By Signal Staff
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death at age 90 on Friday drew recollections from local elected officials who described her as a groundbreaking leader who helped many other women secure seats at the table of political leadership — and was also known locally as an ally in the city of Santa Clarita’s fight against the proposed Cemex sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.
“California has lost an iconic leader and trailblazer,” state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said in a statement emailed to The Signal. “Over the years I had occasion to work with Sen. Feinstein on a few district issues. She was helpful, engaged and always gracious. My deepest condolences to her family and friends. Whether or not you agreed with her politically, Sen. Feinstein was a true public servant.”
State Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, posted a statement Friday on X, formerly known as Twitter, describing Feinstein as a breaker of barriers for women.
“Sen. Feinstein was ahead of her time — the eighth woman to be elected to the Senate — breaking barriers so today, it’s common to see women in office,” Schiavo, who represents most of the Santa Clarita Valley, wrote in her post. “The California Legislature has almost reached gender parity and that starts with Feinstein’s leadership. My love and gratitude to her family.”
The California Democrat’s 30 years in the Senate — after ascending from a Bay Area political career including three terms as the first woman mayor of San Francisco — made her the longest-serving female U.S. senator.
Feinstein was familiar to many SCV leaders over the years not only for her role on the national scene, but also for attention she focused on issues the SCV faced in connection to the federal government, such as the proposed Cemex mine in Soledad Canyon.
In October 2007, she visited the SCV — which at the time was known for its more decidedly conservative political leanings — to offer an update on locally relevant federal issues in an event hosted at the Hyatt Regency Valencia by the city of Santa Clarita, the Valley Industry Association and the SCV Chamber of Commerce.
“Despite the conservative reputation of Santa Clarita, more than 400 people packed the Grand Ballroom at the Hyatt Valencia Tuesday to welcome California Democrat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein as she gave her ‘Washington Report’ to the city,” read The Signal’s news story reporting on the event.
“The senator covered the major issues facing Congress and discussed the Santa Clarita’s Cemex mine issue as well, offering her help with the problems the city is facing with the possible expansion of mining activities in Soledad Canyon,” the article added.
Feinstein offered to try to mediate the dispute among Santa Clarita, Cemex and the federal Bureau of Land Management, and would later go on to put forth legislation seeking to prevent the Soledad Canyon site from being mined.
“For nearly two decades, Santa Clarita has worked tirelessly to prevent CEMEX from mining on federal land next to this historic city. I’ve been a strong supporter of the city’s efforts and I’m extremely pleased that their battle is coming to a successful conclusion,” the senator said in a March 2019 news release after the U.S. Interior Department’s Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled that Cemex mining rights to Soledad Canyon would expire in July 2020.
“The IBLA’s ruling to finally end Cemex’s long-term mining rights in Soledad Canyon is an excellent resolution to this case and I fully support it.”
Cemex would go on to win a federal court ruling in 2022 vacating the IBLA decision. The eventual fate of the decades-old mining proposal remains in limbo in 2023 as Cemex seeks a permit from the state Water Resources Control Board.
In the 2007 event at the Hyatt, Feinstein also advocated for federal anti-gang legislation and cautioned against complacency regarding issues that can impact a growing community like Santa Clarita.
“You’re the third safest city in California and the 11th safest city in the nation, but you have five gangs with 200 people in them,” Feinstein said at the 2007 event. “I want to see that there is a federal helping hand to stop the spread of gangs.”
“Dianne Feinstein has answered our calls for help,” Santa Clarita Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who was serving as mayor at the time, said in The Signal’s 2007 story.
On Friday, McLean said in a written statement that Feinstein also had been instrumental in the passage of legislation to stop a massive landfill from being developed in Elsmere Canyon in the 1990s, supporting the efforts of McLean and other local activists. “Because of the years of environmental advocacy by Sen. Feinstein, we not only don’t have the world’s largest garbage dump at the gateway to our city but are able to enjoy the extensive greenbelt surrounding our city.”
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the SCV, issued a statement Friday recalling the senator’s efforts to help L.A. County’s public health services.
“I had the honor of receiving her endorsement when I first ran for L.A. County 5th District supervisor in 2016,” Barger wrote. “Our paths initially crossed when our county’s Department of Health Services was on the brink of collapsing. She was instrumental in working with the Clinton Administration to obtain a waiver for Los Angeles County so that we could direct dollars from our public hospitals to outpatient care. That was a game changer – not only for our county, but for the health care industry in general.”
The supervisor added: “Dianne Feinstein was a powerhouse if I ever met one. Her depth of knowledge was incomparable. She understood the complexities of every issue … She will be greatly missed. Senator Feinstein was always a class act.”