Introduction (2 minutes): One thing I ask people when I am out knocking on doors is to consider where our city is. Sierra Madre is situated in a county of over 11 million people, the most densely populated in the United States. The 2nd place finisher is Cook County in Illinois, with less than half the population.
And yet, in this most densely populated county, we have somehow managed to maintain our little place as the small independently run foothill village that it is. Despite the intense pressure that has been put upon Sierra Madre to allow the kinds of dense urban development we now see in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, Arcadia, and Monrovia, we have somehow managed to dodge all that. Our town has remained an enclave in a county that at times seems out of control. Yet here we can raise our kids in timeless surroundings that wouldn't be out of character in New England, the South, or any small town setting in the Western United States.
So how have we managed to preserve our pristine enclave in the middle of all that? The answer is we are a town blessed with some of the most cantankerous, tough, politically astute, and uncompromising people anywhere. We know what we have and we are not afraid to defend it, no matter what the decorum police might say. Be it through Measure V, or unseating elected officials who have become too impressed by big money overdevelopment, this town has always managed to defend its way of life, and win. Sierra Madre didn't just happen by magic.
Today we are at just such a point. Sacramento, through Federally funded regional planning organizations such as SCAG, is exerting strong pressure on us to become another Glendale or Pasadena. They have a powerful new law, SB 375,which takes away much of our authority to plan for development our way. Unlike the Measure V fight, it isn't just about Bob the Builder anymore.
Make no mistake, this election is between those who would preserve Sierra Madre, and those who will do or say anything to change it forever.
1) Alverno (1 minute): In a state with an education system in perpetual crisis, we can hardly afford to see the demise of a private school that gives a quality education to women who come from modest means. This would serve no one, and as a society we would all be definitely worse off for this.
On the other hand, any manager of a facility is responsible for not just maintaining it, but also making sure that the needs of the community are respected and met. The heart of any community is cooperation and mutual respect. It is out of this that the best solutions come.
And there will be a solution to this problem. Alverno and the surrounding community are now deeply in negotiations, and hopefully we will have some good news soon. And we all await Alverno's General Plan on their proposed expansion. We all just need to get along here.
2) The Blight Law and the Skilled Nursing Facility (1 minute): Something I am very proud of is the Blight Law that is about to be enacted by the City Council. Proud because it was my idea. I wrote about it on my online news site, the Sierra Madre Tattler, Kurt Zimmerman picked up on it, and it is about to become a fully functioning ordinance, and one with teeth. A real solution to a problem others only complain about.
Based on a similar Glendale ordinance, this Blight Law (known in city parlance as Ordinance No. 1306 Requiring Maintenance of Vacant Commercial property) will subject to stiff fines any downtown commercial property owner who allows his property to fall into a blighted condition. People who buy property as an investment will now be held responsible for making sure that it doesn't become an eyesore like the Skilled Nursing Facility.
Once this law goes into effect I am certain that we will see some real improvements going into effect at the SNF. Paint, some flower pots, rust getting knocked off the fence, all that. And when you do think of me, the guy who came up with a real solution. One far more effective than all that empty complaining and blame assigning you've heard from some.
3) City Hall Employees (1 minute): Employee morale has been a problem in the past, but due to the hard work and superior management skills of our City Manager Elaine Aguilar, I understand things have improved greatly over the last couple of years.
Staffing levels, which had been a concern in the past, now seem quite adequate to the jobs that are being given to them. And one of the reasons for this is we are no longer hiring expensive consultants to do their jobs for them. Rather jobs such as the work on our new General Plan is being done in-house and with the help of our volunteer General Plan Committee, something that is not only saving this city $300,000 in our hard earned tax money, but is also engaging the considerable planning talents of those working in our City Hall. Now allowed to do so, city staff is accomplishing great things, and nothing creates employee pride like being free to do their jobs well.
This in my opinion is a tremendous step forward, and I think we can now begin to feel a little pride in the job that is being done for us by our city employees. If we are to remain an independent city in control of its own destiny, we will need the help of our employees at City Hall. We need to work with them and speak respectfully of their work.
4) Dust Ordinance (1 minute): During the era before Kurt Zimmerman and MaryAnn MacGillivray were Mayors, developers and real estate investors were sometimes given a pass on the quality of life effects their projects might cause here. One thing these parties got a free ride on was with construction generated dust. Ask anyone who lives near One Carter and you will get an earful on the topic.
After much consideration and discussion by City Staff and concerned volunteer committees, the City Council will soon consider a Dust Ordinance. Something some other cities in California have in place.
The term for this public health offender is Fugitive Dust, and it is defined as solid particulate matter measuring 10 microns or less.
Now I don't know exactly how you would measure a dust particle, but with the endless construction at One Carter and soon Stonehouse the matter must be addressed. Something must be put in place to protect seniors and young children from the debilitating effects of particulate dust inhalation. It is a serious public health matter and need to be treated that way.
5) Eminent Domain Ballot Initiative (1 minute): I am a strong advocate for voting 'yes' on the Eminent Domain question. The taking of private property for private profit is an awful practice, and anything that restricts its use is a good thing.
Some, like the local paper Mountain Views News, have tried to convince us that because our Community Redevelopment Agency (or CRA) has been restricted in the use of Eminent Domain, there is no need for further prohibitions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That limited curb only applies within the downtown area, and then only to things under the direct purview of the CRA.
Our Eminent Domain initiative would expand that very limited CRA restriction and cover the entire city. Homeowners need the same kinds of protections against Eminent Domain property seizures that businesses in our downtown area now enjoy.
Additionally, this Measure, if passed, would prohibit our City government from ever participating in the use of Eminent Domain for private property taking for private gain. Effectively tying the hands of any agencies of any future Sierra Madre government from using this atrocious practice against the residents of the City whose interests they are supposed to represent.
6) Fiscalization of Land Use (1 minute): ... is another cockamamy plan cooked up by our Federally funded regional planning organization, SCAG. And what it basically states is that all the cities within the SCAG region should be willing to pool their tax revenues so that those cities not as provident as ours will be able to tap into it once the consequences of their bad fiscal practices drive them into the deep red.
In a way this is a solution to the problem overdevelopment has caused in many cities. They allowed for the creation of a lot of new development, both housing and business. Which led them to make the dangerous assumption that these properties, once built, would produce a lot of new sales tax revenue. And then they began to spend like they already had it in the bank. But you know what? The condos didn't sell and the new commercial properties didn't rent. And they didn't really have the money they'd already spent.
Regional solutions like this do not work for Sierra Madre, and this is a prime example. Because we are not in debt, and are running a budget surplus, does not mean we are required to bail out places like Irvine. We must remain an independent city in charge of its own affairs, and not a regionally controlled cash cow whose taxes can be confiscated by those who do not answer to us.
7) Infrastructure - Paving Streets (1 minute): While it is true that the streets of Sierra Madre are in rugged shape, we need to make sure that any solution does not create an even bigger problem.
Councilmember Joe Mosca suggested at a recent City Council meeting that he would like to have a Bond Measure passed to pay for all these street repairs. Interest on a $5,000,000 bond at 4.5% for a 20 year term is over $2.6 million dollars. This in not the kind of lavish expenditure a city of 11,000 people can easily afford.
Putting a heavy burden on the taxpayer, particularly in today's economy, is not a realistic solution. And because the state is now "borrowing" our property taxes, which is where the vast majority of the money this City raises comes from, we cannot plan for such expenditures too far into the future.
The streets do need work, of this there can be no doubt. But here we must proceed on a pay as we go basis. We must not commit ourselves to huge new debt as Mr. Mosca has suggested in order to do it.
8) The Library (1 minute): I believe that the heart of any town is its Library, and that a town that does not have one is not much of a community at all.
There are a great many things that are under digital assault these days. Newspapers are one, the music and movie industries are as well. And books, the cornerstone of any civilization, are being reduced to digital files and squirreled away.
I was out knocking on doors last weekend and got to speak with a gentleman who works as a librarian. And he told me that many libraries are now in the process of digitizing their collections, and some now have only 20% of the books they used to carry. 20%. Did you ever think you'd go into a library and not see very many books? I find that to be a sad thought.
But that is not the case with the Sierra Madre Library. It has books, and lots of them. Which, I guess kind of makes them old school in a way, but I like that. I do not only want to keep our library strong, but keep it a library that actually has real paper and fiberboard covered books. I do not want to see that ever taken away from us.
9) Measure V (1 minute): ... was instrumental in helping to keep Sierra Madre from being forced to accept the kinds of overdevelopment that is scarring once pleasant downtowns in Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale. Had we not voted to approve Measure V we could be looking at the same kind of new blight we can now see in so many other cities in the area, large mixed-use high density condo complexes that remain only partially filled and a financial burden on the taxpayers as the banks holding the paper on them beg for the Federal bailouts they need to stay afloat.
One of the canards you hear against Measure V is that it is responsible for the blighted conditions at the Skilled Nursing Facility. This property was purchased by an investment group that wanted to construct a very large - and very high - condominium complex on the property. Measure V, which was designed to preserve the low density character of our downtown, prevented that. And rather than do what they were supposed to do, the owners let the place fall into ruin.
With property rights come property responsibilities. Just because things haven't gone your way is no excuse for creating an eyesore in the middle of Sierra Madre. The responsibility lies with the owner of the Skilled Nursing Facility, and nobody else. And with the new Sierra Madre Blight Law coming into effect soon, that responsibility will take the form of stiff fines for the damage being done to our city.
10) Mosca Mayor (1 minute): I would not have voted to make Joe Mosca Mayor of Sierra Madre. When Joe ran for office in 2006, he had no stronger supporter than I. His go slow on development, preservationist message hit home for me. And the very heart of his campaign was that when it came to the large and very controversial downtown development plan under consideration at that time, he supported giving the residents the final say and wanted to put that question to a city wide vote. This promise swept him into office.
But once in office Joe Mosca broke that promise. Rather than heed the will of those who had elected him, he turned his back and joined the overdevelopment side of the City Council. To me and many others, this represented an unprincipled and heartless betrayal. It led to the Measure V election, lawsuits, and a recall attempt. It is also why so many of those who supported him in 2006 will not vote for him in this election.
Honesty and integrity are important in politics. It is how a voter can put their trust in the person they are voting for. Joe Mosca broke his promise to Sierra Madre. That, in my opinion, makes him an unworthy candidate for a position of trust and honor such as Mayor of Sierra Madre.
11) Preservation (1 minute): We are the heirs of something truly remarkable. Situated in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas to be found anywhere on the planet, we live in a small city that in many ways has escaped the miseries of the modern world. Congestion, crowded housing complexes, crime, the homeless problem, these are all things we do not experience in Sierra Madre.
Sierra Madre didn't happen by mistake. It took the hard work of many over the last 100 or so years, and we are the ones who must now shoulder that burden and honor their sacrifice.
Preserving this inheritance is one of the most important things we can do here. There are many
homes in town with a great history, and architectural marvels are to be seen. But it isn't just our historic homes that must be protected, but also the city that they call home must be protected as well. This has been the life's work of many, and I am proud to call many of them my friends.
Make no mistake, this is an election between those who would push forward the work of preserving Sierra Madre, and those willing to sell our legacy to the highest bidder.
12) Public Safety - Police (1 minute): Public safety is our greatest responsibility. Adequate resources must continue to be made available and allocated for our Police, Paramedics, and Firefighters. There is no more important job for a City Council than that.
That said, our Police Department now represents 51% of our General Plan budget. More than half. And as we go into negotiations with the Police Officers Association - their union - on a new contract, it is good management practice to consider whether any possible policing agreement is fiscally realistic. After all, we are purchasing a service, and we need to make sure that what we are spending our money on is the best available, and at the best rate. It is how things are done in the business world, and such principles should always be applied to government as well.
People do have a strong attachment to the idea of having our own Police Department. I get and support that. And I am sure that we will be able to have good and productive negotiations and things will be worked out. But the Police Officers Association, which represents over 100 police departments, is a very tough, very hard nosed organization. We must not allow ourselves to be pushed over like we were last time.
13) RHNA Numbers and Nonsense (1 minute): I think there is some confusion on this issue. Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers (RHNA for those who speak acronym), are assigned by SCAG. It is how Sacramento enforces their demands that we build more housing than we can accommodate, either in space or things like water. To claim that submitting small RHNA numbers to some state bureaucracy makes us look bad is absurd.
Sierra Madre is not an industrial town. It is a residential town. I'm pretty sure there are not many living here because they thought they'd get a job assembling aircraft or manufacturing Nissans. They live here because they want to live in a place that is secure and clean, where their kids can grow up safe from drugs and crime. The economic growth in Sierra Madre, one of the few cities in California running a budget surplus, comes from what our highly-paid wage earning residents bring back from their jobs elsewhere. People who chose to live here because of what this town is.
If somehow Sierra Madre is turned into just another urban core cookie cutter mixed-use town, which is what Sacramento through SB 375 is demanding, it will drive this town's most financially reliable source of prosperity away. These taxpayers didn't come here to live in Los Angeles. And if we become that they have the wherewithal to leave.
14) SB 375 (1 minute): You must remember that Sacramento is now absorbing almost everything of value in the state. From "borrowing" our property taxes and CRA funds to stripping our once vaunted public education system and consigning it to a Mississippi level of quality, the only thing our state government seems capable of these days is manufacturing massive debt.
It is in this light that we must view SB 375, the Sacramento solution to global warming. In the past Sacramento, through SCAG, claimed that we must plan for large scale development because millions of people are about to move here. And that didn't pan out - California's population is in decline and for the first time in state history we might actually lose a seat in Congress - their argument became - get this - that condominiums will save the world from greenhouse gas producing Global Warming.
This argument states that if people live near public transportation in high density housing they will magically give up their cars and take buses and trains. Cars being the only culprit for greenhouse gas that Sacramento recognizes. But to change the face of entire cities - to demand we build such things - on the gamble people will then want to ride the bus is absurd, and the entire premise is nonsense. SB 375 was created as a sop to Sacramento building and real estate lobbyists, nothing more and nothing less. It has as much to do with saving the world as eating a baloney sandwich.
15) Skilled Nursing Facility & Howie's (1 minute): One thing that I am very proud of is the Blight Law currently in process of being passed by the City Council. I first discussed this on my local news blog, the Sierra Madre Tattler, it was picked up on by Kurt Zimmerman, and agendized.
For too long the owners of the Skilled Nursing Facility have been allowed to let their investment property sit and rot, an eyesore that shames our community. And for too long City Hall has given those owners a pass. That will now change. Once the Blight Law is passed owners of blighted downtown commercial properties will face considerable fines for allowing their properties to fall apart. we no longer have to accept that.
I would like to see an Urgent Care Center put into the Skilled Nursing Facility. Our residents should not have to travel any farther should disaster strike. And long term care for the elderly is needed here as well. There has been some interest in these, and hopefully we will land a prospect soon. Sierra Madre definitely needs a market at Howie's, and in my opinion Taylor's Meats fills that goal admirably. It is the kind of independent business that fits into our downtown perfectly. Now we just need to find someone to take the rest of the building.
16) Water (1 minute): Under the shaky and debt-ridden hand of Sacramento we are being told to accommodate more residents, more industry, and a lot more housing development. Yet, and as Don Watts has so wisely pointed out to the City Council on several occasions recently, our water table continues to fall. We are dependent upon mountain fed well water for our city supplies, and we have had to drill these wells even deeper to get at diminishing supplies.
The question that has to be asked is this: Just how much more development can this city withstand? How many more people can we accommodate in a town that is already having some difficulty meeting its water obligations? Do we just plant more cactus and hope for the best?
People talk about the "green issue" a lot, and how we must build cities that are sustainable and living within a natural environmental balance. With water we could very well be on the verge of losing that balance. We certainly should not be arranging for situations where the need for even more water will be created.
17) The Final Statement (2 minutes): The progress Sierra Madre has made in the past two years under the leadership of Mayors MaryAnn MacGillivray and Kurt Zimmerman, and Mayor Pro Tem Don Watts, has been remarkable. No longer are we enduring a City Hall that is incapable of getting its audits done, maintaining a balanced budget, or leveling with the public. It is their spirit of strong competence and loyalty to our small city ideals that encouraged me to run for City Council.
Here are some of my goals:
- Continued monitoring of the UUT tax hike is vital, and in tough economic times we need to find ways to decrease that tax load.
- The Senior Center and Sierra Madre Community Room renovations are funded. We must now make sure that work is quickly completed and the needs of our residents met.
- Public safety is our greatest responsibility. Adequate resources must continue to be allocated for our Police, Paramedics, and Firefighters.
- The Canyon Zone and General Plan Committees must be allowed to complete the work of protecting one of the most unique and interesting cities in California. Resident control over our own living environment is an ideal I believe in. And far preferable to the outrageously expensive consultants our city was dependent upon in the past.
- I strongly support the Eminent Domain Initiative. But it must be remembered that the fight against government confiscation of private property doesn't stop here.
- Measure V has been vital in preserving the small town life we enjoy in Sierra Madre. But Sacramento edicts such as SB 375 now threaten our ability to control development in our own community. We must continue reaching out to other communities and enlist them in the effort to defend the independence of all California cities.
I have been endorsed by both Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivary and Mayor Kurt Zimmerman. Their hard work brought Sierra Madre back from the "shenanigan years." It is my hope to help continue the responsible government they brought back to town.
18) Soap Operas (bonus answer): Apparently there are two ways to run a campaign this year. The first is to examine the issues, talk about city policies, and examine the records of both the incumbents and those running for City Council the first time.
The other way is to run a soap opera campaign. This tactic, which is used instead of discussing such things as city policies and the records of candidates, seeks to trivialize everything to the personal. "So and so was mean to me," being one line used lately. Or "so and so didn't get to be mayor, and it was his turn!" being another.
Politics, as someone once said, is not beanbag. It is not governed by the rules of the playground, and anything involving a candidate's record, proclamations, actions, or tactics, is legitimate game.
Remember, we are running for City Council, and not town divas. If the rough and tumble of a political election doesn't suit your temperament, then how are you going to deal with the City Council job, when things get really tough?