Council names commissioners, OK’s bridge-widening

City of Santa Clarita City Hall

The Santa Clarita City Council kicked off its 2017 business slate yesterday by filling vacancies on several key commissions and approving plans and funds to widen the Newhall Ranch Road Bridge.

In its first meeting of the year—an unusually quick one, lasting just over an hour— the Council filled two four-year spots each on the Planning Commission; the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission; the Arts Commission; and the Open Space Preservation District’s Financial Accountability and Audit Panel, known as FAAP.

On the Planning Commission—a major player in the city’s future, with big development matters on the near horizon—five residents had applied. The appointments went to incumbent Charles Heffernan and newcomer Renee Berlin.

Heffernan was nominated by Councilman Bob Kellar, as he was four years ago. He is a civil engineer who, in his application for another term, spoke of how, “One of the proposals that is likely to be presented (during the next four years) is the planning of the Whitaker Bermite property.’’

“This property is a blank canvas, but its orderly planning is crucial to our city’s long range goals,’’ he said.

Whitaker Bermite is a 996-acre site in the center of Santa Clarita in the end stages of an environmental cleanup. Its future figures to be a key matter before the Planning Board and City Council in the coming years.

Berlin, who was nominated by Mayor Cameron Smyth, retired in December as a senior executive officer of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

She brings “a different perspective,’’ said Smyth. In picking those two for the Planning Commission, the Council passed on the applications of Stacy Fortner, Philip M. Hart and Judy Penman.

On the Arts Commission, the Council appointed incumbent John Dow and newcomer Vanessa S. Wilk from among eight applicants.

Dow, nominated by Kellar, was a founding member of the Arts Commission. Wilk, nominated by Smyth, is the wife of Santa Clarita’s state senator, Republican Scott Wilk. For two years, she was former State Sen. Sharon Runner’s representative in the Santa Clarita Valley, and, among other things, now sits on the board of the child and family center and of the Senior Center. In addition, she coordinates the Friday Republican column for The Signal.

The Council thus passed on the applications of Sara Brown, a charter-school community outreach coordinator; Hilary Darling, an artist and CalArts director; Dakotah Rains, a photographer and substitute teacher in the Hart High School District; Eric Schmidt, a freelance composer; Andree Walper, a retiree; and Hart.

For the two Parks and Rec commissionerships, the Council chose incumbent Donald S. Cruikshank and newcomer Kieran Wong from among nine applicants.

Cruikshank was nominated by Kellar and Wong was nominated by Smyth.

Also applying for the Parks and Rec spots were: Jamie Alfaro; R. Patrick Comey; Rachelle D. Jackson; Robert E. Norman; Judy Penman; Fortner; and Hart.

For the two spots on the Open Space Preservation District’s Financial Accountability and Audit Panel, the Council named a pair of newcomers, ousting incumbent James V. Farley, a nominee four years ago of then-Councilman TimBen Boydston. Farley had applied for another term.

The appointments went to Fredrick Andre Hollings, a Kellar nominee and a California Board of Equalization worker, and to Henry Rodriguez, a local insurance agent who was nominated by Smyth.

Also applying for the Open Space spots were Farley; Eileen Blankenhorn; Douglas Fraser; and Fortner.

In addition, the Council named Heidi Heinrich to fill a seat on the county’s Vector Control Board, which handles mosquito and other pest-control matters. Heinrich, a nurse with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, was the only applicant for the city’s open spot on the board.

All the appointments passed in one 4-0 vote by the Council members.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved a plan to widen the Newhall Ranch Road Bridge, as well as OK’ing construction contracts totaling about $14.3 million for the project. Most of the money will come from federal grants.

The bridge, on Newhall Ranch Road, is about a quarter-mile west of McBean Parkway and crosses the San Francisquito Creek. It is part of the Cross Valley Connector that links I-5 and State Route 14.

Newhall Ranch Road narrows from eight lanes to six in that area. According to a report from the city’s Public Works Department, “the existing bridge lane capacity is inadequate and requires widening to meet the City’s growing infrastructure needs.’’

About $11.8 million for the project will come from already-approved money from the Caltrans Federal Highway Bridge Program, according to the Public Works report.

In addition, the report said, the county has promised $3.5 million for the project over an eight-year span. The city would loan $3.5 million to the Valencia Bridge and Thoroughfare District in the interim, with the money to be paid back with interest.

The total cost of the project is about $16.2 million, with other dollars covering “construction support, construction management, inspection, labor compliance, permits, utility costs, project administration, and post construction environmental mitigation,’’ according to the report.

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