SCV NEWSMAKER OF THE WEEK:
Timothy Ben "TimBen" Boydston
Member, Santa Clarita City Council
Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Senior Editor
Sunday, January 27, 2007
(Television interview conducted January 17, 2006)
Signal: Why isn't it just Tim or Ben? Why can't you pick one?
Boydston: The "Tim" part came from a long time ago when I was raised as Tim, locally, and a lot of people knew me as Tim. Then when I went into college, they knew me as "Ben" because the first production that I did had three Tim's in it, so I picked Ben, and the people in college knew me (that way).
Then, when I came back to the valley after college in a few years, I needed for people to know I was the same person because people were asking me, "Do you have a brother?" So, TimBen.
Signal: So you stuck them together.
Boydston: Actually, you guys stuck them together. The press stuck them together. First I think it was The Mighty Signal that did that.
Signal: How long have you been in this valley?
Boydston: My family moved here in 1960, and I've lived here my whole life. I went to Sulphur Springs School, Placerita (Junior High), Canyon High School, some time at COC before I went to Northridge.
My time outside of the valley was a stint in the U.S. Air Force for four years, and then I spent about eight or nine years in Santa Monica, on the west side, when I was doing property development and when I owned my businesses down there.
Signal: You've run for office a couple of times here in this valley.
Boydston: How do you know that? You're one of the four people who apparently know that.
Signal: One of the four people who remember it, yes.
Boydston: Actually, I've run twice for office out here.
Signal: Over the span of a couple of decades.
Boydston: Exactly. Back in 1978, I believe it was, when they were trying to form a new county out here, I ran for a supervisory position that never took place because the county formation lost. But yes, I ran for the district up there, and I pulled 25 percent in that election which was pretty good, considering I was running against one of the formation committee members.
The other time that I ran was when I came back to the valley after being in West L.A. I wanted to get to know the people and make a difference, if I could, and I tried to see what you could do and how many votes you could get if you had no money, zero you spend zero and you just relied upon people like The Mighty Signal to give you questions and answers in the forums. The answer is: Not very many.
Signal: You didn't get that same 25 percent when you ran for City Council on no money.
Boydston: No. I think I had about 12 votes at that point, and I'm sure that if anybody tried it today, it would be even less.
Signal: Last month you only had three votes for City Council but they were the three votes that mattered. Now, you're in this City Council meeting it's the second meeting where the City Council is trying to decide who to pick to replace Cameron Smyth, and it has come down to five people, and the council can't decide. So then they go to the next five, sort of the "afterthought five." They can't pick from the first five, so they go to the second five. You get up there and speak. What were you thinking when you addressed the City Council?
Boydston: Well, what I thought when I addressed the City Council is that there was some sort of political deadlock going on in regard to the people who were in the top five, as we used to call them.
And by the way, I want you to know there are actually five panelists (members of the community panel that interviewed 15 City Council applicants) who voted that I should be one of the top five so there were some people out there who said, "This guy should be considered." So it wasn't like no one voted for me.
However, being a political realist, and being in town a long time, I quite frankly thought: It's going to be one of the other people in the second five. Someone who has a position. You have to understand there are people who have been elected, very well known people. It's not that I'm not known, but not known in the political realm or not known as a elected official of a big organization. So I really thought it would be one of the other five.
Signal: So you're in the second five; you and the rest of the second five speak at the end of a long evening that saw the council vote on numerous candidates without reaching consensus. Then TimBen Boydston comes up for a vote. Frank Ferry says yes, and all of a sudden, Bob Kellar who had been holding out for one of the "top five" says yes. Marsha McLean makes it three and Santa Clarita has a new council member. What were you thinking?
Boydston: I had to recover from the shock a little before I was thinking anything, and I was really pleased.
The reason people don't know (why) it happened I mean, there are several reasons I'm sure that happened, but one of them is that the City Council people, they all know me. And I had made a pledge.
That was the reason I was in the race. Two reasons one, for the exposure, you know, being in town, but the other main reason that I wanted to go in the race was to give people the opportunity, if they weren't going to vote for someone in that top section or it was locked up, they should have the opportunity to vote for a person who would hold the place, then just serve the time out the 14 or 15 months and then it would be a wide-open race in the next election (in April 2008).
Signal: Why would anybody do that? You're the first person ever to volunteer to go on the City Council as a lame duck.
Boydston: Well, I wouldn't call it a "lame duck" exactly. You can accomplish a lot in 14 months if you put your mind to it. And you should know how long it took me to build the theater; it took me less time than that.
Signal: OK, but if the other council members know you're not going to run for reelection in 2008, why would they have to pay attention to you?
Boydston: I think the reason that they will pay attention to me is because they know the people are going to pay attention to any City Council person who has a bully pulpit, who has a voice. And there will be very big issues that are slated to come before the council, I'm sure. I think for those reasons, people might pay attention.
And you never know. Although I'm not running in that election coming up for the council, I never said I would never run for the council and never said I would never run for the county supervisor position or some other position.
Signal: So you might run in 2010.
Boydston: You never know. But like I said, I have to see if I like this. Now, 14 months is not very long, but it's long enough to accomplish some things, and there are some things I'd really like to work on.
Signal: What do you think you can get done in 14 months? Does anything (in government) happen that fast?
Boydston: I kind of call it "government years." You would be surprised. Some things can happen, and other things that are on their way to happening, you can have an influence on.
I think the one thing that I'm going to concentrate on, my No. 1 priority, is to better the relationship between the county of Los Angeles and the city of Santa Clarita.
It's not right that these two agencies the people in those agencies, the elected officials, they all want what's best for the people, that's what they all want. And yet, in the paper, there is this sniping and bashing that's been going back (and forth), but that's just not right. Because when you start fighting with people, you don't get anything done.
I had the pleasure of meeting with (Supervisor) Mike Antonovich, a man whom I respect a great deal. And I asked Mike several questions because it was actually scheduled for a different reason I was going to meet him on a theater issue, and then I became a council person before the meeting happened. So I was sitting across from Mike as a council person, asking him specific questions, and that's what I told him: That's the one thing I want to have happen. I want to build that bridge back, and we can start working together on these issues and everybody's going to be better off.
I know that the city has things that they need, and the county has things that they need, but you don't do any good by fighting. There are several issues in that arena that I think that I can address effectively.
Signal: When you talk about the acrimony between the city and county, you're not really talking about Supervisor Antonovich and the City Council, are you? Aren't you really talking about some differences between people who live on the west side of Interstate 5, and the City Council or city staff or whomever? It's not really Antonovich versus the City Council, is it? Where's the conflict?
Boydston: I think the conflict, quite honestly, is people who are trying to hook onto something to get a name for themselves. They are trying to make a big deal out of it for political purposes or other purposes.
You talked about the west side, and the west side's a very important issue and it wasn't one of my issues going in when I was elected. Not elected, I was appointed
Signal: You were elected by three people.
Boydston: Elected by three people. You have a good point there.
OK, so after I was appointed, actually, people came up to me, one from Southern Oaks and one from Stevenson Ranch, and within two days, they came up and said, "We'd like to be part of the city. We've lived out here a long time, and I think we'd like to be part of the city."
These were ordinary people, people that I know, and I (said), "OK, come to the council and I'll do what I can. I'll give you the information and I'll find out how you go about doing that."
So that's why I asked Mike (Antonovich) about the issue of annexation of the west side, as you call it, across the freeway. Mike told me straight up: If the majority of the people are for it, he's for it.
It couldn't be simpler than that. And he is a man of his word. So I know that if the majority of the people on the west side want to be part of the city, they will be. If they don't, they won't.
So they need to have some sort of a method by which all the people over there can have a say and go ahead and move forward, if that's what they want to do. I'll help them if that's what they want.
Signal: You said there are some people who've been trying to make a name for themselves. What people?
Boydston: Well, I don't know. You asked why that happens, and I just was saying I think that's the reason it does happen. Because it would make better press. I find that I can't come to you as a peacemaker and say, "Oh, I think so-and-so is trying to make a name for themselves." That's no good.
Signal: Does this mean you'll be championing annexation on behalf of the people who want it?
Boydston: If the majority of people on that side of the freeway (do), yes. Absolutely.
Signal: So you'll champion annexation but you're going to let them vote first before you do anything about it?
Boydston: When I say "championing annexation," I mean I would give them the information from the city if they wanted it. I would stand up in this ("Newsmaker of the Week") program and say, "Hey, we're looking for a way to explore this," to see if that's what the majority of the people want. Because you really need to find out whether the majority of the people over there want that.
If they want that, then great. And if they don't want it, great.
Signal: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Will you be going to the people on the west side of the freeway and tell them all the benefits of joining the city, first or are you going to find out what they want first?
Boydston: If invited, I would go to the west side and tell them. The people who came to me, what I told them is: Go form your own committee. Then you're going to have to organize, and you're going to have to talk to people over there, and you're going to have to show the city and the county that that's something you want to do. So that would be up to them.
Signal: When you talk about smoothing out relations between the city and county, what are some of the examples?
Boydston: Well, one of the examples that Mike asked me about which is close to my heart, and I've been reading about it for years that's the homeless shelter. I asked Mike specifically: This is what I'm trying to do for the city, these type of things, and is there anything I can help with?
That was one of the things he asked me. He said: Can you help on the homeless shelter issue? And I hope I can. I hope I can find a permanent solution to the shelter issue. And I know that didn't you sit on the committee for
Boydston: There were several people who sat on the committee to try to find some locations, and then talk about (rotating) from one to the other.
Maybe that's the right solution, or maybe we can find a single location so we don't have to incur the costs of putting it together and striking it, and things like that.
I don't believe in a year-round shelter, but I do believe in a winter shelter, and I think it needs to be staffed. And then, when the weather is nice and the people don't have that extreme need (to be) inside, then any funding that you can get, you can put toward job training and finding jobs and things for the homeless people.
Because we have homeless people. And to be quite honest, this is a very rich area, when you compare us to a lot of areas, and I believe that we have a moral obligation, if nothing else and I know we don't have all the same legal obligations as a city, but I think we have a moral obligation to take care of people at the very bottom.
So I'm excited about working with the committee, and excited about taking your recommendations and finding a permanent solution to this.
Signal: Right now we have a winter shelter. You say you don't favor a year-round shelter
Signal: Aren't people homeless the other eight months of the year? What do they do then?
Boydston: Yes, people are homeless the other eight months of the year, and people do various things for their shelter and their housing (during) that time. Some people camp. I camped as a kid; actually, we did it on vacation. It was fun. It probably isn't quite so much fun if you don't have your own home. So I don't mean to make light of it. What I'm saying is, you're talking about filling a need.
Signal: Where do you see the city's obligation to homeless people the other eight months of the year?
Boydston: What I'm saying is that what we can do is try to create not only that place for the winter, but to try to create a funding stream that talks about finding them jobs, which is the key to becoming un-homeless, as it were, finding your own home. You need a job.
Signal: In terms of City Council obligations in general, what is your guiding philosophy about the City Council in terms of its responsibility for solving all the problems in the city?
Boydston: Well, you're not going to solve all the problems in the city. My philosophy about the City Council is they're there, really, to serve the people and to help the people. That's what I think their job is. Their job is to reflect what the people want, and there are certain things that they have restrictions and laws that they have to follow. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get to the solution to the problems.
It's not an easy thing. You can't wave a wand. But your job is to try to solve the problems for the people and to serve the people. I'm very big on that.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be president of the United States. Now, kids don't want that anymore. They want to be a rock star or something else. But that's what I wanted to be, for a little while. People would ask me, why do you want to be president? And I would say, "So I could help people."
Now, that may sound naïve, but that's what, in the big picture, I want to do. You asked, why would I want to become involved in the political process, on the 1-in-10 million shot that I got in? What could I do in 14 months? Help people.
Signal: I don't want to belabor annexation, but if you see the City Council's role as being responsible to help the people in the city of Santa Clarita, how is it the City Council's responsibility to worry about people who don't live in the city?
Boydston: If people want to live in the city, though, then it is their responsibility to open their arms to those people. The reason, of course, is because you can be represented much better locally when you have a problem.
And I'll talk about the cost issues and things like that. We can spend an hour debating over this particular tax and that particular tax. The advantage is, economically, it's pretty much a wash, for the degree that all these people are living at, as far as their economic level. So the economic thing is kind of a wash.
It's really about the representation. If you have a problem and you need to have it solved, you have elected officials you can come down to City Hall, and they listen to you there. We are all there, listening to your problems. And you can be sure that if you have a problem that's a city responsibility, a government responsibility, if it can be solved, it will be solved. Because that next morning, Ken Pulskamp who is a great city manager he will get not one but maybe three calls, maybe five calls, from the council: "You need to take care of this problem. There's a problem."
They have done that a lot in the city over the years, so it's a matter of being able to drive just five minutes instead of driving all the way downtown (Los Angeles). It's not that you can't solve those problems, but to expedite the problems and quite honestly, to have the people sitting up there that you elect I mean, those people want to be in those seats.
Signal: So far, has anything surprised you, in terms of your perceptions of what the City Council would be like, versus what it's really like?
Boydston: Yes. The thing that surprised me and believe me, there is a steep learning curve. I don't want people to think that I just walked in. I did 40 hours of reading on my vacation on information that they gave me, and I'm learning new stuff every day.
I would say the biggest thing is the speed at which you can do things. I always knew that it was slow; and the consensus building you're not allowed to build any consensus. When I'm working at the (Canyon) Theatre Guild or when you're working the private sector, which I've done, you are able to build consensus with your team. You can't make decisions that way (on the council) because it's against the Brown Act. You're limited on how much you can go to each person. So you have to listen and gather as much information, be as educated as you can, and then you can make a decision. It what you can say and how much you can get done. That's the hard part.
Signal: And all of those complex lawsuits you learn about in closed session.
Boydston: Is anything as simple as a lawsuit?
The judicial system in our country is a wonderful thing. Because without it, we wouldn't have the country we have. However, as we both know, there are lots of things that need to be fixed in the judicial system, and I'm afraid that sometimes, people are not using the government to govern with, but they're kind of using the legal system to govern with. I'm not sure the Founding Fathers set that up, but that's another whole Newsmaker (show).
Signal: You mentioned the Canyon Theatre Guild. People who know you, know you as the head of the theater. Isn't that a full-time job?
Boydston: It is.
Signal: So how much time do you plan to put into the City Council?
Boydston: Forty hours a week, at least. What you don't realize is, it's a full-time job, but I've been working at two full-time jobs for the last eight years that I've been employed there. So basically, I'm going to be putting a full-time job in at the city, and a full-time job in over at the CTG.
And how do I do that, you say?
Boydston: I don't watch TV. And we don't have a TV.
Signal: As long as you watch this show, you're OK.
Boydston: Yeah, well, I read this show. We pick up the paper, The Signal a great newspaper and we look through The Signal and we read the Newsmaker, everything. So I don't see this show very often.
Signal: All right. Now, the Canyon Theatre Guild has come to the city for some sizable grants over the years. Are you worried about conflict-of-interest in that respect?
Boydston: Absolutely not. A number of years ago, I went from just representing the Canyon Theatre Guild to representing the arts as a group, the arts organizations. I was the elected representative of the Arts Alliance, which is all of the arts organizations, to the Arts Advisory Committee, which advises the city. So I've been representing all of the groups, and I know the responsibilities that lie in there.
Yes, in the past, we have had some sizable capital grants when we built the theater, but quite honestly, our revenues from government, all government grants, never run more than about 3 or 4 percent of our total budget. So it's not something that we're dependent on, and we don't always apply for the community service grants, which is the granting program. We don't apply every year for that. We got it this year, but we didn't even apply the year before, and that was a matter of trying to make sure that they shared.
Obviously I'm going to be working to try to increase the funding a little bit for arts, bring the profile of the arts up while I'm there in this short period of time, so I'm excited about that. I think cultural arts being the No. 3 thing on people's priority lists of the "Big Picture" that (the city) did a few years back I think that they want more cultural arts.
So as far as any conflict of interest, I'll be recusing myself from anything (related specifically to the Canyon Theatre Guild), but quite honestly, there's not very much direct funding that goes to the guild.
Signal: What were the first two things on people's priority lists?
Boydston: That's open space and traffic, for what people are really concerned about.
Signal: You're going to buy up all the open space around town, and you're going to wave your wand and take care of the traffic in 14 months.
Boydston: We're going to try to keep building roads, like they've been trying to build roads but that's a long thing. I called the city to task when I ran for the council about 10 years ago and I said, "The No. 1 thing is roads," and they knew the No. 1 thing was roads, and it's still roads. Hopefully the cross-valley connector will help a lot in that regard.
As far as open space, it didn't pass the first time around due to some flaws in the way they wrote it, because I think some people thought, and rightly so, that they might use (the money) for different things. I think if they (make it) purely open space, it lets people know that the only thing that might be (spent) on it is a trail or something.
Signal: So do you see the City Council coming back to the homeowners, the taxpayers, for money for open space?
Boydston: Yes, I do. I think that's going to happen. And I hope that everyone buys into the concept of a greenbelt around the city, so that we can put a trail system all the way around. It's going to be great. Of course, it'll go to a vote, and if they people want that, then they'll have it.
Signal: We've been hearing rumblings about an amphitheater.
Boydston: An amphitheater project has been in the Parks and Recreation Department of the city for quite some time. They've been looking at that possibility, and it's been moving up the priority list over the years.
The Canyon Theatre Guild has been looking for an amphitheater in its long-range planning, because as you may or may not know, our long-term goal is to become regional theater for north Los Angeles County. One of the ways you need to do that is to have a bigger house.
Now, we wouldn't be leaving our 281-seat house in downtown Newhall, but that would be for the mid-size productions. We would use the amphitheater for big musicals, and you'd be able to bring in other musical acts and things like that. I don't know where it would be sited
Signal: You're talking outdoors.
Boydston: This is an outdoor amphitheater, under the stars, Broadway musicals, concerts.
Signal: You don't yet have a site?
Boydston: No, but we are looking at some sites.
Signal: In the city or the county?
Boydston: Both. Both the city and the county. That was one of the things I was meeting with Mr. Antonovich about, was a possible location that's in the county. We've been looking at both of these things, and hopefully in the long range, we'll be able to find something.
It would be great draw; it could be a regional draw. You could bring bands in, you could bring people and tax dollars up from the valley. It would be a win-win situation. It would be a public-private partnership. And the advantage is the cost of that stage area depending on the topography, maybe $4 million or $5 million, as opposed to a big performing arts center, which would be $40 million or $50 million.
Signal: Is this going to divert your attention away from Old Town Newhall?
Boydston: No. Absolutely not. In fact, one of the sites we're looking at is in Newhall.
Signal: Are you OK with the plan for Newhall with capping off San Fernando Road and reconfiguring the streets and
Boydston: I absolutely love the redevelopment plan, and I have for quite some time.
When I was in property management, I worked in buildings that were in the Santa Monica redevelopment area and the Hollywood redevelopment area, so I know what works and what doesn't work.
What they're doing there is going to work. It's going to work really good, and I can't wait until they do the re-stripe, rename the street, start the streetscape, which is happening this year. Redevelopment is going to be really good, and people are going to start seeing the fruits. It takes a long time to plan these things, but very soon.
Signal: One thing that will be coming at you very soon is the planned hospital expansion. What are you going to do with that one?
Boydston: Well, I don't know yet. I don't have enough information. I have been reading reams of information, and I've been calling people and asking people and talking to people and trying to get as much information as I can, because this is a big issue. It's the No. 1 issue. It's a complicated issue.
When I was growing up out here, we had three hospitals. I know the economics have changed, the demographics have changed; we have to find out what the best solution is. The best solution isn't necessarily about real estate, although I have some questions about how that's a for-profit and a nonprofit organization working together so that needs to be looked into, and I've been assured by people from the hospital that I'll get information on that. I'm anxious to see that.
But in my mind, there are some issues that have to be tied to it and dealt with, and that is the TCU (transitional care unit) I believe IS tied to it and a guarantee on emergency services is tied to it.
Signal: Do you want to see a new hospital in Canyon Country?
Boydston: I'd love to see a new hospital in Canyon Country. I don't know if it's economically feasible. We haven't studied that, and that's something that we have to look at.
Signal: After you got those three votes, you said (in a news story) that you were surprised they didn't pick somebody "more qualified." So, are you qualified for this job?
Boydston: I am now.
Signal: You are now?
Boydston: At that point in time, right afterward, I have to be honest, I didn't have the portfolio and the background in a large agency. That is not to say you cannot learn that. I have been learning am learning. It is not brain surgery, but you have to work a lot of hours, and you have to get it all.
Actually, as the executive of an arts organization, to make it grow and thrive is as difficult as being a City Council person.
Signal: How big is the CTG budget?
Boydston: The CTG budget is $800,000 a year now. We have to pay $60,000-some in bills or we go out of business. Now, it's not $100 million (like the city budget), but it's the same concept.
Signal: You're not going to run in 2008?
Boydston: That's correct.
Signal: But you might run in 2010?
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.