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City Council Wants To Have Another Look At Public Access TV

Council members divided over how to handle the takeover of Santa Clarita’s public access channel. Channel 20 is currently run by Time Warner Cable because they are legally obligated to do so.

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Beginning in January 2009, that obligation will no longer be in effect, and the city of Santa Clarita will be left to run the channel. The City recently requested that proposals be submitted by outside entities to take over the operations.

There were two applicants, although before a decision could be made, one withdrew.

The second group, called SCVTV, is led by Leon Worden. In their proposal, they pledged to team up with local educational outlets such as College of the Canyons and the William S. Hart district, as well as with media entities including The Signal and KHTS AM-1220 to jointly contribute content for programming.

With an estimated budget of roughly $278,000 for the first year, including equipment, Worden outlined that SCVTV will pursue alternate funding sources in subsequent years by way of grants, user fees and equipment rentals.

City staff, however, recommended that the Council reject the proposal by SCVTV, and instead take the initial operation of the channel in house.

“My concern is that the economy is increasingly shrinking,” said City Manager Ken Pulskamp. He went on to explain that he was hesitant to recommend that the council take on a project with such a price tag.

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City Technology Services Manager Kevin Tonoian answers questions from the City Council

Staff proposed that the City instead allocate $25,000 to pay for a staff position to oversee the channel for the first six months, and use dedicated incoming money to purchase equipment. The specific incoming money targeted can legally only be used for capital expenditures for public television stations.

Pulskamp went on to say that he didn’t necessarily consider the recommended action to be a long term solution.  

City Technology Services Manager Kevin Tonoian told the council that under the recommended action, the station would remain in operation, but initially only as a playback facility not as a production studio.

Over 10 speakers went before the council and asked them to not follow staff recommendation, and instead opt for the plan detailed by SCVTV. Speakers cited the potential for education, as well as a desire to see the channel operated outside of government management. They also said that local non-profit groups would not have any assistance in creating programming highlighting their organization without a dedicated staff.

One written comment card was submitted in favor of staff recommendation.

The City Council had some differing opinions, although a common thread soon emerged that prompted requests for more information.

“When a citizen says that it should be done outside of the government, I’m paying attention,” said Council member Laurene Weste. “I would really like to see us have staff go back, sit down and work with this some more.”

Other council members agreed.

I know times are tough, but I’m not satisfied that we’ve looked at this enough,” said Council member Marsha McLean.

“I really feel that we need to [put this on the agenda],” said Mayor Bob Kellar. “And I think that staff needs to sit down with the applicants and find a viable way that we can keep this team together.”

Mayor pro Tem Frank Ferry likes the chance to move the station forward.

“We have a unique opportunity,” commented Ferry. “And we need to make this better for our community.” 

Only Council member Ender spoke in favor of pursuing staff recommendation, saying that she didn’t want to take the money away from anything else, and liked the idea of the City taking over the operation of the channel for the first six months.

Weste made a motion that the item come back to the council at a later date in order to give the City a chance to sit down with SCVTV and re-examine the possibility of working together.

Due to the Henry Mayo Hospital/G&L Realty campus expansion issue coming back to the council for two meetings in November, City Manager Ken Pulskamp assured the council that the issue will be brought back to Council by the end of the year.

All five City Council members voted in favor of revisiting the issue at a later meeting after staff and SCVTV have put their heads together.

In other Council news, the City adopted a policy against installing gates, diverters or any other device that would shut down the use of a public road. This policy does not preclude the use of speed calming measures such as speed humps or round-a-bouts.

The policy is really a publicly stated stance, not a new law, as it can be changed if the City Council (or future City Councils) elect to. Two neighborhoods currently seeking road alterations on Benz Rd. and Canvas St. are excluded from the policy.