Wood Ranch Re-Zoning; District Map Chosen; New Taxi Cab Regs – Simi City Council Action!

By Kevin Harris

Monday night’s marathon, 5.5-hour long Simi Valley City Council Meeting was dominated by two crucial issues to residents: A proposed re-zoning of Wood Ranch from “open space” to “low-use residential”; and the establishment of a “by-district” election system, and how those districts will be broken down within the city. The meeting was then capped off with an introduction of new citywide regulations on taxi cab businesses, that go into effect January 1, 2019.

RE-ZONING OF SIMI’S WOOD RANCH
Item 2A of the meeting was the “Public Comment” period, which consisted almost entirely of speaker cards by audience members with comments concerning the evening’s primary topics. Dozens of speaker cards. The vast majority, however, opted not to speak during the Public Comment section, but chose instead to speak later, during the actual Public Hearings that dealt with their respective topics. As it turned out, however, due to the overwhelming public response, the City Council extended the hearing on Wood Ranch until the January 28, 2019 Council Meeting, though many attendees chose to speak on the topic Monday night anyway.

Simi Valley City Council

In the end, just a few attendees spoke during the Public Comment period, but it became clear that public opposition to the re-zoning proposition (proposed by a developer, not the city), was nearly universal. Some of the concerns about the re-zoning include increased traffic, more noise, pollution, and a reduction in residential property values.

Deanna Dunn: (Re-zoning). The first speaker from the audience got right to the point. “I know they’ve extended the hearing until January 28 to educate our community on the benefits of this development. We welcome them, because we would like to educate them on our opposition,” Ms. Dunn said. Her comment was met with audience applause.

Another Speaker named Kathleen, but whose last name was pronounced unclearly by the Council announcer, began her speech with, “I’m over 50. I’m old, so you have to listen to me,” which drew laughter from the audience – an unusually full house during the Simi City Council meetings. But she continued in a more serious way. 

“My husband and I moved specifically to Wood Ranch because we were informed that the open area in the back of our home is permanently zoned as open space… We moved here because of the promise made that we would be surrounded by permanently-zoned open space… Why is the reversal of a promise made to the residents of this community even being considered?”

Kathleen then returned to her humorous theme to close out her speech. “On a personal note, please do not make me move. My husband might find out how many shoes I actually have.”

Before the meeting progressed to the Public Hearings, Mayor Pro Tem Glen T Becerra, who is on his last remaining days serving on the City Council, responded to to speakers and topic of the proposed re-zoning of Wood Ranch. “I won’t be here when that zone change request is made (January 28, 2019), so I will just tell you, I would vote no.” The audience applauded his statement.

Mayor Pro Tem Glen T Becerra

PUBLIC HEARING; NEW ELECTION PROCESS & CHOOSING DISTRICT MAP
Issue 6A for the evening was a Public Hearing regarding Simi Valley’s election process. It was the fourth public hearing dealing with the transition from an “open” election system to a “by-district” process, presumably to provide better representation to Simi valley’s minority and other under-represented residents. The concept was initially pushed by not only the State of California, but also by an individual who began suing municipalities that refused to change to the new election system.

At the beginning of Monday night’s meeting, two proposed district maps remained to be voted on by the City Council, who had to choose between Map 404b, and Map 602. Map 404b would break up Simi Valley into four districts (and have four coinciding council members, plus a Mayor), while Map 602 would break up Simi Valley in six districts, with their coinciding council members (and Mayor).

The general thoughts on these two maps were that six districts would offer better representation for a growing city, while opposing views suggest it paves the way for more special interests, higher costs and gerrymandering verses the four-district model.

One confusing factor in the fray is something called the Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA), which, as it is written, seems to contradict itself in a key way. Following is text from the FVRA, as read by staff during the meeting:

“While race can not be the predominant factor when drawing districts, minority voting districts can not be diluted, and thusly the law encourages a majority minority district, if it can be drawn without race being the predominant factor.”

Well, OK then.

Apparently, other factors that should be considered when creating districts are: Compactness; Contiguous; Visible boundaries; Communities of interest; and Respect for voters’ interests.

After the staff presentation came the Public Comments, and it was during this time that audience members came to speak their minds. And this went on for hours. While the scales seemed to tip more heavily in favor of the four-district split verses six districts, there was a lot of support for both sides, with most Hispanic attendees siding with the six district preferences. Following is just a brief sampling of some of the evening’s speakers.

Victoria Wright: (6 districts). “We are a much bigger city than we used to be. We’ve annexed a lot of property into the community that wasn’t there. The population has grown. You do this now, you take care of it for the next 50 years… Our city is not the same small town in our dreams that we believe it is. We now have almost 130 thousand people in our community. We’ve grown by almost a hundred thousand. If that doesn’t deem a reason to put two more people on the City Council, there never will be a reason.”

Gayle Horton: (4 districts). Said she believes Simi is still a small town and would be well served by four districts, and that districts can always be added if needed after the 2020 census. She said she is also concerned about the additional costs to the city for adding two extra council members, which she said would be considerable. (audience applause).

Greg Litster: (4 districts). Mr. Litster said he has degrees in economics and finance, and was a banker for 18 years. “This city has run deficits for 13 consecutive years… I am not concerned the least about the money to have six districts instead of four. It’s not significant. My issue is hostility in our city, where there is anger being bred up all the time.” 

Mr. Litster’s concern over the racial division that having six districts may cause was repeated by other speakers throughout the evening as well, while one speaker commented that re-districting in general won’t help minority communities because, according to him, the statistics show that Hispanics consistently vote in very low numbers.

After the Public Hearing was closed, City Council members had a chance to respond with comments or questions before voting on the issue. First to speak was Council Member Dee Dee Cavenaugh, who said she did not have her mind made up on the issue when she walked into the meeting. “Yes, you may come up to me as your district representative, but I still represent the rest of Simi Valley too. And that’s how it should be,” she told the attendees, in a presumed effort toward unification.

Council Member Dee Dee Cavanaugh

Mayor Pro Tem Glen T Becerra: Becerra spoke about when Simi was first incorporated as a city, how five council members was considered better than one. “I do think six districts could be beneficial to this city. I just think this is something not to be feared. We have grown as a city.”

Council Member Mike Judge: “I see the four districts as being the best way to go, and if folks want to have more districts later, they can put it on the ballot, and they can vote for it.”

Council Member Keith Mashburn: “I heard people speak of being disenfranchised. Wow. That’s some heavy-duty language in my opinion. I need to see evidence. I need to see who was disenfranchised, and how. And I can tell you this: I rest very comfortably in my belief that this council has disenfranchised absolutely no one.”

Mashburn also pointed out that with redistricting, voters lose the ability to vote for all council members, but instead only vote for one, which he believes is less representation.

THE VOTE
The Council voted to adopt Map 404b – to become a four-district city, plus one Mayor with a 2-year term. All council members voted “yes” to Map 404b, except for Mayor Pro Tem Glen T Becerra, who voted against. He supported the six district model.

NEW TAXI CAB REGS COMING TO SIMI
Wrapping up the seemingly endless city council meeting was the final issue of introducing new regulations on taxi cab companies within city limits, to become effective January 1, 2019. This was not a vote on the law, but rather an introduction, presented by Simi Valley PD.

Current taxi laws in Simi Valley were enacted back in 1969, so an update was apparently overdue. The new law, AB3939, amends the previous law in some of the following ways:
• It give the city the ability to better regulate taxi companies
• Requires driver alcohol/drug screening and direct connect to DMV system; Mandates safety & training; Regulates and Controls rates charged to customers
• City may enact additional regs relating to vehicle condition; Criminal history of driver and Insurance requirements

The new law will bring Simi Valley in line with what other cities are doing in the county.

The next regular Simi Valley City Council Meeting will be on Monday, December 10, 2018, at 6:30 P.M. Both the meetings on video, and the meeting agendas, can be directly accessed by going to the following URL: http://www.simivalley.org/i-want-to-/view-watch-/city-council-meetings.

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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