First Council Candidate Debate Attracts Turnaway Crowd
Five candidates tell packed council chambers why they are best for the job.
It was standing room only Friday night at Santa Clarita City Hall as the five City Council candidates debated the issues during a forum moderated by KHTS and The Signal.
The flow of ideas and plans was enough to give any voter encouragement. As the first in a short series of debates before the April 8 election, the candidates fielded questions about hospital expansion, taxes, traffic and annexation, sometimes eliciting applause from the audience for their answers.
Asked what they would do to improve the flow of private vehicle traffic through the city, most supported the completion of the cross-valley connector after the cleanup of the Whittaker-Bermite property near the Saugus Speedway, and touched on the improvements that would come with the completion of Via Princessa to Wiley Canyon Road. Candidate Maria Gutzeit, a proponent of bicycling, encouraged people to get out of their vehicles and take bike trails when they could. Diane Trautman said she would work on developing affordable housing and encourage local jobs so people would not have to travel far to get to work, thereby relieving impacts on the freeways.
City-county relations were explored, with the candidates unanimous that they are strained at times, but not untolerable.
“We have to focus on residents and people, not warring agencies,” Laurie Ender said. “We can tell people that you draw the line where you want, but it’s not a fence.”
Asked about the hospital expansion, all the candidates agreed that additional inpatient accommodations are needed, including a second hospital sited somewhere closer to the east side of the town, but regarding the Valencia campus of Henry Mayo Newhall hospital, most wanted to wait for the environmental impact report for any concrete decisions. Bob Spierer brought up the possibility that when the proposed expansion is completed, it would only be able to meet 50 percent of the community’s health care needs.
Not one candidate was in favor of tax increases or business licensing, a question floated to help meet government’s current budget crisis. Spierer said that proactive programs to help businesses would be preferable to any taxes and Ender pointed out that any new taxes or fees levied would eventually trickle down to the consumer.
Candidate Gutzeit raised the problem of communication with the city, referring to the permitting process as a “bog,” and suggesting that she would work on giving citizens all the information they needed to improve their properties up front before too much money was spent on permits. She cited an automotive company in Canyon Country that was midway through an expensive permit cycle when they were told offhandedly that their improvement would also require widening a freeway onramp.
The new civic center proposed near the Westfield Town Center was enthusiastically endorsed, with the space needs of sheriff and courts taking the highest priority. Candidate Bob Kellar pointed out that building said center would be a good thing for city-county relationships and shared the possibility of establishing a new judicial district once a new courthouse was built.
A substation for the sheriff’s department was also a priority, not just a storefront like the one open for a short time near the Edwards theater. Addressing improvements needed on the East side of town, most said a community center similar to the one built in Newhall would meet the needs of citizens of all ages and persuasions and serve as a positive outreach from the city.
Speaking about Newhall redevelopment, the candidates were divided, with Gutzeit lamenting the city’s slow progress and predicting that Newhall would soon be boarded up and abandoned.. Kellar quickly added that what Newhall needs – and what might have saved Newhall Hardware – was shoppers from all over Santa Clarita going down to buy items.
“If anyone is pointing fingers, they should be pointing fingers at themselves,” he said. “We all need to go down and shop and support the businesses.”
Spierer chimed in, saying that the entire Newhall community is facing a lot of work.
”There will be an adjustment, but we need to educate people. We knew Newhall Hardware had anything we needed, but we went to the big box stores instead.”
Asked about annexation of lands west of Interstate 5, the candidates seemed to gain new energy. Kellar kicked off the discussion, saying that the 27 annexations he’d seen since cityhood were overwhelmingly successful and any future annexations would most likely be the same.
Listen to podcasts of the debate on hometownstation.com right now by clicking here , or watch streaming video he debate coming soon on hometownstation.com and The Signal’s website at www.the-signal.com. Another candidate debate, sponsored by the SCV Coalition will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 20 at the city’s Activity Center in the George Caravalho Sports Complex on Centre Pointe Drive.