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Santa Clarita like Sin City?

City Council candidates tackle issues at candidates' forum Thursday

Posted: February 20, 2014 6:28 p.m.
Updated: February 20, 2014 6:28 p.m.

A proposal to eliminate 118 billboards on 62 structures throughout Santa Clarita in exchange for three electronic ones on Santa Clarita Valley freeways was blasted by some council candidates Thursday who likened the proposed electronic replacements to those in Sin City.

“The digital billboards are blight; they’re far worse than the billboards we have today,” said candidate Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, during a candidate forum. “It can turn the corridor down the freeway into looking like we’re entering into Las Vegas. It is absolutely the wrong thing to do in Santa Clarita.”

“I don’t want Las Vegas signs coming into our city,” said retired educator Sandra Bull. “I think it’s distracting to the traffic.”

The billboard proposal from Metro, the county transportation agency, was one of several topics discussed during a candidates’ forum Thursday by 11 of the 13 people seeking three seats on the Santa Clarita City Council. The election is scheduled April 8.

The forum was presented at the Hyatt Regency Valencia by the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry Association.

Dante Acosta, a local businessman and former congressional candidate, said he supports the idea of removing the billboards in town. But the city has to be aware of the potential effects on local business, he said.

“I am in favor of cleaning up the city and beautifying it, absolutely,” he said.

Another candidate, Moazzem Chowdhury, also said the effects on small businesses need to be considered.
“Whatever is best for small business — I will vote for that,” he said.

Newhall County Water District board member Maria Gutzeit said she thinks the council should focus on business ahead of beautification.

“We need people that are going to really look at the real issues for business and not dither about with billboards and pretty planter beds when our businesses are struggling,” she said.

Another topic discussed at the forum was whether City Council members should be elected by district — in which residents vote for a single representative in their city region — as opposed to the current at-large system, in which all residents vote for all five council members.

Mayor Laurene Weste, one of two incumbents running for re-election this year, raised concern that districts would lead to council members who care more about their representative areas than working to improve the city as a whole.

“I think because there’s a lot more to do, keeping our city on a pathway where everybody is equally represented and there are no little fiefdoms that cause infighting is really important,” she said.

Another candidate, longtime Canyon Country resident Berta Gonzalez-Harper, also raised concerns with districting.
“I think that particular event would have the potential to completely change the way we function as a city, where you would have less affluent areas of the city competing with more affluent areas of the city for the same dollars,” she said.

City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who is also running for re-election, said moving to districts would be “the ruination of our city” and could lead to some areas not getting fair representation on the council.

“Why would you want five people fighting over money when you have five people right now who care about the entire city?” McLean said.

Another candidate and elected official, William S. Hart Union High School District board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine, agreed.

“I think, when you begin to divide into districts, that it’s really divisive, because then you only represent a certain area or grouping and you don’t care about all the other parts,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s a good way to govern.”

Candidate Duane Harte, who is also a member of the city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission, said he was concerned about special interests getting involved and trying to gerrymander the districts.

“Who are we going to have draw the lines?” he asked. “What special interests are going to be in there drawing the lines so that their group gets special treatment? ... That’s the problem we’re going to end up with.”

Another candidate, Stephen Daniels, said he thought some of the rhetoric regarding districts was “preaching to fear.”

“The majority of the cities in the United States use this system,” he said. “And the charter was originally written when the city was half the size it is now. It’s outgrown it.”

Two other candidates, Dennis Conn and Paul Wieczorek, were not in attendance at Thursday’s forum.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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