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Steve Petzold: Santa Clarita billboard blues

Posted: August 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.

As a resident of Santa Clarita and keen observer of the governmental process, I am still puzzled why council members Kellar, Acosta, and McLean voted to play poker with more than $200,000 of your taxpayer dollars.

At a June City Council meeting, Ordinance 14-02, the enabling legislation for a development agreement was brought back to council members because a referendum against it with more than 11,000 voter signatures had been certified by the Los Angeles County Clerk.

The referendum required the council to reconsider and rescind the ordinance or submit it to a vote of the people.

Despite overwhelming public opposition in council chambers before and after the ordinance was adopted, and the successful referendum effort, Kellar-Acosta-McLean made no meaningful effort at the June meeting to reconsider.

Think about this for just a moment. The development agreement was secretly negotiated over several years in anticipation of an entitlement application made by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro.) The Development Agreement is a two-party contract.

In April the Metro executive board refused to consider the development agreement for recommendation to the Metro board, saying it was awaiting the referendum process outcome.

One might think that Kellar-Acosta-McLean may have at least questioned why neither the entitlement applicant (Metro), nor their consultant Allvision had a representative at the meeting to give comment or answer questions about their actions.

Council candidate Acosta was not a member when the ordinance was adopted on March 25, and to my recollection not present at the raucous meeting.

As a minimal courtesy to Acosta and to comply with the referendum requirement of reconsideration, Metro and Allvision should all have had the courtesy to make representatives available to accommodate Acosta’s unique circumstance.

Clear Channel Outdoor, a nationwide billboard concern with assets at risk in the Metro right-of-way, sent a representative in June to explain concerns that city staff refused to include Allvision in the negotiations for billboard development and relocation.

The individual clearly explained the general benefits to the city of dealing with a billboard company that controls assets inside and outside the Metro right-of-way if the city wanted to minimize blight and maximize revenue.

This person’s comments were met with seeming indifference by Kellar-Acosta-McLean. They did not even bother to ask City Manager Ken Striplin whether the assertions made by Clear Channel were true.

So despite massive community objection to Ordinance 14-02 in the form of public comment, organized demonstration, and a successful referendum, the KAM team voted to spend more than $200,000 to hold a special election. Now, they did this despite the fact that the other party, the entitlement applicant, refuses to consider the negotiated agreement before the election.

We are being asked to vote on a deal that Metro has not approved and that the city by law cannot spend public resources to promote. What sense does that make?

Coucilman Bob Kellar, the point man on the billboard issue, has loudly proclaimed there is no shame in holding a special election.

This is merely populist rhetoric. To the informed citizen, there is no wisdom in the decision.

I cannot find a single example of a special election in California that overturned a citizen’s referendum against a municipal ordinance.

Before deciding to spend the money, the council should have established a reasonable basis for success. There is none.

In fact, the marginal cost of delaying the special election until the next scheduled municipal election in April 2016 would have reduced the cost.

The city would have had time to reconsider its options while accommodating public input and development plans from other qualified parties.

The City Council should have given the ordinance full reconsideration in light of Metro’s decision to delay consideration of the agreement after the overwhelming success of the referendum against it.

A sensible decision to rescind would have reset the stage for additional public input, which could include real outdoor advertising companies with assets in and out of the Metro right-of-way.

If the best deal on the table is that offered by Metro and Allvision, the city could have re-approved the same exact deal as early as June 2015.

In the unlikely event that the citizens of Santa Clarita affirm the development agreement in November, it will not be considered by the Metro board until 2015 anyway. What is the rush to push through a deal that has a 50-year term and a five-year development period?

The council’s haste has led to continual waste.

The development agreement with Metro is terribly flawed. It is a very weak hand put on the table for the voters and other qualified partners to evaluate.

It is a shame that Kellar-Acosta-McLean raised the stakes by agreeing to pay more than $200,000 for a special election when the citizens’ will was firmly expressed in the referendum.

Let us hope that Metro appreciates this expensive Hail Mary effort to rescue its entitlement application. I very much doubt it.

Steve Petzold is a Saugus resident.



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