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Monday, May 29, 2023

City Successfully Navigating Turbulent Economic Waters

A nautical theme, complete with seagulls and sailing ships as table centerpieces, set the tone for Santa Clarita’s recent State of the City Luncheon titled “Steering a Course for Stability.” “The city has done much more than just ride out the storm,” said City Manager Ken Pulskamp before Council Members gave updates on a range of issues through videos that featured them at different Santa Clarita locations. The videos opened with images of the view from behind a wooden wheel on a ship’s bow, as it navigated over the Santa Clarita Valley. According to Mayor Frank Ferry, Santa Clarita has weathered the recession better than most through sound fiscal management and key initiatives that have set it on a path towards economic recovery. The city managed to pass a balanced budget and also increased its bond rating despite reduced revenues that have forced a hiring freeze as well as spending cuts and postponement of major construction projects. The city’s $5 million 21-Point Business Plan for Progress to boost the local economy and support local businesses, launched in April, has been successful at promoting the City’s Enterprise Zone, encouraging residents and businesses to shop local, and luring film production to the area, among other things, Ferry said. In the last months the city has reached out to more than 200 targeted businesses to raise awareness about the Enterprise Zone program and 24 new businesses have taken advantage of the tax credits. As part of the Film Incentive Program, three productions have received subsidization of film permits: Discovery Channel’s “Doing Da Vinci”, and independent features Elevator Girl, and Monster Mutt. Monster Mutt alone infused an estimated $600,000 into Santa Clarita’s economy from production spending. The 21 Point Plan’s Use Tax Incentive Program has promoted business expansion by allowing any business that directs a Use Tax payment of over $20,000 to the city to allocate one half of that payment to be used towards permit fees or rebate to business, Ferry said. “We’re an unusual city, as far as I know we’re the only city actively pursuing purchasing land,” said Mayor Pro-tem Laurene Weste, who spoke about the city’s successful efforts to secure public space despite the down economy. Santa Clarita recently dedicated 140 acres of open space in Placerita Canyon, purchased with funds from the Open Space Preservation District, she said. The property called Walker Ranch, will connect to the Angeles National Forest via Golden Valley, another piece of city land dedicated to open space. “The city already has well over 3,000 acres of open space preserved for future generations,” she said. Through a video, Weste also spoke of soon to be completed projects that will improve the quality of life for residents in Santa Clarita. The expansion of the Santa Clarita Sports Complex, she said, will include a new dog park, an outdoor basketball court and the addition of playing fields that can be used for football, soccer and free play. The renovations will also add more parking and expand the aquatic center seating area near the Olympic sized pool. “Already this year we opened our nearly 40,000 square foot skate park to a very enthusiastic crowd that expands well beyond our city borders,” she said. Among other projects, the final phase of the Cross Valley Connector Road is also well under way with the construction of the first of two bridges spanning the Santa Clara River, she said, and the City recently celebrated the grand opening of the largest public works project in the history of the city, the Magic Mountain Interstate 5 Expansion Project. Also this year the city added eight miles to its trail system bringing the total to more than 45 miles of bike and multipurpose trails. The city also invested more than $375,000 to support senior programs this year, she said. When it comes to traffic, Councilmember Laurie Ender said this year the city is adding traffic signals, making road modifications, pedestrian improvements totaling more than $1.7 million. Already this year all nine signaled intersections in the city with railroad crossings have been equipped with battery backed up systems to enhance safety during unplanned power outages. Thirty-five intersections that are already equipped with battery backup systems have been upgraded and all existing batteries will be replaced with new ones, she said. Over the next years the city’s traffic engineers will be completing a traffic signal retiming project for 130 signals citywide. Arts Ender also spoke about the city’s efforts to improve public art through partnerships with local arts organizations “We take art very seriously and bringing it to the public is a priority for us,” she said. “How a community supports the arts provides insight into how a community views itself. By promoting vibrancy in the arts we’re encouraging a positive self image for our entire community. We’re helping to make everyone’s life better by bringing the arts closer to home,” she said, also through a video. City Hall started its first floor gallery this year with rotating exhibitions featuring local and regional artists, as well as commissioned projects, she said. The gallery has featured an exhibition on Japanese Kites and photography and paintings from local artists. Residents can now also appreciate art exhibits at the new Town Center Art Space inside the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall, she said. Law Enforcement Councilmember Bob Kellar used his video update to speak of Santa Clarita’s successes in law enforcement efforts. Santa Clarita, who contracts law enforcement services from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has seen a 26 percent decrease in theft and grand theft auto. “Virtually every category of gang related crime is down,” Kellar said. Gang related robberies are down 17 percent, gang related assaults are down 37 percent and gang related vandalism, including graffiti, is down 24 percent. “It’s a three year low for juvenile crime in our city,” he said. In response to several motorcycle incidents, a comprehensive motorcycle safety campaign was launched this year in partnership with College of the Canyons, and the Sheriff’s Department that has resulted in a reduction of motorcycle collisions by more than 30 percent, he said. The City this year has also approved key measures that address residents’ concerns. The city council recently approved two ordinances that limit the number of renters in a home within a single residential zone and regulate parking in neighborhoods. “In response to requests from residents the city put together a team comprised of city staff and Sheriff’s deputies that developed an ordinance that gave officers the proof they need to get peddlers and solicitors off residential sidewalks,” he said. Kellar said he was also proud that the City Council recently approved of initiating a city-wide ballot measure that would incorporate “In God We Trust,” into the City logo. Environment Santa Clarita is also leading the way when it comes to conservation and the environment, said Councilmember Marsha McLean. The city’s cumulative “green efforts” have been successful at reducing over 1.3 million pounds of greenhouse gas and conserving over 1.2 million kilowatts of energy. By replacing lighting at two city buildings and several parking lots the city was able to reduce energy costs by nearly $70,000 a year, she said. The City’s Landscape Maintenance District’s conservation efforts this year are expected to reduce water consumption by at least 10 percent. “From retrofitting lighting, replacing existing roofs with “cool roofs” and maintaining green standards for new construction, the city is taking every opportunity possible to be environmentally friendly,” she said. Over the last several months over 95 percent of all technology related equipment purchased by the city meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool Standard, she added.

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