Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Post # 300

We're coming up on the first anniversary of The Tattler, and finally the real purpose for doing this exercise in extreme typing is coming into view. All this writing just to put in the foundation. Now it is time to start building something a little more.

But since this is our 300th post (and in a little less than eleven months!), I figured it is as good a time as any to share a little hopeful news with you. Three random articles that, to me, show that beneath all the dreary hype and endless propaganda we are forced to endure, somehow the truth does manage to get through. And that we can, and will, win next April. In the process putting to an end once the carpetbagger redevelopment nightmare personified by a City Councilman who claimed four years ago to be "just like us," but turned out to be the personification of everything we never wanted for Sierra Madre. You can only pity the fools being dragooned into running alongside him.

The first article of these three articles is short, but brings along a lot of hope for the future. It comes from the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" web page. A story not very widely reported, of course, but maybe that doesn't matter so much.

Anti-growth forces emerge on top - This week's election featured the usual array of local ballot measures dealing with commercial and residential development and slow- and no-growth advocates appear to have won more than they lost, according to the California Development and Planning Report, an authoritative newsletter of urban planning issues.

"All in all, voting on November 3 local ballot measures provided the usual mixed bag," the newsletter said. "The slow growth side won 8 of 12 easily classifiable contests..."

Now as we've been discussing lately, the leadership of the "Repair California" claque that believes it somehow has a mandate to give California a new Constitution has a very suspect pedigree. With some of its key leadership being the same folks who engineered the passage of such things as SB 375, the legislative boondoggle for redevelopers absurdly posing as a way of saving the world from global warming. But you know what? It looks like people aren't buying this "New Constitution" sham, either. This from latimes.com:

Backers of an overhaul of California's government, who hope to leverage disgust with Sacramento into support for changing how the state raises taxes and spends money, have a difficult path ahead, according to a new poll of California voters.

Major segments of the electorate see the state's problems as the product of unrestrained lawmakers driven by special interests to waste taxpayer money, and reject arguments that structural issues with the state's Constitution and government institutions are to blame.

This next piece gave me chills. It comes from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Tell me that what it describes here is not all that different from things we've seen here in our little town.

Creating a New Town Square - Tucked between a verdant coastal mountain range and stark Pacific Ocean bluff tops, Half Moon Bay is one of those rare, spectacular natural places. It's also a classic small town, time-warped only by the happy accident of relative geographic inaccessibility to the suburbanized San Francisco-Silicon Valley corridor just 20 minutes "over the hill."

Not everyone here is involved in local politics, but pretty much everyone has an opinion. What it boils down to is development. What's our civic vision? Do we continue to define ourselves fundamentally as a rural fishing and agricultural community, open to sweeping vistas and closed to shopping mall sprawl? Or do we make Faustian bargains, trading bits of historic identity for real estate deals dressed up in the shroud of progress?

These questions lend themselves to endless political soap-opera gyrations among "pro-growthers," "no-growthers," "slow-growthers," "managed growthers" and ... (fill in the blank). Meanwhile, an alienated "silent majority" tunes in to the local cable access channel to watch, and perhaps ruefully to laugh at, the routine Kabuki of another public meeting.

It's a familiar small-town story, for sure. At its heart is the flow of information driving - or distorting - so much of the civic ecosystem. The weekly newspaper amounts to a water cooler, a town square, the proverbial grapevine. Quite a sacred trust - and it comes with unbelievable, often unchecked, power to influence discourse among citizens.

Not unlike major market media, most small newspapers are driven by bottom-line profit. And that pressure is more obvious in some places than others. In the case of our chain-owned local weekly, ad space is dominated by - what else in California?- real estate. The pressure to develop subdivisions and golf courses on every last, highly valuable inch of available coastal property is intense. Environmental law is for some a nuisance to be gotten around. This tension is the subtext of everything, from elections to infrastructure to public school education to which watering-hole people choose to frequent. Take a side. Our local newspaper unquestionably has.

The local paper's version of truth is constantly rebutted for its misrepresentations and insinuations. Starting with city council members who have gone on record with their frustration and refusal even to read the paper, many consider it advocacy rather than journalism. Ask for a correction or clarification and, if one appears, it will likely have a snarky editor's note appended. In any case, once something falsely damaging is out in circulation, it's too late.

That's why it was such a breath of fresh air when an online journalist stepped up to offer a different point of view. More than that, Barry Parr has brought integrity, wit and professionalism to Coastsider.com. Though familiar with newsrooms as a result of his work designing early Web sites for Silicon Valley news outlets such as the San Jose Mercury News, Parr had no professional reporting experience. He's gotten his cub training as a middle-aged, computer-age Thomas Paine - a classic watchdog journalist, with a take-no-prisoners pay scale to match.

To the amusement and relief of devoted readers, Parr has at times posted line-edited-for-accuracy versions of pieces featured in the weekly. He has outed those who would intimidate or suppress opposing points of view. He has created a civilized space for alternative voices - and unsponsored truth.

It might sound overblown, but Coastsider.com provides an unbelievably critical public service. It's a locus for the kind of civic trust and independence on which the idea of journalism, indeed democracy, is based. And he doesn't even own a printing press.

You see? We're not alone after all.

Article # 301 tomorrow. After all, there is a City Council meeting tonight that we'll need to talk about.

42 comments:

  1. Thank you, Sir Eric, for all you do for Sierra Madre residents, and all other residents from other communities who read this blog.
    You are committed to informing people of the truth.
    That's all we really ask for.
    Congratulations to all "slow growth warriors"!

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  2. Why do I get the feeling things are just get started on The
    Tattler? I can't wait to read the coverage here once the City
    Council elections get rolling. Poor Susan Henderson's sad
    little rag is no longer the source for anything except laughs.

    You have to feel bad for the trees that died to make it.

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  3. Now only 300 publications in less than a year. You have also broke news stories that later appeared in the news papers. Everyone please send all your friends the Tattler link daily. Our readership needs to grow daily. Spread the word and we will maintain the majority on the new council. Sierra Madre will not become another Monrovia or Pasadena.

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  4. Pasadena. Have you seen the stories in the Pasadena Star News about somebody who built a fork sculpture and put it beside a street? The headline read something about a "fork in the road." But I think they got it wrong. What it should have said was, "Somebody Stuck A Fork In Pasadena. They're Done."

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  5. It seems obvious to me why newspaper readership is in decline. The papers don't really tell the real story anymore. Rather they cater to what they think their advertisers and the local establishment want. In the meantime they've become useless as sources for information, driving people to look for better information on the internet. Perhaps if they provided a better service to the community their profile would improve.

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  6. I want to thank all the posters on the Tattler, who also value the TRUTH above all. You all have contributed a lot of great information, not found elsewhere.
    Both our local posters and posters outside of Sierra Madre who care about slow growth issues and transparency in government issues.
    Thank you team Neuroblast, your contributions have been amazing!
    Thank you PROFESSIONAL experts on law, environmental and government issues, your posts are always informative and often fascinating.
    Thank you Sierra Madre/Tattler research teams of local citizens who contribute so much to this blog.
    I second Pasta's motion to please tout this blog to any and all your friends and neighbors.
    We are all so fortunate to have TRUTH IN JOURNALISM! What a CONCEPT!

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  7. LA Times today Nov 10 carries an amazing story of how a "Latino City" El Sereno (not far from Sierra Madre) fought "Monterey Hills Investors" to stop a multi million luxury development from building atop a hill called "Elephant Hill". This article in the front section should be read by every Sierra Madre resident who wants to preserve our hillsides and stop the 1 Carter and Stonehouse projects.

    Doug Carstens of the Law Firm Chatten-Brown and Carstens hired by residents to confront City Council to challenge the development. The story that follows reads like a soap opera of developers, resale to another developer, 35 million dollar law suits and the admonition from City Hall that "it was too late to stop the project because of prior approvals". Does that sound familiar.

    Guess what? A development project started in 1984 ended up as a Park in 2009 an amazing story.

    Our City Council should explore and possible hire Chatten, Brown & Carstens to undo 1 Carter and Stonehouse and preserve our hillsides forever.

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  8. The article about Half Moon Bay could have been written about Sierra Madre! Just change a few names, some geography & it's our story too. Great find, "middle-aged, computer-age Thomas Paine"

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  9. Our Town, about a thousand cement trucks have been trundling up Baldwin the last couple of weeks. Do you think they are pouring permeable concrete? Surely Green John Buchanan made a point to have that included in his approval of the Carter Disaster. Stand on Baldwin & the Blvd. & look north. Terrible sight on that West Ridge.

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  10. Day, sounds like they were talking about our Eric Maundry!

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  11. What I would like to see written about more is the Big Bad Wolf aspect of it all. The developers pretend to care about people and their quality of life, the politicians pretend to care about the environment, some of our local council pretend to care about "preservation." That word has been so twisted it may never recover.
    Just like the BB Wolf, these guys are lying in Grandma's bed in Grandma's clothes, pretending to be Grandma, when in reality, they already ate her.

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  12. AnonX - thy talk to us like they think we're children. They wrap their agendas in a false shroud of caring. We're not building condos, we're stopping global warming. We're not pushing high density housing, we're providing homes for the poor. We're not wrecking the town by trying to build a vast swathe of generica in your downtown, we're creating jobs and helping your local economy. It's such a bunch of crap.

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  13. Bunch of crap is right, Ed.
    Thanks to the Tattler, our readers aren't buying into their bs.

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  14. Wouldn't it be great to get all the slow-growth people aware of each other?
    I tried Coastrider.com, but couldn't get the site. I'd like to let Mr. Parr know about the tattler.
    I also heard that Carmel had a significant victory recently.

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  15. Rodney - Try this:
    http://www.coastsider.com

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  16. Off topic, but on tonight's agenda. Why is the City Council considering spending $50,000 for a consultant to determine user fees? This NBS bunch charges upwards of $150 an hour for their services? Excuse me, but is John Buchanan the Mayor again?

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  17. Consultant Buster, thanks for bringing that up.
    I have gone crazy over the years trying to figure out how such a broke, always close to bankruptcy city, spends such big amounts of money.
    No doubt this will be pitched as spending money to save money.
    I'll tell you what, let's spend money to see where the hell all our money has gone.
    Independent audit.

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  18. Consultant Buster...Google NBS User Fee and view the agreement between Bute County Board of Supervisors and NBS.......Wow We will pay 50 grand for what we should already know and if not the City Mgr should easily be able to compute and put on a spreadsheet.

    Its a study gone wild! City Mgr. We already know the City Payroll some to be aportioned as indirect and some as direct charge to user requests. Total up the various user fee categories and % to total. Add the fixed City expenses and aportion to the categories. Now using a questionaire to identify the time each staff works on the various use requests. Total up the revenue from user fees and compare with the charge for the services to the user. And voila you know we 1. don't charge enough, 2 we have got it right, or 3. we have a windfall profit. A couple of days is all it should take.

    Now go and read the Butte Study and you will understand its a bunch of hooey. This is pretty simple stuff. What a scam!

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  19. We do need a study.......How to lower the charges to the residents. The water bill is ludicrous, the electricity bill rediculous not counting the black outs, the trash fee just went up, and now an unneeded Utility Tax, the Cable or Direct TV bill is preposterous, and keeping the land line and the cell phone bills honest... (add ons now number 7) is for the accountant. And our economy is in a tailspin with most sellers of merchandise and services reducing prices not increasing them. What gives with the "fixed" expense of living in Sierra Madre?

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  20. City staff is very busy now computing how many jobs and lean-tos Sierra Madre will have in the year 2050. It is very important SCAG related work. Fees shmees. Better we hire a consultant lest we incur the wrath of the Commissar.

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  21. They found the dead body of a hiker somewhere out back of Bailey Canyon Park. TV crews ghouling all over the place.

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  22. Our Town....I hear you....

    We have around 10 people working (allegedly) in the Finance/Accounting Department, some of which have actual accounting experience and education. We also (allegedly) have a City Treasurer, even though his whereabouts are unknown. It seems to me that there should be NO reason why the City should be hiring consultants to do basic math.

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  23. Of course they are Woodsy. Sierra Madre's entire administration is made up of Building Industry hacks, from Aguilar on down. Nothing has changed. They're so precious that if they work, they might get tired. They would have to give up their massage therapy, yoga & Tai Chi sessions, manicure appointments and most importantly, their afternoon nap.

    And voters thought they were going to get change when they voted in the last 2 Council elections. Maybe a change in rhetoric, but not a change in fact or in deed.

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  24. 3:51, I understand your frustration & share it. However, the slow growth majority has been making plenty of changes, including more balanced participation by residents who favor slow-growth on commissions and committees that will impact us all, the excellent removal of Joe Mosca from the COG liaison position, much, much better-run meetings by the current and the last mayor, more transparency about all matters of government, a puncturing of the illusions of SCAG being anything other than a shill for development, and maybe best of all, a willingness to listen. Send an email, or call, or go to the meeting tonight & tell them about the absurdities you see. The slow-growth majority will hear you.

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  25. 2:21 you are right we must get rid of the crazy increase we are incurred and the mad money being spent on a consultant who is more useless and overpriced for work we do not want nor need...........Please do allow the consultant to be paid for, no one can afford the mis appropriations.

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  26. The City Council is on the right track..But unless you purge that bunch in City Hall, it will always be disappointing.They will continue to undermine any effort by the CC to correct the the direction we have been going..You can begin by an audit!

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  27. Staff doesn't live here, so why should they care about what we want? The real plum career opportunies are not here, and nothing we want would look good on anyones resume.

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  28. I don't know what the NBS stuff is -would it be possible to have volunteers do the study?

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  29. Channel 3 Watcher

    I appreciate your simple and naive perspective on the subject. It is very sweet. However, the "changes" you mention are merely window dressing, or better stated, tinkering around the edges.

    I also don't need to be condescended to about the "slow-growth majority." Is that the new phrase we're all supposed to be using to delude ourselves and others into believing that things have really changed and that there is a new paradigm in town?

    I also completely disagree that Sierra Madre's City government is anymore transparent than it used to be. With Watts and MacGillvry going along with Buchanan and Mosca regarding an outside investigation and audit of the City's financial and accounting fraud over the years, and Enyedi completely AWOL, your assertion doesn't carry any water.

    I'm sure that Council meetings are much more pleasant to attend then they used to be. Sure is nice not to be yelled at by the likes of Bart Doyle or Rob Stockly anymore. I whole-heartedly agree that as Mayor(s), Zimmerman and MacGillvry have raised the bar as far as professional conduct is concerned. It's been a long time since Council members treated voters with any respect or dignity.

    But, I didn't vote for superficial change, I voted for substantial change.

    I voted for the replacement of the City Attorney, City Manager and administrative staff with competent, honest and ethical professionals. Thus far, we have all the same BIA/CAR deadbeats we've had for years.

    I voted for responsible management of the City's resources, infrastructure and public safety apparatus. Thus far, there has been no discussion about eliminating unnecessary administrative staff, no discussion about eliminating wasteful spending, no discussion about eliminating self-serving (deadbeat), self-styled "volunteers" from the Fire Department, and, no discussion about the City's water resources and water infrastructure. Without even a mention of these and other pressing issues, it is inconceivable that the Council will ever take any action on them.

    I voted for Financial Transparency too. Thus far, we continue to have an absentee City Treasurer that was supposedly elected to insure that residents had someone to go to, and that would not coddle accounting staff, but instead, demand information and disclosure on behalf of the voters. If I'm going to continue to get the runaround from staff, and have to run around to find the illusive City Treasurer, only to get the same runaround I got from staff, then nothing has changed.

    As far as "the illusions of SCAG being anything other than a shill for development;" welcome to reality sweetie. Plenty of people in Sierra Madre were already hip to that Big Lie years ago.

    I suppose however, that we still need people with a sense of Polyanna idealism to bring a little sunshine into our lives. Otherwise pragmatists might not have someone to make the world a better place for. :-)

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  30. 5:40, run for council on that platform & you got my vote.
    (you might want to tone down the arrogance a bit)

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  31. 5:47, that poster could never get elected. Voters are turned off by someone who thinks he is the only smart person in the room. Now why did John Buchanan ever get elected?

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  32. I'm out of town, so anything good happensat the CC meeting, post it here? On my iPhone. Thanks!

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  33. Look up the duties of the City Treasurer. it is an elected position and is currently held by a man of high skills and integrity. Through no fault of his, the city finances have been slithering along for years. He had even volunteered several years back to work on getting budgets ready to submit to Sacramento on time. You'll remember when banker Stockley was on the council and the budgets were 6 or so years overdue. Bart Doyle (on council, may have been mayor) told Mr. Enyedi that his services were not needed. He is a retired accountant and is or has been treasurer of the Pioneer Cemetary, the Sierra Madre Playhouse and the Mountain Conservancy. He was instrumental in getting the marquee restored for the Playhouse. As far as someone asking why he was missing, he is usually sitting at the CC meetings, but he is NOT the finance director and he is not in charge of budgets or setting fees or any other of those decisions .

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  34. Thank you Sir Eric, for all your foundation work, for being a rock. Thank you tats for your salty savors and fruity fruitions.

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  35. Thanks for all that clarity 7:48.

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  36. Does the city having a balanced budget, while all the other cities surrounding us with budgets being in the red by millions, mean anything?

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  37. It means we're paying too much in taxes.

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  38. It means we agreed to put more money in to help the city.
    Hope it produces sober accountability in the staff.

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  39. Yeah, but the numbers we voted on were a million bucks light.

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  40. I understand that the million was in the wrong place is all - but someone said:
    what happened when it was in that misplaced area?
    what kind of account was it, and who was it shown to and why?
    who could sign off on it?
    Sound like good questions to me.

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  41. Stop The Million Dollar SpinNovember 11, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    That "million was in the wrong place" canard doesn't deal with this one big unshakeable fact. It wasn't accounted for when the voters of Sierra Madre were looking at the data and trying to decide how to vote on the UUT increase question. I don't care if the million bucks was in a shoebox under somebody's desk, the fact remains it was not part of the equation the voters were shown.

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  42. 2:36, I'm not trying to spin - just trying to counter the rumored excuse.
    So the voters didn't know about it. Who did?
    Audit.

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