Monday, June 21, 2010

The Sierra Madre Water Rate Hike: Why Would the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Want to Give Us All That Money?

There are two ways that government attempts to bamboozle the citizenry. The first is to hide away all the pertinent information on a controversial matter, and hope that nobody finds out. This, of course, isn't always the most effective method because residents are a naturally suspicious bunch, and more often than not will figure things out for themselves. And when you compound that with the fact that secretive government only breeds mistrust and contempt for those responsible, you can see that strategy just isn't very effective.

It also leads to the proliferation of such unfortunate things as blogs, which is where many then go to try and figure things out when those who are supposed to represent their interests go south.

The other method is a little bit more effective. And that is to put out vast quantities of information. It might not always be accurate information, or contain everything that it should, but properly presented it can give at least an appearance of transparency. Roiling dense packs of facts and figures that on the surface seem to possess great meaning, mostly because there is just so much of it. That is, until you try and decipher exactly what it all means. Then that information often turns out to be sadly deficient.

Currently on our closely designed City of Sierra Madre site is something called the 2010 Proposed Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet. There are numerous things cited on this fact sheet as reasons why we must go through with this increase, most notably aging infrastructure (those darned old pipes) plus the need for a new well. And there among the many reasons why we need to raise our water rates nearly 40% over a 5 year period (which also comes with a complimentary 15% backdoor UUT rate hike), is this rather opaque little beauty:

Improvements to recharge facilities - Sierra Madre plans to work with its East Basin partners, Los Angeles County Public Works and the City of Arcadia, to make extensive improvements to the existing groundwater recharge facilities in Arcadia and Sierra Madre. This funding will not come entirely from Sierra Madre rate payers. The three agencies will be assisted in the East Raymond Basin program by a $20 million Federal authorization from the USEPA. These Federal funds must be matched by similar amounts of local funding, or they cannot be used by local agencies. However, under Sierra Madre's current rate structure, the City cannot provide the match funding for its $10 million to qualify for the federal funds.

To interpret here, "recharge facilities" in Citizen English means the place where these two cities get and distribute water. And if Sierra Madre comes up with an additional $5 or so million (along with existing water dept. funds), we qualify for $10 million dollars in Federal Environmental Protection Agency money as well. Which could be the one clue revealing the actual agenda driving City Hall's sudden mad rush to radically raise our water rates.

When an agency of the Federal Government turns over large sums of money to small cities such as ours, that offer doesn't come without at least some strings attached. And the best way of finding out what exactly the Feds have in mind for their $10 million in EPA funds is to examine the actual documents involved in applying for and receiving that grant. However, that is information the City has yet to provide the "rate payers," forcing us to go with alternative sources.

If you've been following this stuff as closely as we have here at The Tattler, you'll know that one of the Obama Administration's big priorities these days is "Smart Growth." Which has goals very similar to California's "Anti-Sprawl" law, SB 375. Both of which call for tremendous amounts of infill redevelopment, as we will show later in this post. Here is an item from the President's "Organizing for America" blog entitled "Obama on Smart Growth." It points out his strong commitment to the concept:

Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spend commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the goals of Smart Growth is to redevelop traditional downtown neighborhoods that are located near transportation corridors. This is done in order to encourage people to move out of their single family homes and into high density transit oriented housing units, in the process abandoning their greenhouse gas producing cars as well. All based on the magical notion that if you convince people to live in newly constructed condominiums located near bus or train stations, they'll decide to give up driving their automobiles. Thereby saving the world.

Now it might make sense that the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama would reflect his policies when allocating funding, right? After all, he is the boss. And here on the EPA site that assumption is confirmed. In an article entitled Making the Connection: Smart Growth and Water Resource Protection, we can read the following:

Solutions - It Is Possible To Do Better - Smart growth efforts have taken different forms around the country, but the 10 guiding principles address a variety of goals. In the context of a watershed approach, smart growth offers great potential for achieving water resource management and water quality goals.
- Water quality standards are better met using smart growth methods.
- Conservation of open space and clustered development patterns protect water quality.
- Taking a long term-term approach to zoning helps avoid sprawl through better planning.

Sprawl, of course, being suburban communities like ours. Which you somehow make eco-correct by turning them into densely settled cities.

All of which indicates to me that when Sierra Madre receives its $10 million dollars in EPA money, it will not be just a gift with no strings attached. Rather its use will come with the requirement that our city use it in order to help project the Smart Growth goals currently holding such sway in Washington DC. It's just the way these things work.

Here it is, plain and simple. Let's say we raise the $5 or so million through a 40% water rate hike, along with the 15% backdoor UUT increase, plus we get $10 million of the EPA money. That is in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. Our contribution to the shared new well is $1 million, which would leave us with a $14 million dollar balance. Add to that whatever unidentified existing water funds are available (another mystery), and we're talking about a lot of money. Which in my mind is a heck of a lot more than what is required for replacing those funky old pipes we hear so much about.

If the goal of our current City Council is to comply with CARB/SCAG's upcoming SB 375 required new high-density infill redevelopment in the downtown area of Sierra Madre (and I for one have never heard anything credible from them indicating otherwise), the first step that would have to be taken is to upgrade our water infrastructure. Obviously it will take a lot more water to make this happen. What we currently have is barely adequate for today's requirements, much less supplying the needs of new condo racks downtown.

Since Arcadia has already embarked on this path in their new General Plan, both cities will need significantly more water. Which means having to drill that shared new well. And here in Sierra Madre our aging water infrastructure will need to be upgraded to meet the new demands of all that projected redevelopment. What better source for the cash necessary to do so than an administration and a federal agency committed to marketing just that kind of "smart growth" development?

If City Hall gets this money, based on what we've seen here it will most likely come with an obligation to the federal government that our City use it as an integral part of their plans for high-density infill development in Sierra Madre. Smart Growth, SB 375, call it whatever you like, the result will be the same. Obviously this is a turning point in any effort to control development in Sierra Madre.


  1. We here in Sierra Madre believe in Smartest Growth. Which is the kind that goes very very slow.

  2. Anyone who has driven down Santa Anita knows that Arcdia has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the SB375. Look at the new bike lanes on newly repaved Santa Anita Ave. Santa Anita was repaved with the O-Bomb money. The plan must be for the wealthy in Highland Oak and the surounding neighborhoods to ride their bikes while wearing business suits down to the new Gold Line Extension.

  3. We can all see how well this "smart growth" has worked in California, especially in Los Angeles.
    Let's keep up the bad work, keep doing things that will doom us to failure, such as voting for people who are committed to this insanity!

  4. In the grand scheme of things, 10 million bucks makes us a pretty cheap date. You'd think our virtue would cost at least a little more.

  5. The new City Council is very cheap.

  6. You know, this gonzo blowout of existing community fabric for massive upscale development that financially benefits only a few via the taxpayer/feepayer dollar is so clearly being exhibited here.

    Residents need to hold this City Council's feet to the fire and ensure that any development is a fit to the community. Effective use of existing infrastructure and lower costs make it possible to do the kinds of small development that create interesting and sustainable ways for people to live. But you have to reward the people willing to make that kind of tradeoff with a great social network that gets built by knowing your neighbors and connecting with people. That doesn't happen with these huge upscale condo developments that generate traffic no matter how close they are to the rail line.

  7. Things are never quite what they seem
    to be in the magical Kingdom of Oz.

  8. The bike lane on Santa Anita mostly accomodates hard chargers who cycle on up to Chantry Flat and it eliminates the former double lane of traffic (can you even imagine what it would be like to live on that congested road during rush hour) that cut through SM on SM Blvd. It would be interesting to know how the city of Arcadia came up with this striping scheme--a form of traffic calming. Now it forces me to take a short cut through their fare city on 'quiet' steets before hitting Santa Anita.

  9. If you go down to the South Bay you'll find some towns now have "Sharrows," which actually tell bike peddlers which direction they can go in. Plus block out car traffic. I wonder how long it will be before car drivers catch on to all of this and start to complain.

  10. I think what is mainly meant by urban sprawl is the (now ghost) towns out on the desert (think Adelanto, areas in the Morongo basin) the two hour commutes when there were better gas prices and the odd notion that you would be in a community with better schools and it was worth the drive. Sierra Madre and other southland cities were here long before the 'sprawl' and suburbanization filled in overtime the farmland spaces inbetween. And now this ulgy mess on the freeways.

  11. What is happening with towns like Sierra Madre is that if sprawl is curbed and people are moved in towards the urban core, ours is one of the places they'll be moved to. Which is why development here is key to the central planners. We are near a transportation corridor, and close enough to LA to make the commute much shorter. We're not in a clear out zone, we're a destination area.

  12. Randall O'Toole asks: "If there is such a demand for high-density, mixed-use housing, why does the govt need to subsidize it?"

  13. Anonymous at 8:20,

    I agree with you. Santa Anita Avenue now gives equal space to the bike lane. I too avoid the street whenever possible.

    I recently read on the Drudge Report that the Obama Administration more than doubled spending on cycling and walking initiatives to the tune of 1.2 BILLION dollars as it sought to coax Americans out of their cars.

    In March, Obama's Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a policy "sea change" that gave biking and walking projects the SAME importance as automobiles in transportation planning and the selection of projects for federal money.

    No wonder Sierra Madre has new bike racks in town. How long will it be before the bike lane is painted down Baldwin Avenue?

  14. I think they're waiting for the Green Committee to form so they can make just that recommendation. It will be typical of the groundbreaking decisions they will be making.

    Which will also mean that any biker who does not stick to the bike lanes will join all those other forms of transportation in the Chief Diaz ticket parade.

  15. All of this begs the question, why pay 10 to 40 percent more for water to errect a monument to mediocracy? The high density stuff going up in Monrovia and Pasadena even with fresh paint and bushes reminds me of south Chicago tenements 50 years ago. Most had to be torn down for all kinds of social reasons. So much for high density condos and transportation corridors. The City Administration, along with well placed special interest Council Members are showing us "there is more than one way to skin a voter"

  16. My suspicion is that our new council members might be as surprised as the general public at what is going on. Inman gets up there, makes a lucid presentation of the need for this huge new tax, and the council nods, oh, yes, I see. Followed up by ominous rumblings about what is coming, and they don't seem to realize that they ARE THE DECISION MAKERS, not just reactors.

  17. Sierra Madre is extraordinarily blessed, right, because we have our OWN water, right, and we have been independent with our own water for 80 years or something, so why isn't the goal maintaining what we have rather than expanding, partnering or any other thing?

  18. I guess we're regionalizing our water, too.

    We're very generous.

  19. And so, Gnarls, what makes you think we have our own water? Have you not heard how Sierra Madre is part of the San Gabriel Valley Water District? Have you not heard how we're part of the Raymond Basin? Have you not heard how because of water contamination we have fewer wells operating? And that during certains times of the year we must buy water from other water districts? Is it that you are still operating with 1960's information that you've failed to update?

  20. My understanding is that during tough times we have bought from Arcadia, but we have also sold to Arcadia - and others/
    The thing that is such a drag about Sierra Madre politics is that it's a constant job to keep up with the plots that are hatched and then presented as a need. "We need to increase our rates to maintain pipes" OK, let's do that, but within reason and just for the pipes.
    The hell with all these multi million dollar ambitions.

  21. Some people do not see Sierra Madre as unique (the majority on the current council for example.)
    They see it as L.A., as San Gabriel.
    They do not think of it as small and independent, but as underdeveloped and hooked into the megalopolis.

  22. Hey 2:37, maybe 1990's info. It's always been the practice that we buy and sell, but that didn't make us dependent. It's just getting worse and worse since Bart Buchanan got the MWD emergency pipeline approval.

  23. The beefing up of the UUT is outrageous.
    Previous Mayor Zimmerman fought very hard to get that sunset clause in the UUT, and we should all be grateful to him for that.
    Just imagine if there were no sunset clause.

  24. Sprawl is bad, it's true. But it can't all be fixed with one approach everywhere. There are towns in California where people can live, work and shop in one place, without cars. I've lived in a couple.
    But that is not true, for the most part, in Southern California. The first step should have been, should be now, force the auto industry to make clean cars. First step.

  25. The results of greater and greater population density in the Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena area, is causing more water demand. If you think we can build our way out of this mess, it is suicidal for this area. Once the downtown area is built out, don't believe your residential neighborhood won't be rezoned for higher density use in the future it's a natural progression.
    If you don't stand up to this stuff, perhaps you should think about another state to live in. Eventually, people will be voting with their feet.
    Many Sierra Madreans look dangerous for fighting back,the regionalists and developers will have another nameless, faceless place to profit from,
    full of transient residents who could care less about where they live. The realtors will love it.
    The people now in charge are all working to that end.

  26. How many vacancies are there in all of the overbuilt places especially in So. Cal.?
    I'm thinking of a laaaaaarge three story (4?) mixed use thing built across the street from New Avenue School, on First in Arcadia.
    Nice little stretch of shops, etc., then this thing on a corner, and I watched it be built when we were having our fierce fights over the DSP.
    Used to look at that mixed use thing as a model of what was going to happen in town.
    Upshot, all these years, and there are still for rent signs.

  27. I remember a city council meeting where Kurt Zimmerman and John Buchanan were sparring over development and the need for water to make it possible. Buchanan's response to one remark from Kurt was along the lines of, "Don't worry. We'll find the water." I think we're looking at what he meant now.

  28. This was a very sad article today, Sir
    Eric. I don;t understand how things could
    have gotten this bad in our country.

  29. Yes 5:19, that is right.
    The paper water forming up into real water right before our eyes.
    And from our wallets.

  30. I agree 5:29. It's discouraging.

  31. That's a good point about the vacancies. You know they're all over the place.
    Will those get filled at all is the question.
    In Florida there are whole new housing tracts that have been almost completely abandoned.

  32. That is the differecne between organically created local development and that being driven by Sacramento or Washington. They've become like the central planners of the old Soviet Union, pushing the same style of buildings everywhere across the country.

  33. I have followed the ordinance and react to the threats........I only water after 4 PM and before 10 AM. Then I wonder if there is an Intercity handbook that advises City Managers to "create an impression of a water shortage through rationing"? Shortly to follow, then, a water rate increase because of a need to replace rusty pipes and a failing infrastructure. Could this all have been preplanned? Or maybe its a "bait and switch" for matching federal funds. Prop 218 is alive and well!

  34. Stop the water rate hike and you've stopped development.

    Sign the petition!

  35. Umm, 8:22PM, you might be on to something. Our "coppers" are due for their raise. How else would we Sierra Madreans pay for it?

  36. It could have something to do with the promises and the dirts made to the volunteer fire department that they could become a paid force. We're talking a lot of money here. Probably isn't the last hike being planned, either.

  37. making me lose sleepJune 22, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    We are losing control of the shape of our futures, and as a wise friend put it, the voters are napping on the couch in front of their TV sets.

    Pretty sorry state of affairs.

  38. What is most clear in all this is that plans were made outside of the public arena.
    Big plans involving lots of money.
    On that ground alone citizens should reject this.
    Force city staff, or council members, or whoever it was who plotted this, to start again, with full transparency.

  39. I for one would like to see a staff report of the measures staff has taken to reduce administrative costs.

  40. The water issue is late on the agenda (snooze time) by design.
    League of Cities page 54 says about Prop 218
    -----Fee for Service Provided Only. Revenues derived from the fee may not be used for any purpose other than that for which the fee was imposed.
    ----- Fee not to Exceed Cost of Service. Revenues derived from the fee may not exceed the funds required to provide the property related service.

    So how can the City raise the meter charge to pay for future expenses?

    and if they can not charge more than what it cost to provide the water. How do they know what it will cost to provide the water in 2,3, 4 or 5 years?

  41. A staff report of cuts to staff would be great. We could thank the people who make so much money on our dime for taking a cut in these hard times, like people in all the other cities around us do. Close city hall every Friday. Have top administrators take a 3% cut in salary. DOWNSIZE city hall.

  42. Tonight's CC sales pitch for the water hike should be interesting. Expect the words "conspiracy theories" to be used at least once. The question of why nobody trusts city government will probably be raised as well. I don't think they are too concerned about the protest forms, at least yet. So it should be fairly mild. But you can bet the usual swiftboats are being readied just in case.

  43. Returned protest letters are trending light, that's why the City's not concerned. Only a few hundred have been sent in. They're feeling confident that most rate payers aren't too concerned about the increase.

  44. like we need more cyclists blasting through Sierra Madre, ignoring stop signs and screaming obscenties at us that drive according to the law

    I came to a stop. Then proceeded north on Mt. Trail and a the herd of cyclists just kept coming and blasted through the stop sign. I had to slam on my brakes and some jerk head slaps my car, like it's my fault that he almost ran into my car.

    Plus, I'm tired of going into Starbucks behind sweaty smelly guys who are wearing bike pants.

  45. we should put some of our lard rear cops on bikes and let them ride around the city - a double benefit.

    they'll see how dangerous it is to ride a bike around town and some of the fat cops would lose some weight

  46. Putting our cops into bicycle rider bumblebee suits could cause some trauma in this town. Particularly to the tender psyches of young children.

  47. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même choseJune 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    It is not that most rate payers are unconcerned.
    Just about nobody would want to pay that kind of increase.
    It's the same old problem: disconnect.
    Remember, most people don't even watch the council meetings.

  48. Some find the newly painted lines on Santa Anita offensive. I notice that the bicylists now tend to ride in their identified lane and the motor traffic in their left hand lane. Its a major improvement in courtesy and riding habits. The painting of routes for riders and cars should be serriously considered for Sirra Madre Blvd. It seems to have helped (if you are objective).

  49. Fill out the green cards being delivered.
    Don't forget that by sending them in you are voting NO on a TAX hike, by not sending them in you are voting in favor of.

  50. Silence is assent. That is how pols like it.

  51. It worked in Germany.

  52. I have little faith the idiots who voted for Bart Mosca, Bart Moran, and Bart Walsh will even understand their water rates will be going up close to 40%.

    When the Senate and Congress votes in Cap and Trade, all our taxes will go up over $800 per year, and then of course we have California. How much will they raise our's the limit.
    We are a nation of crooks. Crooks in Washington, crooks in Sacramento, crooks in Los Angeles and crooks in Sierra Madre. 4 of them are on your council, Sierra Madre "smart" voters.

  53. There are some out there fighting! Support them.

    The fight to defeat AB 32 is ON!

    We want to thank the 800,000 Californians who have signed petitions to place the AB 32 suspension on the November ballot.

    When the California Jobs Initiative is passed, we will save over 1 million jobs that would have otherwise fallen victim to the most draconian regulatory regime in state history - a law equal to a tax of over $180 billion and an unprecedented assault on our freedoms.

    However, the fight is just beginning. We can expect far-left special interests and the political establishment to pull out all the stops to keep the rope and chains of AB 32 in place.

    In spite of the fierceness of our opposition I am convinced with your help we will win. Those I talk to all around the state are through with our state's stifling taxes and regulations. Many are considering leaving. Many more vow to stay and fight. When this fight is won, it will be a watershed moment for the cause of jobs and freedom.

    It's time for us to stand up and say we will NOT be silent and we will NOT be ignored!