Friday, May 21, 2010

Are City Staffs Now Planning Their Own Obsolescence?

Can it be that a lot of the regionalization projects City staffs within the SCAG region are now working on will eventually lead to employee redundancies and even their own obsolescence? As we have seen in the corporate world radical staffing reductions can be achieved when companies merge their assets, thereby saving a lot of money by paring down the head count. So perhaps all the happy talk about "cities working together to help solve their problems" through regional government is more about the savings that can be realized through employee cutbacks than kumbayah?

An article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times recently highlights some of the regionalization pressures cities are under these days as they deal with huge debt loads and declining tax revenues. Here is how The Times laid out the predicament faced by three of our neighboring cities, plus the possible solution:

Cash-strapped cities consider joining forces - Officials in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are considering consolidating services from police dispatches to technology, jointly purchasing supplies and linking public transit.

Faced with multimillion-dollar budget deficits brought on by spiraling revenue and escalating employee costs, Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are considering consolidating a wide range of services and programs to save money. Early discussions have focused on joint police dispatches, technology services and joining together to buy supplies from paper clips to brake pads. Long-term ideas include a bus service linking the three cities. The goal is to pull inspiration out of desperation, officials said, as they try to weather the recession. The ideas are in their infancy, but officials stress that they won't be easy because regionalizing services probably will lead to staff reductions.

Up until now any discussions of regionalization we've had usually dealt with the pressures being put upon towns such as ours to accommodate the kinds of massive development called for in such Sacramento initiatives such as SB 375. The Jetsons-style vision of the future that sees us exiting our bucolic single family home lifestyles for densely developed core cities closely packed around transportation corridors and employment centers.

But certainly that can't be all there is to it. As we know, the driving force of most everything in this old world of ours is money. SB 375, despite all the greenwash being used to sell it to the citizens, is in many ways an effort to prop up such failing California industries as development and construction. The pitch to the suckers being that they aren't giving up a higher quality lifestyle, they're helping to save the world. Now go turn your house over to the city and buy yourself a nice fifth floor condo.

Isn't it logical that one of the forces also behind the kinds of regionalization coming along with SB 375 would be the ability to consolidate city services within a larger regional apparatus? And in the process saving a whole lot of increasingly scarce money?

Why would every city need a planning department when planning is being handled by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)? Why would every city need to maintain a finance department when fiscalization of regional resources becomes the way taxation and the allocation of funds are accomplished? Or a fire department when that service can be easily handled through budgetarily more efficient superstations located throughout the San Gabriel Valley? And beyond the vanity factor, are there really any good reasons for each and every town maintaining a Police Department when that responsibility can be easily pooled into a regional force, one that would be far cheaper to staff, maintain and (most importantly), pension?

"You have to look at the impacts on labor, budget savings, service levels, and then look at the amount of brain damage you have to go through to actually pull this off," said Burbank City manager Mike Flad. "When you're dealing with 80% of your budget being labor, efficiency means less people."

In Sierra Madre we haven't been quite as pressured by the financial constraints being faced by our sister cities, at least for now. The UUT hike has been far more provident than even its advocates hoped, and the revenues raised through this tax increase have been able to float a lot of otherwise quite expensive boats through this seemingly endless recession. But the UUT hike does have a sunset clause, and given the financial pressures many now face in their business lives, there is no guarantee that the voters will ever approve such a thing again. And then how will Sierra Madre be able to justify some of the things we're paying for now? Under conditions such as those saving a million bucks a year by signing on with another city's police department might get a second, and far harder, look. Something that could be just the beginning of some other very serious cost cutting as well.

Politics is often about convincing people to support things that are actually detrimental to their own personal interests. Done in order to help a favored constituency achieve its financial goals. In Sierra Madre's recent election we saw gullible voters become convinced that the regionalist pro-development candidates were actually the ones working towards preserving the independent small community that most here favor. That the perpetrators employed some of the nastiest tactics seen this side of Los Angeles to make it happen is, of course, to be expected. It's how the big boys get what they want.

But here as elsewhere it is not just the voters that are needed to achieve these kinds of unpopular goals. The willing cooperation and hard work of city staffs and employees are required as well. People who could very well be happily working towards a time when their services will no longer be required.

61 comments:

  1. Oracle of the First WaterMay 21, 2010 at 7:10 AM

    As the UUT sunsets we'll see water rate increases come on board - unless rate payers revolt.

    I'm so looking forward to Joe trying to explain how we're going to do away with the police department after going to such lengths to assure the 2010 voters that it was MaryAnn's idea!

    It's going to be a hard sell to convert a volunteer fire department to an Arcadia or Pasadena combine but Joe'll do it, never fear! It's coming then we'll see what the Mosca supporters think of that.

    You heard it hear folks. I give it less than a year.

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  2. You conserve water as per the city mandate. In times of drought--this is good. The result: less water sold, lower UUT collected. Water rates go up: you conserve for your pockebook. Result: less water sold, lower UUT collected. Can the City water system finance itself on this cycle of fees? A few years ago a City Administrator who did not keep the water fees matched with the needs of infrastructure repair, plus other administrative shortcomings, left when citizens put together a report of the facts. It was a big effort but they pulled it off.

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  3. My easy chair has springs popping out of itMay 21, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    You're spot on Oh Great Oracle. There will soon come a time when you'll have to get up close to your police and firemen to read their name badges. Ruminate on how his honor the Mayor talks with an east coast accent.

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  4. The Even Badder KarmaMay 21, 2010 at 7:29 AM

    So let's see. Through regionalization people get fired, we get big time high density development, and we lose control over our own City. Only a Joe Mosca could get cheerful over something like that!

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  5. Long time residentMay 21, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    I remember that 7:23 am -- and they indemnified him against lawsuits as well! Remember, the less water we use the more the City has to sell to Arcadia. Is the selling rate more than the using rate?

    Yes indeed. A former CM who played to the City Council and was indemnified from prosecution when he left to "pursue other interests".

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  6. Just being logicalMay 21, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    OK, no jobs, no people, no buildings needed, no traffic added, less gasoline and pollution. Sounds good to me. Don't need retail or entertainment centers because folks don't have jobs to pay for that any more, and the housing equity to feed the shopping habit doesn't exist any more either.

    The business community will wake up to this eventually. Outsourcing has already taken its toll, this just moves it another step further down the road.

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  7. Such a maddening lack of good sense in regionalization for us.
    We are successful here.
    Small and successful.
    All we have to do is trim the administrative costs at city hall.
    Get more volunteers in there.
    Many of our retired people would be happy to pitch in.

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  8. also have lived here a long timeMay 21, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    Great point 7:31. Sierra Madre is so water rich it can sell it.

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  9. How stupidly we as a society miss the target. Cars that don't pollute would do it. So the automotive industry fought any cleaner change for decades, in order to hold on to their old ways of getting a dollar, and it ends up benefitting the building industry, always into holding on to a dollar, while the automotive industry is thrashing around. And building up is really stupid in earthquake country. Never mind the claptrap about mitigation and sound engineering. Building high rises in fault zones is right up there with building tunnels.

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  10. When employees of any organization take too much from the organization, as in spectacular retirement packages, they inevitably bring about the end of the organization.
    The fruit of "I got mine and to hell with you"

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  11. I wonder what our new regional city will be called? New Gabrielania would be my choice. Of course, current city names would now become neighborhood names. I mean, you'll have to save them so we can keep them on the post offices, right? Or do those go away as well?

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  12. Yes, dear editor, I believe employees of municipalities are being made painfully aware that the safe haven of pensionary bliss and the municipal momma teat, has been sucked dry.

    Weaning is extremely painful to watch, a lot of good people get thrown out with the dishwater. In my city, whole departments are being outsourced.

    I am aware that the POA has a suit against the City of Sierra Madre, Dieter Dammier is a bane to many cities, but my Mips believes that in tumultuous times ahead, it is better to keep your police department. Maruders from lower places go to the nicer areas to steal and plunder, and while Sierra Madre seems serenely out of reach it isn't. The POA of my city recently got caught, starting an office in Arcadia and paying for the rent and furnishings out of a fund without the knowledge of the lessor officers. However the lessor officers are pissed. But they aren't privy to the inner upper sanctum. They want to keep their jobs, and these boys take care of their own, and own internal problems. Resignation and Interim, are broad spectrum words kind of vague and antibotic. I have stated on public topix recently that no officer should make over a 100 grand a year, and a pension only 60 percent. I was told no one would show up, but hell how long do you have to wait for an officer now?

    City employees are collateral damage to the great triangle cities of the future, send a clone to do it. Robot Mayors and Council People, humans, not efficient enough. The future is now playing in cities brought to their knees by budget cuts, and as one recently forced to resign city attorney said, "this city council is so inbred by family members, the city is no longer like it used to be, the asians and mexicans hate each other, they are going to kill each other, and they no longer want us here".

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  13. Oracle at 7:10

    Interesting theory, you might be right.

    We live in "interesting" times.

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  14. 10:19AM....That is appropriate ..An Ancient Chinese Curse!

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  15. Hey Pink People, pretty grim.
    Not saying you're unrealistic.

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  16. Nobody usually does anything without some motivation. What is Joe's motivation for bringing this curse to our town? That is the part I can't figure out.

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  17. It's true that Sierra Madre makes good pickings for bad folk hiking up here to steal, but it's not the payday some think. It is not a town known for being rich, though the downtown investors wish it were. Look around - there are plenty of houses no one would use the energy to break into. It's not like San Marino, and you have to figure out where the well off people are, and figure out a quick way out of town. The geography has protected the town. It's the realtors, developers and prodevelopmentpreservation council people who hurt it.

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  18. Another gift from the council of 2004May 21, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    Sierra Madre will become a prime target for the kinds of home invasions and other violent attacks some of the other communities around here face, when the hillside millionaire suburbs are up and running. Lot of ostentatious money, big step up in danger.

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  19. Where I grew up in Tennessee all the rich people lived up on the hill. The river ran through the valley and the poor people all lived there. The rich people had their own private security force because they were getting hit by robberies so often. It was known as Sugar Hill, partly because the takings were so sweet.

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  20. I drove an old car for many, many years, and the mechanic who took such good care of it told me that a great benefit was that nobody wanted to steal it.
    All the thieves that are smart enough to figure out how to breach the security at Stone this and Stone that will be on it.

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  21. The city council agenda is out, and it's got this peculiar bit in the closed session, exposure to litigation:
    "Statement made by Ezra Levi of G Coast Construction outside an open meeting of City regarding unpaid change order requests and a record of the statement was made by Bruce Inman prior to the meeting and is available for public inspection in the City Clerk's office."
    Oh boy, more lawsuits.

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  22. Great 11:12. Not only will the number of thieves we have to contend with increase, but you think they'll be the smarter ones.I don't feel threatened because I live in the flatlands, but I feel for the residents around those developments. Better install locks everywhere.

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  23. G Coast Construction looks like its no stranger to law courts.

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  24. Don't tell me our city had anything to do with G Coast, when a simple google search sends off enough warning bells? Oh that's right - Greg Galletly blew into town with something like 11 bankruptcies and close to 100 lawsuits behind him, and was welcomed as the developer for 1 stonecrater.

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  25. LA County, 2007:
    The Contractor Hearing Board’s recommendation to adopt the proposed
    findings, decision and recommendations of the Contractor Hearing Board to debar G. Coast Construction and its principal owner, Ezra Levi, from bidding on, being awarded, and/or performing work on any contracts for the County for a period of five years from the date of Board approval; send notice to G. Coast Construction and Ezra Levi, advising of the debarment action taken by the Board; and instruct the Director of Internal Services to enter the determination of debarment into the Contract Data Base.

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  26. too much to hope for?May 21, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    We don't know the context of Inman & Levi's conversation.
    Maybe Levi was saying "Hire me or else" and Inman said "No way" and Levi said "I'll sue."

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  27. More interesting local news. La Vina is Altadena's Stonehouse & Carter.
    From the PSN:
    ALTADENA - The La Vina Homeowners Association has conceded defeat in its long, costly battle to bar the public from two hiking trails around the luxury 220-acre gated development.
    H. Douglas Galt, the association's attorney, said Thursday that "time has run out" for a final option - petitioning the California Supreme Court to review an April 4 California Appeals Court decision that upheld the public's right of access.

    Citing privacy concerns, Galt did not elaborate on reasons for the homeowners' decision to drop the case. But it effectively ends their efforts to make the trails off-limits to the public - and leaves property owners in the 272-home development with a pay-off to Los Angeles County that Senior Deputy Counsel Scott Kuhn estimated could reach $1 million.

    Kuhn said the county may also pursue additional costs relating to the appeal of Judge Joseph De Vanon's April, 2008 ruling after a 23-day trial in Pasadena Superior Court. De Vanon ruled that the county's approval of the hillside development included guaranteed public access to hiking trails, and that the trails were omitted by error from the final tract map.

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  28. 11;56 What I said is true, it has nothing to do with being unrealistic. Grim, only for perpetrators.

    There is no half way with the truth, that is why I read the Tattler.

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  29. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth reading this drival.

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  30. Be sure to kiss your family. They'll probably be amazed at your sudden sweetness.

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  31. So La Vina will now be a lot more accessible to hikers, and others....that hillside development has been troubling all along, sort of like ours.

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  32. Accurate accounting of administrative costs has been a long time problem in Sierra Madre City Hall, but one that may have been solved with the new half a million dollar accounting software. Hope so. That way, instead of administrative costs being dispersed to different places, they'll be clear and we'll know what we are spending on that staff to run this small city.

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  33. Bill Tice has good ideas, maybe every 4th one. One of his good ideas was to have city hall be a training college. OK, sounds goofy, but recognize that city hall is a big turnover place, that assistants are hired too much, that workloads could seriously be reorganized, it could be run with a lot less money.

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  34. Don't we already have a college?

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  35. Bill Tice also suggested that we allow for an orphanage here. Which might be a good use for the Congregational Church's illegally built New Life Center.

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  36. How many people are employed at city hall?

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  37. A bunch. One for every 50 residents?

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  38. I take it that by employed you mean on the payroll.

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  39. What an anal thing to say..2:37May 21, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    2:45 Touche

    2:37 Using throwing up and drivel in the same statement is an oxymoron. Seek professional help. Pepto Bismol and a lobotomy might help.

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  40. Has somebody got that information, a list of jobs at city hall and what the job is, and what it pays?

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  41. Follow the MoneyMay 21, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    You should be able to buy your cities budgets for the year. I bought two years to compare, you can see the amounts spent gained or distributed in each department. It is public record but the figure of 26.00 seems to be what I paid, maybe that was both.

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  42. Great tip Follow the Money. But in Sierra Madre, the administrative costs have been merged over into other departments, so it's been hard to see what the real costs are. Or that's my limited understanding.

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  43. follow the moneyMay 21, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Funny thing, it looks like you lost your accounting when my city lost 8 million dollars back 2003-2005, Financial auditors don't like mergers, each department will have it's own admin costs, you will see any employee add ons or dollar tightening of each department's individual budget, or why we need this for that, it is an eye opener.

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  44. City employees include those who work in administration, the yards, the "fire marshall', the PD. It's all a matter of public record including the positions and salary ranges plus benefits. The PD's complete list of employees in on line under PD. Put in a public records request and get the damn list. I get real tired of this "has anybody gotta..." "does anybody know..." Put in a little bit of effort and educate yourself. Spread information not rumor.

    Last I checked there were about 65 budgeted positions, 22 plus or minus being PD. These people support the town of Sierra Madre and largely do a great job. Actually the work force is quite stable and the salary rates in line with out towns of similar size. If you want service it comes at a cost. If you are satisfied with volunteers remember that a huge percentage of staff time is devoted to supervising "volunteers" on commissions, committees, and answering questions from busy bodies who think they can visit City Hall and chat with the CM, or the Planning Department, or Department Heads to find out what their neighbors are doing.

    Get a grip people.

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  45. Fed up with ignoranceMay 21, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    4:40 have you actually taken a look or are you just parroting what you've "been told"? Do you even know what the term "administrative costs" means? The new software will detail the costs and the budgets. It'll be harder for any kind of hanky panky. Spend the copying costs and get a copy of the budget - annually, quarterly and monthly. Make copies and share them. Enough of this "so I've been told".

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  46. 5:33 Thanks for the education and the knowledge that "punching a clock" gives a complete and accurate picture of the work, objectives, and results of the City Workforce. Either you are niave or part of the problem.

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  47. I believe what is being talked about here is the General Fund. Don't ignore the other Fund balances - that's where the smoke and mirrors takes place. The "budget" commonly referred to is what? About $6 mil? The total City budget including the Fund balances is on the order of $18 mil.

    Tattlers, I know there are accountants reading this blog! Analyze the ENTIRE resources of the City!

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  48. If you are reading this blog you are computer literate. You owe it to yourself to go to cityofsierramadre.com and familiarize yourself with the information contained therein! You'll find a treasure trove - enough to keep you reading for days. The City does an outstanding job of posting Brown Act required notices, calendars, codes, and other information not easily obtainable in any other way. It also instructs you in making public records requests.

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  49. Tattlers, you may want to read posts to all of the blogs posted this week. Additional information has been added to some that is definitely of interest.

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  50. Thanks, 6:10

    Will do.

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  51. Ein City, Ein Volk, Ein Gabrielania!

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  52. 8:39 How do you say that in Peoples Republic of China, Chinese?

    Whatever Herr Busch, (Bush) told you palantines, it is obvious that he will be enjoying himself on his 6000 acre water aquafir ranch in Paraquay. He traded Ein Volk United States to Ein China. In 1987 when he signed the Strategic Economic Agreement with them.

    Did any of you see the you tube video of the truck that dropped a third of its load on a Texas highway, Walmart was shipping guillotines, 10 or 20 guillotines fell off the truck in Texas, they were on their way to Georgia, because prisoners on death row could sell their organs and leave their families a bit of cash versus damage to the organs by lethal injection or electrocution. That was the legal spin. Ein Walmart Chop Chop!

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  53. petition carrierMay 22, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Off topic, if there is one, but anyone got the final word on whether the protest to the water hike can be mailed or not?
    I'm making a lot of copies of the form & need to know what to tell people.

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  54. Regarding water mahjority/protests I would address it to the office of the city clerk or it may get waylaid. Or better yet gather the signatures and make an appointment with the city clerk at city hall to receive them.

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  55. City website now features all kinds of information about the water rate hike. Featured as City News.

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  56. Of course they have water rate hike info on the City website now. The last thing the Bobbleheads'd want Sierra Madre to do is get their info from this site. It's all about message control for those clowns. Want to bet the Looney Views News will have some big frantic stink about it tomorrow?

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  57. "Politics is often about convincing people to support things that are actually detrimental to their own personal interests. Done in order to help a favored constituency achieve its financial goals... That the perpetrators employed some of the nastiest tactics seen this side of Los Angeles to make it happen is, of course, to be expected. It's how the big boys get what they want."

    Yes it is, sadly. And the nasty techniques are a part of corrupt politics, bully-politics.

    Keep up the fight, Tattler! all it takes are the people fighting back.

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  58. Big frantic stink - LOL! That is the world's only newspaper in
    need of a pair of Depends.

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  59. That staff report implies to the council that what Inman is doing is in compliiance with 218, that is very misleading, I found a great story by searching prop 218 on the howard jarvis website it is third from the top and deals with water rates and prop 218, it states and it won't let let me copy and paste here, that water rate increases require a vote. Please go read it by Jackie Coupal

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  60. Sounds like we need to call the Jarvis people on Monday. I personally think that the individuals currently occupying our city hall are trying to sneak a fast one by us. Let's find out if that is true.

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  61. Don't let them do itMay 25, 2010 at 9:04 PM

    Good luck to you in you fight. I know you can win, because we defied the entire Pasadena establishment and defeated CC.

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