Signal 100 | A century of government coverage — Part 1

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years, there’d be a shortage of sand.”

— Milton Friedman

Since the first issue of The Mighty Signal on Feb. 7, 1919, we’ve been covering government. Ours. Yours. Theirs. We’ve written on just about every leadership position, from local dogcatcher to kings, queens, dictators and the president.

Since the 1890s, several times, we’ve tried to break away and form our own city or county. In the 1950s, we were this close to getting sold to Ventura County.

In March 1924, this newspaper penned an editorial, espousing the importance of this valley to incorporate into its own city — called Newhall. Meetings were held. Speeches given. Holes in the ozone were poked by index fingers. People from Saugus (which then included the future Canyon Country) were in a snit because they weren’t included. Someone called for compromise, unifying the valley into one city called “Oaktown.” After a year, locals just stopped going to cityhood meetings, and the idea quietly died.

There’s a few locals who can rattle off that the city of Santa Clarita was formed in December 1987, but there’s many an old-timer who forgets that we had a cityhood election to form the terribly unsexy handle of “Newhall-Saugus,” back in 1963.

It lost.

For thousands of years, many nasty and negative terms are associated with government. Inept. Corrupt. Oppressive. Imbecilic. Hypocritical. It often attracts the absolute wrong kind of person and, when the right one comes along, often he’s bullied or ignored. This newspaper has been very, very, very unkind to our alleged leaders.

On the bright side, they usually deserved it.

This small story about a Downtown L.A. vice squad raid on a small Newhall poker game in 1953 was our quiet Boston Tea Party event. It launched a movement that would end up with the formation of the city of Santa Clarita in 1987.
Courtesy photo

Cityhood: It all started with a poker game

For much of the 20th century, we really didn’t have local government. We had men’s and women’s service organizations and a fairly somnambulistic chamber of commerce. There was not much out here. It wasn’t hard to govern. Being primarily agricultural, we relied on county, state and federal agencies.

There was a half-hearted effort here in the waning days of World War II to form a city. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood took to task some local jingoists who carped about calling the city — yes — Santa Clarita. In 1945, Trueblood pointed out that the “Soledad Township (our name then; Soledad was Spanish for lonely) sure sounds a lot better than the English description of ‘Stoney Lonesome.’” Trueblood noted: “‘Mexican-haters’ would have San Fernando change its name to Fredericksburg.”

But, pretty much, we were healing from the war, building new lives and families. We were isolated and happy to be such.

One lousy poker game changed all that. On a post-Thanksgiving eve, 1953, came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Signal noted just about every male mucky muck in the SCV was enjoying beers and a big three-table poker game at the American Legion Hall (in the old movie house, behind Newhall Library today). Everyone’s having a grand SCV time when the doors burst open and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s vice squad raids the game.

From our archives: “A downtown L.A. vice squad raided a poker game at the Newhall American Legion, Post 507. Three coffee tables, $331 in cash and 245 poker chips were confiscated.”

A follow-up story noted LASD shoved a few locals around and cuffed a few more. Mind you. This wasn’t a raid on drug-crazed human traffickers or communist infiltrators. It was a group of the SCV’s leading citizens, a couple of whom were arrested.

Trueblood asked a question that naturally arose: Was it so “… consarn slow that Hollywood Vice had nothing better to do in Sin City than drive out here and bust a closed and friendly game?”

That peeved most of our community leaders.

OK. It gets worse.

In August 1955, this paper asked: “Who Changed All The Addresses?”

Locals were REALLY angry.

L.A. County changed every address in the SCV. That had a profound and rippling effect. To start, most of the addresses here were just two or three numbers long. It gave us a rural, hometown feel. The Signal still called the Soledad Township, as we were known then, “The Village.” Every business, enterprise and home was ordered to adopt a new, five-digit address.

This wreaked havoc on many levels. Businesses had to change everything from stationery to banking info to purchase orders to you name it.

Then, 18 months later, the county comes back one morning and starts changing many of our street names, including the major business district boulevard, Spruce Street. The county changed it to San Fernando Road.

Angry. Angry. Angry.

Business just got used to having a new street address with five numbers, not three. The Signal pointed out that “The old Newhall Pharmacy didn’t move an inch, but went from 645 Spruce Street to 24275 San Fernando Road. (Today, that has been switched to Main Street.) Now, they have to go through all the rigmarole and switch every piece of paperwork.”

Again.

One business leader summed it up nicely: “First they took away our time-honored Spruce Street and gave us the name of our chief trade competitor, San Fernando. Then they snatch our old numbers that we have been doing business under for many years and hand us big-city numbers that customers must learn all over again. It’s for the birds.”

People were screaming, and rightly so.

But they were screaming at the wrong agency.

It turned out a few years later, the county had actually notified the SCV several times and wanted to set up community meetings to discuss the matter. The notices went to the president of the local chamber. Unread, he tossed them in the trash.

Years went by. Led by your community leader in grumbling, The Mighty Signal, we started chalking up how the county and state kept trying to shove unwanted items down the valley’s throat — things like prisons, epic garbage dumps and rehab centers. We were freeway-close to downtown and the county’s red-headed stepchild.

Still.

This started a bubbling eruption that would result in that ill-fated attempt to form the city of — no kidding — Newhall City.

Originally, The Signal noted this 1963 duchy would be about 16 square miles surrounding present-day Newhall and have a population of around 12,000. It would have 2,762 dwelling units and 3,286 registered voters. Estimated assessed property valuation was about $13 million. This new Newhall City would float a 1% property tax (on top of the county taxes) on that figure. Estimated yearly revenue for the city was a whopping $427,000. The then-L.A. County Boundary Commission cut the square footage down to just 7 square miles.

That special election came in January 1964. The move to incorporate Newhall into its own city was defeated narrowly by a 53%-47% margin. An anti-city protest, organized by a group of developers and locals called The Good Government Committee, helped raise money and petitions to defeat cityhood.

Someone, oh, could it be — The Newhall Land and Farming Co.? — spent a small fortune in a PR disinformation campaign that swung the election against forming a city.

While Canyon County lost its bid in a county-wide election, one humorous sidebar came out of the 1976 polls. Five supervisors to Canyon County were elected, but didn’t have a county to represent. A politician’s dream? From left, Canyon County’s ghost supervisors: Gil Callowhill, John Marlette, Carl Boyer, Don Jennings and George Wells.
Courtesy photo

Countyhood: It all started with a corpse

About a decade passed.

Almost quietly, local citizens like attorney Dan Hon, Carl Boyer and Connie Worden, to name a few, worked on an epic project. Hon, also a Signal columnist, appeared before the state Assembly to propose that Santa Clarita become its own city/county. Hon pointed out how the valley had quadrupled from 15,000 in 1950 to 60,000 in 1970 and had the highest property taxes in the state — yet it had little say in its governing. Hon also pointed out that there were 23 counties in California that had fewer people than the SCV yet had more representation.

So, twice in the mid-1970s, we tried to form our own county — the hauntingly poetic and appropriate: Canyon County.

Nov. 22, 1974, was a benchmark date. The first meeting on forming a separate county was held at the Hart Auditorium. About 100 citizens attended. There had not been a new county added to California since 1911, and that was when Imperial County was formed. Many anecdotes were vociferously shared about L.A. being inattentive to our SCV needs. A local woman whose husband died shared a poignant story. She tried, unsuccessfully, for three months to get his death certificate from downtown. Finally, a county bureaucrat made an appointment for her to come to L.A. to settle the matter. When she got there, she was informed the man she was supposed to see was on vacation and wouldn’t be back for a month.

Over the next few years, The Signal would print dozens of stories of an inattentive L.A. County.

That original Canyon County?

Remember. Starting in 1938, California divided the state’s unincorporated areas into townships. We were the Soledad Township. Our borders covered 1,000 square miles, touching Gorman, Palmdale, Chatsworth, San Fernando, Acton and the Ventura county line. Canyon County’s 1974 original boundaries essentially mirrored that old 1938 district.

The Mighty Signal was passionately in favor of Canyon County. On Sept 12, 1974, Signal Publisher Scott Newhall penned one of his famous death-to-traitors front-page editorials. Scott noted that L.A. County was “… just the leftovers of a byzantine system designed to benefit a few politicians and power brokers.”

I remember not being too enthusiastic about our chances for self-representation. It wasn’t a local election. It was a countywide one and people from the entire, sprawling borough had to vote. The great majority could care less about Santa Clarita and most take more thought deciding curly or crinkle cut fries. I think there was just a dumbbell gut reaction that voters didn’t want their county to shrink. The Canyon County movement failed 65%-35% at the polls. When we tried two years later, with The Signal swinging mightily for secession, we failed again, 65-35.

Countyhood Part II: It started with a rapist

Again, as elephantine organizations often do, Los Angeles County fumbled, stumbled, punished and ignored us after the 1974 loss, all the while trying to prove how well long-distance government was working.

More fuel was added to the fight between Los Angeles County and the SCV. The Signal reported in February 1976 that L.A. published “To Serve 7 Million.” It was their annual report on how the county government was functioning. Well, to many of us, not well. Seems on the very cover of the report, L.A. had a map of their own county. Missing from it was a good portion of the SCV, Gorman, Agua Dulce and the entire Antelope Valley.

A few days later, The Signal ran a news story about local Joe Rollins. Joe was seething over the handling of his stolen car case by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office downtown. Seems Joe’s car was stolen by a multiple-repeat car thief and multiple-convicted rapist. Joe’s expensive sports car was wrecked. They caught the perp the same day. A few days later, the career criminal was let go with a misdemeanor joyriding ticket.

Meanwhile, The Signal noted that the local formation committee was wondering if part of the problem was the name. If Canyon County lost in 1974, would changing the handle help? A committee suggested calling California’s 59th county, Nesaval.

Cripes that’s awful.

It derived from taking the “Ne” from Newhall, the “sa” from Saugus and the “val” from Valencia. Nesaval.

Sounds French for who gives a flying … er, achoo

Despite all The Signal’s bluster and pontificating, Canyon County lost again at the polls in 1976. You can’t blame local developers for backing a huge PR campaign to kill the venture. Had Canyon County passed, developers like Newhall Land. could face spending millions and years, reapplying for permits they already had with L.A. County.

And of course, L.A. County was staunchly against losing the SCV. They published all manner of inaccurate, dishonest and plain wrong reports. Dan Hon had the absolute best line in a pre-election 1976 Signal column:

“They’re assuming that we would run things with the inefficiency of L.A. County.”

One odd comedy of that November 1976 loss was that while Canyon County failed (again), the local measure to appoint five supervisors did not. The supes were sort of a government in exile, without any geography to govern. They met to do what most politicians do every day: agree to study the situation further.

A little Canyon County trivia? the election to create California’s newest breakaway county cost L.A. taxpayers — and us — $288,000.

Come back next week for Part 2 of how The Signal covered government. I will share how one person gets my vote for The Most Notorious Person in The History of the SCV and how a thrown tomato cost us half a city.

Starting in the 1960s, off-and-on, John Boston has worked for The Signal for nearly 40 years. He’s the local historian, novelist, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal and has earned 119 major writing awards. Come back next Saturday for installment No. 39 out of 52 in our 100th Anniversary and History of The Mighty Signal.

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