Leon Worden

1.1 billion reasons to vote April 9

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, April 3, 1996

hen our city was in its infancy, we treated it delicately. We called on old community activists from the 1970s to get us off the ground. We cheered when they did things right and apologized when they didn't.

The gloves started to come off as our city approached adolescence. We began to question the goings-on at City Hall, and we made a few changes on the City Council. Not many, mind you, but a few.

Now we're all grown up.

It was a rather quick rise to adulthood, really. We might not have gotten here so fast had it not been for the current city council's flirtation with a $1.1 billion redevelopment scheme that left the taxpayers of this city battered and bruised.

We fought for two years to stop our city council's redevelopment folly. Only after it cost the taxpayers $1.3 million in attorney fees did the taxpayers finally win.

Incumbent councilwoman Jan Heidt had two years in which she might have tried to stop the bloated redevelopment plan, but she didn't. Interestingly, now that she's running for reelection after saying several times that she no longer wanted to serve us, she admits it might have been a good idea to give the public its say about redevelopment.

Unfortunately, she's two years and $1.3 million short.

Jill Klajic, while she was still on the council, had a chance to cut back the redevelopment plan before it could cost us any money. But she didn't even bother to show up for that critical City Council meeting.

As you may recall, it was a month after the city drafted the $1.1 billion redevelopment plan, and the window was closing on the council's ability to extend the deadline for modifying it.

A council meeting was called for the last day before the deadline. Without swift council action, the filing of a lawsuit the next day would be the only way to spare the taxpayers this $1.1 billion debacle.

Three council votes were needed. They had two. Klajic's vote would have stopped the process long enough for the taxpayers to have gotten a word in edgewise, but she no- showed.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Did you know Santa Clarita was the only city in California to create a redevelopment plan after the January, 1994 earthquake without any public input process? Not even in quake-ravaged Northridge was a redevelopment plan adopted, once the public had its say.

On April 9, the voters of this city will have an opportunity to hold the politicians accountable. We will have a chance to say 'no' to fiscal mismanagement and 'yes' to a fresh start.

There are a few good candidates on the ballot this year — candidates with long histories of community service and proven track records of economic know-how.

Larry Bird is one of them. He's not exactly a front-runner, but he has demonstrated his commitment to helping others over the years through his charity work with the local Lions Club. What's more, he knows our city budget inside-out. There is no way Bird would have voted for a $1.1 billion redevelopment plan.

Two other qualified candidates are front-runners. In fact, many believe them to be the likely winners in next week's election.

They're Laurene Weste and Gary Johnson, both of whom worked hard to forge a compromise out of the protracted redevelopment battle.

Perhaps the local Mobilehome-owners Council put it best when it endorsed Laurene Weste and Gary Johnson:

'We found more than mere youthful exuberance and more than just wisdom born of experience, but a priceless combination of these qualities that . . . will be required in the coming years as Santa Clarita works to maintain its high quality of living while managing growth.'

The adulation isn't overstated.

Maintaining the quality of life we enjoy in this town will be a tremendous challenge for our next set of council members. It's something for which no one is better suited than Weste and Johnson.

As chairman of the City Parks Commission for most of the past seven years, Laurene Weste is responsible for having created several new parks; establishing a network of trails for joggers, bicyclists and horseback riders; and preserving thousands of acres of open space around our city that will still be there long after we are dust.

Her integrity is unmatched, and her ability as a city commissioner to see the forest for the trees on budgetary matters is unquestioned.

No one works harder than Gary Johnson when it comes to turning our valley's youth into productive members of society.

As a teacher with the high school district's Regional Occupation Program and immediate past president of the SCV Chamber of Commerce, Johnson has launched careers for countless young adults by building partnerships between schools and local businesses.

Johnson certainly has the business sense necessary to manage the city's $68 million annual budget.

If these two odds-on favorites win, the voters won't have to worry about any more $1.1 billion redevelopment nightmares being born in the deep, dark recesses of City Hall.

    Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident.

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