"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who is seeking reelection on April 11. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: Should Santa Clarita have a directly elected mayor?
McLean: Actually, I think the city is running so well as it is right now, I think people are getting the most representation that they can get from the five City Council members. Personally, I just don't agree with adding another layer of government.
Signal: Then you also don't agree with the idea of splitting Santa Clarita into separate council districts?
McLean: Oh, no, I do not. Right now we serve at-large. I think if you were to do that, you would find that you would have five separate council members fighting over their own district. I just don't think that is the best way to go for Santa Clarita right now. Each area of our valley gets equal representation, and I think that it's working very well.
Signal: You've served one four-year City Council term that expires in April, and you're seeking a second term. Why is Marsha McLean the best person for another four years?
McLean: I am a really hard-working person, and I have decided that I was going to make this a full-time effort, to be a full-time council person. I truly enjoy it. I feel like I have made a huge difference during the past four years, and I hope to continue for another four years.
I have lived in the community for a really long time since 1972 and I have been active on many fronts in the community for that period of time. Like I said, I totally enjoy being a council person and representing the citizens.
Signal: The City Council certainly can be a full-time job, but it doesn't come with full-time pay. How can you afford to put in full time on the council?
McLean: My husband and I own a business. We have owned a business in Santa Clarita for 30 years, and that helps to allow me to do the things that I want to working with nonprofits and taking this (council) job on full-time. I still work at the business; I handle everything as far as payroll, marketing, customer service, paychecks and statements and billing and such. But our business is so well established that I am able to do that on my off time, and do what I need to do to be a full-time council person.
Signal: Running for City Council costs tens of thousands of dollars these days. Frank Ferry has already raised more than $100,000. How much do you think you'll need?
McLean: So far, I have raised about $25,000, and I am still trying to raise more money. You do need to have a significant amount of money in order to run, and it's getting more expensive all the time. I think that I can run a campaign on less money because of the grass-roots effort and the people who are behind me.
Signal: How much of your $25,000 would you say comes from developers?
McLean: You know, I have not totally taken a look at that. I would say that there are some checks from developers; it's (a maximum of) $360 per person, and you take money on the assumption that money buys no one anything. That's something I put out there up front. I will take your donation, but I will not give you anything for it.
Signal: What would make somebody want to give money to reelect Marsha McLean?
McLean: Well, I think that I am good for the city, for one thing. One of the things I focused on when I came to the City Council was economic development for the city, and parity between all the communities Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus and Valencia, and all the older portions. I felt that the city needed to really (be at the) forefront in that. I am happy to say that after my election and being able to focus on that, our city has hired a wonderful economic director, Carrie Rogers, and they have combined the planning and economic development (divisions) of the city into one department. Paul Brotzman is the planning and economic development director; we have a whole new way of looking at how we plan our city. It's been very effective, I think, for that reason.
We have acquired about 2,182 acres of permanent, preserved open space. We have preserved over 600 acres of the Santa Clara River, and when projects come to us, that is one of the most important things that I look at in a development to make sure that the development gives (more) back to the community than the impact it would have. We need to catch up on our infrastructure, and it's very important that we make sure we have quality development.
Signal: Thinking of parity among the communities, one thing we've often heard from people in Canyon Country is that "everything good always happens in Valencia." What have you been doing to even that out?
McLean: I have special place in my heart for Canyon Country. When we moved out here in 1972, that's where we bought our first home. I was a charter member of the Canyon Country Better Than Ever Committee, and I have told our economic development department that Canyon Country needs to be looked at for really good planning and good development so that there's affordable housing, economic development, opportunities for businesses to come to Canyon Country.
One of the things we have to look forward to is the Golden Valley Ranch development, where there are going to be some really great shopping opportunities, restaurants, there's going to be a Kohl's, a Greatland Target one of the upscale Target stores, there's going to be a new elementary school, a fire station, senior housing and 983 acres of permanent open space adjacent to the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.
Signal: You live in Newhall. You and Mayor Laurene Weste have served as the City Council subcommittee on redevelopment. What's your vision for Old Town Newhall?
McLean: The (goal) is to have a destination where people will want to come. It is going to be an arts district. It's going to be made up hopefully of small businesses, not your big-box stores. Your normal things to see antiques, arts and a lot of places where people are going to want to come (such as the) theater. To be able just to sit at a sidewalk cafÈ and have coffee and enjoy.
We have one of the most wonderful historical and cultural areas. We need to take full advantage of that.
Signal: If we bring in art galleries and theaters and that sort of thing are you not worried that the current Latino population will be pushed out of the area?
McLean: I certainly hope not. I think the Latino population is one of the richest cultural assets that we have, and I want to embrace that for Newhall.
There is no intention to push anyone out. We want to embrace that. We have a wonderful new Tresierras market that is being built, and that has been a staple business in Old Town Newhall. They are going to remain there, and there's going to be a wonderful new store for people to go to. Like I said, that's one of the richest, most cultural assets we have, and I want to embrace that.
Signal: Thinking back to your first election four years ago, one of your big accomplishments, going in, was helping to keep a trash dump out of Elsmere Canyon. Folks got the idea: "Marsha McLean, environmentalist." Is that accurate?
McLean: That is accurate. I am an environmentalist. But being a environmentalist doesn't mean that you cannot advocate for good, positive development and encompass the environmental qualities into that development.
People need places to live, and homes. Every single one of us when our home was built, it encroached on something, on a piece of land. You can't just pull up the sidewalks and say "no more development." What you can do is to make sure that each development has the proper planning and proper environmental assets included with it, the proper amount of open space and parks and practice fields for the kids to practice on for soccer and baseball and basketball, and have that development give something back to community to help us catch up with our infrastructure.
Signal: In your last four years on the council, what can you point to and say, "I have done 'that' for the environment?"
McLean: The Gate-King (Industrial Park). When it first came to us, it needed to have the wildlife corridor widened; it needed to pull back from Newhall Creek; it needed to be able to save two heritage oak trees. I was able to do all those things.
You can look at a development with the glass half empty or the glass half full, and yes, we're going to lose some oak trees. But when you look at the number of oak trees being preserved and protected forever, that's part of being a good planner.
On the Riverpark development (in) the middle of the city that particular project is giving us almost 700 acres of permanent open space and preservation of the Santa Clara River. When the project first came, it needed to be pulled back from the river; they were going to take down a hill which was going to impact a whole neighborhood; and I said, I don't think that is a good idea. So that hill was preserved; the whole City Council and our Planning Commission took a look at that project and just kept saying, we want this and this and this, and the developer gave up an awful lot.
When you look at a project like that, again, the glass is half empty or half full. Yes, there is going to be development where there wasn't before, but you're providing homes at all levels, and you are preserving the environment, and the city was given portions of the Santa Clara River which are going to be preserved forever, and it's far enough back from the shores of the river that the river will not be impacted.
Signal: Part of the Riverpark deal is for The Newhall Land and Farming Co. to contribute $25 million toward the cross-valley connector the road that will link Newhall Ranch Road on the west with Golden Valley Road on the east. Why do you believe the connector is important, if indeed you do?
McLean: When you ask residents out there: What is the most important thing in the valley? They say traffic and overcrowding. They want to be able to get to one part of the valley to the other. In order to do that, you have the build a road.
It is not a freeway through our town. It is a road that is going to be (enable) people, when they want to go to work, to get from one end of the valley to the other. We'll have a means to do that. The city did a poll, and that was the No. 1 thing: People were concerned about the traffic. So the City Council is taking care of that.
Signal: You know one of your council challengers, Henry Schultz. said he does not believe the cross-valley connector will actually improve traffic. Do you agree with that?
McLean: No. I don't agree with that. Right now, when you get off of the 14 freeway and you take Golden Valley Road, which you can do right now, to get over to Soledad Canyon Road, I think the people traveling that road would say that is a good improvement. I take it all the time. I live in Newhall, and in order to get over to Canyon Country, I go down Sierra Highway, get on Golden Valley, and that allows me to completely bypass Bouquet Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon, which has been impacted for a really long time.
When the cross-valley connector is completed, it is going to give residents the opportunity to get where they need to go faster than they can now.
Signal: Another one of your council challengers, Lynne Plambeck, is president of an organization that sued the city of Santa Clarita over the Gate-King project, which calls for the removal of about 10 percent of its 11,000 oak trees. You mentioned the expansion of the wildlife corridor, and the saving of two heritage oak trees. Do you ever feel like, "This isn't really what I want, but it's the best I can do?" Does it sometimes feel like you're giving in?
McLean: In a way it does. This was a very tough one for me. Because I went out there and took a look at it, and it is beautiful. It is gorgeous. You take a look at that and you go, "Gee, it would be nice if it was just left the way it is." But one of the things we need out here is a good housing-to-job ratio. We need to get people off the freeways. We need to create good, clean, quality jobs for people who live here so that we are actually alleviating the smog problem and traffic problems when people travel.
So was it tough? Yes, it was tough. But when you get concessions from the developers such as making that wildlife corridor exactly the way it needed to be, pulling back from the Newhall Creek, downsizing the project and saving as many oaks as you can then you have to make a decision as a responsible council person as to whether you're just going to say no, or whether you're going to say, "OK, I got my compromises. I got what I needed from the project," and then you vote yes.
That is going to create between 5,000 and 8,000 quality jobs for people who live out here. It's desperately needed. It's going to provide a place for our material recovery facility, which is desperately needed. So would it be nice not to have anymore development? Absolutely. But that is just not reality. It's not life as it is today. You have to have places to live and to work.
Signal: Three seats are open on the five-member City Council yours, Laurene Weste's and Frank Ferry's. Of the eleven candidates, the ones who are most often identified as "environmental" candidates are you, Weste, Schultz and Plambeck. Of those, who do you think you're more closely aligned with?
McLean: Oh, goodness. You can have disagreements with everybody at one time or another. I know Henry (Schultz) and Lynne (Plambeck) very well. I don't necessarily agree with how they would approach the growth here in Santa Clarita.
I think the current City Council takes a look at the new way to plan, smart growth, with affordable homes for people, places for people to work and places for people to play. The current City Council is looking at all of that and creating an atmosphere where people want to move out here.
If everything was so horrible, people wouldn't want to live here. They wouldn't want to work here. We're one of the safest communities. We have a greenbelt surrounding Santa Clarita, we're providing transportation for people, we're providing homes for people and jobs for people and safety for our families and our children. We cherish that here in Santa Clarita, as far as our law enforcement and our educational community go.
That's what I believe in, and the current City Council is providing that right now.
Signal: The Cemex gravel mining project has been in the news for years. The city was recently dealt a big setback in the appellate court, which upheld the consent decree that basically paves the way for Cemex to start mining. The city has spent millions of dollars fighting this thing. When is enough, enough?
McLean: Enough is enough when we are absolutely positive that there's nowhere else to go.
Right now, we do have some lawsuits still pending. We have a good case. The setbacks that have happened it's just sometimes beyond knowing how people think. People who are making decisions about Santa Clarita have no clue as to what impact it is going to have. They never have been to the area. They haven't looked at it.
They were told they have said that Soledad Canyon up there is a major highway, and it simply is not. It's just a rural little road up where the mine is. It just can't take the impact of the traffic that is proposed.
That mine will be environmentally devastating for our air quality, for our traffic, and we need to fight as long as we can. We're not dead yet in the water. There is still a good chance for some of the lawsuits we have going on the federal level, and just because we had these setbacks doesn't mean that we're not going to continue the fight.
Signal: Do you believe the city will come up with a magic bullet?
McLean: I think that we have to come up with something that will allow some sort of mining there. We're not saying "no mining," but to the degree that they are proposing is going to be devastating for this community, and I think we need to continue to fight it, at least for now.
Signal: The city has spent a lot of time and money telling people in town here how devastating the effects will be. When you consider that gravel has been mined in Soledad Canyon since about 1930, do you really think the effects will be that much different? Is the harm as bad as the hype?
McLean: I think it is. When you look at the magnitude of the mining that they want if Cemex is allowed to go ahead at the level that they want to go ahead there's another mine right behind them, and that whole area then is going to become an area that I don't think you are going to enjoy or are going to want to see.
You go into communities where they have this level mining, and you see nothing but charcoal-gray dust in the area. I don't think we want that for an area just outside out city limits.
Signal: Another environmental problem is the Whittaker-Bermite property 1,000 acres of contaminated land in the middle of the city. As it stands, the city has said there can be no development until the entire property is cleaned. But whoever buys the property out of bankruptcy is going to want the city to back down from that policy to allow some development while the cleanup is under way. Would you support changing the rules so the new property owner can build before it's entirely clean?
McLean: I don't think that is going to happen. I think the companies that are hoping to obtain that property have a total, complete understanding that it needs to be completely cleaned up before there's any development allowed.
First of all, it is 1,000 acres, but not the whole 1,000 (acres are) contaminated. There are pockets that are not contaminated. But that doesn't lessen the seriousness of the fact that (contaminated) water has seeped into our wells. We have to pay strict attention to that.
I don't believe there is going to be any development on that property until it's cleaned up, far above what the safety level would be.
Signal: What do you see as the biggest issues facing the city in the next four years?
McLean: I think the biggest issues are the need to take a look at the development around us, to make sure that the development that is happening outside our city limits meets regional needs. We have so many regional needs for a hospital, for roads, for recreational facilities and we have to take a strong position that we really need to take a look at that development and work with the county to make sure that our city is not adversely impacted any more than it already has been with development occurring outside our city limits.
We can certainly do that. Since I have been on the council, we have taken a stronger position and voiced our opinion on projects taking place out in the county. Everything that happens around us impacts us, traffic-wise and infrastructure-wise, and we have to be very careful with that.
I think we need to continue with our safety (and) educational programs. Our Sheriffs Department this is something we have paid a lot of attention to, to make sure we have good law enforcement and to provide open space for people, parks for people, practice fields. That's an important thing, and when we are planning our projects, we absolutely need to make sure there are practice fields for kids to play soccer and provide those recreational activities.
Signal: Do you want to see the entire Santa Clarita Valley become part of the city?
McLean: I think that it would be a good idea. I think that the more people we have in our city, the more power we are going to have, as far as being able to determine our own future. I think it's really important for people to stick together and to provide good regional planning, good infrastructure, so that all of us can enjoy the quality of life we want to enjoy.
Signal: If you were on a mission to "sell" Stevenson Ranch or Castaic on the idea of joining the city, what would you tell them?
McLean: I don't think we have to sell Santa Clarita. You have no idea how many people who have lived in Stevenson Ranch think that they are in the city of Santa Clarita, and when they find out they are not, they are disappointed, because they just thought that they were.
The people in Stevenson Ranch, they are great, dynamic group of people. The same with Castaic. And rather than have three separate areas, I would say: Come on in to the city of Santa Clarita. Let's all stick together, and let's all make sure the development that happens around us is good, quality development and meets our needs.
Signal: You've got three votes on April 11. One of your votes will go to Marsha McLean. Who gets your other two?
McLean: Frank Ferry and Laurene Weste.
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 Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.