Wednesday, September 30, 2009

RHNA Numbers, Karen Warner, and Class Warfare

Here's the thing that really bothered me about last night's meeting involving housing elements, our RHNA numbers, and all the rest of the coercive balderdash. When Karen Warner points out to us properties that could be rezoned to possibly accommodate multi-unit high density style redevelopment, who actually lives on these properties now? Well, the properties that do have people living on them are home to some of Sierra Madre's poorest people. There are exceptions, of course. But in my bicycle trips around this town, I have had an opportunity to check some of these places out. And most of them are the homes of our town's most economically disadvantaged residents.

So who would the potential beneficiaries be? The people that could profit through the rezoning of these properties for possible high-density development? Wealthy developers, of course. One of the hardest commodities to come by in this largely built-out area is property to build on. And developers are always looking for new places to do just that. It's what they do. And unless they are constructing something, they aren't getting any richer. Which is why they exert so much pressure on Sacramento to juice up RHNA numbers. This really is about money, you know.

Now the canard that we keep hearing is that these new 16 (or whatever) unit barns would be built for the benefit of low income people. But, and as Karen Warner took some pains to point out, once finished there are no real guarantees that these joints will be either rented or sold at a level considered to be low income. They could very well end up being moved for whatever the market will bear. Which is where the real money is.

So if that is a conceivable likelihood, what exactly are we talking about here? Can it be that by initiating planning that could result in separating Sierra Madre's poorest residents from their current homes, what we are really doing here is starting a process that could make property available for the needs of wealthy developers? That is a perspective that somehow never seems to get considered.

We've all heard about green washing. Can it be this is poor washing? Public Relations use of low income people and their housing challenges to justify grabbing their property for the actual benefit of people who are wealthy? While in reality just making the low income housing situation worse?

Consider this to be an open thread.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday At The Movies

Last Tuesday's City Council meeting will go down as one of the more momentous gatherings in Sierra Madre's long history. And it wasn't just about the entertainment value, either. This meeting saw themes that had been germinating for years beneath the surface of this town suddenly blossom and take shape. With a decidedly new take on regional governance being the result. And anyone who saw what happened that night will never view the old regime and its guileful politics in quite the same way. We're on to something new and great here. This city has just turned a corner, and in the process put a lot of bad things firmly in the past.

Thanks to the hard work of the Residents' Research Team (Video Division) and Neuroblast Films we now have an easily accessed highlight reel of this meeting. And in these vignettes we get to see the representatives from SCAG told some things they probably didn't enjoy hearing. These gentlemen, used to the deference of small town City Councils, suddenly found their empty shell of an organization laid bare for all the world to see.

Below you will find the links to each of the 6 selected excerpts. I've provided a brief summary of each, but those are my view. I would hope that you could take a few minutes and share your impressions as well. After all, that is the great thing about seeing things for yourself. It cuts out the middle man.

Video #1: Scag: It's not us, it's the State Legislature - Here we can see Jon A. Edney attempting to blame our brutal RHNA allocations on Sacramento. Which begs the questions, why would we need to go to SCAG about our RHNA numbers when even its President knows the organization is powerless? Kurt Zimmerman dispatches Edney's transparent buck passing and duplicity with this great statement: "... as an institution why are you directing your time and your energy and your efforts fighting against the cities over the RHNA allocations instead of fighting in Sacramento for our interests?"

Video #2: "You Can't Fix Stupid" SCAG - Don Watts and MaryAnn MacGillivray team
up to get SCAG boss Hasan Ikhrata to confess that SCAG is just a powerless rubberstamp,
good only for enforcing Sacramento's demands for high density development in built out towns
that don't want it. Don Watts: "Where is the big voice SCAG talks about? The state is not
listening to you." All Ikhrata can do is admit to failure.

Video #3: Zimmerman On SCAG - In this video Kurt Zimmerman lays at the feet of SCAG's
representatives the charge that a SCAG/CEHD member had actually encouraged Sacramento to
threaten Sierra Madre with legal sanctions should Measure V be passed by the voters. That
SCAG would be a party to this kind of coercion is an indication they cannot be trusted.

Video #4: Don Watts On SCAG - Here Councilman Watts tells SCAG's representatives that
he doesn't see $1,000 worth of value in what they do. The reasons why are listed in a clear and
decisive way that had the people in the lobby cheering. So why in a state that is losing more
people than it is gaining, and with an economy that shows no sign of recovering soon, are we
being commanded to pack more housing into a town with no room for it? The flummoxed
representatives from SCAG have no real answer.

challenges the notion that the MVN meets legal standards for adjudication. This paper, which
carries our legal advertising because it is the only adjudicated paper in town, is not published
on a regular basis, nor will its publisher reply to the City's requests for its paid subscription
numbers. All of which could, according to the City Attorney, cause it forfeit that status should
we decide to seek legal redress.

Video #6: Joe Mosca Is Reassigned - MaryAnn McGillivray asks Joe to respect the
Mayor's right to choose the City's representatives and accept a new liaison assignment. When
Joe acts up, MaryAnn chides Joe on his poor attendance at COG meetings, and reminds all of
the importance of a strong voice there. Joe then goes on to give us a truly classic Flipperism.
Yes, he admits, he's missed many of their meetings, but then claims he is "committed to COG."
Not quite enough to actually show up, though.

That does raise one question, though. Isn't Joe supposed to be committed to Sierra Madre?
Could that be the real problem?

Enjoy the movies!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Susan Henderson Doesn't Know Her SCAG From Her Elbow

It is hard to figure out what exactly is the most bizarre thing Susan Henderson has ever written for her paper. We could probably debate this issue for a week and still have any number of quizzical fuzzy oddities to choose from. The woman is a regular font for the random ridiculous statement.

My personal favorite (up until now) for the most clueless utterance by the editor and publisher of the Mountain Views "News" was recounted in an article we published here on The Tattler way back on January 6 of this year. Right around the time this blog was just getting started. Here is how the story went:

In her 'Energy Wise, A Word from the Publisher and Editor' piece in the latest issue of the Mountain Views 'Observer,' the doyenne of this sleepy little rag, Susan Henderson, discusses what she believes will be the big challenges of 2009. And amongst this vast avalanche of effluence rests this precious little nugget:

"In April, we will have three City Council seats up for grabs. Joe Mosca, Don Watts, and Kurt Zimmerman's seats are open and whether or not they choose to run again, we need to make certain that we only elect those who are interested in truly representing the entire community and not just select groups of individuals ..."

The election she was opining so fruitlessly about is, of course, taking place in 2010. Not 2009 as Susan seemed to believe when she published this piece in early January of this year.

Now as hard as that one might be to top, nobody should ever be surprised by Susan's ability to outdo herself in matters of mindless malaprop. And this week, eight months after the above item crawled out from under its rock and into the sunlight, it looks like she's done it again. In her rather tendentious front page article, MacGillivray, Watts & Zimmerman Question SCAG's Motives, Integrity, Susan lays the following great speckled egg:

In a related matter, Mayor MacGillivray removed Joe Mosca and John Buchanan as Sierra Madre's representative/alternative respectively, to SCAG. In their stead, she appoint (sic) Don Watts and herself. However, Joe Mosca will remain the COG representative to SCAG, as his appointment is through COG. Any elected official may volunteer and serve on the Council of Governments, so removing Mosca will not change the fact that he is COGS (sic) SCAG representative.

I suppose that we should begin with the Joe-moval part. Joe Mosca was not removed from SCAG. The actual discussion taking place here on Planet Earth was in regards to COG. The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments to be exact. What did happen at this meeting was the Mayor asked for a resolution in hopes that Joe would accept a new appointment to the League of California Cities. In Joe's place Mayor Pro Tem Don Watts would take on the SGVCOG gig. But Joe wasn't removed from SGVCOG, either. Though that could happen, and hopefully soon.

City Councilmen serve as the liaisons to various organizations at the Mayor's pleasure, and she felt it was the time for a change. It is something that City Council members are expected to accept with grace and dignity. None of them own these liaison positions. Joe, of course, didn't quite see it that way, and could be heard muttering all sorts of unfortunate things. The word "embarrassing" was heard several times, an emotion many doubt Joe is capable of feeling.

And besides, how could Joe be removed from SCAG by the Mayor of Sierra Madre when he serves there as the representative of an organization quite removed from our city government? And for Susan to claim that any old elected official can show up at COG, get appointed to SCAG, and then vote at both organizations? Makes absolutely no sense. Was it the Four Roses talking?

So why did Mayor MacGillivray feel it was time for a change? Well, and you certainly wouldn't know this from reading the Mountain Views "News," Joe Mosca has not been showing up to the meetings of either SCAG nor COG. The Tattler broke this news not too long ago, and as our regular readers know, Joe Mosca's attendance at COG and SCAG (articles can be accessed here and here) confabs has been extremely slight. Out of a combined total of 23 meetings he could have attended, No Show Joe only made it to 3 of them.

Now what makes this particularly egregious is that these are meetings where Joe had voting rights. They're not simply liaison positions to L.A. County symposiums on trash can design where our guys have little say. No, these meetings are consequential to the interests of Sierra Madre. Both COG and SCAG (in particular the CEHD committee of SCAG that Joe serves on at the behest of COG - and where our RHNA numbers are deliberated) make decisions of importance to Sierra Madre and its control over future development plans. His absence is inexcusable.

To put it as plainly as possible, if and when matters regarding perhaps the single most serious issue facing Sierra Madre today, our Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers, came up before the CEHD for any kind of discussion or vote, Joe wasn't there for us. He wasn't there fighting for us because didn't even bother to show up. He was a no show.

Of course, Susan would hardly want to include that kind of information in the mishmash of nonsense she littered downtown with yesterday. Because that would hardly suit her purposes. You see, Susan believes herself to be a great political thinker, a mastermind of image and message. And Joe is one of the little birds nestled under her mighty wing.

One other thing. Have you ever noticed that when it comes to writing about the affairs of Sierra Madre in the MVN, the only person who gets to do the deed is Susan? Just look at the op-ed page. She's got Hail Hamilton going on and on about Obamacare, Howard Hays writing about the affairs of Washington DC, and the other two gits yapping about God knows what. But nothing ever about Sierra Madre. And honestly, each of these gentlemen could do a much better job of writing about our local news than Susan does. And isn't this the publication "Where Your Community News Comes First?" So why does so much of the rest of the paper come off like a forced imitation of Meet The Press?

Maybe that should be changed to, "Where Susan Henderson's Opinions About This Community Come First, And Those Dudes Better Shut Up About It." Certainly would be more accurate.

This really is unfortunate, both for the paper and this town. Because each of those guys on the op-ed page can think and write circles around Susan. If only she'd let them off their leashes.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

El Centro: Shame of the Border

We conclude this week's special examination of SCAG related issues with a virtual exploration of El Centro, the town where this organization's current president, Jon A. Edney, presides as a member of the City Council.

You might suppose that so esteemed a gentleman as Mr. Edney, the fellow who presumed this week to inform our City Council about how they should conduct the affairs of Sierra Madre, would be running quite a snug little operation in his own bailiwick. After all, if you are going to be a leading voice in California planning circles, and wish to share advanced opinions regarding how other cities should function, then you must be running quite a paragon of the art form yourself. So here at The Tattler we decided to take a good close look and do a little comparison shopping.

The first place we went was the City of El Centro website itself. And there the following praise of Mr. Edney's unmistakably excellent efforts were clearly spelled out:

Councilman Edney was first elected to the El Centro City Council in 2003 and was re-elected in 2007. Working together, Council and Staff, the city has been able to move forward with an aggressive agenda that has revitalized the community, added jobs, balanced the budget, and strategically planned the cities (sic) future.

So far so good! Now let's go deeper into the internet and see if we can't find some corroboration of the bold claims made for Mr. Edney on his City of El Centro bio page.

The next place we went to was Automopedia.org. Cars are an important part of any real city's culture, and you can often tell what a place is all about by the way they regard their automobiles. Those looking for good news about El Centro, however, will be disappointed because the information we discovered is not very positive. Here's how Automopedia.org breaks that unfortunate news down:

Walletpop.com released a report on the Top 25 Car Theft Cities in America this week, and some of the results may surprise readers. It's like an easter Egg hunt out there, and if you own a Honda Civic or GMC pickup best to install LoJack on that puppy. Basically, if you live in any of the cities listed below, and own a nice ride, it will probably be stolen before you're finished checking out this blog post. Better get your rear to the closest used car dealer.

El Centro's rank in the Top 25 Car Theft Cities in America hit parade? Number 16. Fortunately, Sierra Madre does not show up on that list.

When I want to discover the goings on in a small city, the first place I go to is e-podunk.com. They dig out the important facts and lay them out in a way that is both accessible and clear. And right away this site establishes for us that El Centro holds a first place in something. They are "The Most Air-Conditioned City in the United States." That is quite a distinction if you think about it. And with temperatures occasionally hitting the 120 degree mark during the summer months, the acclaim is understandable.

But some of the other facts we found aren't quite so chipper. Such as on the matter of El Centro's crime rate. According to e-podunk.com, "The number of violent crimes recorded by the FBI in 2003 was 325. The violent crime rate was 8.5 per 1,000 people." And the contrast with Sierra Madre's crime stats is not El Centrocentric, either. "The number of violent crimes recorded by the FBI in 2003 was 13. The violent crime rate was 1.2 per 1,ooo people." Quite a stark difference, and I'm not sure that is the way we would want to go.

And e-podunk.com shows quite an income disparity as well. El Centro's Median Household Income for the year 2000 was $33,161, or nearly $9,000 below the national average. Sierra Madre's Median Household Income in 2000, by way contrast, was $65,900, or over $23,000 above the national average. And nearly $32,000 more than what the average wage earner made in El Centro. So I am not quite sure what Mr. Edney has to offer us in that regard, either.

Unfortunately, the news gets even worse. According to City-Data.com the City of El Centro is a rather radically impoverished place. In the year 2007 residents with income below the poverty level comprised 21.7% of El Centro's population. The average for cities in the State of California was 12.4% That figure for Sierra Madre? A rather paltry 2.9%. And residents with income below 50% of the poverty level in El Centro was 8.4%. In Sierra Madre that figure was a very low 1.7%.

City-Data.com's family statistics are not very attractive for El Centro, either. For families with children, married couples comprise 24.4% of that population. However, in households where the adult member is female (no husband present), that percentage balloons to an astronomical 70.9%! In Sierra Madre the percentage of "married-couple families" is 85.7%. Oddly enough, in Sierra Madre single adult households are more likely to be headed by a male.

In El Centro the percentage of children living below the poverty level is 29.9%. The California state average is 16.9%. In Sierra Madre that figure is 1.9%.

And when it comes to the average value of homes, El Centro is a banker's nightmare these days. Sorry, but there is just no other way to put it. According to Zillow.com home values in El Centro collapsed from an average high of $239,000 in 2006, to less than $109,000 in July of 2009! Sierra Madre, by contrast, saw property values decrease from an average of $800,000 in 2006, to $690,000 now. A far milder collapse.

Now after reading all of the above you might not think of El Centro as being the sort of place you'd want to go for a vacation, but according to MyTravelGuide.com, there is something for the tourist trade in town. Here are some of the reviews of the Sunbeam Lake RV Resort in El Centro.

Ellen from Ocean Shores: "Wide street and nice sized lots. Management/staff not that friendly. There is a feed lot or something that stinks quite badly. Regulars joke about it. Don't know how long you have to stay to get over it. Between the stink, constant field burning close by, wood and garbage fires, not a nice place for the nose and lungs."

Dick from North Dakota: "We were parked by the back by the dog run. It was in front of a huge area of dirt that just blew and blew. There is no grass anywhere in the park. Just dead grass and places where grass use to be and died. The rates were really high for what you get. Storage area looks like a junk pile. We will not be staying there anymore."

Fredrika from San Francisco: "The lake is a mud puddle. There is a bad smell at the campground. The sidewalks are duck poop everywhere. The management is very unfriendly."

Kevin from Temecula: "This so-called resort is nothing more than a 'canal' they call a lake. Don't be fooled by the website, this place is nothing more than a dump surrounded by trailer park trash and dead fish floating in the 'canal.' Really I can't believe this place is called a 'resort.' It's garbage!"

I'm sorry, but having Mr. Edney, City Councilman from El Centro and President of SCAG, show up in Sierra Madre to instruct us on how we should conduct our affairs is like a fry cook from Arby's suddenly appearing at a 5 Star Restaurant to gripe about the egg creams. Rather than traveling here to offer his opinions on regional governance and strategic sustainability, perhaps Mr. Edney should consider reporting to the United Nations in New York to beg for a UNICEF grant to feed all those impoverished kids from single parent homes living right there in his town?

That this guy thinks he has something to tell us is just unbelievable.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Would Meg Whitman's Election Doom SCAG's AB32/SB375 Redevelopment Schemes?

There's a big rhubarb going on in Sacramento these last few days. Apparently the former CEO of eBay, the now declared Republican candidate for Governor of California Meg Whitman, has been saying some very bad things about what the eminently disappointing Arnold Schwarzenegger regards as being the centerpiece of his legacy. And the now gone-to-seed Adonis of the Alps is none too pleased about it.

The best place by far to read about California state politics is the Sacramento Bee. And yesterday in an article entitled Schwarzenegger defends legacy from Whitman attack, the battle lines were distinctly drawn for us. And it appears that Whitman could be planning to run against many of Schwarzenegger's bad policies, especially his precious and thoroughly misguided record on the environment.

At a third anniversary celebration of the state's ambitious climate change law, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday found himself fending off barbs by a member of his own party - former eBay CEO and Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman ... Schwarzenegger, speaking to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, dismissed Whitman's recent statements that, if elected governor, she would suspend the California Global Warming Solutions Act until its effects on the economy are better understood ... "I would pay no attention to this kind of rhetoric and look toward the substance. This is not a political issue," the governor said in a response to Whitman's statement ... Immediately after the speech, Whitman issued a statement again slamming the law, referred to as AB32, calling it a "job-killing regulation." She previously made critical comments in Orange County on Tuesday, when she formally announced her campaign for the GOP nomination next year.

Now AB32, which begat SB375, has become the cornerstone to many of the draconian planning regimens being pushed by organizations such as SCAG. The idea being that in order to curb greenhouse gases, and thereby reduce global warming, automobile traffic would need to be greatly reduced. And their solution, which has been embraced by the current regime in Sacramento (especially the highly influential building and realty lobbies that contribute millions of dollars to both parties), would be to unleash vast amounts of high density development in already built-out cities. Something that, as the leap of faith would have it, would somehow cause people to drive less. That dense urban areas, notorious for their high consumption of electricity, could somehow help the world cool down seems like a stretch that even a small child might find difficult to fathom. After all, electricity production is the #1 producer of greenhouse gases in California, far surpassing even cars. But for Arnold it apparently is proof that he has saved the world. Just like he always did in his movies.

And Meg Whitman was not finished with the Austrian Oak's legacy.

Whitman has recently slung a steady barrage of mud at the law. She cited a recent study estimating that AB32 could cost California more than a million jobs, while the costs to implement it could exceed $100 billion ... "So that's why as governor I would immediately issue an executive order calling for a one-year moratorium on most of AB32's rules until we are confident our economy is on strong footing," Whitman said in her Thursday statement ... I reject radical environmental policies that do little for the environment and devastate California's economic future," she said. "Liberal environmentalists may not like jobs or people, but California needs both."

Boy, are they going to hate her on the bus hugger blogs.

In the year 2012 the next round of RHNA numbers will emerge from the regional planning ooze. And SCAG is already hard at work on them. For cities in transportation corridors like Sierra Madre, the increased RHNA quotas could be immense. Again the idea being, according to the AB32/SB375 orthodoxy, that if you concentrate high density mixed-use development around public transportation like the Gold Line, people will magically give up their automobiles. And if there is housing there already? You tear it down and replace it with something unappealing and crowded. As crazy as this scheme seems, it is backed up by tough new laws, and it could be very difficult for us to fight SCAG off this time. That is, if people with the same philosophy are running the state.

But look at it this way. If a Governor Whitman rejects this utopian central planning developer boondoggle, calls off the AB32/SB375 onslaught, those RHNA numbers would be unnecessary as the laws calling for them would no longer be in effect. And besides, isn't this really all about money? If Sac-o was serious about greenhouse gas emissions from cars, wouldn't they be working side by side with manufacturers to help create cars that don't give off greenhouse gases? Rather than uprooting entire cities for the benefit of redevelopers?

Who knows, there may be a way out of this mess yet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Let's Learn More About Jon Edney, President of SCAG!

At Tuesday evening's meeting the three City Council members who actually represent the interests of Sierra Madre had a chance to discuss their concerns about SCAG with its current President, Jon A. Edney. In particular on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers, or RHNA. He is also a Councilman from the Imperial County City of El Centro, and is apparently quite a go-getter there in the realty and development trades. Here is Mr. Edney's biography as revealed on the SCAG site:

Councilman Jon Edney (City of El Centro) serves as the current President of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and has represented the Imperial County cities for a number of years as a SCAG Regional Councilmember for District 1 ... During his tenure with SCAG, Edney has chaired the Community, Economic, and Human Development Policy Committee (CEHD), and the Southern California Regional Housing Assessment sub-committee. He has also served as Vice Chair of the Administration Committee and Second Vice President for the Regional Council ...

Interesting. Mr. Edney, as the Chair of the CEHD, would oversee Joe Mosca who also serves on that committee. That is, if Joe ever actually showed up for any of the meetings. CEHD being the committee tasked with divvying up the RHNA redevelopment quotas cranked out by the BIA through its compliant pals in the State Legislature. It is these RHNA numbers that are cited by SCAG when they tell us we need to assist in destroying the character of our town by planning for things such as large-scale condominium complexes, boutique plazas, and mixed-use low income conversant multiple unit generic pastel colored development. And, of course, we don't get to say no. The bio continues:

President Edney ... has served as President of the Imperial County Board of Realtors and has been re-elected to serve as Treasurer for 2009. He served 3 years as a State Director for the California Association of Realtors.

Bingo! You might recall it was the California Association of Realtors (CAR) that created the infamous handbook on how to infiltrate towns in order to help force redevelopment despite the wishes of those who actually live there. Something used here by some folks here during the run-up to the Measure V vote. Entitled Strategies For Fighting The Slow Growth Movements At The Local Level, it advocated the use of tactics that have been justifiably criticized for their crass attempts at manipulation through dishonesty and coercion. We discussed the CAR handbook at length last May. If you missed that article you can access it by clicking here.

The topic directed Mr. Edney's way by our 3 real Council members was in regard to the seeming unwillingness of SCAG to represent the interests of cities such as ours on the RHNA numbers question. The notion being that SCAG, which is theoretically supposed to consider our viewpoints on these matters when discussing them with Sacramento, actually takes the side of those who would gladly profit by forcing large scale development into towns that do not want it. Like ours. This process also helps abrogate the rights of cities to control their own development destinies, instead concentrating all such planning power in Sacramento. Where they make a good living selling it off to the highest bidder.

Certainly Mr. Edney, as a CEHD chair and State Director of CAR, would hardly be the appropriate candidate for the task of representing the interests of this town on the topic of uberdevelopment. After all, he has run the very organizations responsible for it, confabs whose goals are mass development, and not preservation. In other words, having Jon represent our development interests in Sacramento would be like hiring Ming the Merciless to run a sensitivity training seminar. Just wouldn't be a good fit.

Now his hometown of El Centro has in its files a redevelopment plan very similar to our own discredited Downtown Specific Plan. If you read the El Centro equivalent you will see some things that could seem shockingly familiar. Much of the terminology found in our DSP is present in this item, along with pictures of strikingly similar looking ugly buildings. And if you read all the way to the bottom of this document you'll discover something rather interesting. The El Centro "DSP" was not paid for by El Centro. No, rather it was actually paid for by SCAG. The very organization that Jon Edney now serves as President!

Small world, you know? No conflict of interest there.

Oh, and were you aware that Mr. Edney has a Facebook page? Well, actually 4 pages. We love Facebook pages. And apparently Jon is planning to run for the State Assembly. Boy, would he be just the perfect fit up there. If you click here you can read his principled views on the important topic of "the toilet flushing police." Now there's an issue that will rally the easily agitated. "Ain't nobody gonna tell me how to flush my toilet!" And if you click here you will get some in-depth biographical information on candidate Edney, the man. You'll discover that his big interests are Religious Faith and Harry Potter books. Hopefully in that order. My kids like Harry Potter books as well. Of course, they're both under ten years of age.

I am not sure that working with this guy is going to do us a lot of good. I'm starting to think that rather than giving SCAG $1,000 to re-enlist Sierra Madre, we'd probably all be better off if we took it down to The Buccaneer and used the cash to open up a tab at the bar.

You know, I think I feel a field trip to El Centro coming on. It might be good to take a look at the town run by a guy who believes he has the right to tell us how to run ours. I'll be sure to take pictures.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SCAG Boss Hasan Ikhrata Confesses To Sierra Madre City Council That He Runs A Rubberstamp Operation / Joe Mosca Fired From COG?

They had an entire army of SCAG officials and followers out to last night's City Council meeting, but when you get right down to it they didn't really have a whole lot to say. They blustered, they pontificated, and Hasan Ikhrata even made a veiled threat to Mayor McGillivray about "the disservice" she would do to the community if we were pulled out of SCAG. You could almost hear in his words the distant rumble of indignant patriarchy.

But when Don Watts, Kurt Zimmerman and MaryAnn McGillivray held the SCAG faithful's feet to the fire, what defense did they fall back on? "It's not our fault!" "We tried!" "The state mandates RHNA numbers, we can't do anything about it!" So it is just as we've always said here on The Tattler, SCAG is for all intents and purposes merely a rubberstamp for Sacramento, and has no real power to bargain for anything. In other words, they're a particularly ineffective middleman, a distraction that does little more than serve as a shield for the real culprits in the campaign to force hyperdensity down the throats of cities such as ours, Sacramento. That plus its patrons in the realty and redevelopment lobbies.

SCAG, you see, is just following orders.

Sierra Madre declined to authorize the spending of the $1,000 it would take to renew our membership in SCAG for now, instead taking a wait and see stance. MaryAnn McGillivray and Don Watts will be attending some future SCAG confabs to find out if our continued membership in this apparently powerless organization is worth even that relatively small sum.

The City Council voted 3 to 2 to select Michael Howard to the Canyon Committee. Joe Mosca and John Buchanan fielded the losing candidate, and Glen Lambdin was sent home with an empty plate. Apparently combining the terms "Glen Lambdin" and "well-balanced committee" struck the majority on the City Council as being something of an oxymoron. The City Council did unanimously decide that a moratorium on new building in the Canyon was the right thing to do, and tasked staff to prepare documents that will allow a final vote on the matter. More proof that there is a God in heaven.

Tim Hayden's shameful attack on Michael Howard was an embarrassment to the values and decency of this community.

The highlight of the evening for this observer was the beginning of a process that will likely result in Joe Mosca being relieved of his SGVCOG duties. The reason being his poor attendance at COG functions as revealed in the meeting minutes published on this organization's website. After hearing from SCAG about the importance of participating in the activities of the regional planning organizations, certainly we need to have a liason that will actually show up at the meetings. Once staff prepares the necessary documents, the eminently qualified Don Watts will likely serve as our new liason to the San Gabriel Valley Council Of Governments. The vote to move this process forward was 3 to 2.

Joe Mosca's response to the intiating of the process to knock him from his SGVCOG perch was typical. He admitted that there are many "things I have missed," but went on to claim that he is personally committed to COG. Then he blustered to Mayor MacGillivray that "you don't even know what COG means!" And then, in a statement fraught with pathos, actually blurted out, "Do you know how embarrassing that would be?"

It is nice to see that Joe Mosca could soon be suffering from the very thing his former supporters have experienced these last 3 years. Embarrassment.

Kurt Zimmerman delivered a withering blast at the Mountain Views "News" over its apparent failure to live up to the standards a paper must meet if it wishes to remain an adjudicated publication. Something that could result in the paper losing its legal advertising contract with the City of Sierra Madre. Cited by Councilman Zimmerman was the paper's failure to share subscription information despite repeated requests from the City that it do so. Also cited was the widely suspected inability of the "News" to publish regularly, and on the same day every week. Also adjudication requirements.

If it is shown that the paper has not lived up to its obligations, Sierra Madre would be within its rights to take the matter to Court and file a complaint. If the complaint should stand we would be free of having to support this highly contentious paper with our tax dollars.

Oh, and the Alverno situation is now in the hands of the lawyers. Guess we'll have to stay tuned for more news on that one.

An incredibly momentous meeting. One of the most remarkable I have witnessed to date. We will have more to say on these matters as the week goes on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Night Fight Card

Think of this as a tout sheet, kind of like what you might buy at a race track if you were looking for some guidance on where to place your bets. Except in this case we're not
charging for the service, and we're not exactly at the track. No, it's the time that comes around every every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, the Sierra Madre City Council meetings!

Now we're not going to discuss all the events. But there are a few that we'd love to chat about. Let's dig in.

Action Item #2: Discussion Regarding The Southern California Association Of Governments (SCAG) - Now the funny little organization with the kooky name has pretty much worn out its welcome in this town. And as cut rate as the cost of belonging to this fusty old Eisenhower Era remnant might be, there are standards that must be held to. Now George Maurer, in a letter to the Mountain Views Abuse last week, takes a decidedly different point of view. Here is what he had to say on the matter of our getting out of SCAG:

I totally agree that we should not withdraw from SCAG. Totally a scare tactic on people who really don't understand the issue and are willing to bury their head in the sand, hoping the housing issue will go away ... Staying in SCAG gives us better representation. The 'head-in-the-sand' syndrome seems to be coming popular and a lot of people don't care to face reality.

Mayor Maurer will always get the benefit of the doubt on this site because of his courageous vote against allowing Dorn Platz to destroy One Carter. If only his 4 fellow councilmembers had been so principled. However, in this case George has missed the point. First of all, the person who is supposed to have been representing us at SCAG through COG, particularly on the committee actually responsible for cooking up development quotas (Regional Housing Need Assessments aka RHNA numbers), rarely shows up at CEHD meetings. This according to SCAG's own minutes. So as far as our getting better representation, well, we've all been severely let down by Joe Mosca before. And this case is no different. Of course, when you consider that his predecessors were folks such as Enid Joffe and Bart Doyle, you can see that we're talking about a long-standing tradition of indifference to the needs of this town. Our representatives at COG and SCAG have been far more likely to side with Sacramento and its patrons than the needs of the people of Sierra Madre.

Anyway, what George is apparently crediting SCAG with here is its being a deliberative body. One that can be convinced to accept our viewpoints. Yet if you look at SCAG's record on RHNA appeals, the changes are almost always very slight. That is if they change anything at all. And anyone familiar with the RHNA numbers assigned to Sierra Madre knows our appeals have gone nowhere. SCAG is, for all intents and purposes, a rubber stamp organization tasked by Sacramento with delivering to towns the bad news on RHNA numbers. This so the persons actually responsible for them, our beloved state legislature and its favored lobbies, don't have to dirty their hands. This is an organization completely without independence, and is therefore of little real value to us.

I have been an advocate for getting us out of SCAG for quite some time now. It might not make any real difference as far as our RHNA numbers go, we're stuck with them either way. But it would send a statement that Sierra Madre is not afraid to stand up for what it believes. Now I have to admit, there is another theory going around that deserves some attention. This one states that we would be better off using SCAG to further our own ends. Not out of any naive belief that SCAG will somehow stand up to Sacramento and give us a break on our RHNA numbers. That will never happen. No, this idea states that SCAG, properly infilitrated by right-minded people, might actually be a great place to meet other city government types who are also sick of seeing their towns forced to accept hyper-density redevelopment despite the wishes of those living there. If we are ever going to stop this kind of Sacramento sponsored abuse, it will take many cities banding together to fight it together. This might be an argument for staying in, if only for a little while. It will be interesting to see how this thing goes tonight.

Action Item #3: Consideration Of Filling Vacant Canyon Zone Committee Seat -This is pretty much, to use Joe's overcooked term, a no-brainer. The City Council needs to select an individual who wants to preserve the Canyon as the unique and priceless historic district that it is. Now John and Joe will attempt to force in somebody who doesn't give a damn about the Canyon or what it represents to the people living there. And you can probably count on Joe delivering one of his cloying "values" bromides. But in the end neither John nor Joe care a whit about the Canyon, its history, or the unique culture to be found there. To them it only represents an opportunity for their cronies in the redevelopment industry.

Action Item #4: Consideration Of A Request Of The Canyon Zone Committee To Implement A Temporary Moratorium On Development Within The Canyon Zone - The moratorium is needed to avoid any additional new projects in the Canyon until new rules can be created. Rules designed to maintain the history and culture of the Canyon. The R1 standards in place now are absurd, and totally out of place there. This organically created community needs standards that are as unique as the neighborhood itself. Now Joe Mosca will deliver an argument stating that since we're not doing a lot of construction there now, why have a moratorium at all? Turn that one on its head. Since there is little construction, why all the fuss over a moratorium?

There is another consideration as well. If people desirous of building new projects sense there is a danger of new codes being put into place, or even a moratorium, there will be a rush to build under the totally unsuitable R1 standards currently in place. We can't let that happen. The moratorium needs to be put in place now. For this to pass it will take a 4 to 1 vote. Watch John and Joe once again vote against the interests of the people of Sierra Madre.

Action Item #5: Resolution No. 09-62 Consideration Of A Temprary Use Permit (TUP 09-17) To Allow Private Rental Events To Occur In The Alverno "Villa" - This one has apparently gotten caught up in the webs and snares of lawyerland. It will probably be continued as our City Attorney will need more time to unravel the avalanche of findings requested by the homeowners' attorney at the last meeting.

The homeowners need to consider what they might end up with should they sucessfully choke off Alverno's one big cash raising enterprise. That property, graced with its historic Villa, is something the development community would love to get their hands on. And if they're not careful they could find themselves looking at a lot of fine SCAG housing, low income and all. I would urge the homeowners to instruct their attorney to sit down with Alverno and work things out. Because otherwise they could find themselves with a situation far worse than the one they're facing now.

Action Item #6: Mountain Views News Contract Review And Contract Renewal - Someday the geniuses in Sacramento will allow towns such as ours to post legal notices on their city websites rather than forcing them to squander valuable tax money on fish wrappers as addicted to bizarro reporting as this one. It will be a moment of liberation for all of us.

Should be quite a wild night!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can California Cities Wake Up On Lawsuit Settlements?

About a month ago we ran an article entitled, Cities That Don't Defend Themselves Get Sued Anyway. The idea being that once people who might consider suing a place like Sierra Madre discover that we'd prefer to settle rather than fight, they're apt to swarm all over our situation like ants on a lollipop.

The example I used was the sad settlement worked out with the Police Officers Association (POA) by the apparently endlessly naive Mayor Enid Joffe. One of the reasons given for this so-called Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) was to end the lawsuits against Sierra Madre initiated by the POA. And in order to settle those lawsuits our elected officials, led by Mayor Joffe, basically gave the POA everything they wanted, including the significant wage increase they demanded. All funded by a Utility User Tax increase. Which this year increases to its maximum of 12%. Be sure to check your cell phone bill.

And did this achieve the goal of labor peace with the Sierra Madre Police Department? While in the process ending the most onerous part of that seemingly endless fight, lawsuits? Of course not. They are suing us more often now than they ever have before. As an attempt at labor peace Enid's "MOU" has been a notable failure. Fortunately this agreement ends fairly soon, as does the UUT increase that made it possible. And I wish the POA all the luck in the world trying to pull that one off again. Because luck, and a lot of it, is pretty much what it will take.

Nathan McIntire, a staff writer at the Pasadena Star News, had the great foresight to quiz a couple of skeptical folks involved in the question of legal assaults on City governments for his article Lawsuits against southern California cities leading to settlements more often. And much to my surprise and delight the two people Nathan quizzed on the matter have positions quite similar to that of The Tattler. That being the more you settle with people who sue a City, the more lawsuits that City is likely to find itself attracting.

Here is a passage where Nathan interviewed Michael Kaddatz from the Independent Cities Risk Management Authority on this matter:

For a city, or any large employer, a settlement may appear to make more financial sense than continuing a court battle. But settlements can also attract more lawsuits, according to Michael Kadditz, interim general manager of ICRMA. "In general there seems to be an increasing number of plaintiffs that, with proper legal counsel, soon come to realize just having an ounce of truth might get you into the ball game of getting you some reward," Kaddatz said.

Bob Blackwood runs HR and RM (Human Resources and Risk Management) for Monterey Park. He is equally adamant about slapping down nuisance lawsuits rather than settling, and for the same reason. Settling only makes things worse.

"If a city becomes known for settling claims relatively early then I think that dynamic can be created. It becomes attractive for individuals to file a claim," Blackwood said. When liability is in question they "aggressively defend" their case ... Blackwood has been dealing with litigation risk management as a municipal employee for the last 25 years; the best way to avoid lawsuits, he said, is by creating an inhospitable climate for litigation ... Strings of lawsuits come "when a city exposes itself because of some practice and it opens the door and the plaintiffs' attorney sees it and it becomes a feeding frenzy."

Now many here in Sierra Madre can remember when then Mayor Rob Stockley and the rest of the Gang of Four claimed it was the prospect of lawsuits that drove them to settle the One Carter disaster with Dorn Platz. Who, once given the keys to destroy the hillside, went on to sue us over and over again. Just like the Police did after Enid Joffe's "historic agreement" with the POA was signed. Apparently for those parties offering an olive branch was taken as an indication that there was even more to be gained through lawsuits.

Hopefully we are not about to make the same mistakes with the current owners at One Carter. Or with Stonehouse, either.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sierra Madre Honors - Awards and Dinner ... is being held at Alverno Villa?

One of the more distressing side effects of doing this blog has been the uncomfortable realization that I am becoming, um, respectable. A little bit, anyway. And to be quite honest with you, I am not at all easy with that. I have always associated respectability with having to go to social functions. Which means having to wear my Church suit and stand in one place while holding up the corners of my mouth for what seems like an eternity. And then there is always the acute danger of being approached by someone wearing cologne. There are few experiences less pleasant than that. And an awful lot of respectable people wear the stuff.

Anyway, for the first time in all of my years here in this quaint foothill village, I have been invited to something called Sierra Madre Honors ... Awards and Dinner. I showed the invitation to Dr. Maundry and she was pleasantly surprised. "Does this mean that your blog is opening some doors for us?" she asked. I really wasn't sure. I just kept thinking about what happened to the last blogger that got invited to one of these affairs.

But if you think the irony in that is more than just a little rich, have you considered exactly where this event is being held? You got it, the very Alverno Villa that was the cause of so much excitement at the most recent City Council conclave. And while I haven't seen any list of topics up for discussion at next Tuesday's meeting as the Agenda Benda has yet to send it out, isn't Alverno's "Temporary Use Permit" (TUP for the acronymically deranged) supposed to be decided then? And with this dinner coming up two days later, has anyone given any thought to how the invited might be greeted there should that TUP be turned down? I don't know about you, but there could be some lightning in the forecast for the mid-Michellinda area. Wear your best lead would be my advice. And a helmet in case of brimstone.

I wonder if any of the neighbors of Alverno got invited? Is there someone we know who could check the RSVP list? And while some of those weddings might have gotten wild, I'm not sure they've ever seen the likes of this bunch. I'll try and not fall asleep on anybody's lawn.

Been reading a very interesting magazine lately called The Tidings, "Southern California's Catholic Weekly." It's been around for over 105 years now, and is as finely written a publication as any in the area. It is a delight to read. And in an article entitled City Council to decide Alverno's Villa fate," they covered the happenings at our City Council confab on the night Alverno was discussed. Here's a passage from that article I found particularly poignant:

While the Temporary Use Permit is the immediate issue at stake, according to the principal, Alverno has also been working on a "Master Plan" to build a multi-purpose building and to reconfigure the softball and soccer fields to meet regulation sizes. This will also save money by not having to rent off-school locales for these sporting events and school plays ... In addition, the high school is also applying for a historical use permit for the villa, which is on Sierra Madre's historical landmark list. Hopefully, these two proposals will be processed and approved during the year covered by the Temporary Use Permit, if it passes. But she stressed that none of these improvements will involve expanding the property beyond its present 13.5 acres ... When asked what it will mean to Alverno High School if the TUP is not approved, Gillick was speechless for a moment. Then she replied, "It's huge. It's huge. It means a lack of revenue - up to $100,000 a year. So it's just huge."

Yes, if that TUP doesn't pass, this "Awards" shindig at Alverno Villa could be quite a socially adventurous and interesting little affair. And if it does? Try not to park on the street.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Sierra Madre Needs A Strong Blight Law Now

There is a remarkable disconnect in town, and it goes something like this. The Sierra Madre Skilled Nursing Facility, that boarded up old nursing home on Sierra Madre Boulevard just across the street from City Hall, has been an eyesore for quite some time now. With boarded up windows and a truly remarkable collection of sun cured weeds, some growing from between cracks in a parking lot girdled with tetanus enriched rusted fencing, it really does make for some kind of hauntingly eerie imagery. Views you might enjoy if you're into presentations that evoke the apocalyptic.

Now this place is something a lot of people talk about when they want to get their grievance on about Sierra Madre. Next to our litigation happy Police Department, the SNF is perhaps the most griped about subject in our sunny little burgh. It has become a metaphor and rallying point for many who feel the need for something basic to show concern about. And as such it has become our very own widely misunderstood symbol of things gone wrong.

Now where the disconnect comes in is with the need to identify exactly who bears the responsibility for this rambling reverse eye candy. Many seem to feel that the reason the Skilled Nursing Facility has degenerated into the mess it is today is because "the City refuses to do something about it." Others believe that it remains a most visible reminder of the refusal of some in this town to allow the building of "profitably sized" mixed used facilities, and that it is the stubborn backwards mentality of a few which has caused our town to suffer from such ruinous blight.

But what you never hear is anybody blaming the building's actual owner. And that is very odd. Now if you or I allowed our homes to crumble into disrepair, infecting the lawns of others with both gophers and jimsonweeds, people wouldn't blame Measure V or the Green Committee, right? No, they'd blame you, the owner. And you'd be cited for it. But here we have some sort of corporation sitting on one of the most visible properties in Sierra Madre, and it is just allowing the place to rot. The Skilled Nursing Facility hasn't seen a drop of new paint in years.

So why is this owner getting a pass? And why don't people recognize that the reason this building sits in its current neglected state is because the owner refuses to do anything about it? Seems pretty obvious to me who the blame should fall upon here.

But there is now a solution in the works, and it looks like our City Council is about to make it happen. As we recounted a few months back, the City of Glendale adopted something called a Blight Law. Passed by their City Council, it takes a hard-nosed approach to dealing with indifferent absentee owners who neglect their properties. Here is how the Glendale News Press laid it out on May 3rd of this year:

City targets untidy homes - Council will mull proposal to fine banks $1,000 per day for blighted foreclosed homes: Banks and housing speculators could face fines of up to $1,000 per day for failing to keep vacant properties up to code under a proposal scheduled to go to the City Council on Tuesday ... The proposed law would authorize the city to exercise its authority granted under state law to hold new owners of foreclosed properties accountable for maintaining their parcels ... The $1,000 daily fine - the maximum permitted under state law - is intended to financially compel lenders and speculators to invest in the properties that they acquire and to quickly turn them around, either by maintenance or sale so as to not further deteriorate a neighborhood, city officials said.

And the good news is Glendale has a City Council that was willing to overcome the shrill opposition of both real estate investors and realty concerns and pass this Blight Law.

Now obviously whoever it is that owns the Skilled Nursing Facility is sitting on the place waiting for something special to occur. Be it a rise in real estate prices, somebody making him an attractive offer, you know it has to be something with profit in mind. And while there is nothing wrong with making a buck in America, you do need to play by the rules. And allowing your property to rot in the middle of what is otherwise quite an attractive little boulevard is just not responsible citizenship. Which is why this fellow needs to feel the sting of a no nonsense Sierra Madre Blight Law.

The theory many have is that the place was bought when the prospect of massive downtown redevelopment was real and financially compelling. But like many of our downtown investors, the current owner was disappointed when Measure V was passed. And, as the theory goes, the owner has been sitting on the SNF ever since in hopes that someone like Sacramento Joe would take over City Hall and allow him to build 6 story condos with attached nicknack shops and pay-to-park underground car storage. Just like he could have had Measure V failed.

Listen, it's time we passed a Blight Law. One with teeth and fines that will get this guy and his rotting building out of our collective face. Whatever the reasons for the owner allowing the SNF to become the disgrace it is, we have endured this insult to Sierra Madre long enough. We need to take some control.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

John Leung Is Back In The News - And More!

Some new developments in a couple of the stories that we've been following these last nine months have been brought to the attention of the Maundry News Desk. And rather than doling them out one day at a time, we've decided to post them in one big heap so that we can clear out the inbox and move on to the next topics. And there are always next topics.

First thing we need to point out, however, is what the exact nature of the Sierra Madre Police Department agreement is with this town. Something that caused a vast olio of opinion to be posted to Tuesday's column. The Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the PD, consecrated under the Enid Joffe suzerainty, has a time limit of three years. And the same thing is true of the User Utility Tax (UUT) hike voted into existence here at that time. This Sunset Clause, insisted upon by Kurt Zimmerman, is starting to look like quite a gift to the community. And it is probably one of the least known and most misunderstand aspects of this situation. While there is one more unfortunate UUT increase coming up in its approaching final (3rd) year, taking us up to the maximum 12%, after that it is kaput. The UUT then returns to a much earlier, and lower, level. And that MOU you've heard so much about? Since the tax hike and the Police pay increase were for 3 years only, once that time is up negotiations would have to begin all over again. Please keep this in mind. To renew the condition now in existence, we would have to go to the polls and vote to approve a UUT hike all over again. Something many in City Hall doubt will happen.

In Sierra Madre the power on these matters rests with the voters. And when it comes to the question of raising taxes, for Police pay increases or anything else, we are the ones writing the ticket here.

It looks like our dear friend John Leung is back in the news. Two stories hit the hallowed pages of the Pasadena Star News this week, and both of them do not indicate that happy times have returned for the once exalted leader of the mighty Titan Group. Or for his SCAG flogged so-called El Monte Transit Village, either. As you might recall, Mr. Leung, along with his partner in shenanigans, Jean Lang, were nabbed by El Monte's finest for what they suspect were assorted financial shenanigans. Here's how the Pasadena Star News broke it down:

El Monte Transit Village fraud investigation turned over to DA: The El Monte Police Department has turned over the criminal investigation into El Monte Transit Village developers John Leung and Jean Lang to the District Attorney's office ... "I feel the investigation would be done more expediently with an organization that has the manpower and the ability to coordinate a larger scope investigation that involves a broad range of incidents," said El Monte Police Chief Tom Armstrong ... Leung, former president of the El Monte-based Titan Development, and Jean Lang, another former Titan executive, were arrested in mid June on felony charges including fraud, embezzlement and theft.

Now much of the weltschmerz here in Sierra Madre stems from the role our former Mayor, Bart Doyle, played in both in the Transit Village project and as a top executive at Titan. Here is how he helped hype what has now become known as the Billion Dollar Bus Station. The following comes from a SCAG site:

The development of the Transit Village is yet another illustration that the development community is recognizing - and responding to - major demographic changes throughout the Los Angles Region. The Titan Group, which has completed numerous other projects throughout El Monte, is highly familiar with the local market. "The San Gabriel Valley is very family oriented," observed Bart Doyle, COO of the Titan Group. "People grow up here, their parents and grandparents live here."

But apparently those dreams were fleeting, and an unkind reality is now harshing Bart's vision of kids growing up near their grandparents. This from the same edition of the Pasadena Star News:

El Monte Transit Village expected to lose additional $2.5 million because of fraud allegations: The much-anticipated El Monte Transit Village is poised to lose more government and private financing as a result of fraud allegations made against two of the project's developers over the summer ... The city council will consider tonight whether to cancel a $2.5 million federal grant for a green building planned for the Transit Village because the developers say they can't meet the conditions of the grant in the wake of the fraud allegations ... In addition, private international investors say that, without the federal backing, their interest in the property is in jeopardy.

Speaking of redevelopment, especially the transit-oriented variety, did you know that 2008 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has declared the Metro Gold Line (aka "210 Trolly") one of the "most wasteful" transit projects in the United States? And to think I didn't vote for this guy. This from Streetsblog Los Angeles:

McCain's List of Wasteful Transit Includes Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes and Gold Line Extention: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a self-styled foe of what he labels wasteful government spending, has launched a broadside against transit projects in the U.S. DOT's 2010 spending bill, which is slated for vote this week in the upper chamber of Congress ...

And if go to the article you'll see a fine list of stuff he wants to cut out, including the extension of our very own 210 Trolly. Which, if he could somehow pull it off in a Senate dominated by the Democrats, would be quite a blow to the COG, BIA and SCAG types in our midst. Much of the hyper-redevelopment planning they have been pushing in the San Gabriel Valley being based, of course, on the proximity of those projects to the Gold Line.

And here is a case in point. It looks like Gold Line officials are trying to line up contractors to get started on the "shovel ready" Gold Line extension project. Again from the PSN:

About 150 small business owners filled a room at the Doubletree Hotel Monrovia Tuesday to learn how they could get a piece of a possible $735 million pie ... The pie is the Foothill Gold Line Extension project - a proposed rail line that would extend the light rail system from Pasadena to Montclair.

Yep. It's the exact same project John McCain has declared to be one of the Most Wasteful Transit Projects In America. So let's figure this out. If John McCain succeeds in pulling this off and prevents the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on a project that cannot really compete with other transit options (like cars), how would the Gold Line folks pay these small contractors? Here is how the question was asked at this meeting:

"How do you ensure (as a small business) that you really get paid?" she asked officials ... Long delays with transit agencies in the past have jeopardized her business, she said. "This is really hard for us small businesses," she said. "We can't take the hit that a multi-billion dollar business can."

And now John McCain wants to scuttle the project as a waste of the taxpayers' dollars? None of them will ever get paid then. Or even hired for that matter. And all those uber-density "transit oriented" redevelopment projects being pushed so hard by the usual culprits would lose their reason for existence. Go get 'em, John!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sierra Madre Soccer Mom Gets Speeding Ticket - Bail Set @ $1,137!

The bail document I was shown pretty much spells it all out. $1,137 big ones. Click on the scan to the left and you can check it out as well. Now I don't know much about speeding myself because my car tops out at around 37 mph, but that dollar amount seems pretty excessive to me.

And I think you'll agree that the woman who got this ticket, the mother of a house full of kids, is probably not really all that much of a risk for flight. I mean, what is she going to do, sneak off to Oregon in the middle of night, leaving her husband and kids behind because she is living under the onerous threat of having to pay a traffic ticket?

Now this family, friends of ours, doesn't want their names involved with this article. And I can understand that since I write this stuff and even I don't use my real name. Call it superstition. Or a desire not to lose yet another mailbox. But this now heavily leveraged soccer mom has a husband who happens to work at one of the tonier downtown law firms, and he has done a little research into the matter. But first he had to get a couple of things off of his chest.

Last weekend ______ was busted for speeding by someone known as Officer B____. He is a crank and wears a flat top. At a party over the weekend several of our fellow town folk described him as the scary guy with crazy eyes who ticketed everyone at the St. Rita's School Harvest Festival for not turning their wheels to the curb. Thank God someone is addressing the epidemic of runaway cars careening down Baldwin by ticketing every Catholic family within a three mile radius. No greater enemy of the Church has walked the earth since Henry VIII went to his deserved reward.

Now I get this a lot. Having kids means meeting a large cross section of people. Kids will force you into socializing no matter how much of a curmudgeon you are. And when we do go out with the family so our kids can play with other kids, I run into a lot of adult folks who want to talk local politics. They know I do this blog, almost all like it (the degree of acceptance sometimes amazes me), and I get to hear a lot of opinions. But it's never about SCAG, or SB 375, or redevelopment, or any of my abstruse obsessions. No, it is almost always about 2 things. The Skilled Nursing Facility, and the Sierra Madre Police Department.

So anyway, enough about me. My friend continued:

Personally I have no idea who Officer B_____ is. Still, I am always diligent to bad mouth our PD at all social functions and to urge support of its replacement with the Sheriff's Department, Arcadia's Police, or even those guys in Pasadena. Anybody but the rude, sorehead bunch of lawsuit artists that are holding this city hostage. And I always have a receptive audience. The Department is committed to angering the entire City one voter at a time.

He's right, of course. There truly is a groundswell of anger out there. Now in typical Maundry fashion I would try and analyze this as being the result of the community having voted them a raise, only to have them turn around and sue us a lot. But that isn't really it. People are used to getting screwed on taxes. They have come to expect it. No, this anger, and that is what it is, stems from the fact that these guys have handed out a blizzard of tickets, for the most trivial and aggravating nonsense. And it is usually done in a way that leaves people very angry. Then there is this:

In any event, I teased ______ about the ticket and told her that we should pay it and move on. She looked at me in that way she does when it is obvious I've totally missed the point. It was then that she informed me that the ticket is for ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN DOLLARS! No, that is not a typo.

An astonishingly large amount of cash for aggressive motoring in Mayberry. What would happen if you couldn't pay that amount? An important consideration because there are many people who I believe would find such an amount way beyond their ability to cover. Shouldn't there be some SCAG sponsored initiative for low-income ticketing?

Given the magnitude of this I tried to do some digging. The City does not have a copy of the traffic survey it approved at a City Council meeting earlier this year. The Police Department has not filed it. Regardless, it seems speed limits have been reduced to 30 MPH around town. There are also almost no radar enforcement signs. Still, Officer B____ used laser enforcement to ticket. I can't for the life of me figure out how these fines are arrived at.

I don't know, either. Maybe ticket values are done on a mood swing basis here in town? Has anybody looked inside one of those low slung Police cruisers and checked for a Magic 8 Ball? Maybe internet poker plays a role? E-mail from Nigeria?

Please investigate how these crazy fines are arrived at and the extent of authorized radar/laser use by the Police in areas where the posted limit is not supported. I love the blog. Keep up the good work. If you're lucky you'll soon be running for Council and end up being bad-mouthed by 49% of the town!

If I'm lucky ... I honestly hope for a much finer form of that stuff when I play the lottery.

So anyway, those are the questions. How is it a soccer mom with a minivan filled with kids can end up being forced to pay $1,137 in bail for speeding? It is an absurd amount of money for someone to have to shell out over a ticket. And why exactly is it called bail, anyway?

They are going to Court this week to contest much of what you've read about here. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Sempra Sex Scandal

I for one didn't know a whole lot about about Sempra Energy until now. I did understand, however, that our City Councilman Joe Mosca works for them as part of their "The Gas Company" operation out of Chatsworth, where he is listed as being a "Public Affairs Manager." (Employment striking this observer as being rather oddly beneath the station of a licensed attorney.) Not that this association is a big secret or anything, Joe seems to feel the need to mention it at just about every City Council meeting. But outside of that I just figured Sempra was nothing more than one of the usual energy giants whose lame and vaguely insulting baloney we must endure in order to heat our homes and keep the lights on.

But while you won't be reading too much about this scandal in our passive local press (they'd probably go belly up if they lost their The Gas Comany ads), the internet is aflame with this Sacramento Scandal Du Jour involving now disgraced Assemblyman Mike Duvall, and a Sempra Energy lawyer and lobbyist named Heidi De Jong Barsuglia. Here's how they ran this one down in East County Magazine, which is out Sempra's hometown of San Diego:

Shock and snickers greeted news reports today revealing that a lobbyist for Sempra Energy is accused of granting sexual favors to Republican legislator Mike Duvall, Vice Chair of the Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee. If true, the relationship would be a direct conflict of interest and a clear ethical violation, since the committee has oversight over utility industry issues.

Hmm, so this randy Assemblyman had a key decision making role in Sacramento on energy policy, and this lawyer/lobbyist from Sempra Energy was sleeping with the old dude? As one wag has remarked, no wonder Sempra lobbyists have traditionally been so successful. Of course, Sempra Energy claims that they have launched a "serious investigation" into this matter, something that I take as little more than damage control. But if they are serious, I would suggestion that they start by looking at Heidi's expense reports and company credit card bills.

In an article snarkily entitled Sempra lobbyists caught doing anything to influence votes ... including Assemblyman Mike Duvall, the Utility Consumers' Action Network reports that the legislator was overheard talking about this sexual relationship into a microphone that he didn't know was live. The faux pas was apparently videotaped as well, and the language used by Mr. Duvall is so obscene that we cannot print it here. Here are two excerpts from the article:

The video suggests that at least one of the lobbyists worked for the same firm that represents SDG&E and its holding company, Sempra Energy. The OC WEEKLY reports that one of the lobbyists is Heidi DeJong Barsuglia. It reports witnesses who have verified that they have seen Duvall with Barsuglia in restaurants, "arm-in-arm" at political fund-raising events and even shopping together for groceries just blocks from the capitol building.

And then this passage on the unfortunate incident:

The video shows Duvall discussing his sexual relations with lobbyists. Duvall, aged 54, mentions that he is having sex with two lobbyists from the same firm, and that one of them is 19 years younger than him. He mentions that he enjoys spanking the Sempra lobbyist.

The Utilities Consumers' Action Network then goes on to discuss the married Mr. Duvall's reputation as a staunch family values kind of guy.

Cynics might say that such things are a common practice in Sacramento, but are they? CBS News 8 in San Diego, where Sempra Energy maintains their corporate offices, reported the following in a story entitled Sempra Energy under fire in lobbyist sex scandal. Apparently they think so.

In the meantime, watchdog groups are not surprised. Michale Shames with the Utility Consumer's Action Network says the big energy companies will stop at nothing to get legislation passed. "I've gone to conventions where regulators are covered with lobbyists, taking them out dining, dancing, doing social things. This happens frequently," Shames said ... Election results show Sempra gave Assemblyman Duvall $1,500 in campaign contributions this session. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.7 million Sempra Energy spent on political campaigns over the last 12 months.

Now if $2.7 million in campaign contributions in the course of one year seems like a lot, well, it is. But since we're discussing the pay-to-play corruption of our beloved Sacramento, we should probably not be surprised. And by contrast, Southern California Edison, John Buchanan's employer, has only donated $336,000 to political campaigns during the same period. When it comes to buying their stake in the state government decision making process, nobody can shake a stick at Sempra Energy.

Then again, when it comes to lavishing the government types with campaign cash, the reigning kings of vigorish have to be developers and realtors.

Our friends at East County Magazine have now filed a story about a law suit being initiated by a San Diego organization called the Boulevard Planning Group. Its Chair, Donna Tisdale, is reported as having made the following observation:

In an e-mail to East County Magazine, Tisdale noted that the Secretary of State's Office website indicates Barsuglia completed an ethics course. "Guess the training did not stick," Tisdale observed wryly.

Then Ms. Tisdale added the following:

"Ms. Barsuglia allegedly conducted an improper relationship with an elected official who reportedly voted on issues before him in a manner that appear to have benefited her employer ... This is not the first time that Sempra Energy and their subsidiary San Diego Gas and Electric, and various managers and employees, have been in the news for questionable ethics and behavior. This hits close to home because they have several major projects in the works that create significant and cumulative impacts to our low-income rural community and sensitive lands ..."

It is sad to think that a major energy corporation like this might be pressuring its associates to perform unethical acts in order to further the cause of the parent company. I mean, who knows what kinds of things they could be asked to do?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Anthony Adams Recall Moves Forward (Updated 9/13)

Sunday update: You really have to love the Sacramento Bee database. The information they compile is priceless. This morning I spent some time poking around a database called "See every gift given to state leaders." Here is what the Bee has to say about this survey:

So far during this recession, California's leaders, their staffs and their relatives have taken about 12,000 gifts worth a total of $833,000, according to Bee analysis of tens of thousands of lobbyist disclosure forms. Legislators sat these gifts, which include more than $150,000 in tickets to concerts and sporting events, don't affect the way they vote. Campaign watchdogs counter that they are just short of bribery.

Now it looks like Anthony Adams, the Assemblyman now facing a possible recall vote in a few months, figures prominently amongst those receiving gifts from lobbyists. And out of all the government officials in Sacramento, Anthony Adams comes in at number 7 on the lobby largesse hit parade! And not only that, his staff ranks an incredible #2 on the list of gifts received! This is pretty amazing if you think about it. Why is it this relatively obscure Assemblyman ranks so high on a list of names that includes hundreds of people? What does he do to merit such generosity? And if you go to the database you will see that the list of gifts and those who gave them goes on for page after page after page.

Here is a brief sampling of lobbyist gifts to Anthony Adams, along with the value of these presents:

Body Center "Massage Certificates" $300
Walt Disney Company "Tickets to Disneyland" $300
Metropolitan Water District Southern California "Water" $780 combined
AT&T "Tickets to Kings game" $121
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs "Lunch and Gift" $107
Nectar Associates "Bluetooth Headset" $120
Anheiser Busch "Beer & Wine" $130

(Now back to our previously scheduled program...)

It looks like the folks who want to recall our Assemblyman Anthony Adams may have succeeded in getting enough signatures to help achieve their goal. This from the Victorville Daily Press:

The effort to recall Assemblyman Anthony Adams has netted enough signatures to qualify for a possible recall special election, organizers announced Thursday. The Committee to Recall Adams plans to submit 36,000 signatures in support of the Adams recall to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Recall supporters want to oust Adams, R-Hesperia, for pledging not to raise taxes and then providing a critical vote to pass a state budget with $12.5 billion in tax increases - the largest tax hike in California history ... If the recall moves forward, a special election would likely be held in January or February.

Personally I'm a little on the fence about this one. Not that I give a damn for Adams, I don't. And for reasons I will explain a little bit later. No, I'm kind of hung up on that tax-raising question.

Now both of our major political parties certainly have their ration of reprehensible traits. I am personally about as disgusted as a person can possibly be with our local Democrats. And this has not been an easy thing for me to come to grips with. I come from a family where you were born to the blue. My dad, a very political guy, was quite devoted to the affairs of the Democratic Party in Bergen County, New Jersey. One of his proudest possessions, which hung on the wall of his house right up until his death last year, was an autographed picture of a grinning version of his 1972 self next to an equally beaming George McGovern. But despite this touching personal legacy I have come to the conclusion that the Democratic Party of California is a corrupt and compromised disaster, completely in the pockets of the development and realty industries. Amongst many others. Traitors to the people whose interests they so unctuously claim to represent. Sorry, dad. What can I say? It's different out here.

But the Republican Party of California is an equally wretched mess. How a group of supposedly functioning adults can spend as much time as they do obsessing about who is married to whom is beyond me. Who could possibly care? Former Republican Assemblyman Michael "Sempra Love" DuVall? Just leave other people alone and try dealing with your own suspect lives why don't you. That would be my advice.

But where the GOP really goes south, at least in my opinion, is with this tax thing. Now the reason Sacramento needs as much money as it does is because it has to pay for a lot of things. Services, roads, railways, buses, health care, housing, schools, imprisoning about 1% of the state's population, the list is nearly endless. And why is this? Because the voters of California demand it. And where the Republicans have gone wrong is they have made a cause out of convincing people they don't have to pay what they really owe for all those state services they're receiving. Yes, you can accept all the Sacramento entitlements that you can get, and yes they are your right, but we'll still fight to cut your taxes anyway because, quite frankly, we want your vote. Telling people that they don't have to pay their way while still reaping the benefits of big government largesse is just about as irresponsible and hypocritical as you can get, and it's a big contributing factor in the $24 billion of state debt we've all done our part to create.

Now Anthony Adams shouldn't have told his political base that he would never vote to raise taxes unless he really intended to honor that promise. And in light of his subsequent tax raising he deserves their censure. But that said, was he wrong in supporting a tax hike? I don't think so. The people of this state want the government services that they receive, so they should be expected to pay their fair share to get them. Personally I think Adams showed some guts here. And maybe even a little integrity.

So does this mean that I will vote 'No' when the recall election comes around this winter? Absolutely not. I want this guy kicked to the curb and then driven from the district at the head of a howling mob. I don't want him to stop running until he gets somewhere east of Mississippi.

Why? Because Adams voted like a Democrat on SB 375, the law now known as the "Destroy California Cities Act." SB 375 effectively strips cities of the right to control development within their borders, and hands that power over to Sacramento. And why are they doing this? So that our venal legislators in Sacramento can pay back the development and realty lobbies for all those generous campaign contributions and other benefits. SB 375 is the biggest lobbyist boondoggle in California history. And Anthony Adams, member of a party that claims to represent hard working Californians, voted to fork over their interests to people who want to glut middle-class residential towns with shopping malls, vast new condo complexes, and towering mixed use office dungeons. All so that Sacramento's lobbyists can reap the benefits owed for all that cash they send to our lousy legislators.

Of course, what tops this all off is the 'yes' vote Anthony Adams cast this week on Assembly Bill 81 X3, the first piece of legislation in California history to ever attempt to run roughshod over a city's General Plan rights. And all for the benefit of a billionaire developer who wants to build a shopping center with a taxpayer funded pro football stadium attached to it. Yet one more step towards the brave new world of corporate state government. If the worst possible characteristic of the Democrats is the wholesale demolition of City development rights to please their lobbyist friends, then Adams by these two votes has proven himself to be right in there with them.

So yeah, vote to recall Anthony Adams. Throw the bum out. But maybe not for the advertised reasons.