"The Water rate increase is ambiguous at best. 'Polluted Aquifers, Tainted Wells, Rusty Pipes,' are all that are mentioned to justify the rate increase. No details, no cost estimates." - comment left last evening criticizing City Hall's "Chicken Little" approach to selling a 40% water rate hike.
Sierra Madre had its parade a day later than the rest of the world, but it was fun nonetheless. I personally gathered around 100 signatures in our quixotic quest to halt the $18 million dollar water infrastructure canard. I probably could have gotten more, but this particular parade seemed to fly by. Others were out gathering signatures as well, of course, and the race to 2,000 signatures (more or less) continues. It will be close.
The City Councilpersons were out in their carefully selected automobiles. Josh Moran looked quite comfortable in a green car. Well, it was painted green, anyway. Which I guess differentiated it from any other Mercedes Benz of another color. John Buchanan was in something vintage that looked like it might have been borrowed from the Shriners. Joe Mosca had what could have been a Sierra Madre first, a personal motorcade of three vehicles. Kind of a statement, I guess. "You see? I DO have lots of friends!" MaryAnn MacGillivray looked amused as she rode by in her convertible. Don't recall Nancy Walsh's car, I must have been getting a signature. Though I am sure it was something in good taste.
Nobody was killed by children's water guns this year, so I can assume the new restrictions are working. The yearly slaughter of innocents that had made us the Belfast of American towns is apparently over. And now, with those years of shame behind us, we can move forward.
Russ Warner and The Foothill Democrats marched proudly behind the banner of Green Jobs. Judging by the 12.5% unemployment rate in California those Green Jobs don't seem to be showing up any faster than Red ones or Purple ones, despite all the hoopla about paradigm shifts. Of course, if you want to find jobs look to mainland Asia where they burn fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. Russ seems to be well on his way to becoming one of a long line of unfortunate Congressional candidates destined to get beaten by David Dreier often.
I had some great conversations while I was gathering signatures. My favorites went something like this:
Me: "Are you aware that we are being hit with a 40% water rate increase?
Resident: "Oh God, yes. Is this the petition to stop it?"
Resident: "Give me the pen."
Then there were the Mountain Views News conversations:
Resident: "I'm not sure I want to sign. I just read in the newspaper that we really do need the increase."
Me: "By newspaper, I take it you mean the Mountain Views News?"
Resident: "Why yes. How did you know?"
Me: "You do realize that the paper you are talking about is paid by the City, and probably wouldn't even exist without our advertising money, right? And is hardly likely to bite the hand that feeds it?"
Resident: "Oh, I guess you're right. Where do I sign?"
Of course, there were also those astonishing conversations with people who seem bound and determined to work against their own interests. And even pay to do so. Those conversations went something like this:
Me: "Have you heard that the City is hitting us with a 40% water rate increase?"
Resident: "Yes. I guess that is a good thing."
Me: "Have you seen any itemized list of what the $18 million would be spent on? I mean, you wouldn't buy a car without knowing what is in it, right? You do think that maybe the City owes us an accounting of what exactly we're getting for all that money?"
Resident: "We have really good tasting water."
Sometimes you can only wonder what is put into it.
One conversation I had that I found rather heartbreaking was with an elderly woman who seemed quite frightened by the hike. It wasn't that she couldn't afford to pay the increase, because she would find a way. What she feared is what would come next. Where was the assurance that this would be the last rate increase that she would be asked to pay? The sense I came away with was that this town is no longer an environment she feels completely safe in. That she is no longer the kind of person those calling the shots really cares about anymore. To her 40% being less of a rate hike and more the kind of pressure that might found in a community undergoing gentrification.
At Memorial Park there was a band, various kids games involving eggs, and Bruce Inman and Elaine Aguilar at a table with a large rusty pipe. I asked Bruce if perhaps he'd been having trouble with his car and was using this occasion to show us his martyred exhaust manifold. Turns out that this was a rusty old water pipe, the inference being that everything we get our water from looks something like this. Which makes me wonder what they've been doing with our money all along. If that is what we're getting for some of the highest water rates this side of Kinneloa, then maybe I've been missing out on some really good card games.
When I asked Elaine if any sort of itemized list of what exactly we would get for $18 million dollars would be supplied to that small portion of City residents who would actually read it, she assured me it already existed. And all I would have to do is look on the city site to find it. Having been to the City's website about 50 times now on this issue, I'm not certain how I could have missed it. Maybe it has been misfiled under "dogcatcher?" Elaine assured me that if I would stop by City Hall she'd show me all I needed to know.
I'm beginning to believe that this has a lot to do with City Hall's desire to grab the $10 million EPA matching grant that is the lion's share of the $18 million total. The prospect of getting that much money can be quite distracting for some people. The prize becoming of far greater concern than any actual need. A big solution in search of a big problem, as it were.
One other thing that impressed me yesterday. A lot of the people I asked for signatures were not from Sierra Madre. And many of them turned out to be regular attendees at our 4th (or 5th) of July parades. When I asked them why they like to come here to witness our yearly display of small town virtue, they replied that what we have here is so different and so much nicer than what is to be found in their towns. It is neither crowded nor dirty, and that they felt safe. To a person each said they wished that they could live here, but cannot. And that we who do live here are very fortunate because we have something that has vanished most everywhere else.
If only some of the people now running this town could see Sierra Madre through the eyes of those who dream of having what they themselves are so carelessly squandering.