City Council listened to a nearly full city council chambers’ worth of citizens and representatives of organizations Tuesday night.
Council members discussed the pros and cons of the potential new Santa Clarita Valley water agency that would be a result of Senator Scott Wilk’s Senate Bill 634. Tuesday morning, the bill passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources 7-0.
The merger, which would eliminate the Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall County Water District in favor of the new agency, is reported to save the valley $14 million over 10 years.
While the council cannot pass or reject the bill, their support will be relayed to the senate to provide insight from the city’s perspective. The council, with the exception of Councilwoman McLean, agreed to send a letter in support of the bill that will be reviewed before submission by the city’s legislative committee.
McLean expressed concern about adjusting rates for residents in accordance with their water use and thinks more customers should be made aware of the bill. She said she thought the bill should go back to the legislature before moving forward and does not think it is complete as is.
“I’m not sure you can be in favor of a bill that is in such flux,” McLean said.
Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste complimented water agency experts and supported the collaboration of agencies’ talent.
“I think if they are working together, they’ll do a better job of planning, recycling and conserving,” she said.
Councilman Bob Kellar agreed with Weste and said he has full confidence in the water district boards.
“I want to encourage this bill to go forward with the full acknowledgement that it is still a work in progress,” he said. “Ultimately, I know it’s going to be a better outcome for the people of Santa Clarita.”
Mayor Cameron Smyth recognized that the city is changing and recognized Wilk’s work to keep the bill moving. He said an opposition to the bill would be detrimental to the bill’s progress.
Councilmember Bill Miranda asked whether the opposition of citizens was directed to the merger or the bill itself and thinks the bill is a good starting point. He agreed with Kellar that the bill was a work in progress and said he wanted citizens to have a say in the bill.
Mail, emails and a survey were sent to residents to make them aware of the potential merger.
It was also noted that Senator Henry Stern, who serves on the committee who voted Tuesday, chose not to vote on the bill after expressing concerns.
Gary Martin, member of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board of directors, asked the council for their support in the spirit of unity.
“We’re friends, neighbors and colleagues,” Martin said. “It’s time to put our differences aside in favor of this one water district.”
B.J. Atkins, Vice President of the Newhall County Water District said he is looking forward to the opportunity to unite the agencies and asked the council for their support.
“This concept is good government at work,” Atkins said.
Maria Gutzeit, board president for the Newhall district, reiterated that 14 of 15 board members total from both agencies are fully in support of the merger.
“SB 634 will take us from good water management to a model of great management,” she said.
Residents also gave insight into their views of the district merger and the bill itself.
“A single water agency under public ownership is in our best interest,” local Ben Beniger said.
Dave Lutness said he did not want to take a position on the bill because it was still in progress, but expressed concerns with it, including letting board members keep their posts for an extra two years without an election.
“The proper thing, the right thing and the only moral thing to do would be to remain mute,” he said.
Lynne Plambeck, the one opposing vote from the districts, also gave her testimony in opposition of the bill.
“It’s really important that you understand what this bill will do and do not support it,” Plambeck said.
Citizen Sally White, as well as two other locals, opposed the bill and said voters and ratepayers should have a say in the merger before a decision is made.
Additionally, council members also approved the second reading of the most recent iteration of the Old Town Newhall plan.
This version returns to the original plan’s wording of what qualifies as a “specialty retail” store for the arts and entertainment district after Mayor Smyth and council members Miranda and Kellar expressed concern that the language allowed for too many exceptions to be made for what type of stores would be allowed on Main Street.
In anticipation of the second public hearing for the Chiquita Canyon Landfill on April 19, four citizens expressed their concern with the expansion.
The Signal’s Director of Veterans Affairs Bill Reynolds addressed the council and proposed June 30 as the deadline for the completion of the Fallen Warriors Monument and asked that the design would be finalized by April 12.
In an effort to gain information about missing local man William Cierzan, the council established a $5,000 reward to find him. Cierzan was last seen on January 26 and went missing in the evening in between talking to his wife on the phone and cooking dinner.
Volunteers have spent nearly 6,000 hours searching for him, one community member said. She also said she does not think the $5,000 will be enough and suggested raising the reward to $10,000.
In response, Councilman Bob Kellar proposed and approved doubling the reward amount.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean asked if there was policy for companies who make electrical or water repairs to city streets to restore the streets after making repairs to make the streets look better.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Chief of Police Roosevelt Johnson was recognized for his service alongside Santa Clarita, as he is being promoted and will be leaving his current role. Captain Robert Lewis will be taking his place as chief starting Sunday.
“It’s been a tremendous ride for me and a tremendous opportunity for me and my family,” Johnson said. “I have not worked in a place that had such a fine staff as this city. I want to thank all of you for your support for law enforcement in this community.”
Notably, a large portion of the audience was filled with Santa Clarita’s Assyrian community in recognition of the Assyrian New Year.
“This is a testament to the growth of diversity in our community in California,” Mayor Smyth said.
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