Leon Worden

Westside, Tesoro: Local Control is Within Your Reach

By Leon Worden
The Signal
Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eleven million dollars.
    By Los Angeles County's own admission, that's how much "extra" tax money the residents and businesses of West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro del Valle are sending to downtown Los Angeles that isn't coming back to them in the form of services.
    That's not how much money they're taxed. It's how much more they're taxed every year than they are getting back.
    Again by the county's own admission, the county spent just $22 million on services to West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro — over the past two years combined.
    Give back the $11 million "excess" that West Ranch and Tesoro are paying for services, and the figure would be $22 million per year.
    Maybe $22 million sounds like a lot of money, and considering the timing of some recent government mailers to westside and Tesoro residents, maybe it's supposed to sound like a lot.
    But think of it this way. This year's city of Santa Clarita budget is $172 million.
    One hundred percent of it gets spent on services and "stuff" like roads and bridges for the people of Santa Clarita.
    We're in a down economy. The prior year's city budget was $241 million, all of which got spent in Santa Clarita.
    In rough terms, the city of Santa Clarita is spending 10 times more on its residents than the county is spending on West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro.
    Is the city 10 times bigger than those communities? No. It's about three times bigger.
    Why isn't the westside and Tesoro residents' "extra" $11 million being spent on them?
    Because they aren't in a city.
    Cities get to keep the "local" tax dollars that are generated within their walls. Unincorporated communities don't.
    Taxes from unincorporated communities get thrown into a giant cauldron and stirred around and funneled out where they're needed.
    If you studied political science in college, the concept might ring a bell: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
    Los Angeles County is a great, big cauldron with some really serious needs.
    The county uses tax money from the westside and Tesoro to subsidize services to other parts of the county with even bigger needs.
    It has always been that way, and depending on the decision westside and Tesoro residents make Nov. 3, it either will or won't always be that way.
    For me personally, the current debate is déjà vu all over again.

A look back
    I met Baxter Ward just once. It was in my backyard in Valencia. It was 1980. I was 17.
    Ward had been a TV anchorman. Now, in 1980, he was our county supervisor, and he was running for reelection. My mom — well, she might murder me for reminding anybody about this, but my mom was holding a backyard garden-party fundraiser for him.
    She had to do it.
    It's an unwritten rule — although I suppose it is hereby written — that when you're a community leader and a politician holds the purse strings to your community chest, you don't go against him at election time.
    Thumb your nose at him, and if he wins, he'll go spend the government money in some other community.
    Or so it says in the unwritten rulebook.
    At the time, my mom and some other great community volunteers like retired CHP Officer J.J. O'Brien — I suppose we'd call them "community organizers" today — were the leaders of the SCV Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee.
    That might not seem like much in 2009, but in 1980 it was everything.
    We had no city. The Transportation Committee was our valley's quasi-government. Its function was virtually identical to the town councils we have today for West Ranch, Castaic, Agua Dulce and certain other parts of Antonovich's vast 5th District.
    Everybody with any sort of official title attended Transportation Committee meetings — county, state and even federal officials. It's where the community spelled out its needs for roads, parks, business centers — and the government officials either complied or they didn't.
    It was funny to consider Baxter Ward standing in my backyard in 1980. Just four years earlier, my mom and some other great people like Dan Hon and Ruth Newhall led the effort to break off from Los Angeles County and form "Canyon County."
    Our valley voted yes. The rest of the county voted no — because they couldn't afford to lose us. Just like the westside and Tesoro today, the entire unincorporated SCV was subsidizing other parts of Los Angeles County.
    I absolutely and completely understand if some current community leaders in West Ranch and Tesoro feel an obligation to support a ballot measure to remain in the unincorporated county.
    My mom had to support Baxter Ward in 1980.

Doing the right thing
    At 17, I was under no such pressure.
    I also met Mike Antonovich in 1980. It was at rally for Ronald Reagan at California State University, Northridge. I liked him. Both of them.
    I was glad both were elected — and disappointed that the election came a couple of weeks before my 18th birthday so I couldn't vote for them.
    I did vote for them at every subsequent opportunity.
    It was a generational election that came at an impressionable time in my life. We had 53 hostages in Iran. We had double-digit inflation. Time magazine and nearly everybody else was crying out for leadership.
    Ronald Reagan offered hope, prosperity and a stronger America.
    At 17, I was a full-on Reaganite.
    In many ways, I still am. Ronald Reagan was a big believer in smaller government. The closer the government is to the people, the better.
    A generation later, I can understand the sort of connection today's high school and college students must feel with Barack Obama, offering hope and promise for a brighter future.
    As for me, I voted for Mike Antonovich. Again.
    It is no stretch for me to say that Mike Antonovich is the best supervisor I have known. It's not merely because he is the only supervisor I have known as an adult. It's not merely because he appointed both my mom and, later, me, to county commissions and task forces.
    Somebody please correct me, but I can't think of anything Baxter Ward did for us. His deputy was Joan Pinchuk, and I think most people around here wanted to chuck her under a bus.
    Before Ward we had Warren Dorn. We look on him affectionately in hindsight, but I certainly remember the stories about Placerita Canyon residents hanging him in effigy (literally) when he proposed to mow down their oak trees and turn Placerita Canyon Road into a county highway.
    Right out of the box, Antonovich made a brilliant choice for his local deputy.
    JoAnne Darcy was the executive director of the SCV Chamber of Commerce (of late the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber.) Before that, she and her husband ran the saloon in Acton.
    Importantly to Antonovich, JoAnne was a respected community leader who hadn't made the — for sake of argument, let's call it a mistake — of supporting Baxter Ward.
    Everybody loved JoAnne. When I became conscious of local politics, I grew to love her, too. I still do. It was wonderful to see her again the other day at a get-together of Santa Clarita's city founders.
    You see, JoAnne — along with my mom, Carl Boyer, Howard "Buck" McKeon, Jan Heidt, Lou Garasi, Art Donnelly and all sorts of wonderful people — never gave up. They might have been defeated at the ballot box in 1976 and again in 1978 when they gave county formation one last shot — but it didn't defeat them.
    They grew stronger and more determined. They stuck together.
    It was a horrible, gut-wrenching thing when the evil Ruth Benell and her Local Agency Formation Commission shut Castaic out of the new city in 1987.
    Signal editors Ruth and Scott Newhall were livid.
    Benell had plunged her knife straight through the heart of our community.
    I can still feel it. It still hurts.
    By the numbers, Castaic wanted cityhood even more than other parts of town.
    Make no mistake, those other parts of town didn't exactly see eye-to-eye.
    They had fought for decades. Saugus hated Newhall, Canyon Country hated Valencia and vice versa. It was ugly. Why?
    Because. Like junkyard dogs fighting for table scraps, our communities had to fight for scraps from the county. A new road in Valencia meant Saugus wouldn't get one. A new park in Newhall meant Canyon Country wouldn't get one.
    All of that ended in 1987. We overcame our differences and kept our eye on the ball.
    Pulling together, we would be so incredibly stronger than the sum of our parts — especially since cityhood meant we could keep all of the "extra" millions we had been sending to other parts of the county.

We are one valley
    Over the past 22 years, we haven't always done everything right. In fact, we've done some pretty stupid things and elected some real bozos to the City Council. So what? They were our decisions and ours alone. Nobody made them for us.
    Importantly, we can, and did, and do, correct our mistakes. All by ourselves. We don't have to convince four other county supervisors whom we don't elect to make changes for us.
    We have our smaller government, closer to home.
    Deep down, as a fellow Reaganite, I must believe that Mike Antonovich thinks smaller, closer government is the right thing, too.
    Look out over the landscape. Look at what we have built with the money we were able to spend on ourselves. Roads the county never built. Recreation programs the county refused to fund. Activity centers and cross-town connectors and cops on scooters.
    Above all, representatives we can hire and fire at will — and roll out of bed and scream at.
    As an observer and second-generation participant in the remarkable, lifelong struggle for self-government for our valley, I look forward to welcoming West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro as co-equal partners.
    We are one valley.
    When we are one city, this storied chapter will close and a new future will begin.
    It will be whatever we residents of the Santa Clarita Valley — and we alone — make of it.

Leon Worden is president of SCVTV and former editor of The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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