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City Is Proud of Its Noted Eccentric Youth

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As many human beings do, this city spent its youth shocking its sober-sided elders with unusual experiments in bohemian living.

Its reputation for offbeat--the critics said bizarre--public policy innovations made it the stuff of jokes on late-night TV shows.

City officials once gathered local barbers and beauticians to learn what really was on residents’ minds, figuring that most people reveal what they’re really thinking to the person who does their hair. City Council members attended funerals for felled oak trees, hired a psychic to help protect a canyon from dumping and talked of outlawing possession of veal with intent to cook.

“No one ever forgets the veal ban,” sighed city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz recently when asked about the measure, which never came to a vote on the City Council.

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Councilwoman Jan Heidt, now mayor, proposed the measure to protest production of veal, which animal lovers say is cruel to calves.

And as Santa Clarita marks 10 years of existence, the contrarian streak continues, as witnessed by raucous City Council meetings that end after midnight and often feature near-shouting matches over issues large and small. But the city’s relative maturity has minimized the number of truly outrageous concepts such as council members’ storied--if failed--attempts to change every one of the city’s 60,000 street addresses, or persuade former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to fly in and address the city.

“We’re young, new, adventurous and daring,” said City Councilwoman Jill Klajic, before boasting of hiring the psychic and reminding a reporter of the semiannual pajama parties she threw for female campaign supporters and others as a councilwoman in the early 1990s.

“There’s nothing at all wrong with that.”

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Offered City Manager George Carvalho, “Maybe there are a lot of left-brain people here.”

In a more serious vein, he suggested the quirks stem from the city’s atmosphere, encouraging an unfettered flow of ideas.

“With idea people, you’re not going to always bring up good ideas,” Carvalho said. “You throw up a bunch of ideas, and if you get several of them that work, you’re much better off.”

Historical note: Belying his conservative appearance, it was Carvalho who dreamed up the hairdressers’ lunch.

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Ortiz said the city manager and dozens of other staffers attend brainstorming sessions twice a year. And when it rains, it pours.

“What you want to do is create an environment where people . . . are encouraged to come forward,” Carvalho said. “I’ve been in cities where you get beat up for your ideas.”

The fact that it has grown in 10 years from a handful of employees and a $29-million annual budget to 200 workers spending $84.8 million a year, with no serious municipal difficulties, allows the city to experiment, city leaders say.

“We’re not a bunch of idiots out here,” said Ortiz, pointing to the city’s development.

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The city’s politics have grown less eccentric, but not all touches of youthful experimentation have vanished. A candidate in the spring City Council election is Michael Egan, a senior at Valencia High School.


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