Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sierra Madre's Legal Advertising Costs: Some Very Strange Numbers

I've come across some rather interesting numbers, and I'm not quite sure what to make of them. So I'm tossing this out to you guys. What exactly is it that these numbers tell us?

What I'm referring to here are the costs to the City of Sierra Madre for running legal advertising in this town's adjudicated newspaper. Up until August of 2007 the publication that carried our legal notices was the Mountain Views News. Or least in recent years. After it was acquired by the Mount Wilson Observer (which then changed its moniker to Mountain Views-Observer, possibly to give the impression that an authentic merger of publishing philosophies had taken place rather than just a grab for city advertising), Sierra Madre's business was transferred to this new entity.

So here's a breakdown of the legal advertising costs:

Year 2002 - cost $2,188.00
Year 2003 - cost $7,863.00
Year 2004 - cost $3,028.00
Year 2005 - cost $12,850.00
Year 2006 - cost $34,465.60
Year 2007 through to the merger - cost $21,500.00
Year 2008 - cost $9,253.50

What I can't quite get my mind around are the ballooning costs for years 2006 and 2007. Costs which, if you add them up, come to a combined total of nearly $56,000. Or more than double the previous 4 years combined! 

So what is the explanation? Here are 3 questions that come to mind:

1) Did we have an explosion of legal advertising in those two years? Do you recall any phone book sized Mtn Views News editions stacked up outside The Bottle Shop?
2) Was this just another indication of the fiscal carelessness that so typified the free spending administrations of Mayors Buchanan and Joffe?
3) Was there a political angle involved here? This was during the furor over Measure V and the lavishly funded campaign to defeat it. Could this possibly have been a way for a pro-high density development city administration to secure the loyalty of the MVN's outspoken publisher?

One thing that is for certain, once the old regime was voted out of office our legal advertising costs plummeted substantially. And if it was those 2006 and 2007 numbers that drove the Mount Wilson Observer's publisher to acquire the MVN, then I think it is safe to say that somebody got punk'd.

One more point. In the state of California there is an antiquated law that requires cities to place legal advertising in adjudicated newspapers claiming town residency. And if there isn't such a newspaper in town, then this advertising must be run in a paper that is locally distributed. Either way this involves the spending of thousands of dollars in scarce funds yearly to accomplish something that could be done on any city's website for free.

Considering the financial hardships of 2009, it is time that law was changed.


  1. The 2008 figures go to October - what were the rest of the payments for that year? And 2009 so far?

  2. What exactly is an adjudicated newspaper anyway? And does the MV-O really meet the requirements?

  3. Sierra Madre business ownerJanuary 28, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    "Fiscal carelessness" sounds about right to me, Sir Eric. It's hard to tell which theme is more oft repeated in council meetings: "The city is broke" or "Let's spend money on another project."
    Thank you for keeping an eye on the taxpayers' dollars. Hopefully the city can do something to change this. Make it a fair competition between papers.
    And thanks for saving us money on the developers' water use, too!
    Drove by the One Carter site this morning, around 8:00, and saw big clouds of dust - the meter must be working.

  4. The City is paying big fees for legal publiction. Why can't the "Mountain Views whatever the name is" publish them on time? Last night an agenda item had to be postponed because the paper did not publish in a timely manner. Will the city get a refund on these fees? Why wasn't the paper published? Financial woes maybe?

  5. Hard to know the great details. 1) publication on the internet is not the same as publication in a newspaper. It is required in many legal contexts as the basis for giving people notice that an official action is being taken--such as a new ordinance, variance, development process, etc. As much as those of us who rely on the internet love websites, etc., there are many who still do not use them and the newspapers surprisingly remain a place calculated to give notice. The problem is not the requirement to publish it's how it's been abused. You should probably do a Public Records Act request to find the invoices behind the figures to see what's being paid for.
    2) One possible reason for a blip is the "discovery" that many of our ordinances were never published after adoption. Of course some people wanted to blame this on Nancy Shollenberger, but the failure happened after the City Council voted to strip her of her functions as part of the political move to put the City Clerk functions under the control of the City Manager. The City Hall worker (and no doubt the City Manager instructing her) never bothered to published the ordinances as they were adopted. When the failure was discovered, it was decided that to be valid, the ordinances had to be published and that was quite a windfall for the publisher, Beth Buck.
    3) There are statutory requirements for a paper to be adjudicated and that requires, I believe, 1 year's experience publishing with certain circulation, etc. and a court proceeding to establish such. It guarantees some kind of income stream to the publisher and is very desirable. In fact, some would say an essential for a small newspaper.
    I hope this "helps"

  6. ALWAYS help!
    kia ora

  7. One good thing about putting our legal notices up on the city website is you'd never have to worry about them being printed on time.

  8. It makes more sense to put them on the website.
    Most people never read the legal notices.
    Those that would want to......most likely have computers or would go to the city or the library to get a hard copy, which should be made available to those who want it.

  9. Another way would be for the city to send legal notices out as a weekly email blast. People who want to receive them would provide their email address, and each week they would get that info.

  10. Anon & also Anon, You might be surprised at how many people are not online, especially in the 60+ crowd. But how about this as a solution: use some of the money we'll save to make sure that all members of the community know where they can get the information, such as on paper in the library - might require a citywide mailing.

  11. That paper is out about every 10 days, it is not delivered to people. From what I can tell, it's only put in a few racks, in very limited numbers.
    Now, this doesn't make sense. Why not have the legals on one or two sheets of paper, available at City Hall or the Library. It would be just as easy for interested people to pick them up, even easier.
    As long as they are available in a timely manner, AND online at the city website.
    Needs to happen.

  12. Why can't our legal notices be in the Sierra Madre Weekly?
    There always seems to be more copies of that paper than any other. I can always find a copy of that paper at several locations in town.

  13. Anonymous @ noon: Unfortunately the law on this stuff states that it has to be a paper, the paper has to be "adjudicated," and it must have an in town address. Kind of unfortunate that in this case the law empowers a publication that does not have this community's best interests at heart.

    And I am a big fan of the Sierra Madre Weekly these days. They ran one of my Tattler columns last week, and it looks like I'll be in there again this week. And they plug the site, which is nice.

  14. Just returned from a walk by 1 Carter. A big cement mixer drove onto the property as I walked by. Really kicked up the dirt.I stopped to watch what was happening. Out came a worker with a hose and washed of the truck for about 5 minutes. The truck did not unload any cement although it was mixing. Once it was rinsed off, it drove off the property. I guess we now have a truck wash at 1 Carter. Sorry to change the subject.

  15. PASTA,
    Seems the subject changes from week to week up there.
    I suppose whoever washed the truck didn't know they were now paying for water again?
    Or...perhaps whoever owns that mess is running a truck wash to raise cash to pay the water bill?
    The city and/or private conservationists need to buy the WEST RIDGES.....NOW. Let's save what little we have left.

  16. Any pics of Green John's Jiffy Truck Scrub? Maybe we could get them posted on the blog?

  17. So, who the heck is minding the store up there?! Is there any city presence to monitor this kind of thing, or is it up to people walking or driving by? Jeez.

  18. Sir Eric,
    this is cool, your column in the Weekly!
    I urge all your loyal readers to pick up a their advertisers if you can.
    Let's all just say NO to that other paper.
    Whoever edits the Weekly is smart.....they are going to get REAL NEWS in their paper.
    Sir Eric's columns are well researched and factual.
    You'll read REAL NEWS on here, not the usual fluff and real estate ads you read elsewhere.

  19. So the inflammatory email H. Susan Henderson sent out accusing some council members of colluding with her former business partner to block her adjudication was a smokescreen to cover up the real issue of Henderson overcharging the city. Nice work, Sir Eric!

  20. Susan Henderson is so Blago.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. 8:55 - Language. This isn't the Cumquat you know.

  23. Sir Eric, thank you for your vigilance. The last thing I want to do is go on the best blog about my town, and find people dragging it all down to the lowest level possible. Thanks for keeping your eyes open.

  24. I see it as a medical problem. A lot of dirts seem to suffer from keyboard tourettes.

  25. Doesn't Sierra Madre have a code enforcement position, I'm sure we do, are they responsible for monitoring construction sites for compliance issues?

    Rod Diener