Doc Rioux At Large

Santa Clarita's toughest and most resilient people

Richard "Doc" Rioux · October 20, 1996

There may be 160,000 people living in the Santa Clarita Valley, but it nevertheless functions like a very, very small town. While the great majority of people who live here to about their daily business mostly unaware of local issues and politics, there are perhaps 300 people really active enough to make things happen.

It's fascinating to watch them jockey for position, set out tactics, use the press and change their associations in order to push their causes.

This can be a tough town if opinions turn against you. Evidence the reaction to the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment. Negative views toward the organization began to appear in The Signal when the directors chose to dispute the wishes of Sand Canyon residents who wanted to build a bridge over a wash on private property. This was followed by SCOPE's strong support for a bridge over The Old Road from the Valencia Marketplace into Stevenson Ranch. Most residents of Stevenson Ranch who were surveyed didn't want the bridge because they preferred using the funding designated for the bridge for a recreation center. Letters to the editor and calls to The Signal critical of SCOPE's directors began to appear.

The Signal is the "People Magazine" of the Santa Clarita Valley. The other newspapers, which cover news here, can't compete at the same level. Members of the valley's 300 Club read the paper with breakfast and coffee every morning to find out what's going on with the other members of the club. They read the editorials, Tell It to the Signal and letters sent to the editor before anything else. The phones then begin ringing with the chatter, opinion and gossip generated.

"Did you read what he had to say about George? How about Joel and Margaret? God, what nerve! I couldn't believe it. I'm going to call in about that one myself. How about you? Never mind a call. It's worth a letter."

If you want to be a player here, you have to read The Signal and develop a thick skin. If you don't have alligator skin, you won't sleep well at night.

You can't be an opinion page columnist and not offend someone out there every week about something. Letters and calls will be sent and made to the paper bashing you for what you said or failed to say. This isn't Washington, D.C., where pundits are isolated from most of their readers. Columnists for The Signal live amongst the people they poke at and take issue with. I know that if I'm critical of someone, I'm going to eventually see him someplace at some time. Will we make eye contact or pretend like we didn't see one another? Will he punch me in the nose when we pass in the aisles at Long's Drugs?

There are serious things that happen in this community, but it's the posturing between the regulars that is really fascinating to watch. It's SCOPE vs. THE LAND COMPANY, or GEORGE CARAVALHO vs. DAN HON, or THE NEWHALL SCHOOL DISTRICT vs. STEVENSON RANCH, or THE TOWNSLEYS vs. MELODY RANCH, or KEITH PRITSKER vs. THE MARKETPLACE, or THE SIGNAL vs. SENATOR DON ROGERS, or GAYS vs. PETE KNIGHT.

The chess games go on. People and groups maneuver for the high ground in order to beat their opponents. There are some checkmates, but not too many. The games seem to continue no matter who appears to have made the strongest moves today.

It can be a lot of fun if you don't take yourself too seriously. There is a difference between taking what you do seriously and taking yourself seriously. The most effective activists in town are able to separate their egos from what they do and the causes they promote.

Though I disagree with the President and Mrs. Clinton on a lot of issues, there is one thing that I really do admire about both of them. It's their apparent ability to sustain heavy, unrelenting and systematic personal criticism and not fold under the pressure. I'm certain they've had sleepless nights, but they don't usually show it, and they're determined to keep fighting for what they believe is good for the country. The same is true for House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The fellow is under persistent personal attack but still keeps moving down the road with his conservative political agenda.

Among the members of the 300 Club in this valley who appear to be made of some pretty tough stuff are Newhall Land and Farming's Marlee Lauffer, SCOPE's Michael Kotch, Newhall School District Superintendent J. Michael McGrath, Councilwoman Jill Klajic, Poe Development's Jeff Stevenson, The Signal's Will Fleet, and columnist Leon Worden. They mostly roll with the punches, play the game cleverly, and don't usually lose sight of their objectives under fire.

But the personality in this town who gets the crown for being the KING OF TOUGHNESS is City Manager George Caravalho. No one in the last eight years has taken more public criticism and sustained more personal abuse than El Jefe himself. He was bashed on roads, bashed on Porta Bella and bashed on redevelopment. And through it all, he kept his public cool, rarely lost sight of his objectives, outmaneuvered or outlasted his critics, and usually ended up getting what he wanted. I don't know how well he sleeps at night, but he always looks pretty good to me when I see him. I like tough people, not wimps.

Someday, I'll list the activists, the doers and shakers in this town who I think have the thinnest skins and poorest performances under fire. You might be surprised to see the choice made for WIMPIEST OF THE YEAR.

But for now, you activists and wanna-be activists better remember that you need to develop thick skins if you want to play the game and win victories for your particular causes. If you bruise easily or don't have a good sense of humor, this ain't the town for you. Try and laugh at yourself a little before you step out on the street to get your name in lights. It will be easier for you to sleep peacefully when the lights go out.

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Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.


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