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UPDATE: Seniors, youth issues take front and center during council forum

Corrects information on Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center

Posted: February 7, 2014 7:11 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2014 11:35 a.m.

How best to address the needs of some of Santa Clarita’s oldest and youngest citizens were among the issues discussed by the 13 candidates vying for three open seats on the Santa Clarita City Council during a forum Thursday night.

Many candidates at Thursday’s forum — attended by about 45 Signal subscribers at The Signal offices in Valencia — floated the idea of expanding services for older residents by constructing an additional senior center to accompany the existing Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall.

“I totally will support if we can have another senior center in Canyon Country,” said candidate Moazzem Chowdhury, a local pharmacy owner. “That will help the seniors not have to drive that far away from the other parts of the city.”

Gloria Mercado-Fortine, a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District board, also said local resources for seniors need to be beefed up.

“Definitely, we need a larger senior center and we need senior centers in Canyon Country,” she said. “We need other resources for our seniors.”

Maria Gutzeit, a member of the Newhall County Water District board, said she too supports a new senior center but said the issue is about more than providing care to the elderly. It’s about providing resources to families.

“When you have working families with children, with seniors that have challenges, and you have to help all of that and make a living — it is hard on every level of family in this community,” Gutzeit said. “And we need to do something about that.”

The local senior center in the Santa Clarita Valley does receive funding from the city, which allocates around $700,000 a year to the center, according to City Councilwoman Marsha McLean.

McLean, who is one of two incumbents running for re-election to the City Council this year, said a feasibility study to look at constructing an additional center is ongoing.

“And the city is ready, willing and able to partner with the county in order to build a new senior center and enhance it,” she said.

Another candidate, Sandra Bull, said the city shouldn’t shy away from using its reserve fund to increase funding to the center.

“With that 18 percent reserve I think we definitely should be able to set aside more than $700,000 for the seniors,” she said.

Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, said more is needed than just another senior center.

“We need more medical facilities around the valley, we need a second hospital, we need a transitional care unit,” he said, adding he also thinks other services, like meal delivery programs, could be improved.

Duane Harte, a member of the city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission, said he would like to see expanded public transit options for seniors.

“I would like to see the large buses that run around town (and are) empty in the afternoon broken up into smaller buses that can hit more places for seniors to get more rides on to go where they want to,’ he said.

Youth issues
The youth of Santa Clarita was another topic during at Thursday’s forum, with candidates saying one of the biggest threats to public safety in the city is the drug problem among local children and teens.

“As far as I can see, and I see it first-hand, it’s getting worse,” said candidate Paul Wieczorek of the issue. “My ideas are to hire some more sheriff’s (deputies) out here if we need them, undercover sheriff’s (deputies) — whatever is needed to slow down the drug problem out here.”

Dante Acosta, a local businessman and former congressional candidate, also said services should be augmented to address the drug problem.

“Perhaps it’s time, in addition to our anti-gang task force, to look into a vice unit for the city and get into the root of some of these issues so we can nip them in the bud,” he said.

Another candidate, Stephen Daniels, said the city should examine funding additional youth activities to keep kids occupied.

“Vandalism, theft, drug problems — all come, almost always, out of boredom for the kids themselves,” Daniels said.

Mayor Laurene Weste, the other incumbent running for re-election, said fully funding local sheriff’s services is vital to ensuring public safety.

“We have to be continually mindful of keeping our city current in a contract that funds everything we need to prevent gangs from growing, to prevent crime from running rampant,” Weste said.

Longtime Canyon Country resident Berta Gonzalez-Harper said the city needs to make sure its older neighborhoods do not deteriorate, an effort she said is multi-faceted and includes the work of the Sheriff’s Department and bringing good jobs to the city.

“It means also taking care that community preservation efforts are ongoing and vigorous,” she said.

Valencia resident Dennis Conn, who said he also plans to run for the position of Los Angeles County Sheriff on June, said children need to be made aware of the harmful effects of drugs.

“It’s sad what’s happening, and I agree with everybody here. It’s harmful,” he said.

The City Council election for three of five seats is scheduled April 8. Longtime City Councilman Frank Ferry is not seeking re-election.
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