Dear (Signal)Editors and Mr. Manzer,
It has now been a few days since the Sunday column of Mr. Manzer and his call to arms against the Town Councils. My first draft of this letter has been reread and deleted, and now, in a calmer manner I approach this response.
When I first read Mr. Manzer’s column I was sitting at the West Ranch Coco’s enjoying a Sunday breakfast with my wife and daughter. I have always enjoyed Mr. Manzer’s recollections of the old Santa Clarita Valley and started the column with interest. Only a few sentences in I set my coffee down and thought, “Great, another attack piece”, but I have gotten used to those. At the last two paragraphs though, a chill went down my spine. I took those statements as a direct threat against me and mine… “I, for one, like the idea of local control. Should y'all make the wrong choice, maybe I could gather those guys together again and get some horses to ride to your next "town council" meeting, with the same firearms. Wouldn't have to worry about a SWAT team coming for us, since the county wouldn't pay to send them there — what with it being outside of Santa Clarita.”
I take my position as a community volunteer seriously and I try to do my best. I may not always make decisions or recommendations that everyone agrees with, but I believe that all those who know me and have worked with me on the Council, at the City, at the Boys and Girls Club, the Homeowners Association, the Civic Committee and even the 5 and 6 year old flag football team I coach, would agree that I try my best to do what is best. So as I sat looking at my wife and watching my daughter color I felt threatened. I also felt the safety of the Town Council members that have entrusted me as their president threatened.
I do not know Mr. Manzer. I have never spoken to Mr. Manzer. I had only read his columns over the years. What I did know about him was gleaned from those columns. I knew that he loved the old Santa Clarita Valley and has decried its development. I knew that he had been in the military in the past. I knew from the column that he was familiar with firearms. I knew from the column that he was unhappy with me. Given these facts on Monday morning, I requested, for my peace of mind as a husband, father, neighbor and president of the Town Council, that Supervisor Antonovich, look into these threats. I also notified Mr. Manzer of this intent by email. To date he has given no response to me. Over the next several days I was reassured by several emails that were passed along to me and by the Sheriff’s department that it was reasonably safe to assume that Mr. Manzer meant his comments in jest and as rhetoric and hyperbole. However, this does not take away the seriousness of the comments and the fact that many people took them as an overt threat rather than folksy irony.
I am a fervent supporter of our Constitutional rights and the importance of not infringing upon those rights. However, the first amendment does have limits; one may not yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, one may not incite violent riot or rebellion, one may not threaten (with the apparent ability to carry it out) violence. These are all things that the Manzer column appeared to do. Mr. Manzer has the absolute right to tell the Town Council his opinion and to criticize those he does not agree with; however he does not have the right to attempt to bully or threaten with violence to change those positions. I now believe that Mr. Manzer did not mean to actually threaten violence and that his comments were an ill-advised attempt to use folksy and rough talk to make a point about self rule but that does not change my opinion about the poor judgment in their use.
Several points Mr. Manzer made or alluded to in this column and columns past were regarding the ability of power to corrupt logic and good judgment. He indicates that the Town Councils’ addiction to power is what has them striving to remain in the county rather than moving forward with annexation. The Town Councils have no power. They are the creation of Supervisor Antonovich and are tasked with spreading information from the county level to the community, gathering community consensus and passing it back to the Supervisor so that he can make informed decisions about local issues. Town Council members are elected by their community at public elections. The Town Councils are completely unfunded and must raise their own funds even for elections and meeting places. In fact, more than once, Town Council members have been asked to dip into their own pockets to fund meeting rooms or fliers. This does not sound like power to me.
What we do have though is some influence with the Supervisors office. Mr. Manzer criticized our thinking that we could make a difference in the development of the Santa Clarita Valley. Well, Supervisor Antonovich has given us a voice in the development of our community. He now requires that developers brief us on new developments in our areas and requires that the developers get our blessing before moving to the next phase of approval. In fact just recently we were approached by a developer planning to develop the Lyons Canyon project (just north of Sunset Pointe and south of Calgrove west of the 5). The initial development scheme called for nearly 1000 new homes, hundreds of oak removals, ridge line destruction and thousands of car trips per day added to our streets. This developer intended to proceed with the development despite all protests because they were going to annex the property into the city and felt they could get a sweetheart deal in return for giving the city a foothold west of the 5 that it has for years so desperately coveted. Through the work of the West Ranch Town Council, supported by Supervisor Antonovich and his staff, that development is now less than 200 units, most in a senior living facility, with next to no impact to the ridgelines and few oak removals. Mr. Manzer, this was in the very back yard that you loved and rode as a young man, and the Town Council that you maligned helped to preserve a large part of it that would have been gone if not for our volunteers in the unincorporated portions of the valley.
The West Ranch Town Council assisted in securing the site and building the desperately needed and state of the art Pico Canyon Elementary. The West Ranch Town Council secured the park space now known as Jake Kuredjian Park and the open space park in Southern Oaks. In addition, the West Ranch Town Council insisted upon, and assisted in the development of the evacuation plan which was later successfully implemented during the firestorms of 2003 and has served as a model nationwide. The West Ranch Town Council has also assisted the County in implementing a new streamlined plan for the more economical and prompt placement of traffic controls in newly developed areas in all of Los Angeles County. This procedure got us the lights on the Old Road near the commercial center in record time, remedying numerous dangerous conditions months and even year earlier than under the old system. We do not have power, but through the hard work and determination of a few dedicated volunteers we do get things done to make our community a safer and better place to live.
Darryl, you also ask why we have not annexed. Better to ask the city. We have been involved for years with the City in conversations about annexations. These meeting were begun with a meeting with Frank Ferry, at our invitation several years ago. Unfortunately the attitude of the city, at that time, and even today, was take it or leave it. When we sat down with the city and county and compared apples to apples, the services the city provided were essentially identical to the services provided by the county. At this point the main talking points from the city became the benefits of local rule rather than downtown LA rule, police presence and the parks and recreation issue. Frankly, to me local rule seems a non issue. Supervisor Antonovich has an office directly across the hall from the City offices and is very responsive to our requests. So the benefits to city hood come down to better parks and recreations services and police presence. The City has superb parks and a terrific recreation department. In the past though these services were available to the residents of the entire valley so there was little benefit to annexing. Recent events have changed this for the time being, but to me it is really just Mr. Ferry continuing with his strategy of finding whatever stick is available to him to beat us with. There have been several articles recently about response time, maligning the county for poor response time in the county areas. This does not take into account that those responses include calls to far outlying areas up to the county line and out past Lake Elizabeth. I have requested, and am willing to bet, that response time in the Westside communities and Castaic is on par with the City. The number of officers available discounts the presence of the CHP who patrol our streets, County Police, who patrol our parks, a new three man COPS (Community Oriented Policing) team that will soon be deployed, the deputy stationed at the West Ranch High School and our off-road Sheriff’s team. The City can claim a quicker response time…for now, but look at the crime rates for the Westside. Crime rates in the areas of Westridge and Stevenson Ranch have declined since the first of the year while the city’s rates have climbed.
So, the long and short of it is that if services don't change, tax differences are negligible, and the County treats us well and works with us to improve our community, why should the community annex? We have tried time and again to work with the City to show the residents of the Westside a tangible benefit to annexing. The city has refused. Instead the city has tried a different strategy; divide and conquer. The city has tried to cherry pick areas west of the freeway in Castaic and the West Ranch area to gain a foothold. They have used the same ham-fisted strategy in Stonecrest, in which concerned residents are now fighting back. To date LAFCO has indicated that these efforts will not buy anything but what it has really done is embitter a number of the residents and force them and us to look at other potential resolutions including incorporation.
The city gives no recognition to the fact that the annexation of the Westside, Castaic and even Stonecrest will eventually bring the fortunes of the commerce elements that come with them into the city fold. It might not be for a while but it will happen, and those are BIG tax dollars.
The West Ranch Town Council has taken no position on whether annexation is the right path. That is up to the citizens to decide. My personal feeing, separate from my Town Council position (as I told Signal Columnist/reporter Diana Sevanian mere weeks ago), is that annexation, under the right circumstances, would benefit the entire valley. However, annexation under the terms the city wants would amount to an unconditional surrender and put our residents at risk of being underserved and underrepresented. How can we, as elected representatives, and as a community, stand by and let that happen?
If the city came to us with alternatives, or in a good faith negotiation, it is likely that a compromise benefiting everyone could be reached. But the city refuses to do that. Their answer to all of our substantive requests is that they don't want to set precedent for later annexations. That is shortsighted thinking. The annexation of the Westside or Castaic or even Stonecrest, would be the biggest event in SCV history, short of the city hood movement in the 80's. Such an annexation would change the face of the valley. Each of these potential annexations brings not only residential components but commercial components and tax dollars as well. These annexations are unlike any in Santa Clarita history and deserve to be treated as such.
We, the Town Councils, City Council, residents of incorporated and unincorporated areas alike need to be thinking outside of the box on this issue. If the City would come to us with legitimate talking points and discussions about how the Westside would REALLY be benefited I would be right there with them... but I will not be a party to giving our community away, a community that you Darryl grew up in and have loved for decades, and that our residents have helped to build these last dozen years. We should especially not give it up for nothing more than vague promises to trust the council and everything will be okay.
The Westside has for years been maligned by the city and the Signal as well. Your column last week is just the latest in this attack. Remember John Boston's characterization of us as "Spam Town", how about all of the comments that we are elitists who look down our noses at the rest of the valley, the city's recent comments that we are just users of tax dollars, not contributors... it goes on and on. Why doesn’t the Signal laud our community’s work if it thinks it is such a grand idea for a one city valley? Why not mention the Stevenson Ranch fireworks show every year? Why not cover Stevenson Ranch’s Tree Lighting? Why not talk about the huge amount of charitable work that emanates from the Westside to our local charities? I simply do not understand the big stick mentality when we all really want the same thing… a safe and prosperous place for our children to grow into responsible adults. Isn’t that why most of us moved here in the first place?
One of my Council’s biggest fears is that if we annex our residents will then be marginalized and left with no voice, no voice to the county and no voice on the City Council. One solution to this would be to regionalize the representation on the City Council. Again the answers are that it would be too difficult. Maybe its time for the city charter to be looked at again. That would also help east side residents’ feelings of marginalization as well. What about those Mello-Roos fees we've all been paying and will be paying for years to come? Why not retire a portion of that in recognition of the infrastructure it has supported? Can't do that, it might set a precedent. How about connecting the Paseos to the Westside? Too expensive. New parks? No room. Are these the only answers? No, but they are at least the start of a conversation rather than the end of an ultimatum. The City has an answer for everything, unfortunately that answer was created in the old paradigm. The new paradigm of a united valley under one city name deserves to be discussed, the old rules tossed out.
Taking us back to where we started on this memory ride of yours Darryl, the Santa Clarita Valley is a different place than where you and your compadres grew up toting .22’s and shooting at stumps and squirrels. Some of those changes may have been good, some bad, depending on your point of view. What has changed for the good is that the time for brandishing those firearms, literally or figuratively has passed for us as a valley and a country. Let’s look forward together, as One Valley With a Vision, rather than a gaggle of bickering bureaucrats. But this requires the Santa Clarita City Council to step outside of their comfort zone and make some bold moves. The ball is in your court Santa Clarita, Darryl and the Signal.
Paul V. Ash, President
West Ranch Town Council