Arthur Gerard (Art) Donnelly, chairman of the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee, with wife Gloria (Glo) Donnelly, left, and then-City Parks Commissioner Laurene Weste in 1995 or 1996.
As campagin co-chairs, Art, an insurance agent who was active in the SCV Chamber of Commerce, and Glo, a Realtor, were responsible for raising money for the
cityhood campaign (Proposition U on the November 1987 ballot).
Art succeeded Carl Boyer III as chairman of the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee when Boyer decided to run (successfully) for the first City Council on the same ballot.
Art (June 16, 1942 - Nov. 4, 2007) was permanently wheelchair-bound in 1994 when he fell from a second-story balcony and injured his neck and spine.
Boyer selected Weste for the Santa Clarita Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission when the council created the commission in 1988. She won her own City Council seat
on her second try in 1998 and served as mayor in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Ever wonder how and why the City of Santa Clarita was formed, and by whom? Let's take those in reverse order. Ultimately the "who" was the voters, and the "why" was simple: "self-government," as stated on the petition for cityhood. Ever since Newhall started in 1876 and Saugus in 1887 (and actually since 1850), local municipal services were provided by the County of Los Angeles. That was OK, but by the 1970s and '80s, as the population really started to grow, Santa Clarita Valley residents were paying millions more in county taxes than they were getting back in services. Plus, the county is divided into five supervisorial districts, so SCV voters could participate in electing only one of the five people who made the decisions affecting our valley. Often when the other four supervisors wanted to put a jail or a toxic waste dump somewhere (no, that's not a metaphor), they could out-vote the SCV's lone representative and put it here.
Which brings us to the "how." After the successful county formation effort failed in 1976 and again in 1978, many of the same community activists who were behind it opted to try for cityhood. (How can a successful effort fail? SCV residents voted to break away from L.A. County both times, but under state law, the rest of the county had a say, and a majority of voters in the rest of the county refused to let us go.)
So the same volunteer activists, along with some new ones, launched the City of Santa Clarita Formation Committee in 1985. Initially chaired by Lou Garasi (later by Carl Boyer III and Art Donnelly) and vice-chaired by Connie Worden, the committee was, to great degree, an outgrowth of the SCV and Canyon Country chambers of commerce (today combined into the SCV Chamber). In the '70s and '80s, the chambers functioned as a de-facto government that worked with county, state, federal, industry and public utility officials to bring amenities to our valley such as roads, schools and parks — the types of things city governments traditionally handle in large communities. And with a population exceeding 100,000, the SCV was a large community.
Timing is everything, and the time had come to form a city. It wasn't easy. LAFCO — L.A. County's Local Agency Formation Commission (the same agency that approves or denies annexations) — is responsible for ensuring state laws are followed with respect to forming new cities. Cityhood proponents initially planned to include 90 square miles of the SCV in the new city of Santa Clarita, but LAFCO pared down the acreage to 39.5 square miles, omitting all major unbuilt areas (such as Stevenson Ranch) where landowners and developers objected to inclusion. Even Castaic was omitted, despite overwhelming numbers of Castaic residents' signatures on city formation petitions, which circulated from January to June 1986 for submittal to LAFCO. Officially, the chief petitioners were Dennis Farnham, as president of the Canyon Country Chamber, and Terry Martin, as president of the SCV Chamber. They were the first and second to sign the petitions, respectively.
In the end, all that was left inside the proposed City of Santa Clarita were the built sections of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia and Canyon Country — mostly residential subdivisions, but portions of less-dense Placerita and Sand canyons, too. (Since 1987, as outside areas have been developed, LAFCO has approved numerous annexations into the city, which as of 2014 spans approximately 60 square miles.)
On Nov. 3, 1987, voters within the 39.5-square-mile area were asked three questions. Measure U asked whether the area should become a city. An overwhelming majority said yes (14,723 votes to 6,597). Measure V asked whether city council members should serve at large or by district (like the county). A somewhat smaller majority said at-large (11,166 votes to 7,905). The third question was which five of the 26 candidates should serve. The winners, in order, were Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, a small business owner and high school board member (9,855 votes); Jan Heidt, a bookstore owner and community activist (8,402); Jo Anne Darcy, field deputy to the SCV's county supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, and former executive director of the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce (7,601); Carl Boyer III, a high school civics teacher and former COC and CLWA board member who had chaired the city formation committee (6,585); and Dennis Koontz, a retired county firefighter (6,164).
Six weeks later, on Dec. 15, 1987, the 39.5 square miles were officially incorporated as the City of Santa Clarita.