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Those Familiar Problems
February, 2013 - Issue #100
Bob Kellar seems comfortable in the mayor's seat. His recent appointment wasn't much of a surprise - a letter from Mayor Kellar appeared on the city's website days before the vote to actually make him mayor (It was taken down once an SCV Facebook group noted the premature timing.). After becoming mayor and enjoying some celebratory cake, Kellar was comfortable enough to ask that people mind the length of their comments at the council meeting so that he could get to his party at Robinson Ranch. But what may be most comfortable of all for Kellar is the set of environmental problems he faces during his year at the helm of Santa Clarita. They're the same issues we've been dealing with for years, but these comfortably familiar problems are growing less comfortable by the day.

Salty Strawberries
At the Sunday Farmers Market at COC, I found myself eyeing Ventura's avocado and strawberry farmers a bit uneasily. We've been charged with reducing the amount of chlorides in the water we send down the Santa Clara River, largely because some Ventura crops like strawberries are sensitive to salt. Despite dramatic reductions in our salt production by getting rid of water softeners, we have more work to do, and we may not be getting it done quickly enough. Just recently, the city was fined $280,000 by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for missing deadlines relating to salt treatment plans. The board has the discretion to fine us almost 50 times as much ($11.4-million!).

The city council called a special meeting and is fighting the fine. No one is opposed to clean water standards, but it seems Santa Clarita residents may be paying millions to clean water that Ventura farmers will ultimately benefit from. The Farm Bureau of Ventura County notes that water from Santa Clarita would specifically help farmers who have overdrawn groundwater in the Oxnard Plain. This expensive fight is just beginning.

No Site Developer in Sight
Taking salt out of our used water is relatively straightforward - if expensive. But how do you get perchlorate and other pollutants out of groundwater and soil? That's the task facing stakeholders strategizing the recovery of the big, undeveloped piece of land in the middle of Santa Clarita usually referred to as the Whittaker-Bermite property. Decades of the defense industry's manufacturing and waste have made parts of the site too toxic for development. Mayor Kellar and outgoing Mayor Frank Ferry both identified clean-up as a priority for the city.

If it weren't for the pollution, areas of steep topography, and seemingly cursed fate, developers would be clambering for the site. It's 1,000 acres in the middle of Santa Clarita. Home values may not be at their highest and we may have a glut of Walmarts, Goodwills and dollar-stores, but I imagine there's still quite a bit of money to be made developing a piece of land like Whittaker-Bermite. But the site's developer in shining armor has yet to arrive. Until then, the bobcats, birds and deer will remain the site's primary residents.

Bills, Please
During his first speech as Santa Clarita's new mayor, Bob Kellar spoke about the slightly-less-watery environmental issues facing Santa Clarita - -notably Cemex's plans to mine millions of tons of sand and gravel in the valley. It's a problem almost as old and familiar as our many water woes. The only legislation Congressman Buck McKeon introduced during his last term called for more study of a proposed land swap that would avert local mining. It was introduced without much time to succeed as the session was winding down. Senator Barbara Boxer has also introduced failed Cemex legislation in the past. A lack of success is what unites all previous attempts to resolve the Cemex mining problem; the most we've accomplished has been delaying what may prove inevitable.

It's not clear how Kellar will try to resolve this problem, but mid fiscal-year budget adjustments included an extra $50,000 to help with lobbying efforts. Claritans have had many environmental successes in the past - saving Elsmere Canyon, protecting heritage oaks - but for success with Cemex, we require federal action from legislators who may not know and heart the SCV as much as we do.
This column is intended as satire and a (sometimes successful) attempt at humor. Suggestions, catty comments and veiled threats intended for the author can be e-mailed to iheartscv@insidescv.com.
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