Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dedicato Treatment Center: Mayor Pro Tem Arizmendi & Planning Commissioner Goldstein Have A New Neighbor

A different kind of money pit.
I don't know how this happens. Something controversial moves into a Sierra Madre neighborhood and there is complete silence from City Hall. Not a peep is emitted from the cake and cookies capital of this community. Rather the duty of announcing such a thing falls upon The Tattler instead. Which is fine, I don't have any problems with that. You would just think that these fine municipal employees (who unlike me are actually paid to do the job) would prefer to lead with such stories rather than having to react all of the time. Their suspected lack of transparency often looks more like complicity than ignorance, with the former always appearing worse than the latter.

Anyway, a new tenant has moved into the home located at 22 W. Carter. Called the Dedicato Treatment Center, it is a drug abuse rehabilitation outfit for extremely well-heeled addicts and recovering junkies. Dedicato TC rents this wickiup from its owners for $5,000 a month, with its clients rumored to be paying upwards of $30,000 a month to abide at this idyllic Sierra Madre locale and take the cure.

By all appearances a seriously profitable business, and a platinum detox for sure. You couldn't purge in finer surroundings. But is West Carter really an appropriate setting for this kind of an enterprise? Is John Keyes and his DTs really the sort of thing you'd pay a million or two dollars to have as your neighbor? Would you ever feel comfortable asking them to lend you the Grey Poupon?

The Dedicato Treatment Center has a website, of course. They've done this to let potential clients know what it is they have to offer. That is pretty much how the folks who filled me in about this found out about the place. Here is a link, and this is what they have to say for themselves.

An estimable substance abuse treatment facility I am sure, but at those prices I don't suspect they will be passing out their business cards at The Buccaneer. But fear not, you can get a free insurance verification.

The founder is some dude who calls himself Dr. Keith. Doctors who call themselves by their first names have always been worrisome for me, but then again I came of age sometime in the 1970s, a decade often celebrated for its firm dedication to substance abuse. Maybe things have changed.

Here's a short video where Dr. Keith promotes the benefits of fighting your next battles with drug addiction on West Carter.

To view this video click here.

The Chicago School degree hanging on Dr. Keith's wall should not be confused with the University of Chicago where Professor Peter Dreier learned his trade. Rather it is a kind of University of Phoenix for those interested in the exciting field of psychology. Which is a little like psychiatry, but you don't get to prescribe the kinds of drugs that could cause you to require the services of the Dedicato Treatment Center.

If you are interested you can read all about The Chicago School by clicking here. Operators are standing by to take your calls. Please have your credit card ready.

As is often the case, someone commenting on this site yesterday had some invaluable insight into what could be going down at the DTC. Here is that reader comment.

22 W Carter Ave, new McMansion. Kind of a junky pile, website says they're just starting up. These "group homes" are allowed into communities "by right" via LA County regulations (no CUP or Variance required for 6 occupants or less). The deal is good cash flow to the actual owner of the residential property, it's a business model. Take the right insurance plans, and you're in business, good as gold. Owner/investor makes out like a bandit, too. This relieves the County from having to provide facilities or services, it's all the Public/Private Partnership (PPP). Altadena (LA Co census place, not a city) got overrun with these things and that community went up in arms over it. Now they're proliferating in many communities, San Marino has several of them.

Another commenter added this:

Looking at the photos of the residential treatment center at 22 W. Carter, they show beds that would house several more than 6 people, SO a conditional use permit will be required. And a city business license?

So did the Dedicato Treatment Center apply for a business license at City Hall? Or have they had any meaningful contact at all with Sierra Madre's hard working public servants?

If so, shouldn't the city have at the very least let the people living on West Carter know what is coming to their neighborhood?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Tattler Milestone Of Sorts

What we have been calling The Sierra Madre Tattler blog since late 2008 crossed the 4 million page views (AKA "hits") mark yesterday, which is a significantly large number for a local muckraking news site that mainly covers just a few relatively small San Gabriel Valley communities. I thought I'd celebrate this milestone of sorts by taking the night off and writing about nothing much else besides that number. And I almost did.

Well OK, so there is also this:
Some interesting sports stats from the Los Angeles Times (link).

And then there is the obligatory Prince item:

There is this, too (link):

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Preserve Sierra Madre: Major Battle in Glendora

(Mod: Some key information that was sent out yesterday by Preserve Sierra Madre.)  

​Dear Supporters: While our normal focus is on events in Sierra Madre, yesterday's Pasadena Star News had a front page article titled "Wild Dispute" by Courtney Tompkins regarding an attempt by developer Derek Ng to build 19 two-story luxury homes right on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The location is a 41-acre expanse of wilderness known as the "Gordon-Mull" property.

(Mod: The rest of this extensive Star News piece can be accessed here.)

Sierra Madre is not an island unto itself.  What happens in Glendora affects the entire southern portion of the San Gabriel Mountains and all the foothill communities. The developer is facing a number of very determined preservation groups who don't want to see that pristine land turned into another big housing project. Mr. Ng is quoted as saying, "we are businessmen."  Well, for a lot of people, preserving our foothills for future generations is more than just about "business".

Thank you for your continued support.

Steering Committee
Preserve Sierra Madre

Monday, April 25, 2016

Most People In Sierra Madre Have No Idea They Are Paying Almost $15 Million Dollars For A $6.75 Million Dollar Water Bond

Yesterday (link) we talked about a City Council meeting agenda item Sierra Madre's Mayor is apparently trying to slip in under the radar.

One clue is the title of this stealthy little number has absolutely nothing to do with the actual topic. I mean, would you have ever guessed that an agenda item poetically titled "Authorization of payments on behalf of Public Financing Authority and Successor Agency" (link) has anything to do with Sierra Madre's interest only payments on $6.75 million dollars in 2003 Water Bond debt? Just a little opaque?

The answer is probably not. This is a uniquely bad arrangement that is costing the residents of Sierra Madre millions in needlessly squandered revenue. But there is no need to alarm anyone during so celebratory an evening.

I doubt that anyone who is up on this stuff won't understand why Mayor Capoccia is trying to divert resident attention away from this mess. It is one of perhaps two of the greatest financial blunders in recent Sierra Madre's history. Committed by individuals who are still quite politically active in the community today, and would prefer that you just butt out and mind your own business.

However, and like many things that require a little extra mental exertion, most people in town won't get any of this anyway. Which is fine. Anyone who thinks that they can somehow cause the average Sierra Madrean to understand the vastly dysfunctional finances of their own city is delusional.

Better to just tell them that this was all done to save the Library. Or something. The best anyone can really hope for here is to make fun of the situation, mostly because it is already pretty laughable. In a rueful sort of way.

The following 2003 water bond debt numbers were actually put together by City Staff. This was back when MaryAnn MacGillivray was the Mayor, and she asked them do it. In stark contrast, the current Mayor isn't sharing any of this sort of information right now. Even though the matter is on tomorrow night's City Council meeting agenda.

Which is fine because I will.

There you go. Sierra Madre's 2003 water bonds were originally $6,750,000. For some reason the city decided to make interest only payments on those bonds through the year 2019, while extending all payments all the way out through the year 2034. Much of it at the cost of wasted millions in the form of interest only payments. The entire cost once all is said and done being $14,925,486, or substantially more than double the principal.

Making this just as bad as the City of Sierra Madre's financially debilitating commitment to CalPERS. Another blunder costing the city many millions of dollars it doesn't have.

Neither of these problems have yet to be discussed by the current City Council in any meaningful way. Even when they were working to raise utility taxes. And certainly neither of these towering acts of financial genius will be discussed too much tomorrow night when the above item does come up. Not when there is a party where cake and soda will be served.

Given that, why would you want to trouble your pretty little head over any of this?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sierra Madre City Hall's Continuing Slap Happy Water Bond Shenanigans

It is kind of an ongoing story, but one that City Hall can never quite bring itself to talk about. Not that you can blame them, of course. And they do have to mention it from time to time. After all, if the city is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest only water bond debt payments every year, there is no real way that you can hide it. Or at least you can't do it legally.

But you can agendize this matter for when you think that nobody will be paying any attention. And wouldn't Tuesday evening's City Council meeting be a really good time to do such a thing? You know, while all of the usual assembled worthies are busy happily congratulating each other over jacking up everybody's utility taxes?

Here is the agenda item.

Remarkable, right? "The Water Fund 2003 Revenue Bonds are interest only until 2020 when the 1998 Refinancing Revenue Bonds are paid in full." This bizarre financial arrangement is costing the city millions upon millions of dollars in interest that it didn't really have to spend, but what the heck. You can always raise everyone's water rates and taxes again. Those are near-annual events anyway, so what's the panic?

Of course, if you actually wanted to really dig into this matter, the city has included in its agenda report the following link. A little something that could give you the opportunity to do some due diligence.

So what do you get if you follow that link? What "comprehensive annual financial audits and biennial budgets" are then revealed to you?

None, actually. Instead you get this.

Congratulations, Sierra Madre. You have the government you voted for.

Just in case you are wondering, this sort of thing does have an effect. Should Sierra Madre ever decide to refinance its upside down water bonds, the interest rate the city would have to pay would be high.

Here is why (link).

But like I said, all City Hall has to do is just ask the residents for more money. You know, tell them its for the Library, or something. They're pretty naive and fall for that sort of thing every time.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pasadena Now: PUSD – Cheating is a Problem to Hide, Especially in Sierra Madre

(Mod: The following "guest editorial" appeared on the Pasadena Now news site last February, and deals with what its authors believe is the cover-up of a cheating scandal at Sierra Madre Elementary School. Despite Pasadena Now's claims of having an exceedingly large readership, I'm not sure very many people in town ever saw this.) 

Pasadena Unified School District’s flagship elementary school is Sierra Madre Elementary School. The Sierra Madre school has regularly been seen as PUSD’s highest performing school – #1 when the API scores used to come out and #1 again when the new SBAC testing regime scores came out last fall.

The Sierra Madre school is also rightfully the pride of the City of Sierra Madre. Sierra Madre enjoys an active parent support network for the school, and its citizens have long been vocal and effective proponents for resourcing the Sierra Madre school.

But now there is a question mark hanging over Sierra Madre as to whether PUSD discriminatorily protected it against disclosure of cheating at the school while taking a harsher stance toward Northwest Pasadena schools.

“PUSD wouldn’t get away doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison” – True or False?

A constant refrain of the grassroots coalition the Citizens’ Council for Empowerment and Justice at Madison is that PUSD would never get away with doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison. That refrain arises from the fact that, when Sierra Madre had to recently select a new principal, Superintendent Brian McDonald of course gave it the right to have a principal selection committee of Sierra Madre stakeholders that selected three applicants for the position — from which McDonald selected the new Sierra Madre principal.

At the same time, he refused to form a principal selection committee for Madison Elementary School; instead, he unilaterally imposed Juan Ruelas as its principal with no site input. Madison is the most heavily-Latino, most heavily English second-language, and the poorest community in PUSD, while Sierra Madre is the most heavily-White, the lowest Latino, the lowest ESL, and among the richest communities.

Saying that PUSD would never get away with doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison is just another way of saying that PUSD treats Madison, a Northwest Pasadena school, in a racially-discriminatory and wealth-discriminatory manner.

Some Pasadena leaders say that Madison’s grassroots organization should change its message and stop saying PUSD would never get away doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison. Rather than concluding that those critics are saying we should stop repeating that refrain because they don’t want to hear the unpleasant truth that PUSD is acting in a racially-discriminatory and wealth-discriminatory manner, we’ll make the more benign interpretation that they believe the accusation of differential treatment is untrue.

There’s a long history of Madison being under-resourced and Sierra Madre being well-resourced that might support the differential treatment assertion. But let’s look to a different issue to illustrate the unpleasant truth about comparative PUSD treatment of Sierra Madre and Northwest Pasadena elementary schools – i.e., the treatment of elementary schools when they are caught cheating on student testing.

The treatment of Northwest Pasadena’s Roosevelt school when it was caught cheating on state testing

On January 10, 2012, PUSD issued a press release indicating that Roosevelt Elementary School – a PUSD Northwest school closer to Madison’s demographics than to Sierra Madre’s – was caught cheating and having to forfeit its nomination as a National Blue Ribbon school. PUSD’s press release was followed by embarrassing news stories in Pasadena Now and the LA Times which reported on the Roosevelt cheating disqualification from the National Blue Ribbon honor.

Significantly, Roosevelt’s principal at the time the school got caught cheating was Juan Ruelas, the principal who McDonald later imposed on Madison. McDonald’s rationale for denying Madison stakeholders’ involvement in selecting a new principal was that Roosevelt’s test scores during Ruelas’ tenure showed that he had accomplished educational miracles at Roosevelt and that he could do the same thing for Madison.

The 2012 bad publicity has come to haunt Ruelas because it has led to the recent more searching examination of Ruelas’ record that is the basis for the grassroots coalition’s contention that Ruelas’ reputation for educational achievement at Roosevelt is built on quicksand.

Unlike Roosevelt’s cheating, Sierra Madre’s is kept under wraps

Our public records requests for documents related to the cheating at Roosevelt forced PUSD to disclose to us a smoking gun – a September 2, 2011, email that PUSD’s Chief Technology Officer at the time, Dr. Gary A Carnow, sent to 6 other PUSD administrators. In Carnow’s email was the following statement: “Roosevelt, …, and Sierra Madre will not be eligible for any awards for two years based on the filing [sic-finding] of irregularities.”

Based on Carnow’s email, we realized that Sierra Madre had cheated on test scores like Roosevelt had, so we filed a public records request with the California Department of Education. A document produced to us by the Department of Education confirmed that Sierra Madre was caught cheating around the same time that Roosevelt was caught cheating.

But unlike the public exposure of Roosevelt’s cheating, Sierra Madre’s cheating was not publicly revealed – until publication of the February 18, 2016, Sierra Madre Weekly story on Sierra’s cheating based on documents we gave it. Its story reports that PUSD Associate Superintendent Mercedes Santoro confirmed that the Sierra Madre school was caught cheating (albeit by doing her best to minimize it).

The Board of Education was apparently informed on September 13, 2011, that Sierra Madre had been caught cheating, but they learned about it in closed session. By telling the Board in closed session, the PUSD administration prevented Board members from publicly disclosing Sierra Madre’s cheating because it is a criminal misdemeanor to disclose information learned in closed sessions unless the Board as a whole votes to release the information.

Apparently no Board member has ever thought that Sierra Madre’s cheating was important enough for the Board to publicly disclose it like Roosevelt’s was disclosed. Insofar as we can determine, PUSD never issued a press release on Sierra Madre’s cheating like it did for Roosevelt, so there was no media coverage of the cheating like there was for Roosevelt until 4 ½ years later on February 18.

Thus, PUSD’s Sierra Madre flagship skated through the last 4 ½ years without its reputation for sterling educational achievement soiled by the fact that some of that achievement was earned only through cheating. The Northwest Pasadena school Roosevelt was accorded no such protection from public disclosure. PUSD would never get away with doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison.

The grassroots Madison coalition is going to keep repeating that PUSD would never get away with doing to Sierra Madre what it did to Madison.

Mod: This piece was written by Dale Gronemeier and Skip Hickambottom. They are described as "local civil rights attorneys who represent the Citizens Council for Empowerment and Justice at Madison." Dale Gronemeier lives in Sierra Madre. Link to the original here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Development Dirty Money Trick That Failed In Arcadia

Money can't buy you love.

At long last the final results are in and, despite the thousands of dollars in secretive outside development campaign money that flooded into Arcadia during the last few weeks of the campaign, the leading voice for community preservation there prevailed.

In an article in today's Pasadena Star News titled "What Arcadia’s election results mean for the future of the City Council" (link), here is how all of that is described:

I think it is fairly safe to say that the effort backfired. Rather than turning the voters against the intended target of all that money, April Verlato, the injection of so much outside secretive developer cash into that campaign shocked the residents of Arcadia and in the end could have been what drove so many of them to the polls. The result being the election of Verlato and the defeat of Bob Harbicht

Funny how things work out sometimes, right? As another untended consequence, the presence of all of that funny finance created the kinds of press that money just can't buy, and in the end it could have also helped push April Verlato over the finish line. 

You can read the rest here.

Money can in itself become an issue, and in the end could have the opposite effect of what those giving it originally intended. As Tattler readers will certainly recall, in Sierra Madre a similar situation developed during the Measure V imbroglio a few years back. 

Nearly $180,000 was pumped into that election by the BIA, CAR and, of all things, the Arcadia Realtors group. Approximately $18 for every person living in town, including little infants, and all from the usual big development interests. But rather than fueling voter opposition to Measure V, that money became an issue in itself. One that likely won the election for those hoping to preserve Sierra Madre's downtown from the wrecking ball.

Some people just never learn. 

Here is an example of what the so-called "California Homeowner Association" and its suspect money bought for the Harbicht campaign.

Sometimes a candidate just deserves to lose. Obviously Bob Harbicht was one of those candidates. And no matter how much money outside developers spent to prop this undeserving fellow up, the right man lost.

Money can't buy you love. Or brains.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Arcadia City Council Vote Recount: Unofficial But Final Numbers Are In

1:45pm Update: Officials results are in. This from the City of Arcadia website (link):

11:30am Update: The final Arcadia unofficial vote count now exists. With all of those hundreds of late arriving mail-in ballots finally tallied, April Verlato and Peter Amundsen have been elected to Arcadia's City CouncilBulldozer Bob Harbicht and his big spending development pals are out on their collective ears. Democracy actually works sometimes.

Maybe they'll all move to Omaha, or something. Here's the numbers:

The Pasadena Star News is reporting it this way (link):
Final Arcadia Election Results: Peter Amundson, April Verlato win council seats Anti-mansionization candidates Peter Amundson and April Verlato will help lead the city for the next four years, according to final election results released Thursday.

The two received the highest number of votes in a field of six candidates, with Amundson securing 4,122 votes and Verlato capturing 4,077.

Trailing behind in third with 3,658 votes was veteran councilman Bob Harbicht, who ran again after taking a two-year break in 2014.

(Earlier today we said this ...)
Final count started at 10am, and we should know the results by 11am.  Recount and verification starts at 1pm and should be done by 3pm, with official results confirmed by 4pm.

The issue is all of the as yet uncounted ballots. None of those late arriving results have been totaled up as of this typing, and there a remote mathematical possibility that the names of the winning candidates might change. Here is how this story was broken down in the Pasadena Star News recently (link):

City Hall received 995 more ballots on Wednesday, and with a little over 400 votes between the second- and third-highest vote getters, the outcome of the race could still be decided after a final count. After all precincts had been counted on Tuesday, anti-mansionization candidates Peter Amundson and April Verlato were leading the race, with 3,624 and 3,609 votes each, according to semi-official results.

Bob Harbicht, a veteran councilman, trailed behind Verlato, with 3,197 votes. Retired physician Sheng Chang came in fourth, with 2,260 votes, followed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink, who captured 1,049, and grassroots candidate Paul Van Fleet, who snagged 82 votes.

Deputy Chief City Clerk Lisa Mussenden said receiving this many ballots after the election was unprecedented. “I think we all knew this was going to be a very contentious election, and I think this is a result of all that,” she said, “but to receive 995 ballots the day after, that’s huge.”

All had the proper postmark date and will be counted, she said. About 300 additional ballots that came in on Tuesday still need to be tallied because they did not make the cutoff that night.

The Los Angeles County clerk also received dozens of provisional ballots that must still be counted. Dozens more that came in without signatures must be given back residents for them to sign so that they can be counted, she said.

As of 9:59 AM this morning, this is where the vote stands per the City of Arcadia website.

More news as we receive it. 

Sierra Madre Weekly: Lew Watanabe Bravely Battling Pancreatic Cancer

Mod: I have had a number of people contact me about Lew Watanabe. Terry Miller at the Sierra Madre Weekly put together the following for his paper, and I thought it would be right to post it here as well. Link here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Robert Fellner: Four Los Angeles retirees collected $1 million-plus pension payouts last year

(Mod: As crazy as the City of Sierra Madre's $9 million dollars in unfunded CalPERS pension debt might be, it hasn't gotten to quite Los Angeles level here. At least not yet. But that doesn't mean they won't try.)

Robert Fellner: Four Los Angeles retirees collected $1 million-plus pension payouts last year
Four Los Angeles police and fire retirees collected over $1 million apiece in pension payouts last year, according to just-released 2015 pension data from

Retired assistant fire chief Timothy Manning’s $1,181,309 pension and benefits package was the highest of any retiree surveyed — with $996,161 coming from the controversial deferred retirement option plan (DROP).

DROP allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The next three highest-compensated Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension (LAFPP) retirees were:

Retired police commander Stephen Jacobs, who collected $1,115,747
Retired deputy police chief Mark Perez, who collected $1,105,441
Retired deputy police chief Terry Hara, who collected $1,043,667

Average full-career city workers are pension millionaires

Regular city employees belong to a separate retirement plan —the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS) — which does not offer DROP and did not provide the cost of health benefits on an individual basis. The average full-career pension for all LACERS retirees was $63,025, which jumped to $75,624 when looking at only those who retired in the past year.

These individuals are “pension millionaires,” according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

Fidelity Investments currently charges over $1.75 million for an annuity large enough to provide the same level of retirement income at LACERS’ average retirement age of 60.”

The top three LACERS’ pension payouts went to:

Retired personnel department general manager Margaret Whelan, who collected $235,333
Retired harbor department general manager Bruce Seaton, who collected $234,420
Retired harbor department port pilot Michael Owens, who collected $232,413

Fellner noted that the number of Los Angeles retirees who received pension and benefits packages of at least $100,000 increased nearly 22 percent since 2013.

“As the number of $100,000-plus pension payouts soared, so has the cost to taxpayers, which just hit a record-high 46 percent of payroll for safety officers and 26 percent for regular city workers.

“Including the DWP pension plan, Los Angeles spent over $1.5 billion on pension and retiree health costs alone in 2014, which represented nearly 12 percent of total expenditures.

“Studies have shown that growing retirement costs result in reduced city services, higher taxes or both.”

Leroy Baca's $342,000 payout 3rd highest amongst County retirees

Transparent California also released 2015 pension data from the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association, which does not offer DROP, but still had dozens of annual payouts of more than $250,000.

The top three pension and benefits packages received by Los Angeles County retirees went to:

Retired Harbor General chief physician Charles Mehringer, who collected $419,666
Retired Harbor General chief physician Robert Morin, who collected $344,080
Retired sheriff Leroy Baca, who collected $342,849

The number of County retirees who collected at least $100,000 increased 19 percent since 2013.

Transparent California is still working on obtaining pension payout data from the DWP, where costs have risen to astronomical heights, Fellner said.

“The 53 percent of payroll required to fund the DWP’s pension plan is, by far, the most expensive non-safety pension plan I’ve ever seen.”

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit

A full-career is defined as at least 25 years of service for police and fire retirees, and 30 years for regular retirees.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

More News Than You Would Ever Know What To Do With

Call City Hall for viewing information.
(Mod: People keep e-mailing me interesting news articles. The problem is we never seem to have the space to put them. So today I decided to post a whole bunch of them at once.)

Why the Pasadena teacher’s union may vote to strike (Pasadena Star News - link): The Union Teachers of Pasadena said they are still not satisfied with Pasadena Unified School District’s final offer proposed last Friday, which could possibly lead to a strike vote by the group.

Union president Alvin Nash said they were surprised the district publicly announced the offer since the groups are not on the bargaining table anymore. The two have been at an impasse since last October and are preparing for a fact-finding hearing on May 4 after no agreement was reached through mediation.

The group said the proposed possible increase the district is offering for 2015-16 and 2016-17 is not enough, and is actually less than the district was offering before going to mediation. “They offered us a 1.3 percent one time bonus, we were asking for 2 percent for last year,” said Nash. “This year they offered 3 percent and we want a guaranteed 6 percent.”

Nash said the district has received more money in the last two years but it is not being seen in the classrooms with supplies, resources or more staff at the school level. “If the district wants to say they don’t have money, then what did they do with it?” said Nash.

Superintendent Brian McDonald said the district has received one-time funds over the last two years and targeted funds for students that are foster youth, English learners, and on free and reduced lunch. “We only have limited amount of resources to apply to raises,” he said. “The conventional wisdom is you don’t spend one-time funds on ongoing raises.”

(Mod: With nearly 60% of the PUSD's teachers receiving over $107,000.00 in total compensation, there are only two parties that you can feel sorry for - the taxpayers and their hostage kids.)

House faults two members for ethics lapses, clears two (USA Today - link): The House Ethics Committee resolved a batch of old ethics cases against lawmakers Thursday, issuing official rebukes of Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., but exonerating Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wis., and Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

The committee issued its reports in the cases as Congress prepared to adjourn. None of the lawmakers will face further action, and Gingrey and Petri are leaving office.

In Chu's case, the committee reported that some of her staff were involved in preparations for a 2011 campaign fundraiser while on official time — a violation of the rule against mixing campaign and congressional resources. The committee concluded that Chu did not know about this violation, but after the investigation began, she wrote an e-mail to staff that appeared to be steering the answers to the Ethics Committee. Chu then failed to produce this e-mail to the committee on several initial requests.

The committee said Chu expressed regret for this behavior, but it still decided to issue a "letter of reproval" and close the case.

(Mod: Of course Judy Chu will still get re-elected this fall. Since when have ethics had anything with government representation in this part of the country?)

Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist (Phys Org - link): Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change.

Fenner, who is emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, said homo sapiens will not be able to survive the population explosion and “unbridled consumption,” and will become extinct, perhaps within a century, along with many other species. United Nations official figures from last year estimate the human population is 6.8 billion, and is predicted to pass seven billion next year.

Fenner told The Australian he tries not to express his pessimism because people are trying to do something, but keep putting it off. He said he believes the situation is irreversible, and it is too late because the effects we have had on Earth since industrialization (a period now known to scientists unofficially as the Anthropocene) rivals any effects of ice ages or comet impacts.

(Mod: This is going to kill the real estate market and hurt Judy Chu's re-election prospects.  It will also make recruiting new members to the SMPD even more difficult than it is now.)

Fears of 'THE BIG ONE' as SEVEN major earthquakes strike Pacific region in just 96 hours (The Daily Expresslink): At least 350 people have been killed in Ecuador’s biggest earthquake in decades as a 7.8 magnitude quake struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday and was felt around the Andean nation of 16 million people, causing panic as far away as the highland capital Quito.

Vice President Jorge Glas said as well as leaving hundreds dead, more than 2,500 people were injured.

The latest quake follows devastating tremors in Japan late last week when one, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, injured more than 1,000 trapping people in collapsed buildings only a day after a quake killed nine people in the same region.

Rescue crews searched for survivors of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan's Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier.

Around 20,000 troops have had to be deployed following the latest 7.3 earthquake at 1.25am local time on Saturday.

Roads have also been damaged and big landslides have been reported, there are also 200,000 households without power.

The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people and a previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.

(Mod: You'd hope the Big One everyone fears will hold off until we're extinct.)

How Sierra Madre’s election results impact the future of its police department (Pasadena Star News - link): The 100-year-old Sierra Madre Police Department is breathing a sigh of relief after Tuesday’s election.

Unconfirmed results show about 72 percent of voters supported increasing the city’s Utility Users Tax to 10 percent rather than letting it drop to 6 percent in July.

That boost will keep the city from moving forward on major budget cuts to city services that would have included public safety. A reduced UUT would have created a projected $1 million shortfall, according to city officials.

“The staff is very ecstatic about the election results,” said Police Chief Larry Giannone. “They have a positive outlook.” Giannone said officers with the department now feel more at ease now and see the measure’s passage as support from the community.

About half of the officers, 20 in all, on the city’s police force resigned last year, citing concerns over job security and the possibility of budget cuts because of the UUT’s impending sunset. The city had to contract temporarily with the Sheriff’s Department to help fill the void until the department could hire more officers and get back to full staffing levels again.

“We’re moving full steam ahead,” said Giannone about hiring and recruiting new officers.

Giannone said it would take until August to train enough officers to fill out the police department to its previous staffing levels. But despite the reduced force, Giannone said he would see the effect of having even training officers out on the street as a positive for the city.

(Mod: So sometime around August the SMPD will put ten green 22-year-old baby cops on the streets and claim that everything is good again. This in place of the on average 7 year veteran Sheriff's deputies that the city could have for less money.  I'm sorry, but it is time we begin contemplating the childlike simplicity of the average Sierra Madre resident.)

San Diego Residents Find Turf Rebates Are Taxable (KPBS - link): Some San Diegans who got money from the San Diego County Water Authority for taking out their grass last year are now startled to find they owe taxes on those turf rebates.

And some homeowners only received those notifications a few weeks ago, after they had already filed their taxes. One of them is Allied Gardens resident Joey Davis.

"So we had to do an amendment," he said. Davis said he didn't know the rebate would be taxable.

"There's a lot of things you do on their website to get the rebate. There's a lot of things you have to go through, so I would have definitely noticed something like that and scaled down my project a little bit," he said.

A water authority spokesman pointed out the website does say under its terms and conditions that “Rebates may be considered taxable income."

"Any applicable taxes are the sole responsibility of the Participant," the website says. "Participants are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax professionals regarding any potential tax liability that may arise from participation in the Program."

(Mod: Did you get a turf rebate lately? Have you spoken to your tax accountant about it?)

No, the Moon Won't Turn Green on Wednesday ( - link): Once again, a skywatching hoax has gone viral.

To go along with the infamous "Mars hoax," which claims that the Red Planet will appear as large as the full moon in the sky; the "Nibiru cataclysm," a supposed disastrous encounter between Earth and a large planetary object; and "Zero-Gravity Day," when people on Earth supposedly can experience weightlessness, we now have the "nights of the green moon."

This latest fallacy to sweep the blogosphere claims that on Wednesday (April 20), and again on May 29, the moon will appear to turn a shade of green. The full moon of April will occur on Friday, April 22.

The explanation given for the verdant metamorphosis is that several planets are going to align (wrong!), causing the moon to glow with an eerie, greenish light for about 90 minutes. This spectacle is exceedingly rare (so we are told), and last took place way back in the year 1596.

As has been the case with the bogus Mars, Nibiru and zero-gravity hoaxes, the green-moon message implores you to "share this event!" And sadly, many people have apparently been snookered into doing just that.

(Mod: For those who are interested there will be a "Green Moon Watch" held tomorrow evening on the roof of Sierra Madre City Hall. Be sure to call the city and reserve your seat. Tickets are also available at the Library, the Mountain Views News and from the Yes On Measure UUT website.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tony Brandenburg: Contemplating the Focus Point Academy (part 1)

Mod: I thought I should add an introduction to Tony Brandenburg's post because a lot of people are not going to be familiar with this topic. Focus Point Academy, which serves as a kind of apartheid-style central dumping ground for special needs students in the Pasadena Unified School District, has become the subject of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those families whose rights were sorely abused. Recently the Pasadena Star News published an article about the Focus Point lawsuit, and I am including a portion of that with this post. To read the entire PSN piece click here. Tony's article follows that.

Tony Brandenburg: Contemplating the Focus Point Academy (part 1)
Having a disability isn't a crime. Manifestations of a disability are also not a crime.

Squirrel Cage
I have never been especially fond of the idea of Focus Point Academy. Never. I have always considered it a sub-par half baked idea with a good heart and a lousy disposition.

I want to believe the good heart piece was that people in the PUSD want to see children with behavioral challenges have success. The reality, however, is my personal opinion that this is simply a squirrel cage. A squirrel cage- for those of you who care- is a trap designed to catch small animals, generally squirrels and gophers. A squirrel cage is also a meaningless and repetitive task. You choose the definition you like, as they are both appropriate.

My Generally Biased Pre-History
Forgive me. I must always preface my disdain for many of the PUSD special education services right up front, and I will hold many Sierra Madre pre-school and primary educational staff responsible for the damage caused to my child and family due to their arrogance and lack of empathy. That said, if you want to skip this background information scroll down.

A few years ago my youngest child became the target of a community roasting and lynch mob.  I was called a sociopath, my 7 year old child was called much worse, and my wife MJ was subjected to four years of dirty looks, whispering, and general shaming.

Welcome back to high school.

Anyhow, when the smoke cleared there was a new Special Education Coordinator, a Board Member was called to the carpet, and a general shake-up was had by more than just us. It would have been comedic if it wasn't so ugly. We tried our best to have fun with it. The end result was that we determined our children were better of somewhere else outside of the public school sector. And, yes, we ultimately found that they are.

Focus Point was placed on the table for my child when he was 7, then quickly removed when the then Special Education Coordinator (and I assume the advocate for this program originally) Elizabeth Blanco decided it was 'not appropriate' for our child. More likely, she knew that MJ and I would be so noisy that the 'school' would never fly under the radar.

My advice to teachers and staff: If you are an educator, listen. You are a service provider. Get off your mustang, Napoleon, and work with your families. All of them. They know their kids better than you, so stop telling parents what they need to do, and start telling them how you can support their children. Don't fall prey to gossip and lies, and, most importantly, try looking at things from a parent's perspective.

My advice to parents: If you are a parent, and you believe your child needs supports, start setting up and documenting your meetings. If you feel your child needs more intensive support, make a formal request for testing, and keep a dated copy of it. Talk to your child, and talk to professionals who provide services to kids. Don't wait for the school to do it. They are slammed, and they may or may not actually follow through.

My advice to the community: If you realize there is something going on at your child's school or classroom, a little empathy and genuine concern for the other family and child can go a long way.  Get over yourself and offer a hand.

Focus Point Basics
You aren't going to find much about Focus Point Academy on the PUSD web site. If you go to the archived website, you might find this:

Focus Point offers a small, highly structured special educational program that incorporates daily supportive counseling and specially designed academic instruction for students diagnosed with emotional disturbances and specific learning disabilities in grades 1 – 12.

However, if you go to the current PUSD website, you will not only fail to find much about Special Education, you will also find little about Focus Point, and not much about it in general (click here).  You'll need to dig to find stuff. As for special education, it's probably called something else now.

The biggest complication I have found with the Focus Point paper trail is that because it is technically defined as a therapeutic center, it is not technically a school in the traditional sense. That's where everything in this equation gets screwy. The variable is out of whack. Either it is a school, or it's not a school.

By their definition, they provide specially designed instruction. This is the Ed Code definition (click here) which is a complicated quagmire that essentially lists how instruction can be delivered and where. The goal for all children is the typical, general education program. This is additionally clarified by the California Department of Education (CDE) (click here and here) which does little, really, to clarify and clear up the how and where part.

That is the ideal: the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). From there it can get fuzzy, because, according to some people, the LRE might actually be somewhere "better" designed to meet their needs.

It's All About Me
My personal belief is that any service model can be delivered on a typical school campus just as easily as on a sheltered/segregated/separate school. School districts tend to lean toward separate placements.

This is where the breakdown begins. Districts tend to say "It's temporary," but what often happens is, as I was told by an employee at the non-public placement Five Acres a few years back, "They can earn the right to go back to school."

I've got some news here folks: no one in this country has to earn the right to a free public education.

More to come.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Most Recent E-Mail Blast From Preserve Sierra Madre

(Mod: The following email blast went out from Preserve Sierra Madre recently. I thought I should post it here as well. As is usually the case in this town, there are a number of things that most everyone should be concerned about. Overdevelopment and mansionization always need to be at the top of that list. It's where the money is.)

Dear Supporters:

We first want to take a moment to congratulate Mayor Capoccia and Councilman Harabedian on their re-election to the City Council. They were integral members of a City Council that accomplished the following:

1. Passed the building and water meter moratoriums.
2. Approved the new General Plan
3. Improved the R-1 Zoning codes to limit mansionization
4. Passed a demolition ordinance protecting older homes
5. Denied the first house proposed for One Carter/Stonegate
6. Saved the "Henry A. Darling" house - a 1906 Craftsman - from demolition

These were huge steps that advanced the cause of preserving our "Village of the Foothills." We are hopeful they will continue those efforts in their new term.

(Mod: A big concern should be the temptation to monetize Sierra Madre's remaining few open spaces in order to pay down some of the immense debt the city is carrying right now. In particular that $9 million dollar shortfall in CalPERS exposure. The folks who want to develop the lands attached to the Mater Dolorosa Monastery have repeatedly brought up the potential windfall in development impact fees and property taxes the city would realize by allowing them to build a 45 unit mini-mansion redoubt there. Let's hope both Capoccia and Harabedian, along with the rest of the City Council, can continue to resist the temptation all of that money must be presenting to them. Especially the Two Johns since neither will have to face the voters again.) 

We also want to remind ourselves that we have to remain vigilant.  In our particular area, one of the adverse consequences of over-development is to exacerbate an existing drought. Despite the recent rains, the front page of the Pasadena Star News has an article explaining that the drought may actually get worse. The link to that article can be found at:

Thank you for your support.

Steering Committee

Preserve Sierra Madre

(Mod: Here is a portion of that Star News article.)

(You can read the rest of this important article by clicking here.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Are Pasadena Unified Teacher Salaries Out Of Line With The Communities They Serve?

Forehead sticker = dignity.
Yesterday I got some gruff guff from certain unhappy folks over my comparison of PUSD teacher total compensation numbers and the median resident income figures of Sierra Madre. I thought it was a fair, if numerically inexact, comparison of two admittedly disparate parties. However, apparently for certain individuals that was a bad thing for me to do. Here is how a marginally heated exchange over this statistical heresy went on the Pasadena Politics site yesterday. This between a gent named Glenn Mitchell and the noted mid-valley social critic Eric Maundry.

I guess what concerned Glenn here is that if you compare teacher total compensation numbers and median Sierra Madre resident income, it makes things look less favorable for those claims of educator impoverishment being made by the United Teachers of Pasadena. Adding benefits such as health care and retirement to base teacher salaries, and then comparing that to just the median income of mostly private sector folks in a community served by the PUSD, didn't cut it in his eyes.

Of course, the assumption Glenn makes is that privately employed residents have things such as premium health benefit packages and CalPERS-style retirement accounts, and I was deliberately leaving those inconvenient facts out of the mix. Trust me, a lot of people do not have those things.

So anyhow, lets say I disagree. After all, PUSD total compensation all comes out of the very same pockets. As such it is all taxpayer funded income, no matter what bucket you happen to stick it in.

As you know, statistically average income is the sum of all records divided by the number of them, while median income is the exact middle if these records were to be put into a numerical order. I thought that is worth mentioning.

All of that said, I have generously decided to play along. This is how the conversation could have gone down had I originally played it by Glenn Mitchell's rules. First, here is PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald's assessment of what the typical senior Pasadena Unified teacher is pulling down, and why a teacher strike would be unjustified. It is taken from an article posted on the Pasadena Now website (link):

McDonald added, “A majority (58 percent) of our teachers earn an average of $107,233 in total compensation, including salary, district-paid health care benefits, and district-paid retirement contributions. The annual salary of these senior teachers is $85,450, the average district cost per teacher for health care is $12,614, and the district-paid retirement contribution for that salary level is $9,169.

The figure we will be using here today is that $85,450 annual (not average as Glenn assumed) senior teacher salary number cited by McDonald. We are subtracting the $12,614 average health care and $9,169 retirement figures from the mix as requested.

Next up is the somewhat questionable claim of economic hardship and potential displacement made by a group of UTP teachers employed at the Sierra Madre Elementary School. This is taken from their recent letter to Pasadena Now (link).

We find it demeaning and disheartening to continue to protest for this salary increase that will enable us to live in a community that we work in. Without this raise, many of us will have to relocate to communities that are more affordable, and ones that support and value their teachers.

What these demeaned and disheartened Sierra Madre Elementary teachers apparently want you to believe is that if they do not get the salary increase they are demanding, they will be forced to quit their jobs here and move to another city. Presumably a place where they will be paid wages commensurate with their housing requirements. The assumption is that you, the targeted audience of this notice of grievance, will be shocked at so terrible a potential loss to the community.

Per the very useful Transparent California site, here is what publicly and privately employed Sierra Madre residents, people who are not necessarily UTP/PUSD teachers, are making these days (link).

Lots of interesting information to be found there. But for our purposes today the number we need to note is that $78,594 "median earnings for full-time year-round private workers" statistic, and then compare it to that $85,450 annual (not average) PUSD senior teacher salary figure cited by Superintendent McDonald.

Which means the claims certain teachers from Sierra Madre Elementary School are making about being economically squeezed out of their Sierra Madre homes might not necessarily be true. If private sector workers can somehow keep body and soul together here on median earnings of $78,594.00 a year, those aggrieved educators should be able to hold on with their $85,450.00 salaries.

Right? I think so.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Is A Teacher Strike Coming to Sierra Madre Elementary?

Your kids might be getting a few unplanned days off from their classes, and soon. The reasons for so scary a prospect coming to our local public schools? Apparently labor negotiations have pretty much broken down between the PUSD Board of Ed and the United Teachers of Pasadena.

In an article titled "Teachers Union Reacts to Pasadena Unified “Final” Contract Offer," here is how the news site Pasadena Now describes the possibilities of some real "taking it to the streets" style labor action happening at Sierra Madre's taxpayer funded public schools (link).

A representative of United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP) reacted angrily Tuesday to the latest contract offer presented to teachers by Superintendent Brian McDonald of the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). The offer was sent to union members by email late Friday night, and then sent as an op-ed article to local media Monday and Tuesday.

The district and the teachers’ union have been at odds since 2014 and there has been little or no movement towards a settlement since then.

Emphasizing that “It is not business as usual in PUSD,” McDonald wrote, “This is a time of intentional change requiring full participation at all staff levels.”

McDonald’s proposal to UTP provides an ongoing 5 percent salary increase effective July 2016. The offer “also calls for a 3 percent salary increase of UTP bargaining unit salary schedules retroactive to July 1, 2015, and a 2 percent salary increase effective July 2016 for the next school year, according to McDonald.

“Based on funding from the state to be announced by the Governor in May 2016, teachers may also receive up to an additional 1.6 percent raise, bringing the total compensation up to 6.6 percent ongoing,” the Superintendent wrote.

McDonald added, “A majority (58 percent) of our teachers earn an average of $107,233 in total compensation, including salary, district-paid health care benefits, and district-paid retirement contributions. The annual salary of these senior teachers is $85,450, the average district cost per teacher for health care is $12,614, and the district-paid retirement contribution for that salary level is $9,169.

That $107,233 in total yearly compensation figure might seem like a lot to those working in the private sector, and most can only dream of making that much dough. However, we are talking government here, so any standards set in the marketplace obviously do not apply.

The article concludes with this only thinly veiled threat of a strike.

Wouldn't that be interesting? And just in case you are wondering how the PUSD teachers at Sierra Madre Elementary School are feeling about all of this, the answer is they appear ready and eager to hit the picket lines, and soon. This following letter also comes from Pasadena Now (link):

Anybody recognize the name of your kid's teacher here?

That bit about being able to "live in a community that we work in" does tug at the heart strings a little. Who doesn't want to call this town home? Plus that threat of quitting on the kids of Sierra Madre and taking their incomparable educational skills elsewhere will certainly send shockwaves through this entire community.

Well, OK. That might be a bit of an exaggeration.

That threat might not be based on monetary reality, either. If you compare the compensation figures discussed above by PUSD Superintendent McDonald with the median income figures of Sierra Madre, the numbers are not really out of line. Here are Sierra Madre median income figures, as supplied by the Los Angeles Times (link).

Based on those numbers I'd say that $107,000 in total compensation the PUSD offers many of its teachers looks pretty good right now.

More news on this story as it develops.