Community fills chambers, council talks annual budget and mobile home parks

At the city council meeting on June 13, the chambers were full of community members.

After months of city staff’s preparation, city council approved Santa Clarita’s budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year at their Tuesday meeting to a fully packed city council chambers.

The budget for this fiscal year totals $197.7 million. This budget is a 10.1 percent, or $22.3 million, decrease from 2016-17.

Councilmembers thanked staff for their timely and tight budget and Mayor Cameron Smyth compared the city’s work to his experience in the State Assembly.

“After six years of Sacramento budgets, it’s quite refreshing to have budgets balanced and on time,” Smyth said.

A decrease in the Capital Improvement Program spending lent itself to the smaller budget.

As funds for the Old Town Newhall Parking Structure and the Saugus Library and Community Center required one-time only funding, the program totals $33.7 million this year, a 34.1 percent decrease from last.

“It comes down to a matter of timing and when we’re funding certain projects,” City Manager Ken Striplin said.

Santa Clarita’s budget includes funding for the Capital Improvement Program, the Redevelopment Successor Agency, operations and maintenance, personnel and debt services.

The largest portion of the budget is the General Fund, which is $103.6 million, followed by General Fund appropriations at $103.3 million.

Efforts to put together the budget are aligned with Santa Clarita’s 2020 plan, according to the city manager.

Mayor Smyth and Councilwoman Laurene Weste commented on a state-mandate to replace grass with artificial grass, expressing that California required them to do so without providing the funding.

Council and community members continued discussing changes to the mobile home park municipal code as well.

According to Councilman Bill Miranda, who is on the city development committee, he said he is “generally happy” with the changes that have been made to the code thus far.

However, he said he believes the wording that indicates park owners “are encouraged” to notify residents of rent increases ought to be changed to “must” notify.

Additionally, instead of requiring one more than 50 percent of residents to file an appeal on a rent increase, Miranda said it should be 33 percent of residents.

“I asked that number be changed to a more ‘reasonable’ one, thereby giving the residents more of an opportunity to air any grievances,” Miranda said to The Signal.

In response to a desire for extended definitions in the code on certain terminology, city staff provided definitions and examples for those terms that required it.

Some mobile home park residents had expressed concern in recent months that hiring an administrative hearing officer would take longer than using a panel.

City staff said having an officer would reduce appeal hearings from two to one and would allow for several hearing officers to hear appeals simultaneously, saving time.

Some residents also requested that city council give final approval for appeal decisions. City staff left this up to council to decide, but recommended the decisions continue to be finalized at the appeal hearing.

“I appreciate your continued work to move forward with this process,” Greenbrier Kevin Eliason said.

Property Manager of Parkland Estates Athena Jinks suggested council provide park owners with more time to inform residents with their rental adjustment letters.

Multiple residents expressed concern on paying for capital improvements.

“Mobile home parks are a business,” Greenbrier Regional Supervisor Naney Must said. “I understand the frustration, but no matter what side of you’re on, residents are never going to feel they have a fair rent increase.”

Miranda said he understood the need to be business-friendly, but acknowledged that the owners chose to enter these businesses and should be sympathetic to the needs of residents.

Councilman Bob Kellar said he agrees with having a hearing officer but does not agree with appealing to the council after a decision is made.

The council will review further changes on June 27.

Also, Councilman Bob Kellar was appointed as a representative for the Santa Clarita Valley Groundwater Agency Board and Councilwoman Laurene Weste was appointed as the alternate.

The city staff will contribute insight by having a councilmember on the board, which serves to monitor groundwater in the valley.

When the council first discussed choosing a member, McLean was the only one who vocalized interest.

One community member used public comment time to tell the council he believes there should be a “veterans’ preferred initiative” to benefit veteran-owned businesses.

City Manager Ken Striplin said the city staff would research this and Councilman Miranda thought it was a good idea to give veterans preference when looking for jobs.

One local said he does not think the size or resources for the Bridge to Home shelter is sufficient for the city’s need. Another local agreed with the resident and said she wanted the city to find ways to train homeless people for jobs.

Striplin addressed the speakers, informing them of Measure H, the city’s ad hoc committee on homelessness and plans for affordable housing.

“I think the speakers raised a lot of legitimate issues, issues the city has addressed over time,” Striplin said. “This will only be rectified by the community coming together.”

Councilwoman Laurene Weste said there is an ongoing effort to get a permanent housing shelter for the homeless.

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