City council candidates discuss the state of Santa ClaritaSebastian Cazares October 12, 2018 0 COMMENTS
City council candidates gathered at the College of the Canyons University Center on Monday, Oct. 8 to discuss their campaigns, the current state of Santa Clarita and their visions for the city.
The forum was hosted by the College of the Canyons Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley League of Women Voters and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee.
Challengers TimBen Boydston, Ken Dean, Jason Gibbs, Brett Haddock, Matthew Hargett, Sandra Nichols, Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, Sankalp Varma, Sean Weber and Paul Wieczorek were all in attendance, along with incumbents Marsha McLean, Bill Miranda and Laurene Weste.
Patty Robinson from the League of Women Voters opened the night by stressing the necessity of paying attention to local elections.
“This event was important because it allowed us to see and understand the candidates on a personal level, not only their positions but who they are as people,” Robinson said.
The Local Homelessness Crisis
When discussing homelessness, McLean focused on support for local homeless veterans. “The city is attacking homelessness head-on,” McLean said. “We need to provide veterans services and support programs like Homes for Heroes.”
Santa Clarita’s open spaces, affordable units that have already been built and the new homelessness task force at city hall were among the current projects Weste talked about in regards to the local homelessness problem.
Many of the incumbents’ challengers felt they haven’t done enough.
Boydston was critical of the council’s performance. “A permanent homeless shelter should’ve been built years ago,” Boydston said.
Boydston also mentioned that his proposal for the shelter was shut down by the council when he was a sitting member.
In addition to homelessness itself, Trautman was concerned about housing issues that contribute to the issue. “We can do dwelling units, communal housing and other creative methods, and we have to do something to stop gauging, especially with mobile home parks,” Trautman said. “We need to attack homelessness on all levels, from students to seniors, and the public needs to be invited to these meetings.”
One major component of Gibbs’ platform is a plan for a dedicated resource at city hall to address homelessness where homeless advocates can express their concerns. “The community and the public needs to be involved,” Gibbs said.
Public Safety and Drug Use
Weste pushed for a more aggressive approach to drugs and advocated for more mental health services. “We’re all frustrated with crime, but it worsened with recent California propositions,” Weste said. “We need to get back to work with the state legislature and for mental health funding as well.”
When asked about how the city can improve public safety, Nichols discussed her personal experiences. “Us disabled people are just like everybody else, and every person in this city deserves to be safe,” Nichols said. “No one in this community should be singled out for protection, all people should be protected.”
Hargett agreed that mental health needs to be addressed immediately as a part of efforts to bolster public safety. “From crime to homelessness to drug abuse, it all comes back to mental health,” Hargett said.
Smith turned the audience’s attention toward an alternative measure to combat the crisis. “Last May we saw nine overdoses and a fatality in a single night,” Smith said. “Not only do we need to revise policies in giving out harmful opioids, painkillers, and implement models like buyback programs, but it’s time to look at cannabis.”
A surge in local opioid overdoses last May resulted in 10 overdoses, including one fatality. The spike in opioid overdoses prompted local authorities to equip the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department with naloxone, commonly known as Narcan®, for sheriffs to render assistance to individuals who have overdosed.
“Cities that have legal medical cannabis have had a 33 percent reduction in opioid use, Smith said. “But every council member voted to ban medicinal cannabis.”
Varma agreed that the city should explore cannabis as an avenue for combatting the opioid crisis. “I’m an Uber driver,” Varma said. “I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve given people in need rides outside of Santa Clarita just to get their medicine.”
Traffic and Infrastructure
A common criticism of the current council throughout the night was road development and the resulting increased traffic congestion in Santa Clarita.
“A big majority of Santa Clarita is commuting to work and having to go over the hill to find work,” Haddock said. “That’s unacceptable, and we need more jobs here and dedicated staff members that tackle congestion.”
Haddock proposed more funding for mass transit, adapting ideas from ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft and embracing technology in road development to mitigate traffic concerns. Varma discussed the potential for a monorail in Santa Clarita.
Weber also supported embracing more technologically advanced methods of development. “We have to tackle traffic here,” Weber said. “We can have smarter roads, lights, sensors and even experiment with artificial intelligence.”
One of the topics Dean was most vocal about was representation in municipal government. “Our city is long overdue for districts, and on all kinds of government we have term limits,” Dean said. “If you have three people from one district, the whole city will not be fully represented.”
Bodyston also felt the city wasn’t truly representative and criticized the council for increasing the number of required votes needed to put an item on the city council agenda to three. “Everyone knows they’ve already made up their minds, no matter what the public says,” Boydston said.
Haddock connected representation concerns to the large number of candidates on the ballot. “It makes it self-evident that we need a new system to elect city leaders, districts being the optimal choice,” Haddock said. “People are motivated to elect change, and the lack of districts makes it virtually impossible to do so.”
The Politics of It All
After the event concluded, some candidates lingered to discuss their campaigns with forum attendees.
As a current councilmember, Miranda has the ability to tout his incumbency on the campaign trail. “I have the easiest campaign,” Miranda said. “Because when you’re on the City Council, and you’re an incumbent, you have the best product to sell. I get to run on the amazing city of Santa Clarita. You can’t imagine how many cities want to be like us.”
Smith’s campaign has also been going well, according to the candidate. “Voters like what we have to say because it’s not about left versus right, it’s about right versus wrong,” Smith said. “Most voters aren’t seeing business as usual working —where they have money, we have people.”
With less than a month until Nov. 6, Smith’s campaign has been focused on contacting voters. “We’ve knocked on 10,000 doors,” Smith said. “We’re confident in the message and delivering it to as many people before Election Day.”
Sebastian Cazares is a lifelong Santa Clarita resident and student at College of the Canyons. He was heavily involved in Speech, Model UN, Rotary Club and journalism during his high school years. Sebastian is deeply interested in local politics and excited to report on the issues that impact his community.