Saturday, February 28, 2009

City Mouse: Welcome to the Evangelical Village of Sierra Madre

(Note: In the January/February 2006 edition of the legendary Sierra Madre News, the columnist simply known as City Mouse wrote about the Sierra Madre Congregational Church and its plans for downtown domination. And had Measure V been defeated, much of what is described below could very well have come into being. But despite that set back, and as we discovered last Tuesday night, the SMCC has never quite abandoned its ambitions. Only the techniques changed.) 

Readers may have heard about the Downtown Specific Plan, but have they heard about the Downtown Specific Plan within the Downtown Specific Plan for the Sierra Madre Congregational Church? If you aren't a member of the SMCC, you probably aren't aware of the tens of thousands of square feet of renovation and additional space to be built over the next three years, establishing the SMCC as the preeminent Evangelical Christian Church in the San Gabriel Valley.

Reminiscent of Herbert W. Armstrong's former World Wide Church of God's site in Pasadena (Ambassador College), SMCC envisions a campus which would include dormitories, classrooms, assembly halls, a gymnasium, and commercial operations to support thousands of Evangelical Congregationalists and its worldwide missions.

Favorable constructability assurances by the Planning Department led SMCC to sign a 4,700 square foot sub-lease with R/C Modeler. This space will be used as classroom and assembly spaces for its SMCC Ministries. Also planned along the boulevard are a canteen, coffee shop, Christian news stand, florist, and shops, as well as specialty boutiques offering handicrafts from the many countries in which the church operates. Local Christian merchants have been approached about relocating to the soon to be built SMCC retail complex. Help Wanted ads have been placed and interviews have been initiated.

According to Tower Notes, October 20, 2005, a publication of the SMCC, construction has already begun:

The first smaller projects have already begun starting with the seismic upgrade and remodeling of the Hospitality House. A new kitchen is being installed, and new doors added for convenient access to class rooms and office space. Serving windows will enable snacks to be dispensed from the kitchen to people outside ... Also underway is the engineering work for relocation of power lines and the placement of other utilities that will be needed as we build out the north side of our campus ... The next visible project will be the remodeling of the New Life Center and the addition of a second floor over the one-story parts of the building to add several new children's classrooms. Besides adding classroom space, this project will make the building stronger, provide for more usable spaces in the existing areas, and provide safer exiting from the upstairs.

SMCC claims to have raised more than $3,500,00 of the estimated $7,000,000 (for Phase I) necessary to build up and out on both the north and south sides of Sierra Madre Boulevard, and east along the boulevard.

Kurt Christiansen, former Director of Development for the City of Sierra Madre, reviewed SMCC's master plan (called a Specific Plan by the City) prior to leaving to work for the City of Yorba Linda, and according to Ken Cromeenes, SMCC Business Administrator, Kurt indicated that once the City had passed the Downtown Specific Plan, it would generally mean a green light for SMCC to build under the expedited approval process. The Downtown Specific Plan is expected to be approved by the end of this month.

Be very clear -- once the Downtown Specific Plan is approved, the Master Plan/Specific Plan for the expanded SMCC campus is automatically approved. That is the meaning of "expidited approval process." No planning, no public hearing, no Planning Commission, and no City Council appeal.

(More tomorrow ..)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Did the Congregational Church Deliberately End Run Sierra Madre's City Council?

This is how it is supposed to work. The Planning Commission reviews applications for building projects, and then either approves, recommends changes, or rejects them outright. And on rare occasions a change to the General Plan is required as well. This occurs when a proposed building is not in line with the zoning regulations of an area in question. And General Plan changes are not lightly given. Think of it as trying to get a new Amendment added to the United States Constitution. It's just about that hard. And the only people who can authorize a change to the General Plan in Sierra Madre (and almost everywhere else) are those brave individuals that we elect to serve on our City Council.

Why is this the case? Without zoning regulations bad things might happen, stuff that really isn't in the best interests of the people living here. Like, let's say, a insecticide factory being built beside a nursery school. Or a sewage processing plant constructed next to a restaurant dedicated to fine dining. You get the picture. And zoning regulations help maintain a community's value as well. A well-ordered and maintained community being a much more enjoyable and safe place to live.

But apparently our friends at the Congregational Church somehow missed out on this very basic lesson in polite civic behavior. Or, if they actually knew about this stuff, did they deliberately ignore the zoning laws of Sierra Madre in order to illegally construct a building? One that might not be where it currently stands this time next year?

In case you have yet to behold the structure in question, it is located just north of Sierra Madre Boulevard and to the east side of Hermosa. It is a two level expansion of this Church's storied edifice located just around that corner.

Among several other things, the Congregational Church requested an amendment to this city's General Plan at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. This amendment was one of the conditions the Planning Commission had decreed as being part of the approval process for the Church's New Life Center building project. Of course, ordinarily when someone wants to build a building here in town, they get their city approvals done first. But apparently what the folks at the Congregational Church did was build the building and then ask for the City Council's approval. A most irregular way of doing business. Kind of like driving a brand new car without first going through the unpleasant process of paying for it. Or even getting a driver's license.

As was pointed out by a visibly annoyed Mayor Zimmerman, the Planning Commission required the Church to obtain this General Plan amendment before it began the actual construction of the project. That requirement was more than reasonable given that the Church was requesting permission to build an "institutional" project on parcels of land zoned commercial. The Planning Commission's condition of approval stated that the Church must first "obtain the City's approval of a General Plan Amendment to designate the subject properties as Institutional."

However, and as we learned Tuesday night, the Church just went ahead and built their project without getting the necessary amendment done first. Just up and did it. According to the Church's business manager, who was present and spoke at this meeting, the City told the Church it could build the project without obtaining the amendment if it simply applied for the amendment. Who in the City told the Church this patently absurd information? The Church's business manager seemed unable to say. Nor did the Church's business manager care to comment on why the Church would go to all the trouble and expense of constructing such an edifice based on what was obviously erroneous information. Didn't they realize they were taking just a wee bit of a chance here? And that maybe they'd want to check around a little first? Call a phone friend? Especially when the Planning Commission specifically told them that getting the nod from the City Council on that amendment thing was a key condition for their approval? I mean, Sierra Madre does have a couple of bulldozers, you know.

Something else that was rather odd about all of this. The Planning Commission heard the Church's request for the amendment in January of this year. And the resolution the Planning Commission adopted approving the amendment change, which was forwarded to the City Council for its necessary approval last Tuesday, leaves out that rather significant detail about the Church already having built the building. You can only wonder who it is that they thought they were fooling. Maybe they were all experiencing a shared senior moment?

A couple of questions for you. Is this "New Life Center" constructed in that part of Sierra Madre covered by Measure V? Seems that it is to me. And if so, does anybody know if it is in compliance with 2-30-13? We're going to need to get out the measuring tape and see what's up with that one. Should we bring Sandy Levin along, just in case? And some crowbars and saws to help with any compliance issues?

Update (7:50AM): I just got a call from Mayor Zimmerman, and he is demanding that the head of the Planning Commission address the City Council at the next meeting. Additionally he has requested that Development Services get over to Hermosa and measure this building for possible 2-30-13 violations.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Last Night's Sierra Madre City Council Meeting

I've been wanting to try something different. Rather than me setting the agenda, I thought I'd open it up and invite everyone to discuss what they thought were the most important or interesting things that happened at last night's Sierra Madre City Council meeting. If you were writing the posts for this blog, what would you have discussed this morning?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So Which Joe Do YOU Know?

I like to explore the internet and uncover the many wonderful things to be found there. And what makes it even more rewarding is that I get to share these things with the growing readership here on The Tattler. And sometimes you can find the most amazing things. Like did you know that Joe Mosca has three very distinctly different story lines happening at the same time on the web? It's true. Now you could say that maybe its because of sloppy image maintenance. Or that perhaps Joe really does have an Eddie Haskell-like ability to craft a unique story for whoever he happens to be speaking with at the time? Or maybe it's just that he forgets stuff sometimes. That can happen to anyone. And who knows, maybe there are more than three? That just happens to be where I stopped.

The first Joe can be found on his personal website. This is something designed to promote his political career by hopefully helping him create and maintain the public image of being a warm and fuzzy guy. Unfortunately the writing style is rather cloying, and it all comes off like he believes he's writing for the cerebrally challenged. Get a load of this small hillock of effluence:

"For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be an attorney, which I think was because many of the great leaders of our country had been legally trained and because the legal profession is a helping profession."

Now I know quite a few lawyers, and I can't think of many that would describe their difficult profession in quite that way. Tough minded? Sure. Hard-nosed courtroom warriors? Without a doubt. Determined to do what it takes to bring their client's cause to a just conclusion? Of course. But Mother Teresa? Mmm, not sure about that.

So exactly who is the Joe we're speaking of now? Here is the description he provides:

"Professionally, for about eight years now, I have been working as an attorney in the area of insolvency law. I work mostly with small businesses and individuals to aid them in achieving financial independence and overcoming financial hardships. I very much enjoy my work and really feel that I am making a difference for my clients."

The second Joe is to be found on the always helpful City of Sierra Madre website. (As an aside, it is a lot more than just a resource for weather updates, and you really should spend more time there. I do, and the rewards are palpable.) On this site we see less of Joe the lawyer who cares and more about an ambitious and rising young Los Angeles County bureaucrat:

"(Joe) serves as the City Council liason to the Sierra Madre Community Services Commission and to the Sierra Madre Elementary School. Additionally, he represents the community as a member of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, League of California Cities, Environmental Quality Committee, Los Angeles Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Community, Environment, and Human Development Committee, Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Managment Audit Advisory Committee ..."

Whew! It does go on. You can only wonder how he finds the time to continue caring for his clients. Of course, many of these positions are SCAG related, an organization strongly committed to bringing high-density overdevelopment to quaint little foothill cities such as ours. And in the name of saving the world, of course. But this does raise a question. How is it that a politician elected by the voters to work as their City Councilman would want to take on jobs in outside governmental organizations whose agendas are largely antithetical to the interests of the people who first elevated him?

The third Joe is the one the fewest people seem to know about. This from the Leadership Southern California Class of 2009 Fellows site. (You can link to it here, and when you do scroll down to page 7).

"Joseph Mosca Public Affairs Manager Southern California Gas Company: Mosca practiced consumer and corporate bankruptcy law from 1999 to 2008 and is now employed by Southern California Gas Company, Sempra Energy Utilities. Additionally, Mosca was elected to Sierra Madre's City Council in 2006 ..."  

(Ned Lamont, the Connecticut Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Joe Lieberman for that state's U.S. Senate seat, posted an interesting piece on his blog comparing Sempra Energy to Enron. You can link to it here.)

So there you have it. Quite an adventure. So which Joe is the one that you know? The lawyer with the tender touch? The rising young L.A. County bureaucrat? Or the middle management mouthpiece for The Gas Company? It's almost like we don't really know the guy. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Stonehouse Mystery

Readers from the early days of The Tattler might recall an article we posted entitled One Carter - Stonehouse Auction: Can We Say White Elephant? The article talks about a real estate auction that took place on the front steps of the Pomona Superior Courts Building. I was there for the occasion, and I do recall it being damned cold standing outside those hallowed halls of justice while the auctioneer went through what seemed to be around 400 locations. Places that were in the process of becoming the former homes of the people then living in them. A very sobering experience.

But the good stuff did finally arrive, and the auction of the One Carter and Stonehouse properties was set to begin. The advertised 2-for-1 original price was $51 million, but I guess the representatives of Land America Default Services in attendance wanted to jazz things up a bit, because they set up what was for all intents and purposes a fire sale. The minimum bid for the One Carter Disaster was set at $19 million, with Stonehouse at $7 million. And this minimum bid nonsense was unfortunate because the $900 I had on me for the purpose of taking control of these properties was obviously not going to be enough. But had I been allowed to get in on the action I would have been the only one there doing so. Because on that cold and blustery December day, not a single solitary person put in a bid for either of those 2 properties.

So now it is late February, it is still cold, One Carter is still the White Elephant of the suckers holding the paper, and they're still pushing mud around up there. But what is up with Stonehouse? If you go to the Redfin.com site for properties sold here in town recently you'll notice something rather surprising. Scroll down to items 2, 3, and 4. Three different Stonehouse properties, and each was sold for the very same price of $7 million each. Or three times what the entire place was going for at auction last December! And check out the differences in the sizes of the houses. One is 1,212 square feet, another 5,700 square feet. Yet the prices are exactly the same.

Several people e-mailed me on this, including the person who first uncovered these mysterious transactions. And a person far wiser than I on these matters sent in the following:

"I opened the site I was sent and see now that these three different parcels with three different houses sold for $7 million each. How can that compute when they couldn't even get $7 million for the whole of Stonehouse last December? Two of the houses can be seen from Grandview and are on long lots that move northward from Grandview. The Heflin House is on the bigger parcel but the swimming pool is on the Grandview eastern most lot. My guess is that we will see three projects come forward for smaller developments that might be easier to finance."

I suppose the first step is finding out who exactly bought these properties. Then, of course, we'll have to let them know that they paid a hell of a lot more than they would have had they hung out with us in Pomona back before Christmas. And I did have $900 to contribute. But after that?

The symmetry of the buys in particular confuses me. Why would three distinctly different places within the Stonehouse suzerainty sell for the exact same price? Lucky 7s? I just don't get it. I'm throwing this one open to anyone who cares to weigh in. Anybody know what's up with this?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Moral Relativism of the "Stop The Sierra Madre Smoking Ban" Movement

There is a term going around where I work, one used to describe how an organization can lose touch with the big world outside and slide into irrelevance. It is called reality creation. Reality creation is something that happens when the same 10 people sit in a meeting room year after year and tell each other what they believe everyone there wants to hear. And since everybody in the room seems to be in agreement on what is being said, it therefore must be true. Let's have some food sent in and talk about it some more.

An example of the reality creation process in action would go like this. In a first meeting everyone agrees that the company needs to create an exciting new marketing campaign, one that will bring renewed life to the same old stuff, driving numbers and helping the company achieve its goals. So all get down to work, pencil out costs and finances, and by the end of the meeting everyone agrees some important work has been done. The session ends with the understanding that the matter will be taken up again at the next confab. So the next meeting comes around, and everyone looks at the numbers discussed the last time. But at this meeting the necessity of fiscal economy comes into play. The erasers come out, and last meeting's bold marketing plan is eventually whittled away into nothing. Soon everyone is congratulating each other on all the money they've saved the company.

We have interns at work, college kids mostly, and we mighty executives are required to talk to them once in a while. You know, so that we might share our immense wisdom with them and they in turn get something out of working for us for free. So I sat down and talked with the kid currently assigned to me. I told him the story I just related above, and expected him to marvel at such insight. But he just stared at me for a second. "Oh," he said, "you're talking about moral relativism." Umm, sure kid. Of course I was.

There is a ton of information on moral relativism available on-line, and the best and most easily grasped definitions that I've found are on a site called, get this, Moral Relativism. They explain it this way:

"Moral relativism is the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right and wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person's individual choice. We can all decide what is right for ourselves. You decide what's right for you, and I'll decide what is right for me. Moral relativism says, 'It's true for me, if I believe it.'" 

The article then goes on to put the concept into an historical setting.

"Moral relativism has steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society, a culture that was previously governed by a 'Judeo-Christian' view of morality. While these 'Judeo-Christian' standards continue to be the foundation for civil law, most people hold to the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes, but can be determined by each individual. Morals and ethics can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next. Essentially, moral relativism says that anything goes, because life is ultimately without meaning."

And nowhere is this concept of moral relativism more perfectly realized than in what we're seeing from the Stop the Sierra Madre Smoking Ban movement. It's not that these people are deliberately attempting to be deceitful or dishonest (well, at least the kids aren't), but more that they really do believe in what they are saying. And they believe it because it is something that fits what they feel is important to them, which in their minds makes all the mountains of evidence to the contrary irrelevant. If decades of scientifically proven data does not fit in with what they have chosen to believe, then it must not be true. 

I've pulled together 3 examples that I think will highlight what I'm talking about here. The first comes from the Facebook site that serves as a kind of electronic home base for this effort.

"What the council doesn't want to admit is that no reputable studies exist that demonstrate health risks associated to second-hand smoke. The prevailing study, published by the EPA over 15 years ago was lambasted by a Federal court, which concluded that the EPA 'cherry-picked' its data to reach a predetermined conclusion."

Of course, this is pure rubbish. There are literally hundreds of studies that conclusively prove that cigarette smoke is a known carcinogen, and that whether you come into contact with it by directly inhaling it from a cigarette, or get it second hand, the result is the same. It can and will kill you. And to blithely state that the reason so many believe this is because a 15 year old Environmental Protection Agency report cooked it all up is, well, certainly a leap of faith. But what does it matter if that is what you've chosen to believe? After all, is there really any kind of empirical evidence that can possibly challenge what you have chosen to accept as your very own personal version of reality?

The second and third examples I will cite come from comments that were left with our original posting on this topic. The person who blessed us these effluent droppings of wisdom chose to post this anonymously, which is fine. But I think anyone familiar with both the writing style and reasoning processes will easily figure out who the author is.

"More government intrusion into our personal lives is a non-issue for these people. It's the same mentality as the moralist bigots who used outright lies and deceit to push for the passage of Proposition 8 last year."

As someone who emphatically and wholeheartedly voted against Prop 8, and actively encouraged others to do so as well, I find this reasoning to be a little offensive. To equate the historic discrimination against Gay people in this country with the desire of Beavis and Butthead to sit for hours in front of Beantown and Lucky Baldwins stinking up the air with toxic cigarette smoke is a bit much. But in the moral relativistic view even people such as our slacker pals can find support for the belief that they are victims, and that their cause is actually a struggle for liberation against an unfair government. They're not just some inconvenienced dudes hanging out on a sunny afternoon, they're an oppressed minority.

This last cite is a true howler.

"First cite some real, statistically significant studies that conclusively demonstrate serious health risks from exposure to ETS that are not backed up by organizations with an agenda. ACS (American Cancer Society) and the ALA (American Lung Association) have a stated goal to push for a tobacco-free country via legislation."

So let me get this straight. Is the author actually suggesting here that the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, organizations that actually have conclusively demonstrated the relationship between secondhand smoke and cancer, should not engage in any proactive discussions on their findings because to do so would give them the appearance of having an agenda, therefore making all those findings somehow suspect? And that in order to maintain credibility they should just shut up about it? Yeah, I guess he is. But you see, in his view those findings could lead to the government further regulating the consumption of tobacco, which would be oppression, and isn't that far worse than a lot of unimportant people dying of lung cancer from secondhand smoke? 

Ah well, its been fun. I fully expect the STSMSB folks to be fully bummed out when the City Council harshes their collective mellow. And who knows, maybe they'll knock over a garbage can or two on their way back over to Baldwin to express their umbrage. But those who are pulling the strings behind this put up nonsense? I'm sure they'll be back very soon with something just as fun-filled and zany.

We'll be waiting for them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tattler Breaking News: Contempt Hearing Scheduled in the Deuxamis Case for March 12

From the Plaintiff's declaration: "HENDERSON has disobeyed the Judgement in that she failed and continues to refuse to remove the word 'OBSERVER' in all Mountain Views-Observer newspapers, published both in print and on website and on any other documents bearing the name, 'Mountain Views-Observer.'"

This hearing has been scheduled to take place @ The Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, N.E. Distict, located @ 300 E. Walnut Street in Pasadena. Happens on March 12, 2009 at 8:30 a.m. in Department R. The case number here remains GC 039149.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Now on Facebook: STOP the Sierra Madre Smoking Ban!

Just when you think you've seen all of the most ridiculous things that life has to offer, the great cosmic clown in the sky steps up and hurls another big fat cream filled pie in your face. Ah well, at least it teaches humility.

So let me get this straight, there is now a new campaign on the march in this town, and it involves getting kids together to fight for a great cause? Apparently so, and right on, man! So they're organizing to help stop the war in Iraq, right? Bring peace to the Middle East? Get the troops back home? No? Oh, OK. So they're attacking racism in the hopes that we can live in freedom and equality, right? Not that either? Hmm. Oh, I know. They're forming groups that will stop the clear-cutting of our last remaining old growth forests? Not that either? So what is this cause?!?

Well, I'm afraid for that one you're just going to have to go to the "Stop The Smoking Ban -Bad for Business - Bad for Sierra Madre" website on Facebook. Are you familiar with Facebook? It is a site for kids looking to find other like-minded kids to hang out with, and originally was only available to college students. Later it was open to a more general public, though it is still very much a youth oriented affair.

So here is what these Sierra Madre Smokers have to say on Facebook about the topic of their woe:

The Sierra Madre City Council is proposing an ordinance to prohibit smoking in outdoor dining areas. The Council is of the opinion that outdoor exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, or second-hand smoke) is directly responsible for putting non-smokers at risk for respiratory problems and disease.

What the Council doesn't want to admit is that no reputable studies exist that demonstrate health risks associated with exposure to second-hand smoke. The prevailing study, published by the EPA over 15 years ago was lambasted by a Federal court, which concluded that the EPA "cherry picked" its data to reach a predetermined conclusion.

Umm, got any cites to back up that bucket of baloney, Marlboro Man? Because I have 3 cites here that would contest your claims, and all are far more recent than that "15 years ago" figure you're throwing around. And from world class medical organizations and not the "EPA." Click on any of them. And there are lots more where these came from.




The Marlboro Man continues:

Smokers don't like being defamed, being insulted, being called "addicts" or "junkies," being sent out in the cold and rain, or away from the building to smoke, having children taught to hate and fear us, being called "ignorant, selfish child abusers" or even worse, vilified as "murderers" with regards to second-hand smoke.

Good Lord, who writes this stuff? And did they take advanced diet medication shortly before doing so? I mean, are these people actually attempting to equate their tobacco smoking plight with what happened to oppressed minorities back in the bad old days? Are we actually talking victim culture here?

Let's see, now what else does this site reveal? There is a claim that the site has 92 members, which seems like a lot. Ah! But 70 haven't replied, which means that the vast majority of the names on here are from those folks who try and get their mugs on every site in the Facebook universe.

But there are some prominent local family names included here as well. Spigai-Perez, Brandley, and Lambdin? (To access the members list you will need to set up a Facebook account.)

Uh oh. Can it actually be that members of families prominent in the fight to defeat Measure V and open Sierra Madre up to the Great California Condo Invasion are now actively working to encourage kids in their nascent tobacco addictions? Or even more bizarre, are they actually attempting to organize youthful cigarette smokers to fight City Hall? And for what purpose? I mean, it can't be for the utterly stupid reasons that they're talking about here, can it? What is this, 1975?

It appears that there is also a website, which can be accessed here. Allow me to share a quote or two:

The Sierra Madre City council wants to take away your rights! We are building a grassroots coalition of smokers and non-smokers committed to stopping Sierra Madre's proposed outdoor dining area smoking ban. Nonsmokers have a safe haven indoors, yet many still want to restrict those who choose to smoke from doing so outdoors ... Stand with us in solidarity and let the city council know that we won't allow them to label us as criminals.

All the kiddy manipulation aside, what cause could be less popular in this or any other town than that of folks who stand around the fronts of restaurants and coffee shops smoking cigarettes? Outdoor brown bag wine enthusiasts? Litter bugs? People who use leaf blowers at 7 o'clock in the morning?

You just have to ask. What are these people drinking?

We Have A Winner In Our "Where Is Centinel" Contest!

Ladies and gentleman, meet the fellow that I have now come to believe is the mysterious Centinel. AKA Todd Ruiz, former political writer of some consequence for the Pasadena Star News and ex-editor of their now duller than death Under the Dome blogsite. (In that sad case he is actually missed.) This guy even cussed me out there once, which, given what we're revealing here, adds personal joy to this discovery. So how am I so certain that this actually is the elusive spiritual leader of the once prominent Foothill Cities Blog? The self-styled Centinel of the San Gabriel Valley? I'm not, actually. But I have been presented with a pretty compelling (if somewhat circumstantial) case, and I'm going with it. Life on the edge, that is what being Eric Maundry is all about.

The winner of this contest first came to my attention on February 17, @ 3:44 PM to be exact. That is when her post under the "Anonymous" rubric first came to my attention. There had been quite a few guesses up until that point and, just like my own desperate attempts, they were mostly improvisations out of not a whole lot of information. This Centinel person had obviously hidden his tracks well. But this particular Anonymous made a post that convinced me that here was a person who knew quite a lot about Pasadena, the newspaper writers there, and its once vibrant blogosphere. 

I was always under the impression that Centinel was a journalist or someone closely associated with the City of Pasadena. He/she seemed very intelligent and well informed about the goings on in Pasadena. I thought he/she may have been Todd Ruiz, the former political reporter for the Pasadena Star News. Or he may have been one of the editors or journalists who work for/contribute to the Pasadena Weekly. If Centinel is not a journalist, then I am guessing he is a former City Councilmember, like Paul Little.

Now if you read my response to this informed post, you'll see that I totally bit on the Paul Little angle. I asked some questions, and assumed that I had figured something out. But the next day I received the following e-mail, and it was then that I started to believe we really had our man.

The reason I thought Centinel may be Todd Ruiz is the fact that he stopped blogging at the Foothill Cities blog around the same time he announced he and his wife (significant other?) were moving to Marrakesh. See his blog (here), and the Foothills Cities blog from the same time periods of mid-December 2008 through January 2009.  Additionally, Pasadena's Most Electrifying Man, Aaron Proctor made the comment on February 17, 2009 at 9:20 AM, while referring to Centinel, "Last I heard he got on a plane with Big Bopper and Buddy Holly." I thought he was implying that Centinel has left the state/country, not that he was dead in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield.

Circumstantial evidence? Sure. But the pieces of the puzzle fit quite snugly. Buddy Holly died when his plane crashed. But Centinel? He no longer existed because that guise was dead once its owner hopped a plane to Camelville. And that he would have two blogs would make sense. One was where he hung out with the people who knew him, and on the other he put on his Centinal face and yapped with the lokes about stuff like interstate construction techniques and PUSD school board candidates. And remember that last e-mail I referred to in the original article? The two word response to my inquiry about his whereabouts, "Life happens?" That would certainly fit as well.

And then there is this passage on the Aaron Proctor Effect where Pasadena's now exiled Most Electrifying Man reveals the following:

Former journalistic Superstar and a good acquaintance of mine, Todd Ruiz, is moving to Morocco. Marrakesh to be exact. I guess Todd's a huge Crosby, Stills and Nash fan. Who would have thought it? Seriously though, I wish my erstwhile friend and his lovely female companion (the elusive "Ms. Vanity") good luck.

Aaron Proctor, of course, was the star contributor to Foothill Cities when that site was in its prime.

The final piece of the puzzle can be found be on the Foothill Cities site itself. As you will quickly surmise, it is pretty much doornail dead. There is no vision or drive, just two guys from Monrovia very comfortable with the notion that their city is interesting enough without them having to try and make it actually seem that way. The FC is now empty because the fellow who was the life of the party left it all behind for a new life with his main squeeze in Morocco. 

So who is our highly informed winner of a six pack of Modelo Especial? I have not been given permission to reveal her identity here, so I will not. But big props to "Anonymous!" As far as I can tell, you've cracked the biggest local blog mystery of all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dorn Platz Evicting Small Businesses In Altadena

Dorn Platz once played a very special role here in Sierra Madre, enabled by perhaps the worst City Council this town has ever endured. One Carter being the lasting monument to both this woefully inept developer and the incompetent elected officials that did everything they possibly could to please. 

I received an e-mail yesterday from a Camille Dudley regarding Dorn Platz and their current activities in the neighboring city of Altadena. I wasn't the only one copied on this, people such as Senators Boxer and Feinstein, Michael Antonovich, and Congressman Adam Schiff were also included. As were news organizations like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, CBS TV News, and Channel 4 News. Here's what the e-mail has to say:

Another original Lincoln Crossing tenant facing eviction

Bobby Thompson, owner of BJR Copy Center in Lincoln Crossing in Altadena has received an eviction notice from Dorn Platz. Thompson will be the third of the first original tenants to lose his business in this development. It was on the backs of these minority owned community businesses that the Lincoln Crossing project was able to secure Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to assist in the development of this project. Now that the developer no longer needs their eligibility to help, they are being discarded. Will Matts Pharmacy be next? Why has the Supervisor stepped out of the picture? The County Community Development Commission (CDC) was responsible for the mismanagement of this project. Who is accountable for this injustice to people who have put their life savings into a business?

Dorn Platz has had a rein of development terror in California and Oregon for too long. These are not developers, they are criminals that prey on honest people. It is time for Law Enforcement to step in and control these criminals that are ruining the lives of honest hard working people. And as honest people all of you should be MAD AS HELL because this could be your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your friend that is being abused by a so-called businessman/developer. This is a development that was meant to be a benefit to the community, to retain Altadena businesses in the community, to invite new businesses into the community, to upgrade the business district along Lincoln Avenue and to encourage new businesses among other things. NOT destroy small business owners and cause division among Altadena residents.

The e-mail ends with a plea to the reader to contact Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, Congressman Adam Schiff, among others. 

Unfortunately, and I take little pleasure in saying this, the good people of Altadena are about to learn that mainline Democrats in this part of the world are pretty much owned by developers and their lobbyists. After all, didn't Sierra Madre look at least in part to Democrats when just such developers descended on this town? And what happened? They sent us Joe Mosca

If you think about it, it's a lot like the chicken calling Colonel Sanders with a complaint about frying pans. 

As an example of the culpability of Democratic officials, here is a portion of a January 24, 2008 article from the Pasadena Star News entitled "County Official Rips Lincoln Crossing."

In the past year alone, the Lincoln Crossing development has been plagued by leaks, floundering businesses, construction delays and lawsuits. For some county planning commissioners, a persistent and seemingly inexplicable smell of sewage wafting through the shopping center seemed the final straw ... "This is a tremendous developer failure, a lack of monitoring, and I'll go on record with these comments," District 1 Commissioner Esther Valdez said. "The community deserves better and than this, and they are not getting it."

Sounds like someone stood up and took the proper stand here, right? The article continues.

Representatives for the developer and county Supervisor Michael Antonovich say, however, that the shopping center at Lincoln Avenue and Woodbury Drive is less a mismanaged disaster than a fledgling project shaking off growing pains. "Perhaps before Commissioner Valdez disparages a project in the 5th District, she should have all the information," Paul Novak, planning deputy for Antonovich said Wednesday. "I think, overall, my concern is that Commissioner Valdez is only hearing from one segment of the community ... the five or six individuals who regularly complain about the project."

Ah yes, it is always about those regular five or six individuals, no matter where you go. Towards the end of the article it is noted that the sewage smells "persisted for more than a year." I wonder, is that is how they do shopping and dining in Paul Novak's neighborhood? Somehow I doubt it.

So how many of those newspapers and politicians named above do you think will actually act upon what Camille Dudley sent to them? How many will launch investigations into what is going on in Altadena? Issue reports? Take strong actions? Outside of maybe the Pasadena papers, my guess is not a single one. Like I said in another post, we're pretty much on our own now. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tattler Is Offering A 6 Pack Of Modelo Especial To Anyone Who Can Identify The Whereabouts Of Centinel

Some of you might be aware of a blog called Foothill Cities and its controversial editor, a fellow who rather elegantly refers to himself as the Centinel of the San Gabriel Valley. That nobody knows his real name only adds to the mystery here. In its prime the FC Blog was an extraordinarily popular site with a vast cast of characters posting articles, plus a frighteningly large community of folks willing to leave comments. Foothill Cities covered the affairs of a number of cities located in the beautiful San Gabriel Valley, and each of these fine municipalities had folks willing to write about their very special place. Sierra Madre had 2 correspondents, myself and the now all but vanished publisher of the 91024: A View From The Canyon site, Niney

For a while the FC Blog was the place to go when you wanted to vent about local issues. And because of this it had become just about the most influential blog this side of Los Angeles. References and quotes from Foothill Cities could be found all over the Los Angeles blogosphere, and it looked like there was nowhere to go but up for Centinel.

But then bad things happened. First the FC Blog was hit by a vast invasion of destructive dirt cutouts who were there only to engage in abusive flame wars with some of the other habitues of the place. Centinel found this to be extremely stressful as he didn't have the time to do the kind of maintenance necessary to control the more offensive stuff. This led him to begin curbing some of the content of his writers in hopes of diminishing the hubbub. An unfortunate decision that led to bad feelings and a sense that the site was losing the freshness and spontaneity that made it so popular. A few of the more prominent contributors began to walk away.
 
Something that was of even more importance to Centinel was the declining reputation of the blog itself. His ambition had been to create a site that could hold its own with some of the big Los Angeles blogs such as LAist, L.A. Observed, and L.A. Streetsblog. But what he got for his troubles instead was a website known for being little more than a place for brutal and bizarre flame wars. The brand suffered a significant reputation decline.

And then one day the FC Blog disappeared, with no explanation given. Rumors swirled. One had it that Centinel had fled the state because, like his associate Aaron Proctor, the powers that be in Pasadena had grown sick of all the guff and had sicced their dogs on him. Others claimed that Centinel's obsessive need for secrecy had somehow been compromised, and rather than risking a career threatening exposure, he pulled the plug and went into seclusion. And others surmised that he'd merely grown sick of the abuse and just gave it all up. What nobody guessed was that the FC Blog shared its database with another blog, and that its less responsible partner crashed the site, in the process losing everything that had ever been posted on the site. Years of material were lost.

Several months ago Foothill Cities made what appeared to be an attempt at a comeback. After months in limbo a new look blog was unveiled, and Centinel seemed quite upbeat about the future of his site. Some of his old contributors signed back on, and things began to take shape again. But then something happened, and nobody seems to know what that was.

I was corresponding with Centinel at the end. I had informed him that I had started my own blog, and that I was looking for him to review it. This he agreed to do, and even set a date for the notice to appear. But it never posted. In time I e-mailed and asked him what happened. The answer that came back was short, cryptic, and kind of eerie. "Life happens," is all it said. And I've never heard from him since.

Today the FC Blog is a pale shadow of its old self. Only the Monrovia mainstays, Frazgo and Robert "C. J." Parry, remain. Probably because they're the only ones left with dashboard access. And if the affairs of that town aren't what gets you out of bed in the morning, then I'm afraid you won't want to spend much time there. The posts are now infrequent and decidedly parochial.

So we're offering a 6 pack of beer for news on the whereabouts of Centinel. If he isn't going to run his blog, that's his business. But at least we should all be filled in on how the story ended. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The News Vans Are Circling

Took the 2 wheeled Maundry News Van up into the canyon and ran into these guys. Now it is, in my opinion, a good thing that people all over the country care about our mudslide problems in Sierra Madre. We have a serious situation here, and this kind of attention can only help us with awareness. And with heavy rains predicted over the next 48 hours, their presence is understandable. I'm sure the ratings points are quite nice for such events. But there is something that does occur to me at times like this. Wouldn't it be great if these kinds of news resources were to show up here to cover something besides mudslides? Or even at some of our sister cities here in the San Gabriel Valley? There is a lot more to what goes on in the foothills than just mud. And we certainly have more to offer than merely serving as stock victims of a fickle Mother Nature. Yet somehow this is all our friends in the television news world think is worth covering in places like Sierra Madre. And the print media as well, come to think of it.

Update: The City of Sierra Madre has now downgraded the situation to Red Flag Alert status. Looks like tomorrow is going to be a rough one.

The Laughable "Journalism" Of Dean Lee

Dean Lee has become something of a sad case these days. At the peak of his newsie career he was an unremarkable reporter for some of the San Gabriel Valley weeklies, filing stories on flower shows, pie tastings, and floppy hat photo ops. But his fortunes have apparently fallen so low that he has now been forced to write for the Mountain Views "Observer." Which in this case means cobbling together hackwork designed to support the complicated business and political agendas of that publication's publisher and obituary writer, Susan Henderson.

Case in point. It has become obvious that Ms. Henderson is of the belief that the Skilled Nursing Facility is a roaring controversy in town, and that she is building some tremendous political capital for her candidates in 2010 by publishing highly deceptive articles about the boarded up medical facility. Even to the point of printing fabrications so obviously untrue that they have become something of a town joke.

And to give you an idea of just how irony challenged the "Observer's" publisher is, did you notice the picture of the SNF on the cover of the January 31 issue of her paper? The term "boarded up eyesore" was used to describe it. Yet elsewhere in the very same issue there is a photo collage of 11 buildings in the Pasadena area whose tenants have apparently gone belly up. Including a picture of a United States Post Office, which at last report is expected to survive the recession. So why is it that such a thing is a tragedy in Pasadena, but an "eyesore" in Sierra Madre? That's easy. Susan doesn't see herself "advising" any political candidates in Pasadena. Apparently they have real campaign managers there.

Dean Lee has now filed 2 stories on the Skilled Nursing Facility in 2 weeks. And the inconsistencies are both bizarre and humorous. In his January 31st piece, Dean darkly bemoans the lack of discussion on this topic at the January 27 City Council meeting, claiming that our elected officials, while promising to discuss the matter at that confab, failed to deliver. At least in Dean's opinion. And then, just so you the reader understands just how deep the conspiracy at work here really is, Mr. Lee goes on to make this observation:

"... the city council failed at the end of their meeting to mention a special meeting scheduled for February 3, 2008 (sic) to discuss economic stimulus projects ... The meeting that will begin at 6:00 p.m. in the council chambers has only one agenda item that reads 'Recommendation that the city council authorize Staff's submittal of federal economic projects, and authorize the city's federal lobbyist to advocate for said projects.'"

Obviously it would be possible for attempts to claim federal dough for Skilled Nursing Facility matters to be on the agenda for the 2/3 meeting. And since the matter did come up, there you are. So when Dean intimated in his January 31st article that the City Council had further conspired not to discuss the matter, he was either fibbing or the point just flew over his head.

In the February 7 issue of the "Observer," Dean Lee dishonored the memory of some perfectly innocent trees by submitting an article about the 2/3 meeting entitled "Will Washington Bail Out Sierra Madre?" Now, of course, Sierra Madre is not on the verge of bankruptcy, and therefore the "bailout" Dean deceptively writes of here is hardly necessary. Fiscally challenged? Sure, most cities are. But no bailout has been requested. However, many possible uses for federal money were discussed, and just as long as Washington is conducting a colossal cash giveaway, why shouldn't we take advantage and get our mitts on some?

Then Dean Lee just brings it all home with this rather revealing paragraph:

"Toward the end of the 1.5 hour single topic meeting, the council got slightly off topic, discussing the idea of swapping the Skilled Nursing Center (sic) property across the street from City Hall with current library property at the west end of Sierra Madre Boulevard."

Putting aside the novel notion that Sierra Madre Boulevard ends at Michellinda Avenue, obviously Dean is doing some backtracking here. Having implied the previous week that the February 3rd meeting was about a "single topic," and therefore the Skilled Nursing Facility would not be discussed, any mention of it would have to be "slightly off topic," correct?

Now Dean might argue that this "land swap" discussion was off topic for this special meeting because it had nothing to do with federal funding. But then how would you explain the paragraph in this very same article quoting the Mayor on the topic of, you guessed it, federal funding and the Skilled Nursing Facility? 

"'Even with federal funding I imagine what is required is we, the city, agree to dramatically relax its limitations on height and density.' He further explained this would lead to a tall and dense condominium complex."

The next time the "Observer" brings the Cub Scouts in for a chat at the paper's offices, perhaps the topic of journalism should be brought up. I'm sure the Scouts will have some highly valuable insights to share with the publisher and her befuddled reporter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Debunking The "Los Angeles Sprawl" Myth

There is a big old debate going on over at a blog called Freakonomics (The Hidden Side Of Everything), which is run by the New York Times. One of its contributors is Eric A. Morris, who apparently is a writer who likes to take on some of the bigger shibboleths of these here days. And judging by the vehemence contained in some of the responses to his article debunking the myth of "Los Angeles Sprawl," it would appear that Mr. Morris has struck something of a nerve.

The myth of Los Angeles as a wasteful low density sprawl that consumes vast tracts of land for little real purpose is pretty much at the heart of any justification for high density development, costly and slow to complete light-rail expansion, and redevelopment (a term that basically means ripping down existing homes in favor of multi-dwelling buildings). And as such it is a myth that is vigorously defended whenever it is challenged. 

After all, isn't this the core argument presented by SCAG and their ilk, that the only way to somehow save Los Angeles is to disembowel small suburban cities like Sierra Madre and replace them with acres of generic parti-colored condos and yuppified boutique shops? That this might be seen for what it is, "big lie" propaganda designed to enable the development lobbies to deliver for their greedy and land hungry patrons, makes the wannabe bureaucrats staffing these organizations quite chapped.

So here's how Morris debunks this myth and puts it all into a refreshingly frank perspective. And while there are other questions that will be dealt with later, here he discusses the old bugaboo of "Los Angeles Sprawl."

-------------- --------- ------- -- - -   --    -      - ---     -
Common Stereotype: Los Angeles has developed in a low-density, sprawling pattern.

Answer: False. As of the 2000 census, the Los Angeles region's urbanized area had the highest population density in the nation. Yes, that was the word "highest," not a smudge on your monitor. At 7,068 people per square mile, Los Angeles is considerable denser than New York-Newark, which ranks fourth at 5,309 people per square mile (behind San Francisco-Oakland and San Jose as well as Los Angeles). How can this be?

It is true that Los Angeles's downtown disappoints, especially when compared with such thriving urban cores as midtown Manhattan, Downtown san francisco, or Chicago's Loop. However, despite the fact that Los Angeles's center is comparatively low-density, its peripheral areas are considerably denser than the suburb's of other cities.

Los Angeles's homes sit on very small lots, in part due to the difficulty of providing water infrastructure to new developments. (Other southwestern cities share this trait.) Moreover, Los Angeles has a large immigrant population that lives in very high densities. The area also has very few vacant lots.

So if the fundamental characteristic of sprawl is low density, Los Angeles is the least-sprawling city in the nation. (The least dense among the 40 largest metro areas is Atlanta.)
----------- ------------- ---- --------- ---   ----   --  - -  -

Nice to hear the truth for a change, eh? Gosh, maybe Los Angeles County isn't such a bad place after all. A little crowded perhaps, but structurally sound. And perhaps those preaching the religion of radical infrastructure change here are basing their arguments on something other than reality? With perhaps the real agenda being the money to be made by their patrons should their dreams here come true?

Friday, February 13, 2009

How The Police Officers' Association Beat City Hall, And Why We Are Broke Today


(Note: this is a reprint of an article that originally appeared on the Foothills Cities Blog in March of 2008. The reason for reprinting it here is that the issues of our precarious city finances, the Police pay raise, and the User Utility Tax have become news again. Yesterday's article here being an example. It is also an accounting of just how poorly labor negotiations can go for cities represented by incapable officials. What is discussed here isn't the only factor, but certainly this blown negotiation has become a major contributor to this city's current financial hardships.)

(03/06/08): The political advertising for our fast approaching April 8th election has begun to hit the Maundry mailbox, which is great news for this observer. One of my favorite things to do at election time is check out campaign literature and pick out the whoppers and wild absurdities. I just love this stuff, I really do.

Today I received a colorful sheet of paper encouraging me to re-elect Enid Joffe. On this sheet are several claims of accomplishment, none of which struck me as being all that special. Quite the opposite, actually. But this postal fodder did bring me some happiness, because there on her little list was the following claim:

"Negotiated the first 3 year agreement with the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association in more than a decade."

Now there can be no doubt that there is a new agreement, and truly a deal was done. But if by the word "negotiated" Enid meant that she worked out something that was advantageous to nobody but the people she was dealing with, then I would say she truly rose to the occasion. Because after you read what I am about to reveal to you here, I think you will agree that Enid Joffe, along with John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, were quite neatly played by the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association. In other words, all 3 were taken for a ride by a smarter and more creative adversary.

On February 15, 2007, The Sierra Madre Weekly published an article entitled, "Sierra Madre Police Not Happy With New Deal." This article detailed the complete collapse of negotiations between the City of Sierra Madre, as represented by its City Council, and the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association (POA).

"The Sierra Madre City Council has approved a new compensation agreement for the police department, the first one in several years, but it is far from what the officers were proposing and will not be the last word heard on the issue. After years of negotiating for a new contract the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association and the City recently declared an impasse and both sides last, best and final offers were presented to the council at their meeting Tuesday night."

The issue being negotiated was a salary raise for the Police Department. They're poorly paid, and had received little in the way of improved compensation in quite some time. Both the Police Department and the City had agreed that a 4% raise would work, but there was a sticking point. The POA insisted that this raise be made retroactive to July 1, 2004, with certain overtime considerations as well. Enid Joffe, John Buchanan, and Joe Mosca declared this a deal breaker. Don Watts and Kurt Zimmerman worked to keep the negotiations going, but those hopes were dashed as the final vote came in at 3 to 2 to approve the 4% raise, sans the retroactive pay and overtime demand. 

And while the POA had hoped to continue the process as well, they knew things had come to an end. And besides, they had another plan, one that included taking their case straight to the voters of Sierra Madre. The Weekly article continues:

"According to (Dieter) Dammeier, the POA intends to reject the offer and seek binding arbitration. There is also a petition being circulated in the community calling for a vote on a ballot initiative that would require the city to pay the police equal to the next lowest paid department in the San Gabriel Valley."

Remember that the raise proposed by both sides in February of 2007 was 4%. And that Enid Joffe, along with Buchanan and Mosca, got hung up on the retroactive pay and overtime issues, and killed it.

On December 27, 2007, the Sierra Madre Weekly published an article entitled, "City of Sierra Madre and POA Reach Agreement."

"The City of Sierra Madre and the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association (POA) reached an agreement last Tuesday settling the long-running salary dispute. A three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) approved by the City Council gives the POA an average salary boost of nine percent beginning July 1, 2008. This will be followed by an average of an eight percent increase in the second year and a seven percent the third year."

So the cops, realizing that there was no point in negotiating with Mayor Joffe and those other two, went out and got enough signatures to get the issue of their raise on the ballot. And how did that work out for them? I'd say rather well. Using the initiative they had placed on the ballot as a negotiation club, the POA effectively forced the City Council to not only reopen talks, but to get a much better deal as well. Remember the 4% raise the POA was ready to agree to back in February of 2007? Well, thanks to the celebrated negotiating power of Mayor Enid Joffe, that 4% had now become a whopping 24% raise over the course of three years!

And apparently that wasn't the only bad news.

"City Manager Elaine Aguilar stated, 'Implementation of the MOU is contingent upon the proposed passage of the Utility User Tax Measure at the April 8, 2008 election.'"

So not only did Mayor Enid Joffe screw up the opportunity to give our cops a 4% raise instead of the 24% raise we're looking at now, she has also been forced to push for a UUT tax hike in order to pay for it! And how did Enid react to the debacle?

"This is a historic agreement between the City of Sierra Madre and the Police Officers' Association."

Historic, as in just about as poorly run a labor negotiation as has ever been seen in this part of the world historic? I could agree with that. I do have to hand it to the cops, they played this one very smartly. But as a taxpayer I'd have to say that this is a disaster, and those who brought it upon us need to be held responsible. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do John Buchanan & Joe Mosca Have A Conflict of Interest Problem On the Solar Panel Permits Question?

Tuesday's City Council meeting had an exciting moment or two. The invasion of the cigarette kids was certainly colorful. If only they could show that level of youthful energy and commitment to issues that don't involve addictive behaviors guaranteed to lop a few decades off your life. Or somebody else's. But the part of the meeting that this dedicated Channel 3 viewer found particularly engrossing dealt with the lowering or possibly even abolishing of permit fees for the installation of solar panels on private homes.

Now the issues are more complex than they might first appear. Certainly everyone should be in favor of energy technologies that will help liberate this country from its debilitating dependence on foreign oil. And what could be better than a technology that produces electricity without contributing to the air pollution problems that Los Angeles County is so famous for? I for one salute anyone making the considerable investment it takes to have such things added to their home energy arsenal. And since I have been told that putting 22 foot high wind turbines on my roof is legally out of the question, I might start looking into solar panels myself.

But, of course, politics intrudes, and as is usually the case it involves potential giveaways that could cause this city having to take a considerable hit to its already precarious finances.

A little history. In a last ditch effort to win the approval of the voters during our previous election cycle, the administration of former Mayor Enid Joffe (with the support of John Buchanan and Joe Mosca), saddled this city with a 3 year commitment to give rather large pay increases to our Police Department. Hailed at the time by Enid's fans as a "historic solution" to a long simmering pay dispute with our cops, to many it seemed that the then Mayor was actually ransoming our city's financial future in order to prolong her at risk political career.

And where it gets even worse is that we ended up getting hit with a tax increase to pay for it. Our User Utility Tax was expanded to take in all forms of energy and communications short of smoke signals, with the additional money raised being used to pay for Joffe's generosity towards our men in blue. The UUT hike was put to the voters for approval and, unlike this observer, most people voted for it. That the police would later turn around and sue us for even more money is an unintended consequence that I will happily rub your noses in at another time.

So anyway, now it is 2009, and we have John Buchanan and Joe Mosca passionately calling for a deep cut in the city permit fees that people pay when they install solar panels. Installing these things is no cheap proposition, and it is possible to spend as much as $50,000 for the honor, with city fees for both the permit and inspections coming to around $1,050. And what John and Joe want to do is impair this source of city income by either lowering or completely abolishing these fees.

And what is ironic here is that this hit to Sierra Madre's finances would also negatively impact our User Utility Tax moneys as well. A kind of double jeopardy that would now include the very taxes we had to hike in order to pay for the police department wage increases. You see, if more people get solar panels, it means more people who won't be buying taxable electricity. Which means they won't be taxed. That a city running a $3oo,000 deficit should be incentivizing people to install systems that will take away the ability to collect utility tax money is hard to fathom. Particularly when that city is as small and financially challenged as Sierra Madre.

And even if the funds were to come from the state through AB 811, would it be appropriate for these particular employees to also be the salesmen? After all, we pay state taxes as well.

Of course, what Buchanan and Mosca are really doing here is playing politics. This agenda allows them to grandstand on a "Green" platform while at the same time offering de facto tax cuts to that small portion of our town wealthy enough to afford this very expensive technology. And while in time it may become possible to tax solar produced electricity, it hasn't happened yet. So isn't this the kind of politics that got this country into the fiscal debacle we face today? Feel good palaver coupled with financial breaks and handouts for the well-to-do in the face of large fiscal deficits? Certainly a tactic George W. Bush would feel comfortable with.

On the potential conflict of interest problem, here's the skinny. Both John Buchanan and Joe Mosca are attorneys working for large energy corporations. John Buchanan is employed by Southern California Edison, a goliath with huge investments in solar energy technology. Joe Mosca is currently working for Sempra Energy, another energy mega-corporation that has made significant capital commitments to solar power. The patents these companies hold alone put them at the center of any solar technology considerations.

So here is my question. Why would these two city councilmen, both employees of corporations with massive investments in solar technology, be working so hard to get this city to financially incentivize those citizens willing and able to purchase solar energy systems? Doesn't this at the very least give the appearance of being a conflict of interest?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Could A Blog Have Stopped Bernie Madoff?

What we're looking at here is an article from a Wall Street blog entitled Exchanges - Blogging About NYSE Euronext Markets. And the discussion is about Bernard Madoff, the man charged with perpetrating what could turn out to be the largest investor fraud ever committed by a lone individual. And just how big a fraud are we talking about here? According to USLaw.com, Madoff, a former head of the NASDAQ Stock Exchange and the owner of the highly regarded (at least until recently) Madoff Securities LLC, is now suspected of defrauding approximately 10,000 individuals out of well over $50 Billion dollars. Quite an achievement.
 
If you're prone to weltschmerz (and when it comes to celebrity controversy such as this, who isn't?) you can go to USLaw.com's Madoff Client Database and map out the victims of this fraud through the use of advanced satellite technology. You'll be interested to discover that Bernie's victims are from all the very best neighborhoods.

Victim's of the Madoff Scandal include such celebrity figures as Steven Spielberg, Uma Thurman, Henry Kissinger, Larry King, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, and, even though he's been dead for awhile, John Denver

But what we're really talking about today is the sad case of one Harry Markopolos. You see, Harry knew all about what Madoff was up to, and he had just the evidence to prove it. And what did he do with this information? All the right things. And, of course, because he did, very few people got to hear his warnings, and even less did something about it. Here's where we're going to let the Exchanges Blog take over.

Perhaps the biggest irony of the Bernard Madoff case is that Harry Markopolos, the investor-turned-investigator who for years warned other investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission that Mr. Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, today is haunted by regrets that he was not more effective in getting others to heed his whistle blowing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Markopolos shouldn't fault himself; rather, he deserves immense credit and appreciation. He did more than anyone else to sound the alarm. According to the article, he did manage to warn off some prospective Madoff investors. The SEC inspector general is investigating how the agency missed the alleged fraud, but surely Mr. Markopolos bears no blame. He sent the SEC and investors a detailed 19-page analysis, listing 25 red flags about Mr. Madoff's supposed investment results.

Certainly any failure to convince others was not due to a lack of effort. Perhaps Mr. Markopolos lacked only an effective medium to communicate his warning. Here's a thought experiment: What would have happened if Mr. Markopolos had blogged his analysis? That is, what if he had posted the entire piece on a blog, under his name or a pseudonym?

Interesting. Here is a guy who had information that, if properly disseminated, would have saved thousands of people from the indignity of having been robbed of all their savings. And, being a decent fellow who was seriously attempting to do what he thought was the right thing, went to the Securities and Exchange Commission with the goods. And what happened? The Feds then in turn promptly either ignored or even lost Harry's evidence. So what this article is suggesting is that had Harry simply turned on his computer, set up let's say a Blogger account (which is the on-line host of the highly regarded Sierra Madre Tattler), and started a blog called something like Bernie Madoff Is A Dirty Rotten Lying Thief, he could very well have had a far more profound and effective influence in this world.

Something to think about.  

(Note: thanks to the always excellent Pasadena Sub Rosa for pointing out the Exchanges article.)