Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tuesday Evening's Rather Poorly Attended City Council Meeting Did Contain Some Special Joys

"A major, long term program of public investment is needed more than ever. But the public investments must pass the reality test. And the harsh reality is this: There isn't going to be a continental electric grid permitting solar panels on condo buildings in Berkeley, Calif., to power heirloom-poultry farms in Maine. Most Americans are not going to sell their cars and move from the suburbs to the cities in order to live in tiny apartments or condos and ride rails to work." - Adam Lind,

When you stack a Sierra Madre City Council meeting up against a Lakers/Celtics playoff game, you kind of know where the attention of most is going to be focused. And that is just fine. We didn't go, either. It might have been the lowest public turnout ever. But we are not above sacrifice here at The Tattler. So much so that we actually watched the entire thing on the always informative SMTV3. It's how we roll.

Public Comment kicked it off in style. We covered Dave Hinton's contribution yesterday. Barbara Lee spoke for less than the new order's required 3 minutes and asked about the utilization of the springs on the Heflin property. She also asked to know who exactly owns these springs. In a time when water is becoming an extremely valuable commodity, the questions were good ones. Linus Pakulsky spoke for more than three minutes, which caused the Mayor to get a little uncivil with him. But his point about the awful cell phone service in Sierra Madre is important, and we should be grateful that he persevered. His concern is that in an emergency, people would not be able to get in touch with the proper services using their cell phone. Something that could result in a terrible tragedy some day. It is an important issue and deserved a more respectful hearing. Batting cleanup was Heather Allen, who gave some good advice on how those wishing to do so can can register their protests against the Water Rate Hike, and make it stick.

The first item up for City Council discussion was entitled: Award of Construction Contract for FY 2009-2010 Street Resurfacing Project to Sully-Miller Contracting Company. Public Works Director Bruce Inman presented details about this project, along with the awarding of the contract. Sully-Miller was the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. The highlight here is that the successful bid of $364,450 was around $400,000 under what Bruce had thought it might be. Competition being fierce in the construction trade, I suppose. Bruce contacted other cities doing similar work to see if their experiences were the same, and apparently they were. It's a buyer's market out there for street grease, and the City Council went for it.

This was followed by a discussion about Street Sweeping. Another topic that probably didn't have too many switching over from the Lakers game. Chief Diaz, responding to the complaints of residents that their streets are not being properly swept because people leave their cars sitting where that work is supposed to be done, presented options for thwarting these scofflaws. But at what cost? Well, actually, about $127,000 for the first year of enforcement alone, or well beyond what we spend to get the streets swept in the first place. There was the enacting of an ordinance; a need to hire something called Inter-Con to write tickets (two part time people at $20.37 per hour); vehicle specific signage (four signs per block for a total of $70K) and 12 weeks to bid the signs. There was more, but none quite as entertaining as these.

My question, had I been there to ask it, is why is it the Sierra Madre Police Department, during their vigilant patrolling of our streets, does not stop to visit with cars parked in inappropriate areas on designated street sweeping days? We're already paying them, and certainly it would be an enforcement kind of thing to do. But maybe they have more important things going on, or perhaps real policemen just can't be expected to perform so menial a task? I do not know.

The Council opted to go volunteer on this one, with Councilmember MacGillivray's suggestion of working with the Neighborhood Watch getting some appreciative bobbles from across the way.

Item #4 will forever be known as thus: Discussion - Approval of Resolution No. 10-43: Approving the Projected Ending Balances for FY 2009-2010 and Revised Budget FY 2010-2011; Approval of Resolution No. 10-41: Approving the Changes to the Salary Matrix for FY 2010-2011.

The important takeaway is that this item has been continued to the next regularly scheduled Council meeting on June 22nd due to sensory overload. In a detailed and well-prepared presentation, Finance Director Karen Schnaider kept her $$$ in their respective columns while dazzling the assembled by invoking a language that was somewhat familiar to the English speakers present. I believe it is a variant tongue known as Fund Speak.

Coming through loud and clear was the usual "we need more police and we need more firemen" refrain, and it will cost lots of new dollars to make this dream come true. However, we do have a budget surplus of $1.1 million (or is that $1.45 million due to Sacramento putting some of our cookies back in their jar?), and a balanced budget for the next two years, which is in no small part because we have even more UUT revenue than we knew due to estimating deficiencies. Kind of like Bruce and his tar.

We were treated to a masterful demonstration of Fund Accounting, and the careful observer could actually catch a glimpse of these elusive funds in their natural habitat. A curious statement that $66K in administrative costs are being shifted from the RDA to the General Fund in order to prevent poaching by Arnold the Austrian Oak was heard. I think the RDA has the lion's share of the city's funds (about three times might be accurate) and it would be good to leave the RDA administrative costs in the RDA Fund. Why should our more exposed and beleaguered General Fund have to take that hit, right?

Look, all this number talk made my head swell in a painful way. If so inclined, go down to City Hall and ask for a copy of this presentation. Leave some quarters on the copy machine. Bring it home and read it closely. It makes no sense to take it out of context. Elaine and Karen encourage both City Council and the faithful come on down for a little fiscal heart to heart should they so desire. No appointments necessary.

I would suggest you start by asking why we need to hire more police, more firemen (not volunteers but paid employees), another Public Works person, more Development people, and a clerk upgraded to an Administrative Assistant. More Government = More Shenanigans being the Fund Speak equation I like to use. If you want to keep our town small, keep City Hall small. Idle hands being the Devil's plaything and all. Personally I'd like to reduce it to the size of a postage stamp, and then have it run out of a back closet at The Pantorium.

Item #5 was presented unto the faithful as: Discussion - Resolution No. 10-45 Declaring Support for an Energy Partnership Between the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, Southern California Edison, and the City of Sierra Madre.

I know that some people get very excited about this kind of thing, but I don't get it. All the City Council members were in agreement that this is a fine thing, with the exception of John Buchanan who had to leave the room because the energy monopoly he works for is involved. But even he said it was good when he eventually returned. That there is $4.5 million dollars in taxpayer money out there to get cities to say they agree that wasting energy is a bad thing seems almost surreal. Wouldn't helping out some hungry or sick kids be a better use for this cash? Fixing our schools? That amount would almost cover for the entire PUSD Measure CC Parcel Tax debacle of a few weeks back. Sierra Madre's cut of this nutty confection is $171,000. Which we're now getting because our City Council declared that wasting energy is bad. Well done, I guess.

Item #6 staggered into view, and it was called: Discussion - Adoption of Resolution No. 10-44 Authorizing Participation in the Los Angeles County Energy Program.

This LA County energy program essentially loans homeowners money for insulation, new windows, water upgrades, and solar installations, among other fine energy saving do-dads. It eliminates the need for ponying up front money by property owners. The catch? They place a lien on your property for playing. But if the thought of enjoying significant energy savings enthralls you, and you don't want to spend the scratch to install upgrades like people did back in the days when LA County was solvent, it sure beats using the Visa card. No harshing of mellows over such issues as loan contracts, interest rates, foreclosure, or bankruptcy, was heard.

Councilmember MacGillivray inquired about the impact of this program on Hillside Ordinances and current zoning regulations. The City Manager and City Stafferperson assured her all existing zoning acts would prevail. But they also said they would check back and report back with more information.

No information was given regarding how to apply. Or exactly how much of this swag would be available here. I suspect there won't be a whole lot of money, and the competition to get some of it could be spirited. Perhaps resident cage matches at Lucky Baldwin's Delirium would be a way of deciding who gets a piece of this action?

The last real item was Lucky #7. It was declared to be: Discussion - Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) Update.

MaryAnn MacGillivray spoke about the SCAG and SGVCOG meetings she attended. Nobody else did because they weren't able to attend.

That concludes today's report. Enjoy the rest of your day.


  1. Well done! I'd like to know more about the City staff, like how many, what do they do, how much are they paid, and what percentage of their time is spent supporting the "volunteers". I'm beginning to see a pattern here... and the pattern is to raid my pocket book to support the Country Club's activities. More on that in the next few weeks.

  2. I sure hope our "new" city council has the back-bone to stand up to the police chief and say enough is enough. Inter-Con? Please, Do your job chief and get out there and write some over night parking tickets! What a joke....

  3. Yet another sign that city hall is bulking up for some of the big tasks ahead. And what might those tasks be? Well, you'll just have to wait for the process to get to the point where you're allowed to know. That hasn't happened yet.

  4. The street sweeper just went past my house. What if people leave their trash cans out? Does the sweeper go around those? Maybe they should outfit it with something like a cattle catcher on trains. Push the trash cans out of the way.

  5. Is this a pick up day for your trash cans? Seems like a scheduling problem between Athens trash pick up and Athens street sweeping. Call Inman and complain.

  6. Just why is it that Code Enforcement Officer Volpe can't cruise the scheduled streets on the day the street sweeper is due and issue tickets? I'd say kick off the program with warnings for a couple of cycles, then start ticketing! And don't blame the Chief if you get ticketed, there would have been ample notice!

  7. street sweeping? what's wrong with a broom?

    I'm sure Josh had the Laker's game on his phone during the Laker's game, it's the only explanation for his high fives and celebration outburts during the discussions of the salary matrix.

    it might also explain his yes vote when intsead of saying "aye" he said, "LAKER'S RULE - woooooo - party on dude"

    hey 9:06, the last thing we need is Lisa driving around writing more tickets.

  8. I think it is the effect of that $1 million dollar surplus. Every department head knows that this city council is far more spend happy than the previous one, and their little lives would come to an and if some other department were to get their mitts on that moolah. It's almost a feeding frenzy.

  9. Got this on good authority: every City Hall department head is encouraged to read the Tattler daily to see if their name or department is mentioned.

    Power to the Tattler!

  10. Two tin cans and a long stringJune 10, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    I thought it was FUNNY that the police and firefighter's radios do not communicate. Public safety is a joke in this town.

  11. I hope they read the comments 11:07.
    That's where the real action is.

  12. C'mon, 11:22, everybody knows that they use their cell phones.
    It explains why they can be seen down on Foothill Blvd as much
    as they are. They're looking for some bars. On their phones, that

  13. Ed, it isn't that the Fire Dept and the PD can't dial a number and get an answer (if there's enough bars from where they are calling) it's a totally different kind of non-communication they are talking about. The departments should be on a Nextel system, not a cell phone. The departments can afford professional equipment, they choose to ignore professionalism in favor of good old boy (and girl) neighborly Mayberry, chatting it up at The Only Place in Town and posing for Coburn's entries into Hachette Filipacchi Médias.

    Cell phones, as Mr. Pakalsky noted Tuesday night, are not very effective in Sierra Madre. Do you want your loved one's life depending on an inadequately equippped safety life support team?

  14. Yes, we need to find out job descriptions in City Hall. So many do not do much. It has always been a joke.

    Police give out parking tickets at night because....

    And the CC is being directed by the puppet tear to pretend to care, except MacGillivary who Does Know what is happening and OH, showed up at SCAG....hmmmm, funny thing about being there...

    Thanks Josh and Nancy for getting involved with our city council...and caring about Sierra Madre's future..Thanks.

  15. Does anyone know what day of the week the street sweeper comes by their address? If they did, would they make an effort to moved parked cars so the sweeping could actually do some good? Co-ordinating this on off days with trash pickup, so the cans are not in the way of the street sweeper, might boost results, too. lt is just a question good life services that would take some effort and it might not cost all that much. I am guessing it is going to be left on the "too much trouble to bother" list.

  16. 12:02 Can you say stream of consciousness.

  17. I agree with one of the points made on the blog this morning. It seems to be the mindset of local government to chase funds from the state and federal governments. And that when they get this money it is deemed a victory because what it will get for their city has nothing to do with the general fund budgets that play such a controlling role in their professional lives. However, as taxpayers we must be alarmed, because that supposedly "free money" actually comes from us. It is our tax money. At least the parts of it that aren't borrowed. When you consider the perilous financial conditions of both Sacramento and Washington DC, you can only wonder why they're giving it out for the kinfds of things described at Tuesday evening's meeting. Thank you.

  18. 12:02,the PD gives out tickets at night because there is an overnight parking on city streets ordinance.give us a break.

  19. Driving by the fire station I noticed there is a big banner
    with a picture of what looks like an owl with his head
    sticking out of a refrigerator. The banner says we need to
    save water. I think it was hung over Baldwin a few weeks
    ago as well. With this money we got for advocating saving
    energy, will we be getting another banner like the owl one?

  20. An interesting outcome from the PG&E prop election. The districts where PG&E provides electrical service voted a much higher "no" vote than those districts served by other Utility Companies. One reason cited was PG&E has been installing new meters which have brought higher electric bills after installation. BEWARE SIERRA MADRE, So Cal Edison is hot on PG&E's tail.(Save those old electric bills and keep track; month to month and cumulative year to date, this year vs last year.) First Water, then Electricity, maybe Gas next?

  21. again and again and againJune 10, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    City Hall needs to downsize.

  22. I will confess that I am not the best money person around. I work hard, make some money and try to save some, spend within a budget, meet my family's obligations - and that's pretty much it, so yeah, kinda simple with the finances.
    But I find this "How we came to have an extra million" for this year, and the "there's a million in the wrong account" of a year or two ago very, very hard to understand.
    It's a million dollars. Maybe I could get behind a thousand dollar surprise, but a million. A million dollars.

  23. That million dollar moment was a big opportunity for a basic civics lesson on bad government. Now the people responsible for that and so many other things like it are calling the shots. Opportunity missed.

  24. Fort Apache, you are so right.
    Watching the Sierra Madre city staff and some of the council people work with money is liking watching people playing with monopoly money. It is not real to them. Imagine how different it would be if it were their own money.

  25. City administrations: self contained, self perpetuating, self indulgent, & self pensioned. Voters got it and will not approve tax increases. But again the "selfs" outsmarted the voters and raised Utility Taxes, proving again there is more than one way to "skin a voter".

  26. a lot of our moneyJune 10, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    A rumor I heard about the first $1,000,000 oops was that it had been put in the wrong place on purpose, in order to use it as leverage, or back up a signature for something else.
    Haven't heard any rumors about the second $1,000,000 oops.

  27. Are we really such a wealthy town that a million dollars can play hide and seek here.
    Not where I live.

  28. I'm excited if I find $ 20 in my dry cleaning before I drop it off

    Imagine finding a million dollars?

    Somebody needs to be fired at city hall for the mistakes or the deception.

    And our PD and FD need professional equipment, even if we are stuck with mediocre, lethargic and downright dangerous personnel

    It's still mind boggling that in major metro area a community is served by a volunter fire department full of insurance agents, white collar salesmen and everyday Joes. Not my idea of public safety.

    All we need now is one of our cops is to shot an unarmed private citizen in the back...oh wait, we've already been afforded that luxury

  29. Still p***ed over scrubbed hard drives and liesJune 10, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    alooms: the first million disappeared down the memory hole during the Shenanigan Years wherein the DIRTS and DICS maintained that all the audits were done but no one knew how much money the city had; so they scared the bejabbers out of the voters in order to pass the UUT, then VOILA! the $$$ appeared just in time to transfer into the Fire Life Safety piggy. In a new era of accountability (and record keeping) Director Karin completed the audit process thus saving the city thousands of dollars in fines and discovered a cool million out there in fund land (don't tell me Gillison didn't know it was "sleeping" in a quiet little backwater bank account.

    The current $1,000,000 is the result of Director Karin's oversight and fund management as well as less than anticipated expenses and more than anticipated UUT revenue. A budget adjustment so to speak. A good thing and something, dear Tattlers, that every municipality does to it's budget -- a mid-year adjustment.

    The bad part is the city wants to spend the surplus on more FTE's without knowing how much the state will grab and whether the UUT will continue to be such a gusher.

    PS-that incompetent boob Rob Stockly still maintains to this day that the audits were done in the timely fashion. We're blessed to have Director Karin in charge and not the idiot Margy Tucker and Stockly managing the City's finances. Makes you wonder just how accurate the Sierra Madre Foundation's records are. Well, I can tell I won't be donating my hard earned dollars to anything Stockly's associated with.

  30. With respect to the street sweeping. What's with the 4 signs per block? Most Cities just pass a no-overnight-parking ordinance and post a few signs at major streets entering town. Should run a few thousand bucks at most. The let the police on patrol ticket the cars in the way on street sweeper night. How hard is this?

  31. Maybe we should start a Tattler office pool and let everyone
    pick where they think the $1 million surplus will be spent.

    My choice would be Police. This City Council will give them
    everything they ask for next year. Watch the UUT go to 12%
    when the million doesn't turn out to be enough..

  32. 2:37, thanks for the information.
    I follow the logic, I trust Director Schneider - but it's such a big amount to get fuzzy about.
    I agree with your assessment of Stockly. I still find it shocking that he worked for a bank that had a financial relationship with the hillsides developer Galetly while Stockly was making decisions about that on the council.

  33. The 4 signs per block are two on each side/at each end of the block. It could be that the days are also posted, like "Street Sweeping on Tuesdays No Parking Allowed" which would make signs at major streets entering towns meaningless. If the street sweeper sweeps at night then your suggestion is a good one and would save considerable $$$. However if the sweeper sweeps during the day it won't work.

  34. In the private sector managers and directors are given bonuses for keeping expenditures under budget. I don't think that happens in our city but it would be an incentive to administrators and executives to be more cost conscious.

  35. Given that we are one of the few cities around with a surplus, and we now have a city council with members know for being free and easy with a buck, I think that large flock of birds circling city hall today must be vultures. I'll bet the phones there are ringing endlessly.

  36. Yes indeed, vultures. Sent by consultants. DICS and DIRTS have put out the word that the DSP is being resurrected, with a new name, and is once again in play. They'll want to get on the gravy train.

    Local architect Tom Pendleberry and Planning Commission member is on board to upgrade the SMCC's "coffee shop" and Dr. Sami's. Tom is a good and decent local professional trying to make a living; the SMCC and Dr. Sami are still short parking. Perhaps Pendleberry is also a magician able to pull parking from thin air. As I recall we never did see a anything resembling an overall building plan from SMCC.

  37. @ 3:03

    In my town, the street sweepers run from 11 pm to 2 am. They used to run early in the morning, ending about 6 am way back in the '60's. My brother and I used to take our cereal bowls out to the curb, eat breakfast and wait for the street sweeper to roll on by. Got a great view of Baldy with snow on it to boot. The B&W Indian Head test pattern on TV cleared up at that point and went to am programming. KTLA TV was big back then, and KRLA rocked.

    Needless to say, they roll up the sidewalks at 6 pm around here. Now I watch the street sweeper from my computer station in the wee hours. Not quite the same...

  38. Fiscal conservativeJune 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    I think we should put that surplus in a "fund" and hold onto it. It's 25% of the 40% of the matching funds required for the $10 mil grant for which the Water Department is willing to raise our rates to secure.

  39. Then the Shadow Government (Mayor Doyle and Councilmembers Stockly, Mosca, Buchanan, Joffee) wouldn't be able to turn the water rate increase from water into UUT wine (read rate increase into taxes) to pay for the Downtown Face Lift.

  40. They need to pay for the water infrastructure required for development. The kinds of developers they want to attract to Sierra Madre will not want to have to deal with our quaint residential town system as it is now. That is why they want this rate hike so badly. That is the first step.

  41. Frugal isn't a bad thingJune 10, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    I'm with you fiscal conservative.
    Send in the protest forms, water customers.

  42. Let's see... $40K per property in infrastructure fees times 28 buildable Stonegate lots equals $1,120,000 plus $1,000,000 surplus... Wow! We're halfway to matching the 40% of the $10,000,000 grant!

  43. Put that in your suggestion box Bruce Inman!

  44. How much does the City spend for street sweeping?

    Whatever the amount, it seems SM is getting the short end of the stick. Athens provides FREE street sweeping to other cities that contract for their trash service, Glendora comes to mind.

  45. Sierra Madre pays Athens $88,500 to sweep the streets.

  46. Just because we have a surplus doesn't mean we have to spend it. Let's make do with what we have until the economy improves. We don't know how much Sacramento will take from us, or when. No more city employees.

  47. Hear hear 4:37, except FEWER city employees

  48. When my son was moving to San Francisco several years ago he left the U Haul on the street because it would not fit in the drive way because of a tree over night. He got a ticket. When I complained to the police about it and explained the reason, I was told that No Parking signs are posted as you enter city and that is enough notice.

  49. Lights camera actionJune 10, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    Did you know we have someone whose only job is to monitor filming?

  50. 5:18, that's because there is no overnight parking -- DIFFERENT than no parking on certain streets on certain days during certain hours because of street sweeping.

    Sierra Madre has no overnight parking during certain hours (can't remember but like 3:00 am until 5:00 am as an example). If the street sweeper came at 2:00 the car could be on street legally no ticket could be issued.

    You people have lived in the "village" so long your brains have gone bad.

  51. Nice try but no cigarJune 10, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    The film monitor job is a part time job and paid for from the fees collected from the filming permits.

  52. GM@5:32, would you happen to know any staff positions that we can cut?

  53. 5:30 - the idea was that overnight would be a good time to have the street sweeping done because there would be no cars on the street.

  54. I'd like to cut most of the Human Resources Dept for starters. Why does a city of 65 (more or less) need six HR staffers?

  55. Sir Eric,

    By the comments today, it appears you audience continues to grow.

    Tattler Fan

  56. 4 signs per block??? This action spoils the rustic feel of our wonderful City.

    The signs are not warranted especially with the idea of enhancing the City's 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. no overnight parking ordinance. Seems the City didn't spend 5 minutes researching the topic for alternatives. Moreover, wasn't one of the reasons the City joined (including paying member fees) the SGVCOG was to share information?

    Also, since Athens is the City's trash hauler and street sweeping contractor, the City should better coordinate these two activities. Most cities require street sweeping be done no more than 2 days after trash collection. In my neighborhood street sweeping occurs 4 days after trash collection, which means that I enjoy 3 days of clean streets versus 5. I guess it's too much to ask that our City employees spend a few minutes researching how to further improve our quality of life.