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Our view: What were the voters thinking?

Posted: November 6, 2009 7:33 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Tuesday's election reminded us of a recent letter to the editor which asked, in essence, "Do you mean to say I need to read The Signal to know what's going on in the Santa Clarita Valley?"

We certainly think so.

Signal readers in the Newhall School District knew better than to vote for Mike McGrath. Not because he isn't a great guy and a fine school board member - but because he wasn't running. He withdrew from the race after the ballots had gone to print, so his name still appeared.

And what a name it is. His grandmother taught at Newhall School in the "olden days." His dad, the elder Mike McGrath, was the Newhall School District superintendent. His surname is on an elementary school.

Voters knew the name - and evidently that was all they knew, because they returned him to office.

It didn't help that the local Republican clubs endorsed him - and reminded everybody to vote for him in 11th-hour e-mails.

What's up with that? The political wags knew he wasn't running.

So now McGrath will resign his seat Dec. 8 and the remaining (former) board members will appoint a replacement.

We believe it's important for people to be able to elect their own representatives - but on Tuesday we were clearly in the minority in that belief. Ninety percent of SCV registered voters decided their vote didn't count so they didn't bother to go to the polls.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this same 90 percent who failed to vote, could not complain about the results for the next four years?

And what's up with the Newhall County Water District?

Michael Cruz campaigned hard and had some good ideas about water conservation, but couldn't get enough of his supporters to the polls and lost to Kathy Colley.

After the election, Colley said she knows nothing about running a water district. Colley also did not campaign, saying: "I didn't need to boast about things I knew nothing about." Come election day, she wasn't even in California.

Voters might have recognized the name "Colley" because her husband serves on the Castaic Lake Water Agency board. For many voters, the only thing they apparently knew were their professions which they saw on the ballot when they entered the polling booth.
"Registered nurse" (Colley) sounded better than "paralegal" (Cruz).

The overall turnout was higher on the westside and in Tesoro del Valle than it was throughout the rest of the valley, for good reason. One issue was near and dear enough to attract a whopping 13 percent of the registered voters.

What they said may have seemed schizophrenic at first blush: They want to remain unincorporated Los Angeles County communities, and they want to annex into the city of Santa Clarita.

While the precinct-by-precinct results are still to come, the only thing really clear was the degree to which they don't want to form a separate city. It didn't help to see campaigners cloud the debate by tossing out a number of non-issues, ranging from Santa Clarita
Mayor Frank Ferry's personality, to the notion of unnamed City Hall operatives secretly scheming to "cherry-pick" portions of the westside.

In the end, it was about none of those things. It was about self-government. It was about the kind of political structure the people of the currently unincorporated communities want to leave behind for their children.

Do they want to elect their local representatives or don't they? Do they want to put their tax dollars to work for them in their own backyards or don't they?

As for cherry-picking, the fomenters of that dialogue don't have a good grip on the annexation process.

It doesn't matter what anybody at Santa Clarita City Hall wants. Cities don't decide to annex neighborhoods; neighborhoods decide to annex into cities. Neighborhoods request annexation and file the necessary paperwork; then, if everything is in compliance with state law, the property owners in those neighborhoods make the final decision.

Going forward, there will be many things for our west- and north-side communities to consider before making that ultimate decision.

Through all of the meaningless noise, there rose a number of good questions worthy of debate not only in West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro, but across the entire valley.

For instance, what would be the true financial impact of annexation - not only for the annexed communities, but for current residents of the city of Santa Clarita?

Yes, we have seen some city- and county-funded studies, but they were preliminary and ended up raising more questions than they answered. And those questions need to be answered before any annexation will occur.

How much sales tax revenue - currently dispersed throughout the entire county - from Six Flags Magic Mountain should be spent to close a potentially large infrastructure gap in Castaic?

How much will current Santa Clarita taxpayers have to spend to build the roads, sidewalks and sewer lines in the unincorporated areas that need them?

If they annex, should West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro have their own dedicated voice at the City Council table?
Santa Clarita voters decided 22 years ago to elect their council members at large. They didn't want to be like the county, with one vote out of five. Every time something like a materials recovery facility (MRF) came along, four council members would gang up and put it in the weakest council member's district, rather than find the best place in the valley.

Is it time to revisit the "at large" issue? Should we consider expanding the council to seven or nine seats?

What about an elected mayor? What form of government would best serve a unified valley-city?

"One valley, one city" doesn't affect the westside and Tesoro alone. It affects everybody. Everybody must engage in the discussion.

Maybe nothing needs to change. Maybe Santa Clarita's city manager form of government, with five council members elected at large, is the best system for the whole valley. But we need to lay all of our cards on the table and decide rationally.

And we must do it soon. The clock is ticking. Supervisor Michael Antonovich will be termed out of office in 2016. We need his experience and staff to help guide the process. You can bet the next supervisor from the vast 5th District won't give one whit about the SCV.


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