After being under fire for sending out what residents have described as an ambiguous letter, about a proposed streetlight maintenance assessment to homeowners, the city of Santa Clarita is working to provide the public with clarifications.
On the city’s website, staff published on Tuesday a frequently asked questions page, listing 14 questions and answers, including one the most asked by recipients of the letter: why?
“We have put out a frequently asked questions (webpage) as of yesterday online and there is talk about outreach as well, but it’s in the preliminary stages,” Carrie Lujan, the city’s communications manager, said Wednesday.
Outreach in the form of a follow-up letter before the Jan. 22 ballot and public hearing deadline come after a suggestion by newly named Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“We need to do a better job of communicating this,” he said. “If we have to spend additional dollars to send a follow-up mailer…something that is easy for a non-technical person to understand so they know clearly what they’re voting on, I think that is money well spent…”
The letter, sent out to roughly 34,000 homes in late November, indicated that the recipient’s annual streetlight maintenance rate of $12.38, keeping steady for the past 20 years, would have to rise to $81.71 in order to continue maintaining streetlights in their neighborhoods.
The letter then read ballots would be mailed out, on which they would have to vote either “yes” to indicate “support maintaining streetlight services in your neighborhood” or “no” to “indicate you are opposed.”
Many who received the notice expressed confusion, questioning why the city was asking owners to consider paying more and what voting “no” actually meant.
Special Districts Manager Kevin Tonoian told the City Council that the city is trying to have everyone on the same pay rate to bring the city in compliance with state law. To help achieve that, the city was only polling those still in the streetlight zone that pay the $12.38 rate. A remaining 25,000 property owners “have already been balloted and voted to move into the zone that pays the full rate.”
He also mentioned the city’s ongoing process of assuming local ownership of streetlights, which would then transition into LED streetlights, saving the city around $32 million through the first 30 years.
“The savings that we will incur from owning the system will be used toward paying those bonds (in the amount of $15 million to pay for streetlights and conversion to LED),” he said. “As we get into greater savings, we will be able to pass those savings along onto our residents…”
Despite the breakdown Tonoian provided, some council members said they were still confused, including Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who turned in her gavel as mayor to Marsha McLean Tuesday.
Weste said, “I got the ballot and was shocked. There’s just a real confusion and problem here. I need to see a lot more information and I need to understand it and our residents need to understand it.”
Donald Ricketts, a retired attorney and Santa Clarita resident, is also behind the suggestion of a follow-up letter to property owners. On Tuesday he sent a letter asking Tononian to “send a letter to all recipients of your Nov. 29 letter correcting this very significant error. If I do not have a positive response by Dec. 21 I will assume this request is declined.”
Ricketts said Wednesday he has since not heard back.