Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Take On the Water Rate Hike - Plus An 'On the Scene' Report From the Sierra Madre Water Walk! (Bond Default?)

(Ed: There are several topical letters currently making the rounds of this fair City, and most of them clearly spell out some of the misgivings people here are having about the jumbo water rate increase. As part of The Tattler's continuing dialog on this matter I thought I would reprint one of them here.)

Sierra Madre property owners:

This letter is written to encourage you to register an objection to the proposed water increase. Unless you submit a written objection, you will be deemed to have voted 'Yes' to the outrageous water increase the City Council has already approved.

The City Council has approved a water rate increase of 16% in the first year, accruing to 40% in five years. There is no justification for such a large increase.

The City of Sierra Madre's water rates are among the highest of those in the San Gabriel Metropolitan Water District. Sierra Madre's rates are compared with Azusa, Monterey Park and Alhambra on our city's web site in a chart from page 15 of the consultant's water fee study that shows that customers pay now:

Azusa $80.49
Monterey Park $81.82
Alhambra $86.39
Sierra Madre $104.00

The Director of Public Works claims that the residents of Sierra Madre pay more because there are fewer people to spread the costs among. However, since we have a smaller population, we have less infrastructure needs than a city with more people, and we should also need fewer staff, fewer wells and less pumping costs.

If this rate hike goes through, in five years your bill will be 140% of what it is now.

The City also claims that a rate increase will be beneficial to the city, to continue ongoing repairs to the aging infrastructure and to increase our Water Dept. reserves, now at two million five hundred thousand dollars, as announced by the Director of Public Works. But what have our higher rates been buying so far?

And not this much, and not in this manner. The public has not been properly informed or been given enough time to respond. The suggested tiered system was identified by the Director of Public Works as being ineffective as a conservation measure, and it will unnecessarily complicate our billing. The Los Angeles City Council is in the process of removing tiers from their billings because of the confusion and dissatisfaction it has caused. The meter size penalty is also a controversial matter that requires public discussion.


50% plus one more individual of Sierra Madre's water customers voting NO will stop this extreme increase. There is no other means of protest.

Sign and then turn the protest form in as soon as you receive it, seal it in an envelope addressed to the City Clerk, and mail it or take it to city hall. It must be in the hands of the City Clerk by July 13.

(Ed: End of letter. And now on to the Water Walk. Something that apparently only a few throughout history have been able to do.)

Water Walk Recap (Courtesy of the Minute Maid News Consortium - Chief Black Kettle reporting.)

At about 6:30PM last night, Councilmember MaryAnn MacGillivray, City Manager Elaine Aguilar and Public Works Director Bruce Inman began the magical mystery tour of the Public Works water operations at the City Yards for an estimated 18 to 20 residents, flanked by half that many PW staff, and two members of the Fifth Estate. The group was divided into two sections and guided by either Bruce Inman or Chris Cimino, among five different points of interest where additional staff were located to provide information about various aspects of the operations.

The first stop was the exhibit of the well traveled six foot section of corroded pipe that partied down at the 4th (or 5th) of July event. The pipe was essentially put into the ground in the 1920s and was fabricated of riveted sheet metal. Mr. Inman told the tourists that these sections are constantly being dug up as they fail, then are replaced with ductile iron pipe with a concrete liner and an estimated life of 70 years. The Water Department is eventually going to phase out the older water meters and replace them with battery powered monitoring devices which will provide information to the Water Department as to the status of the water supply being delivered to the subscriber. He then went on to give a PowerPoint presentation on the various water collecting basins in the City and the various reservoirs, which led to a discussion of the current well status. He noted that the wells are drilled to a depth of about 600 feet. Water is collected at about the 350 foot depth. Bruce then gave statistics on the amount of electricity used in the pumping of these wells.

Inman clarified the issue that all of our wells are within the boundaries of Sierra Madre. He addressed the subject of the Camillo Street diversion of the Sierra Madre Canyon Wash water and the spreading grounds; the water that is collected from the Santa Anita debris basin; the issue of the "emergency" MWD 10" line and told us that use of the emergency pipe would only be granted at the discretion of the MWD, a yes or no on whether a request from SM can be honored. The group then was given a presentation by a Water Department staffer on the budgetary issues facing Sierra Madre as we are faced with a possible default on bonds. Apparently there is an urgent need for the additional money to avoid default.

The group was then led to the pump house, which houses five 200hp 480 volt 3-phase electric motors driving five pumps and the concomitant necessary electronic equipment to control their operation. Two pumps are in use at any given hour of the day or night.

Ever onward, the touristas proceeded to the deep well on the site of the City Yards, and named Well Number Three; serviced by a 200hp 480 volt three-phase electric pump. The water is pumped directly to the new 5,000 gallon activated charcoal filtering system; from there it is pumped to the five pumps which distribute water throughout the City.

From there the group went to the office and the computer-central base of the operations. On view was the state-of-the-art computerized system which graphically shows the status of the water system throughout the town at any given moment, capable of being adjusted and controlled remotely.

Bravo and well done! Kudos to the staff of the Public Works Water Department who conducted a most professional and technically competent excursion, and conveyed to the residents present the information about the functioning of the entire process in a clear and understandable fashion.

The low turnout of citizenry to this unique opportunity to see the water system in detail was truly disappointing. Heretofore only City Councilmembers, Planning Commissioners and City Staff have been given a tour like this as a part of their orientation. The City, although putting on a brave face in asking for such a large increase in expenditures, gave this reporter the opinion that this could have been handled much more expeditiously had they come to grips with these problems by way of small incremental increases since 2005, rather than dumping something this large on the citizens in 2010.

(Ed: End of yet another excellent report from the MMNC. The news about a possible default involving a New York bank seems rather revelatory at first pass. We will be following up on that angle of this late breaking story later this morning when our phoner friends are awake.)

(Ed: "Bank" edited to "Bond." 10:15 AM.)


  1. To be clear, her eminence Councilmember MacGillivray was not a part of the presentation but one more example of MaryAnn's dedication to the residents, the City, the process, and above all, TRUTH!

    Thank you MaryAnn MacGillivray.

    No other Mayors, Mayors Pro Tem or Councilmembers were present.

  2. Boris and NatashaJuly 9, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    Maybe it was free wine and brie night at the Womans Club.

  3. Anonymous in the morningJuly 9, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Okay... the previous opportunity for a rate hike 2005... who was on the Council? who was City Manager? where are the records that support the need for additional money? what happened to the dollars that relate to the bond that's about to be in default?

    Wasn't this at the sunset of the Shenanigan Years? That infamous era of Sierra Madre history where what happened and who did it have mysteriously disappeared down the memory hole? I propose that these "funds" were redistributed and we will play he** ever recreating what Tucker, Gates, and the little red-haired CM and the shape shifter John Gillison actually did with them. The only only relic of that time is John Buchanan - and he owes us an explanation.

    There's no doubt the City needs an infusion of water dollars - but we, the rate payers, need explanation. By protesting in the proscribed manner we may have a shot at fully understanding that dark time in our history.

  4. I don't know what to make of this default story. Is it a case of the troops blaming dumb civilian leadership? A "Hail Mary" pass designed to stop the wave of protests now suddenly showing up? A slip of the tongue by a too trusting city employee? Aren't we running surpluses both in the genrral fund and in the water department? Talk about opening a can of worms!

  5. Shenanigan control didn't end until 2008. This default is firmly on
    Buchanan and Mosca.

  6. Complete fiscal audit of all City finances and departments. Obviously some bodies are buried. The audit is necessary to daylight all obligations and find the money bags stashed in hall closets. Once that's done, a rational plan going forward can be laid out in public and voted in, along with a requirement for transparent public reporting of the City's finances on an annual basis.

  7. Somebody just threw Mosca and Buchanan under the bus. If this is true they need to resign. Now.

  8. Let's remember what John Buchanan said about an audit:
    Blah de blah blah blah can't do it blah de blah blah blah
    Blah de blah blah blah can't do it blah de blah blah blah
    Blah de blah blah blah can't do it blah de blah blah blah

    Or just watch him on Neuroblast.

  9. There was another cover up that had something to do with water. What was that one called .... Oh, I know! Watergate!

  10. Buchanan Baffled by Audits is a good one, Buchanan explains 1 million $, Buchanan on the shenanigan years....

  11. Watergate West 2010July 9, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    Thank you for reporting the Public Works tour. To expect anyone on the CC to attend is pure fantasy.

    Remember, the record shows that Joe only showed up to 19 out of 21 SCAG meetings and then argued that he was there.

    Nancy and Josh were never in attendance to any CC meetings before they were elected, and saying they watched it on tv does not count. BEING THERE counts.

    OF COURSE, MacGillivary was there because she CARES about Sierra Madre.

    And, as for the rest of the citizens, they unlikely did not know about the tour anymore, than they did not know about the rate hike. Just run around and ask people door to door, and restaurant to restaurant, and over the 4th Celebrations, and it is no surprise that people truly did not know, and are very appreciative to learn of this massive and disgusting rise in their water rates.

    Thanks Ladies at Kersting Ct for your awareness signs in the evening. You have created quite a conversation among us all. More people understand the issue because of your standing on the corner!

    Tattler, keep us informed. Too bad there are not more tours more early in the game. Why not a big advertisement flag on the corner of Baldwin and SMB?? And, 60 more days of time to learn about the water raise......

  12. Do we really trust city hall?

    There is a chance that the city or certain people in authority will try to
    sabotage our signatures/letters.

    If you sent in a protest and it doesn't get counted? Felony? Yep.

    To City Hall:
    We will be paying very close attention to this.
    Save the city a law suit....don't even think about trashing any of our protests.

  13. That little comparison... what does it mean Sierra Madre $104? Other than a comparison that Sierra Madre pays more for something, is it monthly, annually, per some volume? What does it mean?

  14. To Watergate West--19 out of 21 times for Mosca's attendance at SCAG. I think that figure needs rechecking.

  15. Dear Water West 2010, isn't 19 out of 21 a pretty good attendance record? I think you numbers are wrong. Can anybody help out here?

  16. No one cares much about water until the well runs dry or an explanation for raising rates for water delivery is so completely mucked up that no one can see through the turbidity.

  17. hey stupid Mosca missed 19 out of 21 meetings.
    Now to avoid missing meetings he has not appointed anyone as that liason to that important position although Maryann continues to attend the meeting. Joe, Nancy, Josh, and John are no shows.

  18. 10:08, look at the water consultant report on the city web site, p. 15.

  19. It's not the crime, it's the coverup. I am surprised that John and Joe don't know their Nixon 101 since they have so much in common with the tricky one. This debt and default situation should have been explained from the get-go, and not at some meeting at the pump house in front of 18 people. I am disgusted by the city's performance on this water gouge. Disgusted.

  20. Splain please.
    We are NOT financially sound?
    We are screwed up with a bond/s?

  21. The City has to maintain a certain level of reserves to honor the deal made when we did a deal to get water bonds in 1998 and 2003. We no longer have the cash on hand to cover that reserve requirement. Which means the bond holders could pull our ticket. It's like with your checking account. To write a check for $100 you need to have $125 in the account. We no longer have it. The whole house of cards could come down. And they never told us that until last night.

  22. working for a livingJuly 9, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    If this is true, I am furious at having my money so badly managed.

  23. The bond default statement has been made before, but not as clearly as last night. To get a clear picture of what they are talking about, see Bucknam report "Water System Program Plan" exhibits I and J. We clearly need a water rate raise. BUT this much all at once? I still think we need more time to digest all this info given to us at the last minute.

  24. Stop this runaway train. Reset the destination. Explain the situation with respect for the intelligence of the water paying customers. At the water rate increase hearing on the 13th, do not go forward with the plan. Resubmit the report to describe the true situation and explain the situation with respect for the intelligence of the water paying customers. Oh, yes. I already suggested that. Bears repeating!

  25. 11:21, when this was covered in the city council chambers recently the topic of bonds and brloen covenants and defaults was never raised. There was an in depth presentation on all aspects of the financial situation, and it wasn't mentioned. All we got was that we had to approve the 40% hike or all the water would go away. Alluding to the bond issue in some fat book of consultant dung is not going public with the truth. That is where you go to hide the truth.

  26. My vote says we pay off the bond default, forget an expensive consultant for the General Plan, and start the recall petitions rolling! Where do I sign?

  27. From the City Level to the National Level politicians dabble in power, favoritism, bribery, nepotism, hiding things, disguised corruption, etc. You want to know what kind of person represents you? Check on who they hang out with and where they get their money. The good old boys (both sexes) have an agenda and have the time and money to chase it. "3 min Jo and the council whisperer John" are no exception and are working for others than the residents of Sierra Madre. Who?

  28. I'm thinking this should make any talk of a $7 million bond for street paving be put on a back burner. If we can't afford bond service on a bond described as ["1998 Parity Bonds" in the principal amount of $6,740,000, of which $5,650,000 remain outstanding"]just what makes Mr. Mosca think we should assume an additional indebtedness of $7 million?

    Can you say, "Bankruptcy"?

  29. fewer bafflemints pleaseJuly 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    What the hell is going on?

  30. Things don't seem to be going very well for the new City Council so far.

  31. City is out to do damage control!

    Go to the City site and view Summary Financial Information from 7/8/10 Community Water-Walk and Talk from the 7/9/10 Documents listing.

    Have you ever seen them scurry so?

  32. If you have all the pieces, it's easyJuly 9, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    Jeeze! What egos these idiots possess! Mosca and Buchanan tried to put the blame for this debacle on the newest City staff: Elaine Aguilar and Karen Schnaider. Poor old Bruce Inman, who just tries to run a Water Department, takes the brunt of the public's wrath but he's NEVER written a warrant or played funny money with a fund balance in his entire career! Put this in the City Council column under Joffee, Buchanan, and Mosca. You can be sure John Gillison was the architect.

    Aguilar and Schnaider were following the direction of Council.

  33. you don't think Chris Cimino has a conflict of interest?

    his wife is a real estate agent and she and Chris benefits from the tax increase which allows the city to build the infrastructure to support new large scale development

    it's hard to trust anybody in City Hall

  34. Look at the spreadsheet (on the City site dated July 8, 2010 (CHANGES TO WATER NET ASSETS) that show a negative ($1,241,394) Change in Net Assets in FY 03-04. $2,899,366 spent on Capital-Budget - and this was approved by which City Council? This from May 10, 2004 gives you an idea of who was in power:

    Monday, May 10, 2004 -6:30 p.m.
    A Regular Meeting of the Sierra Madre City Council was held on Monday, May 10, 2004. Mayor
    Stockly called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. Roll Call was followed by Administrative Assistant,
    Debra Humphrey.
    PRESENT: Mayor, Robert Stockly, Mayor Pro Tem, George Maurer
    Councilmembers, John Buchanan, Enid Joffe, Tonja Torres
    ABSENT: None
    ALSO PRESENT: Tamara S. Gates, City Manager
    Michael Colantuono, City Attorney
    Administrative Assistant, Debra Humphrey

  35. Chris Cimino has no voting authority in this debacle. Don't take out your anger and personal gripes on defenseless worker bees.

  36. I'm having trouble getting my mind around this. We have a state of the art control system (not cheap, believe me) with all the bells and whistles and we're about to default on our bond payment? *&%$$##!!! Doesn't anybody else think this is weird? It's like wearing a mink coat to bankruptcy court. It's obvious that our money wasn't managed well--based on the belief that the citizenry represents an endless opportunity for more money no matter what has happened.

    And pardon me for being skeptical, but I'm not buying the bond thing because a 16 percent increase paid each month does not equal a cash infusion sufficient to meet a bond installment. This is crap. If it were true, don't you think this would have been the first words out of their mouth? They're seeing that this increase has not been well received by the populace and they're now trying to pay the Finance Card.

    And don't forget this is a double raise of money because the water bill increase will also automatically result in a utility tax increase.

    This is just the new city council flexing their power after their April victory. They thought they had the carte blanche endorsement of the citizens and wanted to take advantage of that by creating a water slush fund.

    I'm thinking they want to have plenty of cash on hand to buy water so they'll have enough to support the denser development they have in mind. It's been shown back in Maranatha High School application days and before that the City does not have here the water resources to support any sizable development, but if you can buy it, well . . . that's another story.

    My eyes were already open, but thanks for opening my eyes even wider, Sir Eric.

  37. URGENT!!!

    Consideration of Resolution No. 10-50 authorizing the City Manager to engage a contractor(s) to construct necessary repairs to replace a damaged water main and repair associated roadway damage on Sierra Madre Boulevard.

    Prepare your questions and come on down! Don't be late - this will be a super fast vote and dash to avoid angry residents at the podium!

  38. So the PSN reports that there will be a special emergency meeting tonight to authorize payment for a break that happened on WEDNESDAY.
    What was the council doing on Thursday?
    This stinks.

  39. is the council kiddingJuly 9, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    It's a good thing we have 2.5 million in the water dept. reserves - could pay a whole bunch of these bills without making such a fuss.

  40. I guess the turn-out wasn't good enough for the water walk & hustle.
    Had to do something else to drum up support, like making a big show out of issuing the check.

  41. Reading through the budget that's on the sierra madre city website, there's a section on outstanding bonds. As part of the agreement on the water bond, there's a requirement to bring in revenues that match the ability to pay the debt. Like, when you have a mortgage, you are supposed to make $1 for every 35 cents you pay on the mortgage. Same though.

    I don't know what can happen you dip below this ratio. Apparently, Sierra Madre already has dipped below the ratio they agreed to when the bond was funded. Does this reduce Sierra Madre's fiscal solvency rating, making the bond interest rate trend higher? I can't tell from the wording, but that's what happens in other cities.

    It looks to me though like there is no teeth if you aren't in compliance.

    Who gives this bond money anyway? Who are the holders of the bonds? Or do they get new bonds every where? All greek to me.

  42. From this afternoon's Pasadena Star News breaking newJuly 9, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    The City of Sierra Madre is holding an emergency City Council meeting tonight at 6:30 to authorize the city manager to pay a contractor to make up to $35,000 in repairs to replace a damaged water main and related roadway damage on East Sierra Madre Boulevard.
    The water main, which dates back to the 1920s, burst on Wednesday at the 400 block of East Sierra Madre Bouluevard, causing the closure of the street to through traffic from Holdman Avenue to Rancho Road. The burst is one of five significant leaks that have occurred in the past two weeks, city officials said.

    The City Council will also consider making an emergency finding that the competitive bidding requirements be suspended in the interest of public health and safety.

    Tonight's meeting will take place at City Hall Council Chambers at 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.

  43. The sky is falling, again!
    The sky is falling, again!
    I told you so
    And I do not have to tell you what I've been doing with your money, just give me some more

  44. You gotta love their sense of drama....

  45. Is it just me, or does there seem to be an awful lot of pipes breaking lately?

  46. still read the papersJuly 9, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Have the broken pipes had plenty of PSN photo ops?
    Maybe flanked by Joe and John doing their impression of seriousness.

  47. Like the article says, "...five leaks in two weeks..."

  48. The night that Measure V passed, the Director of Public Works looked furious as he left city hall. Really furious.
    It's been hard going for that department ever since.

  49. Doesn't anybody make the "connection"? LA put in watering restrictions, and dah they started having water main breaks all over the City...dah watering restrictions are causing the breaks!!
    Pay attention Sierra Madre City Administrators, perhaps we have a similar problem here..dah

  50. BP doesn't have anything on Sierra Madre. Poor execution results in bigger and better "blowouts" Oil for BP and Water for SM

  51. Sierra Madre blvd has heaved up at 4 to 5 inches past the curb line with some serious depressions running transversely across the Blvd, 150 feet of street will have to be replaced, all of this over 3 to 4 feet of 80 year old pipe, and, this is the best part folks,WITH ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE THAT AFTER ALL THE INCONVENIENCE, MONEY AND MAN HOURS, THAT 4 FEET AWAY IT WONT BREAK AGAIN!!

  52. Now we're a journalist? Hell, I just put a band-aid on my kids elbow, WOW I'M A FREAKIN' DOCTOR!!! LMFAOHMDROTF!!

  53. Look at it this way. Susan Henderson is a lawyer, has a masters in business admistration, and is a publisher. And all she did was graduate from some high school in Ohio.

    Dreams can come true in this town!

  54. Well, it's really interesting to watch this whole meltdown on the Tattler from the outside.

  55. The BIA cannot be happy with the way their boys have handled this thing. It might be jeopardizing the entire operation.

  56. We got a mailer today about the water rate hike.
    It was very informative.
    Thank you to the person/persons who mailed these out.
    We already signed our petitions in Kersting Court.
    You can also drop them off with Nancy Shollenberger.

    The mailer reminded us, we only have until July 13, next Tuesday to turn in your PROTEST.

    Thanks again to the folks who care enough to do something about this outrageous tax hike.

  57. Being defult with bonds is not the same as being in defult with your mortage. It means you are not in compliance with one of the many terms set forth in the original documents. Usually you are granted a waiver or there is a small interest increase while you are out of compliance.

  58. Didn't Inman say only 30% of the infrastructure needs to be replaced and it would cost less than $700,000 to do it? Why they milions to replace the pipes? Seems strange the pipes are leaking in strategic lecations so that every sector of the city can see the leaks. My god helicoptors, news coverage, closed streets. The BP oil spill didn't get this much coverage in the beginning. How about FOX news covering the people's story of the rushed rate increase, and the city refusing to be truthful were the money will be spent.

  59. Why do you people keep shooting holes in your credibility? The council is required to convene an emergency meeting and waive the need to put jobs out for bid, so that Bruce Inman can hire a contractor immediately. This meeting had nothing to do with drama as some of you have stated. And maybe the reason Maryanne was the only council member at the tour of the water system was because she seems to be the only one fighting this rate increase. Maybe, just maybe, she was gathering some knowledge for herself so that she better understands the need to make improvements to the infrastructure.

    I'm not protesting this rate hike. It is absolutely necessary. We do not have time to wait. It is unfortunate that the increase is so much, but I'm sure that had the city tried to push through increases over the last several years that people still would be complaining.

  60. 8:06 - as was admitted by city staff at the water walk (where you there?) this hike should have been built in incrementally years ago. They City dithered and screwed around and now what do we have? Busted pipes and a whopping 40% Chicken Little increase that is going to hurt that large portion of this community living on fixed incomes. Maybe you can defend digraceful and ineffectual government, but I won't.

  61. Wrong 8:06. The City is required to convene an emergency meeting and waive the need to put jobs out for bid IN THIS CASE because the cost of the repair exceeded the City Manager's authorized signature limit. Which I interpret as the previous breaks in the infrastructure were repaired for less than the limit.

    You are entitled to your views but you may want to check your facts before you take a position.

  62. Anita Delmer, Deputy City ClerkJuly 10, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    Thank you Tattler for posting the Special Emergency City Council Meeting Notice yesterday! The message was also on the City site and faxed to the press. As comments on this and previous posts indicate, it's difficult to alert residents to any event on short notice. How many times have you read, "I didn't know about..."). And thank you, as well, to those residents who were able to attend and those who watched on SMTV3. Business was conducted strictly according to the Agenda and concluded in short order. Minutes were taken and will be approved by Council in an upcoming regularly scheduled City Council meeting.

  63. $3 million would be about fixing pipes and drilling a well. $18 million is about laying down the water infrastructure for large development. This is a classic BIA operation, with their employees doing everything they can to sell it.

  64. Read today's Pasadena Star News for their take on the water rate increase including the page A4 continuation quoting The Taller and John Crawford.

  65. The agenda for Tuesday's meeting is on the city's web site.
    For some reason, those pages will download but then appear empty, on my computer.
    Always used to work.
    Maybe my computer is just too disgusted with the mismanagement of the city's money.....

  66. Same here 9:39.You on an imac?Can somebody post what the agenda items are.

  67. The council needs ten days to post(newspaper) in the emergency item that was deceided on for the regular council meeting this is illegal per the brown act they need to be stopped.Anita Delmer is confused on the rules of conducting a meeting or how items are voted on . Her post was incorrect.Read the Sunshine Act.the pasadena weekly is not our legal adjudicated paper and can not post the city's legal announcements.