Leon Worden

Sorting out the bull on the City Council

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 12, 1998

olitics can be delicate. Frank Ferry is like a bull in a china shop.

Some people admire him for that. Histrionics usually come from the other side of the political aisle, and it's enticing to see someone like Ferry go in there and shake things up.

To others it's a concern. The more effective representative in the long run is the one who consistently keeps his cool in the face of wackiness, knows the rules of the game and has the savvy to use them. In that sense, Ferry is still a greenhorn.

Frank Ferry


The seething enmity between the newly elected city councilman and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment will likely escalate to total war when the council returns from its summer break Aug. 25.

Unfortunately, when Cam Noltemeyer flies in on her broom and launches into a three-minute John Steffen diatribe, it will be construed as nothing more than the headline-grabbing antics of a political wanna-be trying desperately to get some attention for her water board campaign in November.

I say "unfortunately" because people will lose sight of the issue at hand in their rush to Ferry's aid.

There were several problems with Ferry's testimony before the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission last week, not the least of which is the fact that he was there at all.

County planners heard testimony on The Newhall Land and Farming Co.'s proposed Westridge development, a 1,712-unit project west of Interstate 5, outside of city limits (and beyond our City Council's control). Often, when a development proposal generates a lot of interest, the county will set aside time to hear just from proponents, and another time to hear from opponents.

Last week's meeting was "opposition day" for Westridge. Ferry didn't know that, and he tells this writer that if he had known, he probably wouldn't have used his day off to go all the way downtown.

Why he didn't know is a mystery. Ferry told senior city management ahead of time that he intended to speak. Ferry is new at this; staff should have outlined the process for him and told him the day was reserved for opponents only. It's unclear if they assumed he knew, or if they didn't know themselves.

But it's Ferry's testimony, not his presence, that has drawn the real fire.

Ferry publicly chided SCOPE, as he is prone to doing. (That's the stuff of newspaper columnists, not City Council members, as a rule.) He told county planners that SCOPE was wrong for saying the council opposed the extension of The Old Road between Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway.

That's where things get fuzzy.

Last December, the council voted to oppose the road extension. In the interim, two seats on the council have changed, and the new council seems more receptive to working out a solution that would allow The Old Road to be completed, so long as their environmental concerns are adequately addressed.

But "no road" is their last position of record. If that position no longer reflects their sentiments, fine. The council should take a new vote so that Ferry or whoever is charged with communicating the city's wishes will have clear direction, rather than having to summarize the nebulous sentiments of individual council members. (Ferry has agendized the road for the Aug. 25 meeting, ostensibly for this purpose.)

Ferry compounded the problem when county planners asked if he was speaking for the whole council. He said yes, he supposed he was. He let his inexperience get the better of him.

When a council member is going to speak on behalf of the full council, the council typically discusses it first, at least briefly. That didn't happen here.

The debate over The Old Road is not unlike the situation a couple of months ago when Assemblymen Tom McClintock and George Runner asked the council to support their repeal of California's vehicle license fee. At first the council said "no unless" X, Y and Z happen first. Later they changed their position to "yes if" X, Y and Z happen first. They're essentially the same thing; only the words are different.

This seems similar. Each council member has voiced specific concerns with The Old Road extension, and where the former council's position might be characterized as "no unless," Ferry interpreted the current sentiment to be "yes if." As one senior city staffer said Monday, Ferry could have "reasonably concluded" that his testimony accurately reflected the council's feelings on the subject.

As Ferry grows into the office, he will learn not to assume quite so much.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.
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