The Battle For The Bell Begins
City Council supports the removal of a historic bell from display.
On Tuesday evening, the Santa Clarita City Council voted 3-2 to send a letter to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society requesting that they approve the removal of the historic Saugus School bell from the City’s display and give it to the Saugus Union School District.
The disputed bell originally hung in the first Saugus School, established in 1908. Over 30 years ago, as the original school was closed and mostly torn down, the District reportedly gave the bell to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. 10 years ago, the Society permanently loaned the bell to the City of Santa Clarita, who put it in a tower at the Newhall Metrolink station along with a tribute to the District.
Since the bell is not owned by the City, the Council can only request that the Historical Society grant the relocation wishes of the Saugus School District.
Saugus speakers urged to Council to support their efforts to return the bell, which they vowed would be displayed in a “prominent location” at the District’s oldest establishment, Santa Clarita School. The School sits at the corner of Seco Canyon Road and Decoro.
District Superintendent Judy Fish questioned whether or not the bell was actually permanently given to the Historical Society. She referenced the minutes of the school board meeting back in the 1970’s that called for the bell to be transferred into the “custodial” care of the Historical Society.
Saugus School Board Chair Judy Umeck said that the District would pay for the potential relocation of the bell by raising money, not from the general fund.
“We have no intention of spending money irresponsibly,” she said.
She also complained that when the decision was made to hang the bell in the Metrolink station’s tower, the District was not consulted. Umeck went on to explain that if the Society granted the bell back to the District, the District would then pay for a replacement bell for the Metrolink Tower.
Pat Saletore, Executive Director of the Historical Society, told the Council that the Society’s board has already sent a letter to the Saugus School District board declining their request, as they feel the bell is currently is a place where it is being cared for appropriately.
“We were given the bell 30 years ago, and 10 years ago the City suggested that we house the bell where it now resides,” she said. “I’m convinced that the people who are in the school district now will love and cherish this bell, but 20 years from now would the character of that be different? Will it be maintained?”
The two organizations on either end of the argument underscored the fact that the issue is essentially between them.
“If it is Saugus’ bell, then I think it should be back in Saugus,” said Council member Marsha McLean. “But I just don’t think that it is under our purview to be involved in this.”
Council member Weste agreed that the City should not be recommending any action to the Historical Society. She went on to charge that while the City won’t have to pay to relocate the bell, they have already paid a large sum of money to secure it where it is today.
“First of all, the bell doesn’t belong to the City, it belongs to the Historical Society and they’ve sent their letter,” said Council member Laurene Weste. “And it did cost the City $100,000, and you’re talking about the public’s funds, to do a very specific thing for a very specific historical item. When the public does a job, and pays for something, should that be respected?”
Mayor Bob Kellar, who originally requested that this issue be brought before the Council, proclaimed his support of the request letter, saying that bell should be returned to the District.
“We have an opportunity here to correct something that occurred that was wrong,” he said.
Mayor pro Tem Frank Ferry asked if either side has had any correspondence other than the letter exchange.
“Have you guys even gotten in a room and talked?” asked Councilman Frank Ferry. “I’m all for sending a letter saying that you guys get in a room and talk.”
Council members Weste and McLean indicated that they would support a motion simply urging both sides to get together and discuss the matter.
Such a motion was never made, and the Council instead voted 3-2 in favor of supporting the District’s request.
The motion does not approve the bell transfer, since only the Historical Society can make that decision. The preceding hour long discussion may have, however, officially initiated the battle over the bell since it took the discussion, or lack thereof, into the public light and revealed that there are two sides to this issue.
In other Council news, the City voted unanimously to authorize the acquisition of a property located at 24509 Spruce Street in Down Town Newhall. The location is currently being used as a piercing business, however the City wishes to use the land, along with other properties already acquired, to build a new library.
The approval came despite a plea by the property owner, who claims that he intends to develop a dental office in the location. He believes that aspect brings the value of the property beyond the pre-set spending limit authorized by the City’s Redevelopment agency of $806,000.
Also, the Council took up some traffic issues at two local neighborhoods. Read that story by clicking here.