"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmakers are Stonecrest annexation proponent Bob Baida and Andrew Fried, president of SAFE Action For the Environment. NOTE:
Stonecrest annexation opponent Steven Huerta was invited to participate in this discussion. He did not return telephone messages that were left at his home and workplace. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: Steven Huerta, a resident of the Stonecrest community in unincorporated Canyon Country, has been going door-to-door with a petition titled, "Protest Form," that reads, "I am OPPOSED to City of Santa Clarita Annexation No. 2002-09A," which is Stonecrest (capital letters in the original). Mr. Huerta has said in letters and elsewhere that his goal is only to put annexation to a vote. What's wrong with putting the question to the voters in Stonecrest?
Baida: I am totally in favor of that, if people really want to have a vote. The reason people are signing that isn't because they want to have the vote. The real reason is because he tells them he hides the word, "protest." He takes (the form) and covers it with his clipboard.
Signal: Where it says "opposed"?
Baida: Where it says "opposed." Then he goes back and says, "We just want to have a vote." That's his whole theme: "I just want to have a vote." So he gets people to sign this, just to vote. Then when we go around and we show them that the word has been covered up, they're quite astonished. Because a lot people that are in favor of annexation really shouldn't be signing that. Because that is in a vote in itself.
Signal: What happens if 51 percent of people in the Stonecrest community sign Mr. Huerta's petition?
Baida: Annexation is dead. Dead. Stopped. Total. No delay or anything like that, like some people think it is...
Signal: So if more than half of the residents of Stonecrest sign the petition, there will be no vote?
Baida: Because (the petition) is the vote. This truly is the vote. You sign that, you're saying, "I am opposed" to it. You don't sign that, you're voting in favor of annexation.
Signal: If 50 percent-plus-1 sign it, the county doesn't hold a vote.
Baida: The county doesn't hold a vote.
Fried: That's where the problem is. It's that people really don't have a grasp of the process. They don't quite understand that once they signed the original petition that Bob (Baida) brought around as far back as 2000 to get (annexation) rolling, they really don't have to do anything more. The city went ahead (Baida) got 85 percent from Lower Stonecrest; Upper Stonecrest didn't exist at that point. So he got more than enough to satisfy the city that the community wanted to annex. The city looks for at least 60 percent (support) of the community.
Once people have signed the (original annexation) petition, they really don't have to do anything more. At that point, the city goes ahead, files the appropriate paperwork with LAFCO (Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission), and it's pretty much an automatic process at that point.
Signal: You're talking about people who signed the original petition asking for annexation back in 2000 which is not the petition that's out there today. Right now the only petition that's circulating is the one to stop annexation, correct?
Fried: Correct. And its really not a petition; it's a series of protest forms. There's a significant difference there. These are individual forms that collectively could kill the annexation.
Signal: Exactly where is Stonecrest, and how many people live there?
Baida: There are 632 homes in the Stonecrest area; that includes both Upper and Lower Stonecrest. We are at the east end of the valley. I guess the best way to describe it we're at the Soledad Canyon Road off-ramp. If you get off at Soledad and go back under the bridge, you come right into our residences. So if you're driving east on the (14) Freeway, northbound, you will see it on your left-hand side. That is Stonecrest. From Shadow Pines to the end of our residences.
Signal: Why should anybody else in the Santa Clarita Valley care whether Stonecrest is annexed into the city of Santa Clarita?
Fried: It's a pivotal annexation, primarily because the community sits, as the crow flies, one mile from the Cemex mining site.
In order for the city to follow through with its second annexation of 1,850 acres, which includes the mining site, which they own the surface rights to they own 500(-plus) acres adjacent to the mining site, and there some other property owners who are willing to annex, as well. So it's very, very important, in our opinion, that the city be able to leapfrog over the freeway and annex this 1,850 acres.
That gives them a certain amount of control over the mining. It doesn't stop the mining by any means. It doesn't change the parameters of the county's permit, of the surface mining permit. However, it does give the city control over the local roads and various things of that nature. It also gives us a closer local venue to go to for complaints. I'd rather go to the city than go downtown.
Signal: For the benefit of our readers, tell us what your interest is in Cemex.
Fried: I am president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc. We are a California nonprofit public benefit corporation. Our mandate is to watch out for the environmental integrity of the Santa Clarita Valley. We have been opposed to this particular mining project since 1999.
Signal: The city of Santa Clarita owns the Cemex property itself the surface where Cemex wants to mine.
Signal: Even so, the city can't stop Cemex from coming in and digging through the surface to extract the sand and gravel.
Signal: The city-owned property is outside of the city of Santa Clarita.
Signal: And it's not adjacent to the current city border, right?
Signal: The city can't annex its own property if it's not adjacent to current city limits?
Fried: Right. LAFCO doesn't like islands.
Signal: So the only way the city can bring its own property into the city is if it annexes Stonecrest or some other adjacent property.
Fried: Correct. We've got to create a land bridge which is what we are attempting to do here through the Stonecrest annexation, which then takes us over the freeway to additional property that would be annexed, as well.
That's a second annexation, as I said, 1,850 acres which, interestingly enough, Cemex is currently suing the city over. They are currently in litigation over that.
Signal: What's the issue there?
Fried: It is litigation, specifically, over the city's ability to annex this 1,850 acres. Cemex is claiming the city needs to do a environmental impact report, an EIR, in order to appropriately file the paperwork with LAFCO.
Signal: The city has already filed to annex its own Cemex property?
Fried: Yes. They have filed paperwork.
Signal: There is a court-approved agreement among the county of Los Angeles, Cemex and the federal government that allows Cemex to start mining.
Signal: Right now, the county is the local agency that has jurisdiction over where the traffic flows and that sort of thing.
Signal: If the city were to annex its Cemex property, the county would no longer be the local government agency. Would the agreement be nullified?
Fried: No. But it would change somewhat not the agreement, per se; however, the jurisdiction would change. Once the mining site is in the city's jurisdiction, then the city would have the ability to deal with the peripheral issues such as the traffic.
They would be the venue to go to for complaints. Let's say it's a particularly windy day and there was a enormous amount of dust being generated off the mining site. Instead of calling downtown to the Hall of Administration, you'd call Valencia. You'd call City Hall.
Signal: Is the goal to stop Cemex from mining?
Fried: Not at all. We have never wanted to stop Cemex from mining. We have always wanted to keep mining to historical levels. That site has been mined before.
Communities need sand and gravel. I would be a hypocrite to say anything other than that. I live in a house that's got a concrete pad. I have got hardscape all around it. My barn sits on a concrete foundation. We are not looking to stop mining or the flow of aggregate. We need it for the kind of controlled growth that we are looking for.
What we are opposed to is the size and the scope of this project. It is enormous. We are talking about moving 78 million tons of earth to create 56.1 million tons of aggregate over a 20-year period.
Signal: Sand and gravel mining has gone on in Soledad Canyon since the 1930s. Today, in the early 21st century, homes are encroaching on a place where mining wasn't a problem in the å30s, å40s, å50s. Why not just allow the mining and stop building so many homes close to it?
Fried: I think that's a good question. The small amount of mining that has historically taken place up here hasn't produced the levels of dust, of traffic, of potential water pollution problems a myriad of environmental issues that we could take a whole show just to discuss.
The mining up here has been relatively small and insignificant enough to take care of our local needs. Which is the whole point. This is a mega-mine.
I would also suggest to you, from a environmental perspective, that the kinds of things we are looking at now have never been studied before. They are just coming to the forefront. The carcinogenic potential of PM 2.5 (particulate matter in diesel exhaust), for instance. Diesel emissions, which were not a enormous concern in the 1930s or the 1940s; the enormous amount of truck traffic that's going to be generated on both the 14 and the 5 Freeway and down at the interchange, obscuring people from getting to work on time or coming home these are considerations that didn't exist a long time ago.
Baida: I would like to add a little bit. We bought our home in 1998. We knew the mining that was going on there. It was never disclosed to us in our paperwork when we bought the home, that there was this mega-mine on the horizon.
If there was that information and the knowledge that it was soon going to be under the control of Southdown/TMC, now Cemex I'm seeing now, I wish I'd never bought there. We're looking at potential(ly) another Irwindale.
Over a long period of time, they had planned to take that whole mountain down down below the freeway level. That's not the historic level of mining that we bought in, when we came to that area.
I love the area. I love the valley. I want to stay there, and I want my grandchildren, who live across the street from me, to live in a safe environment.
The pollution is not going to hurt my lungs. I am too old for that. I am past that point. But it's the kids in the neighborhood, especially my grandkids.
Signal: You moved into Stonecrest in 1998. The federal government approved permits to mine way back in 1990.
Baida: It should have been disclosed.
Signal: Whose fault is that Cemex's or your Realtor's?
Baida: I think it's the county. And the reason I say that is, the county is the one that governs all the documentation that has to be disclosed on any type of property...
The county knew this was going on well before we moved in there. They did not make the developer Pacific Bay, at that point disclose any information. They didn't even disclose information as late as 2002, from what I understand. It wasn't until Pacific Bay sold out and Upper Stonecrest came into being (that) they started disclosing this.
But nobody had a concept of what a mega-mine is. Today, people don't have any concept of what a mega-mine is. Many residents I talk to look across from it and say, "Oh, that's been there for a long time." I say I am not talking about that. And if people happen to live in sight of that big mountain that they want to take down, they start to get a little bit concerned. But there are many residents in Stonecrest who have bought their homes within the last few years and don't really understand the concept of a mega-mine.
Fried: Let's look at this, if I might, from another perspective. We are in possession of a brochure that dates back to 1994 that was published by Southdown Inc., which had this project and then sold their whole company to Cemex.
What their brochure indicates is really very disturbing. It's a line graph with some text, and it shows the outline of the mountain. It basically indicates that within the first 20-year mining cycle, they will take down 20 percent of the mountain.
In the text, it indicates that the mining company believes that they will be able to renew their permit for another 20-year mining cycle. So in the second cycle, they'll take down another 20 percent of the mountain.
What we're really looking at here is five 20-year cycles of mining, which adds up to 100 years.
Signal: Until there's no more mountain.
Fried: Precisely. As Bob said, they intend to take this mountain down to ground level, which is below the freeway.
Once you have gotten to the ground, then we look at the potential and we're not going to be here, but our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, our great-great-grandchildren look at the possibility of pit mining there.
It is certainly a large enough area. They've done it in Irwindale. They actually dug so deep in Irwindale that they have gotten into the groundwater.
So this is not a small project in terms of its size and its scope, and it's an enormous project in terms of time.
Signal: Bob, what's your big reason for wanting Stonecrest to become part of the city of Santa Clarita?
Baida: I'll tell you, when I met Andy some 6-1/2 years ago and some other people associated with the effort out in Agua Dulce, I began to get a good relationship with him, and I looked at one thing. My main reason I started this whole thing is I got to know more people within the city, and I found out one thing: The people in the city have the same interests at heart than I do. They have the same local concerns.
But when I look at the county, it's downtown Los Angeles, 50-some miles from (Stonecrest). The big problem with that is, in the city I can vote for all five of my council people. In the county, there is only one person I can vote for, (Supervisor Michael D.) Antonovich. The other four (supervisors) control the vote not him.
The reason the mine is here today is because, as one representative, he could not stop it. It was voted in as a result of that. The city, on the other hand, has been putting money into this. They have been fighting.
So I look at it as, I want to be part of something, and I want to be able to go to my local representatives and say, "Hey, I've got a problem." And I know I can go to the city at 6 o'clock on Tuesday night. If I were working, that would be a problem; with me it's not but I can't go to downtown L.A. at 9:30 in the morning, and neither can any of the other residents.
Besides, you're one of 10 million people. In the city, you're one of 176,000 people. Still a big number, but a lot smaller and a much tighter community that has the same interest at heart.
The reason Andy is here, the reason I have talked to people in Newhall and in Saugus and in Valencia it's our valley. One valley. The city what is it? One Valley, One Vision. How true that really is. They care. And that's what I want. I want local representation.
Signal: (To Baida) You've both made a reference to "when you started this" six years ago. What was it that you started?
Baida: I guess I am the instigator, the chief troublemaker...
What really happened was, I got to know the people (involved), and it just appalls me to see that type of operation going on.
Signal: So are you the person who came to the city
Baida: So what happened was, after going through that process, I said, "Gee, how do you get to become part of the city?" Well, I went down to the city and talked to the folks in the Planning Department. In fact, what happened is, I found out the city can't come to me. The city cannot come out and ask (us) to be annexed. So ... being retired, I had time on my hands, nothing else to do in my life, and I started this.
I, at that point, walked the entire community. I guess when I got through with that and it only took me about 2-1/2 months but the overwhelming majority of the people, like Andy said, 80-85 percent of the people, I don't remember the exact number, were all in favor.
It turns out, there were only 5 percent that weren't in favor. But there were 10 percent we couldn't contact. So it was a huge, huge majority.
Signal: So you gathered petitions
Baida: I gathered the petitions, and we took the petitions to the city in January to the then-mayor at the time, (who) was Laurene Weste, and gave it to the council and asked to be annexed.
Signal: Eighty-five percent of the people in Stonecrest said they wanted to become part of the city of Santa Clarita?
Baida: They signed it. I didn't cover anything up (with a clipboard). They saw exactly what it was. They all signed the petition.
Signal: Eighty-five percent approval on a pro-annexation petition can't make annexation happen, but 51 percent on Mr. Huerta's opposition form can stop it?
Baida: That's correct.
Fried: That was Lower Stonecrest, right, Bob?
Baida: I was just going to make that point. That was Lower Stonecrest. It's 450 homes, round numbers, the folks who (signed) that.
Fried: Upper Stonecrest didn't exist.
Baida: Upper Stonecrest didn't exist. What happened then, as the process got delayed, and that's another two-hour show
Signal: We've got about two minutes.
Baida: In 2002-03, Upper Stonecrest came into being, and at that point in time, some of the residents there, the early residents, asked to be a part of that annexation. That's what really brought them in.
They never really, truly had a vote, but there were enough people who had come to a community meeting to say that they had wanted to be included.
Signal: So it's a lot easier to stop it than it was to start it?
Baida: Oh, absolutely.
Signal: What about money? Some of the Mr. Huerta's materials mention a current county cap of $700 on landscape maintenance district fees, implying if Stonecrest is annexed to the city, LMD fees will spiral out of control.
Baida: Everything he is saying there is true. But that's only half the truth. And that makes it not really the whole truth.
The landscape maintenance district (fee) is going to go up whether we stay in the county or go in the city. Recently an e-mail came out of the county to the city, saying they are going to increase our fees from $500 this year to $700 next year. I have got a copy of the county records on the landscape maintenance district, and I went through the calculations, and lo and behold, in 2007-08, they're going to have to come to us to ask for more money because the reserves they have been operating off of, will have been depleted. In fact, if they go into 2008-09, there will be a deficit of $194,000.
Signal: So whether Stonecrest is in the city or the county, this fee is going to go up?
Baida: That's correct.
Signal: What about other costs? Mr. Huerta mentions streetlight districts, storm water fees, things like that.
Baida: The whole thing, dollar-wise, is really a wash. If you take the additions of the streetlight maintenance and you take additions in the storm water, and even if you take the addition of the increase in the cost of the landscape maintenance district just taking those, they are all offset. They are offset by the approximate savings of $200 a year in the 5-percent utility tax. That's an average. Maybe it ranges from I have heard some people (say) $100, (and) I know the neighbor across the street is close to $400 in taxes he pays a year. Big family. They use a lot of water. They have a swimming pool.
So if you really look at it, although (Huerta) is throwing the faÁade up there, it is not the issue. The real issue is local government versus the county government, and it's that control over the mine. (Those are) the two main factors, in my estimation.
Signal: Mr. Huerta's materials say that regardless of whether Stonecrest annexes to the city, the city can't stop Cemex; it's a lost cause. What do you say to that?
Fried: First of all, I say that it's not a lost cause. The city still has options, both legally and politically, that they are pursuing.
We've been at this since 1999, and nobody has shoveled a spade of dirt over there. And I don't anticipate they are going to, within the immediate future.
Should mining be initiated there by Cemex, if the jurisdiction changes, then the city will have the ability to deal, as I said, with the peripheral issues. And 20 years from now we've got to look at the future with master projects of this nature 20 years from now, when this thing comes up for renewal, should the jurisdiction change and the mine is in the city, then the city becomes the lead agency, not the county.
Signal: (To Baida) Is someone in Stonecrest is thinking, "I'd like a chance to vote on whether to annex," what do you want Stonecrest residents to do when people knock on their door?
Baida: What I'd like them to do is to understand that by signing that petition to oppose, (it) is a vote against annexation.
Signal: And it stops.
Baida: And it stops. Well, it doesn't definitely, but if (Huerta) gets enough votes and I am sure he working day and night, trying to do that but if he gets enough votes, it will stop it. So I encourage residents to do the following:
If they haven't signed the petition, don't sign it if you're in favor of annexation.
If you don't want annexation for whatever reason you may have and some people have legitimate reasons then sign the petition. Sign it. Be against it.
But I am asking the people who are for annexation: Don't be duped into the thought that (it) is for a vote, because that is not for a vote.
Now, for those residents who have unfortunately already signed the petition, we have withdrawal letters that we will forward to the county. We will date them (as) of the date we get them, and we will send them in to the county on (that) day.
Signal: Where do people find those? How do people get more information?
Baida: For more information, they can contact me (through) a handout that is being presented out there. They can also do that with our (Web site), which is AnnexStonecrest.com.
There's also a e-mail address they can contact me personally on, that I will answer. I will be more than happy to go to their home, whatever is needed. And I have got one other person who is helping me, and that one other person would be happy to chime in, too.
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.