Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What the City of Sierra Madre Told Dear Auntie SCAG About Her Numbers

"It is being rammed down our throat, and we resented that fact. Many of the planning bills in Sacramento have had the appearance, if not the result, of taking local jurisdiction from us." - Robin Lowe, City Councilwoman, Hemet

I enjoyed the description someone posted here about SCAG recently. That they're a bit like the crazy aunt your parents forced you to be nice to when you were a kid. Because if you weren't, well, there was certain to be some unpleasant consequences. And that is how small cities like ours have to treat the Southern California Association of Governments. Like that crazy aunt. Because if you offend her, she'll go snitch us out to Sacramento. And then terrible things will happen. Like we'll lose our grants for that new generation of trash cans everybody is excited about. Or something.

And there couldn't be a better example of the Crazy Aunt Theory in action than a letter the City of Sierra Madre recently sent out to SCAG regarding our Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Cities Strategy numbers. If you have a life and are not familiar with this bizarre process, what it means is we had to cook up some predictions for Auntie SCAG on how many jobs and houses will be here in the year 2020. And then in 2035 as well. No discernible reason for this absurd exercise, SCAG just likes everyone to believe it can predict the future. Think of it as bureaucratic entrails reading, with the magical results being the juju that gives SCAG its swagger with Sacramento. A place where they're nutty enough to believe in this sort of thing.

So anyway, we're going to reproduce portions of this letter here for your edification and, hopefully, amusement. While it gently breaks the news to SCAG that we're not buying into their overcooked version of our remote future, it also takes pains to make sure they are not in any way offended. You know, like the author thinks he is addressing someone who has lost a couple of paddles on their way down the great rapids of life.

So here it is. Have a nice time.

Dear Xx Xxxxxx Xxx,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the Population, Households, and Employment forecasts for the City of Sierra Madre ("City"), which will be used as a starting point for the 2012 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) required per SB 375. The City appreciates your seeking of our local input to ensure accurate growth forecasts and distribution as it relates locally and regionally.

In summary, the City finds that the Population forecasts of 11,099 by 2020 (increase of 32), and 11,116 by 2035 (increase of 17), appears accurate. However, the Household and Employment forecasts as provided by SCAG are grossly over-projected, and do not reflect the actual, recent local historic data and the local employment characteristics and trends in Sierra Madre. Per the City's analysis for Households, the City used actual household unit (net) increases per year, using building permit data of the last six years, as a basis for projecting future numbers. For Employment, the City inventoried all current businesses by type and size (average number of employees), and developed a list of potential future projects in the City which would generate new jobs, as a basis for projecting future numbers. The City respectfully submits these adjusted numbers:

2020 Households ... 4,904 ... (increase of 72 from 2008)
2035 Households ... 5,039 ... (increase of 135 from 2020)

2020 Employment ... 3,462 ... (increase of 82 from 2008)
2035 Employment ... 3,549 ... (increase of 87 from 2020)

The Development Services staff, in consultation with the City Council, closely studied the forecasts as provided by SCAG, and we find that the City's analysis presents a far more accurate representation, based on true, actual data.

Now as anybody who has been following this exercise in fanciful future population and jobs soothsaying will tell you, SCAG could very well turn around and claim that since we said it, it must not only be true, but that we'll now have to start planning for the leveling of several city blocks to make space for the 72 (or 135) "units" it will take to locate these nonexistent new households. Or they could very well reject our made up numbers altogether and demand we accept their made up numbers. Which are certainly much larger, and will require far more bulldozers to accommodate.

Auntie SCAG is like that, you know. She can be wildly unpredictable, and at times terribly unfair.

Now we're going to skip over much of the "Households Forecast" and go straight to the red meat of the thing.

The City finds that SCAG's projected increase of 140 households by the year 2020 is extremely high considering that Sierra Madre is predominantly urbanized with low-density residential and small-scale commercial uses. There are a very limited number of undeveloped properties in the City, mostly located in the Hillside Management Zone area, with significant topographical constraints that would physically and financially hinder new development. In addition, the combination of high costs of raw land and restrictions on allowable density further constrains production of the number of units that would be required to support SCAG's household projections.

You know the real reason why SCAG desires 140 "units," don't you? They want us to allow for the building of some 4 (or is that 3) story condo complexes. SCAG knows we don't have the land to spread all those "units" out, so 140 would effectively force us to build up. The dirty secret is that's exactly what the building trades folks want, and SCAG, as a compromised appendage of lobbyist run Sacramento, is only doing what it is being told to do. Something that could, should it be forced through, drag this City down to the planning level of Pasadena. And if you were a developer, wouldn't you want to build big old condo complexes rather than single family houses? At $500K a pop, condo profits are far higher because you get to sell so many more of them.

And SCAG's Employment Forecast for Sierra Madre also gets gently criticized in the following passage of our letter:

The City used alternate methodology that utilizes the actual employment characteristics in the City. According to business license information obtained from ReferenceUSA, the City concluded that the majority of businesses in Sierra Madre each employ between 1 and 4 employees, based on a count of 217 out of a total of 320 businesses, which translates into 70% of the jobs in the City. The remaining 30% includes already established larger employers comprised of public and private schools, and government agencies such as the US Postal Service and City Hall offices. This data reflects that local, community-serving retail and small-scale professional and service businesses characterize Sierra Madre. regional-size retail/commercial uses or corporate-size businesses, which typically result in large numbers of jobs, have not historically been attracted to Sierra Madre. Further, the small-scale character and limited density of the City's downtown district does not lend itself to larger employers.

Which is a nice way of saying that we're predominantly a pizza and latte' based economy, with most breadwinners having to travel elsewhere to make the kind of money it takes to live here. All of which makes SCAG's employment projections for both 2020 and 2035 seem rather daft.

So that is pretty much it. The first consequence of the disastrous SB 375 (aka, "The Destroy California Cities Act") process we'll be going through these next few years. And you do know that SCAG (which is basically Sacramento's messenger boy) can pretty much ignore our input if it so chooses. And since our debt-ridden state capitol, through such new laws, has pretty much nationalized the planning powers that used to be the heart and soul of cities like ours, maybe all we have left us is to write cautious letters.

Welcome to a world where the planning rights of California's cities no longer exist. Who knows, maybe their next step is to just assign Sector Numbers and do away with the notion of independent local government altogether.


  1. Hmm, so we've gone from quitting SCAG to sending polite
    "I beg to differ" letters?

    What sector is this again?

  2. ...and then there were John Buchanan's remarks that it would make Sierra Madre look bad if we did not have big growth numbers. What message would that send? John, the message is Serra Madre is build out and there ain't no more room.

  3. John is a gas bag. What will make Sierra Madre look bad are all those condos he wants to build downtown.

  4. Sierra Madre voter and taxpayerNovember 17, 2009 at 8:06 AM

    Thanks for this column today, Sir Eric.
    As usual, your common sense, based on facts is very hard to dispute.

    Additionally, I like your new photo box above Sites of Interest!
    Brilliant campaign slogan. Fact based as usual.

  5. Strictly from an economic effect on Sierra Madre, had it not been those few who saw thru the RHNA numbers sham, and what effect complying with the DSP would have meant. The city would now be in debt for unfunded infrastrucure improvements. We, the tax payers would have been saddled with having to pay out many millions of dollars because of an irresponsible mandate and at the time,a prodevelopment city council.

  6. So much of the SCAG and RHNA stuff just doesn;t pass the smell test. It is so fraudulent.

  7. What I worry about is the eminent threat of "eminent domain" if this gets a foot hold.
    It has happened all over the country....google New London, Conn. and eminent domain.
    This shocking story has been reported on TV news several times.
    It can and will happen here in Sierra Madre UNLESS we keep a slow growth City Council and a VIGILANT and ORGANIZED GROUP of RESIDENTS FOR RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT (SLOW GROWTH).
    We have both right now, let's keep it that way.

  8. There is no way Sacramento can make SB375 work without eminent domain. None.

  9. OMG, 10:32
    You're right!
    Sir Eric! What can we do to stop this?

  10. I received one of those town hall calls last night from Anthony Adams, I was asked what my question would be. I told the operator "I want to know what his vote was on SB 375 and what he was going to do to keep Calif from overcrowding and how he was going to keep eminent domain from happening like what happened in New London CT." I was left holding for 20 minutes and finally hung up because he never answered. Interesting. I would like to know how to get a tape of his town hall tape.

  11. You got one of those calls? I did, too. I just hung up. It was dinnertime and why should I ruin a good home cooked meal waiting to talk with that loser? But I guess I would have liked to ask him why he is listed as one of the Top 10 lobbyist gift recipients in Sacramento. Doubt he would have answered that one, either.

  12. Anthony Adams is a criminal. Every politician who voted for AB32 or SB375 is a criminal.
    All their names should be posted.
    Vote them or as in Anthony Adams case-recall them out of office.
    They need to be representing you, the voters, interests, not special interests.

  13. The problem couldn't be any clearer - the solution harder to see.
    Yes we'll vote these people out of office when we have the chance, but I still hope for some kind of small cities union that defeats Sacramento.
    So far, the city (cities?) that have sued about the RHNA numbers have lost, right?
    So does that mean we need to get clever lawyers to help us, and it has to be a court fight about the law?

  14. john is all about "looks" and perception mostly his own - i've tried to have a conversation with him and his ego is so overblown that he talks and all i hear is "blah blah blah"

  15. The odd thing is John and Joe think they're fooling people. But we've seen their act so many times now you pretty much know what they're going to say before they even say it.

  16. Today the special election in Orange County to replace Assemblyman Mike Duvall is taking place. On the ballot is anti-eminent doman crusader Chris Norby. Despite the huge sums of cash pumped into the race to defeat Norby, he is the favorite to win there. Keep your fingers crossed!

  17. Great post Ed.
    Please let us know the outcome.

  18. developers taste like chickenNovember 17, 2009 at 3:16 PM

    Wonderful way with words Sir Eric, as always your stories set me about getting better educated. I wanted to know who auntie scags disaplinarian would be, that would be CALCOG, but the internal calcoggers are know as Cog Directors Association of Calif CDAC, and they have minutes of a june or july 2009 meeting in which rusty selix, states they know 375 is going to be fought, or overturned. They are planning ahead of us, and we should plan ahead of them. But I kept looking for the text of the law passed in 1977. Did you know the word soviet means council? So we had a cold war against the council union for all those years, but I digress, I found CAPCOG, capital cog and a reference to a city called barrington who might have started the whole mess, but it is vague and ambiguous, I did find a US Codes by cornell university which came up after a 1977 council of governments search it deals with bonds redevelopment how the municipalities get to classify their projects. One description of a bit of statute law from pennsyvania..after I got a headache and became dazed and confused temporarily, I thought well the only recourse cities have are to say to SCAG,is what sierra madre did, of course being a positive person, I entertained the idea that all the SCAG cities would do the same i.e. thank you for your statistics, highly entertaining but we are fine in fact we will be fine for the next 10 years check with us then. A minute municipality rebellion against the evil overlords of Scag up to calcog to the halls of capcog.

  19. I had a rusty Selix once. But then I got a Mr. Coffee.

  20. anonymous 3:22 I was thinking dirty helix, sobriety is a good thing

  21. The gentleman sounds cog sinister ...

  22. Interesting to say the least, 3:16.
    CDAC is a few moves ahead and no doubt pouring their energies into self preservation.
    But doesn't it come down to the courts?
    That's barring a wide scale, wide-awake citizenry wresting back their rights.
    So if it comes down to court, what can CDAC do about it?

  23. The emphasis is on Sacramento and SB375 and RHNA and the immediate damage that can be done to SM and similar Cities at the state government level. I am curious as to the position of David Drier who runs his campaigns under the pitch that he is dedicated to making his district (gerymandered narrow and long) a "friendly to business district". Does he support RHNA and SB375 and the usurping of eminent domain? Would he favor expanding this capability to Washington? Just curious since we can vote for or against him in 2010.

  24. Great question 4:13.
    Drier has a lot of supporters in town, some of whom post.
    Hope we'll get an answer from them.

  25. I think Danny Castro wrote a good letter. Playing the polite politics, but not rolling over. We've certainly seen a lot worse....

  26. Yes we have seen a lot worse, 4:47. Kurt Christensen comes to mind, with his precise plans to develop everywhere, hillsides and downtown. The demolition of One Carter is what got him his next job. And he got out before the DSP blew up.

  27. Developers taste like chickenNovember 17, 2009 at 4:54 PM

    X, you will see Irvine as listed a model city if you read the UN Agenda 21 text, under the millenium part. By searching City of Irvine versus Southern Cailfornia Council of Governments, case number G040513. you can see how Irvine joined with at least a dozen other cities have already tried, to stop SCAG lost and it has been appealed and they will keep appealing up it to the federal courts.

    Please peruse the names of defendants counsel, you will see huff contributors, you will see chen, a Kenneth Moy, is he the relative of el montes recently asked to resign Eugene Moy, head of their very troubled redevelopment agency who was asked to resign but would not would not and was demoted? (not in the papers SGV tribune)
    I see fulbright and jawroski, (victor hsu) also behind titans bonds always around troubled bonds, it will be in the hard work of researching tatts, that will prove collusion, and illegal profitting that will eventually bring scag down. But if you want to do something now a letter to obama from all of us might work (Help we are overdeveloped, signed sunny california)

  28. Yes, Danny wrote a good letter, but he also got to toss some fairly substantial numbers to SCAG. 72 households? Where in the living hell will we put those? If that was the number SCAG had thrown at us originally, would we have thought that was a win? I don't think so.

  29. Absolutely right 4:57. A grim fact that the council debated and despite Buchanan's mightiest efforts at huffing and puffing and making the employment figures larger, that was as low a number as could be defended. That's what the council had to engineer - a good defense. The final number was the council's decision, not Mr. Castro's.
    So what will SCAG do? Come back with higher numbers.

  30. the more I learn about John Buchanan the more I wonder why I ever voted for him in his first election, musta fell for the Slick John jive but at least he'll be gone in a few months

    in the meantime, he's got to be watched closely, he's hell bent on creating a legacy of self importance for himself and needs to be held in check at council meetings

    i wonder if he rambles on and on and on in the closed door sessions?

  31. I think Johnny B mistakenly believes that when his fellow councilmembers sit slumped over and glassy eyed they're agreeing with him. If he knew what they were really thinking he'd probably start looking into hiring some security.

  32. joe and john and anthony....wow so many similarities to two other teriffic national women who are congential liars and just know how to spin the spiders web and convince people to BELIVE THEM, and them WHAM there goes the blame and the spin and the poor me it is the other person's fault and blah blah blah............wow, there are so many sociopaths who just know how to get into the American psyche. We MUST step back, wait, ask many many questions as difficult as it may be to hear the TRUTH, and not allow our emotions to wrap around our decisions. This is a very important time in CALIFORNIA and US history. We must get rid of SB 375. We must come together and work with everyone who support cities who have tried to stop SCAG, and no matter what, fight eminent domain.
    This crazy nonsense must stop NOW!

  33. Great thread today, Tattlers!

    I sure agree with 7:25!

    Let's fight!