Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Be a Smart Shopper about Annexation

When I go shopping for anything, big or small, I tend to be a comparison shopper. If I’m in the supermarket it usually entails comparing ingredients or nutritional information from two different brands of the same product. For instance, are the Vons Pop Tarts really the same as the Kellogg’s brand but just less expensive?
Generally the amount of time spent doing comparisons is in direct relation to cost of the particular product. For example, I don’t spend a lot of time comparing milk but I will spend an awful lot of time researching and comparing cars. Part of that research involves asking lots and lots of questions and sometimes questioning the answers to make sure that I understand all the information that is being disseminated. Basically I am educating myself on whatever topic or product that I am interested in learning about.
For the past several years I have been doing just that in regards to annexation or the other options that may be available for the west-side communities. I’ve read government documents, visited our elected officials, question members of LAFCO, and yes, even gleaned an occasional fact out of the local newspapers.
The one thing that I learned when I was a teen is that if you ask the right questions you’ll eventually ferret out the truth. If during the course of asking questions the person your questioning starts to get agitated and doesn’t want to give or validate their answers there is a good chance that they are hiding something. That becomes a red flag and usually makes me quite suspicious.
In my opinion, that’s exactly what is happening right now with the issue of annexation in the Santa Clarita Valley. Members of the community, myself included, are asking questions, sometimes very tough questions, of the City. These are legitimate questions as they involve comparing the unincorporated areas of the valley with those of the City. Question about parks, recreation, taxes, road maintenance, etc. These are questions that need to be asked so that the community can make an intelligent and informed decision at some point in the future as to the governmental status of our neighborhoods on the west-side.
This is why I have been writing these commentaries so that some of those questions can be asked publicly and also to point out when the questions are not being fully answered. It is clear from the response to my last commentary that I am asking hard questions that are making some people squirm because they seem not to want to talk about the whole truth. We should all be suspicious of this type of behavior.
Recently my suspicions were validated in several articles that appeared in the local papers. Both articles pointed out the that the City of Santa Clarita in fact is trying to circumvent the Castaic Town Council on the question of annexation. The proof is in the pudding as they say!
So there we are, we are doing some comparison-shopping and asking lots of tough questions that some in the City don’t want to answer. Instead the City has chosen to try and bypass the elected town councils, or not give a complete answer to questions. Further, they have gotten a former Mayor of Santa Clarita, a “use-to-be”, to try and defend the City and it’s bizarre behavior.
It begs the question, why doesn’t the City want to be forthright with all the information being asked for? Why have they attempted to dodge the Town Councils so many times? Why is the City giving vague and misleading answers?
It’s time that the City starts to show transparency in its quest to annex neighboring communities. Trying to cherry pick the Valencia Commerce Center or other areas is inappropriate and is a divide and conquer tactic that will short change the residents of the Castaic and west side communities.
Most people in this valley can think for themselves and can make intelligent decisions. If they are presented with all the information that is being asked for, they can then make clear well thought out comparisons.
Don’t be “bamboozled” by people who don’t want give you the entire answer to your questions. And certainly don’t be bamboozled by a former City of Santa Clarita Mayor, a use-to-be, that tries to brand any questioning as “anti-city rhetoric” as that person doesn’t have the best interests of the unincorporated communities in mind.
It will pay dividends to be an informed and smart comparison shopper!

March/ 2005 A Hero in our Community

Over the past several months I have written several commentaries on the issue of annexation many of which have struck a nerve with some in the city. I have, however, received many kind words of support from residents around the west-side communities. One such comment in an email called me a “Hero” for raising many questions and for pointing out deficiencies in some of the information that the city has been disseminating.
Although I am appreciative of any and all kind words, the use of the word “Hero” does not apply here. The word Hero has been used more and more frequently in our society, so much so that it is diminishing the reverence the word deserves. It should be used very thoughtfully and sparingly. The word should be revered, should always start with a capital “H” and should be reserved only for individuals who have displayed true acts of Heroism.
There is one person that I know of in Stevenson Ranch that does deserve to be called a Hero and his name is Corporal Robert M. Dunlap. To his family and friends he is known as Matt and he recently returned from a tour of duty with the Marine Corps in Iraq.
It is hard to believe that only a few years ago Matt was in high school. He had only to think about what he wanted to do with his life after graduation. He had all the options any senior in high school would have as they neared graduation. Matt chose to serve his country and enlisted in the Marine Corp.
My wife and I are friends with Matt’s parents, Lisa and Rob Dunlap, both of whom are artists. Whenever we would get together with the Dunlaps there is always a good time had by all, lots of laughs and great conversation. You could tell that they were proud of Matt and they both beamed with delight anytime they spoke him.
Naturally everyone who knows Rob and Lisa were certainly concerned for their sons’ well being when he was shipped off to Iraq. Anytime there was a new offensive in Baghdad or Fallujah reported on the nightly news there was always the question was Matt there and was he okay.
Fortunately for Matt and his parents everything is okay now that he has finished his commitment with the Marine Corps. This past January Mathew was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for an amazingly Heroic act while in combat with the Marine 3rd Battalion, “the Thundering Third”. The following is the description from the certificate that accompanied the medal:
Heroic achievement while serving as Vehicle Commander, Combined Anti-Armor Team Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division in support of Iraq Freedom II from 19 June to 21 November 2004. On 1 August, an improvised explosive device detonated on Corporal Dunlap’s section, incapacitating his squad leader. He unhesitatingly took command and, during the next three months, expertly led his squad on more than 60 combat patrols and three battalion raids. During high intensity, urban combat operations in the city of Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Dunlap and his squad came under effective enemy sniper fire. Leading from the front, he assumed an exposed firing position, well with in range and view of the enemy sniper. With enemy fire impacting around his position, he calmly engaged the enemy with a Javelin Missile, destroying the barricaded position, and killing the enemy sniper inside. His aggressive and accurate Javelin employment enabled the attack to continue. Corporal Dunlap’s initiative, perseverance, and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
That is a Hero!
We were not surprised to hear that Matt received such a distinguished medal. If you know Lisa and Rob Dunlap you’d realize that they raised Matt with strong values and a moral compass that dictated his actions outlined above. It’s those types of actions and attributes that are indicative of individuals who display Heroic behavior.
I hope that the next time any of us want to use the word Hero we’ll think long and hard about it first. Think about the men and woman of the Armed Forces, of the Law Enforcement Agencies, and of our Fire Departments. These are the people that put themselves in harms way on a regular basis to serve and protect our Country and our communities. These are the people who truly deserve to be called Heroes.

June/July 2005

On a follow up note to a past commentary, DR Horton has withdrawn its Lyons Canyon Ranch project (a.k.a. Warner Ranch) from the City of Santa Clarita. This decision was made after a representative of the builder gave a presentation at the May West Ranch Town Council meeting. DR Horton heard first hand comments and thoughts from Council members as well as the community.
In a letter to City Manager Ken Pulskamp, and the Santa Clarita City Council DR Horton said in part it “feels that the fundamental issue of the City of Santa Clarita’s expansion, including Lyons Canyon and areas west of the interstate 5 freeway, is an issue to be resolved by the City of Santa Clarita, the County of Los Angeles, the area community groups and LAFCO.” The letter went on to say, “ Accordingly, we are choosing to seek County approval of a project that conforms with the General Plan of the County of Los Angeles.”
DR Horton realized that they were going to have an uphill battle on Lyons Canyon Ranch development trying to circumvent the west side communities. The choice to withdraw the project from the City and to work with County and the community is a positive decision.
My hope is that DR Horton will now revise their project plans by reducing the density; work with the school district to ensure an adequate school, and to patch up relations with the west side community groups. DR Horton has made a good move, but the ball is still in their court!

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Here is something that you will not read anywhere else in the Signal. The Stevenson Ranch Civic Association (SRCA) will be presenting the 7th Annual Stevenson Ranch Fireworks Spectacular on Monday July 4th in association with LA County Parks and Recreation. This year’s show will see over 1200 aerial bursts accompanied by music in the Dr. Richard Rioux Memorial Park located on Faulkner in Stevenson Ranch. The festivities will begin at 7:30 at the park. The park will be closed for the day in preparation for the fireworks.
Many residents consider this to be the best fireworks show in the Santa Clarita Valley. I certainly agree with that assessment!
Once again, the fireworks show is a free community event, no admission fee, and is designed to be a small town America show. The SRCA is grateful to, The Stevenson Ranch Community Association, Lennar/ Newhall Land, Blue Barrel/Valencia Disposal, The Stevenson Ranch Community Church, Aberdeen Property Management, Timothy Kline Insurance Agency, Tim Reed of Realty Executives, and all of our community volunteers.
This year will prove to be an exceptional year for fireworks in the Santa Clarita Valley. The Stevenson Ranch show will begin around 9:05 PM, followed by the City of Santa Clarita show at the Town Center commencing at 9:15 PM, and then at 9:35 PM an extended fireworks show at Magic Mountain. That will result in nearly 40 minutes of fireworks lighting up the night sky around our valley.
If you plan right you’ll be able to find a sweet spot for viewing all three shows. Many people think that you need to be right under the fireworks to have the best view. I disagree. Some of the best viewing for the Stevenson Ranch show is outside the park where we shot the fireworks. In fact many residents have block parties in the cul-de-sacs around the community and have great views of the fireworks. I think some of the best viewing for the show will be at the Jake Kuredjian Park on Pico Canyon. One thing to remember is that there will be no parking in the Rioux Park on July 4th and we are encouraging people to walk, as parking on the streets is limited.
Wherever you are on the 4th of July I hope that you and your loved ones have a very safe, happy and festive Independence Day celebration.

A Commentary The Signal Wouldn't Print

April 2005

A strange thing happened a few weeks ago in the opinion pages of The Signal. A commentary I wrote was not printed as a commentary! Instead, and a surprise to me, the piece I wrote appeared as a letter to the editor. This galvanized my suspicion that we no longer have a local newspaper that is relevant and trying to build a readership.
In all fairness, let me give you the brief history of what has happened and why I feel the way I do about The Signal. First, I have been submitting commentaries primarily related to issues concerning the unincorporated west side for some time. The majority of these commentaries have appeared in the Sunday edition of The Signal, which is typically the highest circulation day for most daily newspapers.
Several weeks back, James D. Hicken, CEO of the Bank of Santa Clarita, wrote a guest commentary that was replete with misinformation and turned out to be a baseless personal attach on this community volunteer. Mr. Hicken’s trite commentary appeared in the Sunday edition of this paper and was intended to present an alternate viewpoint on annexation. Instead it was an attack on me personally and partly on what I had written in several previous commentaries.
Generally speaking, I have tried to refrain from responding to such dribble as Mr. Hicken’s ramblings. But I made an exception this time because of the baseless, inaccurate, and false statements that were made. In essence, I wrote a commentary on Hicken’s commentary and on annexation in general.
I submitted that commentary, as I have done with all the previous ones, as an email to the email address that I have always used. I asked that Leon Worden, the editor, to respond that he received my latest “commentary”, as I have always done. He did respond that he “got it”.
Leon Worden, the editor, never indicated that my commentary would become a letter to the editor. That would have been a professional and respectful thing to do since I don’t get paid to write these commentaries. Further, it appeared in the less read Tuesday edition rather than the Sunday edition the attacks appeared in. That in and of itself shows the The Signals editorial staff is proving to be toxic to the pertinence of this local newspaper.
Why then did my commentary appear as a letter to the editor buried in the Tuesday edition? Was it because I was critical of a local business leader? Does the editor or some senior staff members at The Signal have a banking relationship with the Mr. Hicken? Are they shareholders of the Bank of Santa Clarita? Or, was it simply a form of censorship? These were just some of the questions that ran through my mind.Actually, it may be that my commentary was buried as a letter to the editor because the Bank of Santa Clarita is an advertiser in The Signal.
More importantly, it was yet another example of why I believe The Signal has been losing its relevancy in the Santa Clarita Valley. It has changed little in the 25 years that I have been reading it on and off. Sure, it went from a weekly to a daily paper and yes it changed the look of the masthead but there have not been any substantive changes.
The Signal has not kept up with changes and growth here in the Santa Clarita Valley. It is not representing the entire valley but rather a smaller and, let’s face it, bygone version of this valley. Plain and simple, The Signal has not grown in unison with the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley.
It has spotlighted the fact that The Signal is basically on the slippery slope of irrelevance headed towards being nothing but an advertising circular, neither taken seriously nor purchased for any other reason than coupon clipping and yard sale notices.
The Signals readership has been declining in comparison to the tremendous growth that the valley experienced. In fact, there are very few Signal readers in the west side communities in comparison to the population. The truth is that The Signal has covered very little on the west side, which in turn has done nothing long term to build a readership.
Yes, a newspaper is about building a readership through the dissemination of information pertinent to those readers and is supported by advertising. It’s not about pandering to the advertisers at the expense of the readers as has so often been displayed by The Signal.
Unfortunately if nothing is done to correct this situation it will eventually create a need for a real community newspaper and not a glorified advertising circular that The Signal has been turning into. Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill it when one appears. That will be true for The Signal. Sure, there have been some local upstarts attempted in the past that have not gotten traction but that speaks volumes that the need exists.
There was a glimmer of hope at The Signal when the paper got a new publisher and the hope that there would be some major changes. Sadly though, there have not been any major changes that would correct The Signal’s current course and bring the paper towards credibility and relevance. Instead, several key reporters and staffers have left the paper further weakening the integrity of The Signal. That says it all!