Letter to Councilman Kellar

Letter to the Editor published in The Signal 2/25/2014

In response to Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar’s Feb. 23 column published in The Signal: Removing the billboards within the city boundaries is a worthy priority for our city and a certainly a complicated endeavor.

There is no doubt that the city has “a great opportunity right now to take a giant step forward in continuing to beautify our community,” and I am aware this is an opportunity 25 years in the making.

However, moving the “blight” from one area of the city or another doesn’t seem like the best approach. Specifically, the sign just north of Sand Canyon Road on Highway 14 will be visible from many homes along Soledad Canyon Road, including my own.

The sign will be about 400 feet from the nearest home and less than 700 feet from mine.

If electronic billboards are an acceptable medium to construct, why aren’t they being built in the current areas where the billboards are being removed? It seems like a reasonable solution to remove 62 structures and then build three as replacements and not move the blight to other locations within the city.

This would allow business in the area to utilize them and lessen the impact of removing them altogether.

Lastly, if the council chooses to approve the proposal, I would like to suggest most or all the funds be earmarked for specific worthy programs and not be dumped into the General Fund.

For example, transportation services and taxi subsidies for our senior citizens, a senior center on the east side of town, traffic control around schools (including more crossing guards), or even small business loans or grants.

Thank you for your time and for your service to the community.

Source: http://www.signalscv.com/section/35/article/115126/

Becoming a NIMBY

Published 1-29-14 The Signal 

No one likes a NIMBY. I, like most, have found them selfish, self-centered, narrow-minded and stubborn.

However, due to a plan proposed by Metro to build electronic billboards on our local freeways, I’ve recently joined the NIMBY ranks, embracing the label and waving my NIMBY flag high.

The plan, pending City Council approval, is to “eliminate 118 billboards on 62 structures within the center of the city in exchange for allowing three freeway adjacent digital billboards along I-5 and SR 14 on city-owned property,” according to http://billboards.santa-clarita.com.

The three new billboards would be located as follows: Highway 14 1,000 feet southeast of Oak Springs Canyon; Highway 14 about a 1/4 mile south of Eternal Valley Memorial Park; the east side of I-5 north of Magic Mountain Parkway.

Each billboard would be double-the sign faces would be 14 feet tall by 48 feet wide, and the pole height would vary between 54 feet and 64 feet tall.

My conversion to NIMBYism occurred because, although not literally in my backyard, one of these garish billboards will be close enough.

The sign slated for Oak Spring will be located less than 400 feet from our housing tract and about 600 feet from my home — most likely viewable from our bedrooms and patio.

Yes, please forgive me, but I don’t want that “in my backyard.”

Granted, seeing a billboard, static or electronic, from my home isn’t the end of the world; I will get over it and hopefully so will our property values.

My concern is the precedent it will set for that stretch of land and other parcels within the city.

I’ve become a “NIMBY crat” because the proposed location off Oak Spring is currently zoned as open space and will require a zoning change to business park.”

According to a city of Santa Clarita staff report for the project, other than the Canyon Gardens housing located 400 feet to the north, there are no other structures within 1,000 feet.

It’s clear that a 54-foot-high sign does not belong in open space.

Similar to giving a mouse a cookie, if you allow one electronic billboard, or three as proposed, there is little to stop the powersthatfrom building as many as possible along our freeways.

Fortunately, before approving the plan, the Santa Clarita Planning Commission had the forethought to limit electronic billboards to every 2,500 feet.

However that still leaves the option open for many others. Does Santa Clarita really want to be known as the city with electronic billboards? Doesn’t sound too inviting for prospective homebuyers.

Besides the electronic billboards ruining my view, removing the signs in the city could have a dramatic effect on local businesses, many of whom use the signs along the Soledad Canyon and Railroad Avenue corridors for advertising and directional information.

Billboards provide a cost-effective, direct means of advertising that would be eliminated without alternatives under this plan.

Will the three proposed signs be affordable and of value for many of those who currently utilize the medium? How valuable will directions to The Computer Chip, New Life Assembly of God Church or Private Mini Storage be for cars going 65 mph southbound on Highway 14 or northbound on Interstate 5?

One business most likely to feel the greatest impact is Edwards Outdoor Advertising. An SCV-based, family-owned company for 50 years, Edwards owns 20-plus signs slated for removal, which will cause a significant loss of revenue, endangering the future of the business.

Certainly without question, removing 62 billboard structures throughout the city would improve the esthetics of our community, and beatification is a worthy goal. However, there are other possible solutions.

An obvious and reasonable alternative is to remove some of the signs, perhaps those over a certain size, and replace them with low-profile electronic billboards within the same general locations.

This compromise would provide beautification, allow local businesses to use the new signs and lessen the economic impact.

Most importantly, signs would not be moved to other areas of the city where signs currently don’t exist.

Of course, if electronic billboards were proposed along Newhall Avenue, Railroad Avenue and Soledad Canyon Road, most likely an entire new batch of “NIMBYcrats” and “NIMBYicans” would emerge to fight the same battle.

Since the 50-foot-tall signs wouldn’t be in my backyard, my opposition would be limited. I have the noise and lights of Soledad Canyon and Highway 14 in my backyard; that’s enough.

I’ve made my stand; let a new batch of NIMBYs fight an alternative plan.

Like I said, no one likes a NIMBY.

Brian Springer is a Canyon Country resident. 

The Cost of Thanksgiving Discounts

Posted 11/24/13 - The SCV Beacon 

In an effort to squeeze every last dollar from consumers, year-after- year retailers have opened earlier and earlier encroaching into the Thanksgiving Day holiday causing employees to sacrifice their holiday and family-time.

This year retailers have gone even further.  A whole slew of companies have broken the barrier and are now opening Thanksgiving night or earlier. Enough is enough. The craziness must stop.

Walmart and BestBuy will be opening at 6:00 pm Thanksgiving night. Toys ”R” Us will open at 5:00 pm- three hours earlier than last year. And not to be outdone, Sears, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s and JC Penny all will open at 8:00 pm.  Office supply retailers, Staples, Office Depot and Office Max, aren’t sitting this out either; all will open at 8:00 pm on Thursday.

This year Kmart is taking an extreme position by opening at 6:00 am Thanksgiving morning and will remain open for 41 hours straight - until 11 pm Friday.

So what’s the harm? Consumers get good deals and retailers get customers. However these deals come at the expense of the Thanksgiving holiday; its traditions and family-time. Additionally, this year Hanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day which certainly means some people will lose out on both holidays and traditions.

When a store is open it has to be staffed with managers, clerks, maintenance, security and many others; all of whom have to adjust their holiday visiting around store hours. Although 8:00 pm sounds like enough time to enjoy the holiday, that wouldn’t leave enough time for someone to travel three or four hours to see family, enjoy their visit and get some rest.

If the store is open most of or all Thanksgiving night, to make it through their shift, those working have to sleep sometime during the Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, their options are to not participate in part or all of the holiday or sacrifice their health and forgo sleep, all for the privilege to sell discounted merchandise in the middle of the night.

These retailers certainly aren’t the only businesses open on the holiday. Movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, grocery and convenience store employees sacrifice holidays with their families. But in general those businesses don’t require hundreds of people to operate and maybe they shouldn’t be open either.

When this trend started exactly is difficult to determine but the encroachment is spreading fast.

According to a 2009 article on usnews.com, most stores were closed the holiday and opened early Friday. Last year, according to Huffingtionpost.com, Thanksgiving hours were: Walmart - 8:00 pm; Macy’s and Kohl’s midnight; Michaels, 4pm to 11pm; Target- 9 pm; Sears 8:00 - pm. Toys R Us 8:00 pm.

The encroachment has not gone unnoticed.

This year many posts on social media commented on Kmart’s decision: “Shame on you! These employees are real people with families! “; “It disgusts me to see stores like #Kmart opening at 6am Thanksgiving morning.” “You can't honor #Thanksgiving? I'll NEVER set foot in #Kmart again.”

Target came under criticism in 2012 after a petition titled: "Target: Take the high road and save Thanksgiving“ went viral. After a year, it has more than 377,000 supporters. 

Target’s response on www.abullseyeview.com : “Our opening time this year reflects the feedback we have heard from our guests – many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning. “ The statement continued: “We recognize that our opening time has required many of our team members to adjust their family schedules and we thank them.”

Another petition started this year that has nearly 60,000 signatures states: “…asking Target to please keep all stores closed on Thanksgiving Day and to open the stores for Black Friday at a reasonable hour so that people like me can be together with their family and friends on Thanksgiving.”

As the posts and petitions point out, we should be encouraging family time and traditions not chipping away at it. Our lives are demanding enough without the pressure of missing out on discounts that could certainly wait. Remember every gadget bought keeps a parent away from a child; a grandchild away from a grandparent; a niece or nephew away from an aunt or uncle; cousins and siblings away from each other.

Lets’ teach large retailers a lesson and not patronize their stores on Thanksgiving. As an alternative stay home, dust off those board games shoved in the hall closest and have family game night.  And if you must get your fix of capitalism, nothing says family-time more than a cut-throat game of Monopoly.

Source: http://www.scvbeacon.com/category.php?catg=9&id=1573

Community makes a life wonderful

Published The Signal Newspaper - November 28, 2012 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has always been one of my favorite movies, and the older I get, the more I can relate to its life lessons and subtextual meanings.

A major theme of the movie is helping others in need. George’s father starting the building and loan; George running the building and loan after his father’s death; George helping Violet when she needed a few bucks; and most importantly, the moving scene at the end when all of Bedford Falls comes together to donate money when $8,000 was misplaced by Uncle Billy. That included Sam Wainwright, who wired and said he was willing to send up to $25,000 if necessary.

Every once in a while, the universe delivers me a “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment. Most recently, that moment arrived after we experienced a sudden death of a family member, Cameron Morad, who was 24 years young.

The entire family experienced every emotion possible: shock, disbelief, anger, sadness and so on. But with a death quickly comes a very large “to-do” list: memorial and burial services, gathering and moving personal items, travel and accommodations for friends and family members — the list is endless.

Within hours, offers of help poured in from everyone. Family members, close friends and friends of friends — people we didn’t even know. 

At first, I politely thanked them and said I would let them know. I had never been this involved in the death of anyone before and had no idea what we might need. 

Then food started to arrive.

I always considered it a bit of a cliché to bring food to the grieving family, and I never understood why people did that until our loss. 

On the night of the passing, we unexpectedly had 20 to 30 people at any given time at our house grieving, consoling and sharing. Unfortunately, we only had fishy crackers and bottled water to offer for refreshments. No one was terribly hungry, but comfort food would have been helpful.

Then, out of nowhere, a close family friend came over with a bunch of Subway sandwiches, chips and pretzels. Within an hour, another set of close friends brought muffins, cinnamon rolls and other baked goodies that provided quick snacks and breakfasts that ultimately ended up lasting a week. 

Soon I realized we never could have shopped, cooked, fed and cleaned for that many people if wasn’t for our friends and family members.

The next day, a friend called saying they were going shopping and asked if we needed anything. At first, I couldn’t think of anything, and then my wife mentioned a ham. 

That seemed like a great idea! Warm up the ham, get some salad and side dishes; easy comfort food, not to mention leftovers. 

For the following week, at various times, we had that ham for breakfast (along with the muffins and cinnamon rolls), lunch and dinner.

Days before the service, family started pouring in from all corners of our state. Our aunt forced my wife to take her shopping, and they came back with enough food to feed an army. And this time when the army arrived, we were ready with lasagna, chicken, salad and a vegetable platter. 

On the day of the service and burial, which was a very long day, we hadn’t even considered what we might have for dinner that evening. Fortunately, our close friends brought more than 40 pieces of fried chicken, dinner rolls, beer and a bottle of whiskey. 

With 14 people bunking in our modest home, the chicken was a welcome dinner and suitable lunch the next day. There was no leftover whiskey.

Even the day following the burial, a friend of the sister of the deceased, with two small children in tow, brought over pasta, sauce, salad and garlic bread; just enough to feed the remaining 12 people in our home one last time. Hopefully, she knows how much we all appreciated the effort.

We weren’t being bailed out of financial ruin or recovering from a natural disaster, but like in the movie, without being asked, our friends and family came through for all of us grieving the loss of a young man who had touched so many. 

Once again I was reminded that in the dark, troubled times, it can truly be a wonderful life. Like Clarence, I’m sure Cameron got his wings.

Brian Springer is a resident of Canyon Country.

Source: http://www.signalscv.com/archives/82057/

A historical look at some current events

Published in The Signal Newspaper -  August 29, 2013 

Once again a motion picture chronicling the history of the United States has reinforced the reality that our actions as a nation have not, to say the least, been perfect.

Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, parallels a man’s life as a White House butler with the oppression and injustices of the Civil Rights Movement.

While doing so, it reminds us how persecution was socially accepted and overlooked for decades.

As powerful art should, “The Butler” raises questions about how the future might view the history of today’s current events. What opinions, events, policies or laws will in 50 years be considered unjustified, inhumane or outright ridiculous?

Although it’s impossible for us to time travel and gauge society’s attitudes, perhaps we can examine current events and, combining them with historical insights, speculate on future opinions and conclusions.

Same-sex marriage: The history and persecution of the gay community is far too familiar. Gays have had to endure state and local laws enacted to discourage behavior; living in hateful environments; violently beaten and killed just because they were gay; and banned from some professions and ostracized from others.

When same-sex marriage is finally lawful, gay discrimination becomes unlawful. When there is a gay or lesbian president, will we look at the past 40 years with disgust over how the gay community was treated, or will we shrug and ask for forgiveness?

Gun control: Limiting access to weapons and ammunition has been a long-running debate. The Sandy Hook tragedy once again brought this to the forefront. But despite loud public outcry, meaningful legislation never manifested.

Will the future look back on the lack of action after the slaughter of 20 children and six adults as noble protection of a constitutional right or as another lost opportunity to save future lives?

Immigration: Even though a national treasure exclaims “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...,” and despite the fact most Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, today’s illegal immigrants are treated as if they are still in a Third World country.

They are forced to live “under the radar,” perform hard, unsafe, low-paying jobs, live in poverty and forgo preventative health care for themselves and their families.

Currently we are once again debating and strongly considering immigration reform, but little resolution is visible.

In 50 years will this be resolved and perhaps create a faster and easier path to citizenship to allow those masses to breathe free? Or will the hypocrisy of xenophobia continue to reign?

Education: “The Great Recession” had a dramatic effect on public education, forcing major cutbacks and reducing investment in the future of education.

Experienced, valued teachers retired early or left for other opportunities, and jobs for graduates are few and far between.

Class sizes increased and site operation budgets were slashed, only allowing for minimum maintenance and little improvement.

In addition, college costs have dramatically increased. In California, state university costs for one year — including tuition, fees, books and supplies — is nearly $10,000. That doesn’t include room and board.

Most of those costs are covered by student loans, putting both the student and the student’s family in debt for decades.

Hopefully in 50 years we will have realized that indebted servitude isn’t the best course for our youth or for middle-class families, and we will come to the realization that public schools are one our nation’s most valuable public assets and require more than just a minimum investment.

Affordable Care Act: Certainly no legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has caused as much controversy and division as the Affordable Care Act.

The opposition, for the most part Republicans, has been relentless and has voted nearly 40 times to repeal all or parts of the law. It is now threatening to de-fund the program or even shut down the government.

With still months to go until full enactment, the law has some growing pains. In July the government delayed the requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide health insurance to their workers without penalty until 2015.

Most likely there will be more hiccups, but in 50 years will Americans be celebrating the law’s enactment or still spending energy fighting against it and cursing its bureaucracy?

We study history so as not to repeat it. Usually we learn our lessons using hindsight combined with present-day mores — not the values being embraced when the events are occurring.

Let us learn from our history and make decisions considering the perspective of the future looking back at our actions today.

Brian Springer is a Canyon Country resident.

Source: http://www.signalscv.com/section/33/article/103856/

Making Lemonade

An account of attempting to get on the Hart School Governing Board. 

Posted on The SCV Beacon 07/06/2013 

“If life hands you lemons, make lemonade” is a popular idiom of justification used to maintain optimism and motivation but it’s still hard to take the sting out of a poor performance, even though you probably did the best you could.

     My lemon gathering began when the William S. Hart Union School District announced they were taking applications to fill a vacancy on the Governing Board after a member resigned. A crazy idea, but why not apply? Sit back and let me pour you a tall glass of lemonade.

     Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of committees: Sierra Vista Site Council; Canyon High Parent Advisory Committee; Measure V Bond Oversight Committee; Board Member Representative for the District Advisory Committee and currently a member of the City of Santa Clarita Library Citizens Advisory Committee. Additionally, all of my four children attended and graduated from Hart District schools. I felt those were decent credentials worthy of the position.

     The first day the applications were accepted, I carefully filled out the application and double and triple checked (I thought) the application and emailed the application that night.

     Then the first lemon appeared.

     The next morning I received an email saying they did not receive the attachment. What? I know how to send an email; it must have been their email servers. Whatever. I responded that I would resend when I got home. However, often I’m not very patient- I want it done ASAP. I remembered I had saved a copy in “the cloud.” So while at work, I downloaded and resent.

     Then another lemon…

    After resending I closely looked at the copy and realized it wasn’t the final version I originally sent. I had my home and work zip codes the same. I live in Canyon Country and work in Encino. Certainly not a big deal, but it didn’t represent attention to detail.

     For the next two weeks I tried not to obsess and decided I would take some action. Since there was a slight chance I could be selected, I wanted to be up-to-speed and spent a good amount of time reviewing Board meeting agendas, minutes; district web site; and school performance reports.

     Then the “Dear Candidates” email arrived with an attachment that contained a list of 14 applicants, including myself. I recognized some names but not others and began researching the names online. Uh-Oh. Some names didn’t come up with much information but others – very impressive- I knew I wasn’t in their league.

     The email also included 10 questions the Board members would ask during the interview. It also mentioned they may ask additional clarifying questions. No problem and I spent the weekend researching the questions, crafting meaningful answers, verifying my responses and in anticipation of the clarifying questions, making sure I’m up on current issues such as Common Core, Title 1 and A-G requirements.

       A few days later an email arrived mentioning that a training session for the person selected was changed to an inconvenient time. Now doubt is really beginning to set in. Can I do this? I would have to take the day off. How often would I have to do this?

     The following day a revised schedule is sent. Two applicants dropped out. My scheduled interview time was moved up by 40 minutes. Not sure if this good or bad.

     That night I didn’t really obsess over the questions. I felt I was pretty prepared and didn’t want to over prepare. After all I wanted to sound natural; not mechanical; not rehearsed.

       More lemons…

        On interview day, I arrived at the District offices early. Out of respect for the situation I left my phone in my car. I didn’t want the distraction. We were instructed to wait in conference room “A”. There three or four gentlemen were sitting, chatting and quickly introduced themselves. I took a seat at the opposite end of the large conference table. With no phone to occupy my time I took another quick peek at my notes and soon decided enough was enough.

          The polite chit-chat between all of us did help calm my nerves. In the 30 minutes I had to wait, I only got up to pace and use the restroom three or four times. At one point, someone mentioned their opening statement. Huh? An opening statement? That wasn’t in the letter. I didn’t have anything prepared. Uh-Oh.


Source: http://westranchbeacon.com/weekly-column.php?id=614

To The Defense of Sales Clerks

A letter to the editor printed in the Los Angeles Times in 1996. I took offense to how retail clerks were depicted in an article.

Sales Clerks and Customers

December 08, 1996

* Re "Busy Stores Fail Hire Education," Dec. 2.

As a person who has worked in retail more than 15 years, I was a bit disturbed after reading Sandy Banks' article about retail employees.

She seemed to paint a picture that most, if not all, retail employees do not give a hoot about the customer. The article described an incident between two employees that should never have happened. If a manager or supervisor had been a witness, both probably would have been terminated.

Without question, most retail employees are aware that customers are vital--no customers, no jobs--which is why clerks tolerate some of the rudest and most disrespectful behavior imaginable. Believe me, any retail employee could write volumes about how customers mistreat the clerks.


Santa Clarita


Source: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-12-08/local/me-7055_1_sandy-banks-retail-customers