"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 Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. The following interview was taped Sept. 11, just prior to the state Legislature's failure to pass a Senate bill that would have allocated $900,000 for the operation of Castaic Lake.
Questions are paraphrased and some answers are abbreviated for length.
Signal: It has been a challenging year for the county. Castaic Lake was going to close, but now it looks like a long-term solution is on the horizon?
Antonovich: Working with Assemblyman Tony Strickland and the other members of the Legislature, we're very hopeful that the legislation that identified the funding for that operation would be signed into law. The county has come forward, putting in funds from my office and from the county general fund, to supplement those dollars, and we're going to have a task force which is now meeting.
Signal: Who's on the task force, and what is its responsibility?
Antonovich: Members from the (Castaic Area) Town Council, from the (Castaic) Chamber of Commerce, from the Friends of Castaic Lake, the community people involved, also from the Department of Parks and Recreation. And we have had ... suggestions coming across our desk that there are private concerns that have been able to operate recreational facilities and expand opportunities for the community. So we're going to explore all of the options and have the community working together and come up with a viable plan that will help provide the revenues necessary to operate a quality recreational area.
Signal: Apparently that will include increasing entry and boating fees.
Antonovich: That will be part of the equation, and it be comparable to other areas. We want to ensure that the facility is able to raise the necessary funds to be self-supporting.
Signal: You've allocated some contingency funds to keep Castaic Lake open in the meantime. Where did that money come from?
Antonovich: Each supervisor has a source of funds that they can use to supplement some programs, and (Castaic) was a vital concern. A lot of our dollars go to support the arts (and) putting in programs. ... Working with organizations (such as) the Boy Scouts provides opportunities for young people to be responsible, learn values, and (become) decision makers so they say no to drugs, no to gangs, and yes to education and yes to responsibility.
Signal: So there's a certain amount each supervisor can spend each year and it doesn't have to go to the full board for approval?
Antonovich: That's right. Although anything over $100,000 has to be approved by the board.
Signal: Why has the county been in such dire financial straits this year?
Antonovich: The county is in a very bad situation for a number of reasons. One, the state of California has taken from our cities and counties our property tax revenues to balance their budget and it's no balanced budget, as you know; it's one to support their deficit spending so we have been hammered by not having the ability to provide the property-related services and other vital needs because of that.
Secondly, on your sales tax, local government only receives 1 penny out of that 8 1/4 percent tax. Sacramento takes the rest of those dollars and they spend it for their programs.
I would like to see a realignment of the property tax (and) the sales tax, so that there's a fixed percentage of those dollars that remain with cities and counties for public safety, for libraries and other vital services. Right now, we have a catastrophic economic impact in every community in this state because of the state's $38 billion deficit. ...
I would also like to see a part-time state Legislature. They would then have the ability to do what is necessary and local government would be able to have the opportunities to do what they are elected to do.
Signal: A part-time Legislature, realigning tax revenues what kind of reception are you getting in Sacramento?
Antonovich: Well, Elizabeth Hill, the legislative analyst, put out a proposal a few years ago on this type of a realignment, and it had a lot of good support from a number of organizations ... but the Legislature ended up not passing it. But now that you have a crisis and the Chinese character for "crisis" means "opportunity" we now have the opportunity in October to start anew and review how we operate...
One, we have a deficit. Two, we have more people leaving the state than coming into the state. Three, we have an exodus of jobs going to Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, ... Texas, and a number of other locations. And four, we have a workers compensation problem that's driving jobs out of our state. So there are a number of areas where we can ... reform the process, and it's time now for Republicans and Democrats to focus on these issues so that we have a state that provides quality education, provides opportunities for job growth, and provides an economic environment where we encourage more investment and more opportunity for our citizens. ...
The state Legislature ought to be focused on state issues that's their responsibility and not be involved in trying to run cities and counties and school districts. You elect school board members, city council members, supervisors, to be involved in this process. But when the state interferes, what they're doing is using our money to support their programs, which are really our programs, that are costly for them to operate but cost-effective for the counties to operate.
Signal: If the state pulled back, would things fall through the cracks? Or would it be a good thing if there weren't so much regulation?
Antonovich: There ought to be regulation to protect life, safety, and the environment. But when you have overregulation that drives businesses out of our state, then those reviews have to take place and those regulations have to be modified.
We ought to be competitive to attract jobs, but we can't do that if we overregulate. So we're not talking about underregulation, we're talking about the problem of overregulation.
Signal: For instance?
Antonovich: For instance in worker's compensation. Our county's workers compensation bills have basically doubled. ...
The head at Countrywide (Financial), this is a group that employs 30,000 people in our state. They're looking at having 100,000 employed. But because of regulations, they're now building a facility at Scottsdale, Ariz., and they're looking at Fort Worth, Texas, to expand, because of our regulations. It makes it difficult for them to operate here at a profit when they can go across the line and still do business here, but because of the jobs incentives in Arizona, they're going to be locating there.
Wells Fargo moved their mortgage unit to Iowa. Now Wells Fargo is a California bank. They're moving to another state. ... Thirteen hundred jobs are being lost. Disney, in July-August, they eliminated 100 jobs in their retail outlet in the Glendale Galleria. And this included not just sales clerks but management as well. Over 100 jobs that were lost. And it continues. ...
It is the uncontrollable cost in worker's compensation that is driving these businesses out. If we could adopt rules and regulations that they have in Arizona, we could attract and retain these jobs.
Signal: We've had success in attracting corporate headquarters to Santa Clarita. But do you foresee that counties and cities will have to dole out more incentives to keep businesses here?
Antonovich: Yes. And as a result we're probably losing one of the expansions of Boeing, because of our costly regulatory problems that the state has given us, and maybe they'll be going to Washington (state). (There was) a big proposal that Boeing was competing for in the Antelope Valley, and now it looks like it may be going to another state because of these costly regulations.
Signal: Switching gears, Sheriff's Deputy David March, from Saugus, was gunned down in Irwindale in April 2002. Apparently his suspected killer, Armando "Chato" Garcia, fled to Mexico. Now there's a problem getting Garcia back.
Antonovich: Garcia was an illegal alien who had been deported previously for attempted murder and other serious felonies. He had been arrested, he served some time and was deported and came back and once again committed serious felonies and was deported and came back and once again he was deported and he came back and this time he killed Deputy March, one of our fine deputies who comes from this area. Now he's hiding in Mexico because the Mexican government will not extradite him to the United States to stand trial for a capital crime.
There have been some negotiations. I have personally gone to Washington, D.C. I've spoken to the officials at the U.S. State Department, I've spoken to the (Bush) administration and members of Congress. And this was on the agenda when Secretary of State (Colin) Powell was talking to the Mexican secretary of state back in April when I was in Washington. So it's on their agenda but it has not been implemented because the Mexican government right now is refusing to honor this. We need to apply pressure to Mexico. It's a serious problem we have here illegal (immigration) is a serious problem.
Just for our justice system it's over $150 million a year. Twenty-five percent of our inmates are illegal, and we have a situation with 1 or 2 million in Los Angeles County. And those costs, be it for the jails, the crimes that they're committing, taking innocent life, taking the lives of people like Deputy March and others, has to end. There's got to be some accountability by Mexico, and there has to be accountability by stopping the continued flow of illegal immigration. We need legal immigration, but not illegal immigration.
Signal: Do you feel the INS did not do its job with Garcia?
Antonovich: They did not do their job. Because this individual should have been sent to, I believe, a 10-year mandatory prison sentence, when they commit a felony and are deported and they come back and commit additional felonies. And we are working to get additional (federal) attorneys assigned to our area. In the previous administration the U.S. Attorney did not have the resources, nor did they have this as a priority, to prosecute convicted illegal alien felons.
In San Diego they were convicting and sentencing many more than in Los Angeles County, and yet we had more here than they had in San Diego.
Signal: What can the county do about illegal alien criminals?
Antonovich: A program that I helped initiate, Hi-Caap (High Intensity Criminal Apprehension Program), ... is now in operation. (It) allows the officers in the field to know, when they stop a suspect, their criminal record, so they have the ability to interface with the state and local and federal database to find out if these individuals are illegal and their status. ...
Signal: Another issue involving Mexico is Cemex. The Mexican cement company wants to mine 78 million tons of sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon over the next 20 years. You oppose that project.
Antonovich: I opposed it for environmental reasons the negative impacts it was going to have on our community. And as a result TMC (Cemex subsidiary Transit Mixed Concrete Co.) sued the county of Los Angeles and we are now in court.
We have a gag order; we can't discuss what's being discussed in that court, but there's going to be some action that the courts will take. I don't know exactly what that final determination will be.
... The (South Coast) Air Quality Management District (held) a hearing in the Santa Clarita Valley (and) about 150 people (came) out, and the issue of TMC came up relative to the impact to the area. The AQMD talked about how these ... assaults to the environment could be monitored and mitigated. ...
Signal: Rep. "Buck" McKeon has talked about introducing legislation to limit mining in Soledad Canyon to lower, "historic" levels. Mining has gone on there since the 1930s, but Cemex would be a lot more. There has been talk that the Cemex-county lawsuit is headed for a settlement. What are you willing to accept?
Antonovich: Well. We can't talk about it because there's a gag order by the courts right now. But let me just say that the problem in the Santa Clarita Valley has not been against mining. The problem is an issue of environmental ... concerns and environmental needs that we have, and so it's the size and scope that was impacting the environment at a negative rate, creating more pollution, etc., that was the problem.
So the problem wasn't a small operation, it was the size and scope of a larger operation, and the Board of Supervisors took action and we have a unanimous vote rejecting the proposal for environmental reasons.
And then TMC said the county deliberately put roadblocks in their way, and they have a right and they're saying because they have a right, they're going to go in and build whatever they want to build regardless of environmental (concerns). And the law is very specific there. So they took us to court. Now they're in mediation, and they've had mediation meeting after mediation meeting and it's still in mediation.
Signal: As you mention, smog has been a problem this year. We live in the only "extreme non-attainment area" in the nation, meaning we haven't met particular federal standards. Now we're in another major growth mode. Is it inevitable that our air quality is going to worsen as we grow?
Antonovich: If you can mitigate congestion, expand public transportation and do like we did during the Olympics we had alternate work schedules, we were able to take trucks off the roads during peak driving times, we were able to move people with no congestion. We ought to go back and look at those examples.
What I've done in the past 10 years, we've been in the process of synchronizing 66 of our cities' signals in the county of Los Angeles. We've made great progress there. At the county level our Public Works Department is on a 4/40 work week. We've encouraged other private businesses to do the same. It's going to take state legislation to remove trucks during peak driving hours to help alleviate some of the congestion. ...
(State Route) 14 should be built out. The 14 ought to be built out rapidly.
Signal: To what?
Antonovich: To what it was intended to be a six- to eight-lane highway. ... We had a situation in the past where in Sacramento, Gov. (Jerry) Brown and I was in the Legislature at the time basically shut down our highway program. So what you have is a system that's built for traffic flow, being impaired by all of these gaps which have created serious problems ... and as a result we're trying to play catch-up.
There's another proposition that Assemblyman Richman has on the ballot in October, Proposition 53, that would dedicate a fixed percentage of dollars (to go) directly into transportation and roads ... and the state can't hijack it like they're doing right now with our transit dollars for other projects...
Signal: Here in Santa Clarita, Interstate 5 is being improved now, and SR 126 will continue to expand in preparation for Newhall Ranch 21,000 homes west of the freeway. What are your thoughts on Newhall Ranch?
Antonovich: Well the Newhall Ranch, were talking about a 20-year-plus build-out. So you're looking at about 2025 in that area. Part of that project included half of it being open space, a recreational area, a park that's larger or just about the size of Griffith Park in Los Angeles County, so it's going to be a major recreational site as well as providing affordable housing, and housing for our region. We have in that project the fire stations the libraries and the infrastructure it needs, and there are stringent provisions (for) protecting the river and the environment.
Signal: Is there going to be enough water for it?
Antonovich: First of all, there can be no building of any home until there is water. ... They have to prove that there is water before they can even pull a building permit. So they were not granted the permit to begin building tomorrow. This is a 20, 25-year build-out, but they have to prove that they have the water in place before they can build, or before any lender is going to give them a loan for that project. Because the lenders are very, very conservative when it comes to whom they would lend money to.
Signal: The city of Santa Clarita just got its first annexation west of I-5. Looking at Stevenson Ranch, Westridge, Newhall Ranch, do you see a separate city west of the freeway? Or do you see those areas coming into the city of Santa Clarita?
Antonovich: That issue is going to be determined by the people who reside in those areas.
Signal: Do you have a preference?
Antonovich: No, my preference is to allow the people to make their own decision. I mean, that's part of local government. Local government is to allow the communities to make those determinations for themselves, from the bottom up, not from the top down.
(In the) Pasadena area, Altadena is a community of about 60,000-plus. They're unincorporated. They don't want to be annexed to Pasadena; they don't want to be an incorporated city. They like it the way it is. And you have other areas that want to become a city. And so, it's a decision left to the people and not to those who are in higher office.
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.