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Tim Myers: From one boomburb to the next

Posted: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The Santa Clarita City Council members — the wise stewards of the city or the puppets of a dictatorial city manager, depending upon one’s point of view, if one even thinks about them at all — recently gave a hagiographic send-off to said alleged dictator Ken Pulskamp during his last meeting in the position before going off into the sunset of his retirement/next city manager job in Burbank.

Now, did Mr. Pulskamp deserve the heavy praise heaped upon him without limit? Based on the view of the uninvolved and nonvoting citizenry who constitute about 83 percent of the local population, if they knew him at all I believe they would also give him fairly high marks.

After all, the city is not currently on fire and the regional media reported no bankruptcy a la Stockton, San Bernardino, etc.

But how much of this putative success relates to the machinations of the city manager and his staff and/or the oblique efforts of part-time elected officials?

One could make the argument that seeming success and progress relate more to Santa Clarita’s “boomburb” status than the efforts of any individual or group of individuals.

Now, even the uninformed citizens of Santa Clarita could identify and perhaps even locate on a map the cities of Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Irvine. But could they find Naperville, Ill., Pembroke Pines, Fla., or Westminster, Colo.?

They possess much in common with these cities; they all constitute part of the 54 American cities in the classification of “boomburb.”

What makes a ‘boomburb”? According to scholars, the boomburb possesses two attributes.

It contains more than 100,000 people yet still retains the “character” (cringe-worthy or celebratory depending on one’s point of view) of a suburb. Further, the cities maintained double-digit population growth levels in the decennial censuses between 1970 and 2000.

Now growth, the bane of the supermajority of folks who regularly speak at Santa Clarita City Council meetings — and by extension their brethren in the other 53 boomburb cities — provides benefits to elected officials and city administrators for several reasons.

First, a supermajority of the uninvolved citizens feel good because everything from infrastructure to housing stock to retail looks shiny and new, mainly because most of it is shiny and new.

Second, the boomburb cities, due to their “newness,” possess very few legacy costs, like an established police force or fire department. If city administrators possess a lick of sense they contract these services to the next largest municipal entity, for example L.A. County Fire and Sheriff’s departments, and keep it that way so they lose those headaches.

Finally, growing retail, residential and other segments provide the boomburb with commensurate growth in revenue year after year. One might argue that no more pleasant circumstance exists for city administrators and elected officials then spending pots of cash that grow year by year and not dealing with the problems of old infrastructure and legacy city departments.

Over the years, I felt there existed one legitimate criticism of city staff: They believed, like the monkey that falls out of the tree onto the back of a rampaging elephant, that they somehow controlled the elephant and made their own extreme good fortune, rather than recognizing the luck of landing in the boomburb.

But one must give credit for certain things. From 2008 Santa Clarita certainly endured some financial distress which Mr. Pulskamp successfully navigated, unless he left some ticking fiscal time bomb at City Hall.

Well, perhaps the new assistant city manager, Frank Oviedo, currently city manager of Wildomar, can provide some humbling insight. Santa Claritans, even those few engaged and in the know, may not know the names of Wildomar, Menifee, Eastvale and Jurapa Valley.

These relatively small cities in Riverside County possess the sad misfortune of incorporating during a severe recession with expected revenues actually falling. When one checks the news on Wildomar, one discovers the city found it necessary to close two out of three public parks in 2011 pending the passage of a parcel tax for park maintenance that will not yield revenue until 2014. (Imagine the wailing in Santa Clarita if the city shuttered two-thirds of the public parks?)

While Mr. Oviedo certainly did the best he could in a difficult circumstance, I am sure he would tell the Santa Clarita city staff of the benefits of falling into the embrace of a boomburb.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident.



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