Signal: How hard will the city push for west-side annexation this year?
Pulskamp: I'm not sure we'll really "push" for annexation. What we want to do is work with the residents, with the property owners, and get a feel for whether or not they want to be part of the city. If they want to be part of the city, we'd love to have them. We think there are a lot of benefits to being in the city of Santa Clarita. If they choose to remain in the unincorporated area, that's fine with us, as well.
Signal: We've heard much discontent from the West Ranch Town Council over the proposed annexation of Lyon Canyon Ranch, and from the Castaic Area Town Council over the Valencia Commerce Center. Has that reaction surprised you?
Pulskamp: Actually it did, with Castaic. Initially, we didn't realize that was any part of Castaic's boundary, (nor) did most of the people who own the businesses in the Valencia Commerce Center. So, we have been talking with them. (The businesses are) very eager to join the city, from what they have expressed to us, because they (would) have an improvement in the level of services and they don't have to pay the 5-percent utility users tax that they currently pay in the unincorporated area.
For the Lyon (Canyon) Ranch development, they are interested in developing in the city. It's owned by one property owner, and they have indicated that they are desirous of annexing to the city.
Signal: West Ranch Town Council members say the Lyon Canyon developer wants more homes, more grading and more oak-tree removal than the city would allow on its side of Interstate 5, and they're afraid the city will give away the store to get its hands on the property. What say you?
Pulskamp: Well, we certainly won't give away the store for any reason. Every project that the city has approved, we've tried our best to make it a quality project, and this will be no different.
We will look at it to make sure it has an appropriate level of density, and we'll do everything we can to protect the hillsides, to protect the oak trees, and that is what we do on all of our projects.
Signal: So it would still go through a long public process?
Pulskamp: Oh, absolutely. We haven't even gotten to that point where we have had those types of discussions with the developer. It's a little premature for that at this point. But we will have very extensive negotiations that, if this project does proceed, that it's one that everyone is happy with.
Signal: Some Castaic residents accuse the city of wanting to cherry-pick "their" Commerce Center without being willing to annex the residential areas. Do you have any desire to bring Castaic "proper" into Santa Clarita's fold?
Pulskamp: I think that really remains to be seen. With the Valencia Commerce Center, it's no secret that we wanted to be on the other side of the freeway. We've never wanted I-5 to be perceived as the Great Wall of China here in Santa Clarita. We want it to be much like (state Route) 14, where we take each annexation and do what makes sense. We thought that the Valencia Commerce (Center) would be one, because there's a relatively few number of property owners that we could go (to) and explain that not only did they get improved service, but they make money. That's something that catches the attention of business owners, so we thought that would be a good way to start the process.
Signal: How much influence should the Castaic and West Ranch town councils have in these annexation decisions?
Pulskamp: We have been talking to Castaic, we've been talking to Stevenson Ranch and the whole West (Ranch) Town Council, and want them to know is that we are not their enemy. We all live in this valley together, and there is a lot of rhetoric that goes back and forth, but I hope when it's all said and done, they see that it's in everybody's best interest to have one city, and they become part of the city of Santa Clarita.
If they choose not to, that's fine. We'll still be neighbors and still do what's best, in everybody's best interest, in Santa Clarita.
Signal: As city manager, you take direction from the City Council, but you've got an investment here. You've been in Santa Clarita almost since day one of the city in 1987. What is Ken Pulskamp's vision? One city?
Pulskamp: I think it is in everybody's best interest to have one city. We've seen other areas where there are two cities close to each other, and they end up being pitted against one another. And really, what happens is, the public interest is jeopardized and compromised, and we don't want that to happen here. We think that we provide a high level of service, and it probably makes the most sense to be just one city.
But again, that's my opinion. If people do not want to be part of the city of Santa Clarita, life will go on, and they'll be in the unincorporated area, and that's their choice.
Signal: What's in it for the Stevenson Ranch or Westridge or Castaic resident? Isn't the city just another layer of government?
Pulskamp: No. There's a few things. One, I indicated that they don't have to pay a utility users tax, so right off the bat, their taxes go down. The level of police services provided by the city is quite a bit higher than in the unincorporated area. Typically, we have 15 police vehicles that patrol about 50 square miles. In the unincorporated areas, there's usually between two and four that patrol about 500 square miles.
We have a much higher level of recreation program that we think is beneficial. And we also have local government, so if people have a problem, they can come right down to City Hall. The elected officials are local and very accessible. We think that works to everybody's benefit. All in all, we think it's a benefit to be part of the city.
Signal: About five years ago there was an organized effort in Stevenson Ranch to join the city, but that ended around the time the state budget crisis hit and you couldn't afford to let every non-city resident into your city parks and recreation programs. Then, last year you told people to "Shop Santa Clarita" shop only between the 5 and 14 freeways because you needed the sales tax revenue. How is the budget situation today? Will we see more drastic measures that could be perceived badly by people immediately outside the city?
Pulskamp: Well, the Shop Santa Clarita program was important to us because we wanted people to understand that if they spent money in the city of Santa Clarita, the sales tax dollars were able to stay in the Santa Clarita Valley, and if they shop outside of the city limits, those moneys go all over the county.
Signal: Like Stevenson Ranch
Pulskamp: That's one of the places, but they don't get to stay in Stevenson Ranch, they go to wherever the Board of Supervisors spend their money. And if you look at where they spend their money, most of it's not in Stevenson Ranch. So, that was really an education program.
I think things have changed a lot, though, really in the last few months with the passage of Proposition 1A. Our revenues are more secure, looking in the future.
So the real answer to your question is no, I don't think we'll have to do that anymore. With that, we are able to have a better feel for what our revenues are going to be in the future.
And really, I think we've made our point. That was an educational program. It didn't tell people where they have to shop. It's just letting them know what the consequences are of their shopping habits.
Signal: Any new tactics with annexation this year? Will we see more communication and conciliatory gestures toward the people on the west side?
Pulskamp: You know, I would hope so. We have told all the people that we're dealing with that we really don't want to fight with them. It's not something where we're going to force their hand. If they want to be part of the city, great; if not, that's fine too. So we would like to talk with them, explain to them, and ultimately let the people decide. If they want to be a part, let's have them.
Signal: Let's talk about the weather. You declared an emergency in the recent rainstorm. What did that allow the city to do?
Pulskamp: Well, what happened is, I was down in the area of Newhall Creek and we were having a real problem where the equipment and the resources that the city had, were not sufficient to take care of the problems that I was seeing. So I declared a state of emergency, which allows me to call on resources from surrounding areas. I can call the county, I can call the state, I can contact anybody in the area and get staffing in here, get equipment in here, and that's what happened.
If you drove along that area, as other parts of the city, you saw (some) huge excavation equipment that the city doesn't have. So we were able to get that in. Also, it helps the city and it helps private residences get money back.
For example, with the (excavation) down in Newhall Creek, we ended up spending over $200,000 on that. We are now working through the state and the federal government and are very hopeful we end up getting 75 percent of those costs recovered.
We also have several homes in the city that have ended up being red-tagged, so the occupants can't go back in their home. We are hopeful that because a state of emergency was declared, that they have a better opportunity to get low-income loans from the federal government.
Signal: There was trouble tracking down the Polynesian Mobile Home Park owner that first weekend. Does your state of emergency enable the city to fix things now, and worry about who pays later?
Pulskamp: The mobile home park issue is a very complicated one because, believe it or not, the city does not have jurisdiction over their mobile home parks.
A number of years ago even if they're in the city of Santa Clarita, or any other city, for that matter they are under the jurisdiction of the state of California. So, we were having difficulty. We couldn't track down anybody from the state, and these poor people are down there and their homes are being knocked off, so we decided to just go in and do the work that needed to be done and sort out all the paperwork afterwards.
Signal: People in Placerita Canyon are in a similar situation, except they're not in a mobile home park. They've been stranded; they want a footbridge. Can the city help?
Pulskamp: We've been working with the residents in Placerita Canyon to try and develop some type of assessment district where we would help them put in a bridge, and then that bridge would be paid for by the residents of that area.
Since it's on a private road and not accessible by the general public, it's really not fair for an improvement like that to be paid by the general public. It should only be paid by the people who benefit from that improvement.
Signal: In this recent rainstorm, did you notice whether the level of emergency services differed between the city and county?
Pulskamp: I'm not sure I can comment on what the county did. I really wasn't paying as much attention as the city. I know the county tried desperately to do everything they could (for) the residents in the unincorporated area.
Signal: Crime stats. There's a new FBI ranking.
Pulskamp: That's right. We were happy to see that in the entire country for cities over 100,000 (population), the city of Santa Clarita even though it has a population of about 160,000 that we are ranked No. 5.
And that's really phenomenal, when you think about it. For all the cities in the entire country, we're ranked fifth. And that's something we're very proud of.
And if you look at cities over 150,000, we are the second-safest city in the entire country. We are proud of that, but we are also not resting on our laurels. We're doing everything we can to make sure this city stays as one of the safest cities in the country.
Signal: Folks say that in Santa Clarita, one of every three people either is a cop, has a family member who's a cop, or a has a good friend who's a cop. To what do you ascribe our safety?
Pulskamp: I'm not sure I would chalk it up to that. What I would chalk it up to is, one, we have excellent police service provided by the Sheriff's Department. But they can't do it alone. They try and do that in a lot of places that have terrible crime.
What they do is work in cooperation with the city and in cooperation with the community and everybody comes together whether you're talking about Neighborhood Watch programs or you're talking about a special program by the Sheriff's Department, a special program with the youth everybody comes together and takes responsibility for it, and that's what keeps the crime low in this area.
When you're doing a recreation program, when we're doing a parenting class all of those are as important a component of keeping the area safe as having a strong Sheriff's Department.
Signal: What's up with all of the graffiti in Canyon Country lately?
Pulskamp: We've had a terrible problem with graffiti over the last three weeks, in particular. We've always told people to call 25-CLEAN. Report it, and we get it down within 24 hours.
We are putting more city staff on there. We are getting a contract with a private-sector company to get that taken down. We're working with the Sheriff's Department to do a sting, to catch these people that are putting up graffiti. We're going to be working with the courts to make sure that the stiffest penalties are imposed. We want to get that graffiti down and keep it down.
We believe strongly that just those types of actions can get the community going in the wrong direction, and we're not going to allow that.
Signal: What other kind of law enforcement challenges do you see out there?
Pulskamp: I think with law enforcement, there's certainly the challenges with traffic; not only do they deal with crime, but they (also) deal with keeping our streets safe. We are constantly encouraging people to slow down, reminding them that most of the accidents that we have here are due to driver error. We want to work with the sheriffs to make sure that all our children and families are protected on the roads, as well.
Signal: You've got five red-light cameras in place now, and a contract for 15 more. Will they be rolled out?
Pulskamp: They will be rolled out.
Signal: This year?
Pulskamp: Yes. And in the meantime, we've gotten quite a few citations, and we are starting to see that number of citations drop. Which is exactly what we want. The point is not to get people tickets; the point is to make it so that people aren't running red lights.
Signal: So, people are aware the cameras are there.
Pulskamp: Well, hopefully they don't remember exactly where they are
Signal: That's the question do they know exactly where they are and where they aren't?
Pulskamp: When we get more, it will be harder to keep track of, and people won't run red lights is the theory.
Signal: The City Council was preparing to deal with day laborers on San Fernando Road by strengthening its loitering ordinance. But then, Sheriff Lee Baca directed his deputies not to enforce it. How does that work? If the city hires the sheriff to provide police services, how can he pick and choose what to enforce?
Pulskamp: Really, the problem is one of constitutionality. There have been a number of cases that say you just can't go and arrest somebody because they're standing on the street trying to get a job. When the Sheriff's Department gets sued, we don't come in and represent them. They represent themselves and pay for it. So they need to protect themselves.
The city attorney opined to the City Council that it's probably best to let some of these court cases shake out and not have the city of Santa Clarita be the guinea-pig city and then, once all of that has happened, then construct an ordinance that's in concert with the law.
Signal: Councilman Bob Kellar wanted to make the city's oak tree ordinance more user-friendly. But when it came for council approval, it would have allowed property owners to remove five oaks every five years. It went back for another revision. What's happening?
Pulskamp: We are going to be bringing that back to the council in February and give them the options of either making it so that people can't remove oak trees at all, do five every five years, two every five years, and give them a few options. I think you'll see it so that people will not be able to remove oak trees as easily as what was in that ordinance.
Signal: So we can expect the City Council to have a big discussion about it next month.
Pulskamp: That's right.
Signal: On that note in general, how many ideas and initiatives are driven by staff as opposed to driven by council?
Pulskamp: It's pretty hard to sort out. Many of them are driven by the City Council, many of them are driven by staff. The thing that makes us work so well right now is, the staff and the council are working very well in concert with one another, and in concert with the community. So, rather than trying to figure out whose idea it was and who's going to get the credit, I think you see a lot of movement going in the right direction, and we've all been working well together. We're very happy about that.
Signal: Some councils have worked better together than other councils, these past 17 years. How do you size up the current council?
Pulskamp: This council gets along really well. They certainly have disagreements, as they should. They are five individuals with five different views of the world. But I can tell you, we have five council members who all work very hard, and 100 percent of the time work to do what is in the best interest of the city of Santa Clarita.
Signal: What can we expect this year in the way of capital improvements?
Pulskamp: In capital improvements, we have a lot of things going on right now. We're finishing up the Transit Maintenance Facility which, once that's done, is going to save us over $1 million a year in our bus service cost.
We're opening up a 17-acre Heritage Park in Valencia. We're really excited about opening up the Veterans Park down in Newhall, and we also have the Newhall Community Center that will be opening. We're starting to spend a lot of time now trying to figure out what kind of improvements we're going to be doing in downtown Newhall.
So, a lot of big capital improvement projects in the area of transportation. Of course, we're focused on the cross-valley connector, which is about an 8-1/2-mile road that will hook up Golden Valley and 14 across the valley over to I-5/126. So we won't just have Soledad now; we'll have another option.
Signal: What's the timeline on that?
Pulskamp: We're trying to get the bridge that's under construction right now, and the entire project, we're hoping to be completed by 2007. And that's almost a quarter-billion-dollar project. It's just a huge project for a city the size of Santa Clarita.
Signal: Two Wal-Marts and a Sam's Club are opening in Santa Clarita this year. How will they impact the consumer and the merchant?
Pulskamp: I think that remains to be seen, what the real answer is. But certainly, for the consumer, one of the things that you see with Wal-Marts is, they're very successful, and that means that they're providing a service that people want.
We live in a competitive economy, and that's all part of the process. So I think from a consumer perspective, you'll certainly see people happy. It will raise a lot more sales tax for us locally, and that will be an opportunity for us to provide even more and better services to the public.
Signal: So it's a good thing?
Signal: What influence does the city have over whether the Wal-Marts come here?
Pulskamp: Not a whole lot. People, I think, sometimes think that the city sits up there in its ivory tower and says, we're going to have this type of store over here and that type of store over there. But really, we zone it. Business people determine whether or not they want to invest in the property. They're the ones deciding whether or not a particular business ought to open, and we're just deciding what zone it ought to be.
Signal: The 12th annual Cowboy Poetry Festival is coming at the end of April. It was your idea; you brought it to Santa Clarita. Why was it pushed back a month, and will it be as big and exciting this year?
Pulskamp: You know, this year is going to be a great year. We've got Waddie Mitchell and Don Edwards and Sons of the San Joaquin and Baxter Black and the Hot Club of Cowtown we've got a great lineup. We're going to make it so that people just buy one ticket and can get in and see all of this. It's a $15 ticket that will get you in and see all of the entertainment. I think it's $25 for the entire weekend.
We pushed (its date) around, trying to make it so that we are able to work around (HBO's) "Deadwood," which is being filmed in Melody Ranch right now. That has caused some constraints for us but, hey. We're real happy to be on the ranch. We love working with the Veluzats, and they've been very cooperative with us.
It also gets us a little out of the window of the rain so I'm not sitting around losing any more hair, worrying about whether it's going to rain on Cowboy Poetry. But it's going to be a great show this year again.
Signal: We've had rain right before and rain right after, but the sun always shines on Cowboy Poetry.
Pulskamp: That's right. You're absolutely right.
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 Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.