All of which serves as quite a contrast to the edgy and heavy-handed behavior we saw last evening from the current Mayor of Sierra Madre, Joe Mosca.
The occasion was a discussion on the impending water rate hike currently being marketed by City Hall. The City Council and staff spoke in their usual abstract and legalistic fashion about why they believe they need more money to get business done. We heard this kind of thing in the run up to the doubling of the UUT rate, and also when the time came to defend that tax increase when that "misfiled" million dollars was found in a shoebox under somebody's desk. What we were treated to last night has now become an old familiar refrain. Unless we agree to allow the city to collect even more of our money, the sky will fall. We're in Chicken Little country now. Expect more appeals like this in the future as well. It is pretty much what they do these days.
In private industry when things go south, you have a fire sale. In City government when the bad times come around you apparently agendize the topic, speak in hushed tones of the horrors to come, and then delve deeply into the Big Golden Book of Acronyms.
Which brought us to public comment. Now you'd think our new Mayor, that outspoken advocate of the "New Civility," would have at least allowed those he expects to come up with that extra money the City supposedly needs to speak their minds a little. It is a courtesy you might want to extend to those paying the bills. But when Jim Engle stood up to deliver his thoughtful and obviously heartfelt statement on what this water rate hike means to a retired person living on a fixed income, he was abruptly cut off before he could finish. And when Heather Allen stood up to Joe for this rather heavy handed way of dealing with unhappy rate payers such as herself, he shut off the microphone. And within a minute or two the Police arrived.
It was an astonishing performance. Apparently in a Joe Mosca run City Hall those who go beyond the 3 minutes allotted during public comment now face possible arrest.
Here is Jim Engle's statement:
Background: The State of California's unemployment rate is over 12%. It's economy is now being compared to that of Greece and Uzbekistan. The County of Los Angeles is laying off many employees and eliminating services. The County Sheriff isn't immune, either. The City of Los Angeles is facing huge deficits and is eliminating hundreds of jobs and getting rid of overtime. School boards all over Los Angeles are cutting back on teachers and services. Libraries are facing severe employee and service cuts. You get the "Big Picture."
What About Sierra Madre? The three new members of the City Council that were just elected, were not elected by a majority of Sierra Madre residents, but by a majority of residents who came out to vote. Voter apathy has created a pool of non-voting residents, a fact that has been pounced upon by the creators of Prop 218. And now Sierra Madre is on that bandwagon.
Rate Increase & Information: For purposes of comparison in a letter to our City Manager I attached a copy of the notification and information process most recently used by San Diego to inform and solicit water customer attendance at a hearing. Attached was an easily understood protest form in case the customer was not happy with the proposed rate increase. None of the "No response means Yes," and the unclear projection of a water rate increase for as much as 40% or perhaps more in the next five years. Then Sierra Madre added insult to injury by calling for a resident hearing on the rate hearing at the same time as the protest forms must be completed and filed with the City Clerk. A rate (tax) increase of this size should require a monitored legal vote of the City residents.
What Now & What For: I have read and reread the justification for a 10% increase escalating to a 40% or perhaps 75% or more in the coming 5 years, and I can find no logic or reason to put such a burden on our residents. The explanations wander over technical terms, fears of tainted wells, polluted aquifers, rusting infrastructure, and the monetary needs of our city in justifying this tax increase. I just don't buy that. Perhaps a half or one percent to fix rusting pipes. But a 10% to 40% hike? No way.
Could there be other reasons in the wings? We have 1 Carter underway. There is Stonehouse waiting for water. And the resurrection of downtown projects will certainly need new utilities. Of course, there is Alverno and the Monastery, both of which could become development projects. Would these needs be the reason for more money to fund new infrastructure?
However, if the reason for this additional tax on our utilities is to attract and fund developing the above projects, I strongly object. Those costs should be borne by the individual projects and not by the residents of Sierra Madre. This should be agendized and become a fixed policy. The developer should pay.
I am a senior citizen on a fixed income. I suspect many in Sierra Madre would have similar stories. I will not get a cost of living adjustment on my Social Security this year, and I will certainly not get a 10% increase this year or a 40% increase over the next 5 years. The water rate should be restricted to no more than 1%. No more, perhaps less. They're using Prop 218 as just another way to skin Sierra Madre residents.
The time allotted by the city for ratepayers to protest this very large water rate hike is the bare minimum permitted under the law. And the public hearing on this matter is on the very last day of this 45 day period. Since this will be the only full public airing of these matters, how exactly does the city expect ratepayers to make an informed decision on this hit to their pocketbooks? While I am certain this is all quite legal, it is not a very thoughtful or caring way of dealing with those who are expected to dig deep and shell out even more for their water. It leaves the impression that the ratepayers of Sierra Madre are being given a kind of bum's rush.
Like speakers at the podium in a Joe Mosca run City Council meeting.
The City Council voted 4 to 1 to keep to the July 13 decision date. Rather than taking the time to adequately make their case to the residents of Sierra Madre, they're gambling it all on the cynical notion that enough people won't catch on in time.
Let's make sure that this is a gamble they won't win.