"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal City Editor Leon Worden. The half-hour program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Mayor Bob Kellar, who is seeking reelection to the Santa Clarita City Council on April 13. Separate "Newsmaker" interviews with the other two candidates Councilman Cameron Smyth and challenger Henry Schultz were published March 14 and March 28, respectively.
The following interview was conducted March 10. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: It took years and years for members of the local business community to talk you into running for Santa Clarita City Council.
Kellar: Well, it took a couple.
Signal: And now you want to do it again.
Kellar: One more time.
Signal: Can't we live without you here in Santa Clarita?
Kellar: Oh, you absolutely can live without me. I admit that.
Signal: Former Councilmen George Pederson and Clyde Smyth did a pretty good job in four years, didn't they?
Kellar: They did an outstanding job. Both of those gentlemen were great assets for the community.
Signal: So what do you want to do in the next four years?
Kellar: It's one of those situations that kind of reaches out and grabs you a little bit. You get involved with certain aspects and concerns having to do with the city, and you really do want to see them through a bit. And I will tell you, there's a couple of issues I would love to see come to a conclusion for this city while I'm still on board.
Signal: Like what?
Kellar: Whittaker-Bermite. I would like to see that at least we have got that cleanup well in process and the cleanup of the water underway. (Also), the cross-valley connector that goes through there, intersecting, which would be the via Princessa-Wiley Canyon linkage. That would be a tremendous accomplishment for this community.
Signal: When you say Whittaker-Bermite you're talking about the 1,000-acre parcel in the middle of the city that's unusable right now.
Kellar: That's true.
Signal: In the mid-1990s the City Council approved development plans that call for about 3,000 homes to be put there
Kellar: 2,911, to be exact.
Signal: on that property. Do you see that property eventually having 3,000 homes?
Kellar: Honestly, I seriously doubt it. I'm opposed to it, if at all possible. I recognize there are some legal factors that come into play because that plan was put into place by the City Council. There's a lot of question marks as we talk about Whittaker-Bermite. Right now Whittaker-Bermite in fact is spending the money out there, doing the work to make cleanup occur on the property. I do believe with Whittaker-Bermite it's going to be a protracted cleanup. It will probably take 10 years.
Signal: Ten more years.
Kellar: You bet. Because they're in no hurry to do it. The longer they can hang onto their money, the better off they are.
Signal: They tested and manufactured munitions and fireworks and left perchlorate behind.
Kellar: And that's the one that is particularly problematic for the city, because the perchlorate really moves. It moved right into the aquifer, and right now we have five of our domestic wells shut down. They're no longer producing water. And this community, for years, has been relying on 50 percent of its water from the State Water Project, (and) the other 50 percent basically comes out of the aquifer. So that's a problem.
Signal: Lynne Plambeck, president of the Newhall County Water board, says the water agencies are reporting that water is "available" when in fact some of it is contaminated by perchlorate. When a development proposal comes to you, do you consider that some of the water may be contaminated?
Kellar: First of all, I have sat in literally hundreds of meetings having to do with the Whittaker-Bermite issue. And each and every one of those meetings, probably with rare exception, also talks about water, water contamination, what's going on with the water aspect of the problem. And we have water experts from CLWA, we have people from the Army Corps of Engineers, we have consultants across the board. And wherein you have perchlorate, if there's any contamination, that well is shut down immediately, and has been. That's why we've got five of them shut down. So from a public safety perspective, I'm not worried that we're feeding our citizens water that has perchlorate contamination. I have complete confidence in our water experts. I think they have done a remarkable job in protecting the interests of this community.
But then we go on to, all right, is there water available to serve this community? The truth of the matter is, based upon the experts not me, I'm not a water expert, but I'm listening to those that do have the qualifications to assess (water availability) and when I have got 50 (or) 60 people lined up here, from various water districts, consultants, engineers, and across the board, and they're telling us X, Y and Z, and then I've got two people over here, or three people, saying, "Oh, that's not true," I'm sorry. I'm going to go with the 50 or so people. I've got a lot more confidence in their being responsible to the issues than I do (in) one or two or three people that are clearly using water as an agenda.
Signal: If you don't see 3,000 homes being built at Bermite which would pay for some of the cleanup what do you see?
Kellar: Cherokee Investment Partners, which is a company that is based in North Carolina, has certainly spent a lot of time evaluating this and determining whether or not they are going to purchase the property. They are in fact in escrow and have been for, now, well over a year, year and a half. ... I hope they are successful and they ultimately do close this deal.
I am confident that Cherokee Investment Partners has the ability and the knowledge to get that site cleaned up, both the water and the surface, cleaned up to a standard that is satisfactory and safe by all standards of the state, specifically the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and that then we can work with them on a development plan that will be responsible to this community. They have certainly indicated at every opportunity that that is their desire.
Obviously they want this thing to pencil for them. They want to make their dollar on the back end. I have no problem with that. We get a clean site, we get some new roads in place for this community, and we have talked about a variety of things, maybe some additional commercial area, perhaps some industrial area would be appropriate on portions of that site. I'm sure there is going to be a residential factor.
But there has also been a lot of discussion that perhaps we would have a convention center of some size up there that would be very beneficial to this community. There's all kinds of things. More park space, open space. When you have 1,000 acres, you can do a lot of great things for a community.
Signal: What should be the public's role in paying to clean Whittaker-Bermite's mess? Congressman McKeon has gone after federal money, which is our tax money. Do you see the city using the redevelopment mechanism?
Kellar: If nothing else, in my time on the City Council and now as mayor, I have learned, do not sit here and make flat statements. Because you know what? Tomorrow you're given some information by some very responsible people and you realize, you know what? You dig a hole on something like that, it's not good judgment. Because you're not serving the citizens in the best manner possible. So I try to keep an open attitude.
I will tell you, as a general statement, I am not comfortable with the redevelopment agency on the Whittaker-Bermite site. Do we use taxpayers' money to clean it up? I want to give a qualification to that. We have water contamination. This is not to be ignored. We've had irresponsible conduct in the past that's made this mess. We cannot be a part of that and just ignore it. We have got to, for public safety, we've got to pay attention to it. But under no circumstance would I let Whittaker-Bermite off the hook. They are the responsible party, according to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. State law clearly dictates, (the) responsible party is responsible for the cleanup, financially and in every other manner. So I see no reason to move from that position. I support it 100 percent.
But at the same time, if there's a time lag or something, we've got to protect our citizens. We've got to do something with that water. Technology does exist today that we can get well head treatment and make that water perfectly safe for our citizens. And that is currently under evaluation as to which method would be best for our particular circumstance here in Santa Clarita on the Whittaker-Bermite site. There's a lot of things that are being worked upon, but we're making tremendous progress.
Signal: You were president of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce, and a director of the SCV Chamber. A lot of people see you as the "business guy" on the City Council.
Kellar: Thank you. That's a compliment.
Signal: The Newhall Land and Farming Co. has undergone an ownership change. Newhall Land has done a lot of economic development in this valley. The city's economic development manager, Mike Haviland, recently retired. Is the city at a crossroads? What must the city do now in terms of economic development?
Kellar: First of all, I don't want to paint a picture or give the impression that the city has never done anything in regards to economic development. The city has. I am of the opinion that we need to do more.
I think we are at a time period, particularly with all of the budgetary problems going on in the state you know, it would nice to isolate ourselves and say it's no concern of ours, what's going on in the state, because here in Santa Clarita we're doing just fine. The truth of the matter is, we have got to play that card real close to the vest. We've got to be careful. And we're being very conservative in that regard. And at the same time, I think a part of that is to make certain that we're not missing any opportunities when it comes to economic development, that we are doing the right things, pushing the right buttons to ensure that we're maximizing tax revenues for the city. And I don't mean increasing taxes of any kind. That's not even on the table. I'm simply saying, let's be sure that we're working smart, where a city needs to work, protecting our commercial properties and making sure the commercial-zoned properties are in fact producing revenues for the city as they should.
And if there is some support for business out there, if there is something that we can do to give additional support for local business, let's do it, if it's a reasonable thing to do. I'm saying, let's talk about these things. Let's make sure that we're optimizing all of our opportunities as a city and benefiting our community and our businesses as well.
Signal: How would you translate that into policy? Do you want city staff to recruit new businesses? Do you foresee offering incentives to companies to locate here like they do in the Antelope Valley?
Kellar: I am satisfied, talking with a lot of business owners, that you do not necessarily have to go out and give financial incentives to get businesses to come in. We have a lot of excellent businesses in Santa Clarita already. Let's take care of the businesses that we have. If we do, that will be a positive for this city, and other businesses will want to come here.
The best thing we can do is be a user-friendly city. Help businesses, don't be their enemy. When they come into City Hall and they're needing help with a tenant improvement project or they want to do an expansion or something like that, let's roll up our sleeves and see what we can do to help them be successful ... obeying all the laws and the codes, etc. I'm not suggesting we deviate from anything in that regard. I'm simply saying, let's be user friendly. Let's support them.
Time is very critical to business. Time is money. So if we can be expeditious in our handling of their processing, let's do that for them. There's nothing wrong with it.
Signal: What is your position on the city's oak tree protection ordinance?
Kellar: I want to make something absolutely clear. God bless the oak tress in Santa Clarita. They're beautiful. They are to be protected and saved. I want to make that point perfectly clear. But I want to apply a little bit of common sense. And that's where I think we have gone overboard.
I think we need to be a little more cautious and a little more fair to our citizens. And I can cite you four or five quick ones. (For example), a gentleman wants to build a garage on his property. He's got a lot of oak trees around. He's not going to build a garage underneath the oak trees (but rather on) the side. So they come out and they say, "Oh, you have oak trees. We have to do an oak tree study." So we're going to go out there and hire some guy for $5,000 to go out there and study his oak tress. "Yeah, you've got them here, here, here and here; this one's this big around and that big around, etc." When they get all done, I could tell you right now what's going to happen: They're going to say, "You have to hand-dig through the root area of any oak trees to supply the power line to your garage." OK? I don't need to spend $5,000 to study these oak trees to tell me that I've got to hand-dig through the root area of these trees. That's my point. It's common sense. There's no reason to charge our citizens that kind of money to do something we already know the answer to in advance.
Now, does that necessarily fit each and every situation? The answer is no. But I'm telling you, that is a good case in point of things that I have seen where our citizens are absolutely pulling their hair out, trying to make a modification to their property, on their home or something like this, and we have absolutely crippled these people. I had a lady come into my office one day, crying. She was crying. Physically. Because of her frustration of trying, she and her husband, to build their home on a piece of property that had a lot of oak trees on it. I guess it's a deal where you're not supposed to buy a lot that has oak trees on it anymore because you can't do anything with it. And I'm saying, let's be sure that we're interpreting this oak tree ordinance and applying common sense. That's all I'm asking.
So we'll bring that forward to the council along with the Planning Commission. We'll discuss it, review some of the things, and whatever the decision of the group is, I'll support it 100 percent. But I think it's appropriate to bring it back to us, and let's just talk about it and let's be sure that we're not interpreting something in a manner that it wasn't intended to be.
Signal: One issue involving oak trees recently was the Gate-King Industrial Park in Newhall. The council approved the removal of about 1,400 oak trees out of 11,700 on the property. SCOPE and the Oak Tree Conservancy sued the city. The city won. What is your take on Gate-King?
Kellar: I'll tell you what. That gentleman, Mark Gates that property has been in his family since 1957 ... and at this juncture in his life, he wants to develop obviously a portion of it and give the rest of it to the city (as) open space into perpetuity...
It's an industrial park. It's jobs. It's right next to the redevelopment area of Newhall. This idea fits beautifully. It is going to be a great enhancement to the Newhall area. And it does provide jobs to our citizens here. And we have always been a bit behind the eight ball in our housing-to-job balance.
This gentleman and I watched this process over the course of about three years made concession after concession after concession. And I honestly will tell you, of all the developments and I spent two years on the Planning Commission before I went to the City Council, and listened to projects for two years I have never seen a developer make so many concessions and agreements to satisfy people not only the ones at City Hall, but the people (who) have been subsequently suing and trying to be fair and reasonable. I don't know how his project even mathematically computes after all of the concessions he has made. I almost question, I mean, he's a fine gentleman, but I'm wondering about his business sense. I'm worried about him. Because that's how far it has gone. So I think that would be a tremendous project for this community. I think we would benefit in a number of ways. Our citizens across the board would benefit for this to go through.
Signal: The challenger in this election, Henry Schultz, heads the local chapter of the Sierra Club. He's pushing environmental issues
Kellar: If you say so.
Signal: He says he's running on a platform of "smart growth." What does "smart growth" mean to you?
Kellar: I'm sure it probably has a variety of meanings, depending on who you're talking to. To me, I am an absolute advocate of people's property rights. I will tell you, I will not deny the American people their property rights. Now, having said that, how do we move forward from that point?
We'll take the Gate-King project if you want. It's his land. It has been in his family for 50 years. He's now decided he would like to develop portions of it and dedicate the rest to the city for open space into perpetuity as I said earlier. I do not believe we have a right to go tell this man, you can't build on your property (at all). Or am I going to tell the citizen that you bought this lot over here of an acre or two and you want to build your dream home on it, and who are we to tell you you can't build your dream home? That's your land. There have to be some compromises. A developer building a tract of homes. He bought the land. He has a right to succeed, he has a right to fail. Just as we do in the business community and across the board.
Now, when a developer goes in and they want to, say, build 50 houses, hypothetically speaking, it is our duty, for the citizens of Santa Clarita, as a council, and as staff at City Hall, to make sure that we are maximizing the benefit to the community. It is not all about the developer. Somewhere in this mix there is going to be a fair compromise and an ability for everybody to attain their goals. We want to make sure that, of course and some of this stuff's by law anyway, that we get our Quimby fees for parks and recreation and perhaps even more that if there's an area that needs to have a trail through it, that there will be a dedication of trail space. That if there (are) any sensitive environmental areas, blue (line) streams (or) creek beds or something of this kind, we want to protect those. And we're going to. We're going to minimize the effects upon oak trees. Does that mean we're going to deny his project? No. does it mean that we're going to try and protect every oak tree we can? Of course we are. But there's going to have to, probably, just as we did at (Gate-King), there's going to be some compromises in there. This is (the) city working to protect the community benefiting our roads, taking care of our infrastructure, and making sure the people have their dream home to live in. The American dream, as I like to call it.
Signal: But you led the council to ban new mini-storage facilities from four-lane roads unless they're in an industrial park. Why can't a property owner build a mini-storage on a four-lane highway?
Kellar: We did not deny that property owner the right to develop his property. What we're doing is saying, we're going to be using our head, and not just that doesn't mean that you can put anything on your property that you want. You've got to be attentive to the zoning.
You recognize that self-storage has absolutely no benefit to the city other than providing a place for self-storage. There is no tax base there. There's nothing for the city coffers. That's irresponsible. We talked about economic development earlier. That's not good judgment. And where do you like to go through the streets of any beautiful town and find nothing but lined-up self-storage? Self-storage does not belong on your main thoroughfares. They belong on the back streets.
I have no problem with people in the self-storage business. I'm saying, let's build, together, a beautiful city, one that uses good judgment. Commercial property should be developed in a manner that tries to at least maximize where possible the tax resource that will come from it. That gives us the ability to go out here and build more parks, improve our roads, keep public safety up there, and do all of the things that we need to do to provide a high quality of life for our citizens.
Signal: You spent 25 years in the Los Angeles Police Department. You've said one of your high priorities is to assist in bringing the killer of Deputy Sheriff David March to justice. How can you, as mayor of Santa Clarita, help?
Kellar: You're quite right. I'm just one of many. That's the most important thing. Certainly the March family, Teri March, the widow; the parents; have been phenomenal citizens and obviously suffered a great loss. I know that (U.S. Rep.) Buck McKeon has been working on this. I know that Assemblyman Keith Richman has been working on it. Our county District Attorney Steve Cooley has been working on this. And I know our council has also jointly jumped in and tried to give whatever support we can.
We're planning some more activities. We're going to let our good president know that this is unacceptable, that the murder of American citizens in this case a deputy, but there's about 300 (or more) people that have murdered American citizens are running totally free in Mexico because (Mexico has) decided (it) will not extradite to the United States because we have capital punishment and/or life imprisonment. Well, you know what? I'm sorry, but it's none of their business to try and direct how we are going to handle our criminal element here in America.
As far as I'm concerned and this has to be won in Washington but the president has got to work this out with Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico. To me, it's easy: Mr. Fox, get those people in our hands. Otherwise, I will tell you, we will start taking a real hard look at this border situation. This is unacceptable, that these people should be running free after murdering American citizens, and particularly our citizen, David March.
Signal: Some municipalities have taken a stance on President Bush's proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Do you have any plans to endorse or oppose it?
Kellar: Absolutely not. I'm staying out of it.
Signal: Not too far off the subject: domestic partner benefits. You were there when the council denied domestic partner benefits to the city's gay employees. How did you vote?
Kellar: I voted with the council to deny.
Signal: Why shouldn't homosexual employees have the same kind of benefits, or is that the issue?
Kellar: I am staying out of this one. You're going back a couple of years ago. In all sincerity, I don't recall all of the specifics at the time. Give me a little warm-up, I'll research it so I can come back here and articulate the facts of it.
Signal: After LAPD, you went into real estate. Does being a Realtor in this valley pose any kind of conflict of interest vis-ý-vis your service on the City Council?
Kellar: It has on a couple of occasions, yes. And I've done what I have got to do by law, and it's appropriate. It's the only thing I can do. I've got to recuse myself. I think it's happened twice, that come to my mind, since I've been on the City Council.
Signal: So you don't vote when there's a conflict of interest.
Kellar: I strictly stay out of it. ... I'm cautious about it, and I'll always be careful of it.
Signal: You have raised a lot of money for a council campaign in which you have only one opponent, besides the other incumbent more than $50,000 by the end of February. Do you need all that money? Where is it coming from? Are you beholden to your donors?
Kellar: I'm beholden to the citizens of Santa Clarita at large. That's where my responsibility goes. To say, do I know everybody that's been kind enough to donate money to my campaign? Of course I do not know them all personally. Many of them I do know. I am very honored and flattered if somebody has the confidence in me to give me financial support for the election.
I recognize that both Cameron and I are the incumbents. I think it would be a terrible mistake on my part to (assume that) I don't have to raise any money, (or that) I don't really have to go out there and campaign, (that) I can just slip and slide through this process. I don't think that is necessarily the case. So I'm going to try and be as responsible to the process of campaigning to be as successful as I can. And that means, where people are kind enough to provide that funding for me, I am going to spend it. I am going to try and ensure that I win this election.
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.