Remembering the Time of Firsts
Being part of the first City Council, and then becoming the first mayor, was quite an adventure. We were doing everything for the first time in a lot of ways. As far as being mayor was concerned, that was a pleasant surprise, and it was kind of fun making a little bit of Santa Clarita history that way, but with the council itself there was a little bit of, "Wow, now we really have to make the trains run on time."
In addition to being a member of the city of Santa Clarita's first City Council, we hired the first city manager — another first.
At the time of incorporation, our parks were basically shut down — strewn with graffiti and not at all nice to visit. So we boosted the parks funding and now we have some really gorgeous parks. We set the stage for that. We increased policing and made the city one of the safest of its size in the country. We passed an ordinance to protect the oaks and really laid the foundation for the city's environmentally friendly policies.
It was, almost by definition, a time of firsts.
So it was a bit fun, it was a bit of an adventure, it was a challenge and it was an education, and it was even a bit scary. We had wanted Santa Clarita to be a real city. We'd won that battle, and now we had to make a success of it.
Howard "Buck" McKeon, Santa Clarita's first mayor, cuts the city's first birthday cake in December 1988. Photo: City of Santa Clarita. Click to enlarge.
New Identity, New Experiences
The incorporation of the city was a big step, and I was truly proud of it. It meant that we were no longer some backwater town of the Greater Los Angeles area, but that we were taking on our own identity and responsibility for ourselves in a very real way. The valley had, and still has, a lot going for it — natural beauty and people who see themselves as a community with a strong sense of civic pride.
Lucky is the community that starts out with a strong sense of itself even before the community has been established. Santa Clarita was one of those lucky communities. Let's face it — we cover a sprawling amount of territory and yet people see themselves as linked together by a common sense of identity and a shared sense of their future.
When the city officially came into being, it was, in some ways, only an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that had already been written. Still, once Santa Clarita became a city, that sense of community gained a means of real expression.
For 20 years now we have built good schools and good neighborhoods. We have created a niche for ourselves in the movie business. We have gone from being a transit point, to a point that people transit to. We have incorporated the very best of urban and rural living in one package.
All of that became possible because incorporation gave the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley a means of expressing their common vision of a strong and vibrant community. That is a vision I shared with the people of the valley 20 years ago, and that I continue to share. I will always view the early years of Santa Clarita as some of the most exciting and challenging in my life.
Assessing Our Accomplishments
You can't help but be proud of what the city has done.
We have our problems and we have our difficulties, and we always will. But Santa Clarita is thriving and growing and prospering. It's a good place to live, a good place to work, and a good place to raise a family. We are one of the safest communities in America. We've batted out of the ballpark, as far as I am concerned.
When you see how many communities are struggling, and the kinds of problems they face, by comparison we are gold. The problems of so many communities are ones of scarcity — ours are ones of abundance. For example, how do you manage the increasing traffic flow that results because more and more people want to live here? How do we keep the schools on par with the needs?
Those are serious problems, but when you see whole communities back East that are simply boarded up and abandoned, schools that are being shut for lack of resources, you have to say that, on balance, I prefer our problems to many of those problems.
If the past is prologue, we have a great future ahead of us — and I am proud that I was able to be part of it.
Buck McKeon served on Santa Clarita's first City Council from 1987 to 1992. In November 1992 he was elected to his first of 11 terms in Congress.