun; Michael Cruz; Kenneth Dean; Gene Dorio; Cristen Farrell; Alan Ferdman; Jason Gibbs; Tito Gonzalez; Brett Haddock; Matthew Hargett; Marcus Hershey; Jack Levenberg; Timothy McLaughlin; Dikran Melkonian; Gloria Mercado-Fortine; Bret Mouser; Phillip Phethean; Jacqueline Thomas; Diane Trautman; Sean Weber; Nancy “Tyger” White; and Ken Wiseman.