Once upon a time, in an area just north of the San Fernando Valley, residents were living the good life in a rural setting named Santa Clarita. But soon the residents realized, land use zoning was being changed, creating a denser urban environment. Activists screamed, “We need more local control,” and they championed the formation of the city of Santa Clarita.
This past year has been the most challenging and frustrating period our residents have ever faced. Management, or mismanagement, of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in massive, forced unemployment in the service industry. Many small businesses have suffered, to a point that will cause their doors to permanently close. Life savings have evaporated, with some losing their homes and dreams as well. Elderly residents living on Social Security, have for a long time been just a few dollars a month from being homeless and the situation is not improving.
Yet here we are at the start of a New Year, which normally brings optimism and hope for the future. It is a time when proactive organizations review their successes and missteps over the past year. They try to decide on goals for the next 12 months and start a process of prioritizing and scheduling their future activities. Based on my belief in scheduling and planning, I started wondering what the Santa Clarita City Council and staff were thinking.
For starters, I looked to the city manager’s last monthly message and found Mr. Ken Striplin describing “a fiscally healthy city.” He tells us, “Santa Clarita was once again ranked in the top 10% of fiscally healthy cities.”
“Santa Clarita received a low-risk designation and perfect scores in the categories of liquidity, general fund reserves and in both pension and other post-employment benefits obligations.”
I am convinced residents facing the loss of everything they hold dear were not impressed to find the city of Santa Clarita’s pension program is fully funded. Because not only do these statements show a lack of compassion for small business owners and their employees, but also the many residents locked down at home as well.
Next, I drew my attention to the City Council. This year, first-time Mayor Bill Miranda is at the helm. Bill makes himself universally accessible to the public, he listens to what is being presented, and is already known for taking appropriate actions.
Jason Gibbs joined the council this year, and I believe he will be adding new perspective as well.
But when I looked over the agenda for the first council meeting of 2021, my heart sank. Were any actions included relative to the pandemic and the formation of a city health department, the power shutdowns due to Southern California Edison not properly maintaining their power distribution systems, or any other major problem facing our city residents?
No, not even one.
City Council agenda actions included renaming property and a future trail head, to honor one of the city founders. But the public hearing covering the new accessory dwelling unit ordinance took the prize.
It was Councilwoman Laurene Weste’s long-winded outpouring of displeasure, assisted by Councilwoman Marsha McLean, about a loss of local control, and the state mandating increased Santa Clarita density by approving the construction of accessory dwelling units without additional parking being required.
Yet, it was not that long ago, when these same two council members approved the “One Valley No Vision” new general plan, which doubled the valley’s proposed density, changed using real-time traffic studies to average traffic studies, and disregarded our city’s traffic and parking issues. As a more recent example, why did these same City Council members approve apartment parking for the Crossings in Newhall, at 1.8 parking spaces per unit? Why the outrage now? Could it be, Ms. Weste’s definition of local control could be translated as, when the City Council makes the decision, the council decides which area will be under-parked. But when the state mandates ADUs with no additional parking, the problem could end up right next to my house.
It comes down to a simple question. What value is it, to have a city, City Council and city staff, if they have no ability, or desire, to solve our area’s major problems? It may be true; the city of Santa Clarita was formed to bring government closer to our area’s residents. But when you place a call to City Hall, opining about the inequities of the pandemic lockdown, being without electrical power for two or three days, or having wild animals roving the streets attacking our pets, and the reply comes back, “Sorry that is out of our jurisdiction, please call the county, the state, etc.” — what value does the city provide?
Remember CEMEX? The issue was managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, completely out of the city’s responsibilities and jurisdiction. But the city felt it was important enough to spend millions of dollars to have a say about the issue, showing things out of their jurisdiction can be managed, if the desire is there.
The solution may be, to bring local government even closer to the people they represent, by implementing district representation, electing a full-time mayor to manage city staff operations, and in the meantime providing existing council members the authority to put issues each council member believes should be discussed on the City Council meeting agenda.
When our local government is again perceived to add value to city residents in their most pressing time of need, our story could, very well, have a happy ending.
Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.