"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Time Warner Cable, and hosted by Signal Senior 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 Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who was installed as mayor Dec. 12.
Questions are paraphrased; answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: Mayor. Why don't you explain how that works? It seems that every year at this time, we hear people ask, "Why do we have a mayor who wasn't elected?"
McLean: Well, actually, we were elected. We have a council-city manager type of government, and we're elected to four-year terms. Each one of us, on a rotating basis, takes a turn to serve one year as mayor. So we were elected.
Signal: You were elected to the City Council.
McLean: Yes. We were elected to City Council, and we represent the entire city. We don't have certain areas that we represent. And I'm happy to say I received the most votes this time. I'm very proud of that. I was mayor pro-tem last year, and this year, I am mayor.
Signal: And if we did have a rotating schedule for mayor as we had in the past, you actually would have been mayor last year but you were passed over. Do you have any bitterness about that?
McLean: Well, I don't know. The word "passed over" isn't exactly correct, because what happens is, I just was not nominated to become mayor pro-tem. Now that I (was) mayor pro-tem, it's pretty automatic. But you know, it is at the will of three members of the council, and if someone wants to go first, they have that ability, if they have three votes.
Signal: What kind of a mayor are you going to be? You've described yourself as a full-time council member. Different members of the City Council have different ways of looking at their job. The other day at the dais, we heard Councilman Frank Ferry say that in his view, his job is to read the material, attend the meetings and vote setting policy for the city manager, who runs the day-to-day affairs of the city. In contrast, you, along with Councilwoman Laurene Weste and Councilman Bob Kellar, have a somewhat different view. You put in a lot more time than that. If you're going to be a full-time councilperson, 40 or 60 hours per week, are you going to be breathing down the necks of staff? Or are you going to let them do their jobs? Again, what kind of a mayor are you going to be?
McLean: No, I've never done that (the former) over the four years, even though I've been a full-time council member. We rely on staff to be able to help us and back us up and give us information. I've never been that type of a person.
Actually, I've held jobs like our staff in the past, and I know how I would wish to be treated and that's what I try to do to staff. We, as council members there is a lot more behind-the-scenes than you see. Frank says ... every two weeks he comes in, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes that we have to be involved in, and I'm sure Frank is, as well, as we are.
It's just I decided when I took over as a councilperson, when I was elected, I was going to make it a full-time position. And I enjoy it. Having worked with the federal and state and county governments in the past, before I was ever elected, I understand the mechanisms of government, and I'm able to bring that as a councilperson.
As ... the city continues to grow, it's very important to reach out on a regional level and on different levels of government, because what happens outside of our area affects us a lot. So, I like to be involved, and I think that I have a really good relationship with staff.
Signal: Why don't you give us your 30- or 45-second life story?
McLean: OK, I can certainly do that. I started out my career working for the Los Angeles Police Department. I then moved over to the Los Angeles City Council, where I was working in the field office for councilman Louis R. Nowell. That was a really long time ago. He was a retired fire chief. From there, I went to work for the State Department, the U.S. Information Agency, and I was stationed in Israel for a couple of months to fill in for an officer. I went to Paris, France, and I worked at the American Embassy in Paris, France. I met my husband in Paris.
My husband is Dale McLean, and he was from New York. I left Paris (and) went to New York. We were married and drove across country so he could attend college out here, and we started our family and our life back here. I'm a native.
Then in 1972, (we) moved to the valley out here and (I) became involved in the PTA and nonprofit organizations. The way I kind of got into the political arena was when they wanted to put the world's largest garbage dump at the gateway to our city. I didn't think that was a good idea.
The fight is going on 17 years now, and while we're not going to have a dump of any size, Elsmere Canyon is finally going to be taken out of the (county's landfill) siting element, (which listed) it as the No. 1 choice for a dump. I'm very proud of that and can't wait until that happens.
Signal: Elsmere was the hot issue of 10 years ago. The hot issue today is Cemex. If you look back over Laurene Weste's year as mayor, that was her "big thing" Weste and Kellar leading the fight against Cemex. What's going to be your "big thing" in 2007?
McLean: My big thing, I think, is starting to look toward the future and what our area is going to look like in the future.
With the tide of development, the number of housing units that are going to be springing up around us, we'd better look to transportation issues and how we're going to deal with that. Regional issues. A regional hospital.
We need transportation; we need to figure out how we're going to get people from here to there without them having to sit in traffic and be frustrated. All of this gridlock is almost here right now. We have to have truck lanes for the 5 Freeway and I'm part of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, looking at that. I'm a director for the OrangeLine Maglev Development Authority, looking at maglev (magnetic levitation train) transportation, and actually we're going to have a station here in Santa Clarita.
Signal: How many years away is that?
McLean: That totally depends on if we can get everybody to come together and decide that that needs to happen. I certainly hope it's not 25 years down the road. We've done our feasibility studies and find that with a public-private partnership, we can finance it, and it will pay for itself within a few years. So it depends entirely on the commitment of people, if they want that type of transportation and how we get it.
Signal: That's going to take some new taxes or bond measures to get it up and running, though, isn't it?
McLean: I don't think it's going to take new taxes. What it's going to take is a commitment.
We're looking for funding from the state, federal funding, and from private sources. The money is there; we just need to have the commitment to get it here to California. That's something that has been lacking in the past. So that's something I want to focus on, trying to work with the federal government and the state government to see if we can't get some funding that is long overdue.
The northern part of the county is kind of like the stepchild. There are other areas getting funded quite a bit, and we're not. In the short term, one of my goals is to try to get more trains on our Metrolink line. People want to ride the trains. The problem is, you can't get a train at the time that you need it, and we've just got to increase that amount of trains on the line in order to be able to ... get people out of their cars.
Signal: Metrolink ridership is up
Signal: And if you look at the small number of trains that do come through our valley, they look quite full during the morning and evening commutes and yet, it's still only about 4 percent of commuters who use Metrolink. Looking at the projections for the north county, we'll grow from 500,000 people today in the Santa Clarita-Antelope valley region to 1.2 million over the next 20 years. Do you think we'll come to a point where our freeways are so jammed and it takes so long to get anywhere that it will to push more people into mass transit?
McLean: I think what we need to do is, when you're planning projects, you need to have transit-oriented development. In other words, you have to have people be able to live close to transit hubs; you need to provide jobs, a jobs-to-housing balance. This is very important to me, in all of the planning that's going to be taking place in the county; and trying to get good, quality jobs here to the Santa Clarita Valley, that's an absolute must.
The city just received an enterprise zone, (which) is going to help us to bring businesses here. We are constantly bringing new businesses; if we ever get the Gate-King project out of litigation, that's going to bring 7,000 to 8,000 jobs here. We're constantly working on that.
People are going to have to realize that they're going to have to try to live close to where they work, so therefore you have to have homes that people can afford, workforce housing and such.
Signal: You've been interested in Downtown Newhall, where the plan will call for people living above shops on San Fernando Road, aka Main Street. And in Valencia, in the middle of town, you've got the Newhall Land project Soledad Village with upstairs residential and ground floor retail. Are we going to see more council support for that kind of self-contained project where you live and work in the same place, to get people off roads?
McLean: Absolutely. That's why it's happening now because the understanding of good planning practices is, that's the type of planning you have to have, the type of projects you have to have, in order to provide that for people. If we don't do that, if we don't change some minds (about) some of the way development happens, the mindset, we're really going to be hurting.
We have a very innovative planning director, Paul Brotzman, and he understands the concept. As council members, I believe we're getting it, and I think that's going to be the focus for the future.
Signal: Some of that I-5 freeway expansion that you mentioned is to accommodate the Newhall Ranch project 21,000 homes on the west side of the freeway. What is your take on Newhall Ranch? The city has spent about $8 million on the fight against the Cemex gravel mine; should the city be putting the same kind of effort into stopping Newhall Ranch?
McLean: You know, Newhall Ranch isn't the problem. The problem is that our ports have an increasing number of truck traffic coming from our ports. The I-5 corridor is the only corridor for them to get through California to where they need to go, throughout the United States. That's a huge problem.
We need to have truck lanes in order to be able to have that traffic diverted away from the same lanes that the cars are using. So while yes, Newhall Ranch is going to bring that number of homes to the area out there, that's not the problem. The problem is much bigger than that. So once again, we've got to start looking at different methods of transportation to get our goods from one place to another.
Of course, hopefully the Newhall Ranch project it's supposed to be the "village" concept, where there will be jobs for people there, where people can live and work close to home. That's what's going to help solve the problem.
Signal: And the future growth of the Valencia Commerce Center will be provide a lot of jobs. One of the questions that was asked of the applicants to fill Cameron Smyth's seat on the county and we'll come back to that in a minute
McLean: That's fine.
Signal: One question had to do with Whittaker-Bermite, the 1,000-acre property in the middle of Santa Clarita that's contaminated with perchlorate and other chemicals. The question was about DS-12, the section of the development agreement that states that no construction can begin until the entire site is clean. A decade later, there are questions about whether it's realistic. What is your take?
McLean: I've actually been interested in that project, or that property, since way before I was a council member, and my belief was: It's approximately 1,000 acres. Not the whole 1,000 acres is contaminated. Around the edges and where Golden Valley (Road) is, there are pockets, there are areas that are not contaminated. I really didn't see the harm in having a commercial project around the perimeter, in order to be able to fund the cleanup. The prior developer wanted to do that.
Well, that didn't happen, and once the council makes a decision, I totally support that decision. The decision was is that the whole site needs to be cleaned up before any development is done.
On a personal level, if it seemed feasible, if there were no danger, if there were no contaminants on the area that they wanted to build on, I might look at that. But that's not the council's priority at the moment for that property.
Signal: Let's wave a magic wand and pretend it were all cleaned up. What do you see on the Bermite property? Do you see one of these live-work residential developments, or do you see something different?
McLean: With 1,000 acres in the middle of the city, the potential is so great for something wonderful. I would love to see a convention center, a huge hotel with meeting rooms. We don't have that here, and we truly do need that. With a mix of homes and some affordable housing and such, like I said, the potential is huge for whatever we could do.
It needs to be an economic engine, obviously, so you have to balance it that way, as well. It's like being able to open up a package, just layer by layer, and being able to assemble something really wonderful. That's the opportunity that we have.
Signal: OK, let's come back to the council appointment. For the first time in its 19-year history, the City Council faced the challenge of having to replace one of its members when Cameron Smyth went off to the Assembly. There was a process, and you kept it on track, leading the council to a decision. Ultimately, you selected TimBen Boydston to replace Cameron Smyth. Now, Boydston wasn't one of the top five people selected by the 16-person community panel. He was in the second tier of five, and he told The Signal he was surprised that the council didn't select someone "more qualified." Well, you voted for him. What do you think his qualifications are?
McLean: I've known TimBen for a while, through the Canyon Theatre Guild. He is a fantastic businessman. He brought a nonprofit organization from struggling and not knowing if we were going to have enough money to build a set to what it is today, which is quite an entity. They have money in the bank. It is a completely profitable entity at this time. It has brought so many people down to Old Town Newhall where they didn't come before I think it's between 40,000 and 50,000 people a year who didn't come before.
Tim sells himself short. I think he's being humble. He's very smart. He has lived in this community for a very long time, and he knows his stuff. I have no qualms of having him sit in that seat.
You know, I asked other cities what they did and how they did it, and they had meeting upon meeting upon meeting. They had to come to a conclusion after much discussion, much like we did. We had a process in place. The city manager had a built-in mechanism so that if we couldn't come to consensus with the top five, we were able to go to the next tier, and that's what happened.
Just because they didn't receive as many votes (from the 16-person panel), it has nothing to do with their qualifications or their ability to serve, and I just felt from the beginning that I prefer someone to be a placeholder, to not make it as political of a process, and that was my preference.
Signal: The top person selected by the panel was Bob Spierer. You voted against him. Why?
McLean: Because of the reasons I said. I just felt it's better to have the people who are voting out there during a regular election to decide who they want to sit on the council rather than just giving someone the position.
Signal: Because Bob Spierer would seek reelection at the end of his term in 2008 and Boydston wouldn't.
McLean: Right. Exactly. And, just personally, this is my own, personal feeling: I worked really hard to get elected to sit on that City Council, and I just felt that I didn't think it was right to hand somebody that position. (Spierer is) very qualified, obviously, but that was just the way I felt about it.
We all had different opinions, differing opinions, and it kept being a 2-2 split. I didn't want it to go to an election. I didn't think that was good for the city.
Signal: A special election now, you mean.
McLean: Yes. Because we would have had that seat empty for too long. And I'm just really glad that the council was able to come together. We've done it in the past when we've had difficult decisions to make, and I felt like we did it. We were polite to one another; we didn't make it a contentious thing; we all had our opinions, and it came out probably differently than maybe all of us would have wanted. But it came out, and now we have a very qualified person sitting in that seat. I think it's going to work out extremely well.
Signal: It was clear during the previous council meeting that everybody wanted something different. You had mentioned that you thought your planning commissioner, Diane Trautman, was a strong candidate. There was conjecture that maybe you were trying to hold the seat for Trautman. When you became mayor (this month), she was the first person you thanked for having helped you get there, and thinking back to when you were first elected, I believe she was the first person you thanked then, too. So, was there some kind of obligation there?
McLean: No, absolutely not. I went to look back over the (video)tape (of the council meeting), and I want you to know exactly what I had said.
What I said was that there were candidates out of the 16 who should have received more votes, had the panel known them better. And I listed Diane as an example. I never pushed for Diane. I told her I didn't think it was going to be feasible at this time; I wanted to mention her qualifications simply to say that people who were qualified, as she was, should have received more votes, and it was unfortunate that the council didn't have a chance to hear her.
I never said I wanted her to have the seat, so I'm happy that you allowed me to clear that up.
Signal: With you and TimBen Boydston on the council you're both involved in the Canyon Theatre Guild. Somebody recently suggested that, yes, you'll still allow public comment, but it's going to have to be in iambic pentameter.
Signal: Will we see anything happening in the arts? Tell us about this amphitheater that the Canyon Theatre Guild is interested in.
McLean: I think that's just another idea that the Canyon Theatre Guild is hoping to be able to expand at some point. I don't know about those plans that much. I'm on the advisory board, but I'm not part of the board of the guild.
I think we have to support our arts here. I went to see "Nutcracker" on Sunday (by) the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy. A marvelous job. I can't believe the degree of talent that those young people had. It's obvious that the Academy was looking for quality in their performance, and they certainly did it. Our youth orchestra, the (Santa Clarita Symphony) they are all so talented and wonderful, and each one of those arts deserves a lot of attention from our City Council.
Signal: If you're serving as mayor, will you have time to appear on stage this year? Are we going to see you in the next "Night of a Thousand Stars"?
McLean: No, I don't think so. I think that probably as mayor, I won't. Tap dancing is something I've done ever since I was a child.
Signal: Tap-dancing around the issues?
McLean: No! No. Just tap dancing.
McLean: It's fantastic. It's a great exercise, and I would recommend it for anyone.
Signal: What should we expect out of the city this year in terms of the annexation of Stevenson Ranch and Castaic, and anywhere else for that matter?
McLean: I cannot begin to tell you how many people who live in those areas, who really thought when they moved out here, that they were part of the city and found out they weren't. They really, truly want to be part of the city, and I see no problem with that whatsoever. I think the more residents we have, such as that area, the better we're going to be. I would welcome them in an instant. All they have to do is want it, and we would welcome them.
Signal: In the meantime, should we expect to see One Valley, One Vision getting back on track coordinating the general plans of the city and the county?
McLean: I certainly hope so. We have got to have a better relationship with the county. I don't know how else to do it except to try to meet one-on-one with (Supervisor) Michael Antonovich.
I think sometimes you know how when you play telephone and something starts at one end and by the time it gets to the other, it's completely different? I have a feeling that may be part of the problem. As mayor, I want to reach out. If we don't do something (to get) us all on the same track as far as what we need regionally, we're going to be in a world of hurt. So the city really needs to step it up a notch and try to come to some kind of an understanding with the county.
Signal: You're Santa Clarita's representative to the League of California Cities, and in fact, you're the
McLean: Currently, I'm vice president of the Los Angeles County division. I'll be president in August 2007.
Signal: That represents all cities in Los Angeles County.
Signal: What are the big initiatives there? What do the cities jointly want to do?
McLean: I think mainly what the cities want to do is maintain some semblance of local control. It seems like we're constantly being bombarded with having local control taken away from us, (such as in the area of) telecommunications.
We no longer have control, starting in January, over the franchises here for our cable and telephone. That's not good. Where do people go when they need to have help with customer service? They're going to have to go to the state now, and that's not good. That's a huge effort.
Just recently, a New York developer tried to impose on California something that was going to be horribly bad. They did it under the guise of eminent domain reform, but the underlying problems with what they were proposing was just unbelievable. The League of California Cities exposed that, and the taxpayers agreed and did not pass that initiative (Proposition 90 on the Nov. 7, 2006, ballot).
There are other entities out there trying to reintroduce that, and that's one of the things the League does it watches out for the local governments.
Signal: What are you going to tell Henry Mayo Hospital? Will they get to expand the way they want to?
McLean: I am not opposed to expansion of Henry Mayo. The problem is, there are two different subjects here. You've got the expansion of Henry Mayo and then you have a real-estate developer who wants to develop and the two have to compromise and come together.
I don't want people to think that because you're not all in favor of that huge development that's happening to impact that neighborhood, that you're opposed to the hospital. And I don't like to see that public relations firm out there trying to say if you oppose that development in any way, you're opposed to the hospital.
It's two separate issues, and I feel strongly on that.
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.