It seemed to be an exercise in futility, capped off by an accusation from the dais and emotions running high throughout the crowd gathered for Tuesday’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting.
The issue was campaign finance and in a community where the common belief is that G&L Realty, developers behind the expansion of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, pumped several thousands of dollars into incumbent coffers during the last two elections, the opponents were angry and vocal.
Raising the limit on campaign contributions was proposed by the council to "level the playing field" and bring the council election in parity with other elected offices in the Santa Clarita Valley. There are no policies restricting donations to campaigns for any school districts or water boards in the area and donors to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors candidates are restricted to giving $1,000, which is the ceiling proposed by the ordinance.
A survey of cities similiar in size to Santa Clarita also showed a majority have no policy on contribution limits, with Glendale and Simi Valley having a limit of $1,000, Irvine a ceiling of $440 and Thousand Oaks a limit of $360.
Businessman Jeff Solomon acknowledged that changes are inevitable in politics, but asked the Council to answer one question.
“If you could just each say ‘I want to raise campaign finance limits because … ‘” he asked. No Council members complied.
His request was echoed by Sterling King, a community activist.
“Not a single person in this city would agree that this is a good idea,” he said. “Why do you want this?”
Other speakers likened the election atmosphere to corruption in Chicago or suggested lower limits. Councilmembers were asked to instead rein in political action committees that make contributions surreptitiously and often miss deadlines, choosing to pay fines instead of comply with transparency regulations.
When the suggestion of forming a special committee to examine the issue was proposed, Councilman Bob Kellar said “I think we had our special committee here tonight,” gesturing to the audience.
Councilman Frank Ferry accused former council candidate David Gauny, who lost to
Ferry by 32 votes in April, as being the mastermind behind the turnout, citing an e-mail allegedly sent out by the unsuccessful candidate.
The two men engaged in a short argument before King stood up and shouted toward the dais, interrupted only by a deputy escorting him from the room.
“I guess I expected it,” Boyer said about the 4-1 vote. “I didn’t expect to be able to change any minds. Unfortunately, it’s not really in the spirit of serving the public in a way that keeps the public in charge instead of the special interests.”
Before the meeting, Boyer passed out a copy of “An Open Letter To the City Council” that touched on his history with the city and his experience in facilitating government change.
“Since chairing the effort to incorporate the City of Santa Clarita in 1987, serving three terms on the Council and two terms as Mayor, I have tried to keep silent about local political issues…I watched G&L Realty take over the campaign this year and still kept silent.
“However, the agenda item to increase the campaign contribution limit from $360 to $1,000 is the last straw.”
The letter went on to describe campaigns of the past that cost less than $15,000 total and didn’t include people complaining about slick campaign mailers or signs papering the city.
It concludes with a dubious proposal.
“Either the Council can take action to put government back into the hands of the people, or we will have to work to put integrity back into government by forming our own Committee to Take Back Our City,” the letter said.
Boyer was not alone in his sentiments by a long shot – every seat in the chambers was taken and a crowd stood in the back of the room – and his committee could come to fruition after the council’s vote.
“I think some of the members of the Council don’t really understand that there are a lot of people in the city who are not terribly happy about the way things are going,” he noted.
He’d rather go back to full-time retirement, but Boyer can’t let go of the passion that made him a memorable government teacher and approachable public servant.
“It’s just that there have been a number of things that have happened that I’ve not been particularly pleased with and, like I said in my letter, this is the last straw,” he said. “To me, the whole emphasis has to be on good government and public service and forget the politics, forget the political careers, forget thinking about the next election; just make the decisions based on what ought to be done.”