May 26, 2019
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  • 10:00 am The City Got Sued — Will Santa Clarita’s Voting System Change?

The Santa Clarita City Council voted to terminate a measure concerning landscaping and lighting district assessment, honored former congressman Steve Knight, confirmed a series of commission nominees, debated adopting a system of parliamentary rules and explored the potential implementation of a rotating mayoral system during a productive and occasionally contentious meeting on Tuesday evening.   

Due to heavy public pressure, the council struck down Resolution 18-69, a Nov. 13 decision to explore a new landscape and lighting assessment that would have imposed a significantly augmented tax on homeowners in certain parts of the city.

“Instead of doubling down and trying to move forward with this assessment, that we make the right decision to put it on the agenda to put it on hold,” Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth said.

Councilwoman Laurene Weste also voiced her concurrence with Smyth and said she was “very supportive” of the vote to terminate the measure.  

The issue was derived from the city’s 2017 decision to purchase a series of streetlights from Southern California Edison. In order to offset the cost of this transaction, it proposed in late 2018 that residents who live in the tracts in which the lights were purchased should see an annual streetlight cost reassessment that would have increased their bill precipitously — from $12.38 to $81.71.  

The council claimed that it was unaware of the increase.

“For a property tax to go out to all the homeowners and for the city not to know anything about it, it’s kind of a fiasco,” Canyon Country resident Ken Dean said.

Because this action effectively would have been considered a tax, the proposal was subject to Proposition 218, a 1996 California ballot measure that requires voter approval on any taxes levied by local governments.

In order to comply with the law, city officials mailed ballots to effected residents last month. Many of these voters, however, argued that the ballots contained nebulous and and confusing language.

After gathering community input and commentary, city hall recommended “discontinuing any further proceedings related to this action.”

Steve Knight

The council also honored former Congressman Steve Knight at Tuesday’s meeing, presenting him and his wife, Lilly, with the key to the city.  

“Steve has worked tirelessly for this community, fighting for the residents in his district,” Mayor Marsha McLean said. “I will miss Steve as an advocate in Congress, and I know that Steve will do great things in this next chapter of his life.”

Knight served in the United States House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019. He was defeated in pursuit of a third term by Democrat Katie Hill in the November midterm elections.

“I want to thank you all,” Knight said. “There is no city like Santa Clarita.”

Knight pledged that although he no longer holds office, he still plans to be civically engaged.  

“I think that what Councilman Smyth said (is true), that I will still be involved, and I will,” he said. “Veterans are a primary concern of mine and my wife’s, and we are going to keep the ball rolling on veteran care.”

Knight himself served in the army before joining the Los Angeles Police Department.

“You were a credit to the Los Angeles Police Department, just as you’re a credit to anywhere you go,” Councilman Bob Kellar, also a former LAPD officer, said.

Commission appointments and confirmations

As per their November reelections, Weste, McLean and Councilman Bill Miranda were entitled to each nominate one individual to to the following commissions: Planning; Parks, Recreation, and Community Services; Arts; and to the Open Space Preservation District Financial Accountability and Audit Panel.

Every nomination was confirmed unanimously by the council. The appointees were as follows:

On the Planning Commission, Dr. Dennis Ostrom and Lisa Eichman were appointed.

On the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission, Victor Lindenheim, Ruthann Levison and Dianna Boone were appointed.

On the Arts Commission, Susan Shapiro, Patti Rasmussen and Dr. Michael Miller were appointed.

Open Space Preservation District Financial Accountability and Audit Panel: Wendy Langhans, Susan Orloff and Sandra Cattell.  

Mayoral rotation and parliamentary rules

The council voted to direct staff to analyze the possibility of the adopting Rosenberg’s Rules of Order — a series of procedures that outlines specific parliamentary proceedings —  sometime within the coming months.

The move came after the tenuous debate at a December meeting over which of the council members was to become mayor. The council saw two motions on the floor simultaneously, one for Smyth’s nomination for mayor and the other for McLean’s. In order to clear up future confusion and to avoid the personal attacks that it spurned, Smyth proposed the group adopt a set of defined procedural rules.

“It is not my desire to make any changes to the council leadership process,” he said. “But I do think that it makes sense to simply have a parliamentary process in place for this council…to just provide guidance on any items that are up for debate, and I think it’s completely appropriate to have that.”

Miranda took Smyth’s proposition even further.

“I would also like to see what happened at the last council meeting not ever happen again,” Miranda said. “So I would suggest that we look at the possibility of having every councilmember have a turn as mayor and mayor pro tem.”

Miranda believed that a rotating system — in which each member has an opportunity to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem — would mitigate future confrontations. He worried that the informal aspect of the appointment could preclude future councilmembers of minority political ideologies from leadership positions.

“I would hate to think that someone who is not like minded as we are would be elected to the council and excluded from a leadership position,” he said.

McLean indicated that she agreed.

“When our founders first founded the city, they decided that there would be a rotation,” she said. “I would love to propose that the council adopt a rotation policy.”  

Kellar appeared to disagree and proposed that the council move forward on Rosenberg’s rules with an amendment that motions be voted on in the order that they are received. Under that system, motions are typically voted on in the reverse order in which they are received, according to the City Attorney.

Miranda protested with a secondary motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules as is. The vote failed, garnering support only Miranda and McLean. Kellar’s motion subsequently passed, and the city will move forward on its considerations to adopt the amended Rosenberg system. Miranda and McLean opposed it.  

Kellar surprised the council by nominating Smyth for mayor in December, despite McLean’s then-position of pro tem. McLean nominated herself for the position, and Kellar’s move likely cost Miranda the pro tem position, which was given to Smyth in a compromise.

Had the rules package the council proceeded on tonight been in place in December, Smyth’s nomination would’ve been voted on first — which could have cost McLean her shot at mayor.

“That motion and that second presents a scenario where if a person is blindsided, like last time,  there is not opportunity for defense against that,” she said. “I would like to take politics out of the procedure.”



A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Steve Knight served in Congress from 2014 to 2018.

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Summary
City council terminates lighting district assessment, explores rotating mayoral system
Article Name
City council terminates lighting district assessment, explores rotating mayoral system
Description
The Santa Clarita City Council voted to terminate a measure concerning landscaping and lighting district assessment, honored former congressman Steve Knight, confirmed a series of commission nominees, debated adopting a system of parliamentary rules and explored the potential implementation of a rotating mayoral system during a productive and occasionally contentious meeting on Tuesday evening.
Author
Publisher Name
The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer
Ryan Painter

Ryan Painter covers government and politics for The Proclaimer. He has worked at the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the Daily Trojan and as a campaign staffer during 2018 midterm elections. A 2016 West Ranch graduate, Ryan studies Political Science and International Relations at USC. Find him on Twitter @ryan_pintor.

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