"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 former Santa Clarita Mayor Carl Boyer, who now serves as vice president of the SCV International Program and president of the California chapter of Healing the Children. Questions are paraphrased and some answers are abbreviated for length.
Signal: Tell us about the SCV International Program.
Boyer: It's something that I had started working on when I was on the City Council because I felt that Santa Clarita ought to have an international outlook for several reasons. One is that I think that we owe something to the rest of the world; that we can benefit economically from contacts with the rest of the world; and simply being aware and having an understanding of what's going on in the world is going to make it a lot easier on the people here.
Signal: What is Santa Clarita's place in the world?
Boyer: Our place in the world, quite frankly, as (former City Manager) George Caravalho used to say, is one of the premier cities of the 21st Century. It's one of those situations where, if we stop and take stock of what's going on, we find that we're extremely fortunate to live in Santa Clarita.
Signal: What does our city have to offer outside of our back yard?
Boyer: We have international trade; we have, I think, an element of caring and concern; we have technical skills. For example, we have been involved with Indonesia recently in terms of working with them about how to plan for the future.
Signal: City staff members have traveled to Indonesia to help them with planning issues. What's going on there?
Boyer: The city is working with the Agency for International Development, which is a United States agency, in an effort to help to improve the lives of people in Indonesia through planning for the future. What specifically they're doing in Bandung is to help to create a lot of jobs that otherwise would not exist if it were just left to random growth.
Signal: What do our people know about planning that officials in Indonesia don't know?
Boyer: Virtually everything. There is very, very little that they know except in the absolute abstract.
Some of the people we met were very well educated, had master's degrees from schools in the Netherlands, which is the primary place that Indonesians still look to for an education if they really want to go into an advanced education. The schools in the Netherlands very conveniently, for us teach in English rather than Dutch. Because after all, English is the business language of the world. And this is true in Belgium and a number of other countries, where the graduate programs are conducted in English. So they have a real abstract idea of how to plan, but they don't have any hands-on ideas.
What we have tried to discuss with them in terms of sending different city staff members over and one time I went over as a retired mayor because they couldn't find anybody at the political level who was willing to go at the time that I went we just try to give them real hands-on ideas of how things are going to happen.
Signal: Do you tell them how to fund roads? That's something we have trouble with...
Boyer: Interestingly enough, yes, we did talk about funding roads. But we talked about cheaper methods of transportation than roads. For example, I really think that what they need to do, at least to some extent, is to build a light rail line.
Signal: What don't they know about it?
Boyer: They had not considered the idea of a light rail line. So we were able to discuss that at some length.
Signal: Housing is a big problem in the whole southeast Asian region; what advice do you have for them about homelessness?
Boyer: That is a very difficult problem, and basically what we try to do is to point out where housing would go in terms of transportation, in terms of other kinds of infrastructure, the water lines, the telephone lines ... and hope that the people will be willing to move into new housing.
In reality, a very great many Indonesians grow up in a certain neighborhood, and those who make it, so to speak, financially, simply add on to their house; they modernize their house, maybe they add a story or two to their house, but they'll stay right in that neighborhood with all of their childhood friends and acquaintances.
Signal: And you would have seen a caste system there
Boyer: Yes. I didn't see it too much, simply because we were working very intensely, and we put in extremely long hours, and by the time we were done for the day and went back to the hotel it was lights-out. It was just too much to really go out and have much of a look around the country. And that has been very true on a lot of the international experiences I've had that have really had a purpose.
Signal: What are you trying to accomplish with Tena, Ecuador, as a sister city?
Boyer: Tena, Ecuador, is a small city. It's the capital of Napo province, which is the Texas of Ecuador. It takes in a huge swath of the Amazon jungle, and Napo is itself a very rapidly growing city of probably 12,000 or 13,000, maybe 18,000 by now.
One of the impetuses of the growth, I think, is the oil that's being developed in eastern Ecuador, but at the same time a lot of it is a very poor city. Tena was suggested as a sister city by (City Manager) Ken Pulskamp, who was trekking through the jungle when he thought, this is a city that could benefit a great deal from a relationship with Santa Clarita. And at that time, the International Program had been mulling over the idea, how do we get Santa Clarita to accept the idea that there ought to be a sister city? And when Ken came to me with the idea, I just bid for it. And I think its' a great choice. But it is basically a choice where we know that a few people from Santa Clarita who really want to do something in a positive way can go down there and do some real good, can have an impact.
Signal: What are the mechanics of sister cityhood? Do we promote their products here?
Boyer: Their products aren't really much more than coffee and cacao and a few other things of that sort, which we're not really in a great position to promote. I have taken Tena coffee around to a few coffee shops. I haven't gotten any of them to bite yet, but I'd love to be able to go into a coffee shop and order Tena coffee. It's very good coffee...
Actually, in this case, I think probably what we need to do is to get three or four trips under our belt to Tena, and see what we can do in terms of meeting some of the local needs, and then perhaps we will be able to recruit some of their students to come up and attend College of the Canyons, for example get a better idea of what things are like here in Santa Clarita.
Signal: When people think "sister city," there's an idea of economic deals, cross-promotion, tax breaks but you're saying it's not there yet.
Boyer: No. It's not there yet, and I don't think it's going to be with Tena for some period of time.
With Sariaya (Santa Clarita's newest sister city in the Philippines), it's more of a cultural exchange than anything else. We have a considerable number of people in our community who are from Sariaya, and they are the ones who suggested Sariaya as a sister city. We were interested, I think, primarily, because we felt that they would support it and make it grow over a period of years.
Presently we're being asked to consider a sister city relationship with a city in China. And that would be, I think, probably much more an economic relationship than anything else.
Signal: Who's asking you to do that?
Boyer: Both (former COC Trustee) John Hoskinson and (current COC Trustee) Bruce Fortine have come to the International Program board and asked if we would consider a relationship in China. And basically our answer was, yes; we need some more information.
Signal: Who runs the International Program, and what is its mission?
Boyer: The International Program is, frankly, a small group of people who got together in 1991 to organize some scholarships for some Russian students to come to college here, at the time that the Soviet Union was breaking up. It was kept active with the idea that one of these days, we would have a sister city program.
It consists of Dena Maloney (COC's dean of economic development); Ken Pulskamp and Elena Galvez from the city staff; some other people who are involved from College of the Canyons; Amparo Cevallos, who is involved in one of the local churches (and) the Latino population. Fred and Cesar from the Fil-Am Association are very actively involved, and we have actually asked them to join the board to represent the Filipino-American population because of the relationship that they requested with Sariaya.
Signal: At one point a different city in the Philippines, Marikina City, was under consideration as a sister city. What happened?
Boyer: It turned out to be not a good fit for the local population. The mayor of that city was here; the consul general of the Philippines called me and I said, sure, let's have lunch together. So I took it to the (Santa Clarita City) Council. The council was interested; their (Marikina's) council was interested; but the local Filipino-American population asked that Sariaya become the sister city instead.
Signal: You've been to Sariaya. What can you tell us about it?
Boyer: Sariaya is a much bigger town (than Tena, Ecuador). It's probably somewhat over 100,000 (population). It's a municipality. It's not a city. In the Philippines a city is self-funding, and Sariaya does not have an economy strong enough to be completely self-funding. They get some assistance from the national government, so as a result they're a municipality. Really not much of a difference.
It has a very compact downtown area, maybe a square kilometer, so that's maybe five-eighths of a mile by five-eighths of a mile. It's square and compact, surrounded by a couple of dozen what they call barrios and I always think of a barrio as being a neighborhood, but actually it's kind of a farming district where they grow various tropical products. They have some coconut processing mills and a few things like that.
It's quite a fascinating place to live in, or at least to visit. I was only there for four days, but I found that the town itself was full of life, that people are very busy trying to do well for themselves, and yet a great many of them were asking us, "Do you know any way we could emigrate to America?" The economy is not terribly strong, but on the other hand, if you're retired and you're wanting to go some place where the climate is warm and you can buy a beautiful house for $50,000, it's a good place to go.
Signal: How can a relationship with Sariaya help us, and how can we help them?
Boyer: I think that ... right now, the helpfulness is in terms of helping our local Filipino-American Association to be involved, and the Sariaya Association of Southern California, to become involved more in our own municipal life, and feel that they really have a part of being here aside from the fact that most of them are citizens and have been involved in the community for quite some period of time. But also, in the long run, I think that quite possibly there will be some economic relationships that come as a result.
Signal: Why do you need athletic equipment?
Boyer: The mayor of Sariaya, Mayor (Virgilio L.) Villapando, wrote us a letter very recently, asking if we could provide them with some baseball equipment and some tennis equipment and some basketballs. So we put out the word in the hopes that perhaps some of the folks in town will get the idea that some of their used equipment could be donated to the International Program to be taken over there by the medical mission that the Sariaya Association of Southern California is sending over there in January.
Signal: So if people want to donate
Boyer: Basketballs or even soccer balls or something outside the realm of baseball, basketball or tennis equipment, they could call Elena Galvez at the city, 259-CITY ... and she can tell them where the equipment can be dropped off or make arrangements...
Signal: Let's move on to other countries. You are president this year of the California chapter of Healing the Children. What is HTC?
Boyer: Healing the Children was organized in 1979 because Chris Embleton got a call at a time when she was feeling devastated by the loss of an adopted daughter who would have survived if she had gotten $5 worth of medicine before she was adopted in Korea.
Chris got a call from a lady who was from Guatemala, asking for help to provide open-heart surgery for a child down there who needed it. At that time, there really wasn't any organization that was doing that sort of work. Chris Embleton really didn't know what to do, but through trial and error, we've learned a lot, and over the years, Healing the Children has become an organization with chapters in many states throughout the United States.
Signal: And Chris Embleton, incidentally, is a Valencia resident.
Boyer: She is. She moved down here from Spokane, Wash., over 10 years ago. And we've done medical missions to somewhere around 90 countries so far.
Signal: You've taken in kids who have needed medical attention.
Boyer: Yes. My wife, Chris, and I have taken in a number of children from Guatemala, from Columbia, Russia, Mexico, who have gone through whether it be open-heart surgery or amputation and fitting with a prosthesis, or a cleft palate, or whatever the case may be have been with us for various lengths of time. That has been, in my way of thinking, an absolutely tremendous contribution that my wife has made to the lives of six kids.
Signal: HTC made big news last year when the conjoined twins from Guatemala were brought here for separation at the UCLA Medical Center. What has happened with them since they were separated in August 2002?
Boyer: I see Teresita occasionally because she is being cared for locally at the present time, but I can't tell you all the medical details. I know that Teresita is not responding as well as we'd like. She requires a lot of care. We have had some donors who have been extremely generous and have seen to it that whatever is needed, she gets.
Signal: Didn't they go home to Guatemala?
Boyer: They did go home, but they have been returned to the United States.
Signal: How does HTC work? You collect money and in-kind contributions from doctors?
Boyer: We collect an awful lot more in-kind contributions than we do money. We don't have any paid staff, we don't pay any rent, and our telephone bills are not as big now as they used to be because we use the Internet a lot more than we used to be able to, now that even in third-world countries, the Internet is much more readily usable.
But we do have a lot of expenses for airfares, for example, to send medical teams to another country. A (few weeks ago) we sent a medical team to Nicaragua. Four people did 21 eye surgeries I think significantly improved the lives of 21 people and it cost $3,064 for everything. Because a lot of the equipment and the people donated their own time.
We're looking, probably, if the service had been paid for, full price, in the United States, a quarter of a million dollars. So we get tremendous bang for our buck. But fund-raising is awfully, awfully hard.
Signal: HTC basically is a network of people who match up
Boyer: We put together donated services. Frequently we'll have airline tickets or frequent-flier miles or something like that donated; we'll get medical equipment donated; we have people out looking for little toys that we can give away. You can only do so much surgery in a day, and yet, when that day is done, you feel like you want to go out and do something else. So you go out to a little village and you give away toys and you give away patent medicines to the parents and explain to them how to use the cough liquid or the Tylenol or whatever it is that you have to give away.
Signal: What kind of issues are you dealing with now? Who are you trying to help?
Boyer: The need is it's overwhelming. ... Sometimes we just kind of follow the path that works. Some months ago I happened to come back from Nicaragua and I made a few acquaintances down there that led me to become kind of the focal point for the members of the board who said, "You know some people in Nicaragua; why don't we do a medical mission down there?" That's how that came about.
We have, for example, some heart surgeons who do open-heart surgery, and they're always looking for a place to go. And they raise the money. That mission is probably a $35,000 mission, maybe more. They go out and they raise the money so that they can go. The reason that they have to raise the money, quite frankly, is, a lot of the nurses are willing to take time off without pay to do a medical mission, but they can't afford to buy a ticket to Ecuador, for example, on top of that. So it does cost a lot of money.
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.