Friday, January 30, 2009

Update: Take the Last Train to SCAGsville

I really do fear for this country sometimes. And while I guess it is a good thing that $819 billion in borrowed foreign capital is being pumped into our economy as a way of helping people get jobs, rebuilding infrastructure and (hopefully) bringing back prosperity to a country whose fiscal bearings are now seriously out of whack, there are some articles of faith that I can no longer subscribe to. And a lot of questions just are not being asked. Like who exactly does this money go to, and what kind of people are these who will be the shepherds of such vast sums of our cash? Will they be honest brokers who know exactly what it is that is needed? Or will it merely fall into the hands of the usual seedy cast of characters, those knowing how to work the system, who understand which buttons to push, and speak the kind of language that will cause brain-dead legislators and bureaucrats in places like Sacramento to open up the public coffers and just let all that money flow. Will it be like the banking bailout, where connected people took hundreds of billions of our cash and used it in part to give themselves huge Christmas bonuses and buy new corporate jets? 

I fear that the answer to that one has to be yes.

We started to look into El Monte Transit Village because of the connection a few involved in this project have to Sierra Madre. It was basically a gotcha exercise designed to let some folks know that we haven't forgotten what it is they tried to do to this town, and that we are still watching. But as the details of what they're up to now became more clear, it brought with it a deeper understanding of not only how obviously rotten the redevelopment world is, but also how much this is part of a larger way of doing business. One that involves cynically conceived ploys based on false promises of societal improvement, the tendency of many elected officials to prioritize the desires of lobbyists and pressure groups over ours, and lots and lots of money. The fiscal heart of America has in some ways passed from private industry to government, and there is now a whole new class of people who are amassing considerable wealth tapping public resources for no other reason than personal aggrandizement. And this thing in El Monte now strikes me as being an unfortunate example.

Last December the San Gabriel Valley Tribune ran an article entitled "El Monte transit center gets boost from federal grant." Here is part of what it had to say:

"With a $43 million grant from the federal government in hand, a much anticipated new El Monte Transit Center is expected to go from dream to reality in 2 years ... The project is the anchor of a half-billion-dollar transit-oriented development the city plans to build around the new transit center. Known as the El Monte Transit Village, the development is expected to bring nearly 2,000 new homes and stores to the area adjacent to the bus station ..."


"Before any development can begin, the city must also shift areas of parkland on the site ... To do this the city will use a $26.5 million grant it was awarded by the state from funds approved voters for high-density, transit-oriented development."

We do know that the $26.5 million mentioned above was pulled back by a cash starved Sacramento. At least temporarily. How this will effect the project is unclear. Later in the article:

"Once all phases are completed, the 65-acre development would include 1,850 residential units, 500,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, 500,000 square feet of office space, a movie theater, a hotel, and other facilities ... Approximately 20 percent of the residential units would be considered affordable."

Now we can identify here nearly $70 million in government money being spent to finance this thing. And God only knows how much more is involved. But what is the real rationale? While it is fine to improve an existing bus station and make public transportation for El Monte more efficient and pleasant to use, what exactly does that have to do with building what will be 10 story office buildings, shopping pavilions, a luxury hotel, and for the most part high-end condos?

"City officials are confident the new transit center will make development viable. 'It's next to one of the busiest bus hubs in the country,' Gondek said. 'Proximity to economic activity does matter in a world with scarcer resources and climate warming up.'"

So there you have it, build a million square feet in new office space and shopping areas, and for the most part luxury condos, and you're helping to save the world from global warming because they'll all be near to a bus station. 

"'We think this timing works to our advantage. As the market starts to pickup, this inventory will start to be online,' Titan Group Chief Administrative Officer Barry Sedlick said."

Like I said, I do fear for this country sometimes.


  1. Bart Doyle's gang of downtowndirts wouldn't have built 12 story buildings on Sierra Madre Blvd, Sir Eric!
    They were only going to build 4 story building + underground parking.
    They wouldn't have allowed more than 2 traffic lights in at Baldwin and SMB and one in front of the Fire and Police station, due to the underground parking lot at the 3 story former SNF.
    And our downtowndirts would never have allowed more than 30 units per acre....well.....maybe 40.
    OH WAIT!!!!! Even these scaled down downtown dirt projects wouldn't have been completed!
    They would have ran out of funds.....some half built skeletons, to sit for years until they could get loans again.


  3. That is so passe - it's Cayman Islands, dude.

  4. Save us from SCAG:
    Not 4 stories, no never 4 stories. As J. Buchanan put it, "Not 4 stories." and then, sotto voce, "Maybe three." It's on tape from one of the endless meetings that John & Enid specialized in. You can hear it for yourself. Four stories were presented so that the negotiation with the residents could have gone down to three.

  5. Who wants to buy a luxury condo next to a bus station in EL Monte? Gangs, crime, bad school district. Sounds like "the projects" to me.

  6. I too fear for this country's future. A trillion to the banks, $900 billion for whatever we're doing now, and a national debt that is horrifying in its scope. And what if it doesn;t work, and the next time around nobody wants to lend us any money? We're flushing a fortune down ratholes, and to what purpose? The real threat to America isn't terrorism, its our very own bureaucracy.

  7. The dirts want to herd us all into projects so they can just make nicer areas full of McMansions sold to people like them, other assorted dirts, they will import them into Sierra Madre, while a lot of us lose our homes and have to go move into one of Bart's Transit Villages. I hope I never have to call Karma Bell for a referral on how I can buy a low income "condo" in a Transit Village.
    Sir Eric! Please help Mayor Zimmerman, MaryAnn MacGillivray and Don Watts SAVE us from SCAG!
    They reduced our level of low income housing to a more reasonable number. Thanks, Kurt, Don and MaryAnn....thanks for working for the folks insead of SCAG.

  8. This whole plan is just a complete scam. Right now, California’s got plenty of housing—just nobody who can afford to live in it. So we certainly don’t need to build more housing, do we. Especially a bunch of slammed up units. Andd what a euphemism it is to call it a "transit village." It's a bunch of cracker-boxes at a bus station. And I was so impressed with the built-in lie of showing the San Antonio Riverwalk -- the actual San Antonio Riverwalk--as what they showed as if it were a "mock up" of the finished product. What a blatant lie. How are they going to get a river through the bus station? It is a ridiculous notion but it was meant to make El Monte look as though it were San Antonio Texas. What a complete laugh and an active misrepresentation. So people look at the San Antonio Riverwalk and think they'll get that in El Monte? Give me a break. And if they built it, who would
    shop there? The poverty-level people who live in El Monte? El Monte have the greatest population of people below the poverty level of any San Gabriel Valley City. So they're going to build themselves into another type of City? Or, are the people from San Marino going to hop into their buses and go down to the transit village to have a drink and shop by the phoney river? Or are all the well-heeled commuters passing through on their way to La Puente going to hop off the bus, stop for a bit of high dollar shopping? The high dollar commuters are on the train and they’re not stopping to shop in El Monte. It is ridiculous. But Bart would have gotten his money and left the rest for everybody else to deal with. What a scam. I fear for our country for buying crap like this.

  9. P. S. (Sorry readers) This fabulous project is so wonderful that the market won't see it built, it's all being built by the government--part of the prosperity and growth theme that underlies California planning law. Time to rethink that.

  10. People in these communities have got to be activists......if they can't trust their local elected officials to act on their behalf....they need to vote them out.
    We did that in Sierra Madre, a little late, yes, but we still did it, and hopefully we will continue to.
    Pay attention......there are a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing out there waiting to get elected under false pretenses.Sadly, Sierra Madre didn't find out about Bart Doyle until it was too late.
    Support and vote for people who keep their promises, people who mean what they say and say what they mean.

  11. I just spoke to my plumber. He lives about 1/2 mile from the Transit Village and had NO idea what was happening.

  12. 1:02 - I had a similar experience when I was over there to check things out. I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, so I asked an El Monte cop staked out near the famous bus station where all the Transit Village stuff was going to go up. He looked at me for a second, and then told me he'd never heard anything about this. Sounds like this is all being done on the downlow locally.

  13. Shouldn't somebody be reaching out to the people in El Monte?

  14. Curly,
    Most of us here on the Tattler blog know better than to trust elected officials unless they have been vetted and/or proven to be above board. We pay attention.
    Lots of people, the majority of people, just are naive. They complain only after it is too late.
    I fear it's too late for the people in El Monte, however, with the economy, maybe they will get a break. I hope so.
    They sure got a raw deal. Even if the government is paying for this folly, wouldn't money have been much better spent to help the folks in El Monte?

  15. I like how the Planning Commission offered protection to the locals by reducing the height from 12 stories to 10 stories. That was a great comfort. And I love it that the Deputy City Attorney thinks this is just the great project. This is an even more egregious example of a government funded scam being sold to the local government who haven't got a clue about what their --woops, OUR--tax dollars are funding. Losing this hideous project is about the only good thing to come out of the current economic disaster. And I hope it is completely dead. The project, that is.

  16. To roia, fyi: the San Antonio Riverwalk was built under the auspices of the WPA under FDR in the 1930's... Bit of trivia.

    Rod Diener

  17. The State should do Itself a big favor by scrutinizing the financial conditions of the developer behind this porject.