Simi Valley City Council Grapples with Filling Vacancy

By Kevin Harris

How to best fill the City Council vacancy; whether or not to forgive rental fees for a tragedy-doomed festival; the appointing of board and commission members; and zoning changes were among the business handled during Monday night’s Simi Valley City Council Meeting. 

Before any of the “New Business” and “Public Hearings” commenced on Monday night, however, there was a “Public Statements” period, where attendees could briefly comment on issues, or introduce their positions that they would expand on later, during the respective section of the meeting that deals with their issue. For example, several public speaker cards were pre-filled out in support of Item 8B — forgiving the music festival’s fees, though they chose not to speak during the Public Statements. 

One speaker who did chose to speak, however, ruffled the feathers of several council members, in particular, Council Member and Simi Valley Police Officer, Mike Judge. Self proclaimed candidate for Sheriff, Bruce Boyer, had a long list of grievances against the Council, ranging from Water Board issues to the council ordering police to seize his vehicles to the new taxi cab regulations. But when he spoke ill of the unarmed police officers who had been in attendance at the Borderlines Bar during the recent shooting, and called them “cowards” for not engaging the shooter, it was probably not going to secure him many votes for Sheriff. 

Mayor Mashburn, as well as Council Member Judge, both took offense and had harsh words for Mr. Boyer, and would not call him by name, but only identified him as “the person who would not take off his cowboy hat in the Council Chamber.” 

The Man Who Would Not Remove His Cowboy Hat

FILLING THE CITY COUNCIL VACANCY

The Simi Valley City Council recently lost two of its long-serving members: Glen T. Becerra, who announced his retirement from public office (after 20 years of service) in August; and Mayor Bob Huber, who was elected to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in June, 2018, to begin there in January. Mr. Becerra was recently replaced with Council Member Ruth Luevanos, which leaves one remaining seat to fill. 

California Code currently provides two options to fill the vacant seat: Hold a special election, or fill the seat by city council appointment. Both options have to be done within specified time limits. Specifically in this case, if a special election is chosen, the decision to do so has to be made by February 8, 2019, with the election to be held later, during the regular election cycle. If an appointment is decided upon, that decision, and the appointed council member, has to be figured out by February 8, 2019 as well. The estimated cost of a special election is $253,000 for the city. 

Remember that there will be two districts up for election in 2020. All of this was Item 8A on Monday night.

New Council Member Ruth Luevanos said she supports the voters being able to choose the next council member via a special election. “This (special election) is a one time cost… we’re in a very special, unique situation that the city has never been in before… I am requesting that we maintain the vacancy until the special election in November, 2019.” 

Citing cost concerns, Council Member Mike Judge said he wants to run the issue through the neighborhood councils and the council on aging to get their opinions before deciding between appointment and special election. 

Mayor Pro Tem Dee Dee Cavenough supports appointing — largely due to time constraints, with the first districting starting in about a year. She is also supportive of Mike Judge’s proposal to ask local councils though. 

Mayor Keith Mashburn also supports appointment, because it saves $253,000. “We were elected to make these tough decisions,” he said. 

In the end, the council chose to table the final decision until after they hold a joint public meeting with local councils and the Council on Aging in January. 

A FESTIVAL IN TROUBLE

The 2018 Simi Valley Music and Funtasy Festival, which was held during the first two weekends of November, fell far short of its attendance expectations, in part due to the Woolsey Fire and the Borderlines Bar shooting during the second weekend. Put on by the non-profit Simi Valley Arts Alliance, attendance was expected to be 1,000 people per weekend, but ended up at just 231 people, total! 

The applicant (Arts Alliance) requested that their rental fees of $5,000 per weekend, along with their fees for Simi Valley Police services ($3,000) be forgiven. (Council Member Mike Judge recused himself from this part of the meeting, because he is a Police Officer for 20 years in Los Angeles). 

After it was established that the applicant’s liability insurance policy would not cover the financial losses under the given circumstances, Mayor Mashburn pointed out that Simi Valley City Staff deliberately failed to collect the proper deposit amount from the applicant before the event, and asked that they follow their own rules and requirements moving forward. The Mayor also opined that, while he very much values the great work the Simi Valley Arts Alliance does, “we have an addiction of giving other people taxpayer’s money,” and said we have to stop doing that. 

Council Member Luevanos countered the Mayor’s position by saying she believes that waiving the fees for the Alliance is helping a good cause, and that she supports doing so. 

Mayor Pro Tem Cavenaugh took an approach similar to the Mayor’s, by refunding about $1300 to the Alliance. She came to that figure by calculating the “hard costs” from the $5000 of the deposit that the city did have, plus some additional costs for landscaping damage, to come up with the total. A representative for the Alliance who was present was still appreciative for the refund, even at the lesser amount than they had requested. 

The motion to forgive $1300 to the Applicant passed unanimously. 

APPOINTMENT PROCESS TO BOARDS & COMMITTEES QUESTIONED

Some disagreement arose among council members during the part of Monday’s meeting when local board and committee members were to be appointed, as well as planning commissioners. Apparently, the City Council, in its current incarnation, has said it places a high priority on public transparency. Meanwhile, they seem to have pushed through their appointments rather quickly, with little or no chance for the public, or even other council members, to review their picks. 

After Council Member Mike Judge nominated Ken Rice to continue on as Planning Commissioner, Mayor Mashburn stopped the process to comment:

With absolutely no reference to any person that’s being nominated, the process to me, is flawed… only tonight is when I learned of Council Member Luevanos’ nominee. Prior to that I had no idea who it was, never heard of him. We’ve had numerous people come to this council, and they’re asking for transparency. And they want participation. And they want Democracy. I was never made aware, and you’re probably not aware of who I want to nominate. And so to nominate and vote on them right now… I don’t think that’s what the public has been asking us to do,” Mashburn argued. 

He then asked the council to postpone the vote until the next meeting so they can review the nominees, which the attending audience applauded. 

Council Member Luevanos pushed back, however, stopping just short of demanding that the council proceeds with the vote immediately. She argued that some of the candidates showed up that evening with their families. The Council proceed to appoint and vote on Mike Judges’ appointee, as well as Luevanos’ appointee, with Mayor Mashburn abstaining from the final vote. 

The Mayor then posed for photos and welcomed in the new appointees. 

WEST END ZONING CHANGE — MORE INDUSTRIAL USES ADDED

Also during Monday’s meeting was a public hearing to amend the West End Specific Plan — a zoning change related to the new industrial building being developed at the former school district headquarters at 875 Cochran Street. 

There are two zones involved, light industrial, and auto industrial, and the proposed changes involve adding “uses” to the zones to make them more inclusive for potential new industries wanting to utilize the new building. Some of the new uses being proposed include contractor offices; warehousing & storage; wholesale machinery & equipment; and commercial photography, among others. 

The applicant, Dick Darling of the Darling Development Group, told the council that the new building represents 72,000 feet of multi-tenant industrial development — already fully approved by local councils and the Planning Commission. At the suggestion of an audience attendee, the council added still a couple of more uses to the amendment, relating to industrial aircraft parts and the space industry. 

No vote was required, because the presentation was only an introduction at this stage. 

The next regular Simi Valley City Council Meeting will be on Monday, January 14, 2019, at 6:30 P.M. Both the meetings on video, and the meeting agendas, can be directly accessed by going to the following URL: http://www.simivalley.org/i-want-to-/view-watch-/city-council-meetings.

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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