Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fun Couples

It's good to see fun couples getting out and enjoying themselves. Often people who have been married for a while need to pull themselves from that "stay at home and watch TV" rut and step out and do something interesting and exciting. Life is to be enjoyed, and those who don't just won't get very much out of their time here. Which is why some relationships suffer as the years stretch on.

Now the Roskis and the Schwarzeneggers had a good idea. They went out on a double date. And they didn't just go out and hang around Hollywood like some other people we know. No, they attended a fundraiser for USC's Thornton School of Music. And the picture on the left, torn from the torrid Society Pages of the San Marino Tribune, pictures the happy foursome as they basked in the glow of all that Trojan culture. While they're not the kinds of people one might immediately associate with those of a more sensitive and artistic nature, the power of music seems to have lifted their hearts and brought beaming smiles to their faces. And who could possibly have a problem with that?

And maybe they have a little something to celebrate as well? After all, it was Arnold that helped Ed get his little football stadium thing going. You might recall that the Governor saw how Ed was being unfairly assaulted by frivolous local residents concerned over the possible environmental effects of a 75,000 seat NFL Football Stadium and attached semi-monstrous shopping mall. So Arnold stepped in and gave the local obstructionists something they deserved, he terminated (so to speak) their CEQA review rights, effectively cutting the ground out from under any lawsuits they might have been plotting.

But just because there will be no ongoing state environmental review of the project should not be taken as proof that we're talking about some ecological pariah. No, according the the author of the special "this case only" legislation that ripped CEQA from the hands of the football haters, we are talking about a Green football stadium! That's right. Just because there will be 40,000 cars in the parking lot it should never be taken for a global warming event. (And just you wait until 75,000 beer loving football fans get a crack at those water-free urinals!)

Here is how Assistant Speaker pro Tempore Isadore Hall, III (D - Compton), the author of the bill to save Ed's Stadium, puts it on his official website:

The California State Senate today approved ABxxx 81 by Assistant Speaker pro Tempore Isadore Hall which would facilitate the development of the nation's first "green" NFL stadium in Los Angeles County. The measure was approved by a vote of 21 to 14. Located in California's largest media market, the proposed 75,000 seat LEED certified stadium complex...

Now as most of you already know, LEED ("Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design") certification is what you get when your building project has been deemed green. And while I'm not quite certain what it would take to make a football stadium green, there is one thing that troubles me. How would you know if this thing is worthy of a LEED certification when it hasn't even been built yet? Don't they do tests or something first? The Assemblyman goes on to quote himself:

"While exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act are rare, there are extraordinary times when exemptions such as this one are necessary," said Assemblymember Hall. "This is an extraordinary time for California's economy: requiring us all to find ways to protect our environment and build our economy."

Well now. Since waiving CEQA rights is at the heart of SB 375, and one would expect that development projects created under its aegis will be neither rare or in any way extraordinary, I don't see how this was really all that unique an occurrence. Under the current regime in Sacramento it strikes this observer as being an almost daily event. And doesn't the Assemblyman's argument in favor of the Roski Bowl sound very similar to Meg Whitman's claims that AB 32 needs to be put on ice because the state's economy demands it? So many questions, so few answers.

One other thing. Going back to our fun couples, did you know that Ed Roski is one of the interested moneymen supporting the Thornton Schools at USC? In two posts on 12/28 from "Hocus Pocus" the following was revealed:

Development is a "diktat" in California, no market forces any more. What's not to love for an Austrian? There's more to this than Ahhnold. Check out the money half, Thornton. USC's Population Dynamics Group came up with the rationale for the RHNA numbers ... The Flora L.Thornton Foundation, heavily connected to USC among other Universities, is a funding source for USC's thinktank activities, which have been co-opted by development interests. Follow the money, as always. That's why Roski is the Chair for that Thornton fundraiser. Ahhnold is a sideshow wannabe. The Kennedy dynasty is burning out, particularly in California.

Nice tie, Ed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bart (Hearts) The Shenanigan Shuttle

It has been awhile since we've had a talk about Sierra Madre's infamous Shenanigan Shuttle. In case you're not hip to these happenings, it all goes something like this. Any city that falls within what Sacramento and its various sock puppet regional planning associations term a "transit corridor" would fall prey to the vast redevelopment demands of SB 375. The idea being that if you enable vast swaths of new condo developments people will magically give up their greenhouse gas producing automobiles and forever and ever crave the joys of riding public transit. Which, given the sad state of public transportation in Los Angeles County, is tantamount to asking your average working stiff to await those infrequently scheduled flying pigs to whisk him off to work.

(As an aside, has it ever occurred to anyone that low income housing might actually cause more people to own automobiles rather than less? If people of a certain income bracket could pay less money for housing, wouldn't that free up some of their income to get the one thing they've always wanted? That being a car? So they won't have to ride the damn bus anymore? If the purpose of this massive social engineering scheme is to get people out of their cars and into public transportation, all as a way of saving the world from Global Warming, I'm not so sure it is going to work as advertised. More evidence that the minions of the central planning regime in Sacramento have little meaningful contact with the real world.)

Anyway, so here in Sierra Madre we do have our bustling Shenanigan Shuttle. Hardly anybody rides this "Gold Line Shuttle," and our little bus usually remains empty as it circles the town seeking riders in vain. The money for it comes out of some Sacramento fund, so it doesn't hit Sierra Madre's General Fund. Something we're all supposed to be giddy about, though I do seem to recall that I also pay state taxes.

So what does this Shuttle do? It connects us to the Gold Line (aka "210 Trolly"), thereby making us a part of the San Gabriel Valley Transportation Corridor. Which in the Brave New SB375 World means that we will be hit with RHNA numbers in 2012 that will make the last coerced state planning demands look like a pleasant visit from the folks back home.

Now wherever things go wrong for us, there you will find Bart Doyle. Does this guy only seem to be driven to transform this quaint little town of ours into California Condo Generica? His uncanny dedication and focus on these matters goes beyond anything mere mortals are supposedly capable of doing. And there apparently isn't a development relevant covenant in existence that he hasn't joined. You can only wonder what it is we did to deserve such unwanted attention.

There is an organization that goes by the name of the San Gabriel Valley Service Sector Governance Council. It falls somewhere within the shared jurisdictions of the SGVCOG and Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro. And in July of 2004 our boy Bart Doyle was its Chairman. And in the Minutes to that meeting he discusses and advocates for, you got it, the buses we enjoy calling Shenanigan Shuttles.

Councilmember Spence commented that a five-city transportation consortium within the San Gabriel Valley that serves on SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments) has recently hired a consultant and that he would be happy to keep the Council abreast of positive developments in marketing and local transportation issues.

Chairman Doyle cautioned that the Sector may not be able to handle marketing issues on its own ...

Chairman Doyle reported that he met with the chairs of the other Sectors recently and that it was apparent that building increased trust with the MTA Board was a priority for all the Sectors. In addition he stated that the agency needs to consider carefully full integration of the Gold Line with the bus system, especially since this impacts ridership. Chairman Doyle emphasized the importance of having the sectors present a consistent message to the Board at the July 22 Regular Board meeting.

So there you have the omnipresent Bart laying out all the necessary ingredients for casting the San Gabriel Valley Transportation Corridor net as far and wide as possible. Gold Line shuttle buses and the onerous marketing demands it will take to get people actually use them. And the marketing that was eventually decided upon is telling of the difficulties the Bartster anticipated. It is heavily reliant on PC messaging, guilt trips, and other highly negative and coercive strategies. You evil car driving fiend, you.

Who would have ever thought that having a nice little trolly train running down the middle of the 210 could end up having such an impact on things such as RHNA numbers and our fight to maintain the unique qualities of our town?

One other thing. Wherever Bart Doyle goes, can Joe Mosca be far behind? It looks like his favorite hire has once again gone on to try and fill those mighty shoes.

Oh, and how many of the people pictured there do you think have gotten out of their cars and are now riding the bus? Like maybe ... none?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Our Current RHNA Numbers Are Based On Criteria SCAG No Longer Supports?

You might recall that special evening when our $50K Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) consultant Karen Warner walked into our lives and informed us that we really shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that we have any real say in how our town should be developed. And that the very best we can hope for is a peaceful surrender to Sacramento and SCAG. We should work with their numbers, maybe shave a couple units off here and there, but by and large plan for as much development as they want us to plan for, and then basically forget about it.

But where Karen got tripped up was on the population increase question. And here she adamantly stood her ground. Despite all the rumblings that Californians are leaving the sinking ship as quickly as their Toyotas will take them, the doyenne of Karen Warner Associates doggedly stuck to her guns and proclaimed the state's population is going up, SCAG's RHNA numbers are unassailably correct, and that we need to plan for an influx of new residents. And how could she not? SCAG's numbers are the cutter responsible for the stale cookies she serves up. Not just to us, but every other city perplexed enough to hire her. To deny a population increase means she'd have to do all that work all over again. As if she doesn't have enough on her plate already.

Now in June of 2001, on their peerless Compass site ("Charting the course for a sustainable southland"), SCAG's "Growth Visioning" forecasts had this to say about our soon to be arriving millions of new residents:

Population Growth in the SCAG Region: Southern California has grown into the nation's second largest metropolitan area. More than 17 million people call the Southland home and still more are coming. Over the next 25 years another 6 million people will be added to our large and diversifying region ... Immigrants are attracted here because of jobs and the hope of a better life ...

And it was these kinds of projections that led to SCAG saddling us and our many sister cities in the region with RHNA numbers that many felt were, for lack of a better word, crazy. But SCAG maintained that because millions of new residents were on the way, all of these cities should plan for the creation of vast new amounts of housing. Here in Sierra Madre the number was originally over 270. And nobody had the foggiest idea of where to put them all. That is, unless you took the wrecking ball to our downtown area and turned it into something resembling the traffic choked mondo condo parts of Pasadena. Which some disreputable people did try to do, much to their later financial despair.

And the influence of SCAG's crystal ball also showed up in the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element Update. Here's how that good old shuck and jive reads on this document:

Why Does Sierra Madre Have To Plan For More Housing? California's population has continued to grow by approximately 500,000 each year, translating to an annual need for about 220,000 new units ... The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the regional agency responsible for defining the fair share allocation among its 6 counties ... Based on economic and demographic forecasts, the State has determined that SCAG must accommodate 699,398 housing units between 2006 and 2014 to meet housing demand.

But it turns out there is trouble in paradise. You know that Compass report I cited above? It no longer exists on SCAG's website. The link supplied goes to a site owned by the company Laurie Barlow heads, where this document is preserved for reference. And if you try to link to the attached "Growth Visioning" report that has had so much influence in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area? That domain name vanished on 12/21/09. You see, the problem is California's population is now actually declining. Apparently the bold predictions SCAG made about population increases and a need for massive new development are no longer happening. Which probably explains all those unsold zombie condos out there. You know, the ones the banks own and the taxpayers are covering.

I guess being a fully funded government agency made up of incompetent planners and half baked prognosticators means never having to say you're sorry. And besides, they now have SB375 to peddle. (Something Joe Mosca is hard at work on these days as part of SCAG's CEHD/RHNA Committee.) Since vast hordes of new residents are not on the way, the now operative message is we need to build large quantities of new housing here to stop - get this - Global Warming. You got it, big condo complexes are going to save humanity from extinction. Which is no less of a crackpot theory than anything else Sacramento and SCAG have put out there. I'm sure that within the Kool Aid confines of their offices it all makes perfect sense.

Here are a couple of recent articles that have shown up on the web detailing California's population and jobs decline, and by inference just how far off the mark SCAG was. The first comes from CNNMoney.com. They put together a list of the Top 10 States they describe as being the Biggest Losers. And California is #1.

California Net Loss: 98,798 residents. For years more people have fled the Golden State than have arrived. In the year ended July 1, California was the country's biggest loser, with nearly 100,000 more residents leaving the state.

The other place reporting these new estimates from the U.S. Bureau of the Census is a site that I find fascinating (so I'm a geek), New Geography.com. In an article entitled The Decade of the South: The New State Population Estimates, they point out that California is indeed at the very rock bottom in the population loss category. And then they offer this piece of sad information:

What comes next after the chaotic decade of the 2000s? As is suggested above, much of the variation in domestic migration is explained by differences (in) housing prices and trends. Indeed, the price of housing may be a surrogate for the cost of living, which varies principally between areas based upon housing cost differences. This is likely to continue. In coastal California, house prices remained above historic norms, even at the largest "bubble burst" losses, and there are recent indications that unhealthy price escalation has resumed. Much of the West and most of the country is far more affordable. This would suggest that coastal California's domestic migration losses will continue and rise in the future.

You can only wonder how SCAG got it all so terribly wrong. The damage caused by their rank incompetence continues even now. And it has cost the City of Sierra Madre a fortune.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The "No Power To The People" Movement Gains Traction In California

Has Democracy become inconvenient in California? An unfortunate relic of another time? So much of what we have seen over the past couple of years would seem to indicate that it has become a burden for some. The removal of many of the development planning powers that used to belong to cities would be one of them. Too much undependable local control there. And CEQA reviews in the hands of local government could be bad for business as well. Sacramento has also thoughtfully removed those from us. After all, housing development is California's last great industry, and there is no need to allow small cities such as ours to interfere. Just bring in the wrecking ball and let the building begin! No questions asked.

You see, it just isn't any of our business anymore.

And while city development, planning powers, and CEQA reviews are now to be shared only at the pleasure of Sacramento, there is still that problem with voting. You just never know what those people are going to put on the ballot or, heavens forfend, vote for. The voters are entirely undependable and should never be trusted to make the right decisions. Or so the reasoning would appear to be these days. And no greater advocate of the "No Power To The People" movement than Larry Wilson himself is back with more important information about why YOU should be relieved that the California Voter Initiative process may soon be a thing of the past. You know, all those confusing questions that are always there on the ballot? Why should we bother our pretty little heads about that stuff? Better that you concentrate on more important things, like shopping. And Larry is here to help:

Larry Wilson: Voters brace for swarm of stinging initiatives: FOR your pleasure, there are 51 initiatives in circulation for placement on a 2010 California ballot. Thirty-eight more await titles and summaries. Three have already qualified - including one that would give voters open primaries in 2012 ... But that idea is boring and workaday, as are my favorites on an upcoming ballot, the issues that would lead to a California constitutional convention. That get-together would likely and happily restrict the propositions, initiatives and constitutional amendments with which we are plagues ... If God had intended us to be rules by this dubious form of direct democracy, he (sic) wouldn't have invented legislative bodies, through which other poor shlubs do the governing for us.

You see? There is our final solution. Give up all of your burdensome civic responsibilities like understanding the issues and voting on them to Sacramento. After all, hasn't Baghdad on the Sacramento River done such a wonderful job for us already? In addition to removing our city planning power and CEQA review rights, Sacramento has also given us record debt, local property tax confiscations, the nation's next-to-the-worst education system, and a business climate that has sent viable private enterprise and skilled workers fleeing for the borders. So why not reward them for all their hard work and dedication and make their control complete? Certainly you can't say they haven't earned it. And, as Larry points out, even God wants it that way.

Implicit in this line of thought is that unimpeded lobbyist legislative control is important for getting things done in California. After all, they really have become far more influential up there than the likes of you. So let's just make it official and have you butt out of it altogether, alright? Make your approval of the new "California Constitution" the last initiative vote you'll ever have to cast.

Now it would appear that Larry "The Surfing Solon of Sacramento Sycophancy" Wilson is hardly alone in this. Which, given the massive amounts of corporate money behind the "new constitution" concept of citizen abdication, should come as no surprise. And you do know that there was an instance of this messy "direct democracy" thing happening here in Sierra Madre, right? It was called Measure V, and apparently was some sort of citizens' revolt against a small group of people who believed that they alone had the right to decide what our town should look like. And that you really shouldn't have expected to have much say in the matter. After all, weren't those elected to our City Council at the time just smarter and more aware than everybody else?

Well, OK. I guess I'm taking sarcasm beyond its acceptable limits with that one. A bunch of greedy local real estate hustlers and their select moneyed cronies is more like it. But, wouldn't you know that the same kind of Wilsonian (Larry, not Woodrow) animosity to "direct democracy" has shown up here on The Tattler? Check out this comment to Friday's post:

Here's the bad thing about Measure V. On the face of it, it's not the kind of thing I'd vote for because its structure is not the stuff of "good government." It's clearly a reactionary measure that gives radical control via public opinion. It serves its purpose for local residents under the circumstances, but I wonder if it is something that can withstand legal and political challenges in the long run. So it's a little scary.

Sierra Madre needs to craft some governmental structures as part of its public policy that works to achieve the results that the residents want to keep future development in scale and character with the community. Unfortunately the way things stand now with general Plan revisions, the State would ramrod overdevelopment into the plan. Probably best to wait this one out until sanity is restored in Sacramento.

Hmm, so many targets, so little time. First of all, to refer to something as both reactionary and radical at the same time does seem to be a bit of a semantic challenge. Kind of like calling somebody a "rightwing leftwinger." But since when has citizens taking control of a situation and using the vote to redress an understandable problem with a faithless government become a form of political extremism? To me this is what being an American is all about. Fearlessly standing up to bad government and using the vote to redress grievances is at the very heart of the ideals this country was founded upon. In the case of Measure V the problem was that there was no "good government," and the people of this town did their civic duty and remedied the problem. And we should never want to lose that option should the need arise again.

And then there is the inevitable scare tactic. And my guess is the author of this Wilsonian (Larry, not Woodrow) statement is chafed because we haven't hired any consultants to work on our new General Plan. You know, where citizen government is apparently rearing its problematic head once again? And what is this threat? "Unfortunately, the State would ramrod overdevelopment into the plan."

I don't know where this dude has been napping or what, but the State is going to attempt to "ramrod overdevelopment into the plan" no matter what we do. The law, SB 375, has already been enacted, and people like "Sacramento Joe" Mosca and the rest of the SCAGgies are hard at work making sure those very things come to pass. To say that shelling out $300,000 for a consultant would somehow stop that process is absurd. Let's face it, all a consultant would be likely to do is recommend that we become compliant with Sacramento's development control. That is, roll over, stick our legs and paws into the air, and surrender any rights to controlling development in our town to the central planning apparatus up north.

Which, if I'm not mistaken, is exactly what the author of the above remarks is advocating here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Larry Wilson Disses Frosty, And Christmas In Sierra Madre Dies A Little

Did Christmas in Sierra Madre die a little this week? Perhaps you could hear it, a faint wisp of a wail on the winds that sent shivers through so many, yet with few really knowing why? I can only hope that Bill Coburn doesn't know about this. Because nobody loves Christmas more than Bill.

Frosty the Snowman has been a beloved Sierra Madre tradition for some time now. And every year like clockwork Frosty shows up in the back of a couple of pickup trucks, as fluffy and pure as the mountain snow he comes from. And in the caring hands of the dedicated folks who have honored this tradition throughout the years, these inchoate snows of the San Gabriels are shaped into a figure known and beloved to children everywhere, Frosty the Snowman. Or, as we are known to call him here, just Frosty.

There is an excellently delineated photo montage to be found on the Sierramadrenews.net site called "Frosty Comes to Town." It captures everything that is special about this occasion, and in its gentle way helps to define who we are as a town.

Which is why I was personally stunned and dismayed when I read the following on Pasadena Star News columnist Larry Wilson's Public Eye blog:

The ugliest snowman - I don't know if some intrepid Sierra Madreans went up to Baldy and got a truckload, or if this is the crushed leftover slush from a late night at the Buccaneer, but this old boy at Baldwin and the Boulevard is the sorriest snowman in the San Gabriel Valley, so far as I can tell. Of course, maybe he's the onliest snowman in the SGV, too. And it's true that the lime eyes are a nice touch. This morning he was melting away in the wind and picking up all kindsa grit from the air... Merry Christmas anyway!

Now we here in Sierra Madre have gotten used to taking shots from Larry Wilson. From the infamous "stroller mom" column earlier this year, to the time he accused us of having no "American Americans" in town. Yes, I know, it has been hard. But we've all learned how to handle these kinds of things.

But why did he have to go after Frosty? Why?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pasadena Preservationists Step Up Big Time

Here we have yet another example of a City Council making development decisions that are completely out of touch with the wishes of the people it supposedly serves, and how those aggrieved citizens then turn to the Courts as a recourse to their faithless representatives. But the one thing that makes all this just a little surprising is the situation we're talking about is happening in Pasadena. Of all places.

In a story printed on the 21st in the Pasadena Star News, staff writer Janette Williams describes these happenings thusly:

Pasadena group sues city over scope of retail/office development - Pasadenans for a Livable City - a newly formed group that includes former City Councilman Sid Tyler and Planning Commissioner Richard Norton - filed suit Monday against the city to stop the $75 million Playhouse Plaza project the City Council approved on Nov. 17.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the city did not follow the California Environmental Quality Act, and violated its own rules on downtown development when it gave the go-ahead to the five-story, 159,000-square foot retail/office project at Colorado Boulevard and South El Molino Avenue.

According to the suit, the project's "mass and scale would overwhelm the Playhouse National Register District buildings," including the historic Pasadena Playhouse. It also claims that environmental reports failed to adequately study the impact on traffic on South El Molino between Colorado and Green Street.

Gosh, mercenary elected officials attempting to circumvent CEQA in order to allow a powerful development company to build some hideous goliath of a mixed use monstrosity right in the middle of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city? Like that never happens. And don't those troublesome preservation people know that according to SB 375 when you build big mixed-use buildings in a downtown neighborhood people magically give up their automobiles and take the bus, thus saving the world from immolation by greenhouse gas?

Looks like Arnold and Darrell's very special Big Lie isn't working in Pasadena anymore.

This next bit is amusing. You can only wonder what Pasadena Mayor Bill "Build 'Em" Bogaard was doing when this project was approved by the City Council there.

Mayor Bill Bogaard said he learned about the lawsuit filing late Monday morning and was "anxious to read the complaint" in detail.

"One should remember that this is a project that was rejected unanimously by the (nine-member) Planning Commission, and that each of the commissioners had serious reservations about the EIR and other procedural and policy questions that were applicable to the proposal," Bogaard said.

It was "unusual" for the council to disregard the commissions views, he said.

Yeah sure, unusual. Except when there's a lot of money to be made, campaign contributions and other considerations to be pocketed, and patrons to be paid off.

As far as I can tell, Pasadena's downtown is filled with "unusual" these days. Oh, and traffic, too. You see, because Pasadena blindly gave in to "DSP-style" development around the time we dumped it, they now have a downtown very much in-line with what SCAG claims is the remedy to such things as traffic. Except that they now have more traffic than ever. The Rose City is rapidly becoming The Gridlock City.

It might not have been around when Pasadena fell for the redevelopment mirage. But whatever the sequence, the SB 375 concept clearly isn't working.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More PUSD News: Altadena Group Looking To Break Away From Pasadena Unified School District

We had a pretty lively discussion about the Pasadena Unified School District a few days ago. And one of the things that came up was the possibility of Sierra Madre going it alone, something one commenter assured us couldn't possibly happen. However, it looks like nobody has informed the good citizens of Altadena, who have apparently been working on their escape strategy for a while now.

In an Examiner.com article called Altadena petitioners seek to establish new unified school district, reporter Laura Berthold Monteros breaks it down this way:

Much of Pasadena was carved out of Altadena, its unincorporated neighbor to the north. Now some Altadenans are trying to carve a new school district out of the Pasadena Unified School District, which encompasses Altadena, Sierra Madre, and Pasadena.

Altadenans for Quality Education, a group of local citizens from across the community, are seeking to petition the Los Angeles County Office of Education to do a feasibility study on forming Altadena Unified School District. The feasibility study is the first step toward establishing a separate school district. Such a move would follow the pattern of other cities, such as La Canada, Temple City, and Monrovia, which broke away from the PUSD in the past.

If you go to the Altadenans for Quality Education website you can see that they are at 99% of their goal of getting 7,000 signatures. And should the entire process go through and Altadena achieve its goal of breaking away from the PUSD and going it alone, Sierra Madre would then be the last city in the Pasadena Unified School District that isn't Pasadena. The article continues:

Like many parents who had the means, Dr. Herb Meisleman, an AUSD supporter, sent his children to private schools after trying out the public schools. He would like to see a smaller, locally-run district that he believes would be more responsive to Altadenans, "so people don't do what I had to do - send my kids to private school."

It has always been my contention that be it schools, or police, or any other taxpayer funded situation, in the end we are paying for a service. And we owe it to the community to make sure that the services we are purchasing with our taxpayer dollars are the very best available. It never hurts to look around once in a while and see what else is out there. Otherwise you could end up in an unfortunate situation, like being the last stepchild in a school district that everyone else has left.

In another article on the Examiner.com site, Pasadena Unified School District pushes parcel tax, budget cuts, their reporter details some of the developments:

With fewer students - a loss of more than 3,000 since 2004 - the Pasadena Unified School District is facing declining income along with declining enrollment. A projected budget deficit of $20 million has resulted in proposed cuts to match. Cuts include faculty, staff, libraries, and athletics.

The PUSD, which includes Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre, is pushing to get funding from tried-and-true sources, such as a parcel tax on the 70,000 parcels in the district and property leases. It has also come up with less traditional sources, such as charging a fee for home-to-school transportation for regular education students, and a "gift" catalog provided by Pasadena Educational Foundation, which provides grants to the district.

In the eyes of many parents and community residents, however, the financial and enrollment problems of the PUSD are attributable to decades of mismanagement and inflated administration at the district level. One parent commented that though her children had many excellent instructors and were accepted into universities on graduation, she always felt a frustration with the district administration.

"They would leave incompetent principals in charge and play switcheroo with competent ones," she said, "and they always seemed to blame the parents or teachers for problems on campus. It doesn't matter who you elect to the school board, they all come around to the same way of thinking."

So let me get this straight, we get hit with a new parcel tax, and in exchange the PUSD cuts faculty, staff, libraries, and athletics? Like I said, we need to make sure our money is being used to obtain the best possible services available. And paying more for even less than we're getting now should not be something we would easily accept.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sierra Madre Tattler's First Year

"Critics? I love every bone in their heads." -Eugene O'Neill

Actually the first article we ever posted here was on December 13, 2008. Something that should have made the official Tattler 1st Anniversary a week or so ago. But who can keep track of such things? I certainly can't.

So in the course of the last year we've published over 330 articles, attracted thousands of comments, and have seen our readership go from zero to something that does fairly well on Google's blog ranking service. Which isn't bad for a site that is almost exclusively about the politics of a rather modestly sized town of around 11,000 people. Not exactly the venue or topic for instant mass media stardom.

I've been trying to figure out how to commemorate this event, and outside of maybe splurging on a doctor to get checked out for carpal tunnel syndrome, I was kind of stuck for ideas about how to accomplish this. But then, looking back to those earlier days, it occurred to me that there is a whole lot of material that people haven't really seen. It was just a few of us during those first several months, yet a lot of topics were covered. And a lot of these matters are with us months later, and still need to be resolved.

So I've picked out a number of articles to reprise. A kind of Whitman's Sampler from a very large pile of sweets. And for those of you who have been here from the beginning, there is no doubt that some notable items will seem to have been passed over. But for those who came to this blog a bit farther down the road? Here's some stuff you might want to check out. And let me tell you, the first year was the easy part. What's in store for the next will be far more risky and challenging.

Never let it be said we didn't work hard.

Ex-Sierra Madre Mayor Glenn Lambdin's Mighty Struggle With The Lord (Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 9 comments) Long time Sierra Madre figure and former Mayor the Lambster confesses on Bill Coburn's elegantly designed Sierra Madre News.net site that his years of Christian fundamentalism are now behind him. In what was frankly a hilarious and sophomoric essay about his inquest into the existence of God, this home improvement professional and kung fu aficionado confesses to a new belief, this time in agnosticism.

The Astonishing H. Susan Henderson (Wednesday, January 7, 2009 - 11 comments) It turns out that the publisher of our adjudicated newspaper of record (then known as the Mountain Views Observer), has a rather notorious past. Would you believe that she was at one time the #2 ranking poobah in the California Democratic Party? And that she lost this rather posh gig for resume' padding (she claimed she had a law degree from Berkeley when apparently she's only a high school graduate), and misuse of the party's credit card? All information that came out during her crushing defeat at Court in the Deuxamis case.

Take The Last Train To SCAGsville (Monday, January 26, 2009 - 15 comments) SCAGsville, also known as the "billion dollar bus station," was in reality a very special SCAG project called "El Monte Transit Village." The brainchild of John Leung of the Titan Group, along with his trusted sidekick Bart Doyle, the dream came to a crashing halt a few months later in a storm of legal embarrassment. Did you know that buses are the answer to global warming? While that was what Leung was saying, it wasn't the fraud he was arrested for.

More Deception From The Mountain Views Observer (Friday, February 6, 2009 - 14 comments) In an article chock full of humbug and typos, the MVO's editor supplied a deceptively described photo designed to make the Skilled Nursing Facility appear to be a gathering point for "day laborers." Something which the article's author seemed to find appalling. It is rare to see such naked ethnic animosity in a California newspaper these days.

Now On Facebook: STOP the Sierra Madre Smoking Ban! (Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 75 comments) This was the beginning of what was to become a running battle with those wacky "smoker kids" over an ordinance designed to keep them and their foul smelling tobacco products away from our fine downtown eateries and small children. Their predictions of economic ruin and a fascist takeover of Sierra Madre have yet to come to pass, though I am sure at least a few of them continue to monitor the situation from their parents' basements.

Tattler Interview: Ana Ramirez (Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 25 comments) The publisher of the Mountain Views "Observer" hired Ms. Ramirez to clean her house and wait upon guests at a party. But when the time came to be paid for her hard work, the MVO's publisher turned out to be a deadbeat. The later humiliations Ms. Ramirez suffered at the hands of this woman are heartbreaking.

Did The Congregational Church Deliberately End Run Sierra Madre's City Council? (Thursday, February 26,2009 - 58 comments) Not expecting to get approval for its "New Life Center" (which despite their denials is actually a school), the Congregational Church just went out and built a seriously out of code building in the middle of downtown Sierra Madre. And for whatever reason no salaried employee at City Hall seemed to notice, even though it was built within earshot of the place. Maybe it was built during "summer hours?"

Sierra Madre Voted For A UUT Tax Hike Because We Were Supposedly Going Broke. It Now Turns Out That Might Not Have Been The Case. (Monday, March 9, 2009 - 40 comments) After years of hearing about how the city was going broke (and often from elected officials who couldn't be bothered to complete the audits necessary to actually prove their case), it turns out that the residents of Sierra Madre voted themselves a 100% utility tax hike based on math that was over $1 million dollars short. Someday I'll need to do a post on the storm of politically correct language used to explain this all away.

Susan Henderson Characterizes Sierra Madre As "Mississippi In 1959" (Thursday, March 19, 2009 - 51 comments) Speaking before a half empty room of mostly napping oldsters, Susan proclaimed Sierra Madre to be something akin to the deep south during the height of anti-civil rights terrorism as practiced by the Ku Klux Klan. There is no evidence that any of the slumbering members of her audience were awakened by this stunning revelation.

Put The Utility User Tax Back On The Ballot (Friday, March 27, 2009 - 86 comments) The article that caused many at City Hall to cry out to the heavens for mercy. But since the voters of Sierra Madre had basically been fibbed to when they went to the polls to approve the UUT hike, what other ethical solution is there? How City Hall wriggled off this hook remains a cause for much heated speculation to this day. In economic times as tough as these, news that Sierra Madre is running surpluses and handing out raises to "staff" might not be the cause for celebration some might believe.

Tattler Exclusive: The Marquez Letter (Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - 30 comments) When the Congregational Church went to City Hall to defend their building a structure without permits, and in the wrong zone, they did so by claiming they had a letter from the city fathers authorizing them to just that. Somehow the letter ended up in our hands, and it turned out to be about as legally binding as a three month old copy of The Pennysaver.

The Order of the Fly (Monday, April 20, 2009 - 63 comments) Now most of us know that "Mosca" in Italian means "The Fly." And when our buzzing buddy put out the word to his "followers who had been there from the beginning" to meet at Casa Fly and discuss his quixotic campaign to become Mayor of Sierra Madre, one of his original preservationist supporters did show up. Only to be turned away at the door and briskly escorted from his property.

A Susan Henderson Story Told In 3 Short Videos (Friday, May 8, 2009 - 30 comments) After having been crushed in Court and ordered to pay $40,000 to Katina Dunn, plus change the name of her publication due to "misappropriation," Susan Henderson was rudely chafed. And when Mayor Kurt Zimmerman made an ever so slight reference to her legal denouement, Susan stormed into a City Council meeting and gave a rather edgy performance that still stuns viewers. You see, it was all caught on video, and Neuroblast Films posted it. Check it out.

The California Association Of Realtors Channels Saul Alinsky (Monday, May 18, 2009 - 114 comments) Your fun loving pals at The Tattler drove some computer jockey of a suit nuts comparing the infiltration techniques employed by CAR to the organizing methods of famed '60s radical Saul Alinsky. We have a pretty good idea who the agitated commenter was, and remain grateful for his comical umbrage.

Meet The Owner Of The Sierra Madre Cumquat (Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 45 comments) During the time Measure V was being debated, those who longed for its defeat launched a nasty pornographic website called The Cumquat in hopes of demoralizing and ridiculing the good hearted people working hard to save this town from the wrecking ball. But after Measure V passed, this website, along with its sock puppet host, perished. Imagine the excitement when The Tattler discovered that the current owner of the rights to The Cumquat brand turned out to be the President of the Sierra Madre Rotary Club.

Glendale Deals With A Major Cause Of Blight: Real Estate Speculators (Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 137 comments) The practice of buying up buildings during difficult economic times and just letting them rot until times improve is a practice some real estate speculators enjoy. And Glendale got sick of it and passed a law that allows them to fine the pants off the dirtbags. This article led to a similar ordinance being agendized here in Sierra Madre, with our City Council set to approve it very soon. Look for the Skilled Nursing Facility to get new windows any day now.

No Show Joe? (Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 34 comments) Joe Mosca has always seemed most proud of his membership to SCAG. Despite the fact that this organization is basically out to turn Sierra Madre into something the residents here do not want, Joe can't brag enough about what a fine SCAG guy he is. But then, Sierra Madre interests were never Joe's real priority. So imagine the surprise many felt when The Tattler revealed that Joe couldn't be bothering to even show up at SCAG's meetings.

Anybody Getting The Impression That Larry Wilson Has A Serious Problem With Sierra Madre? (Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 33 comments) This post was in response to the 2nd Larry Wilson column within a three week period that made some rather bizarre accusations about this town and its residents. But what made this Larry Wilson column particularly amusing was the truly hilarious errors and factual absurdities contained within it. Something that had some speculating whether he was suffering from merlot poisoning when he filed it. Larry's column is reproduced within the cited article, so take a look for yourself. Then maybe you'll be able to tell us what an "American American" is?

Did Sierra Madre Weekly Photographer & Reporter Terry Miller Out Himself As Being A Cumquat Contributer Last Night? (Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - 23 comments) The self-promoting photographer for the stuffy Sierra Madre Weekly turns out to have had a kinky alternative life. That being as a part-time picture boy for the obscene website The Sierra Madre Cumquat. And how did we find out? The poor dear spilled the beans himself.

Tattler Breaking News: El Monte Developer Accused Of Fraud, Embezzlement (Monday, June 22, 2009 - 28 comments) Remember that Billion Dollar Bus Station? Well the developer, John Leung, was arrested for some dastardly doings. Of course, the real reason we cared as deeply as we did was because he was former Sierra Madre Mayor Bart Doyle's boss. The El Monte Transit Village, something that many so-called "smart growth" bus huggers had put so much faith in, may now never see the light of day.

The Most Clueless Headline Ever? (Saturday, June 27, 2009 - 35 comments) Considering the stiff competition they get from the Mountain Views "News," winning this celebrated cite from The Tattler for exceptional ineptitude is really quite a feat. But with their headline, "City Manager: Sierra Madre Has No Surplus," the gents at The Sierra Madre Weekly took the donkey tail in the pants. But hey, what else would you expect from a bunch of carpetbaggers from Monrovia?

The Pasadena Star News Doesn't Read Itself (Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 67 comments) In one editorial the Star News said Sierra Madre was going broke. And in another editorial a few weeks later they said we're running huge surpluses and need a tax cut. I swear you could get whiplash from reading this rag. But we read it everyday.

Mommy? Why Did That Man Say They're Taking away My Library? (Friday, July 24, 2009 - 60 comments) In one of the most inane ploys ever, a bunch of knuckleheads tried to make the case that they were the saviors of a Library that was in absolutely no jeopardy of closing. The attempt to manufacture a controversy where none actually existed went on to make them a laughingstock in town. But should they have lied to their own kids about it? No, I don't think so.

The Head Of SCAG Is A Former Soviet Planner? (Saturday, October 10, 2009 - 52 comments) Now they might act like some kind of totalitarian outfit backed up by the might of a powerful central government, but that the leader of SCAG should turn out to be an actual former Soviet Planner is just too good to be true. But there it was. So when will Commissar Ikhrata send in tanks to quell the uprising here in that dissident stronghold known as Sierra Madre? And will Joe Mosca run out into the streets to greet them as liberators?

Joe Mosca Fired (Wednesday, October 14, 2009- 68 comments) How deliciously ironic that the haughty Mr.Mosca should have been canned by the Mayor of Sierra Madre from his SGVCOG job because of a report in the Tattler. It happened. Once again Joe was caught not showing up to something he was supposed to. During the City Council meeting where the deed was done, John Buchanan asked if anyone knew how embarrassing this was. Indeed we did.

So that's our review of a portion of The Tattler's first year in existence. A lot of stuff is listed here, but it barely scratches the surface. Just a ton of information about all the scoundrels, deadbeats, lobbyists and dishonest politicians that bedevil us on a daily basis. But they are fun to write about, that's for sure. And there always seems to be plenty of material.

Christmas is here and we're going to a light publishing schedule for the next week or so. I'm sure there will be a couple of things to write about, so keep checking in. And there are always the comments. But it's family time, and you know we all have to do what's right. Family is always first.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and thanks! I've made some of the best friends I've ever had doing this blog. Please accept my gratitude.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Will AB 32/SB 375 Even Happen?

It is becoming more and more obvious that AB 32 (the foundation upon which SB 375 is built) might not make it to its 2012 launch date. The forces that are gathering now to undo what Arnold hath wrought grow louder every day. And if that happens we could very well dodge the bizarre RHNA numbers and unfunded Sacramento mandates that organizations like SCAG (and SCAG/CEHD functionaries such as Joe Mosca) are working so very hard to make happen here. Something that could result in unwanted high-density development in Sierra Madre and throughout the San Gabriel Valley "transportation corridor." Below is an excellent article from Fox & Hounds that details the costs associated with AB 32. The authors' conclusion is that in an economic climate such as ours AB 32 could be an economic disaster. A contention that Arnold Schwarzenegger, now saddled with Gray Davis level approval ratings, might no longer have the political capital to fight.


New Study Finds AB 32 Scoping Plan Imposes Staggering Costs on California’s Families and Small Businesses

<span class=
Sanjay Varshney is the Dean of the College of Business Administration at the California State University, Sacramento. Dennis H. Tootelian Ph.D is a Professor of Marketing and the Director of the Center for Small Business at the California State University, Sacramento.

Our study released today finds that small businesses in California will pay an additional $49,691 as a result of the California Air Resources Board’s implementation of AB 32. The study, which we conducted at the request of the California Small Business Roundtable, analyzes the potential economic impacts of AB 32 on the state of California, its consumers and its small businesses.

The study focuses on the costs to be incurred by consumers in five specific areas: housing, transportation, natural gas, electricity and food. Using three different scenarios to measure the economic costs, we find that the potential loss of output, jobs, indirect business taxes and labor income is substantial and significant.

Our report reveals that when the plan is fully implemented, California families will be facing increased annual costs of $3,857 and that in order to cope with the increased costs generated by the Greenhouse Program, consumers will be forced to cut their discretionary spending by 26.2%. We conclude that when California’s climate change program, AB 32, is fully implemented, the average annual loss in gross state output from small businesses alone would be $182.6 billion, approximately a 10% loss in total gross state output. This will translate into nearly 1.1 million lost jobs in California. Lost labor income is estimated to be $76.8 billion, with nearly $5.8 billion lost in indirect taxes. This decline in revenues will have a severe impact on future state budgets.

Small businesses drive the economic engine in California. They comprise 99.2% of all employer firms and 99.7% of all firms. They account for over half the employment, over 90% of net new job creation, and 75% of the creation of gross state output. Costs borne by small businesses due to the implementation of AB 32 must be carefully evaluated for a full understanding of their significance and impact on the state and residents.

The study’s cost analysis was based on the California Air Resources Board’s own findings, which revealed significant cost increases. The study’s findings are consistent with the Peer Review analysis commissioned by CARB, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) review of the Scoping Plan and an analysis conducted by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC). These independent analyses concluded that the cost of the AB 32 Scoping Plan would be significant, and that CARB had significantly underestimated these costs.

An adverse impact on small business is bound to adversely impact the production of goods and services in California, the risk tolerance of entrepreneurs and investors, the productivity of labor, the quality of life, and the overall well being of the State and its citizens.

Currently California is facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, an unstable real estate market with rising foreclosures, and rising numbers of families looking to move out of the state to find a more affordable living. Businesses are similarly faced with an inhospitable environment that features some of the highest taxes and utility costs in the nation, and an unfriendly regulatory climate that will likely result in more leakages of businesses elsewhere.

Legislative and regulatory mandates may result in practices and policies that raise the costs of operating for small business or provide a deterrent to small business growth, and hence provide disincentives for economic risk taking and entrepreneurship. This appears to be the case here. While the ultimate goals of AB 32 are not in question, the findings of this study suggest that the costs associated with the implementation of the AB 32 Scoping Plan will have significant adverse impacts on California’s economy, consumers, and small businesses.

Friday, December 18, 2009

SCAG's Population Increase Assumptions Appear To Be A Tad Bit Off

One of the things that SCAG prides itself on is its ability to peer into California's future and tell the great unwashed exactly where they are all going. And don't think this is merely a frivolous exercise in soothsaying. Things such as RHNA numbers and the amount of state imposed redevelopment we will be forced to endure are often based on these predictions, and therefore are regarded as something very important in regional planning and city government circles.

For the longest time now SCAG has been projecting that population in California will continue to go through the roof, and therefore we need to go on an immediate building binge to accommodate all of those fortunate new arrivals. One of the big arguments against Measure V was that downtown condos had to be built because millions of people were heading our way and would need places to live. With some of them most certainly coming to Sierra Madre. You could almost hear the thunder of all those happy feet as they rumbled two by two down the slopes of the Rockies and across the deserts in their steady westward flight.

And SCAG continues to maintain that the Great California Population Boom is just a-rolling on. Here is a little Q&A they have up their site dealing with Census Data and SCAG's population projections.

How much has Southern California grown since the last census? Since the 1990 Census, the Southern California region as grown from 14.6 million to 16.5 million. An increase of 12.81%. All of the counties in the SCAG region experienced a growth of at least 12% with the exception of Los Angeles County, which grew by 7.4%.

Are the census figures on track with SCAG's previous projections? The census counts were approximately 2% lower (340,608) than SCAG previous projections of 16,856,614. Most of the difference was attributable to Los Angeles County (266,516).

How do the census figures compare to the state's own projections? The state's population projections were also higher than our census counts. The department of Finance has argued that the difference is attributable to an undercount of the population in California, which has been reported as 529,782.

As you can see, population growth has been the rule here for some time now, with the assumption being that a great rate of increase in folks coming here is as much a part of our world as sunshine and palm trees.

In SCAG's June of 2004 opus, Southern California Compass Blueprint Growth Vision Report ("Charting the course for a sustainable southland"), the following population projection was boldly asserted. This from a SCAG press release as little else is now available on-line:

This report begins with a general discussion of the challenges facing Southern California as it prepares to accommodate an estimated additional 6.3 million people by 2030.

Later in the report the following message reinforcement was provided:

Projections indicate that 6.3 million more people will be added to the region between 2000 and 2030, bringing the total population to 22.9 million.

So this Los Angeles Times item from yesterday must have come as something of a challenge to many Compass true believers:

California population growth slowest in more than a decade - California's population grew less than 1% in the last year, the slowest growth rate in more than a decade as migration to the state barely kept up with the significant number of people leaving, according to state Department of Finance data released today.

Across the state, natural increases rather than migration accounted for the largest source of population growth. Los Angeles County, for instance, lost more people than it gained through migration but grew slightly to 10.4 million people from July 2008 to July 2009 because births outstripped deaths.

And in July of this year the Los Angeles Times printed this shocking bit of news:

California could lose a House seat after 2010 census - Here's yet another result of the bad economy: California's congressional delegation is unlikely to grow and could even lose a seat after next year's census for the first time since stagecoach days.

Now all this does raise a question. If the current RHNA numbers we are struggling with are based on now reality-challenged assumptions of significant robust population increases, shouldn't they be revised significantly downward? Or maybe even scrapped altogether? Otherwise won't that lead to vast over-development and yet more empty condo complexes falling into receivership, with the involved banks then requiring yet more bailouts from the Feds? Something we are seeing today in so many cities within the 6 county SCAG region?

I'm sure the highly responsible visionaries at SCAG are very hard at work correcting these "Growth Visioning" assumption errors.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More On PUSD's Measure Y Theft Problems

A late night flurry of posting action on yesterday's topic made me dig a little deeper into the matter of those lost Measure Y funds. Money that apparently was stolen by a contractor and some PUSD employees, and has yet to be reclaimed. Now theft is something that happens from time to time in both government and big business. But what makes this matter a bit more intriguing is that when the Pasadena Unified School District went to the District Attorney looking for legal action against the thieves, the D.A. shot them down because their record keeping on Measure Y funds was so bad they didn't think they'd stand a chance of getting a conviction.

Now this matter came up during the Measure TT vote, with opponents of the initiative suggesting that the PUSD just can't be trusted with the public's money. Something that apparently did not worry the voters much at the time as TT passed by a huge margin.

But there are two things that make this matter relevant once again. One, despite the PUSD's assurances that the matter would be dealt with legally, nothing ever came of it. The money is still gone and those who took it are walking around without having suffered any legal consequences. Secondly, the Pasadena Unified School District, now desperately strapped for cash, is gearing up to try and convince the voters they deserve a parcel tax. And given the unfortunate debacle regarding the Measure Y rip off, you can't help but suspect some rather tendentious nonchalance on their part.

So here are three additional articles I found on the Measure Y funds theft. More corroboration that will hopefully dissuade the PUSD's last loyal supporters from their blindness on the topic. After all, incompetence at the top of our school district is pretty indefensible in my opinion, and in the end only hurts those who are least capable to deal with the consequences.

1) Measure Y funds probe ends (Pasadena Star News, October 25, 2008): A 10-month probe into allegations of fraud and theft in the Pasadena Unified School District ended with no charges when prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to file a case ... Pasadena police Friday blamed shoddy bookkeeping and lack of oversight by the school district in administering the projects funded by Measure Y, a $240 million bond measure approved by voters in 1997 ... "Nobody was checking, nothing was being done," Pasadena police detective Lt. John Dewar said. "There was no paper trail verifying work was being done." ... From the beginning of the investigation, police "found some serious issues with lack of control and oversight," Dewar added. "There was no audit to check what was done," he said. "The thieves got in and took the money."

2) Pasadena school district withholds public records of alleged theft of school bond funds (Pasadena Star News, October 30, 2008): Pasadena Unified School District officials refused Thursday to release invoices, an attorney's report and other public records related to their investigation of at least $80,000 they say is unaccounted for from a 1997 school bond ... According to the District Attorney's charge evaluation worksheet, the allegations surround Eric Peterson, a former project manager for contractor Pacifica Services Inc. The District Attorney's worksheet said PUSD officials suspected that the company improperly billed the district for work that was never completed - or was completed by others - at Washington. The district hired Pacifica to complete Measure Y modernization projects. The contract required Pacifica to provide regular updates to a citizens' oversight committee. It's unclear if those updates were regularly provided, officials said ... Peterson said Wednesday he was the "13th project manager. Everybody else either went nuts or walked off the project," which he described as "pandemonium."

3) PUSD to file suit to recoup Measure Y funds (San Gabriel Valley Tribune, February 25, 2009): The school district will sue three contractors officials allege owe it at least $300,000 for unfinished work at Washington Middle School related to the Measure Y school bond measure passed in 1997 ... The school board late Tuesday said they will pursue a lawsuit against contractors Eric Petersen and Jess Yzaguirre and Mark Kingsbury, a former district official responsible for approving the invoices on Measure Y projects ... Superintendent Edwin Diaz Tuesday said the district will not wait for the District Attorney's office to reopen the investigation. The DAs office had declined to file charges in June 2008 and said it couldn't make sense of the documents provided by the district.

Rather cut and dried as far as I can tell. The thieves took hundreds of thousands of dollars in Measure Y bond money, and have yet to suffer any consequences. And to date there are no indications that I've seen of any lawsuits having been filed, nor has the District Attorney changed his mind about prosecuting anyone in this case. Again, shoddy PUSD record keeping being cited as the reason for the DA having backed off.

Pretty sad state of affairs, and hardly the kind of thing that would make anyone feel comfortable about approving their request for a parcel tax.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Something Going On At PUSD That We Should Know About?

I'm not quite sure what is going on here, but that has never stopped me before. Our mission here at The Tattler is driven by a relentless need to know. And besides, when in doubt just ask questions. That's what Socrates did, and he became quite an important figure in his community. Though his career did take an abrupt and radical downturn there at the end.

So the last time we looked into the Pasadena Unified School District things weren't going so well. They'd come into a whole lot of dough thanks to the generosity of the voters in passing both Measure Y and Measure TT, but then later something didn't go quite right. Apparently somebody had been ripping the PUSD off for a sizable chunk of that money.

Way back in January of this year we posted an article called School Daze. In it we discussed how this school district had handed over $217,000 to a contractor, who then just pocketed the money and walked away. Didn't do much work, but kept the cash anyway. And as bad as that was, the situation got even worse. The PUSD had this all investigated by the Pasadena PD, plus they'd done a forensic audit as well. But then something very embarrassing happened. Here is how the Pasadena Weekly described this particularly unfortunate turn of events:

However, when (Pasadena) detectives submitted their evidence, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges because the school district's Measure Y record keeping was not adequate to secure a conviction.

So it appears that the PUSD forked money over to this grifter of a construction guy, but their financial record keeping was so lousy there wouldn't have been enough evidence to prove anything in Court. And the District Attorney refused to prosecute. Pretty sad state of affairs, and certainly something that would make you want to question the basic competence of those running the show.

Now it's been a year since that Pasadena Weekly article appeared, and the PUSD finds itself back in the financial hole. And despite the passage of both Measures Y and TT, it looks like they're going to have to go back to the taxpayers and ask for even more money. Again the Pasadena Weekly tells the story.

Cutting bone: District could be forced to lay off teachers and cut programs to close 'historic' $20 million budget gap - A colorful brochure recently mailed to residents of Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena - the three communities that comprise the Pasadena Unified School District - paints a grim picture of the district's financial situation, one in which the Board of education may have to lay off teachers, close schools and cut math, science and arts programs in order to close a $20 million budget deficit in the $225 million budget for 2010.

(As an aside, should an organization that is both broke and begging be spending money on expensive glossy color brochures and mailing them to 10s of thousands of homes? Just asking.)

Not an usual circumstance in this economy of course, but given their past shaky record keeping and the consequences that had on the prosecution of that grifter of a construction guy, there could very well be some skepticism about raising even more money for these guys. After all, Measure Y alone was worth a cool $240 million big ones. A lot of money no matter what fund you put it in.

So nowadays the PUSD is on a bit of a charm offensive and hopes to get the voters to approve a parcel tax to help them close that $20 million financial gap. Which is why they were very upset when the following e-mail started making the rounds a week or so back.

In An Effort To Keep The Community Informed ... your attendance is needed at the PUSD board meeting on Tuesday, December 8th. There are many issues concerning the use and disbursement of Measure TT and the ability of the PUSD board to ensure that there is local and minority participation by contractors, trades people, and other local businesses. The community does not want to see a repeat of what happened with Measure Y in which many jobs were let to businesses outside Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, and therefore not allowing our tax dollars to recirculate within our communities or allowing our local and minority contractors, trades people, and other local businesses to benefit from the work that is generated by this Measure.

You certainly would also hope that whoever is hired does the work they're paid to do, and if they don't that the PUSD would be able to prove that they wrote a check and get the money back.

So the group that sent out the above e-mail apparently created a document and passed it out at this meeting. And though I have not seen the document, it would appear that they had fleshed out some of the points made earlier, particularly on the school district's contractor hiring practices. Something that apparently sent PUSD President Tom Selinske through the schoolhouse roof. Which is certainly understandable given the delicate nature of selling a new parcel tax to the citizens during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Hardly the time you'd want any controversies.

And yesterday on the usually insipid Pasadena Now website the following notice from PUSD President Selinske appeared:

Letter to Community From PUSD Board President - Recently a document was distributed in the community that cast numerous inaccurate allegations regarding the Measure TT School Bond program which was approved by the voters in November 2008. The document was filled with incorrect and untrue statements. It is important for the community to understand the facts in regards to the Pasadena Unified School Districts (sic) facilities bond and clear up unsubstantiated rumors and inaccuracies.

The notice then went on to try and refute many of the things that were apparently said in the offending distributed document. I linked to Selinske's statement above if you wish to examine the entire document.

Now all of this would be highly entertaining except for one thing. That would be the fate of the students who attend these schools, and the teachers who work in them. Why is it the PUSD seems to be in a constant state of financial crisis and must go back to the taxpayers time and again and keep asking for more money? Two massive bond issues have been passed, and now we're expected to approve a parcel tax on top of that? Where does it end?

I personally voted for both Measure Y and Measure TT. But despite the hostage taking it will take a considerable change in my current thinking to get me to vote that way again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

California's State Legislators Feel The Sting Of Our Disapproval

On the Sacramento Bee "Capitol Alert" website there is some distressing news for those toiling long and hard in our State Legislature. As most of us know by now, their efforts are not held in very high regard by the voters these days. But are you also aware that the reputations of our Legislators has fallen so low that many citizens in California now believe that their finances could be better handled by Britney Spears?

Here is how The Bee breaks it down:

Britney Spears: a budget guru the public can count on? Now here's one way to measure the public's faith in their elected officials. Californians would just as soon allow the meltdown-prone pop princess Britney Spears to run their family budget as they would leave their finances in the hands of their state legislators, according to a new poll ... Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would opt to have the Legislature manage their money, with 31 percent preferring to put Ms. Spears in charge. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed either didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Certainly puts a light perspective on an otherwise grim subject. So who was behind this novel survey?

The poll, conducted by Wilson Research, was commissioned by Philip Tirone, a Los Angeles-based mortgage broker. Tirone has launched a campaign dubbed "No to Sacramento" to try to get lawmakers to repeal the temporary 10 percent increase in personal income tax withholding that was approved as part of the July budget revision ...

Now perhaps you find this amusing, and then again maybe you don't. But have you ever taken a moment to stop and consider the emotional toll all this accumulating criticism might be taking on the spirits of our elected state officials?

Apparently Jon Coupal, writing for the Fox & Hounds website, has given the matter some thought. And the prognosis is one that I do not think will positively impact the State Legislature's esteem issues. Here is what he reported yesterday:

Sacramento lawmakers are unhappy with their jobs. Recent complaints by members of the legislature include: People don't appreciate them; solving problems is hard work; they don't have the power they think they deserve; their retirement is mandated by term limits; there is no lucrative pension; and their pay is being cut - although they will remain the highest paid lawmakers in all 50 states at nearly $100,000 annually along with a car and another $30,000 a year in tax free expense money ... If lawmakers don't like their jobs, their dissatisfaction is not nearly as strong as that of the general public. The October Field Poll showed the Legislature's approval at a record low 13%.

Now for most folks what is described above is pretty good money. Throw in the car, fun money, plus all those lobbyist generated percs, and you're talking about a fairly privileged life. You'd think that would be enough to help anyone get past any professional slights or criticism they might be experiencing. But apparently those elected to serve in Sacramento view these sorts of things differently, and there are some who are not afraid to let us know that their feelings have been hurt.

"Who wants to grow up and be held in low esteem by 87% of the people and have to deal with the budget and not have a darned thing to say about it," Assemblyman Juan Arambula told the Los Angeles Times.

Considering all of the atrocious decisions that have been made by Legislators such as Juan over the past few years, you'd think he'd have the decency not to whine about any resulting public opinion problems. It leaves the unfortunate impression that he doesn't feel very responsible for much of what has happened to California on his watch.

Did you know that the Washington Post had a pretty significant feature article about our Assemblyman Anthony Adams yesterday? Certainly the biggest shot of national publicity our boy has ever received. The gist of the piece was about the attempt to recall Adams and how this is an indication of what a circular firing squad the Republican Party has become in this state. With Adams playing the victim of circumstance role. You can read the whole thing by clicking here.

But what serves our purposes today is the Post's description of Anthony Adams himself. They don't paint all that flattering a picture.

Anthony Adams looks like somebody's idea of the archetypal citizen politician. Bearded and portly, he favors bulky colorful sweaters to suits and shirts, and discards ties at the first opportunity. At 38, he is not someone with glittering prospects outside of government. He worked in retail sales for a while, hosted a radio show in a small California market, and has failed the California Bar Exam four times. But he found his calling in politics. He served as an aide for a San Bernardino County supervisor for a while before becoming legislative director for the county. He won his Assembly seat in 2006, aided by widespread support from ardent conservatives impressed when he signed a pledge to oppose any tax increases. "I thought it would be a good thing," he recalls.

While I'm not sure it was the intention of the author of this piece, this description certainly does reinforce the impression that we don't exactly send our best and brightest to Sacramento. And I can never figure out why it is just the tax thing that people write about when discussing Adams and his difficulties. Never anything about all of the lobbyist gifts he accepts, or his votes on such things as SB 375. While flip flopping on a tax pledge is a bad thing, in this case it's hardly a unique event.

There is so much more to the dismal picture than that alone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Consultant Proclaims Pasadena Has The Highest Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The Entire Western Hemisphere?

Don't you think that Joe Mosca and John Buchanan would just love to hire this particular consultant and have him stop by to "give staff some direction" on greenhouse gas issues? The solons running Pasadena actually did hire this guy, and paid him a bucket of taxpayer dough in the process. And what did they get for their money? Apparently they bought themselves a report that makes the lovely Rose City out to be an ecological wasteland on a par with the likes of Chernobyl.

The consultant we are discussing here is a Mr. Michael Hendrix, and he is the "air quality and climate change team leader" at the consultancy outfit PBS&J. Here is how they described Mr. Hendrix upon hiring him last July:

Hendrix is an authority on solving technical challenges related to air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, health risks, and acoustics. "Mike will help California cities cope with the increasingly urgent need to get out front of climate issues that are negatively impacting the state," said William S. Ziebron, PBS&J's California state director. "He'll be advising cities on how to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and will help resolve other air quality issues impacting plans of several cities..."

Now apparently Mr. Hendrix's rather controversial recent finding that Pasadena is the source of an incredible amount of nasty global warming emissions did not go completely unnoticed in the local press. And Pasadena Star News reporter Dan Abendschein captured the sense of confusion and alarm some on the Planning Commission experienced there upon hearing the bizarre conclusions contained in this consultant's report.

Study of greenhouse emissions questioned - Was it a miscalculation that resulted in Pasadena having the highest greenhouse emissions of any Western Hemisphere city? - Does Pasadena have the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any city in the Western Hemisphere? That was the question members of the Planning Commission asked after reviewing a consultant's plan aimed at reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state legislation.

Consultant Michael Hendrix of PBS&J, a consulting group, used a complicated formula to calculate Pasadena's greenhouse emissions that took into account the number of vehicle trips residents make, the source of the city's utility power, and the amount of garbage the city emits, among other factors ... Compared to the handful of other cities that have made similar calculations, Pasadena's emissions could be the highest in the Western Hemisphere - about five times as much as Santa Monica and Berkeley, two California cities of similar size, according to the calculations Hendrix used.

Planning Commission members were understandably distressed by those estimates. "This makes us look like a West Virginia coal town," Commissioner Richard Norton said.

When you spend a lot of money on a consultant you usually get some kind of advice to go along with all that data. And certainly Mr. Hendrix had his recommendations. One of them just happened to be that Pasadena should zone for (wouldn't you know), even more high-density development than it is already struggling with.

Sadly, Mr. Hendrix's conclusions couldn't have come at a more politically embarrassing time. You see, there has been something of a mass case of buyer's remorse among the residents of Pasadena recently. This in regards to a huge infusion of downtown development in the past few years, the result of a previous General Plan. And with a new General Plan now in the planning stages, the last thing these concerned Pasadena residents wanted to hear was that this detested development had turned them into a notorius international air pollution and traffic pariah. The very things all that condo and mixed use construction was supposed to remedy. Or so they were told.

And now this Hendrix guy is saying that the way to solve the problem is to allow for even more development? Needless to say, that just didn't fly. And an incensed Pasadena Planning Commission had Hendrix strike it from his report.

So here is a question. Do cities investigate the consultants they are considering before actually hiring them? Because I did a very cursory internet search into this Hendrix fellow, and it seems obvious to me that his outre' recommendations should have come as no surprise. If you click here you will see an example of what I mean. Here are a few of the pertinent details from the cite:

Title - SB 375: A Proactive Approach for Local Jurisdictions - Inland Empire Chapter Program Association of Environmental Professionals, June 24, 2009.

Presentations by:
- Theresa Fuentes, City of Pasadena - Deputy City Attorney
- Michael Hendrix, PBS&J - Project Director - Air Quality & Climate Change

Involved Agencies:
- Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), AMBAG and MTC in the SF Bay Area, SCAG and the sub regional COGs in So Cal

As you can see by linking to this rather large deck (and it does go on), Hendrix is pretty much a garden variety "by-the-book" SB 375 advocate, and someone apparently deeply enmeshed in Sacramento's MPO policy enforcement apparatus. That he would have recommended a plan for yet another layer of unwanted high-density development in a city already way beyond capacity seems pretty obvious to me. Strip away the greenwash and that's what SB 375 is really all about. However, that the City of Pasadena would have to pay this guy a large sum of cash to find this out seems rather negligent to me. The internet could have told them all they needed to know about this fellow for free.

But maybe there is a career opportunity for somebody here. How about a consultant who would screen consultants for cities too cerebrally challenged to do the basic checks for themselves? Which is probably most of them. If you are currently unemployed and thinking of going into business for yourself, there really seems to be a need for this kind of service.

Tell them Eric Maundry sent you.