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Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 - 8:30am
  • Something to Drone On About: Fancy bringing your remote-controlled drone to a city park and buzzing it high above the heads of unsuspecting people? Too bad, it's illegal and unsafe, say city officials. KHTS
  • Check the Credentials: It pays to do some research when looking into an animal foster care or rescue. Some pet owners found out the hard way when they gave their animals to an SCV dog "rescuer" who was dumping the pets at shelters. KHTS
  • Homicide is on the Case: The remains found after a Gorman brush fire earlier this year were identified as a 32-year-old Los Angeles man who went missing in 2011, and appears to have been shot in the head. The Signal KHTS
  • Something to Smile About: A local dentistry firm celebrated a milestone of raising $1 million for charity over the past 16 years. The Signal
  • On the Hunt for Vandals: Detectives are on the hunt for young vandals who caused and estimated $10,000 in damage to Pinetree Community School last week. The Signal
  • A Match Made in Aisle 9: Albertsons (remember them?) is poised to purchase Safeway (owner of Vons) for about $9.2 billion, creating a grocery chain slightly smaller than Kroger. Daily News
  • A Sierra Highway Brush-Up: The city is doing some beautification work on Sierra Highway, planting 30 new trees. City Briefs
  • Honoring a Legacy: Local Rotary and Elks members are working on a memorial fund to honor Harry Bell, the veteran and longtime community volunteer who was sadly killed in a plane crash in 2012. The Signal

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Monday, July 28th, 2014 - 8:30am
Hello, hi, and how are you? It's Monday morning and it's good to be back, rested from a mountain getaway and another year older. And now, the news...
  • Coming Together for a Child: After a couple was killed in a crash on Highway 14 last week, strangers are trying to help raise funds for their 1-year-old daughter who survived. The Signal
  • Checkpoints End With Actual Arrests: A whopping 16 people were arrested during Friday nights double DUI checkpoints, though none were for DUI charges. The Signal
  • But She Got Her Start in the SCV: The so-called "Bombshell Bandit" who held up a local Bank of the West branch last month may be responsible for two other heists, in San Diego and Lake Havasu. The Signal KHTS
  • Sad Follow-Up: An off-duty LAPD officer and SCV resident succumbed to the injuries she suffered in a Thursday morning off-duty crash in Valencia. Kathleen Talbot was 45. The Signal KHTS
  • Prices Keep Going Up: The median price of SCV homes is up from this time last year, and real estate pros expect the numbers to keep going up. SCVNews
  • Don't Hold Your Breath: While a lot of people would like to see a Laemmle movie theater open in the SCV, it probably won't be happening any time soon. The Signal

Posted by Josh Premako   |   Post a Reply »
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Friday, July 25th, 2014 - 10:27pm
Well what do you know? A super-official maybe. That was fast. 

Porto's didn't register in the city's infamous survey that claimed that a third of us want an Applebee's, which must be a good sign. Because no one really wants Applebee's. And everyone wants Porto's. The Facebook shares are in the hundreds, the likes are in the thousands. There are rumors and rumors of rumors.
Porto's is something of a perfect weapon. If the pastries or the sandwiches don't get you, the potato balls will. It feels old and new at once, neither a passing fad nor a stodgy standby. But really, it's just delicious. And unforgettable.
But even still, I'm surprised by just how much the people of SCV want to see a Porto's, I'm and thrilled to see that they've taken notice. So keep pressing. Join the Porto's For SCV group. Visit Porto's (here, here, or here) and let them that they need to make SCV their next home. The (potato) ball is in our court. We can do this SCV! 
(in case it bears mentioning, this photo isn't real.)

Posted by Mike Devlin   |   4 Comments »
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Friday, July 25th, 2014 - 12:12pm
It's been a while since I've done a Daily Brief, but with Josh in Canada for a bit, I thought I'd take the old car out for a spin. But because my writing time is limited and sporadic, you get a two-in-one: the news from today and yesterday. Silly news first.
  • Last night, Facebook was ablaze with the rumor (allegedly on the word of some employees) that Porto's, the famed Cuban bakery that originated in Glendale, is going into the former Elephant Bar space on McBean Pkwy. in Valencia. Right away, I thought it would be funny to give this rumor the Photoshop treatment. My attempt plus some (ahem) lesser attempts spread further, and the joke was lost. So no, sorry, not happening. The SCV is on their radar, but not now, not there. This rumor is still burning, so please feel free to share my now-modified gag photo.
  • In other fake news, comedian Nathan Fielder, whose Comedy Central show Nathan for You involves absurd ideas to help small business (it's quite funny). A recent episode involved Bouquet Plaza Liquor in Saugus and a clever scheme to let kinds "buy" alcohol. YOUTUBE 
  • The Chiquita Canyon Landfill is eying a big expansion, discusses "demand" like it's a gun to their head. The expanded dump would (at some point) be visible to the Hasley Hills neighborhood of Castaic. The Signal even gets favorable quotes from the Val Verde Community Advisory Committee, which is happy with the money that the dump puts into the community.  KHTS SIGNAL
  • But not so fast: there's a hush-hush agreement in place between the landfill and two Val Verde Community groups (read that here). Darryl Manzer's two latest columns have been assailing the expansion. Money quote: "In fact, roughly 80 percent of the stuff dumped there comes from outside the SCV." It will be interesting to see if this gets traction. MANZER1 MANZER 2
  • The strip mall on Citrus Drive was designed as a destination for furniture shoppers, high off that HELOC in the mid-aughts. Now it's home to a bank and apparently, an LASD detective unit as two teens discovered as they attempted to smoke marijuana in what they assumed to be a clandestine spot. Hilarity ensues. KHTS SIGNAL
  • I enjoy just about any video that The Signal has produced lately. The Jump is right up my alley, and I hope they keep at it. It still feels staged and it's awkward at times (that will get better with practice, I'm sure), but this episode is worth it for the collective crack-up over the teen weed smoking incident. THE JUMP
  • News that will be a relief to conservationist homeowners in sun-scorched and HOA-heavy SCV: the State is now forbidding HOAs from fining homeowners for brown grass during a drought. SIGNAL
  • Some high-speed rail meetings are coming up in and around the SCV. The pressing issue on the table is whether the route will follow the general I-5 to SR14 route along the western SCV or instead tunnel directly from Burbank to Palmdale. KHTS SIGNAL
  • I loved this piece by Placerita Nature Center docent Evelyne Vandersande on a recent bear sighting in Towsley Canyon. She also catalogues her adventures in seeking out bears throughout North America as a wide-eyed immigrant from Western Europe. SCVNEWS
  • Not enough is said about Central Park, which apart from being an all-around great place, still has so much potential. The latest expansion is moving ahead of schedule, and nearly done. There's video, too. SIGNAL
  • We now know that the bank employee who was arrested for stealing money from customers worked for Wells Fargo. No word on which branch yet. KHTS SIGNAL
  • Country music is very much a blind spot for me, but this piece about the KHTS Country Music Showdown is a reminder that "Poor Man's Poison" is a deceptive name when you play a park known for its 80s cover bands. KHTS
  • And lastly, a big shout out to the Hart 9U Pony team that's playing in the Mustang-9 League World Series. The double-elimination tournament starts today and concludes on Monday. More info, including the live stream right here

Posted by Mike Devlin   |   24 Comments »
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Monday, July 21st, 2014 - 9:00am

On Friday, we took a trip down memory lane as I mused on my time with The Signal. Some of you likely suspect my hindsight is rosy-hued 20/20, but it’s not. It’s simply that the further we move from a situation, we gain a fuller grasp and understanding. 
To be sure, The Signal’s existence, particularly over roughly the past 30 years, has been marked with mismanagement, missteps, missed opportunities…the list could go on, but I digress. But guess what? Every paper goes through these things. 
I want you to understand, I’m not trying to defend corporate’s and/or management’s decisions. If anything, what I am trying to do is create some empathy for the staff that day-in, day-out put in an honest day’s work. 
I haven’t darkened the door of that newsroom in nearly four years. I can’t speak exactly to how things run now, but trust me, I’ve got a fairly good idea. 
When you’re on the outside of a situation, it’s easy to be critical. We’re all experts at knowing that we could totally do (fill in the blank) better than the person who’s actually doing it (and sometimes, maybe that’s true). So, having been on both sides of the situation, I empathize and sympathize with a local newspaper staff that can pretty much never do a good job in the eyes of the public. Because I can tell you, with the resources they have they do a decent job, and until you’ve been in that situation you don’t quite understand what it entails.
To a certain degree, The Signal’s current staffing situation is reminiscent of midway through my tenure there, when we had a very slim staff. Here’s the thing: Even when you only have two reporters, there’s still an entire front page and news section to fill every day. So there’s the regular City Council update stories, or the seasonal campaign coverage, or the school board budget meetings, or the new playground dedication, or the weekend nonprofit fundraiser, or the guy who built a scale model of Colossus in his backyard (made that one up), or the fatal collision on the freeway, or the seasonal weather reports….it goes on and on. Every single day you start at zero, with a goal to fill that day’s paper. Which means the big stories, the ones you believe matter more than the retiree with a biodiesel conversion VW Beetle, the ones that take the time and resources of digging in and doing some investigative journalism…generally those have to get back-burnered. When you’re tasked with having to constantly do more with less, that series on unsolved murders in the SCV gets more and more difficult to pursue unless you want to work 24 hours a day.
Side note: Don’t get me started with crime reporting. Now, I believe the SCV Sheriff’s Station relationship with the local media is quite a bit improved from the better part of a decade ago, but when it comes down to it, it takes a lot to earn cops’ trust, and when you don’t have a dedicated crime beat reporter to build that relationship and trust over time, coverage will suffer.
Why am I saying this? I guess because over the past decade, as the immediacy of advanced technology has changed our lives in amazing ways, it has also started to turn us into idiots who are ready to hack someone down to size without hesitation and without filters, from behind the safety of our keyboard. Gone is civil discourse and criticism, replaced by anonymous comments and thoughtless dismissal.
Listen, no one at The Signal’s behind this. I don’t expect to ever be on the Morris Multimedia payroll again. I’m honestly just trying to lend a bit of perspective, and I stand by my belief that this community is better with The Signal without.
But, is it too late? Has the paper gone too close to the waterfall before it plummets over and is dashed on the rocks? Is it just eking out an existence before it finally collapses in the dust and breathes its last? 
I don’t know. I want to believe there is hope. I want to believe it can remain a vital resource for a community whose population continues to grow.
I believe radical steps are in order. And I mean more than adding more video, or doing more glossy special sections. And as Aaron Kushner’s experiment with the OC, Long Beach and Los Angeles Register papers is proving, daily newspapers do not exactly live on optimism alone.
The Signal has not always been a daily paper, and honestly, there is no law that says it should remain one. I’ve long thought the paper, and the community, would be better served by a shift to a strident, vigilant, continuous daily online presence coupled with an in-depth, page-turning Sunday edition. Imagine a Signal website as a go-to for daily reporting, and a Sunday edition that’s nothing but a closer look at the stories that matter. Imagine a weekly print product that people looked forward to, and that got them talking. Is that a pipe dream, or is that a big risk with a potentially big payoff? Who knows, it could be a terrible idea. 
The Signal has lasted for nearly 100 years. Think about that. Through all the massive changes to this valley, and how unrecognizable it is from the open fields of 1914, that newspaper has continued to be the record of this community’s history. Noteworthy indeed, but if the paper intends to continue for another century, its corporate overlords will need to be willing to allow for risks and something new. 

Posted by Josh Premako   |   2 Comments »
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Sunday, July 20th, 2014 - 4:38pm
Call it a spidey sense, but something seemed really off about this article from The Signal on Friday.
"Opponents of the recent influx of migrant children across the nation’s southern border have scheduled a two-day national protest, and the Santa Clarita Valley will be one of the sites where they plan to demonstrate...On Saturday organizers plan a demonstration in Valencia on the Valencia Boulevard overpass over Interstate 5. The demonstration is expected to run from 9 a.m. to noon."
The byline said "Signal Staff" which in the past has meant anything from senior editors, to interns, simply press releases copied verbatim. No word on who was organizing the event. No names, no quotes. This newsroom discussion video from Friday offered little more.
For a town where protests are rare, I was surprised to learn a protest involving a polarized issue (just as it's peaking in the news cycle) on one of our busiest overpasses was just a day away. It was news to me, and it appeared that it was news to everyone else, too.
The only mention I could find was this post on the Save Our State (SoS) message board. SoS, as you might recall, is the radical anti-illegal immigration group with white nationalist roots that organized the two rallies in 2010 made infamous by Bob Kellar's "proud racist" remark. Here's their founder, Joe Turner, in 2005
"I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist... I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isn't necessarily a white supremacist. I don't think that standing up for your 'kind' or 'your race' makes you a bad person."
SoS isn't a large organization, so their members from different areas will converge on a single city for a show of force (if you watch videos of their rallies, you see the same faces over and over again).
Thanks to the Signal's article, some locals took notice. The SCV Republican Women Federated, whose Facebook page already "likes" another hate group with white nationalist ties (Federation for American Immigration Reform), promoted the event on Facebook. They followed that up by linking to a video that made the case against legal (yes, legal) immigration and opened by calling 1925 to 1965 our "golden era" of immigration – which happens to be the exact period between the Immigration Act of 1924 and its full repeal in 1965. The infamous 1924 law is one of the most racist and anti-Semitic federal laws of the 20th century. Driven by bigotry towards Jews, Italians, and Asians (among others) it drastically cut immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, establishing quotas based on the existing ethnic makeup of the US, and banned Asian immigration outright (no, I'm not making this up). 
And keep in mind, this isn't some group on the outskirts. On Saturday morning, they were hosting no less than Steve Knight, Tony Strickland, and Scott Wilk for breakfast. 
A few people had the good sense to organize a counter-protest, giving us the final ingredient for a mini-spectacle. I drove over to see what all the fuss was about. Here's a look at the counter-protesters:
Each camp took their place on opposite sides of the overpass. I counted 21 protesters (and five mullets) and 16 counter-protesters. I was heartened to see such a strong last-minute turnout for the counter-protest, especially when the gun flag was hoisted.
Soon after I arrived, a the protesters unveiled their pièce de résistance: a large white flag with a picture of an AR-15 that said COME AND TAKE IT. Because naturally, in a protest about the fate of thousands of refugee children, the important thing is your guns. What do guns have to do with it? (Or should I even ask?) It was at once chilling, heartbreaking, puzzling, and laughable. Flying that flag front and center, higher that any other flag, made a self-mockery of their demonstration. It's easy to laugh, but then you realize that they actually mean it.. The gun flag flies proudly, while the American flag drags on the ground, literally (this guy did this twice, once while walking in traffic to taunt the counter-protesters). 
There was also a "Three Percenter," or "Oathkeeper" flag, which represents a militia-type movement  that encourages preparation for a violent confrontation with the government, should they ever come for their guns (and other crazy things).
I'm quick to acknowledge that reasonable people can arrive at some very different conclusions on this issue, especially with the added complication of the current refugee crisis. If the motivation and the message of the protest was narrow and reasoned, it wouldn't bother me so much. Instead, we see the marriage of rabid jingoism and defiant milita-like behavior. What could possibly go wrong?
I only recognized one or two people from across the street, and by the way most of the protesters carried themselves, you get the idea that they came to town for this purpose (aliens, if you will). Thank you to the counter-protesters who demonstrated that this is still a decent community of decent people. Well done. And thanks for the laugh. I love a semi-ironic protest sign like nothing else.

Posted by Mike Devlin   |   110 Comments »
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Friday, July 18th, 2014 - 8:30am

(Note: The Daily Brief is on summer vacation hiatus and will return Aug. 4)

It can get tiring carrying an axe. Sometimes, I feel as though I know a lot of people with tired shoulders.

I spent 5 ½ years on staff at The Signal. It terms of a career, that’s a drop in the bucket. It terms of time on the staff of a community newspaper, well, that’s a long time. It felt like a long time. Now it feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday all at the same time. It was many things, often all at once.

A lot of my former co-workers have long since evacuated the newsroom. A number of them don’t even work in journalism anymore. Hey, I don’t really even work in journalism anymore. It never gets completely out of your blood, but to be honest there is a bit of a reward of making the trade of giving up the slog of daily newspapering for things like more reasonable work hours and a better paycheck. Do I sound like a dispassionate sellout? Eh, maybe. But I have more than just my mouth to feed.

All that to say, I know a lot of my former trenchmates who still carry around an axe to grind whenever they get the chance. And I can’t completely fault them. The history of The Signal's mismanagement and missteps is well enough documented. As an aside, not all that long ago, my former newspaper amigo John Boston penned a column that summed up the state of things. Take a few moments to head over here and read it. I'll wait for you.

I had my share of frustrations. I had my times of walking out to the pressroom in the evening, amid the whirring roar of that old beast and the heavy aroma of newsprint and ink, and blowing off steam. And then I got back to work.

But the truth of the matter is, there was a lot of good in all of that. Working for a newspaper is an experience like few others, and in an increasingly digital world, a treasured memory. There is something enlivening about every day starting over at zero, not being quite completely sure what the day will bring. There is a rush of covering a wildfire, thick smoke clouding the sky, firefighting choppers throp-throp-thropping overhead, and realizing when a crew of firemen turns their truck around to get out of there you'd best follow suit. There is the joy of accompanying a family to a military homecoming, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers thrilled to embrace their loved ones. There are the dark moments of covering fatal collisions and murders. There are the city meetings that stretch on into the late hours, when you could really use another cup of coffee.

At the end of the day, it sure beats digging a hole in the ground. 

My hindsight is not through glasses of a rosy tint. There's enough to look back on and be glad it's in the past. Yet despite the frustrations, having had the chance to work for a newspaper that's been in business for nearly a century is pretty cool.

To be sure, The Signal today is not The Signal of yesterday. In the high season of my time there, we had a full newsroom, with probably five news reporters on staff, three staff photographers, a features and sports staff, actual copy editors, interns — and that, of course, was a fraction of what had been there in the even higher times a few years before me. And I recall the low times, when we got down to about two reporters, and cuts started to sweep through the building, and as the recession took hold and real estate and auto ads dwindled and the paper got thinner. Like a lot of industries and areas hard hit by the economic crisis, I don't believe a lot of newspapers have yet fully recovered. Maybe they never will.

Which brings us to today. Because all of these preceeding paragraphs can probably come off like a lot of sepia-tinged nostalgia.

The fact of the matter is that The Signal of today's Santa Clarita Valley is a shadow of its former self, but that is not to say all hope is lost.

The presses may have long since gone silent at 24000 Creekside Road, but after nearly 100 years, the paper is still being published, creating an ever-expanding first draft of our community's continuing history.

And there are signs of life still. Make no mistake, the corporate overlords in Georgia are still looking at the paper's bottom line. Revenue is king. But I have been encouraged by Russ Briley's arrival as publisher. He's a local guy, and a longtime newspaper guy. In my book, that's a good thing. He's been steering the paper back toward being an ally to the community — as important as being its watchdog.

I know a lot of you will be quick to point out everything that The Signal doesn't do. All the corporate missteps along the way that have reduced it to a shell of what it once was, and how "Vigilance Forever" is just a tattered flag flapping in the desert wind that seemingly mocks us. And you might not be entirely wrong, but I'd venture to guess perhaps you haven't thought enough about what they are doing with what they have. Maybe I'm too much of a romantic; too much of an optimist, still believing there's hope.

On Monday, I want to give you a bit of a window into community newspapering that I hope creates a bit of empathy for the job with which our local journalists are tasked. I want to talk about some things I think could work better for our community, and some things regionally that have not worked so well.

But for now, as we head into the weekend, I've wanted to just do a bit of looking back, and a bit of priming the pump.

I'll leave you with this. When you think about all the things our local newspaper (and I'll add radio station and TV station) might not cover, imagine for a moment our valley wth none of them at all.

Posted by Josh Premako   |   2 Comments »
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