With lots of doom and gloom coming out of Sacramento and the halls of just about every other city government, Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Mike Antonovich read off a list of accomplishments that stood in bright contrast to budget cutbacks.
Presenting the annual “State of the County” speech before a packed room at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, Antonovich (at right, with David Gauny) ticked off a list of things the county has made possible, both independently and with the cooperation of the City of Santa Clarita and other communities.
* A $200,000 grant to the Santa Clarita Enterprise Zone helped with recruiting businesses by promoting the valley’s virtues of a well-trained workforce, high quality of life and great schools. He did, however, caution that California has become one of five “worst business friendly states” because of high taxes and strict regulations, something that he says needs to be examined and changed.
* Antonovich called the planned expansion of Disney Studios on the Ranch in Placerita Canyon a “vote of confidence for retaining filming in the County.” The project is expected to bring more than 3,000 jobs to the area and give Disney a chance to do both interior and exterior filming at the same location.
* Libraries were also something to crow about; the Castaic library opened in 2008 already has a significant number of patrons and a library in Agua Dulce, built on donated land, will open in September and feature a Community Learning Center for children and families.
* Antonovich’s office also made sure open space allocations were made, providing $650,000 to acquire land in Agua Dulce that will be transferred to the stewardship of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority; $1 million to map all the trails in the Fifth District and produce a trails map; $150,000 grant to the city of Santa Clarita for the East Walker Ranch Trail area, which also adds to open space surrounding the city.
* Antonovich also talked about the acquisition of 400 acres of Elsmere Canyon and a $1 million grant to purchase 800 more acres, establishing a connection between the Santa Clarita Valley and the Rim of the Valley.
* A number of improvements have been made at Castaic Lake, including the addition of two lifeguard towers and three picnic shelters.
* Community Standard Districts have been established in Acton, Agua Dulce, Castaic and San Francisquito Canyon, which help maintain the rural quality of life to precious to residents of those areas.
* The Supervisor emphasized the need for a high school in Castaic and encouraged the residents of Castaic and Castaic Town Council to work closely with the Hart School Board in selecting a location. Once a site is chosen, Antonovich said the County would expedite the grading permit.
* Hauled water and wells are a critical issue on the northern edge of Santa Clarita and Antonovich said that staff is working on permitting issues in those areas. A Technical Advisory Committee has been established by the Environmental Health Department and a task force has come up with a new proposal that will be the subject of outreach meetings in Acton and Antelope Valley in June.
* Transportation has been a front-burner issue for the Supervisor and he reported the I-5/SR-14 connector/flyover, which will separate trucks from passenger vehicles, is fully-funded and due for completion in 2013. The same was promised for the extension of the car pool lanes between Glendale and Santa Clarita.
* Traffic signal synchronization aided by the County has saved Santa Clarita Valley residents $4 million in vehicle costs and 343,000 gallons of fuel.
* Measure R funds will help fund the High Desert Corridor/I-5 truck/HOV lane project, which is expected to generate 341,500 jobs.
* The County has allocated $500,000 for improvement of the Pico Canyon/I-5 interchange, providing a “gateway” to Stevenson Ranch.
* Two new fire stations are scheduled to open soon in the Santa Clarita Valley in early 2012.
* Crime fighting is an issue close to the Supervisor’s heart and 10 years of the DISARM program (which the Supervisor created) has yielded positive results: 12,500 arrests, 6,300 weapons confiscated and $326,000,000 in illegal drugs and drug money recovered.
* Of course, the hot button of illegal immigration came up and Antonovich aide Tony Bell had some alarming statistics to share: undocumented aliens have cost the County $500 million annually in health care, $350-550 million in criminal justice costs, more than $260 million annually in CalWORKS benefits; $360 million in food stamps and $550 million in welfare allocations. Bell said that 160,000 illegal immigrant parents and children receive aid in Los Angeles County.
While most of the news shared by Antonovich was optimistic, the budget crisis was not ignored.
“We have a rainy day fund of $270 million, but that will not protect us from a tsunami,” he said. The fund is set aside to make sure there is no interruption in service from the sheriff’s department, district attorney, parks, mental health and Child and Family Services department.
Antonovich also expressed his concerns about Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget and plans to send low-level offenders to County facilities instead of state prisons.