Friday, October 31, 2014

Tony Brandenburg - Halloween: The Night He Came Home (to Sierra Madre)

From Halloween II - filmed in Sierra Madre
Sierra Madre has been a locale used for some very ... interesting films. From Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to Halloween, to The Worm Eaters. Sierra Madre, bask in your cinematic glory!

Kersting Court is widely recognized by many horror and sci-fi film fans as the center of pod exporting in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). This is one of the truly great science fiction/horror thrillers of all time. However, there are other significant horror/suspense genre films that were also filmed - at least in part, right here in Sierra Madre. So can it be that Sierra Madre is actually ... terror town?

In October, 2010,  Mat Harmon spotlighted Pioneer Cemetery on a now defunct Sierra Madre blog with a wonderful piece which focused on Alfred Hitchcock’s swan-song, the comedy thriller Family Plot (1976). Hitchcock, known as The Master of the Suspense film, was most famous for his weekly television series, as well as a number of films. Rope (1948), Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), and North By Northwest (1959) are universally recognized as celluloid masterpieces. For most horror fans though, his most important work was Psycho (1960).

Hitchcock’s cinematic admirers would come to their own prominence in the 1970s, and his taut suspense would reemerge in the form of a new generation of film makers - among them Brian De Palma, Tobe Hooper, and John Carpenter. De Palma’s admiration of Hitchcock’s form is somewhat easier to notice in his later work than in his seventies output (Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie) and Hooper’s debut, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1975) would be a hard stretch to align to Hitchcock. Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 looks nothing like a Hitchcock inspired film maker at all. All of that changed with his second film, Halloween (1978) .

Carpenter would utilize many of Hitchcock’s most notable techniques in the hugely influential Halloween. The tense frightening music is undeniably engaged as an instrument of tension. (For soundtracks alone, Halloween stands shoulder to shoulder with the soundtracks of Psycho, The Exorcist, and Suspiria). But Carpenter utilized other Hitchcockian techniques, most obviously the protagonist’s viewpoint - compare Norman Bates spying through the wall peephole to the first person point of view of the mask worn by “The Shape” (as the Michael Myers creation would be known).

There were other interesting nods as well; Psycho’s Janet Leigh was the mother of Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis, and psychiatrist Sam Loomis (played by actor Donald Pleasance) was the name of a character in Psycho. The use of already familiar locales, such as Sierra Madre's Pioneer Cemetery, was probably more than just coincidental.

Ultimately, Carpenter would reinvent Psycho for a younger generation of horror movie fans, and thus helped popularize a sub-genre of horror/suspense known as the modern slasher film.

Modern slashers are rooted in earlier suspense sub-genres. Slasher films owe a debt to both Splatter/Gore - most notably Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and The Gore Gore Girls (1972) - and to Italian Giallo (most notably the Bavas, Argento, and Fulci). Both of these styles utilized motifs that would become staple in the slasher films that followed.

The first modern slasher was Black Christmas (1974). However, it would be Carpenter’s Halloween and Friday the 13th (1980) that would popularize and define the sub-genre, and which would lay the foundation for the formula which followed.

Carpenter would utilize Sierra Madre a great deal for locations in the 1980’s, but his initial foray to The Foothill Village was with Halloween, an independent film that has gone on to become one of the most successful of all the slasher franchises. Filmed on a budget of $325,000, Halloween would eventually gross more than $60,000,000 in box office receipts worldwide, making it one of the most profitable independent movies of all time. The film would be remade in 2007 by former White Zombie singer Rob Zombie.

In December, 2006, Carpenter’s Halloween was chosen for inclusion in the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, which stated:

John Carpenter’s first commercially successful film not only became his most famous work, but it also ushered in the dawn of the slasher film. However, “Halloween,” unlike many later films of that genre, creates a chilling tension with minimal blood and gore. The setting is Halloween night, and homicidal maniac Michael Myers has escaped from his mental institution and is hunting teenagers in his hometown of Haddonfield, Ill. Although the numerous imitations and elements of the genre are now considered a cliché, Carpenter’s style of point-of-view shots, tense editing and haunting piano score make “Halloween” uniquely artistic, frightening and a horror film keystone. (Library of Congress, 12/2006)

That is correct, Sierra Madre. A slasher film on the registry of the Library of Congress was partially filmed right here. I dunno ... maybe one day we can look forward to seeing one of those cute docent-led walking tours, led by a real pod person, parading a group of tourists in hockey masks up Baldwin Avenue. Why the Chamber of Commerce doesn't see this film as an important local business asset is beyond me.

Sierra Madre’s Pioneer Cemetery (553 E Sierra Madre Blvd.) was the local film shoot locale for Halloween. It was the pivitol scene where Loomis honors the history of Michael Myers. While rewatching the film recently, I was impressed that most of the scene from Halloween was easy to locate, shot for shot. This same location would later be used by both auteur David Lynch for the funeral of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, and for a comedy slasher, Uncle Sam: Wants You Dead (1997). I wonder if we can look forward to seeing our beloved Sam waltzing down Sierra Madre Boulevard as the Grand Marshall in an upcoming 4th of July Parade.

Carpenter returned to Sierra Madre for locales used in The Fog (1979). The film utilized shots from both the inside and outside of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension (25 East Laurel).

Michael Myers returned to Sierra Madre.
Because of Carpenter’s commitment to The Fog, he did not choose to direct Halloween II. However, Carpenter co-wrote the script, and co-produced the film. Sierra Madre was again used for location. The opening sequence of Halloween II was shot in Kersting Court, no doubt as a nod to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It boggles the mind, though. Michael Myers walking by the pub. Imagine, the night “he” returned to Sierra Madre.

Halloween II earned a domestic gross of over $25,500,000, but received mixed reviews as the sequel had employed much of the predecessor’s formula, using techniques which had already begun to appear cliche. Ultimately, it showed signs of being as derivative as the many imitators in the slasher film sub-genre which had already begun to manifest. Halloween II, though relying more on gore and on screen violence, and less on the style and subtlety that Carpenter’s direction had utilized - was still an immensely popular film. It, too, would be remade by Rob Zombie.

The success of the sequel resulted in the third film of the series, though this film would look and sound nothing like its predecessors. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was a markedly different film, utilizing what Carpenter had envisioned as a Halloween - themed story, and one that had no connection whatsoever to the Michael Myers story line. It would be the only Halloween movie to do so. This film would bear little of Carpenter’s influence - it was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace - except for the music, and one of the locales: Sierra Madre. That’s right, the “Three more days ‘til Halloween” jingle with the dancing pumpkin heads blasted from a TV set is in the window of a shop at 17 Kersting,  currently the home of Mother Moo Creamery. As well as some footage shot inside another shop located somewhere on Baldwin. There was also a scene from inside the very famous Buccaneer Lounge, located at 70 West Sierra Madre Blvd.

Sierra Madre is listed as a location for many horror and suspense themed movies, including  Tim Burton’s biopic of Plan 9 from Outer Space director Ed Wood (1994), and Poison Ivy (1992). It also was used for a couple of episodes of V, the TV Series.

The Foothill Village is also listed as a film location for Nightmare on Elm Street VI: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). My favorite discovery, hands down, was learning that Sierra Madre was listed by IBDM as the single locale for the z-grade comedy horror picture The Worm Eaters (1977). A film directed by the late Herb Robins, alumni of such Dennis Steckler films as The Thrill Killers. This was Steckler’s send-up of - what else? - Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Happy Halloween, Sierra Madre! You're a living part of it.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Every California Local Tax Increase Election In 2014

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I'm sort of taking the night off. I have a 6AM flight out to a work event this morning and I really do need to get a good night's sleep.

Where I am going is to a 7 band event we are putting on for Apple employees at a winery somewhere in the mountains overlooking San Jose.

Pretty posh affair, actually. The guy who owns this winery invented the heart stint, and he is worth around half a billion dollars. Two of those bands are my direct responsibility, and I have got to be there. It's a tough life I know, but at least the wine is good.

I understand that there was a City Council budget meeting last night, but someone else is going to have to try and decipher that one. I probably passed out long before it ended. Can't cover everything, unfortunately. If you happen to have a handle on it, leave some comments.

What I do have for you today is a list put together by an organization called CalTax. It covers every local ballot tax hike initiative in California for the year 2014. It is 13 densely packed pages long.

I have reproduced a portion of the first page for you because it contains our very own Measure UUT. Which, as you likely know, failed. Our little slice of what is an immense list of attempted tax increases. Most of which were to cover things like government employee pensions and benefits, even when the local pols said otherwise. Like they did here.

Kind of small type I know, but if you click on it the whole thing will enlarge and be much easier to read. Sierra Madre is number 9 on the list, which is sorted by date. And while this is one more chance to revel in our great victory, it does put things into a much larger perspective.


To check out all 13 pages of this register of taxable woe, click here

I'll catch up with you later.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Do You Know How To Tell If This Town Is Changing?

Breaking News: Mayor Pro Tem John Capoccia joins Denise Delmar in calling for a review of the Planning Commission decision on One Carter. It's on! 

Sunnyside needs this stop sign
When Judy Webb Martin stands before God, humanity, SMTV3 and the City Council and declares that overdevelopment is threatening to ruin this town. That's how. And did you know that Carol Canterbury is on a personal crusade to stop lot splitting? Will I have to stop laughing at that go-cart she rides around town on? Do I even know these people anymore?

You want to know something really crazy? Sierra Madre is coming together. And the issue that is getting people there is the threat of hostile foreign economic forces McMansionizing this quaint little village that for so many here means home. Where do you go once that is all gone? Will you ever be able to replace so much loss in your life? That sense of place? You need to think about that. Judy did. Carol did, too. They're thinking people. They get it. You would have to be pretty numb to life not to know this.

At the end of the meeting last night Councilmember Denise Delmar let it be known that she has put in her request for a review of the Planning Commission's One Carter decision. All of those brilliant people who turned out to make the case for an appeal did their job very well, and they have their champion. Their other potential champion, Rachelle Arizmendi, lives too close to that highly at risk place. Which means by law she cannot do anything about this issue that involves the City Council. Sadly Rachelle is forced to sit this one out.

Which means that one of the Three Dudes will need to step up and second Denise's call for a review. The deadline is November 4th, and by that time one of them will have had to throw their hat into the review ring to stand up for this community. You know, the one that has come together in its opposition to McMansions.

There is also this. If none of the three do that, and someone wants to come up with the $7,500 in blood money needed to save this city, they will have very little time to do that. Please keep that in mind.

Here are their e-mail addresses. Tell each of them that they either need to put in for a review of the One Carter disaster or risk being known forever as faithless enablers of grotesque Arcadia starter castles.

JHarabedian@cityofsierramadre.com

JCapoccia@cityofsierramadre.com

ggoss@cityofsierramadre.com

As you know, I am not exactly the PollyAnna type. Quite the opposite, actually. I often expect people to behave in unfair and selfish ways, and I am rarely disappointed. It's the New Jersey in me. However, I feel pretty good about this. I think at least one, if not all three of the Three Dudes, is going to call for a review as well.

And it could be because all three of them actually meant it when they said they'll do what they can to preserve this little village. You know, just like they said they would when running for election. But, just to add a little realism to this mix, how can they possibly not? This at a time when the town is clearly unifying to stop this awful stuff? The pressure on the them to do the right thing is immense.

Would you want to spend the rest of your political life having to explain how you did absolutely nothing to stop this?


I didn't think you would. Personally I cannot wait for the City Council meeting when the One Carter review takes place. The room is going to be packed, it is going to be filled with passion, and the people of Sierra Madre are going to come to together like they never have before and save this town from a terrible fate. It will be great moment that you will always be proud of.

All it takes is one more City Council vote. Write them every chance you get. Trust me, the politics are way on your side. Almost everyone in town wants this to happen.

Other stuff from last night's meeting

I am starting to wonder who it is that is lying to perfectly innocent people about the Library. Because it really is lying. There is no other good word for it. It got so bad last night that the City Manager herself had to state that no Library programs are being cut and nothing there is going away. Yet here stood this poor young mom at public comment expressing her fears about something that doesn't even exist.

Whoever put her up to that should be horribly ashamed of what they did. It was manipulative, cruel and in the end quite pathetic.

The reorganization went through. Something that we have been going on about here at The Tattler for the last year or so are those $36,000 health care plans our chronically po' mouthing pals at City Hall were providing for themselves. You know, while at the same time telling us they'd cut everything to the bone and utility taxes still needed to go up to 12%?

How bogus was that, right?

Well, because of the reorganization those Maybach health care plans are now gone. Thanks to the voters of Sierra Madre we will soon no longer have the highest utility taxes in California, which means city government here had to come back down to earth, and soon. The era of stupid city government excess is over.

The reorganization is in place. We won. Have a cup of coffee on me. Oh, and thank our friends at Transparent California as well. I don't think this would have happened without them.

One more. I believe that the people calling for "traffic calming" on Sunnyside need to expand their horizons a little bit. If things go south on the McMansion thing those concerned residents are about two years from community devastation.

If that 50 some odd unit Mini-Mansion development goes through at Mater Dolorosa, those wild and wacky speeding weekend pilgrims are going to magically transform into a three year flotilla of dump trucks, backhoes, bulldozers and God knows what else. All backed up by a racket so loud you'll think you are living at the dusty gates of hell. Which is supposed to be quite different from a monastery.

If you think about it, this is quite a high price for a neighborhood of nice folks to pay. All so a few old Passionist fathers who didn't properly plan for their retirements can enjoy their golden years in the posh style they believe they deserve.

You really don't owe them a thing, you know. Obviously they could care less about you.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

City Council Meeting: The One Carter Appeal and More

Is Democracy for sale in Sierra Madre?
There are a few things of interest that will be revealed at tonight's City Council meeting, and the first is not be found on the agenda. That is the resident call for an appeal of the Planning Commission's decision on One Carter. The hope being the City Council will want to review this decision and make certain that such important city guideposts as the General Plan and HMZ were adequately adhered to, and not merely pushed aside as inconveniences to the process.

The suspicion some residents hold is that the Planning Commission settled this matter in order to avoid a developer initiated lawsuit against the city. An unfortunate concession that many believe happened because the P.C. was unduly pressured to do so. A city that gives in merely to avoid lawsuits is basically surrendering its rights without a fight. The entire One Carter debacle, which began nearly a decade ago, began with just such an embarrassing surrender. And what problems did that ever solve?

A comedic sidelight to all of this tonight is the City Manager's rather dubious claim that residents issuing this call to the City Council for a One Carter review must be charged the developer appeal rate of $7,500 for their pains. An obvious question here being why should City Hall be allowed to double-dip those already paying taxes in this community for the democratic use of their government? Don't residents already pay for such rights when they kindly send in their tax checks?

Most cities require residents to pay a small filing fee for an appeal. Several hundred dollars at most. Sierra Madre has a City Manager who either does not want to follow due process, or merely sees residents as something to exploit for profit.

The City Council should put this matter on the agenda without cost. To do otherwise is to give the impression that democracy in Sierra Madre is only available to the privileged few that can afford to pay for it.

There is nothing in the City of Sierra Madre's fee schedule about residents asking for an appeal in their own city. What the City Manager is erroneously (or cynically) citing are development applicant appeal costs. The kind of thing CETT needed to do when the Planning Commission rejected Adele Chang's McMansion designs.

Wouldn't you have to actually apply for something before you can appeal its rejection? I don't recall any slow growth residents applying for One Carter Conditional Use Permits lately. Do you?

Another point that must be made is this fee is not actually a fee at all. As the City Manager herself puts this, it is a "deposit against costs." Can you find anything about a "deposit against costs" in that fee schedule? What this means is that an initial $7,500 cost could rapidly spin out of control depending on whatever happens later. I mean, what if they hire a consultant?

In other words, should you decide to stand up for what most Sierra Madreans want for this town by appealing CETT's primitive assault on architectural decorum here to the City Council, you really would have no idea what this will cost you going in. That would be in the hands of City Hall. And given their seemingly endless obsession with obtaining more money, and at every possible turn, who knows how much you would end up having to pay?

No city government that really that gives a damn about its residents would charge them $7,500 plus costs to appeal a planning decision. This is an attempt at intimidation, pure and simple. It is sad to think that city employees, people whose salaries are taken out of resident tax money, have such an undemocratic and greedy attitude about the rights of their perhaps overly generous benefactors.

Another matter of interest, which also fits into today's theme that City Hall views residents merely as a profit center, is this unhappy item:


Here is what one commenter had to say about this yesterday:

The city now has a new way to get more money from us. Check out item 5, Property Sale Inspection Program, on tomorrow night’s city council agenda. They want to start inspecting every house when it is sold, FOR A FEE OF COURSE, to make sure, among other things; our smoke detectors are working, under the guise of protecting our health.

Big Brother‘s appetite has no limit. There will never be enough money for them. The things they want to charge us to inspect are already being done under State law. Every homeowner must check the smoke detectors, hot water heater bracing, earthquake shutoff on the gas meter, etc. Every homeowner must disclose all defects and unpermitted conditions to the buyer. Escrow cannot close until this is done.

So, three guesses why the city wants to start inspecting every house that is sold and the first two don’t count. Someone please speak against this tomorrow night. It is conveniently the last item on the agenda. 

That pretty much nails it.

Item #4 will hopefully put an end to a conversation that has been going on for too long. The City Manager's often repeated contention that city employees should somehow be paid more while also providing fewer hours of service is a contradiction that never quite got its wings. Hopefully the City Council puts a fork in it tonight.


And so it goes. It all begins at 6:30. Set your clocks.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, October 27, 2014

The San Gabriel Valley Metropolitan Water District Bus Junket To The Pump House Last Friday: Was It A Paid City Hall Political Event Supporting Proposition 1?

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(Mod: Here is some boilerplate paradiddle from our very own Tom Love regarding last Friday's City Hall bus junket to the SGVMWD's pump house and PowerPoint Propaganda Parlor. It comes from the City of Sierra Madre website, and I guess should be taken as a kind of political endorsement. As is made clear by Love's spiel below, obviously this was a campaign stunt cooked up to support the "Yes! On Prop 1" effort, the $7.5 billion dollar bond issue on the ballot this November. Ostensibly about water shortages, it is actually about as pork laden a Sacramento con job as we've seen in quite some time. One that cynically exploits the drought in order to line the pockets of some very special interests. A question to ask here is who paid for this bus junket? The "Yes On Prop 1" campaign? Then why haven't they said so? And what is partisan Prop 1 campaign advocacy doing at City Hall? Or on a taxpayer supported city website? Is that even remotely legal?)

Know Your H2O! 2014 San Gabriel Valley Water Forum Highlights Water Bond and Drought Solutions By Thomas A. Love President, Board of Directors San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (link)


The 2014 San Gabriel Valley Water Forum, held October 2 at Fairplex Conference Center in Pomona, was an educational and informational success as nearly 300 people from Sierra Madre and neighboring cities attended the third annual event. Teachers, students, elected officials, business leaders, city employees, water industry professionals, community leaders and environmental leaders all agreed this year’s Forum, entitled “Are We Ready for the Impacts of the Severe Drought,” was the best Forum yet.

Attendees learned from expert speakers on the subjects of the drought and long-term climate change, and impacts from the drought ranging from water shortages, to flooding, to fires, to earthquakes, to cost of living increases, to job losses.

The keynote presentation featured Secretary John Laird, California Natural Resources Agency, and Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, author of the 2014 Water Bond, discussing the Water Bond and landmark groundwater management legislation. The Water Bond discussion was extremely timely as a $7.5 billion Water Bond will be on the ballot this Election Day, November 4.

The Board of Directors for the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which assists the City of Sierra Madre with its water supply, water conservation and special funding, has passed a resolution supporting the Water Bond and encourages all residents to learn more about the Water Bond and water issues so they can vote intelligently this November 4. If approved by voters, the Water Bond, which is Proposition 1 on the ballot, will provide funding for water improvement projects throughout California and San Gabriel Valley dealing with water storage/reservoirs, water conservation, groundwater quality and sustainability, watershed protection, and flood and storm water management.

(Mod: The final chapter of this taxpayer funded campaign event comes Tuesday evening as certain of our City Councilmembers, some of whom apparently participated in this political stunt, will jump for joy, declare it all a true revelation and that everyone should vote Yes! On Prop 1. Since City Hall is now functioning as a campaign headquarters for Prop 1, and doesn't really care to share any contrary opinions on this topic, I thought I should offer you some information from a differing perspective. Because if you think another $14.4 billion dollars - with interest - should be added to Sacramento's already massive debt load, and done to reward huge corporate agribusinesses and other especially generous donors to certain politically privileged persuasions, then you are desperately in need of an update. This from the Modesto Bee - link.)

Proposition 1 adds a big debt for little new water - Tim Quinn, director of the Association of California Water Agencies, recently said, “We’ve got to get the public out of this mindset that ‘If I spend the money, I get lots more water.’ ”

That’s why we oppose Proposition 1, the California water bond. It is poor public policy to burden taxpayers with $14.4 billion (including interest) for a water bond that nets very little new water. Prop. 1 adds to our $770 billion in taxpayer indebtedness and will crowd out funding for public schools, roads, health and safety.

Prop. 1 does next to nothing to address near-term drought relief. It dedicates just 13 percent of its funding to conservation, stormwater capture and treatment, and recycling for the entire state. Prop. 1 marks $2.7 billion for “continuous funding,” meaning the funds flow without legislative oversight for three dams that will increase the state’s water supply by 1 percent – in 10 to 15 years, when the projects would be completed.

If Prop. 1 passes, the state will spend $360 million a year for the next 40 years to build projects that will not solve our water problems, but will benefit wealthy agriculture corporations who want more access to water. California taxpayers should not go into debt to build projects for billion-dollar farming conglomerates.

According to a June 3, 2014, report in The Sacramento Bee, Temperance Flat, Sites Reservoir and an elevated Shasta Dam will only net 316,000 acre-feet of new water in an average year for a total cost of $7.5 billion. The feasibility study for Temperance Flat allocated 73 percent of the costs to taxpayers, saying the dam will benefit salmon. The idea that we build dams for fish is ludicrous. The real beneficiaries would be private agribusiness interests who will receive water from Temperance Flat.

Funding for Temperance Flat and the other two dam projects is a bad public investment. The water takers don’t want to pay for these dams because they know the benefits are minimal. They are happy to foist the cost onto taxpayers.

Prop. 1 also contains $1.5 billion for “conservancies,” much of it pork spending that produces no new water and is unrelated to water: bike trails, hiking trails and agency administrative costs. Hundreds of millions in pork was included to win specific legislators’ votes. And there’s no language specifying how it is to be spent.

Prop. 1 forces taxpayers to buy water the public already owns to protect fish. That water will be used to increase supplies for export to huge agribusinesses. Whether or not Fresno area residents believe that more water should be sent through the Delta to their region, the idea that specific industrial farming operations would be shifting to taxpayers nearly $1 billion in general obligation debt to fix the damage they cause does not square with the notion of fiscal prudence.

Prop. 1 shortchanges sensible measures like water recycling and groundwater cleanup that would have provided new water. These projects were slashed by 36 percent in the final bond.

Prop. 1 misspends the money needed for investments in water infrastructure throughout California. It is fiscally irresponsible to build new dams and fund bike trails while leaving local water pipes to leak up to 10 percent of the water we currently have. It makes more sense to stop leaking water before spending to build new dams and bike trails. Prop. 1 sabotages, delays and diverts funding from meaningful efforts to address California’s continuing water crisis.

Bottom line: Proposition 1 panders to special interests at the expense of the public. It provides no drought relief, it eliminates public oversight, and it steals funds from essential public programs – including education and road maintenance. It is pure pork. California taxpayers must not be forced to assume additional debt and sacrifice their access to public water, their fisheries and recreational waterways simply to build infrastructure for politically connected farming conglomerates.

(Mod: You have to wonder why this information isn't on the city website as well. Well, OK, you don't really. The answer is actually quite obvious. City Hall is working for the Yes! On Prop 1 campaign. But again, is this kind of partisan political advocacy actually legal in a taxpayer supported forum? … Oh, and here's another intriguing fact. Who was the 2013-2014 Chair of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership? None other than the Godfather of Sierra Madre water bond debt, Bart Doyle! - link. Small world, isn't it?)

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mikala Rahn Will Not Be Running For Her Board Of Education Seat - Sandra Siraganian Has Now Announced Her Intention To Keep That Seat For Sierra Madre

Mikala Rahn steps away
As you may recall, way back in the spring of 2013 there was a bit of a ruckus here locally about some patently unfair election arrangements made by the usual suspects. This over who would and would not have seats on the Pasadena Unified Board of Education. Rather than putting all seven newly formed so-called subdistrict seats up for election at the same time, it was somehow decided that just four would be placed before the voters in 2013. The other three not being allowed to vote for Board of Ed representation until 2015.

Of course, Sierra Madre was one of those subdistricts slated not to have any elected BOE types speaking on its behalf until 2015. Some very old school taxation without representation, as it were.

So how did this happen? Perhaps it was resentment created by our kids consistently testing higher than their peers in those other two towns. Or maybe it was that large body of dedicated parents willing to volunteer their time and talent working in our schools. Here we actually made the PUSD work, and you know how annoying that might be for some. Many do have their issues with smart and independent people.

And this rather grotesque violation of our rights happened despite the fact that such heroic local freedom fighters as Bart "Big Debt" Doyle and "Vanishing Joe" Mosca were deeply involved in this "sub-districting decision making process," and could have actually done something about it. For some reason they never did. They didn't even tell us about it, either. Very mysterious fellows, those two gents.

Fortunately The Tattler got wind of these shenanigans and we were quite pleased to share with you as much as we could find out.

This did lead to some great comedic moments. My favorite was Bart Doyle trying to convince then Councilmember Chris Koerber that Sierra Madre getting to vote at the same time as those more privileged subdistricts would somehow be unfair to poor old Tom Selinske. Oh, how we all ached with sympathy for our Tommy!

There was also an instance where the Mountain Views News urged Sierra Madreans to get out and vote in that Board of Education election. You know, the one where we had been thoughtlessly kicked off the ballot? But we will have to leave those happy memories in the archives for now.

The Pasadena Star News announced this deeply flawed election in their November 6, 2012 edition of that paper. Here is how they worded it (link):

Pasadena announces filing dates for council, school board elections - Candidate nominations for the March 5 primary elections for City Council and Pasadena Unified School District will open on Nov. 13 and close Dec. 7, the City Clerk's office announced Wednesday.

Representatives for Pasadena's City Council districts 3, 5 and 7 and for PUSD Board of Education members representing the newly formed district seats 1, 3, 5 and 7 will be up for election. Candidates for both City Council and PUSD all will vie for four-year terms.

Sadly, Sierra Madre is in subdistrict (so-called) #6, and our moment to shine at the ballot box was shoved off until 2015. Along with two other politically inconvenient even numbered largely suburban subdistricts. To this day we still haven't been allowed to vote for a representative to our own Board of Ed subdistrict seat.

A pretty good Pasadena Star News article describing some of the controversy in town back in the spring of 2013 ("Sierra Madre residents seek fair process to fill vacant Pasadena school board seat") can be found here.

Oddly enough, some actual good came out of all this. So loud and boisterous was the reaction here in Sierra Madre that the then sitting Pasadena Unified Board of Education began to fear we'd do something wild and crazy. Like maybe take our schools and try to join another school district. So they did a couple of decent things.

One happy result was that they finally caved in and committed to building our new Sierra Madre Middle School. Which I assume is still being built. I haven't been over there lately.

But, and even more amazing, they appointed an actual Sierra Madre resident to fill an "at-large" seat on the Board of Education. No Sierra Madrean had been so privileged in years. That person was Mikala Rahn, and she has served us capably (and happily) ever since.

Which brings us up to today. Mikala Rahn has decided she is not going to run for the seat she currently occupies. Running in elections is a rough business and certainly not for everyone. I tried it once and the experience was so unsettling it turned me into a daily blogger. Don't let that ever happen to you.

Fortunately we can still keep that Subdistrict #6 seat for Sierra Madre. Resident and education activist Sandra Siraganian, fearful that we might see a return to those bad old days of second class PUSD citizenship, has pushed all other considerations aside and will stand for election next year. She has filed a letter of intention to run with the Pasadena Unified School District, and has now begun the long and arduous process of holding on to that Board of Education seat for us.

Sierra Madre's recent PUSD luck continues to hold. Do not let it slip away.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 25, 2014

City Hall's Absurd $7,500 Fee To Appeal The One Carter Debacle Is Now Official - Possible Illegalities Identified

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Up until sometime yesterday that $7,500 appeal fee was mostly the stuff of rumor. People had been calling City Hall throughout the week and asking about just how much it would cost to appeal the Planning Commission's call on the Midi-McMansion approved for construction at One Carter, but it seems that they hadn't quite set the price yet.

Perhaps it was the lack of precedence here for resident appeals of this kind. Or maybe there were some other considerations at work. After all, sniffing out unusual opportunities to ferret money from the pockets of residents is a kind of specialty of our local government agency. The five figure city chargebacks against the Huck Finn Fishing Derby being a prime example. Here even children's events are fair game.

Apparently after weighing some of the "what the market will bear" criteria involved in double-dunning those who might want to appeal the issuance of a CUP to CETT over that beefy two tiered (though development impact fee rich) hillside eyesore, the price has now been officially set. And the City Manager seems briskly assured about this in her weekly Friday evening report. Check this out:


Legally proficient residents of Sierra Madre have been looking over this rather dicey "done on the run" mega-fee, and it does appear that there are a couple of instances where this McMess may cross the line into illegality.

The first is that this fee is not actually a fee at all. As the City Manager herself chirps, it is a "deposit against costs." Which means that this $7,500 price could rapidly inflate depending on what happens later.

In other words, should you decide to stand up for what most Sierra Madreans want for this town by appealing CETT's primitive assault on architectural decorum to the City Council, you really would have no idea what this will cost you going in. That would be in the unwholesome hands of City Hall. And given their permanent obsession with getting more money, and at every possible turn, who knows how much you will end up having to actually pay?

Fees such as this are supposed to be clearly defined ahead of time. People wishing to appeal something to a government agency have the legal right to know exactly what their fee costs will be before committing precious resources. What our merry City Manager is describing here is akin to handing over your AMEX card and allowing her to issue charges against it for whatever reasons she may wish, and at any time.

Something that, in my opinion, you would need to be certifiably insane to allow.

The other possible legal issue for this so-called fee is that it was obviously done of the fly. There is no established rate card for that sort of thing in Sierra Madre, which means this $7,500 figure was created with no clear policies or rules provided, and without the involvement of any elected officials. Even the dumb ones. That makes this a lawsuit risk, which is hardly the way government is supposed to get done.

The suspicion is that this $7,500 open-ended "fee" was cooked up to discourage people from appealing that controversial One Carter decision to the City Council. The expense of that fee alone being enough to give any resident pause. When you throw in the possibility that the price will go up, and without defining any criteria for this, it becomes something no serious person is going to want to do.

Which is, of course, the most likely purpose here. The last thing some folks on the City Council want is to have to vote on anything to do with One Carter. Obviously the tax happy Three Dudes want those big fat CETT development impact fees. When have they ever not wanted more money?

However, the 3D does not want to be seen in public as supporting hillside McMansions. That would be political suicide. So much of their strategy to date has been to dump that hot potato on the Planning Commission.

Unfortunately for the rather hypocritical Three Dudes, an appeal of the sort we are discussing here could end up putting them on record as supporting CETT's efforts to make a wide swathe of our picturesque hillsides look like Arcadia on steroids. Entirely undoing all of the dudes' painstaking work at responsibility avoidance.

So the City Manager, and with the possible assistance of our at times ethically flexible Mayor (we're not certain, but we do have our suspicions), came up with this legally deficient open-ended fee scheme. Apparently designed to scare off any parties interested in appealing the One Carter decision.

As has usually been the case these last couple of years, this has now backfired badly on them.

I thought Tom Love said we have lots of water!

Everybody loves Love, and never more so than when he wandered into a City Council meeting a few months back and assured anyone with the ears to hear that there is plenty of water to be had. So let's get out there and build us some McMansions.

So how do you explain the following article from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune (link)?

San Gabriel Valley’s largest water agency declares water supply emergency - The San Gabriel Valley’s largest water agency has declared a water supply emergency and is demanding that it receive its fair share of imported supplies, or it may have to shut down water wells.

A sternly worded resolution adopted by the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District board late Tuesday night explained that the statewide drought, now entering a fourth year, has lowered the water table in the aquifer to record low levels.

Without supplemental water from Northern California and the Colorado River, the San Gabriel Basin’s levels could drop another 20 feet, rendering active water wells inoperable and sending some cities scrambling for drinking water supplies, according to district officials.

The district, which serves 1 million residents in 18 San Gabriel Valley cities from South Pasadena to West Covina, is teaming with the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster and other districts. The Watermaster formed a drought committee whose task is to identify which areas of the vast underground basin will be affected first and which wells would go dry if the drought persists.

The Beatles once sang, "All You Need Is Love." That may no longer be the case.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sierra Madre City Government: Is It Really Pay To Play?

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So let's say you are a resident concerned about the future of Sierra Madre, and you are especially worried that last week's Planning Commission decision on One Carter could lead to an explosion of the kind of McMansion insanity going on down in Arcadia. The good news is that you do have some options.

And one of them would be to appeal that unfortunate decision to the City Council. Except there is this one problem. Yes, your government will allow you to challenge that decision. And yes, you will be able to stand before every man, woman and child in this town and declare you are convinced their conclusions were wrong, and that the City Council needs to examine all of the evidence before ever allowing the building to begin at One Carter. And perhaps even redress your appeal by sending it once again back to the Planning Commission for a more thorough, and heavily General Plan based, review.

But to do this you would have to pay City Hall some money. Actually, a lot of money.

In this town defending your rights as a taxpaying citizen is apparently done on a pay to play basis. Sure you can issue an appeal to the City Council to reexamine the Planning Commission's decision. One that could possibly open the floodgates to a wholesale McMansionization of Sierra Madre. Certainly you can point out that every third or fourth house in Sierra Madre might potentially be bought and torn down to help overseas nationals with more money than taste launder their ill gotten monetary gains. This and build the kinds of things antithetical to what most of those living here actually want. Exactly as it is being done in Arcadia.

But to do this you would need to kick in a lot of cash. Otherwise? You are flat out of luck.

How much money you ask? A cool $7,500, baby. Do you have that kind of sugar sitting around in the family cookie jar right now? You know, that little bit of saved up mad money you might want to spend on something as burdensome to city staff as defending your basic rights as a taxpaying American citizen?

According to the moneychangers down at City Hall the math goes like this. The cost to appeal the One Carter decision to your elected City Council needs to be 75% of the $10,000 application (or filing) fee the CETT folks paid a while back on their McMansion gambit.

But there is also another level to the madness. That $7,500 might not be the end of it. In the eyes of the appreciative salaried employees at City Hall, that appeal fee is a kind of deposit. It will hold you a place at their table. But should things go a little off the tracks during this appeal "process," your cost could go up. Way up if they decide something a little extra is needed. Like hiring a consultant.

So do you feel lucky? Do you?

Think of it as the meter in a cab whose driver doesn't ever want to ever let you out. Or at least until your credit card is wiped and he can't possibly get any more money out of you.

You might believe that you're doing the right and noble thing here, but apparently the city only sees you as a potential profit center. And you know how they feel about your money.

Perhaps it is your belief that because you are already paying some rather impressive taxes to this town, you somehow have the right to petition your local government agency and redress a grievance. After all, aren't you already footing the bill to keep the City Hall lights on, plus the employees supplied with groceries, CalPers and platinum $36K a year health care plans?

Yes, you are. And because you have already have paid once for the services of the city employees who would work on your appeal, you've already ponied up all that you need.

I mean, when you consider that you're currently paying the highest utility tax rates in all of California, could anyone there actually have the brass to accuse you of asking for something for nothing?

Unfortunately they do. In City Hall's eyes your taxes only pay to keep the employees seated at their desks. If you want to get them to do some actual work on something that many here feel is kind of important, like saving this town from an aesthetic and spiritual obliteration, you will need to pay extra.

In the case of an appeal of that unfortunate One Carter decision, that extra comes to $7,500. And it could be just the price of admission.

In other words, if you don't come up with pay to play money, you have no right to appeal anything in Sierra Madre. Apparantly everything at City Hall has a price tag attached to it. A very big price tag. And your government only has time for those with money enough to attract their attention. Like McMansion developers, crass overseas investors and their lawyers.

Your taxes only pay for the doors that other money opens. You might think you have the right to issue an appeal to your local government over something as important as this. But you don't. That is something you will need to buy.

Apparently it really is pay to play in Sierra Madre. You either fork over your money or go away. And if you don't buy in there is always someone else who will.

And that is who the City is really hoping to hear from.

http//:sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tony Brandenburg: Talk Talk

LAUSD's future is now
Deasy Be Gone!
LA Unified got rid of  Dr. John Deasy, their superintendent. Well, sort of.

He resigned.

This should come as no big surprise. Remember, rule of thumb for administrators is that they resign or get moved once every three years.

Deasy is 53 years old. CBS News felt Deasy's age, and successor/predecessor Ramon Cortines to be significant enough to mention it (click here). If you care, Cortines is 82. Maybe there is a reason for mentioning this. Other than the possibility that Cortines should be acting his age. He should be out in his yard squirting his hose at his neighbors' kids like the other curmudgeons do.

Deasy is going to stick around to help Cortines with the transition. That's actually kind of funny when you think about it. Maybe that's part of that 'maverick" behavior that The Los Angeles Times, the last vestige of a crumbling paper medium,  alluded to when they suggested that Too Many Maverick Moves Lead to Deasy's Undoing (click here).

The Times seem to be focused on the unpopularity of Deasy's Ipad Debacle, the Jefferson High School Fiasco, and the Teacher Evaluation System Smokescreen. And then he really made the Teachers Union mad. I will discuss all of those, but ultimately I think job performance is a moot point for Deasy and most administrators.

I believe the end goal is always money. Saving and monitoring it for school districts is part of their job duties. Redistributing it for retirement is part of their personal duty.

The Ipad Debacle. Who can forget the IPad Debacle? Not me. I actually thought Deasy had hit one out of the park on this one. Personally I thought getting an IPad into the hands of kids was a great idea. I know because I've seen them work. But who cares about best practices? The problem, which is always the case when big money is involved, was that Deasy apparently knew some people who knew some stuff about computers. A little too cozy of a situation, apparently. Of course, it didn't help that the UTLA were already tired of him, too  True to the op ed piece, the IPad issue was the defining moment of  Deasy's tenure.

The Jefferson High School Fiasco. This one has to do with - what else- a technology snafu called MiSiS which resulted in a large number of Los Angeles Unified students not being prepared for graduation, let alone learning anything at all. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of students at two schools (click here) and LAUSD responded by making the kids go to school longer to make up for the lost time. The time stolen from them in the first place. Deasy made a couple of critical errors here. He didn't fix the situation when he could have - irritating the judge who ruled on this - and then supported the lawsuit by stating the practice of enrolling student in non-instructional classes was indefensible (click here).

"These courses serve no conceivable pedagogical purpose and defy every norm and standard adhered to by professional educators," Deasy wrote. "The fact that these courses are used anywhere is antithetical to education, but the fact that they are being assigned to students who are academically behind and have not fulfilled graduation and college entry requirements is outrageous."

Honest assessment of the situation, and totally contrary to helping the LAUSD Board of Education cover it up. No wonder they hated him and bickered with him relentlessly.

Deasy's official statement applauded the judge and stood up for the consumer (click here) who in this instance were the kids. Note the word policy in the following. It is not an accidental placement.

“I am very pleased and encouraged that the judge recognizes that the efforts we have made by policy in this District need to be followed. We are working with Jefferson High School’s staff to remedy the issues to ensure that all students’ academic needs are being met. And we look forward to meeting state officials to explain the new resources needed.

This is another victory for youth in challenging circumstances. This is why I fought two years ago to have students have a full schedule, and why we are trying to negotiate the right to set a master schedule that meets individual school needs. We especially look to State Superintendent Tom Torlakson to support full and rigorous schedules for all youth.”

Policy isn't dropped in there by accident. A superintendent and board can institute all the policies they want, but unless the principals and counselors and teachers actually implement the policies, then nothing is going to get done. That's pretty much what happened. Then came the finger pointing, and the "We weren't trained" rhetoric.

Of course no one was trained. You need a board item to do that. It has to be approved. And the union has to sign off on it. All of that requires  the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing. When the internet is down, that usually doesn't take place.

The Teacher Evaluation Smokescreen. Then there was the teacher evaluation thing. Deasy really scored high with the unions on this one. I'm kidding. Utilizing standardized tests as a cornerstone for success, LA Unified went ahead and set up their system using the now obsolete CST. A question I asked a while back when Ben Hueso was running for School Board in PUSD was why the UTLA didn't do more to stomp that thing out a little quicker (click here). His rating was based in part on those scores. In fact, many teachers were. And now? the CST is gone, baby, gone.

You can bet this evaluation thing didn't sit well with the union. After all, like everything else, evaluations should be done by employees on  themselves. That way an honest evaluation of one's self-interest can best be served.

Deasy has consistently supported students first, and been way too friendly to the idea of charter schools. Neither of these positions sit well with people who wish to keep the staus quo. Test scores will continue to be abone of contention, especially the further out they get compliments of the Common Core, but it's easy to see the breakdown between the UTLA and Deasy when Deasy is taking a stand that clearly contradicted the flow of mediocrity.

In 2012, an L.A. County Superior Court judge affirmed that state law required the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, while another judge this year struck down five laws involving traditional teacher job protections, saying they violated students' constitutional rights to an equal education by keeping "grossly ineffective" teachers on the job. Deasy supported both cases.

Most agree that the growing backlash against testing, charters and other policies opposed by teacher unions and other activists is spelling peril to superintendents who push them. Last week, former school superintendents in Oakland and Sacramento spoke out in support of Deasy, saying their efforts to push changes had also sparked huge teacher union opposition. (click here)

The Real Skinny According to My Delusions
John Deasy is close to my age. If I was an ambitious person, which I'm not, I would see the writing on the wall. Which I don't.

If I was a smart guy I would realize that the name of the game is *me* and that the higher my salary is at retirement, the better by retirement package would be. I would be strutting up to the top of the hen house like all good cocks do, and strutting my stuff the whole time. I would nab the best package before I settled down to compare scars with the others.

Deasy will get hired somewhere else, he'll get a better salary, and he'll leave that job in three or four years to get his (probably) final job in administration. Then he'll retire on a percentage of his last salried job, and live another twenty or so years off of the backs of taxpayers. Just like I will, for about 1/16th of the amount.

That's why he is smart, and I am an idiot.

Who's Next?
According to Craig Clough's blog (click here) a long list of possible candidates popped up. Among them is Richard Carranza, the current superintendent at San Francisco Unified School District. We knowit's along shot, and even a longer one that he'll bring down Elizabeth "Bucking" Blanco (click here) but in the event that this does happen, the Brandenburgs never forgive, and never forget. We want to party with you, Liz. Of course, an ambitious gal like Liz may have her sight set on the big seat if Ricky leaves. We still have a good laugh about how fast you scurried off when Jon Gundry got the seat in PUSD.

Just Because
As long as we're here.  Remember, these salaries include benefit packages.

SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza's package last year was $339,452.52. SFUSD Special Education Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Blanco made $189,081.93 (click here). Over at LA Unified Ramon Cortines will receive $300,000 which is less than John Deasy's $350,000 (click here). Former PUSD Superintendent Jon Gundry made $301,081.01. Gilbert Barraza, PUSD principal unextraordinaire made $143,397.54. Special Ed Chief Michael Jason made $160,468.88.  Yolanda Munoz, teachers unextraordinaire made $92,849.54. (Mis)Behavior Analyst Jaccqueline Marvel made $105,484.82. Special Education Teacher Debra Holland made $84,803.42 (click here).

You go girls.

I wish I could tell you what I make, but I can't figure it out with benefits. Last year it appears that my district didn't provide the information. So I will tell you.

I got a billion zillion trillion dollars in salary last year. Don't you wish you worked at Money-to-Burn Unified School District, like I do?

And the New LA Unified Superintendent Is!
No surprise here, but Ramon Cortines is now the new Superintendent of Public Instruction in Los Angeles. Technically, he's the interim Superintendent, which implies it temporary. Apparently to everyone but Ramon Cortines. His self bloated importance demands that there is no such term as interim and notified the world via CBS News Radio that he is THE superintendent until the Board of Education tells him otherwise. Cortines went on to say that educators have an obligation to model behavior to the community. He reminded us that civility is the rule of the land.

Really? Is it likely that we - the populace - need Ramon Cortines's advice on how to act - and on correct behavior, too? Color me impressed.

But I seem to recall a sex scandal and the hushed whispers of cover-up just a couple of years ago (click here). Filed by Scot Graham, there was a ten million dollar lawsuit, when Cortines was the interim superintendent in 2000.

Documents obtained under a Public Records Act request show that Graham began working as LAUSD's director of real estate on July 2, 2000. Although district officials maintain that Graham received no preferential treatment, he said he never had to interview or even submit a resume before he was hired to the $150,000-a-year job. 

Graham did have to take a significant pay cut but felt there would be an emotional payoff in working for the district. That changed, he said, within the first few days of Cortines offering him the job. 

According to the lawsuit Graham filed last month, Cortines took him to dinner at the Water Grill and the two returned afterward to LAUSD headquarters. There, the suit said, Cortines groped him and asked him to have sex in the superintendent's office.

When Graham refused, Cortines told him "it was the least he could do" for getting him the job, according to the lawsuit. Graham rebuffed Cortines' advances, but feared that Cortines would retaliate. 

"I was so ashamed," Graham said in the interview. "It was just so, so humiliating, and I didn't know who to tell or what to tell."

Apparently Graham figured out who to tell. When the smoke cleared, LAUSD settled for more than $200,000 in payout, plus a lifetime healthcare package valued at an additional $250,000 with Graham (click here). It is far cry from $10,000,000. Regardless, the settlement  hushed up Graham, and closed the door of inquiry indefinitely.

Cortines, 79, regarded as one of the nation's most respected superintendents, retired from the district in April 2011. His successor, John Deasy, already had been named to the top position. There's no indication that the alleged incident hastened Cortines' retirement, which had been expected for some time.

Graham's attorney notified the district that he intended to file a claim of sexual harassment in March. The Board of Education voted 4-3 to approve a settlement Tuesday. Graham will receive $200,000 plus lifetime health benefits, estimated at a value of $250,000. 

Graham, 56,  played a key role in the school system's massive school construction program, but did not report directly to Cortines. As part of the settlement, Graham will leave his $150,000-a-year job with the school system. Cortines, in a statement, admitted to bad judgment but said the encounter was consensual and that no harassment occurred.

Yeah, consensual. Well, if it is consensual for a person to be groped, then I suppose that definition would suffice. Last time I checked though, being pawed by an aggressive Alpha Male was not considered consensual. It is called either sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Tell me how I should act again, Cortines. Model civility for me so I know how to behave.

Oh, by the way, did anyone catch the part about Graham being in construction, and not having to interview for the position?

Yeah, Cortines. Hmmmm. It seems that he did whatever he wanted to do, too. Set the tone for Deasy, actually. You'd think the LAUSD Board of Education would have noticed the parallels.

Maybe they'll just ignore the hypocrisy altogether. Wanna bet?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Barry Gold's Letter To The City Council

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(Mod: Community concern about a lack of proper Planning Commission consideration for relevant portions of the existing General Plan when approving CETT's designs for a house at One Carter has led to a call in town for a review by the City Council. After having seen the unfortunate results of a similar situation at Camillo Road, it seems logical to many Sierra Madre residents to take this extra step in order to make certain that what is known as our community blueprint has not been inappropriately shoved aside merely to placate an apparently litigious developer. Given what has happened in Arcadia it is important for Sierra Madre to take special care in what it allows to be built here. In many ways this is a critical turning point, and taking the care necessary to make certain things have been done correctly is more important than ever.)

October 21, 2014

Mayor John Harabedian
Mayor Pro-Tem John Capoccia
Council Member Rachelle Arizmendi
Council Member Denise Delmar
Council Member Gene Goss
City of Sierra Madre
232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Dear Mayor and Council Members,

Please put the recent Planning Commission approval of the One Carter/Stonegate project on the next Council’s meeting agenda for review.

After reviewing the Planning Commission’s decision I feel you will see that the Planning Commission did not properly ensure that the project conformed to the General Plan requirements.  Consequently you should overturn the decision and return the matter back to the Planning Commission for further review, instruction the commission to pay particular attention to the General Plan provisions concerning design conformity with the surrounding community as well as other pertinent provisions.

I attended the last four Planning Commission meetings and saw the Commissioner’s concern about visual appearance, mass and bulk, however I did not see any of them refer to the General Plan in their discussions.  There are many who feel that the General Plan was ignored in this matter which rendered it useless.  I feel we should make sure that this is not the case.

This may be the most important decision this city will ever make in regards to preserving our quaint village atmosphere.  Let’s get it right.  We may not get another chance. In this case, after ten years, one more review will not hurt.  This way we will not look back in ten years from now and wish our City Council had taken on more look at this and showed that our General Plan is not something to be ignored.

Respectfully, Barry Gold

(Mod: Here are some of the reasons why this call for an appeal should move forward. This was forwarded to me by a concerned resident.)

Settlement Agreement
p 5. 1, 1.1 This Settlement Agreement does not constitute an approval of the Storehouse Applications, of the CS Settlement Proposal Plan or of any development application relating to the Storehouse Property or the One Carter Property.

p. 14. 5, 5.1
CS One Carter and the City voluntarily agree that individual homes and related improvements on all of the lots created by the One Carter Final Map for which a complete application for a Hillside Development Permit (or Administrative Hillside Development Permit, as applicable) is submitted within five (5) years after the effective date of this agreement shall comply with he new HMZ Ordinance, except for any amendments thereto adopted by the city and accepted by CS One Carter, ….

The Hillside Management Zone Ordinance
17.52.010 Purpose
C. Direct and encourage development that is sensitive to the unique characteristics of the hillsides areas in the city…accordingly innovation in the design of buildings is encouraged so long as the result preserves hillside areas and is consistent with this chapter and with the General Plan.

17.52.020 Conflict
Should any conflict or ambiguity arise…the more restrictive application or interpretation shall apply.

17.52.090  E 3. Findings required
a. The proposed development is consistent with and serves to implement the General Plan and specifically, those General Plan goals that pertain to hillside development.

The General Plan
p 18. Overview of land use policy: Hillside areas should be preserved either in their natural state or with very low density residential development which is designed to be sensitive to the environmental nature of the foothills.

p. 24. Objective L12: Facilitate hillside preservation through development standards and guidelines which provide direction and encourage development sensitive to the unique characteristic (sic) found in the hillside areas in the city.

Design Guidelines
Chapter 1 A, Purpose and Intent page 1-1: Development which is sensitive to the unique characteristics of the site and surrounding context.

Page 1-2 Hillside Management Zone Ordinance/Settlement Agreement
Parcels within the Stonegate Development are located within the Residential Hillside Management Zone (R-H) and are subject to the requirements of the zone found in Chapter 17.52 of the Municipal Code. Parcels within the Stonegate development must comply with the “processing of One Carter Residence Applications” as provided in the Settlement Agreement, dated March 23, 2010, with regard to maximum permissible gross floor areas, compliance exceptions, and the applicability of these standards within the five- year period, as established in the agreement. Development in the R-H zone is subject to and must obtain a hillside development permit. These design guidelines provide further guidance on design components, and will be made a part of the Hillside Development Permit approval process. The design guidelines are to be utilized in addition to the standards and requirements of the Hillside Management Zone and processing requirements of the Settlement Agreement.

Page 2-1
The overall design objectives for Stonegate are:
 Development which minimizes physical and visual impacts to the site and natural surroundings;
 An aesthetically cohesive community with architecture and building material finishes of a consistent quality; Buildings which respect and complement the existing historic resources; and, 
Use of resource-efficient and conserving materials and technologies.

(Mod: Finally here is the Municipal Code that determines whether or not an appeal should go forward.)

17.66.010 Scope. Any matter that may be appealed to the city council under this title or Title 16 of this code, including, but not limited to, those determinations or actions appealable pursuant to Sections 17.28.330, 17.64.060, and Chapter 17.60 of this title, may be appealed or called for review, as provided by this chapter. (Ord. 1256 § 1 (Exh. A (part)), 2006: Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

17.66.020 Subjects and jurisdiction. Determinations and actions that may be appealed or called for review, and the authority to act upon an appeal or call for review shall be as follows:

A. Code Administration and Interpretation. The following actions of the director and department staff may be appealed to the commission and then appealed to or called for review by the city council:

1.Determinations of the meaning or applicability of the provisions of this title or Title 16 of this code that are believed to be in error, and cannot be resolved by staff;

2. Any determination pursuant to Government Code Section 65943 that a permit application or information submitted with an application is incomplete; and

3. Any enforcement action pursuant to this title or Title 16 of this code.

B. Land Use Permit and Hearing Decisions. Decisions of the director on zoning clearances, plan reviews, variances, conditional use permits, minor development permits, administrative hillside development permits, and hillside development permits may be appealed to the commission. Decisions by the commission may be appealed to or called for review by the council. (Ord. 1257 § 1, 2006; Ord. 1256 § 1 (Exh. A (part)), 2006: Ord. 1234 §
14 (part), 2005)

17.66.030 Generally.

A. Appeals. To avoid results that are inconsistent with the purposes of this code, any order, requirement, decision, determination, interpretation or ruling of the planning commission may be appealed to the city council. Appeals may be initiated by any interested party, unless otherwise prescribed by this code. In the case of a land use permit or hearing decision described in Section 17.66.020(B) of this chapter, an appeal may be filed by anyone who, in person or through a
representative explicitly identified as such, appeared at a public hearing in connection with the decision being appealed, or who otherwise informed the city in writing of the nature of their concerns before the hearing.

B. Calls for Review. Any order, requirement, decision, determination, interpretation or ruling of the planning commission may be called for city council review upon written request of two members of the city council. (Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

17.66.040 Form and content.

A. Filing of Appeals. A notice of appeal shall be in writing and shall be filed in duplicate in the office of the director upon forms provided by the city. An appeal from any order, requirement, decision,
determination, or interpretation by the planning commission in the administration or enforcement of the provisions of this title or Title 16 of this code must set forth specifically where there was an error
or abuse of discretion or where an application did meet or fail to meet, as the case may be, those qualifications or standards set forth in this code, as being prerequisite to the granting of any application.

B. Calls for Review. A call for city council review may be initiated by any two members of the city council and shall be filed in writing with the director or noted in the minutes of a city council meeting and shall not state that the planning commission has committed error or otherwise suggest that the councilmembers seeking review have predetermined the matter to be heard by the council.

C. Effect on Decisions. Decisions that are appealed or called up for review shall not become effective until the appeal or review is resolved. (Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

17.66.050 Processing of appeals and time for filing.

A. Action and Findings.

1. Appellate review under this code is de novo. Accordingly, when reviewing a decision on a land use permit, the appeal body may adopt additional conditions of approval that address other issues or
concerns than the subject of the appeal.

2. A decision by an appeal body may also be appealed, as provided by Section 17.66.020 of this chapter, provided that the decision of the city council on an appeal shall be final.

B. Time for Filing. Appeals and calls for review shall be initiated in writing within ten business days after commission action.

C. Judicial Review. The time within which judicial review of any final decision must be sought is governed by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1094.6.

D. Withdrawal of Appeal—Commission Actions. After an appeal of a commission decision has been filed, the appeal shall not be withdrawn, except with the consent of the council. (Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

17.66.060 Filing fees.

A. Appeals. An appeal shall be accompanied by a filing fee in an amount determined from time to time by city council resolution.

B. Calls for Review. No fee shall be required for a call for review. (Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

17.66.070 Procedures for appeals and calls for review.

A. Scheduling. Within thirty days after the commission action, the city council shall schedule the appeal or call for review for hearing and decision and give notice of the date, time and place thereof to the applicant and the appellant, if any. Prior to the hearing, the director shall transmit to the city clerk a report of the findings of the commission and the director shall present at the hearing all exhibits, notices, petitions and other papers and documents on file with the commission. The hearing shall be held within sixty days after the commission action.

B. Public Hearing and Notice. An appeal or call for review shall be a public hearing if the decision being appealed or reviewed required a public hearing. Notice shall be given in the manner required for the decision being appealed or reviewed.

C. Evidence. The hearing shall be de novo. At the hearing, the city council shall consider all pertinent materials, including all documents constituting the administrative record.

D. Hearing. At the hearing, any party or person may appear in person or by agent or attorney to provide testimony.

E. Required Findings, Decision and Notice. Following an appeal or review hearing, the city council may remand the matter to the planning commission for further consideration or may affirm in whole or in part, modify, or reverse the decision appealed or reviewed. If the city council does not remand the matter to the planning commission, it shall make the findings prescribed by this code and other applicable law for the matter in issue. The city council decision shall be made within thirty days of the hearing date. The city clerk shall mail notice of the city council decision to the applicant and to the appellant, if any, within five business days after the date of the decision. (Ord. 1234 § 14 (part), 2005)

(Mod: The deadline for filing this appeal is October 30. There is the possibility that a fee would be involved, though why residents would need to pay a second time for services their taxes should have already covered is beyond me.)

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Preserve Sierra Madre Issues a Statement on the One Carter Loss and a Likely Appeal to the City Council

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Preserve Sierra Madre: Dear Supporters - As many of you may already know by now, the Planning Commission granted the conditional use permit and approved the first house at One Carter/Stonegate at its recent October 16th meeting.  For those who want to preserve Sierra Madre, our canyon areas and open space from over-development, and for those who tirelessly fought for years against any development in this once pristine area, this is obviously a very sad and disappointing result.

Because there are on-going concerns that the newly modified design is still in violation of the General Plan's guidelines, an appeal of the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council is an option that should and will be explored.  We welcome any of your thoughts in that regard.

During this same meeting, the Planning Commission seemed receptive to a reduction in the CUP threshold from the existing 4,000 square feet as well as other options to prevent the McMansions we so readily see in nearby Arcadia.  Because the biggest threat to the character of Sierra Madre will happen in the R-1 zone from McMansions and lot splits, it is very important that we let the Planning Commission know our concerns in that regard.

Finally, let it be said that we always knew when we started this organization that we could not expect an unbroken string of victories as we try to preserve this village town so dear to our hearts.  Make no mistake, the approval of the first house at One Carter is a setback.  However, we remain undaunted and we will continue to face the challenges that lie ahead.  With your help and support, we know that Sierra Madre can be preserved for this and future generations.

Sierra Madre Tattler: I don't see what anyone would have to lose by appealing the Planning Commission's decision on One Carter to the City Council. Also, the General Plan either counts or it doesn't. When you combine the One Carter decision with what happened at Camillo Road it seems obvious that at City Hall the General Plan has little relevance whatsoever on how it views approvals of projects such as these.

At no time during the Planning Commission's review of the One Carter structure in question was the General Plan consulted or even brought up. Not once did our outgoing Development Services Director (or anyone from that department) instruct the Planning Commission of its relevance during this approval "process."

We need an appeal on One Carter. But as a part of that appeal we also need a City Council call on the relevance of the General Plan. Because if the Planning Commission's decision on One Carter is allowed to stand, then a lot if good people will have wasted a whole lot of time, effort and treasure on Sierra Madre's so-called blueprint.

It would be sad to think that "The Peoples' Document" could be so easily disregarded by the pro-development clerisy that controls city government in this town. If upon appeal the City Council allows this decision on One Carter to stand, then for all intents and purposes the General Plan is dead.

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