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Diana Shaw: First, they came for Ferdman

Democratic Voices

Posted: August 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: August 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.

When many locals want to know what's going on at City Hall, they rely on the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. For eight years, Al Ferdman has been the civic organization's president.

If you haven't attended a CCAC meeting, you should definitely go. This all-volunteer organization keeps Santa Clarita Valley residents up to date on issues that affect our everyday lives. On the third Wednesday of every month, Ferdman and other volunteers regale members and the public with informative slide shows, commentary and special guests. Unlike the City Council, the advisory committee allows the audience to question the speakers.

Since 2006, one of the many invaluable community services provided by the CCAC are City Council "meet the candidate" forums. These sessions are often the only place in our valley where residents can ask the candidates questions directly.

Occasionally, CCAC members are inspired by what they hear at their monthly meetings, and they march down to City Hall and demand answers. I guess that's been happening a little bit too much recently. City management has informed the CCAC it will no longer be provided with a free meeting room at in the George A. Caravalho Activity Center. Proposed charges range from $15 to $40 an hour. The last meeting of the CCAC at the Activity Center is Wednesday night.

The CCAC was formed by the city of Santa Clarita about 15 years ago and has been city-sponsored in varying degrees since that time. Like the neighborhood councils in Los Angeles, the advisory committee was ostensibly formed by the city to promote open discussion of issues facing the city, and to give its members a forum to learn about issues and consolidate their individual ideas into a group understanding.

After coming to some consensus of understanding, the committee members can better communicate their grievances and suggestions for improvement to the city. This was supposed to be a win-win for Canyon Country residents and the city.

Over the years, the organization has become a valuable resource to residents all over the valley. Apparently, the city manager and the city no longer value that type of relationship.

So, after all this time, why is our City Council threatening to stop the minimal funding of this group? There is no way it is because it is too expensive to run. The only thing the CCAC asks the city is to pay for is the tab for its meeting room.

Elections have consequences. Since the City Council incumbents were sworn in, they have eliminated term limits for their commission appointees and they have raised the campaign contribution limits from a reasonable $360 to an outrageous $1,000.

Then there is the mystery of the 2008 $210 million desalinization plant agreement. The public was told that 50 percent of the SCV's parcel holders had to return protest notices by a July deadline, or the sky would fall and we would be fined immediately. Then, as if by magic, council members (in their guise as Sanitation Board members) hosted a meeting attended by enraged citizens and somehow they managed to put off both the building of the plant and the fines. These issues have been among the CCAC's recent topics. And there's no telling what the ever-curious CCAC members might do once they digest those topics.

If challenged, City Manager Ken Pulskamp, the sponsor of CCAC's fate, would probably claim that the city is not abridging the CCAC's First Amendment right of assembly and free speech rights.

Rather, I imagine Puskamp would insist Al Ferdman and his group are merely being forced to figure out where to get the money to exercise those rights. But, the city has already established a pattern of offering a free place to assemble, and it is now taking that right away. It sure looks like the city government - in our names - is making it that much harder for members of a particular segment of the community to voice concerns about the actions of the very city leaders who are suddenly making it much harder to hold these public forums.

While I'm certainly no conspiracy theory enthusiast, it sure does seem like there is a real act of political suppression taking place here in Santa Clarita.

I don't always agree with Ferdman's positions, but he works tirelessly to deliver factual information and varied opinions to his civic-minded group, whose members have duly elected him to be their chair.

Cutting off the CCAC's right to a free space may seem like such a minor act. But, if we don't fight for the right of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee and Ferdman to continue offering a free public forum on city property, then we should not be surprised when those who would so readily violate the authority vested in them start challenging other civic organizations and individuals. Let us stand together.

Diana Shaw is a Saugus resident and is the Democratic candidate, running to represent the 38th Assembly District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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