Saturday, October 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought Tom Love said we have lots of water!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So do you feel lucky? Do you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tony Brandenburg: Talk Talk

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

He resigned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You go girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Barry Gold's Letter To The City Council

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

October 21, 2014

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

Dear Mayor and Council Members,

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

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

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

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

Respectfully, Barry Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17.66.030 Generally.

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

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

17.66.040 Form and content.

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

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

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

17.66.050 Processing of appeals and time for filing.

A. Action and Findings.

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

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

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

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

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

17.66.060 Filing fees.

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

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

17.66.070 Procedures for appeals and calls for review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Would You Share Your Personal Identity To Visit The San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District's Pump House?

Water Wise Owl running ID numbers.
They don't do very much in the way of real news at The Mountain Views News these days. Instead they have taken a "steady diet of nothing" approach, which means they publish mostly cheery lowest common denominator stuff for people with the IQ of week old milk. You'll find nothing about the One Carter Planning Commission meetings, or the revelation that City Hall abjectly surrendered Sierra Madre's Sex Offender Ordinance without a peep. Then even paid for the Court fees out of our money. The City is generous like that.

But if you want to read scintillating news like Sierra Fitness is expanding to bigger quarters, or bears visited Assemblyman Holden's office (I was kind of hoping it was the FBI, but then the MVN would never have printed anything about it), then you know the information source to turn to for that kind of bumpkin bait.

But every once in a while something of relevance does get out. They aren't quite as swift as they claim at the MVN, and actual news can sneak through despite their vigilance against publishing anything but pablum for the toys in the attic set.

W.W. Owl checks very thoroughly
This weekend the top of the page screaming Mountain Views News headline was about an upcoming bus trip to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District's pump house. Apparently the guys who have blessed this town with water the color of old horse teeth want you to stop by so you'll see that they aren't so bad after all. Something that to me sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry on a cloudy day. Which, I have been patiently assured, is a process.

However, at the very end of this article, there is some revealing information. Here is what it says:

Please RSVP to Laura Aguilar at City Hall during regular business hours of 11 am to 5:30 pm on Monday to Thursday. If you are able to attend, we've been requested to provide your name as it appears on your driver's license and your driver's license number to DWR for security purposes. This information will not be shared with anyone else.

Oh dear. They won't share your information with anyone else? Then how exactly are they going to check those driver's license numbers? Do they have their own data bank of numbers to check your driver's license #s against? Has H20 Owl been snooping?

C'mon, they're going to check your identity with either SacramentoHomeland Security or I.C.E. Or who knows, maybe all three. Perhaps even some agencies nobody has heard about yet. Of course they're going to share your numbers. Why else would they be asking for them? The only question being how many people will get to look them over as they are run through various government computer banks.

Really, would you trust a government water district with your personal identity? Especially one that has abused this town as badly as the SGVMWD has? Or how about City Hall for that matter? Personally, I'd much prefer to stay home.

The only other thing I can figure is that the SGVMWD has maintained some sort of black list because they don't want to see any of their more outspoken critics eating a free box lunch on their dime. But who really knows.

Prominent water officials want you to save water. But do they save water? Nah.

(Mod: I have a couple of heroes left in this world, and one of them happens to be a reporter by the name of Lance Williams. He currently helps run a website called The Center For Investigative Reporting (link). And investigate they do. Just so you know, Mr. Williams is the guy who originally broke the story about our own H. Susan Henderson getting bounced from her executive position at the California State Democratic Party for certain "ethical shortcomings" (link). He also uncovered the story about the nearly $200,000 in campaign cash Chris Holden "donated" to get a senior position in our State Assembly (link). All good stuff. And now Lance Williams has come up with another great story. Big time water officials who are some of the worst hypocrites that ever lived.)

California water officials aren’t following own call for conservation: Mike Soubirous is a prodigious water user, pumping more than 1 million gallons per year at his lushly landscaped home on a hot, windy Southern California hilltop.

Soubirous also is a member of the Riverside City Council, which in July voted unanimously to impose tough new water conservation rules in this desert city of 317,000.

Last month at Riverside Councilman Mike Soubirous’ home, sprinklers were seen running seven nights in a row.

Yet as California’s drought worsened from 2012 to 2013, he consumed enough water to supply eight California households – more than any other top water official in the state, records show.

Soubirous knows he should cut his water use to set a good example, he told The Center for Investigative Reporting. But he has a 1-acre lot with cascades of flowering shrubs and a weeping willow tree, and summer temperatures hit 100 degrees. Conservation isn’t that simple, he said.

“Do I have to sell my house to set that example, or do I have to just abolish all my shrubs?” Soubirous said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I can reduce my water rate.”

Like Soubirous, many of the local officials urging the public to save water during California’s crippling drought actually are profligate water users themselves, a CIR investigation has found.

Water bills obtained via the state’s Public Records Act show that in 2013, nearly half of the officials who supervise the state’s biggest water agencies used more water than the typical California household.

(Mod: For the rest of this story, click here.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Preemptive Strike On The City Council's Tentative October 28 "Prop P (Parcel Tax) Resolution"

If you should ever want to get a glimpse into where things are going governmentally in Sierra Madre over the next month or so, as good a place as any to look would be the City Manager's Report. It can be found on the City of Sierra Madre website, and it could be quite a crystal ball for you. If read properly you will be able to gaze into the future and anticipate some of the annoyances and heartache that are heading your way. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. You will most likely need some of that.

Contained within the tentative October 28 City Council Meeting Agenda cut and pasted above, about nine or so lines down from its tippy top, is this rather delusional little doozy. So you know, it is a resolution. Which, I think, is kind of like a "Hurray!"

The water bond we have discussed here before. The Tattler heartily recommends a NO vote on that one. Two or three NO votes if you can somehow swing it. Unless, of course, you think putting $7.5 billion dollars in new bond money into the hands of vastly corrupt Sacramento is a good thing. In which case you might want to consider having your fool head examined. 

We posted a helpful article about this on October 11 called "Proposition 1 Is A Pork Filled And Incredibly Expensive Bait & Switch Water Bond Boondoggle," and we really meant it. Click here for that important information.

We have not written about Proposition P yet, and can therefore provide no helpful link to anything on this site. But what is it, you ask? This is an opportunity to vote yourself a brand new parcel tax, gracelessly brought about by the Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors, another unsavory outfit that needs to be put on a permanent money diet. Or simply disbanded. I can't imagine anyone would actually miss them.

Why the Sierra Madre City Council  would want to wade into the dark waters of this bubbling cloaca is anybody's guess. Maybe the Mayor thinks it will help his political career? One can only imagine. And given his rather ineffectual support for Measure UUT last April there is a precedence there for getting behind lousy tax initiatives. Perhaps he is just easily impressed. 

Fortunately the Los Angeles Times has sussed this wretched misery of a tax hike out, and so great was their disgust at what they found in this Prop P ballot mess that they wrote an entire editorial against it. I figured we should post it here. You know, as a public service just in case the City Council does somehow resolve to support yet another tax. That way you will already know better than they obviously do.

I have outlined this LA Times editorial in money green. Just for effect.

Los Angeles Times - Endorsement No on Proposition P (link): In August, at close to the last possible minute to do so and with little notice to the public, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors added a measure to the Nov. 4 ballot that would impose an annual $23 parcel tax to pay for parks and other facilities. Proposition P — think P for parks — is offered as an extension of a tax that property owners have been paying annually since voters approved it in 1992 but that expires next June.

And what could be bad about continuing to raise money for parks? For more than parks, in fact? Proponents note that the 1992 ballot measure — Proposition A — has been used to acquire and preserve open space, develop trails, build recreation facilities, refurbish restrooms and create youth centers, senior centers, nature centers. Its funds were used to make improvements to the Hollywood Bowl and other cultural landmarks. It paid for projects that employed thousands of young people.

Proposition P's ballot title echoes those lofty achievements and more. It's called the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Gang Prevention, Youth/Senior Recreation, Beaches and Wildlife Protection measure. Who would be against any of those things?

But slow down. Are there better options that might produce more of what the public wants and needs? Isn't there also a 1996 parks tax (sometimes called Baby A) that will continue to cover the maintenance costs for all the things that Proposition A has provided for another 4 1/2 years? Why was there no needs assessment like the one that took place over two years of consultation and hearings when shaping Proposition A?

Why does Proposition P apply a regressive, flat per-parcel tax, unlike Proposition A, which assessed its tax using a formula based mostly on a property's size? (That tax ranged from 3 cents to $10,000.) Why should so much of the burden for parks funding be transferred from wealthy landowners to average property owners? Why, if so many of Proposition A's projects were itemized in the ballot measure, does Proposition P not actually itemize anything? Why does it make sense to divide a huge chunk of the funds equally among the five supervisors, for them to spend as they see fit, instead of according to the county's greatest need?

Are there better options that might produce more of what the public wants and needs?

The process that brought Proposition P to the ballot bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the fiasco that was the stormwater-cleanup fee effort of 2012. It was a worthy idea, but the board handled it so poorly — with insufficient notice to the public and too little opportunity to discuss options and alternatives — that it was killed after outcry at a required "protest hearing."

If Proposition P were a legislative measure out of Sacramento, like the water bond (Proposition 1) or the rainy-day fund (Proposition 2) on the same ballot, it would have been the subject of months of hearings and opportunities for public input, and the language would have been improved accordingly.

But Proposition P has instead been an example of the closed-door process all too typical of the Board of Supervisors. It was negotiated and drafted out of public view and was shaped by polling results rather than sound policymaking. The public was first informed of the proposed measure just four days before it was placed on the ballot. And it is now presented as an ultimatum: Vote "yes," or else destroy your public parks, rob seniors and abandon youth to gangs.

In fact, failure of Proposition P would not defund any ongoing program or undermine any land acquired or facility built by Proposition A. Yes, the county would have less funds available to acquire new open space or build new facilities until a better-vetted replacement tax is passed (the next chance will be in two years). But there remains $150 million — nearly three years' worth of funding — yet to be spent. The Baby A tax will continue to bring in $28 million a year in property taxes for parks and all the other benefits until its expiration in mid-2019.

That gives the county plenty of time to go back to the drawing board and present a better measure on the 2016 ballot. Voters should say no to Proposition P and insist on a broader, more open, more public and more honest discussion about what projects are needed and how they should be paid for. The process should include at least the following:

• A needs assessment. It's irresponsible to begin divvying up more than $50 million each year without a clear sense of what the county and cities need most and how the money can most effectively be spent.

• Performance measures. There are required annual financial audits in Proposition P, but voters should expect there also to be performance audits, with goals and benchmarks to gauge the degree to which county residents are being served by the projects being funded.

• A statement of priorities from the Board of Supervisors. The county pulled back its proposed stormwater ballot measure early last year, but it must revisit the question of funding to capture and clean up stormwater runoff. Between parks and stormwater funding, which is more urgent and should come first?

• An explanation of the degree to which this tax can or should supplant some of the work that the stormwater fee was intended to cover. A portion of the Proposition P funds are dedicated to clean water projects. Would it decease the need for the stormwater fee, or vice versa?

• An explanation of the degree to which a parcel tax adopted last year by voters in two districts in and adjacent to the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains — a tax also ostensibly designed to replace the expiring Proposition A — decreases the need for another replacement tax.

• A public explanation for moving from a square-foot formula to a flat per-parcel tax. It may in fact be the case that changes in the law make it too cumbersome and too expensive to develop a valid formula that takes lot size into account. But such a formula was in fact used when voters adopted a trauma tax to sustain emergency services.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Businessweek: Why Are Chinese Millionaires Buying Mansions in an L.A. Suburb?

(Mod: A number of readers have commented about this article, so I thought I should post at least some of it here. The insane real-estate boom in Arcadia, garish McMansions and all, is being fueled by the extraordinary amounts of money being somehow spirited out of Communist-ruled mainland China. And as we saw by our city's capitulation on One Carter, the madness that has turned Arcadia into an immensely profitable dumping ground for architectural atrocity has now begun to infect Sierra Madre.)

“Oh, hey! How ya’ doin’?” Raleigh Ornelas hollers, leaning out the window of his spotless white pickup truck. He’s recognized the man across the street, a developer standing in front of a Tuscan-style mansion under construction. “Where have you been hiding at? I call you, you don’t call me.”

Ornelas is an informal broker in Arcadia, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains. He’s been keeping an eye out for the builder, an Asian man with a slight comb-over who goes by Mark. Ornelas has found two older homeowners who’ve finally agreed to sell their properties, and he knows that Mark, like all developers here, needs land on which to build mansions for an influx of rich clients from mainland China.

Ornelas rattles off addresses on a nearby street. “Three-eleven, that guy, he’s wack,” he says, shaking his head. “He wants 2.8.” He means million dollars. “And then 354, they want $2 million.”

The lot is 17,000 square feet. “Seventeen for 2 mil?” Mark asks, incredulous.

“I know,” Ornelas says. “They’re going crazy.”

A year ago the property would have gone for $1.3 million, but Arcadia is booming. Residents have become used to postcards offering immediate, all-cash deals for their property and watching as 8,000-square-foot homes go up next door to their modest split levels. For buyers from mainland China, Arcadia offers excellent schools, large lots with lenient building codes, and a place to park their money beyond the reach of the Chinese government.

The city, population 57,600, projects that about 150 older homes—53 percent more than normal—will be torn down this year and replaced with mansions. The deals happen fast and are rarely listed publicly. Often, the first indication that a megahouse is coming next door is when the lawn turns brown. That means the neighbor has stopped watering and green construction netting is about to go up.

This flood of money, arriving from China despite strict currency controls, has helped the city build a $20 million high school performing arts center and the local Mercedes dealership expand. “Thank God for them coming over here,” says Peggy Fong Chen, a broker in Arcadia for many years. “They saved our recession.” The new residents are from China’s rising millionaire class—entrepreneurs who’ve made fortunes building railroads in Tibet, converting bioenergy in Beijing, and developing real estate in Chongqing. One co-owner of a $6.5 million house is a 19-year-old college student, the daughter of the chief executive of a company the state controls.

Arcadia is a concentrated version of what’s happening across the U.S. The Hurun Report, a magazine in Shanghai about China’s wealthy elite, estimates that almost two-thirds of the country’s millionaires have already emigrated or plan to do so. They’re scooping up homes from Seattle to New York, buying luxury goods on Fifth Avenue, and paying full freight to send their kids to U.S. colleges. Chinese nationals hold roughly $660 billion in personal wealth offshore, according to Boston Consulting Group, and the National Association of Realtors says $22 billion of that was spent in the past year acquiring U.S. homes.

Arcadia has become a hotbed of the buying binge in the past several years, and long-standing residents are torn—giddy at the rising property values but worried about how they’re transforming their town. And they’re increasingly nervous about what would happen to the local economy if the deluge of Chinese cash were to end.

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

Is there another way to make money in Sierra Madre besides real estate?

(Mod: There is.  And anyone can get in on the action. As they say, you can't win it if you're not in it. This from CBS Los - link.)

Winning $5 Million Scratcher Sold In Sierra Madre - Officials with the California Lottery say a lucky player just scratched his way to a $5 million prize. Steve Armogida won one of the top prizes in the Million $$ Match Game.

Armogida bought the winning $5 million ticket at Happy’s Liquor on Sierra Madre Boulevard in Sierra Madre. The store also wins a bonus of $25,000 for selling one of the top winners.

Million $$ Match Scratchers is a $20 game. The lottery says there is more than $340 million in total available prizes in this game alone.

Non-winning tickets also have a chance for smaller prizes in the Lottery’s 2nd Chance Draw.

According to, there are two more $5 million tickets available, as well as three $2 million tickets and five $1 million tickets.

(Mod: They are even happier at Happy's then they were before. And they have always been pretty chipper. Except for the guy in the afternoon. In the spirit of full disclosure, I myself have purchased a few lottery tickets at Happy's. But only because I wanted to make a small donation to public education.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

2005 - 2014: Nothing Much Has Changed In Sierra Madre

You should know by now that nothing has really changed in Sierra Madre in the last ten years. Or at least you ought to. But here it is anyway. When the City Council back in 2005 caved in on One Carter, the sad story we heard over and over again was that they had to do it because of the threat of lawsuits. And when the Planning Commission did the exact same thing last night, they apparently believed that it had to be done to save the city from lawsuits.

This is, of course, no coincidence. The law firm that supplied our City Attorney back in 2005 was headed by Michael Colantuono. And the law firm supplying the City Attorney that hectored the Planning Commission an hour at a time for the last several months about the dangers to this city of lawsuits from CETT? You know, at a time when the City's finances are stretched by all those pensions and yearly $36,000 health care plans? Still headed by Michael Colantuono. It's why they pay him the big bucks.

Why do you think Moran, Walsh and Harabedian fought so hard to keep Colantuono's law firm? For situations just like last night. Their version of progress requires keeping the townies in line. It's a part of the process.

The fix was in on One Carter the entire time. This turkey was cooked just the way Richard McDonald likes it. And last night the Planning Commission put on their smallest aprons and served it to him on their nicest china.

Can you believe that this insufferable ass actually won? How could that have happened you ask? Trust me, he had plenty of friends on the inside helping him out. Money, be it in the form of development impact fees or the city employee pensions they will help to fund, speaks very loudly downtown. You? Not quite so much.

Here's another thought you may or may not like. The General Plan is a joke. Whenever real money comes into play (Camillo Road anyone?), the General Plan, the supposed voice of the people that so deeply expresses the hopes and dreams of the residents of Sierra Madre, is hustled off to a back room where it is given a couple of bottles of Ripple and a vomit bag.

The many thousands of fine words in the General Plan have no real relevance when it comes to building million dollar hillside McMansions. You might as well have tried stopping an army with yard daisies.

The original destruction of One Carter clearly violated the 1996 version of the General Plan. The '96 iteration specifically prohibited the grading of hillsides in the manner they are today. And despite the General Plan that land was brutally bulldozed, blasted, crushed and forever disfigured. The only so-called guiding principle behind the design of those lots being greed.

Last night it was very clear that the General Plan was not taken at all seriously in the deliberations regarding this first McWhatever at One Carter. It too is something that clearly violates the principles stated in that document. The Planning Commission gave it short shrift, and in the process once again proved it is nothing more than flowery, empty words. Just unrealistic and somewhat pompous pronouncements about how good and caring we all are, how much we love Sierra Madre and how deeply we wish to protect it. Except we never do.

That kind of stuff is repeated ad nauseam through that entire document like it's a magic voodoo incantation. And I guess it is. So many seem to be under its spell. It is mental comfort food for people who prefer to only eat desert.

The Planning Commission saved Sierra Madre from a One Carter lawsuit last night. They were given an important job to do by the City Attorney, and did it. Just like the 2004 City Council tried to save Sierra Madre from a similar lawsuits. And just like the 2012 City Council saved Sierra Madre from further lawsuits over the Sex Offender Ordinance.

So you know what? We will now have a hillside filled with McMansions, and registered sexual predators can live anywhere they like in town. Even next to schools and parks.

Yeah, we've been saved alright.

As always, when the lawyers get tough, Sierra Madre rolls over.

Out of a clearly hyped fear of lawsuits this city is losing its soul and any purpose for existing beyond real estate. The hillsides are being lost to big foreign money, and the safety of our children to a City Hall that prefers to spend the money it would take to protect them on things like platinum pensions and the most expensive employee health care plans in California.

What makes a McMansion compliant in Sierra Madre? Money and lawyers. Tough guys with legal muscle and deep connections at City Hall will always get what they want here, and they will profit deeply by pushing garbage that is not what most Sierra Madreans want for their community.

The General Plan in practice does nothing to stop that. You can read it to them until you are blue in the face. Being pleased that Mayor Harabedian will permit you to speak at public comment for 5 minutes instead of 3 will not stop that. Changing the name of Development Services to whatever will not stop that. And thinking that you can work with the likes of Teresa Highsmith and Elaine Aguilar, or that they in any way work in your interest, will not stop any of this, either. No matter how many times you stop by their offices to chat. Because it really is all about the money. It is the only authentic number in their equation.

The only way you are going to preserve Sierra Madre is to clean out the downtown barn. The same people who sold out One Carter in 2005 are the same people who sold you out to CETT in 2014. The exact same people. With the exact same law firm providing helpful guidance all throughout the "process."

Until you fire these people, and while you're doing it completely reform the way government is done in this town, nothing will ever change. You will lose Mater Dolorosa, and you will lose Stone House. And you will lose any number of other things that you don't even know about yet.

Nothing has changed in Sierra Madre in 10 years. And unless the people who want to preserve this town take charge of their government, nothing ever will.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Lawsuit The City Of Sierra Madre Did Not Fight - Plus Tonight's Planning Commission Meeting

We have been discussing the purported civil rights lawsuit brought against the City of Sierra Madre by Attorney Janice Belluci on behalf of California Reform Sex Offender Laws (CA RSOL), own organization that she founded and currently leads.

This lawsuit was initiated by an aggrieved anonymous registered sex offender living here in Sierra Madre, and was intended to challenge this city's Sex Offender Ordinance. The grounds being the restrictions upon where this individual could reside were a violation of his civil rights. This is also the basis of the lawsuit challenging voter approved Jessica's Law, which is now before the California State Supreme Court.

What the document below shows us is that during this trial the City of Sierra Madre filed no paperwork, and raised no objections. In other words, somewhere at City Hall it was decided that our City Attorney should not raise a finger to defend Sierra Madre's Sex Offender Ordinance. Rather they decided to merely just roll over as quickly as possible, agreed as part of the settlement to not enforce it in any way, and then paid all of the associated court costs and legal bills. Or you paid all the court costs and legal bills. Hopefully there wasn't a tip involved as well.

The City of Sierra Madre then kept all of this a big secret. That is, until the news broke 10 months later here on The Tattler. Here is the smoking gun.

I am not certain this is quite how the City Attorney described it all to us on Tuesday evening. The City of Sierra Madre's response to this lawsuit was no response at all. Except to surrender as quickly as possible, and then pay all of the bills.

I do not recall hearing the City Attorney use terms such as "rolled over," "raised the white flag," "caved in," "abject surrender" or "went crying home to momma." Or at least none of these were included in the closely parsed legal product offered by Ms. Highsmith during that discussion of this untoward event.

Do you?

One other point. After December 20, 2013 the City Council of the City of Sierra Madre lost their disclosure exemption. In other words, since litigation on this matter no longer exists, the City Council is now required by law to disclose exactly how they voted on this matter in any of the related closed sessions with the City Attorney. Otherwise they are violating the Brown Act.

What do you think? Should we do what we have to do in order to find out what really happened? Don't you think we deserve to find out the truth here?

Tonight the Planning Commission Meets Once Again On One Carter

In case you haven't see it yet, here is a video of just how crazy it got last time (link). We also posted an article about it a week or so back, which we called "CETT Attorney Richard McDonald's 'Self-Serving B.S.' Video: Is It Now All About A One Carter Lawsuit?" Check it out here.

That is pretty much where it stands right now. My guess is that they will not bring designs tonight that will be in line with the Planning Commission's requirements for approval. The developer and their litigious attorney want to sue, and they are only going through the motions here.

The real audience for what CETT will be saying tonight is the eventual Judge.

The meeting starts at 7PM and I intend to cover this one live. You should be there as well if you can make it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Foot Dragging Continues At City Hall

It was another KGEM nightmare of a night if you attempted to watch the City Council meeting on your computer. Maybe it was that way on television as well? Parts of resident public comments dropped out in the middle of a thought, City Councilmembers vanished from the screen mid-speech, and possibly strangest of all, segments from other now bygone City Council meetings would magically appear on the screen.

The result was it gave the whole thing an eerie - though arty - kind of video mash-up feel. The kind a freshman art student at an expensive university might make if the mood enhancers are right and there is no pressure whatsoever to create anything revenue enhancing, either now or in the future.

This was all very annoying, of course. So I did what I usually do every week and called over to KGEM to give them a helpful first hand report of just how awful the service they're providing actually is. Think of it as a form of tough love, with my criticism hopefully becoming a catalyst that could inspire them to do great things. Like fix whatever is broken. Call me a dreamer, but I still believe.

So what was I told by the dude at KGEM? That budgets are tight in Sierra Madre and we can't afford to replace the old equipment that is responsible for this mess. An theory that sounded very familiar to me. I can only assume that the KGEM guys have been spending some time recently talking to the City Manager.

But I did find a way to get around all of this. If you go sit in your flivver and pull the meeting up on your smartphone, then link it through bluetooth, you can listen to the City Council meeting on your car radio. And the sound was flawless. Not a single interruption or drop. So perhaps KGEM's borrowed "blame it on the voters who defeated Measure UUT" theory about Sierra Madre's supposed old equipment is not quite correct?

A few things happened at the actual meeting that were interesting. The City Attorney, nearly 10 months late mind you, finally explained to the residents of Sierra Madre why this city's ordinance dealing with registered sex offenders such as child molesters was put on hold. And it was as we said here previously. We'd lost a lawsuit to an organization that advocates for the civil rights of sex offenders, and part of the settlement was taking away legal protections designed to safeguard our children from such unhinged persons.

The City Attorney did not tell the entire truth, of course. This is Sierra Madre city government we are talking about here. Nothing was said about having to pay the legal costs and fees of that organization out of the public purse, nor were any theories about why this was kept a secret from the residents and taxpayers ventured either. Thanks to the brave resident who asked about this at public comment. Otherwise we wouldn't have even gotten the modified truth that we did.

We got to hear the entire gamut of foot dragging excuses about why City Hall cannot properly serve the people who want to do business in Sierra Madre. The worst of them being that the so-called cuts in staffing had been so awful that there is no longer the personnel necessary to perform what for many people is the most important function performed there.

Apparently all the laid off lifeguards at the community pool were integral to this function in the past.

According to the City Manager the work hours of city staff are better used doing things like preparing the documents referred to by City Councilmembers during meetings such as the one held last night. You know, so they can properly discuss things like City Hall services.

This was discussed by the City Council in a way that was rather heartening and hopeful. Gene Goss, bless his heart, actually got this one right. The perception in town is that City Hall does not care very much about the needs of those whose taxes sustain it, and one thing that is often given as an example of this is that the place is closed to residents except at the most inconvenient times.

The agreed upon solution was that full City Hall hours would be restored in January of 2015. This because the jobs of Karin Schnieder and the soon to depart Danny Castro would be filled by then. That neither of them spent a whole lot of time working at the front counter was brought up, but you know how that went.

Here is a thought. Is it my imagination, or is it only those things directly affecting the public that now seem to be a problem for the city? KGEM broadcasts and performing the most basic services for the public at City Hall are suddenly beyond the reach of those running the place. Perhaps we really are being punished for not passing Measure UUT? Maybe certain individuals believe they are laying the ground for putting what are still some of the highest utility tax rates in the state back on the ballot and for a third go around?

This almost has the feel of a city labor union work slowdown at times. A tried and true public employee tactic often used to help shake more money out of reluctant taxpayers. The POA used it to good effect in 2008.

The much needed reorganization of our favorite city's government was also discussed, and will be returning to a City Council meeting agenda next month. Perhaps then the City Council will also consider the possibility of getting someone in the City Manager position who is attuned to getting the job done with the resources at hand, rather than endlessly politicking for more and more money. Which no matter how much is agreed to never seems to be enough.

Right after that the possibility of hiring a historian/consultant to inventory the places in Sierra Madre that have historic significance was discussed. This at a cost as high as $50,000. Fortunately wiser heads prevailed and the possibility of getting someone living in this town to perform that function was considered the better path to take. It would certainly save a lot of money.

This is actually a necessary thing to do as it will create a class of homes and buildings here that will have some protection from predatory development. There are towns who did not do the necessary things to establish effective preservation ordinances, and they pretty much lost their souls to the schlockmeisters of California generica. Folks who today are loudly banging on our door.

That was pretty much it.