One of the most time honored criticisms of authoritarian central planning bureaucracies like SCAG is that they do not have any real insight into what is needed at the local level. Nor do they particularly care. SCAG can certainly crank out mighty proclamations and theories regarding how they think the world ought to be, but after their otherworldly ponderings get boiled down to actual numbers and forced upon local governments, you end up with the kind of thing we saw at last night's City Council meeting. Reasonably intelligent people wasting a whole lot of time creating a document designed merely to placate a bunch effete bureaucrats. Something that has absolutely no real value to anyone whatsoever, but did consume a few weeks worth of time, effort and staff salary to create.
Look at it this way. Left to their own devices would the elected officials of Sierra Madre and our City staff ever willingly sit down and attempt to predict how many more jobs and houses there will be here in 11 years? I don't think so. And why that arbitrary 11 years figure? Why not 14? Or 103? And why houses and jobs? Why not doorknobs? Or fish tanks? Or what about how many fish tanks will have doorknobs in Sierra Madre by the year 2093? If we're going to waste our time and tax money on nonsense, why not go for the gusto?
As if any numbers on jobs and housing City staff cooks up in 2009 are going to have validity for folks in the year 2020. That is, if anyone in 2020 will even know of their existence. Which I doubt.
Of course, trying to explain this to SCAG Commissar Ikhrata could be equally futile. After all, that's probably how they did it when he was a young planner in the Soviet Union. And outside of a famine or two, things there weren't so bad, right? At least until the entire system collapsed under the weight of a similar inherent madness.
So in the spirit of bringing this incident to that full measure of absurdity Don spoke about, we are going to try and summarize what exactly was said by the meeting participants. Because despite the farcical premise of the topic, wise things were said. At least by a few.
Our City Planner Danny Castro, batting leadoff, gave his second (or possibly third) presentation on what housing and jobs projections we should present to SCAG. Unfortunately, in the last three years we have net zero new households. Factual information SCAG would probably wish not to hear because it does not show growth. Showing growth being a priority over actual growth, I suppose. SCAG has demanded that we project 140 new houses by the year 2020, but based on what? Commissar Ikhrata's mood swings? Danny does not speculate in that way. He did offer up the number of 72 houses, I guess in hopes of getting SCAG off our backs. And on jobs SCAG wants us to say we'll have 267 new ones by 2020. Danny only offered up 82. Apparently pizza consumption is down in Sierra Madre.
John Buchanan found Danny's numbers objectionable. And while he did ramble on about the topic (as always), I am not certain he said much that made sense. He did say something about Sierra Madre dropping Howie's as a development site until 2025. Apparently he arrived at this through a process of deductive reasoning. Howie's, if developed in the way John imagines it should be, would apparently create much new housing and jobs if made properly gargantuan. But Danny left that opportunity out according to John. Which he then proclaimed to be a very negative thing to do. John then made the odd statement that "we're telling people that the Howie's lot will sit there dead for 10 or 20 years."
Now I don't know about you, but I find Taylor's to be a delightful store. I shop there often because of the high quality meats and produce they sell. For a City Councilman to proclaim the site of our city's finest grocery store "dead" is unfortunate. I'm not sure the business climate in town is such that we can afford to denigrate something like Taylor's in this way.
Then the verbose Councilman Buchanan concluded his sense siesta by inadvertently revealing one of the core problems of government in this state. Staring into his crystal ball, he proclaimed that after 3 years the economy will pick up, and with it the number of jobs in Sierra Madre. And if we assume our jobs number will not grow at the SCAG correct level, we are actually projecting the "decline of this town." With the consequence of "hurting our chances for funding." Which begs this question: if we make up some big fancy employment growth numbers, we'll get more money from Sacramento? If that is how it really works, then it is no wonder the government of California is a fiscal waste site.
Don Watts is always on a roll when the topic of SCAG comes up. "We don't have major growth in this town and it has been that way for years. But we have been mandated to say these things to a dysfunctional government." Don then spoke about how nothing will be built in this town for the next two years because there is nothing of any real size or paradigm changing import in the planning process at this time. He then said the City Council should just approve Danny's numbers because enough time has been wasted on this nonsense already.
Joe Mosca apparently reached deep into his bag of opposable personalities and pulled out his Little Miss Sunshine suit. After offering a particularly chipper and content-free defense of SB 375, he then proclaimed that everyone is on the same page in this SCAG matter, and that perhaps we should all join hands and celebrate ourselves. Which, when you consider John Buchanan's emphatic "no" vote later in the evening, is about as fatuous a statement as any Joe has made to date. Which is saying a lot. Look for a video in a couple of days.
Kurt Zimmerman called SCAG's numbers to a nightmare. He noted that staff had put a lot of time and effort into ginning up some numbers of our own, but there wasn't a lot of quality data to base them on. He then looked over at Joey Sunshine and expressed some doubt about "the same page" thing. Kurt voiced the very logical concern that by sending these numbers in we'll be seen as admitting to growth and jobs that probably won't happen. Possibly resulting in SCAG ratcheting up these fantasy numbers even higher. And should we really be all that concerned about maybe losing a bus line? Something few here use anyway? The real concern in Sierra Madre is over dramatic growth. A far more important consideration to the vast majority of people living here than a couple of empty SCAG buses.
Which brings us to Mayor MacGillvray. MaryAnn finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to balance the considerable pressure from those opposed to our even being in SCAG (the author raises his hand), with the rather grim choices offered by the duplicitous Sacramento agendas driving all this. She defended City staff's methodology, claiming there is a reality to these calculations that we can defend to SCAG. We are safer in the long run by being conservative than by being foolishly optimistic, she stated, because if we go that route we could be forced to accept SCAG numbers that "will change the fabric of the community."
Some of which I have a problem with. But then the Mayor offered up this statement:
"This is not so much about projecting future visions as it is an issue of local government maintaining control over where growth occurs."
And that, my friends, is the stone cold truth. These people want to take that control away from cities like ours and place it in the hands of Sacramento. Where it can all be sold to the highest bidder. And they have the guns and money to do it.
In the end the City Council approved Danny's numbers. Only John Buchanan voted no.