Friday, July 1, 2016

Poll: 13% of Americans say they would rather vote for a ‘giant meteor hitting the earth’ than Trump or Clinton

Mod: An interesting article from the website Fusion (link) regarding a new poll that shows the surprising electoral preference of a fairly large number of American voters. That being a "giant meteor hitting the Earth."

It’s no surprise that many people are frustrated with their main choices in the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton has been painted by critics as a Wall Street boosting autocrat, and Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump.

But to see just how dissatisfied the American public is with their electoral options, the Public Policy Polling firm offered a hypothetical third candidate in their latest 2016 election poll: A giant meteor. And not just a giant meteor hurtling out there in the inky depths of space, far beyond the Washington echo chamber seen by so many as indicative of what’s wrong with this country. Oh no. PPP wanted to see how a giant meteor hitting the Earth would when matched up against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

As it turns out, the giant meteor does surprisingly well.

PPP wrote:

We find that the Meteor would poll at 13%- far more support than the third party candidates actually on the ballot- with Clinton at 43% and Trump at 38%. The Meteor is particularly appealing to independent voters, functionally in a three way tie at 27% to 35% for Clinton and 31% for Trump.

But, as Rachel Maddow pointed out on Wednesday evening, Giant Meteor’s electoral prospects don’t stop there.

Yes, a full seven percent of poll respondents are still undecided when it comes to choosing between Clinton, Trump, and a fiery ball of space rock careening into our planet at (presumably) extinction-level speeds. In other words, with the right messaging, maybe some slick TV spots, and a few good solid endorsements, Giant Meteor could reach 20%. And if that happens, well, then we’ve got a real race on our hands.

Of course, there are other candidates running for the White House this year. PPP placed support for Libertarian Gary Johnson at just 5% and Green Party nominee Jill Stein comes in at just 2%—no where near the numbers being posted by an inanimate chunk of galactic matter.

“Maybe,” PPP mused, “that’s who the Libertarians should have nominated.”

Mod: For the record The Tattler does not support Giant Meteor for President. Though the merch is pretty cool.

Top 8 reasons for voting Rick Astley in 2016

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sober House/Rehab Mogul Arrested on Drug Charge

Mod: The following story is straight out of the "you just couldn't make this up" circular file. A controversial Los Angeles "Sober Living House" kingpin has now been busted for - you got it - drugs. Story courtesy of the LA Weekly.

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you? Apparently just about anyone can get in on the highly profitable "Sober Living House" hustle. No local municipality questions ever asked. For the rest of the article on this tender topic click the (link).

ABC News "20/20" video about this gent

Click here to view video.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Some Very Real Problems Facing Small City Governments

Mod: I missed last night's City Council meeting, so if anything stood out for you please share it here. But judging by the topics in the agenda the problems that were discussed had mostly to do with specific financial needs. The city has to raise more money to cover the ever increasing requirements of its employees. Sierra Madre is hardly unique in that. The budget problems of 2016 & 2017 are now mostly driven by retirement funding. And with any drops in the stock market cities will need to ask for additional increases. Here are two articles that explain the financial pressures almost all California cities are facing.

Manhattan Institute - California Crowd-Out: How Rising Retirement Benefit Costs Threaten Municipal Services: In recent years, California municipalities have seen retirement benefit costs grow at a rate above that of taxes, fees, and charges. “Crowd-out” is the term given to this condition by some public officials forced to deal with the resulting fiscal strain.

Balanced budget requirements mandate that when costs grow more rapidly than revenues, something must give. All too often, this has meant reductions in core government services, most of which—police, fire, libraries, parks, and street and sidewalk maintenance—are delivered at the local level in California.

Retirement benefit costs have caused California localities to underfund basic infrastructure maintenance needs, even in affluent areas such as Sonoma County. Teachers in Los Angeles are threatening to strike over stalemated contract negotiations, as the school district has found itself unable to satisfy union demands for increased personnel and salaries, as well as its long-term benefit commitments.

Mod: For the rest of this article click here.

Fox & Hounds - What Brexit Could Mean for Public Pensions: Since Britain’s stunning vote to leave the European Union, U.S. markets have already plummeted and markets around the world are in mayhem.  Economists warn that the vote will continue to have adverse consequences on financial institutions and markets around the globe, including the U.S., for an unforeseen amount of time.

So what does that mean for public pensions?

Most American public employee retirement systems are heavily invested in stocks because they are counting on high investment returns to cover huge gaps in funding, which were created by decades of over-promising benefits and underfunding annual contributions.

As a result, public employee retirement systems have become unsustainable and the problems have been compounded by continually increasing benefits based on unrealistic and risky market expectations. So when the stock market turns negative, as inevitably it will, pensioners will run the risk of losing their retirements or taxpayers will be left picking up the shortfall.  High risk investment practices are particularly dangerous in periods of market volatility because of the potential for big losses that cannot be recovered before the next recession.

If pension systems were set up with less risk (as they once were), more sharing of that risk and lower return expectations, then the real cost of retirement benefits would be more apparent to everyone and retirees could count on being paid what they have earned.

Today’s state and local public employee pension system is already in crisis with more than $1 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Brexit should be the wake-up call drastically needed for policymakers to turn the tide and make the systems sustainable. If they don’t get control of the public pension crisis now, events like a Brexit mean more and more plans will get further and further behind on their funding obligations. And the consequences for taxpayers and retirees are dire, as we have seen in Detroit and Puerto Rico. 

Mod: Click here

And then there is this news

Mod: Click here for the rest of this article.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Will The Results Of Tonight's Sierra Madre City Council Meeting Really Be This Predictable?

Yes, probably. I mean, what other possible results would you expect?

The budget will be appreciated and processed, despite the fact that it is so much more expensive than what was called for the last time around. That employee health benefits fiasco will be quickly swept under the carpet. No one should ever want to embarrass the City Manager, despite the six figure cost of her misstep. And the "Parks Parcel Tax" will be criticized for not bringing enough money back to Sierra Madre, but once that's said it will then be feted for its great significance.

This despite the fact that it is a draconian tax increase on the people of Los Angeles County, with no convincing assurances that the revenues created will be used for the purposes claimed in the vaguely worded accompanying paperwork.

And yes, John Capoccia will proclaim it "necessary." Just like he did with Measure R2 last meeting. You know, such as when he claimed that none of the resulting revenue would ever go to the 710 Tunnel. All apparently based on the say-so of his pals at The COG, Metro and SCAG. Organization men do love the establishment.

As far as that 2016 - 2017 budget goes, have you ever wondered why the numbers are so different from year to year? Shouldn't there be at least some small semblance of logical continuity?

Here's last year's figures:

Here is this year's version:

You'd think that they came from two different cities.

The predictable explanation for this accountancy mash-up is Measure UUT passed, things changed, and now City Staff and the City Council can express their true caring natures by lavishing generous amounts of newly won tax money on staff salary bumps, benefits increases, kids just out of a second tier Police Academy, and CalPERS.

Not necessarily in that order, and certainly having nothing whatsoever to do with repairing water infrastructure.

So rather than dwell any further on things that are as drearily predictable as those involved in the so-called City Council "decision making process," let's check out some other stuff.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Sentenced To Five Years In Prison (LAist link): Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the jail abuse scandal.

Tanaka was found guilty in April of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for attempting to block a federal probe into the county's jail system. "Not only did he fail to identify and address problems in the jails, he exacerbated them," said U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who sentenced Tanaka on Monday morning.

"One of the most troubling things is... your efforts to shield dirty deputies have been largely successful," Anderson said to Tanaka before delivering the sentence, reports City News Service. Anderson added that several corrupt deputies remain in "positions of authority" within the Sheriff's Department despite over a dozen convictions of sheriff's officials in similar cases of abuse and corruption.

It wasn't too long ago that Paul Tanaka was running for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's job and had the support of two Sierra Madre's finest elected officials. Here is how their endorsements of this convict read.

Shrewd judges of character, and yet another indication of why things have gone so well here.

The odd thing is that the information about Tanaka's brutal crimes had already been made available by the time these clueless endorsements were made. Yet somehow it made no difference.

You'd think that a former "Homeland Security" policy analyst such as John Harabedian would have known better.

Here is a big surprise

California may have a huge groundwater reserve that nobody knew about (Washington Post link): In a surprising new study, Stanford researchers have found that drought-ravaged California is sitting on top of a vast and previously unrecognized water resource, in the form of deep groundwater, residing at depths between 1,000 and nearly 10,000 feet below the surface of the state’s always thirsty Central Valley

The resource amounts to 2,700 billion tons of freshwater, mostly less than about 3,250 feet deep, according to the paper published Monday in the influential Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And there is even more fresh or moderately salty water at more extreme depths than this that could potentially be retrieved and desalinized someday for drinking water, or for use in agriculture.

“There’s a lot more fresh groundwater in California than people know,” said Stanford’s Rob Jackson, who conducted the research with the university’s Mary Kang, the study’s lead author. “It’s like a savings account. We can spend it today, or save it for when we really need it….There’s definitely enough extra groundwater to make a difference for the drought and farmers.”

How about that, eh?

Monday, June 27, 2016

California Eminent Domain Report: After 15 Years, Not Even A Thank You

Mod: The world can be an ungrateful place, and there really isn't too much that you can do about it. Take Don Murphy, present owner of Sierra Madre's previous City Hall. After inadvertently paying the electric bills for one of the City of Sierra Madre's parking lots, and for 15 long years mind you, Don found himself in court up against the full force of city hall's legal might trying to get his money back. In case you were wondering, below is what the city's legal mightiness was looking like when all of this went down. As you can easily see, the city spared no effort or expense.

Here is the California Eminent Domain Report on what went down (link).

Nice, right?

If you'd like to see the court's decision, click here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Were They Stealing Local Planning Rights? The California Assembly Bill That Could Have Taken Away Local Control Regulating Cell Phone Towers

I received the following interesting email from a reader a few days back. It had to do with a California Assembly bill being pushed by the campaign cash obsessed local political irritant, Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

I wanted to provide you a story tip, about a very sneaky bill being pushed through Sacramento this week. It would basically allow companies to install wood or steel poles of any height in front of your home with cabinets featuring noisy cooling fans, and possibly diesel generators in your front yard (unless you live in a gated community). 

The bill (up soon for a vote before State Senator Hertzberg on the Energy Committee) would gut any local regulation for common sense issues (e.g. diesel generators near child care, equipment cabinets next to your bedroom window, tenant displacement, and so on).

The bill number is AB 2278. It is being carried by Assemblymember Mike Gatto of Burbank. He is desperately trying to raise money to run against Fiona Ma for State Treasurer.

This email included a link to the following article, which I am sharing with you here today. It was originally published on something called Steve Blum's Blog and can be seen in its original setting by clicking here.

The only occasionally useful League of California Cities was against this thing as well, and stated its opposition this way (link):

The good news is Gatto backed down

Sometimes the good guys can win. Click here for link to the rest of the story.

Selling off local planning rights is all the rage in Sacramento

It's not just cell towers, of course. Here is an interesting article from Preserve LA.

Developers Spend Big Money on Lobbyists to Win Profitable Favors from Los Angeles Pols In the first quarter of 2016, developers made up seven of the top ten companies that spent the most cash on politically connected lobbyists in Los Angeles, according to the city’s Ethics Commission. In total, development firms and other companies spent a gigantic $13.5 million on City Hall lobbyists in the first quarter.

On June 21, the Ethics Commission revealed that out of the top ten companies that spent the most money on City Hall lobbyists in the first quarter of 2016, nine of them were pursuing building projects — and seven of those nine were development firms. They include Jia Yuan USA; MREC HD Elysian Park; Trammel Crow Residential; Townscape Partners; CH Palladium; Jamison Properties; and Crossroads Associates. AEG, Clear Channel Outdoor and LAFC Sports round out the top ten.

According to an Ethics Commission press release, “During the first quarter, these clients reported total payments [to lobbyists] ranging from $118,914 to $220,660. In total, these payments represented 11.6 percent of all payments by clients for the quarter.”

In other words, spending money on high-priced, politically connected lobbyists gets results for developers and other companies at City Hall — and they reap king-sized profits once City Hall approvals are obtained.

To read the rest click here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sierra Madre City Council Meeting Consent Calendar Item 1c. Can You Make Any Sense Of It?

"If you want a real big headache try reading the staff report on the city council agenda for next Tues., consent calendar item 1. c. I do not understand a single word, but this must be costing us plenty. Something to do with employee health benefit liabilities." - a reader comment from yesterday

I try to decipher these things when people ask, but every once in a while something shows up that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. There are a few possible explanations for this. The first being that the staff report or document is poorly written and things are just not very well explained. That happens sometimes.

Another would be that an opaquely written report covers a potentially controversial matter, and the city staff reporter does not want people to concern themselves about it too much. Such as an item involving increased health care benefit liability costs. This at a time when people had been told that such costs have now been managed, and the bad old days when Sierra Madre had some of the richest health care packages in the state are now safely in the past.

Of course, that could be pre-Measure UUT thinking, and with the money in the bag these bodies are now being allowed to float to the surface. But only in an obliquely written way. No need to spook the herd.

Here is a chart we posted in September of 2014 (link) that detailed just how expensive some of Sierra Madre's health care package costs back then really were. At the time that $37,815 "Health, Dental and Vision" item was the highest in California.

Anyway, here is a portion of Consent Calendar Item 1c for next Tuesday evening's City Council meeting (link). Can you make any sense of this?

Care to take a swing at this? It sounds to me like some sort of health care benefit costs are going up, but City Hall does not want to come out and actually say that.

However, I am not sure.

Friday, June 24, 2016

CNN Money In Arcadia: "You may not have heard of this Beverly Hills"

Brand new CNN Money news video that is all about Arcadia: "Forty-five minutes north of Los Angeles is a place referred to as the Chinese Beverly Hills. CNNMoney's Vanessa Yurkevich tours the booming town of Arcadia, California."

For video click here.

About a year ago we posted the following edgier video content about Arcadia. It comes from a website that calls itself Vocative and is titled "How an Upscale California Suburb Became the “Chinese Beverly Hills.”

For this video click here.

Vocativ's verbiage: "The town of Arcadia, California, has gained the nickname “The Chinese Beverly Hills.” Peggy Fong Chen, who makes a living selling high-priced real estate in Arcadia, says that almost all of her buyers are from mainland China, and almost all of her clients pay for their multi-million dollar homes in cash. Many Chinese billionaires buy these homes along with exotic cars for their children attending American colleges. Others use these mansions for the less wholesome purpose of housing their mistresses. Whatever their reasons, the Chinese elite are buying up American real estate like never before–to the tune of $22 billion last year alone."

Then there is this fairly recent video from the BBC called "Why those in the Chinese Beverly Hills area are worried."

Video click here.

BBC: "China's economic challenges have implications far beyond the country's borders. For instance in the United States, wealthy Chinese tourists and immigrants have transformed Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley. A generation ago, the area was predominantly white. Now it's majority Asian and Chinese businesses dominate the suburban landscape. But China's economic instability has many there on edge. Regan Morris reports from the area known as the Chinese Beverly Hills."

Once more. This one comes to us from Bloomberg Businessweek.

Video click here.

Bloomberg: "In South Pasadena, California, an estimated 1 or 2 homes will be demolished this year and replaced with mansions. Just a few towns away in Arcadia, that number jumps up to 150 homes. Many of the new residents come from China’s rising millionaires. Bloomberg Businessweek explores why."

The CNN Money video is new and currently running on their cable news outlets. The others are from mid to late 2015 and predate the recent Arcadia City Council elections.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Transparent California Posts 2015 Salary Numbers

The salary and other compensation numbers for 2015 are in, and as far as Sierra Madre goes it is a mixed bag of results. While many city employees saw salary increases, overall compensation numbers for some actually went down. This might be because of ongoing downward adjustments being made here to what are still very generous benefit layouts (link).

Below is a list of Sierra Madre's top 10 most highly compensated employees for 2015, followed by the top 10 for 2014. To view the results for all city employees click here.


Pasadena Star News article 
This following piece ran yesterday in all of the Southern California News Group papers. It draws heavily on the 2015 public employee compensation numbers just released by Transparent California. Note that in California an average government employee is now being paid approximately double what his/her counterpart in the private sector is making.

To view the rest of this Star News article click here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

LA Daily News: LA County should consider lower tax to fund parks

Mod: If you are still trying to figure out the Parks Bond / Parcel Tax measure that Los Angeles County is trying to impose on the people living under its mighty thumb, then this LA Daily News editorial should help. It pretty much nails what the county is attempting to do, which is accumulate an awful lot of money without anyone noticing how badly they are being ripped off. Check it out.

That last paragraph is pretty important. The rest of this editorial can be found here.

To put this all into a local perspective, here is a paragraph from the agenda report that covered this matter for Monday night's Community Services Commission meet up.

So here is how this entire parks / parcel tax boondoggle breaks down:

Sierra Madre's portion to pay is $257,000.

Sierra Madre in return receives only $75,000.

Los Angeles County altogether gets $189 million to do with as they like.

Of course, if they decide instead on a 5-cent per square foot parcel tax those numbers go way up.

I think the county was counting on you not noticing. Keep all of this in mind when the City Council takes the matter up next Tuesday evening.

You might now know more about this stuff than they do.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What the Community Services Commission Did Last Night

Here is what City Staff had recommended the Community Services Commission do last night:

The Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District (RPOSD) is proposing that the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors place a bond measure on the November 2016 ballot to continue funding park and recreation projects throughout Los Angeles County. The City has historically benefited from previous parks assessments and would likely benefit from this one. However, through some study, the proposed allocation distribution raises issues over fiscal equity to the communities where the tax would be levied. Due to these concerns, staff recommends the Community Services Commission recommend the City Council support the proposed measure with modifications.

However, the outcome was not what staff had hoped for. The Community Services Commission recommended that the City Council completely reject the entire thing. Outright. And their vote was unanimous.

There are some good reasons for this. The first being it is too soon after Measure UUT. The community already voted to give City Hall the additional moneys it claimed it needed to do things like take care of the town's parks. Or so they had been led to believe. To ask people to come up with additional dough for services many believe they had already paid for was not seen as the wisest thing to do right now.

It could raise some unfortunate questions.

Another reason was the financial unfairness of what the county was proposing to do. Here is how this was described in the Staff Report (link):

While the results of the Assessment showed needs in all communities, the proposed allocation distribution raises issues over fiscal equity to the communities where the tax would be levied. As currently structured, Sierra Madre residents would be taxed annually approximately $257,000 presuming that the $0.03 per square foot levy is adopted. Yet, the City of Sierra Madre would only be guaranteed to receive annually 29% or about $75,000 (the combined total of Grant Category 1 and M&S category) according to County Staff presentations.

Apparently there are a few cities that are not happy about how these bond moneys are to be allocated, and they don't see the point in having to pay more than they could ever hope to receive. Having their park money redistributed to some of the poorer communities among us just isn't cutting it with some. There has been far too much of that sort of thing already.

But there is another reason the CSC rejected the entire so-called "Parks Bond Measure" outright, and that is the phoniness and dishonesty of the County's appeal. Here is how Commissioner Pat Alcorn put that in a comment posted here yesterday.

This is a much bigger issue and can't be discussed intelligently with only a 4 day notice, much less be able to make an informed decision. This proposed measure, while it is very worthwhile to have funding for parks and facilities, misses the mark on many levels. What worries me is the polling of 1,010 likely voters shows that 69% would definitely, probably or lean toward voting yes in favor of a ballot measure, and that number would increase with "education." That education emphasized clean water, keep open spaces, keep our kids safe, and water conservation. Who doesn't want our kids safe and have clean water? That funding is lopsided and not beneficial to the foothill communities is only the main objection.

Of course everyone loves their children, likes clean water and enjoys open spaces. But what does any of that have to do with floating a bond that rips Sierra Madre's taxpayers off as badly as this one will?  This has a lot less to do with "education" and more about slick LA County taxation propaganda designed to help increase an already massive take.

Couple this with Measure R, a sales tax ballot measure on the ballot this fall designed to fatten the coffers of erstwhile 710 Tunnel building Metro, and you can see that the Board of Supervisors is hardly interested in doing a park bond issue alone.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the entire budget for Los Angeles County, as administered by its Board of Supervisors, is a massive $28.5 billion dollars (link). Up $282 million from the year before, it is a level of spending that can only be achieved by raising taxes. Like perhaps with this Park Bond effort? At least in part?

Here is how that unhappy news was shared with us last April 11:

Los Angeles County officials on Monday released a proposed $28.5-billion budget for the next fiscal year -- a plan that would boost overall spending by about 1% but does not spell out how shortfalls in the coroner’s office and some other key programs will be solved.

In presenting the budget, county Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said leaders are committed to "lifting the quality of life for all of our residents," but are "challenged by the demand for county services that far exceeds the available financing sources."

The proposed spending plan is an increase of $282 million from the year before, offset by projected increases in property taxes and other revenues. It includes $99 million for the county’s new homelessness initiative and $19 million for wage increases the Board of Supervisors passed last year for in-home care workers.

It also includes $11 million for physical and mental health services to be provided by the newly created Office of Diversion and Reentry, which is focused on moving low-level offenders with mental health and substance abuse issues out of county jails and into treatment programs.

In case anyone is wondering where some of the money for that sudden proliferation in sober houses has been coming from, that source apparently is you.

Last night the Community Services Commission recommended just saying NO. They are to be commended for having shown the courage and integrity it took to do so.

It will be interesting to see how the City Council will react to their recommendation. And as it stands now that wait will not be a long one. According to the most recent City Managers Report (link), it all happens next Tuesday.

Not that anybody was rushing into this or anything. Four days notice and all.

Last item, of course. Tax hikes most often are.

Monday, June 20, 2016

City Staff Tax Laugh: Potential Los Angeles County Park Funding Measure 2016

"Staff didn't say they had a problem with a parks tax. They said they just weren't getting enough of it. This is business as usual." - reader comment

The City of Sierra Madre, its voters, and those just curious about the occasionally outre' ways of this little town nestled beneath the mighty foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, would all have to be out of their collective minds to support this tax boondoggle. However, achieving that mental state has not been too much of a problem here lately.

At this evening's meeting of the Community Services Commission the following tax matter will be under consideration. Here is how the matter at hand is cautiously described in an associated staff report (link):

Now just about everyone loves parks, even those who haven't set foot in one in decades. They're kind of like libraries that way. And Los Angles County and the tax happy Board of Supervisors that runs it have always had a burning need to weasel more dough out of the hapless taxpayers who live within the borders of their crumbling and traffic choked kingdom.

That, along with lavishing your tax money on their crooked cronies, is what they do. Trust me, Cook County has nothing on our guys and gals. And most voters seem to accept all of that since they keep electing the same venal County Supervisors to office decade after decade.

But why in the world would anyone expect Sierra Madre's Community Services Commission to support something as financially disadvantageous to this community as the following?

I guess that is what City Staff feels could need some "modifications."

Here is my question. Certainly such an unfair tax hit to Sierra Madre would have some appeal to many of the other cities in Los Angeles County that have parks. And apparently most towns will get back more than what they put in. Unlike Sierra Madre. So why wouldn't they want to approve such a thing without any modifications and stick places like the Foothill Village with their parks and recreation bills?

Does a rejection of the above by the Community Services Commission really mean that such an inequity will then just go away? I doubt that is how this funny money equation is designed to break. Meaning the county will just say that a majority of its cities were down with what is a blatant act of piracy, and then slap this screaming little monkey on the ballot.

I didn't see that being mentioned in the staff report. Maybe they forgot to mention it.

Sierra Madre's other firehouse is up for rent
This from that always intriguing real estate gossip website LA Curbed (link):

Does anyone remember why Sierra Madre Fire Station No. 2 was sold? And who exactly did it?