A last-minute deluge of anti-cityhood mailings by developer-backed groups backfired and caused voters to turn out in larger-than-expected numbers to cast ballots for the new City of Santa Clarita, cityhood proponents said Wednesday.
"I think the people were just fed up with outside money being spent against them," said Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, the top vote-getter among a field of 25 City Council candidates on Tuesday's ballot. "It just made them mad."
"I think the developers might have won this for us," said Carl Boyer III, who was also elected to the five-member council. "They forced the people to think about cityhood."
69% Favor Cityhood
Voters in the 40-square-mile area approved the new city by more than 2 to 1--14,416 to 6,474--giving the cityhood measure 69% of the votes cast. Santa Clarita includes the communities of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia and most of Canyon Country.
Voter turnout in Santa Clarita was about 45%, contrasted with the Los Angeles County average of less than 15%.
McKeon, 45, a clothing-store owner; Jan Heidt, 48, a community activist and bookstore owner; JoAnne Darcy, 56, County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's field deputy; Boyer, 49, a San Fernando High School government teacher, and Dennis M. Koontz, 47, a retired Los Angeles City Fire Department captain, were elected to the council.
In a related ballot measure, voters decided that they want future council members to be elected at-large, as they were Tuesday. Boyer and Koontz, who received fewer votes than the other council members, will face reelection in two years, whereas McKeon, Heidt and Darcy will serve four-year terms.
Council members will be sworn in at the first meeting after election results are certified in early December.
The large voter turnout and widespread breakdowns in voting equipment caused election results to come in slowly. Hundreds of cheering residents who attended a cityhood victory party went home at 1:30 or 2 a.m. Wednesday without learning the election totals.
Marcia Ventura, a spokeswoman for the county registrar-recorders' office, said some polling places remained open after 8 p.m. because long lines of voters were still waiting to cast their ballots. Reports that officials at the 38 precincts in the area had taken ballots home with them, causing the late tally, were unfounded, Ventura said.
Cityhood proponents said the developers' anti-incorporation campaign was responsible for the large number of votes cast. City of Santa Clarita Formation Committee member Jill Klajic said that, until the mailers started arriving at residents' homes two weeks ago, "our biggest enemy was voter apathy. Then, people got excited. They even started coming in off the streets to give us money."
Koontz agreed. "I noticed a change in my precinct after the mailers started coming," he said. "People started to realize they were being railroaded. Before that, there was a lot of apathy. Nobody was really interested in cityhood."
"The developers' overkill alienated our citizens and ensured a victory for us," said Art Donnelly, formation committee chairman.
Reactions of the five new council members to the developers' campaign were mixed.
"I will treat them fairly, as I will treat any individual," Darcy said when asked if the anti-cityhood drive would influence her vote on the City Council.
"Intellectually, I have to say no," Boyer said in answer to the same question, "but, as a practical matter, yes. Now, you're going to see quality development like you've never seen it before."
Both McKeon and Koontz said they will judge each proposed development on its merits.
"I'm not going to paint them all with the same brush like they did the candidates," said Koontz, referring to a flyer that listed the names of 24 candidates and implied that one of them was a convicted sex offender.
"They took some cheap shots and they insulted the intelligence of this community," Heidt said. "It's going to be a while before I forget. They're going to have to earn their way back into my good graces."
Representatives of the Santa Clarita Caution Committee and the Coalition for the Right City, the two developer-backed groups, were unavailable for comment Wednesday.
However, Richard Wirth, spokesman for the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, congratulated proponents of cityhood on their victory. He said his organization was not behind the anti-cityhood effort, although individual developers who belong to the group might have been.
As their first action as council members-elect, Heidt and Boyer appeared before the county's Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday to request that action be delayed on an agreement with builder Jack Shine on a 5,400-unit development outside the city's boundaries in Canyon Country. The commission continued a public hearing on the matter until Dec. 13.