Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Demo Moratorium Could Turn Into A Sierra Madre Showdown Tonight - Plus More On Embezzlegate: Pasadena's Sheri Stevenson Speaks Out

At risk Sierra Madre
Mod: The word on the streets of Sierra Madre is there will be some opposition to the Interim Demolition Moratorium this evening, with the folks who want to bulldoze the Henry A. Darling home apparently planning on being front and center with their colorful array of complaints (link). In a widely distributed e-mailing yesterday Preserve Sierra Madre put it this way: "A demolition moratorium is particularly crucial because the owner of 126 E. Mira Monte has submitted an application to demolish a beautiful 1907 Craftsman home complete with such classic Craftsman architectural details like box beam ceilings, wainscoting and a river rock fireplace."

This particular home is now at the center of the debate because it represents what many in Sierra Madre are fighting to save. That is preserving heritage homes from the kinds of mansionization that have afflicted our now otherworldly looking neighbor down the hill. The fact remains the owner of the Henry A. Darling house really does want to build something far larger on that property. Something that therefore makes this a not atypical example of a very unfortunate phenomenon.

The nonsense argument that will likely be dragged out tonight is there is a sacred covenant floating somewhere in the developer-speak ether declaring newly arrived property owners have the right to do as they wish with their land, while the rights of people who already live (and own) in this community should somehow be completely ignored. And whatever claims current residents might have to legacy, privacy, views, air and sunlight (not to mention hanging on to their existing property values), cannot hold a stick to the luminous principles protecting mostly out-of-town McMansion builders. No matter how invasive or destructive their intentions, or where they get their funding.

You see, McMansion builders are actually freedom fighters. No, really. Just not for any of your freedoms. They prefer the one that claims they can take whatever they like, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Things could get heated tonight. You really do need to tune in.

Pasadena's Sheri Stevenson speaks out

Pasadena City Hall Insider: As a former co-worker and one who admired Sheri Stevenson immensely, I commend her to you as an unimpeachable source.  She has worked tirelessly to restore a sense of dignity and fairplay to City of Pasadena workers.  When the PMA layoffs began, employees became apprehensive, felt threatened, and did not know whom to trust.  The interim HR Director, literally a plant installed by Michael Beck, maintained dossiers on all of the dissidents, working closely with the City Manager's office to create an atmosphere of fear and isolation.  Sheri Stevenson brought light to the ugly, ugly chapter in the history of the  City of Roses that is Michael Beck.  She continues to bring hope to those who unjustly lost their jobs. Yesterday Sheri posted these comments to this site.

In 2012, Mr. Beck laid off Jean Luter, a Management Analyst in the Finance Department and, similar to those in 2011, an outspoken Budget Watchdog. Ms. Luter, another well-respected, older (over 50) African-American employee, had amongst her duties the oversight of all City purchasing cards (credit cards). Immediately prior to being laid off, Ms. Luter had recommended that a couple of the department heads be sanctioned for improper use of City purchasing cards. She recommended that certain restrictions be put in place with impartial oversight by the Finance Department. Less than one month later, Ms. Luter was laid off, and the department heads were made responsible for monitoring and approving their own purchasing card expenditures.

In 2012, I was also laid off. I was Vice-President of PMA, a Management Analyst, and an outspoken Budget Watchdog in the Public Works Department. In fact, Mr. Beck publicly labeled me Pasadena’s “Resident Contrarian” because it irked him when I questioned inaccuracies in the budget. 

I could go on, but my three minutes will be up shortly. A common theme here is that there are many, many City employees who were and are honest, ethical, long-term City employees. We took pride in our work and weren’t afraid to speak up and question, challenge, and verify. Laying us off was an “in your face” message to the rest of the City employee population that it is, in fact, very dangerous to follow the mantra of “If you see something, say something.” 

Laying us off contributed to a culture of fear for those employees who would speak the truth. And believe me, there’s a lot more that could be said. If Pasadena’s H.R. Department had given it any thought, they would have been wise to do exit interviews with laid off employees, as they would have nothing to lose at that point to discuss the many, many additional things each of us knows and could share with a listening ear. Instead, City employees still working quickly learned to keep their mouths shut.

When asked if this investigation would impact his job, Mr. Beck replied, “As it relates to me personally, this isn’t about me, it’s about the City of Pasadena and ultimately we need to ensure that we can rebuild confidence that the community can have with the City of Pasadena, and that’s what we will strive to do.” 

I would ask you, if it’s not about Mr. Beck, if it’s not about the City Manager who leads our fine City, then who is it about?

Ironically, the same day that the FBI set up their command post in Pasadena and the Department of Homeland Security worked with Pasadena’s TART team to secure the city for New Year’s events, Mr. Beck sent a letter to City employees in which he borrowed a law enforcement phrase. “If you see something, say something,” he encouraged them.

Let me tell you, from personal experience, what happens when you do just that. In 2011, Mr. Beck laid off Susie Sulzbach, an honest PMA President, Management Analyst, and outspoken Budget Watchdog. 

In 2011, Mr. Beck also laid off George Owens, Pasadena’s own Internal Auditor. Mr. Owens was a well-respected, older (over 50) African-American employee who saved the City of Pasadena more than enough money each year to cover his own salary (including benefits and burden) plus significantly more. 

CM Beck apparently did not appreciate the close scrutiny and recommendations for checks and balances that Mr. Owens professionally provided to all departments, including the City Manager's own office. In the City's closing brief regarding the 2011 arbitration requested by PMA (page 11), it states the following, "Grievant Owens was an internal auditor who was assigned audits directly by Mr. Green and reported directly to Mr. Green. In evaluating the impact on the Finance Department, Mr. Green determined that Grievant Owens’ loss would have a minimum impact on the Finance Department as Grievant Owens was in a single-purpose position. Grievant Owens duties could, when necessary, be conducted by an outside auditor or those audits would be conducted by Mr. Green or one of Mr. Green's immediate subordinates." 

Apparently Mr. Andrew Green, Finance Director, did not, in fact, conduct any audits personally, especially in the Finance Department, and he felt that singling out the City's auditor would have "minimum impact." $6.4 million in losses seems to prove that Mr. Green's actions were short-sighted at best and demonstrate fiduciary irresponsibility at worst. 

Another comment of interest was left here last evening.

City Hall employees used to be surveyed about the city and the city manager - since Beck arrived, that stopped. The City has yet to complete a 5-7 year old classification study for all employees to ensure they're actually doing what they're paid to do (or not paid to do). The morale of the entire city is dead. It doesn't exist unless you're one of Michael's direct reports or someone else on the gravy train (basically all his hires....lots of money but nothing to show for it). 

If the city council really wanted to know whats going on in Pasadena, they don't need investigators, they need to sit down and have an honest conversation with the 3,000 employees that actually do the work in this down. But that will never happen because they're all a part of this political backscratching system they created and they know exactly what the issues are but refuse to resolve them. It's just too convenient to have a yes man as city manager, even if it costs taxpayers millions of dollars. 

Paid investigators over simple conversations between elected officials and those who work there? Has it really gotten that bad? Is that what the elected officials there believe the taxpayers want them to do, conduct a government by consultant?

We will continue to monitor the situation in Pasadena as closely as possible. What started out as a case of embezzlement is now becoming so much more. 

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pasadena Star News: Pasadena City Council to vote Monday night on pay raises for city attorney, city clerk

Happy! Happy!
(Mod: This stunner just showed up on the Pasadena Star News website. Apparently the worst embezzlement scandal in that city's history, one that is still being investigated mind you, isn't about to get in the way of Pasadena City Hall handing out a couple of beefy raises. More proof that government in the SGV has its origin in a world beyond.)

Pasadena City Council to vote Monday night on pay raises for city attorney, city clerk (link) - The City Council will vote Monday to give pay raises and increased benefits to two top city staffers. The council will vote to amend its contracts with City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris and City Clerk Mark Jomsky that will cost about $27,000 this fiscal year, according to a staff report.

The council in December authorized City Manager Michael Beck to give 1 percent pay raises to all city department heads, including former Department of Public Works Director Siobhan Foster and former finance chief Andrew Green, who were fired last week without cause amid the $6.4 million alleged embezzlement scandal.

Former DPW employee Danny Ray Wooten, 51, is accused of funnelling $6.4 million from a fund generated by a surcharge on Pasadena residents’ electricity bills aimed at beautifying city streetscapes. Wooten allegedly gave the money to two church groups he is associated with as well as an Altadena-based electrical contractor Tyrone Collins, 55, and a temporary city employee Melody Jenkins, 46.

Beck defended the pay raises, saying the increase was modest and the department heads hadn’t received a pay raise since 2008. He noted that pay raises in 2013 were offset by increases in healthcare contributions.

Bagneris, who earned $225,000 in 2013, according to city salary data, will be paid a $243,461 salary as of Dec. 1, if the council approves the new contract. Jomsky, who earned $139,244 in 2013, according to city salary data, is slated to be paid a $154,661 salary as of Dec. 1.

(Mod: For more on this follow the link I posted above to the PSN site. Oh, and LAFan101? They still haven't fired Beck. I know. You're shocked.)

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday's City Council Meeting: "Urgency Ordinance Establishing An Interim Moratorium On Demolitions"

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For my money there are two items on Tuesday evening's agenda that need to be paid some special attention. The first one we wrote about yesterday. The EENER Commission's recommendation that fining people over their water usage, and at rates that are a little beyond any easy comprehension, is as important as the "interim ordinance" temporarily halting demolitions here. The EENER initiative is yet another in a long list of attempts to squeeze more money out of what has got to be regarded as an at risk water company. Money that could be used for any number of things, none of which are detailed in the agenda report. But you could probably take a pretty good swing at where it will go.

The City of Sierra Madre should not be run like just another California benefit and pension factory for its employees. A lot of cities in California, almost all of them far larger than ours, have now fallen into that trap. You could easily include Los Angeles County, or the entire state for that matter, on the list as well.

It is how things got as financially troubled in this state as they are today. According to California Common Sense, "Since 2007, the state’s unfunded retirement benefit liabilities have more than tripled and now stand at $219 billion (link)." There is no reason why Sierra Madre should have to jump into that mess with everybody else.

How much money City Hall will get out of things like fining people is nowhere near as important a question as how much it will cost the people who actually pay for it. On a roster of priorities resident expense should be at the very top of any list of considerations, but often it never even comes up.

Stopping McMansionization in Sierra Madre is a vitally important issue, but it is hardly the only one. In the final result all of these issues are tied together by the City's apparently endless search for more revenue. Don't let one issue be used against another. They are of equal importance.

Here is how the summary for the "Urgency Ordinance Establishing An Interim Moratorium On Demolitions" reads:


This is an "urgency zoning ordinance," and there is a reason for that. The updated General Plan, which would have protected the City of Sierra Madre from mansionization, was repeatedly delayed and waylaid by the previous four Mayors of this town. From John Buchanan through Nancy Walsh's especially troubled 12 months, everything possible was done to hinder putting into place protections that would have safeguarded what residents actually want for this town.

All done in favor of seeing to the needs of developers instead. Today you can see the results of that faithlessness erupting all over town.

And what was the reason for that?

Money. What else? From the water department and its seemingly endless quest to extract more cash from the residents, to increased property tax hauls, or the immense development impact fees City Hall could realize by unleashing out of control development, it was almost always the perceived need for more cash that drove this city's decision making process. At least until now.

Development Impact Fees are far larger in California than they are in any other state in the country. By a mile. You can read about that in a post we called "Are Development Impact Fees A Form Of Bribery?" The link is here.

You got this, right? Money is the connection. That is how it all ties together here. Of course, you could be opposed to one item at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting without opposing the other. Anything is possible.

But you'll need to be careful. The physical contortions alone could throw out your back.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The EENERs Recommend That Water Use Penalties Kick In Now - And At Exponentially Higher Rates

EENER meeny miny moe, catch a townie by the toe
The wrath of the EENERs is apparently now upon us all. What you might have ever done to deserve such a fate is beyond me, but there it is.

Penalties for using more water than deemed appropriate were suspended by the City Council a few months back. These punishments had been established, but then were never activated. They were just there. However, the CC also tasked the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Commission (or EENRC, an unfortunate acronym then Councilcritter Nancy Walsh had swiped from those colorful cut-ups at "The COG"), to deliberate upon the punitory propensities of all this and return with some informed recommendations to the Council.

Well, long story short, it would appear that the EENERs want to crack you upside your water using head a whole lot harder than even the City Council dared suggest when all of this was first coming together. With penalty payment rates that are exponentially higher than before. And they want to start doing it right about now.

As you might know, my feelings for the EENER Commission have never been warm. My take on this rhythm has always been that when then Mayor John Buchanan first imposed the idea in the form of the Green Committee, his intentions were not exactly pure. His true purpose being that if you want to impose something on the townies that is extremely unpopular, you get a Green Committee type resident body to make the recommendation first.

Then, when whatever the unloved initiative might be does get brought up at a City Council meeting, all the elected would then have the luxury of saying this is being done at the request of the Green Committee. All of which conveniently gives a Mayor or Councilmembers the ability to deny that "this difficult decision" was ever their idea. Especially when it really was.

Today, of course, we have the EENERs, and apparently they are rather mad at you over your biological dependence on water. And should their recommendations actually go through Tuesday evening, you could get the holy hopping bejeezus fined out of you for not substantially curbing your use of it.

Here is the section of the relevant Staff Report containing this unhappy news:


There you go. Instead of the original 2 to 3 times penalty rate, you would now be dunned at a 2 to 10 times rate instead. How sweet of them. And it is not like this is a water rate increase requiring a Prop 218 "process" or anything, right? You know that? Good, then will you please tell me why it isn't?

Because that is what it looks like to me.

So what if you decide to appeal all of this crazy stuff? Fight back, as it were. Then you'd better have your "water audit done by water conservation-certified staff" in place first.


There's a visit you could live without.

Like I said, if you are a Mayor or City Council person who wants to get some unpopular piece of legislation in place, especially one that involves the taking of even more money, it is best to first find residents who will make that recommendation for you.

That's why they call them EENERs, I guess.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pasadena City Hall Insider: "Where two or three gather Under the Dome, a conspiracy is suspected."

"Bogaard, McAustin, Tornek are on Municipal Services and Finance committees. Gordo is fourth member of Finance. Were they asleep or were they deceived?" - InvoiceGate Pasadena













Pasadena City Hall employees know who's absent and why they are missing.  Rumor has it that among the people placed on administrative leave are Finance Department personnel - George, Hasmick, Flo, and Patty.  If not yet, then perhaps soon? You know how rumors go. Why the clerks?  Least likely to be missed when they're replaced. All four technically overstepped their authority in processing payments and blatantly disregarded accounting procedures put in place to make sure abuses of the system didn't take place - or did they?

  • Confirmed Finance Department employee Larry Hammond, Purchasing Administrator, and Public Works-Engineering manager, Bonnie Hopkins, Principal Engineer, are among the disappeared.  

Before the Special Check Request was presented to them by their boss for processing, it would have first been signed by Wooten himself, and Siobhan Foster, Public Works Director, and walked to Larry Hammond, Purchasing Manager - who acted as gatekeeper for all Special Check Requests.  Larry would personally hand the document(s) to Andy Green, Finance Director, for approval, and only at that point would it be returned to the clerks for inclusion into the special check request run.

At what point would an accounting clerk rise up from their desk and say, "Wait a minute, Ms. Foster, this is an illegal transaction,"  "Wait a minute, Mr. Green, your Accounting Prcedures say I must have a payment authority."  It's just a lot easier to place the blame on the clerks.

It's the "we've always done it this way" mindset that created the climate for the financial abuse to occur.  Why would Wooten think after the first sham invoice was presented and paid that he would be challenged?  Suddenly, it became, "We've always done it this way."  Wooten wasn't the only person misusing the Special Check Request system; perhaps he wasn't even the only embezzler - just the one that got caught.

Steve Mermell, Assistant City Manager, was for years Deputy Finance Director, under Jay Goldstone.  No one in the City knows more about the accounting system than Steve.  No one's asking Steve on the record how this could have happened.  Steve put in place procedures and protocols so that it couldn't happen.

Had those very same procedures and protocols been followed by the four people placed on administrative leave, had they been enforced by Larry Hammond, Siobhan Foster, and Andy Green, Danny Wooten would not be in a jail cell and his cohorts would not need to be free on bail.

Use our easy withdrawal form for quick service!
Siobhan Foster had within her department a Financial Services Group.  One of the group's duties is to track fund balances.  Remember it is the Underground Utilities Fund that is in the news.  The funds are reconciled monthly.  How is it that invoices were presented and paid without purchase orders or contracts, reimbursements issued to businesses and individuals whose addresses did not reflect work currently being performed, and for work not scheduled to begin until future budget years?

Did cutbacks so affect this critical function that the analysts were unable to perform basic audits of the funds?

Sheri Stevenson, a laid off Management Analyst in Public Works, spoke at the January 5th City Council Meeting.  She talked knowledgeably about employees who lost their jobs, who had been laid off during cutbacks.  Many of those who left were vocal in their opposition to the loss of benefits and pay negotiated by Michael Beck shortly after he arrived in Pasadena.  Not a single employee union escaped his take no prisoners methods

What Stevenson didn't mention was the work climate as a result of the layoffs:  long term employees who are afraid they, too, will lose their jobs if they complain or speak out.

Danny Wooten was not an island within the Engineering Division of the Public Works Departments.  He, himself, supervised a clerical person, his assignments and work product were overseen by a manager, a fully licensed civil engineer; that manager would have reported to the City Engineer, who in turn would have worked under Siobhan Foster, the Public Works Director.

The wagons have been circled; women and children to the middle; sacrifices made and others identified just waiting for the next bloody chapter.  You can be assured that it is siege mentality within the fabulous Beaux Arts edifice that is Pasadena City Hall.

Who's next they ask one another?  When will the other shoe drop?

Where two or three gather Under the Dome, a conspiracy is suspected.    

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is This How CETT Would Take Care Of Our One Carter?

I know that CETT, our favorite erstwhile McMansion developer, has been eager to impress us with just how good a citizen of Sierra Madre they would be. That is, if we would just give them a chance. Or at least until they sold all of their houses, ran out of buildable land and headed back down into the smokey valley from whence they came. But if these pictures showing the sad state of the story pole shanty they constructed at One Carter are any indication, their real time actions tell us a far different tale.


As you can clearly see, CETT doesn’t seem to be too concerned about maintaining their story poles at 610 Baldwin Court. And if you look closely you will see that the ground is littered with large rusty nails. Dog walkers and the parents of young children beware. It certainly does appear to be a rough place for the innocent, and there have always been a lot of them in that neighborhood.

I had a chance to speak with the concerned residents that first brought this matter to my attention. It was they who e-mailed me the melancholy photos I've posted above. Long time habitants of Sierra Madre, these folks have personally witnessed the transformation of this once pristine wilderness area into whatever it has become today.

Here are a few of their observations. They know that this property seems attractive to some people, and that it is widely believed to be filled with nature. But here's the thing, it no longer is. They find it disturbing to go there now because it is almost as if some kind of catastrophe occurred. There's little to be found in the CETT controlled portion but compacted dirt and developer dictated plantings of sterile plants that the deer don't seem to want.

They have begun to wonder if someone is using some form of toxicant up there. On the valley portion there are now few coyote or deer. They no longer see very many squirrels or birds. The only life forms present are people and their dogs. The rattlesnakes that you used to have to look out for, along with the tarantulas, are also gone. The sheer lifelessness of the place jumps out at you, they claim.

No rats, no mice, no rabbits, no bobcats, no foxes, no anything anymore. Has anyone who walks up there seen anything, in those parts where the building pads are? Birds landing on the plants the developer put in? These residents tell me that nature has apparently vanished.

Plus what kind of contribution to the environment are hundreds of rusty nails and derelict broken boards? CETT will likely say it’s the story pole business’s fault, but why don’t they monitor their site, or check on that company’s work? They seem quite indifferent to that kind of responsibility.

It must be pointed out that the alleged One Carter dead zone is where the various developers have, over the years, done their work. The parts of the immediate hillside beyond all of that still see abundant deer, coyotes, birds, and even the occasional bear. Things are like they have always been.

But the One Carter proposed McMansion area is not. And in ways that our friends have become quite concerned about that. They wanted me to let you know.

By the way, here is what One Carter once looked like. Not so very long ago.


Bonus coverage: Some folks have found a use for empty homes in Arcadia

This report comes to us from the Pasadena Star News (link):

Police seized about 1,250 marijuana plants, arrested three people and took two infants into protective custody early Thursday after dismantling indoor marijuana-growing operations inside two Arcadia homes, police said.

As part of an ongoing investigation, detectives and SWAT team members served two search warrants in the 300 block of West Woodruff Avenue and the 1800 block of South Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia police Lt. Colleen Flores said in a written statement.

“Both warrants were served without incident, and indoor marijuana grows were found at each location,” Flores said.

Police uprooted about 750 marijuana plants from the Baldwin Avenue home, and another 500 from the Woodruff Avenue home, police said.

The complex indoor pot grows appeared to be bypassing electrical meters to steal electricity from the grid, Flores said.

Just before serving the search warrants, police arrested a man seen leaving from the Woodruff Avenue home in a vehicle, Flores said. Police also arrested a man who showed up at the home during the operation and a woman found inside with two infant boys, Flores said. The children were taken into the custody of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

Arrested were Ming Gao, 46, of Arcadia, Jia Hui Shen, 27, of El Monte, and Lan Lau, 34, of Arcadia, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.

Detectives had not yet determined who owns and is responsible for the homes, police said. Authorities were looking into the possibility of adding additional charges, such as utility theft and child endangerment.

Isn't it interesting that nobody can readily tell who owns these homes?

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tattler Exclusive: Pasadena City Hall Insider Tells All 2

Currently out of the office and under a bus.
(Mod: The first time we posted an article here written by the Pasadena City Hall Insider was on January 2nd. Since then that post has stayed on our Top 10 Most Read list for a 3 full weeks, which for this blog is a very long time. This week's very public firing of Andy Green and Siobhan Foster has caused The Insider to take up his pen and write for The Tattler again. And what we get is a pretty penetrating look into the bizarre culture that lives on beneath the dome, and how it reacts when threatened.) 

The Pasadena Star News is reporting that City of Pasadena Mayor, Bill Bogaard, and the Townie Council have allowed the now un-diversified Andy Green and Siobhan Foster to commit seppeku in defense of the City Manager, Michael Beck. Both department heads came late in alleged culprit Danny Wooten's embezzlement career.

From 2003 through 2014, eleven years, a virtual Human Resources carousel of City Managers, Interim City Managers, Finance Directors, Public Works Directors, Acting Finance and Public Works Directors, and Interim Finance and Public Works Directors held sway over accounting processes that ultimately proved too complicated and unenforceable to properly safeguard Pasadena's vast treasuries of the people's gold.

It is fair to posit that none of the more than 15 high level managers who lounged in those comfy Aeron Ergodynamic high backed office thrones had any idea of what the actual process really was. The only person who seemed to have a clue was Mr. Wooten himself, and he chose to circumvent generally accepted accounting practices to the tune of $6.4 million embezzled dollars.

The real reason the residents of Pasadena and the KPAS-TV viewing audience were forced to sit through January 5th's televised City Council Meeting with its interminable Powerpoint presentations is so the Mayor, the City Council, and the City's Management Team could figure out what that process actually was - because none of them actually knew how to get actual work product done.

Sure, there were protocols in place - some of them implemented prior to the computer age, and all of them updated by some low level clerk who initialed their work, but where was the verification that the employees who did that work actually followed the rules?  All the time?

In a culture where no one is encouraged to ask questions, suggest a better system, or take any sort of initiative, why is it surprising that an enterprising thief with an engaging smile and an air of proficiency could bulldoze his way through a paper trail of defenses most managers never took the time to read, fathom, or even discuss with their clerks?

Ms. Foster came on like gangbusters when she assumed the dictatorship of Public Works.  First she obliterated any scent of her predecessor, Martin Pastucha, by consigning carefully chronicled historical data, and files existing nowhere else, to Reycle bins brought up from the basement.

Oh, let's back up.  How did Ms. Foster come to Pasadena you may have asked (a question seemingly overlooked)?  The dormouse records that the highly esteemed Martin Pastucha confronted Michael Beck over further budget/personnel cuts that the more experienced Director regarded as not only unwise, but departmental suicide.  Within that year Ms. Foster was recruited from the City of Riverside (Michael Beck's former employer) and came onboard (even with a pending employee lawsuit against her), swinging from the rigging of the Public Works ship, slashing her way through the functions, the budget, the headcount, and the goodwill of the more than 250 employees left with only a union to defend them, to make the cuts Michael Beck was unable to pursuade Martin Pastucha to go with.

Teflon Mike
Finance and Public Works are not the only departments where Michael Beck left his imprimature:  actually, Human Resources, Planning and Development, the embattled Police Department, Fire, Human Services, Housing, Transportation, IT, and Transportation Directorships have all turned over since 2008. Only the Library and Water & Power Departments escaped the wrath of Beck.

Twelve of the 14 departments under Michael Beck have come under new management since he began his tenure.  Early in his ascendancy as City Manager, Michael Beck also took on the City employees' deeply entrenched unions, drawing accusations of union busting. There was much speculation that the City Council had brought him on for just such a purpose.

In a move which happened with lightning-like speed, the official City of Pasadena organization chart now reflects three vacant positions (Walsh, Green, and Foster).  Didn't even pause to catch up with William "When PIOs Fly" Boyer's official announcement, which hasn't yet been posted to the Invoice Investigation tab.  But lookey here, obliterating their names will not make the debacle that is the City of Pasadena's vast sum of embezzled taxpayer money reappear. Neither will playing a freakish game of whack-a-mole in PSN comments sections anytime Frank Girardot and his crack investigative team surface with another hard hitting expose.'

So all you folks clamoring for Beck's head on a pike tout suite, be assured Teflon Mike isn't in danger of losing his job anytime soon.  Not only has he bought the allegiance of Green and Foster by allowing them to take leave of the City "without cause," and with a severance package the likes of which you and I will never ever see, T-Mike is also providing cover for the Rose City's elected treasures.

Was Beck himself assured of his term of office when he was hired by the Mayor (in collaboration with Council) as a guarantee against his union tactics and budget gutting leadership?  We'll probably never know that answer, right up until the end.

Mayor Bogaard, or Torneck, or Robinson, or any other potential mayors may ultimately get to announce the resignation of Michael Beck, and to great personal advantage. But it is highly unlikely he will be summarily fired as a result of any recent events.

After all, he is Teflon Mike, and he has lots more work to do.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Embezzleburg Wootengate: It's the Pasadena Two Step

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By the time they get done throwing Pasadena City Hall employees off the top of the dome and into the streets a lot of buses are going to have gotten hurt. It isn't easy having all of those previously privileged people thrown under your wheels. An omnibus's worst nightmare if you will, and a real pain in the undercarriage to clean up.

In the Rose City it is not only raining men, but just about anyone else the City Hall establishment can get their hands on long enough to throw headlong into the abyss. No matter what the position or classification preference might be that particular week. When the going gets tough, Pasadena's apparently responsibility-free elected officials start heaving the help. Through appropriate channels, of course. And not all of them are what you might exactly call bureaucratic featherweights.

So who got thrown under the bus in Pasadena yesterday? What management level City Hall employees are being cast out from their almost $200,000 dollar a year privileged perches in hopes they will take all of that bad embezzlement juju karma flying with them? Here is how today's Pasadena Star News lays it on us (link):

Two Pasadena department heads fired amid $6.4M embezzlement investigation - City officials Tuesday announced the firings of two department heads who were in charge of overseeing a fund from which $6.4 million was allegedly embezzled.

Finance Director Andrew Green and Public Works Director Siobhan Foster were fired without cause by City Manager Michael Beck. They are the second and third high-profile City Hall department heads that have left their jobs under a cloud in the past year.

“...Our current challenges require a change in department leadership to meet the city’s future organizational needs,” Beck said in a letter sent to city employees. “These are difficult times for all of us and more challenges are ahead.”

Beck named Assistant City Manager Julie Gutierrez as interim head of both departments.

“Siobhan Foster and Andrew Green don’t work for the city any longer,” said William Boyer, the city’s spokesman. Boyer said details about Foster’s and Green’s severance packages were being worked out. Typically city department heads receive six months severance pay, according to their contracts.

Green and Foster were among city department heads that received pay raises in December. Green earned $197,442 in 2013 and Foster earned $192,065 that year, according to city salary data.

Now don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of firing city employees. If that is what PeeDee City Manager Michael Beck means by more challenges ahead, then you keep bringing 'em, boy. Especially the ones that are earning money as large as that. Besides, if done properly, it means that you will always have new blood running the city, and none of them will be around long enough to retire. A good system, right?

However, here is something that I think is just not right. If you are going to fire the help in order to keep the angry mob off your back, then you should also do at least something about the responsible elected officials as well, right? Like maybe admit that they might have done something had they not been asleep for 11 years? Nobody on a City Council should be allowed to blame the help as a way of "getting away with it."

As the highest of elected authorities in their town outside of the Mayor, City Council members should not be permitted to hide behind the skirts of those they are firing. They need to face at least some of the consequences as well. The buck has to stop somewhere.

But that is not what's happening on the far side of the Michillinda Curtain. There the angry mob seems quite content with the whole "fire the help" strategy currently in place. Maybe it is something in the water?

What makes the Pasadena situation even more absurd is that two actual members of the City Council, both of whom are also running for Mayor I'll have you know, served on the very committee that directly oversaw the activities of the guy arrested for embezzling $6.4 million dollars, Danny Ray Wooten!

Here is how InvoiceGate Pasadena enlightens us:


A third member of the Municipal Services Committee, Jacque Robinson, is running for Mayor of Pasadena as well. Right along with Terry Tornek. Tornek has been on that committee for six years, or right up until this day.

Yet few seem to be calling either of them out on any of this. With the exception of InvoiceGate Pasadena, practically nobody is asking these potential Mayors to take their fair share of responsibility for that $6.4 million dollars in embezzled taxpayer funds. Not in the candidate debates, not in the Pasadena newspapers, not on the blogs and news sites. The theft was done on their watch, for years, and now they get to run for Mayor consequence-free, like nothing had ever happened.

I had an opportunity to question an Internet policy expert named Mark Davis about this on the website discussion board attached to the above Star News article. Or at least I think that is what his name is. But he must be an expert because his words can be found on the web.

Besides, he is the only person yet to try and shed some light on this. Trust me, I have been asking. You have to take what you can get.

My question was this: "When are the two candidates for Mayor - who both also oversaw Wooten - going to be inconvenienced by having to discuss their responsibility in the scandal?"

To which Mark answered:

"Maybe because your statement is based on a false premise? Pasadena has City Manager Government. By law, no city employees are "overseen" by the Mayor or any City Council members. The only city employees that answer to the Council/Mayor are the City Clerk, the City Attorney and the City Manager."

Which is pretty amusing if you think about it. If "City Manager Government" even exists as a recognized form of governance, and isn't something that Mr. Davis invented on the spot to deal with an annoying questioner, then it means that the people the taxpayers elect to watch over their financial contributions to the Rose City have no direct control over those spending it. Even if they serve on a Committee tasked with overseeing just those very people.

Joe M, another expert on Pasadena government law, then joined the conversation. Note the complete lack of irony in what he says here.

"In Pasadena the city staff is independent of the Council and reports only to the City Manager in order to avoid the systemic corruption of "political machine" government. I think that is a superior system then the sort of Tammany Hall system you are proposing or falsely claiming exists."

Yeah, Joe. There's no corruption in the Rose City. It is no wonder Pasadena got robbed blind. The lunatics run the asylum, they have the support of Mark and Joe, and the elected officials there are as innocent as little babes.

It also explains why so few people vote in that town. Apparently the City is run by its inmates and everybody there thinks that helps fight corruption.

Or something.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Someone Really Has It In For The Henry A. Darling House

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It seems hard to believe, but somebody really is jonesing to do in the Henry A. Darling house. As I am pretty certain you know, the new owner has applied for a demolition permit from City Hall to raze a classic Sierra Madre Craftsman home. One that was built all the way back in 1907, and apparently so they can replace it with one more unwanted and drearily generic mini-mansion.

It certainly does look like standard current developer behavior. Coming from the kinds of folks who would happily drive over their own dear mothers if it made them a couple of bucks, and then look you straight in the eye and tell you how how much they loved the old gal. And really, how wrong would it be for you to say that they didn't?

Love the old gal, I mean. You can only hope that this potential heritage house razing doesn't turn out to be the case here.

On January 10th we posted an article here called "Why The City Of Sierra Madre Needs A Moratorium On Demolition Permits Right About Now" (link). A product of the celebrated Tattler Research Team, it went on to generate well over 100 comments, and still draws a few more every day.

For whatever the reason, someone is very upset about what we have said here. So much so that they have left critical comments regularly ever since. Most of them claiming that those who might want to preserve this classic home, or any like it, are guilty of all sorts of unkind and unfair things.

I saved most of them, and will now post the best for you today. These comments are all over the map, and have a definite mood swing quality to them. I am also fairly certain that they either all come from the same person, or at most two people who know each other very well. Perhaps they work in the same downtown office? Maybe they're the very folks who actually sold the Henry A. Darling house into an undeserved fate?


"Narrow minded point of you" indeed. Like I said, somebody is rather upset.

You have to wonder why.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, January 19, 2015

Robert Fellner: Average CalPERS Pension Up To 5 Times Greater Than Comparable Social Security Payouts

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Mod: One of the things to look out for this year is a possible labor showdown between the City of Sierra Madre and its police officer union, the Sierra Madre Police Association. There are plenty of good feelings to go around today about the great strides this city has taken to deal with predatory development, but there are other issues just as serious that will need to be taken care of as well. One of the big questions being how exactly is a small community of less than 11,000 people (and far fewer taxpayers) is supposed to cope with the costs of supporting former City employees for the rest of their lives. And often at levels far exceeding what those paying for that support will ever receive from the government themselves. How much more (and less) is detailed in this post from Robert Fellner, who is Research Director at Transparent California.com (link). 

Average CalPERS Pension Up To 5 Times Greater Than Comparable Social Security Payouts CalPERS officials are fond of saying that their average pension benefit is only about $31,500 – suggesting that CalPERS members’ benefits are at Social Security-type levels.

On this basis, they argue it’s a “myth” that public pension benefits are excessive.

But is that really true? What happens when something like Social Security’s benefit assumptions – a full career of employment and minimum income levels – are used in the comparison?

When accounting for these factors, CalPERS is unable to hide behind the misleading cover of a raw average – CalPERS benefits are up to 5 times greater than the comparable Social Security payout.

We filtered the 2013 CalPERS pension data for retirees with at least 30 or more years of service credit to create parity in the comparisons between the Social Security benefit estimates, which assume 35 years of employment and a retirement age of 64 and 4 months. Social Security estimates were generated with the Social Security Administration’s Quick Calculator Benefit Estimates tool in October, 2014. CalPERS 2013 data is provided by TransparentCalifornia.com. By contrast, the average age of retirement for CalPERS members is only 60.

Next, we analyzed CalPERS retirees by their pensionable compensation. The top pensionable compensation bracket is greater or equal to $117,000 – the maximum taxable earnings limit for Social Security. The remaining brackets move down in 25% increments from there.


While the CalPERS values above represent the actual average pension received for the 2013 year, the Social Security benefit is an estimated figure. The SSA’s Benefit Estimator Tool requires a final salary, similar to pensionable compensation, in order to generate its estimates. We used the average pensionable compensation of the respective CalPERS retirees being compared to as the final salary for estimating the comparable Social Security benefit.

For example, the actual average pensionable compensation of all full career CalPERS retirees with a pensionable compensation of greater or equal to $117,000 was $146,250. Therefore, we used $146,250 as the final salary for generating the comparable Social Security benefit – $26,292.

These values, along with the average years of service of the respective CalPERS retirees, are displayed in the table below.


As shown above, CalPERS retirees with a reported pensionable compensation of at least $117,000 or more received an average 2013 pension benefit of $126,833. Additionally, the average years of service credit for these retirees was 33.85 and their average pensionable compensation was $146,250. By comparison, an employee who worked at least 35 years under Social Security and had a final salary of $146,250 can expect to receive a pension benefit of $26,292 in 2014.

Said differently, the CalPERS retiree with a pensionable compensation of at least $117,000 received a pension benefit nearly 5 times greater than a comparable private sector employee can expect to receive from Social Security. Those in the $87,750-$117,000 bracket received a benefit nearly 4 times greater than the comparable Social Security amount, while those with a final salary of less than $87,750 were receiving benefits over 3 times the comparable Social Security benefit.

It should be noted that the comparison of Social Security to CalPERS is not an apple to apple comparison. Most private employees participate in a defined contribution plan that will supplement their Social Security benefits. On the other hand, public employees who do not participate in Social Security are also not responsible for paying Social Security taxes. Further, CalPERS provides extremely generous health benefits for all of its members, regardless of income level, which are not captured in the values quoted above. Currently, these health benefits can cost up to $18,000 a year.

Nonetheless this comparison is a useful starting point to provide context for the value of CalPERS benefits, as opposed to obscuring them by quoting raw averages only.

Another striking inequity is the age of retirement a private sector worker needs to reach to receive full benefits, compared with a CalPERS retiree.

There is enormous value in the ability to retire at an earlier age rather than at a later one. For CalPERS retirees, they may retire as early as 55 and receive full benefits that are significantly greater than private sector retirees who, on average, have to work more years and retire later at life. For CalPERS safety officers (police/fire) they may retire as early as 50 and receive their maximum benefits.

This structure further compounds the disparity between CalPERS benefits and comparable Social Security benefits. Not only are CalPERS retirees receiving benefits that dwarf what Social Security can offer; they are able to retire up to a full decade earlier than private sector workers as well.

Given the cap on Social Security benefits, the trend demonstrated above is not surprising. As the maximum Social Security benefit one could receive in 2014 is capped at $31,704, compared to the lack of any cap whatsoever for CalPERS benefits, those public employees who receive larger salaries are going to receive exponentially greater pension benefits than what Social Security offers.

The aim of Social Security is to be a progressive tax that takes from those earning more and, consequently, least in need of assistance, and gives to those who earn less and are more in need of assistance in retirement. CalPERS, however, is essentially a wealth maximizing system. It provides lavish pension benefits for its members, with the highest earners receiving the largest share.

Perversely, these benefits are primarily funded by taxpayers who receive dramatically reduced retirement benefits from Social Security and, subsequently, are faced with a burden the CalPERS full-career retiree is immune from – the need to defer present spending in an attempt to supplement their meager Social Security benefits once in retirement.

As troubling as the inequity of CalPERS is, the more pressing issue is that it’s simply not sustainable in the long run. There are good reasons why defined benefit pension systems are heading towards extinction in the private sector.

The public sector, however, has held onto the defined benefit plan system. Given the substantial benefits CalPERS provides to their members, public employees and their unions have strong incentives to lobby on its behalf.

While a private firm would jettison any system that produces the long term liability associated with California’s defined benefit plans, politicians have little to no incentive to act on behalf of the taxpayers. The benefits received are immediate and relatively concentrated, while the costs are widely dispersed. Further, while some of the cost is beginning to be felt today, the lion’s share can be delayed for future generations, a demographic that has been traditionally ignored by today’s politician.

It is imperative that Californians recognize the true value, and cost, of a CalPERS pension, and recognize the urgent need for reform measures such as those that have been discussed exhaustively elsewhere.

Bonus Coverage

Mod: The video discussed below is linked to Robert Fellner's post as well, and I thought it would be good to highlight it a little more. Here is how the video's creators describe the issue: "Why do politicians never seem to cut government spending? Using public choice economics, or the economics of politics, Prof. Ben Powell shows how voters are rationally ignorant of what politicians do. This leads to a phenomenon called “concentrated benefits and dispersed costs,” which favors recipients of government payments at the expense of the average taxpayer." Video link is below the graphic.

To check out this video click here.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How A Video About Rich Chinese Kids Living In The San Gabriel Valley Went Viral And Got Over 100 Million Views

It takes a lot of cheap labor to fund Arcadia McMansions
Back in December we ran a couple of stories about a rather heroic little independent news video company called Vocativ. The first one was called "Sin City: Did You Know That In China Arcadia Is Known As 'The Mistress City of California?'" (link). The revelation that came from this Vocativ video is that many of those not exactly attractive McMansions being built by Chinese multi-millionaires in Arcadia aren't really intended for family life. And that over in China our neighboring city is known as the "Mistress City of California" because that is who these rich middle-aged dudes are stashing in those bumper buildings. Mistresses. Something that has turned dowdy old Peacock Town into the city a billion or so Chinese now believe is the epitome of the exotic and sinful life available to the rich in America.

So much for Chairman Mao's workers' paradise.
The other Sierra Madre Tattler post on a Vocativ video was called "A Video The Chinese Government Would Prefer That You Not See (link)." For that one we discussed their piece on how the spoiled rotten spawn of Chinese multi-millionaires living surreptitiously in such San Gabriel Valley enclaves as Arcadia are spending vast amounts of money on "super cars." Super cars being mostly quarter million dollar jalopies manufactured by Italian luxury car companies such as Maserati and Lamborghini.

Now we here at The Tattler were very pleased with our "Mistress City" post because it got us a lot of interest locally. Besides, who doesn't want to read about how the McMansion boom in Arcadia is being fueled by the needs of lascivious billionaire playboys from China looking for a place in America to stash their nubile girlfriends? It certainly pokes a few interesting holes in all of the nonsense organizations such as the Arcadia Realtors have been feeding everyone about the 6,000 square foot monstrosities that have erupted all over that town.

Rejoice, the SGV is now world famous.
However, in China viewers were all about the San Gabriel Valley rich kids and their expensive cars story. Vocativ, which is headquartered over in Santa Monica, suddenly found itself with one of the hottest news videos in the world, with the majority of those 100 million views coming from China itself. Apparently the hard working and exponentially underpaid working class there could not believe that people from their country are living such outrageous lives in America. The video went viral and became a true phenomenon.

Vocativ is celebrating this incredible success with a new video called "How Super-Rich Teens Made Our Reporter A Hong Kong Celeb." It is pretty good stuff. You can view it by clicking here.

Here is how they describe this one:

Vocativ released a video in November about young, super wealthy Chinese students in California and their extraordinarily expensive cars. The video received tens of millions of views all over the world, most of all within China. Vocativ’s reporter Kristie Hang found herself getting stopped on the streets of Hong Kong by strangers who wanted to talk to her about the video—but most of them weren’t interested in the cars.

Think about it. 100 million people in Asia now see our rather humble corner of the planet as an international playpen for wretched excess and decadence. The place where those who made their vast fortunes off the backs of hundreds of millions of hard working folks living on just $2 a day can go to in America and live like perfectly grotesque self-reverential idiots. People with way too much illegally smuggled cash and nowhere near the needed social consciousness to do anything useful with it. Conspicuous consumption on steroids as it were.

What a world. It's hard to believe this is all going on just down the hill.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 17, 2015

CETT Attorney Richard McDonald's Secret Letter To Sierra Madre City Staff Regarding 610 Baldwin Court

Not Stephen Colbert. Click here.
Mod: After having paid for my .99c trial subscription to the Pasadena Star News website I settled down for some agreeable current events reading. Or at least I did after the two beers it took to get my racing pulse back to its normally lackadaisical pace. And it was at that happy moment I came across an article titled "Sierra Madre city council denies permits for hillside residential project," which hopefully you can access by clicking here. If not, please have your credit card ready. Your call may be monitored for quality control purposes. And 'twas right then and there that I discovered within this news item the following key insight:


"The contents of the email were unknown to this paper as of Wednesday night." Hmm.

Now I am by nature a competitive person, especially after having had to put down my AMEX card to cover the cost of a .99c one month trial subscription to a website that I had previously enjoyed for the lordly price of free. A truly exponential price increase.
Not Richard McDonald.
After that trial period the cost goes to $10 every 30 days, by the way. Which won't break me financially, but as I am sure you know it does all add up.

So, long story short, I sent an email to Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar stating that she had just this second received a California Public Records Act request, and needed to send me the aforementioned Richard McDonald email as quickly as possible. Lo and behold, a half hour later I received a reply from Elaine stating I could pick up that very email at City Hall "at my earliest convenience." Talk about quick service! But there would be a .06c per page copying fee, or 12 cents total for the two of them. Everybody has their hand out these days.

I drove there, then dug deep and paid up. I gave the City exact change because I do know how busy they can get there sometimes. And I can happily report that the copies were of the finest quality.

So here is that big secret email. Please pay particular attention to the last paragraph. I have questions I need to ask about that part and I am hoping you might know something I don't.

From:  Richard McDonald
Sent Saturday, December 13, 2014 12:14 PM
To:  Leticia Cardoso
Cc:  Adele Chang; Elaine Aguilar
Subject:  RE: 610 Baldwin Court - Meeting with City Council Subcommittee

Leticia -

Thank you for organizing our December 10 meeting with Councilmembers Del Mar (sic) and Goss, who were appointed by the City Council on November 25 to act as its subcommittee on the design of the residence on Lot 24.  As stated on November 25, the City Council disagrees with the unanimous vote of its Planning Commission ("PC") approving the HDP application for Lot 24 because it believes that Design Guidelines 1.2 applies and the Planning Commission did not reduce the "massing" of the residence enough to comply with it.  More specifically, as the Council stated on November 25, the second floor of the residence needs to be reduced "much more" to protect the view of the hillside from Carter Avenue and to "conform" it more to the "natural slopes of the hillside."

With that in mind, we met with Councilmembers Del Mar (sic) and Goss on December 10 to hear their proposal, which they said was as follows:

1.   They want the applicant to eliminate the master bedroom above the garage rather than simply set it back as approved by the PC, which was an amount significantly greater than the setback in the HMZ.

2.   They want the applicant to eliminate 14 feet of the second story from the back of the residence, in addition to the PC's changes to the front of the residence.

After reviewing the plans, I calculated that the elimination of the master bedroom would equal approximately 357 square feet, and that the elimination of 14 feet from the back of the residence would equal approximately 252 square feet, which would be a total reduction of approximately 609 square feet and which they said was "roughly" the number they had.  Last, in response to my questions about the basis for their proposal, they stated they believe that each proposed change follows the "intent" of the Design Guidelines.

As promised, I have spoken to my client bout whether it will agree to the subcommittee's proposal and the answer is as follows:

First, please thank Councilmembers Del Mar (sic) and Goss for taking the time to serve on the subcommittee, which we acknowledged involved more of their time that the work they already do deserving on the Council.

Second, please let them, and the Council, know that the applicant will not agree to their proposal.  Simply put, there is no basis for it under the governing documents.  In fact, it is contrary to the express language of the governing documents.

Third, the applicant reiterates its request that the unanimously approved design by the PC be approved by the City Council at the continued hearing for this matter on January 13, 2015.  As you will recall, we did not agree to the continuance from November 25, 2014 to January 13, 2015, and will not agree to any further continuances.

Fourth, and lastly, since we have repeatedly denied that we threatened any litigation over this matter at any time, and in fact have not done so, please inform them that we regard the closed sessions with the PC and Council on this matter under the rubric of such a threat as a violation of the Brown Act.  we, therefore, request that such sessions cease immediately.

Thank you for your efforts.  We look forward to seeing you on January 13, 2015.  In the meantime, have a good holidays.

Richard A. McDonald, Esq.
Of Counsel, Varlson & Nicholas, LLP
140 South Lake Avenue, Suite No. 251
Pasadena, CA 91101

Mod: So that is pretty much it. As we saw on Jan. 13, the above letter and the points made therein were not discussed by Mr. McDonald at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Rather he somewhat obliquely referred to this e-mailed letter, which at that time neither you nor I, or just about any resident visitor to Council Chambers or watching at home on television that evening, had seen. Which is why I thought it was vitally important for The Tattler to get this for you and present it here.

It is critical that everyone in this community be made as aware as possible about all aspects of the One Carter debacle.

This leaves one question that I have, although you may have others of your own. What PC/CC closed sessions is Mr. McDonald referring to here? And since these sessions are held in secret per the City Attorney's recommendation, how is it that he apparently knows what was being discussed?

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Planning Commission Appears To Do The Right Thing

Danny was out of town and couldn't attend.
I've come to the conclusion that the Planning Commission is like the City Council minus that illusive entertainment factor. They're smart and purposeful and all, and they sincerely want to do what is right for the community. Of that I have little doubt. But never having run for office (with the exception of crowd favorite Kevin Paschall), they just do not seem to see the need to bring things to any sort of an exciting conclusion. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I guess. Planning isn't exactly Bingo. Or even Yahtzee.

But by the end of the meeting the crowd of 35 or so people that had shown up and did the right thing dwindled to less than ten by the conclusion of the evening's activities. Poor party planning perhaps. Or maybe the beer ran out. That will always clear a room.

Superficial and unnecessarily gratuitous complaints aside, I have to say that the Planning Commission seemed to do the right thing last night. Seemed to do the right thing because until we get a good look at the fully realized ordinance on February 5th, I can't be quite sure. You shouldn't be either. Certainly things are going to be much improved, but perhaps not quite as much as many in attendance had hoped. But who really knows for sure? As John Hutt noted, the devil is in the details.

One very good result is that a Conditional Use Permit (CUP for the acronymically inclined) will now be required for any hoped for home with a second story on it. Commissioner Matt Buckles was very good on this matter and brought it home. A tip of the Tattler hat. This is a great way to incentivize one story homes as any wannabe wickiup with a second story will now be subject to a required Planning Commission review, and all that it entails.

In my humble opinion this remedy is a direct result of the Camillo Road disaster. Had that two stories of fun been forced to undergo the scrutiny of the Planning Commission it is quite probable it would never have seen the light of day. Or the darkness of night, either. Certainly it deserved neither.

Future LULU projects such as Camillo Road would likely never survive the kind of thorough vetting a visit to Council Chambers on a Thursday evening will bring. This is a new and very important addition to community planning here.

Not quite as good, but not all that bad either, was the decision regarding how many square feet a house must be before going for a Planning Commission review. Right now the threshold is about 4,000 square feet, which is a large number. Many houses in this community (Camillo Road springs to mind again) came in at right around 3,999 square feet, and therefore escaped the scrutiny of the Planning Commission.

All the developer needed to do was shovel money over the counter at City Hall for permits, which is a whole other story.

Here's another point. Currently any news of a project coming in at 4,000-ish square feet does not have to be shared with the community. Meaning that you could wake up one unhappy day in the shade of two stories and 4,000 square feet of somebody else's mini-mansion glory, and never even knew it was coming. Some people in this town have, and were quite unpleasantly surprised.

That threshold number will now decrease to somewhere around 3,000 to 3,200 square feet. I use the term "around" because this is apparently to be a graduated scheme that will depend upon things like the size and width of the lot. Which means is that for a house to actually get built after this new system is put into place, and without being subjected to Planning Commission review, it will need to be less than (approximately) 3,000 to 3,200 square feet, and just one single story.

I am not sure our local McMansion lovers are going to be too much in love with that one. Throw in the new General Plan and "floor area ratio" calculations (also worked out last night to the benefit of this community), and what goes on in Arcadia will stay in Arcadia.

The way it incentivizes smaller houses is that people will try and stay below that size threshold so they don’t have to go through a rigorous and potentially costly Planning Commission review process. A smaller threshold (like 3,000 square feet, or 3,200 on bigger lots), along with that one story requirement, will help make for smaller houses.

There is no doubt that 3,200-ish square feet is plenty damn big enough. But many more projects will hit that now lower threshold and be required to come before the Planning Commission for approval. Which is the way it ought to be. No bodacious big barns should ever be built in Sierra Madre without having had to face the community first.

Formerly ignored neighbors will now be empowered, and property owner rights for people who actually live here fully restored and strengthened.

Commissioner Frierman-Hunt added a huge element to the mix when she pushed for and succeeded in getting a finding for strengthening neighborhood compatibility. Any new home coming before the Planning Commission for approval will now need to be deemed compatible with the surrounding neighborhood to win. A beautiful thing.

All in all some pretty good results. Not perfect, but not bad either. But like I said, let's wait until we get to look over the resulting new ordinance language on February 5th before getting out the Yahtzee board and funny hats. And if it isn't right then? We can always appeal the matter to the City Council. That's worked before.

Oh, and the Leticia Cardoso fan club continues to grow. She was prepared and fully in charge of all the material.

I'll bet she plays a mean game of poker.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com