City Council Round Up: $77,000 D.C. Advocacy Retainer Considered Good Investment
The City of Santa Clarita has voted to continue their relationship with Washington, D.C. based advocacy firm Murray, Montgomery and O’Donnell (MMO) at a cost of $6,000 per month on retainer, plus $5,000 annually for out-of-pocket expenses.
Michael Murphy, Intergovernmental Relations Officer for the City of Santa Clarita, considers it money well spent.
“For us it’s a good investment. Because, as an example, in the last contract period they assisted us in securing over $4 million worth of funding for the city. So $77,000 investment to receive $4 million plus, back certainly is a good return on that investment,” said Murphy.
City officials say the firm has been “instrumental” in securing favorable Congressional action on two major, multi-year City Council priorities: the construction of the Cross Valley Connector and the protection of Elsmere Canyon from being used as a landfill.
Murphy says the city needs an ear-to-the-ground in Washington.
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“They’re there listening when some issue comes up that would impact us. They’re there on the spot to hear first hand the discussion, the debate and they’ll let us know that a particular bill or issue is being discussed or here’s the optimal time to be sharing information with a particular committee or potentially one of the federal departments,” Murphy said.
Murray, Montgomery and O'Donnell’s current three year contract expired on December 31, 2011. The city council authorized continuation of professional services with MMO for the period of January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2012, with the option to renew annually for a maximum of two additional years.
This one year extension would run concurrent with the remaining year of the 112th Congress and enable the city to retain continuity of legislative advocacy services for the current session of Congress.
The city says those issues include:
- Working with Department of Treasury and Department of Defense to secure federal participation toward resolution of Whittaker-Bermite issue.
- Advocating to ensure that adequate funding is available for freight corridors of national significance through federal surface transportation act reauthorization to enable advancement of Interstate 5 truck lane project.
- Ensuring that in the absence of Congressionally directed spending, appropriate funding levels are included within the federal surface transportation reauthorization for transit, regional rail and local highway projects for City transportation priorities.
- Seeking extension of Alternate Fuels Tax Credit.
Although MMO does not advocate for the city regarding the proposed Soledad Canyon mine the city says they have been involved in past priority advocacy including:
- Secured $500,000 for Emergency Operations Center seismic retrofit of City Hall Building and then protected funding through Federal Emergency Management Agency for use on another eligible project, when full project funding was obtained through an alternate source.
- Favorably positioned the City with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, leading to securing $825,000 for seismic retrofit of City Hall Building.
- Protected $1,023,763 in Fiscal Year 2011 Community Development Block Grant funding against further funding reductions in an effort to reduce the federal deficit.
- Advocated for full funding in the National Park Service's budget to initiate and continue the Rim of the Valley Corridor Study, as authorized under Public Law 110-229. This study includes Elsmere Canyon and the proposed Soledad Canyon mine location.
- Secured $300,000 in appropriations funding for McBean Regional Transit Facility.
- Worked with California Governor's Office and Congressional delegation to ensure that $1,187,000 in Neighborhood Stabilization Funds were allocated directly to the City, as opposed to pooling of funds under eligibility rules initially promulgated by California Department of Housing and Community Development.
- Reviewed Federal Communication Commission Declaratory Ruling regarding local zoning authority for wireless towers or antenna sites and worked with City staff to determine that City practices are in conformance with FCC rulemaking.
- Advocated for extension of Alternate Fuel Tax Credit, which resulted in City receiving $240,000 for Santa Clarita Transit.
In other city council news:
Downtown Newhall Signage:
The Santa Clarita City Council introduced and passed a second reading of an ordinance to amend signage regulations on the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan.
The Downtown Newhall Specific Plan (DNSP) was adopted in December 2005, to create a development plan to revitalize Old Town Newhall by encouraging development and redevelopment on Main Street.
The following is a summary of the major amendments to the DNSP:
Currently A-frame signs are not permitted in the DNSP.
To permit A-Frame signs on Main Street for all retail businesses while Main Street is closed to vehicular access for events, provided that the signs are located outside of any required path of travel for accessibility and safety. In addition, the business shall obtain an “Over the Counter” permit from the City. There would be no cost for the permit for an A-frame sign.
Currently the DNSP allows for window signage at a maximum of 15 percent of all window area at all times. In addition, the DNSP allows for window signs at a maximum of 25 percent of all window area during special holidays for up to 15 days, three times in a 12-month period.
To provide a definition of window signs to be any decals, illuminated signs, painted signs or other similar signs approved by the Director of Community Development. Entertainment signs would be exempt from the window signage requirements for any signage related to their business to advertise events, plays, or other shows. In addition, staff is proposing to modify the holiday requirements for window signs to allow for one of the special event/holidays to be permitted for up to 45 days in a 12-month period.
Window signs would be permitted with approval by the Planning Division “Over the Counter.” There would be no cost to the business owner for any window sign permits.
The current DNSP language allows for a wall sign up to 18 inches in height by right with signage up to 36 inches in height through an Enhanced Sign Review. This cost is currently $763.00 and takes up to two weeks to process. There is no process for any signage in excess of 36 inches in height.
Modify the DNSP to allow for wall signs up to 36 inches in height by right, and allow for the Enhanced Sign Review process for signs in excess of 36 inches in height. There would be no cost for the permit for wall signs up to 36 inches in height.
Outdoor Display of Merchandise
Outdoor display of merchandise requires a Minor Use Permit (MUP) in the Urban Center, Corridor, or Creative District zones of the DNSP.
Modify the DNSP to allow for the display of merchandise for retail businesses on Main Street with the use of decorative furniture, tables, or displays when Main Street is closed to vehicular access for a special event. In addition, staff proposes to allow for a maximum of up to 12 hours of display per week for a retail business on Main Street outside of the special event hours. The schedule would be determined by the business owner, provided that the business owner obtains an “Outdoor Display Permit.” All displays must be located outside of any required path of travel for accessibility and safety. There would be no cost for the “Outdoor Display Permit” from the City.
Alcohol Uses for On-Site Consumption
All alcohol-related uses similar to a wine bar or restaurant require a Minor Use Permit (MUP) in the DNSP.
Modify the DNSP to remove the MUP requirement for full service restaurants with alcohol sales, wineries, wine tasting rooms, wine bars, beer gardens, or micro-breweries without a MUP on Main Street. The DNSP would continue to require a MUP for Bars, Taverns, or Nightclubs.
The DNSP currently allows a “legal non-conforming” use to remain in place provided that the use does not cease for a period of more than 180 days.
Modify the DNSP to terminate a “legal non-conforming” use if the use ceases for a period of more than 60 days.
Transition to Neighboring Zone
The DNSP requires a MUP to allow for a residential use or housing type that is permitted in the neighboring zone, but not permitted under the current zone of the property.
Modify the DNSP to expand this provision to commercial uses in the Urban Center or Corridor zones. This would allow for a commercial use that is permitted in either the Urban Center or Corridor zone to be located in the neighboring zone, provided that a MUP is obtained and the use is determined to be compatible with the surrounding land uses.
WorkSource Center Contract
The Santa Clarita City Council awarded a contract to the Santa Clarita Community College District (COC) for the operation of the Santa Clarita WorkSource Center in an amount not to exceed $150,000.
Officials say they based their decision upon the “depth of understanding” of the intended goals of the WorkSource Center, as well as previous experience with job placement services and grants.
According to the city, COC has extensive business partnerships in the Santa Clarita community that will assist job seekers with placement into local jobs. In addition, they have over 40 industry advisory groups on campus that meet twice a year to keep “a constant pulse” on what jobs are available and the experience and skill necessary to obtain them.
Those partnerships include the Employee Training Institute, the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, and the Small Business Development Center.
Elsmere Canyon Annexation
The Santa Clarita City Council voted unanimously to adopt a joint Resolution of Negotiated Exchange of Property Tax Revenue resulting from the proposed Elsmere Canyon Annexation.
The proposed Joint Tax Transfer Resolution provides for a transfer of $1,898 from the County to the City for fiscal years commencing on or after July 1, 2012, or the July 1, after the effective date of the annexation, whichever is later.
These funds are the base property tax transfer that would result in the City of Santa Clarita taking over the jurisdictional function of the Elsmere Canyon area. The resolution also provides for the detachment from County Road District No. 5, and the detachment from the County Public Library and transfer of the property tax revenue received by the County Public Library attributable to the Elsmere Canyon Annexation to the City of Santa Clarita Public Library Fund.
Now it is up to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to mirror that decision and adopt the resolution. Subsequent final steps include two Local Agency Formation Commission hearings for the annexation. The first, a general public hearing anticipated for early 2012, followed by a "protest hearing," if necessary.
City officials believe the Elsmere Canyon Annexation may be complete by July 2012.
Tax Default Properties
The city council voted to adopt a resolution authorizing submittal of Chapter 8 Agreements to the County of Los Angeles Treasurer and Tax Collector to purchase tax-defaulted properties for open space preservation.
The provisions of Chapter 8 of the Los Angeles County Revenue and Taxation Code state that governing agencies may enjoy priority to purchase tax-defaulted properties for public use purposes prior to, or while the properties are publicly auctioned by the County. The County typically conducts two auctions per year. As a public agency, the City of Santa Clarita has the ability to acquire tax defaulted properties in lieu of participating in the auction process.
The City currently owns more than 6,100 acres of open space. According to city officials acquisition of additional properties provides important trail linkages, enhances wildlife connections, and expands the City's greenbelt buffer.
In order to complete the Chapter 8 requirements, the City must execute the Chapter 8 Agreement and forward it with the approved Resolution to the County. Once the County has completed their required process, which can take up to one year, the City will be notified of the total amount due to acquire the property. Staff would then return to the City Council with a report detailing the final costs and make a recommendation regarding final approval for the purchase.