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My top choice for City Council

Democratic Voices

Posted: March 25, 2008 5:52 p.m.
Updated: May 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Elections, whether they involve candidates running for student body office or president of the United States, should be based on three things - competence, social skills and an impressive track record. A candidate should possess the ability to intelligently make decisions, as well as measure conflicting demands of the constituents in a respectful, ethical and socially acceptable manner. This takes finesse, perseverance, fine-tuned listening skills and a deep regard for others.

Kids generally view popularity as the most important index of social skills, but I am referring to more than a smiling face at public functions. Social skills entail respecting differing points of view and consensus building. It also means having the courage to publicly voice one's concerns, challenge questionable "facts," and take the heat with grace when said position is unpopular. These are the qualities I look for when determining which candidate gets my vote.

This year's City Council election is a hotly contested race - mainly because all five candidates have excellent qualifications, a history of community service within the Santa Clarita valley and endorsements from prominent members of the community. For those of us who vote, this race doesn't appear to be a shoo-in for any one candidate. For those of you who generally fail to vote in city council elections, I hope that you will take the initiative and vote this April 8.

The five candidates vying for the two open seats include Diane Trautman, Laurie Ender, Maria Gutzeit, Bob Spierer and incumbent Bob Kellar. TimBen Boydston is vacating the second open seat. I will miss the refreshing presence of Mr. Boydston. Not only did he keep his promise to not run for office this year, he illustrated his capacity to look at complex issues and question inconsistencies and irregularities that he observed in the city government.

Since incorporating, our city council and city management team has effectively delivered many positive improvements to our valley. Prior to cityhood, the Santa Clarita Valley was another stepchild in the massive county bureaucracy. Once a sleepy, rural community, our valley experienced phenomenal growth when The Newhall Land and Farming Co. began developing its master planned community. I dare say, that without the dynamic will of community leaders, the county would have approved every revenue enhancing development that came before it.

Incorporating gave the SCV some oversight to the development policies within our borders; and in time, the city created new community and sports centers, metro-link depots, lots of parks, bike trails, landscaped medians, community events and festivals. Santa Clarita also has more clout to wage battles with mega-corporations like Cemex.

That being said, there are those who would like to see more attention paid to the preservation of our river, ridgelines, wildlife, oaks and open space within and around our valley. Some developments are not positive, regardless of what they promise - case in point - the Henry Mayo Hospital Master Plan.

I spoke to Diane Trautman about the hospital plans. Since she has been an appointed member of the city planning commission for the past five years, she has had direct knowledge and input regarding the hospital's plans. First, she made it quite clear that she supports an increase in hospital beds, operating rooms and the continued presence of the transitional care unit. Unfortunately, the hospital's master plan does not assure that any of these essentials are included. The hospital's master plan proposes building several medical towers and multi-story parking structures and a helicopter-landing pad.

Diane's assessment was thorough and her ability to bring forth factual clarifications was impressive. When approving a master plan for any developer, a savvy planning commission must access the impact on the community, weigh the pros and cons, and assure that all EIR and legal codes are met. The Planning Commission obviously does not have the final say on any development, but their recommendation is essential in the approval process.

Before planning commissioners recommend the entitlements granted in a master plan, they also try to gain additional development agreements from the developer. By securing additional benefits (such as land for schools, stabilization of rent increases for senior housing, etc.), the city gains positive perks for the community.

The original Henry Mayo Master Plan not only failed to assure the basic hospital expansion (more beds, etc.), but also gave no additional benefits. Unless you consider five story buildings, traffic molasses on McBean, and eminent domain snatching a few houses a plus, I contend that this potential give-away to GNL, the company who bailed out Henry Mayo Hospital, should be revised with the real needs of the community in mind.

Diane Trautman recommends negotiating an agreement with Henry Mayo that assures an increase in patient beds, operating rooms and the existence of a transitional care unit in the master plan or possibly building a Henry Mayo annex on the east side of the valley. She is also interested in working with Provident/Holy Cross, which has voiced its desire to build a hospital in the SCV. The other candidates either support the hospital expansion blindly or have given limited input regarding their position.

Affordable housing is also a subject important to Diane Trautman. I like the idea of multigenerational projects that allow families, seniors and singles the opportunity to live in close proximity to each other. This is a model that Diane advocates.

My husband and I, as well as our own children, grew up in neighborhoods that included families with kids, seniors, and couples with no children. In my opinion, children are the social threads that help keep a neighborhood a caring and protective place. We visited the seniors, mowed their lawns, made some extra money, babysat the younger kids, or simply enjoyed the company of adults in our neighborhood. Believe it or not, we knew everyone on the street and they knew us. People concerned about safety will agree; healthy neighborhoods are the building blocks of safe communities.

Diane has the endorsement of two City Council members, two of her fellow planning commissioners, school board members, Smart Growth SCV, the Sierra Club, the L.A. League of Conservation Voters and many community activists.

I have known Diane for more than 15 years. We have volunteered together in the community and I have worked as an independent tutor with her business, Study Pros.

She has always been prepared, professional, and accessible, but her ability to ask questions and build consensus makes her my number one choice for City Council.

Leigh Hart is a Santa Clarita Valley resident. "Democratic Voices" runs each Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among local Democratic writers. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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