Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sir Eric Maundry In The Belly Of A Most Banal Beast (plus) The Pasadena Star News Grapples With Absurdity

I don't know about you, but I find that I need to remind myself sometimes of just what a bureaucrat and bureaucracies are really all about. Left to my druthers I am likely to imagine a group of rather aggressive tyrannical fellows (like out of a film from the 1940s) bent on exacting a terrible cost on things and people I care about. But it really isn't like that at all. Bureaucrats are actually quite passive aggressive. They don't deliberately do anything bad, they just do what they're told to do. And the odd thing is that you can complain in the most demonstrative way about what they're doing and how they're doing it, and they'll just nod their heads and take it. Or they'll even agree with you, smile, then shake your hand and tell you how glad they are to see you, and thanks for attending. Then go back to doing whatever destructive function it is they get paid to do.

Kind of reminds me of a Carla Bley lyric from the old noir jazz classic Escalator Over The Hill. "They don't bite, they chew."

So I went down to the SCAG "Transportation Planning Process" confab at their rather posh top floor offices in downtown Los Angeles last night. This was a meeting where, at least on paper, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration were to find out from those in attendance how well SCAG performs its portion of the "planning process." In addition to myself both Mayor MacGillivray and Mayor Pro Tem Watts were in attendance as well, which made us about 36.35% of the guests who attended in L.A. In addition there were people attending in five of the SCAG satellite offices as well, each of which were linked to the mothership via the magic of teleconferencing. Attendance in these outer orbit locations averaging around two guests each. This was the total turnout for a meeting that apparently was promoted through e-mail blasts to 180 city governments (which apparently nobody saw), and numerous web notifications available to the entire SCAG region. Something that could make you believe that SCAG is not that highly regarded by its constituents.

Michelle Noch from the Federal Highway Administration emcee'd the affair, with Ted Matley of the Federal Transit Administration apparently filling the role of wise elder. And each of us were invited to get up and share what was on our minds, but only if we adhered to the three minutes alloted to us. Ms. Noch, who has both the demeanor and vocal tonalities of an NPR call-in radio show host, read off the names of those wishing to speak, and each of us did. There was a woman from some sort of road construction outfit out of San Diego who spoke about the transporting of "aggregate" in an ecologically efficient manner. A gentleman from a bicycle rider advocacy group said he was not happy about SCAG's representation on the issue of bike lanes. Others briefly spoke their opinions as well. The gentleman pictured above demonstrably related his concerns. And while I was not exactly sure what he was representing, he does seem to be a guy who enjoys raising hell at meetings like this. And I suspect he doesn't miss very many. Unfortunately his lack of focus coupled with an apparently overweening need to appear controversial and bold blunted the effect of his message. Whatever it was. He definitely was not happy about SCAG though, which was a good thing.

And those of us from Sierra Madre made comments as well. The gist of which being that SCAG, which is supposed to represent our needs in Sacramento, actually functions as more of an enforcer for the lobbyist driven decision making of our state capital, coercing the member (and non-member) cities in its region to accept centrally generated RHNA numbers that more often than not defy any true planning logic. That and they don't seem to care about any other opinion than those put out by the state legislature. And then there is the issue about Sacramento seizing city planning control by de facto fiat. An ugly power grab showing a stunning disregard for democratic principles that go back to the very founding of this state.

And after each of our comments, and those of the handful attendees from the satellite offices (who seemed mostly to be planted lower level government employees eager to express a deep abiding adoration for SCAG) Ms. Noch, in that NPR announcer voice, thanked us for our comments.

Now it was only after the public comment part of the review process was over that an actual conversation broke out. This meeting, which was scheduled for an hour and a half, still had quite a bit of time to go, and the Feds, along with the many SCAG gentlemen and ladies standing near the doorway (including Commissar Ikhrata, who appeared fascinated by the cookies and fruit provided for the attendees), seemed to have some time on their hands. Maybe their dinner reservations weren't until later in the evening, or perhaps "the process" dictated that the entire hour and a half be used. But we all talked, and it was then that the futility of this meeting became apparent.

For it was here that Mr. Matley revealed the shocking banality of this strange exercise. It wasn't any of our specific complaints that he was concerned about. And while he appreciated the passion and dedication of those who showed up (apparently this was the best attendance they'd had in years for this meeting), he couldn't really use any of that. What this was really all about was "the process" of SCAG's role in the Federal Transportation planning apparatus. When questioned by Mayor MacGillivray about the purpose of a "process" that never comes to a conclusion about the issues raised by it, Mr. Matley smiled in a weary sort of way, said he understood, but that just isn't what he does. He is just concerned with the process, but not really too involved with what exactly becomes of it. A revelation of paper-thin logic that validated the opinions of the assembled guests about self-perpetuating bureaucracies and the futility of such things.

Commissar Ikhrata, reluctantly raising his eyes from the food tray, also revealed the essence of this bureaucratic miasma. Repeating the message he delivered during a recent Sierra Madre City Council meeting, he reiterated how none of this is the fault of SCAG, and that there is little that he can really do about it anyway. You see, and as he hoped we would understand, what happens as a result of the process has nothing to do with them. They just do what they are told by Sacramento. And when Mayor MacGillivray questioned him about this, a look of empathy appeared on his face. "They don't listen," he said.

The process, it's all about the process. Like building a sand castle at the beach, and then watching it get washed away in the rising tide. Over and over again.

Sometimes Mr. Ikhrata reminds me of Sargeant Schultz from the old TV situation comedy Hogan's Heros. Though perhaps he is not quite as demonstrative.

As a most fortunate coincidence (I guess this is just my lucky morning), there is an article in today's Pasadena Star News reinforcing that sense of futility within "the process," plus SCAG's functional impotency. This piece, entitled Sierra Madre withholds dues from regional planning organization, discusses the decision to withhold our $1,000 dues payment from SCAG until they do something to actually earn it. Which seems pretty logical to me. Why pay good tax money to an organization that appears to have more to do with the vanity of its individual members than getting any concrete results for them?

But will they actually ever do that? Check out the following juxtaposition of two paragraphs from this article. The first from noted SCAG apologist John Buchanan, the second from SCAG President Jon Edney.

"SCAG is a metropolitan planning organization that simply is charged with implementing some of the (mandates)," Councilman John Buchanan said. "If you want to send a message, you're sending it to the wrong people. You should be going to talk to the state legislature."

And now this from Jon Edney:

"I suppose if you made the argument that if the City of Sierra Madre withdrew membership dues, and SCAG would have no impact over transportation in Sierra Madre, you could say that's their choice," Edney said. "But in fact, that's not going to be the case. They're still going to have to be going through the same things they've gone through - they're just not going to have a place at the table."

Not having a seat at the table does sound troublesome. But if that table really doesn't mean anything, and the people sitting at it are not heard by the those who actually count as Ikhrata and Buchanan revealed, is it worth the $1,000 to participate in a process that goes nowhere and never comes to a conclusion? Apparently SCAG is more of a cop than a judge.

And certainly there has to be some kind of metaphor in that the President of SCAG is a City Councilman from El Centro, a place wracked by both extreme poverty and one of the highest crime rates in the country.

In this article Joe Mosca once again reveals his re-election strategy of simultaneously speaking out of both sides of his mouth while in essence saying nothing.

Councilman Joe Mosca said he has problems with both SB 375, the state's recently passed ant--sprawl bill, and the state's housing mandates, but he called the move to withhold fees from SCAG "unproductive."

That Joe Mosca serves on the SCAG board responsible for the RHNA numbers caused by these state mandates, and until recently chaired the SGVCOG committee charged with enforcing SB 375 locally, makes his "problems" here seem a little suspect. But I guess expecting authenticity from The Carpetbagger is kind of like trying to get blood out of a stone. Just ain't going to happen.


  1. OMG! Sir Eric, it's even worse than we thought!
    Good grief, attending a SCAG meeting is truly an exercise in futility.
    No way should we pay even $1.00 to this awful group.

  2. Just the facts mamDecember 3, 2009 at 7:13 AM

    Well, I feel guilty. Wish we could have filled the room with all of us that talk about the problems and what should be done. What should be done is go the distance to be heard and get involved. Would have been nice to have some support from the community that showed a strength that could be heard all the way to Sacramento and back. Next time I know about it I'll be there to support my leaders so they don't have to stand alone. Thank you Mayor MacGillivary, Mayor Pro Tem Watts and Sir Eric.

  3. sergeant schultz, is from Hogan's Hero's.

  4. I thought Sargeant Schultz was from SCAG...

  5. No, that's the Cookie Monster.

  6. Just another indication of how dysfunctional government is
    this state. Public education is a disaster, Sacramento is in a
    financial crisis, and yet somehw money is found to keep
    things such as this entirely useless organization in existence.
    You can only wonder how things got so bad.

  7. I sure hope any of you reading this who don't live in Sierra Madre will contact your city council and demand they follow Sierra Madre's protest against this SCAG group of useless bureaucrats!
    What a scam and insult to honest citizens!

    Thanks for reporting this, Sir Eric and even more thanks to you, MaryAnn and Don for enduring attending this "meeting".

  8. Ofcourse they are doing nothing.They are not suppose to.The function of SCAG and the other levels of bureaucrats is to separate the people from their government..turning representative government on its head ;leaving us ,instead ,with a supreme autocracy.

  9. Has anybody seen Mr. Edney? He seems to have wandered off.

  10. Wilber...

    perhaps he has a touch of Montezuma's revenge?

  11. Yeah. Dude should know better than to drink the water.

  12. Seems the only honest and legitimate reporter in the area besides Sir Eric, is Alfred Lee of the Star News.
    Thanks for covering the story A.L.
    Most local papers never report accurate accounts of anything of importance in Sierra Madre.

  13. Getting It Right For A ChangeDecember 3, 2009 at 8:29 AM

    I would like to clear up a misconception being put forth on this blog this morning that SCAG members drink water. They are fully cognizant of the consequences of water drinking in the SCAG region. Which is why they switched to Kool Aid years ago.

  14. SCAG is the "functionary" that carries out the SB 375 madate, which is to ramrod development into existing communities regardless of the ability of the infrastructure or the environment to support this kind of bloated buildout. It's structure effectively nullifies CEQA, since it's been used so successfully in the past by communities to shut down overdevelopment.

    So you have legislation supposedly to mitigate and assign (?) greenhouse gas emissions (tailpipe stuff) which totally destroys the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA rightfully addresses the larger issue that development is responsible for the majority of emissions and environmental damage, consuming resources that we no longer have. Traffic is just the red herring.

    What's the point? Well, California is almost nothing but a real estate engine now, and the Federal banks need product, of which California delivers the most of as a significant part of the GDP of the State, translating into a very big part of what's keeping the Treasury afloat.

    Thank goodness Wall Street's "seeing alpha" has moved on to buying out insurance policies on people with limited life expectancies and bundling those tranches as investment vehicles. That would slow down all this the funding being made available for developers to build for a profit even though there's no middle-class takers at the end of the pipeline.

    Except for China, the Saudis, and other foreign investors.

  15. Lisa Barlow!
    Your comment is brilliant.We appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us.BRAVO.

  16. Correction....LAURIE BARLOW.sorry about the error.

  17. L.Barlow......thank you so much for your post.
    This really spells out what we are responding to.

    Please post on our blog more often.

    We are sick of lobbyists for special development interests feeding us bs.

    We are sick of the two on our council here in Sierra Madre. Buchanan and Mosca.

  18. Sick of manually typing info said:

    News report out this morning -
    The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced the availability of $280 million in funds to go to urban transportation projects such as streetcars, buses, and bus facilities. Priority will be given to projects that allow communities to become walkable and incorporate mixed use development.

  19. Barlow,
    thanks again for the information....damn it, the plot thickens.

  20. Well, California has these Council of Government structures that the State has set up impose growth numbers into all counties, this has been status quo since at least 1980. SB 375 is just diabolical in its structure, however. Seems like a desperation move to undercut community resistance using CEQA.

    I don't know what other states are doing in terms of their development and build out strategies to encourage growth. It would be interesting to see what they're doing in this environment to take advantage of the funding streams from public and private sectors.

    It would seem that the Feds have developed public policies that provide funding directly to development projects as well as Greenspan/Bernanke's leveraging the credit situation by removing the controls on the banking system that formerly kept credit from getting out of control. This leads to destructive growth bubbles. Even John Mack (Morgan Stanley) has said recently that the system cannot control itself.

    I thought we figured that out in the 1930's.

  21. The DOT can keep their damn buses. We pass. Now leave us alone.

  22. RE:L Barlow...Thank you..even though I find your information,chilling.However it is reality and we need to be informed!

  23. L. Barlow,
    The commercial real estate bubble bursting is going get worse and worse.
    Dubai was only the tip of the iceberg.

    What can we do to protect CEQA and overturn SB375?

    We have to get the control back to the people,
    thanks for your input.

  24. If you attended the last City Council Meeting, you heard Council Member Buchanan state that he appeared before SCAG a few years ago and argued that the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers (i.e. low income housing allocated to the City) were flat wrong and should be reduced.

    Now, he's taken a different tack and essentially told the Star News that it's not SCAG's fault that we are allocated such unrealistic high RHNA numbers because SCAG is doing Sacramento's bidding.

    His logic eludes me. If SCAG doesn't have discretion to reduce the RHNA numbers, then why did he argue for a reduction before SCAG?

  25. Somebody should ask Joe Mosca how many times he's been to Sacramento on the City's dime, how much of the City's dime he spent, and most importantly, whether he's ever asked a legislator to repeal/amend the RHNA law, SB 375 and/or similar laws.

  26. I'm guessing that Mosca has never asked a legislator to repeal/amend laws that require the City to build more housing.

  27. And, I'm guessing that he has been to Sacramento several time son the City's dime.

  28. For Johnny B truth is a moving target.

  29. Just read the Star News article.
    1) Alfred Lee is a good reporter.
    2) Edney is not focusing. All this malarky about "having a place at the table"
    Doesn't do any city any damn bit of good.

  30. I think Mr. Edney is concerned about a mass desertion from SCAG by cities disgusted by the state and their real estate scams. There is a lot of anger in city halls all over California these days, and serious concerns about the anticipated huge wave of RHNA madness in a couple years when the SB 375 thing hits. I think we could be looking at a city rebellion in the next year or so.

  31. The state of our state is enough to cause despair - and the obvious lack of integrity and intelligence in our state and some local politicians is gob-smacking.
    We are beyond lucky here, and have to kick Joe to the curb as we should have a long tome ago. John will be rendered ineffective, and a slow growth majority will have to continue the good fight for a small town's survival.

  32. Good memory skillsDecember 3, 2009 at 3:19 PM

    Hey Tattler!
    A perfect description of Mr. Mosca:
    "Or they'll even agree with you, smile, then shake your hand and tell you how glad they are to see you, and thanks for attending. Then go back to doing whatever destructive function it is they get paid to do."

    His best thing is "I just wanna thank......."

  33. Joe's most cloying stock statement: "We need to come up with solutions that not only work, but are also true to the values we hold so close to our hearts."

    Like fingernails on a blackboard.

  34. Bet he rehearses that little speech.

  35. I'll bet he thinks it means something.

  36. Joe Mosca and John Buchanan are lobbyists.
    They do NOT represent the people of Sierra Madre, they never have.

    The people in this town need to wake up and get rid of these types.

    We have honest representitives in Zimmerman, Watts and MacGillivray.

    We have an honest jounalist in Sir Eric Maundry.
    Here's a guy who has a full time job, school age kids and a wife. In yet this decent man is willing to spend his time and resources fighting for the truth, the truth for us.

    We owe you all a ton, Sir Eric, Kurt, Don and MaryAnn.

  37. Excellant story, Mr Maundry. Very glad you covered the SCAG meeting. Climategate is changing everything. SB 375 is being promoted heavily by the Natural Resources Defense Council, it is on the SB 375 site some rockefellers are involved. I was searching some intials a commentor made the other day and What came up was T H E D U L C E B O O K, on page 39 there is a reference to natural resources defense council. which is very mippy since the book has been around quite a while. Spooky..

  38. That is horrible news about NRDC promoting SB375, but without NRDC, the other species on this planet are toast.

  39. Sir Eric is a first class journalist!

    Poster at 4:56 is right. He does this as a defender of TRUTH.

    Poster DTLC....spooky ain't the word for it.

  40. The reason NRDC is boosting this thing is because one of its founders, John Bryson (former CEO of Edison) has to play his role in the whole greenwash thing. It's all politics. More development, more SCE sales for the new distributed power system on the boards.

    The concept (a million solar roofs) is not a problem, but forcing massive development into communities is. Partly a reaction to local communities/HOA's not permitting solar panels on roofs due to appearances, I think. Also the solar funding and tax breaks rides with new development.

    The urgency to do something about the obvious climate changes we're seeing is having some unintended consequences that actually worsen the problem. But nobody can escape the politics around this thing, even Mr. Bryson.

  41. Wee Tattler - and isn't that really a very sad thing? There actually is a global warming problem, and something really should be done about it. But all we see in California is powerful lobbies like the BIA and CAR using it as a tool to get something they've wanted for years, limitless development. 5 years ago the rationale for development was a population explosion. But now that it has become obvious people are leaving the state instead (we're about to lose a Congressional district for the first time in state history), a new pitch was needed. And what is it? Building high density neighborhoods will save us from global warming!

    And people wonder why the voters are so cynical about their government.

  42. Sir Eric,
    Any chance of giving us a report of today's SCAG farce?
    I'm pretty sure MaryAnn and Don attended today.

    Last time I talked to Don Watts, he was pretty disgusted with the SCAG deal. Like his friend, fellow architect, Laurie Barlow, Don fully understands just how insidious this group is.

    MaryAnn is equally dubious of their usefulness, as is Kurt Zimmerman.

    Again, our three heroes are looking out for us, instead of developers and Sacramento scoundrels.

    After reading the Tattler today, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that our fabulous council majority did the right thing in refusing to just fork over a thousand bucks to SCAG.

  43. J.R. - Definitely will, though it won't be tomorrow. Came across some info today that I found pretty interesting. Someone has actually come up with the wooden stake that could slay the SB 375 vampire. Something that would take SCAG, the BIA, and the rest of the cabal down as well. Post will be up tomorrow morning.