I was going to review the items that were covered during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, but what would be the point? There is only one thing that anybody is concerned about right now, and that is the politically driven monkey wrenching of the General Plan Steering Committee. This was a unique moment in the history of our town. The destruction of an already sitting committee merely because those serving on it had the wrong lawn signs in their yards last April is a level of political vindictiveness never before seen in Sierra Madre. It was an ugly act carried out by ugly people.
So why did this happen? The Gang of Four can't really talk about their agenda, which is heavily pro-development. To do so would make their existence as elected officials here politically untenable. Advocating development being right up there with dog napping in Sierra Madre's pantheon of undesirable behaviors. So they have to take alternative routes to their goals. Wrapping themselves in the Measure V flag would be one of them. We certainly have seen a lot of that kind of phoniness lately. Denying that things such as the water rate hike have anything to do with development would be another. Even though that particular fib becomes less and less believable as time goes on. And then there is all that frantic spending, something that could put Sierra Madre's hard won independence in jeopardy while also making us vulnerable to those whose interests this City Council really represents.
So rather than just firing the General Plan Steering Committee outright for not being development correct, they have to go through an entire series of passive aggressive charades. And why must they get their supporters on that committee? Not because it would benefit their interests, of course. But rather because that is the "collaborative thing to do." It would be done in order to make "inclusiveness" happen. That is, "bringing all possible viewpoints to the table."
These supporters, of course, as old school development hands, would have no interest in any out-reach programs designed to incorporate the views of the people of Sierra Madre in the new General Plan. And why should they? Most people in this town would never see any value in putting something like a .99c Store with condos up top on the Howie's site. Most residents like this town the way it already is. And where's the money in that? In the Orwellian world of Mosca and Buchanan, excluding the residents of Sierra Madre from participating in the creation of this most valuable of City documents is called "inclusiveness." You can almost see the pigs flying from their mouths.
One of the most important items on the development agenda is hiring consultants to write this new General Plan. By doing so the elements necessary to achieve development goals would be burned into the city's blueprint, and stay there for the next 20 years. All the while effectively keeping out any preservationist or slow growth viewpoints that could have been included had the vast majority of citizens in this town not been prevented from participating.
Which makes packing the General Plan Committee with opinionated and potentially disruptive characters so necessary. By setting up the Committee to fail in this way, the democratic out-reach process can be quickly brought to an end. Opening the door for the hiring of highly expensive pro-development consultants to do City Hall's dirty work, while excluding the people who actually live and pay taxes in this town. The irony being that it is those taxes that would be used to keep them from participating in the preservation of their own town. Paying the hangman for the use of his rope, as they say.
In other words, what we saw Tuesday evening was power politics in its nastiest form. This was a move designed to prevent the voice of the residents of Sierra Madre from being heard. Why? Because it would result in something the Gang of Four didn't want. And they disenfranchised the 10,500 residents of this town to make sure that couldn't happen.
Since the people of Sierra Madre are now being actively denied the right to participate in important matters such as the creation of the 2030 General Plan, it is incumbent upon us to force our way back in. Rioting might appeal to some, but once the exhilaration of running through the streets with a torch and pitchfork is over, there would likely be political and legal repercussions. And besides, it's tiring.
A far better way is to keep money out of the hands of those who would use it to push forward things not in our interest. Defeating the water rate hike is important not only because it helps retired fixed income residents stay solvent during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but also because it would starve City Hall into submission. Where would they be without our money to spend? They'd be powerless. If the Gang of Four didn't have the $300,000 in already budgeted funds needed to hire General Plan consultants, they'd be forced to use volunteers instead. Fiscally restrained City Halls are far more democratic.
Another way to keep City Hall sweet though creative fiscal starvation would be to take away their right to raise rates. Proposition 218 goes a long ways towards that goal, but as we saw just recently, that can be stolen from us. But if we empowered ourselves through the ballot initiative process, making rate hikes possible only if we the people first vote on them, then the City would have to answer to us. Which is how it should be. After all, it's our City and our money.
Another way to accomplish our goal of taking back control of our City Government from developers and their hires would be through the recall process. There are currently members on our City Council who lack the intellect or skill set necessary to do the job 20% of this town's registered voters elected them to do. They have become an embarrassment. How better to improve the quality of our representative government here in town than to recall and replace those individuals with people actually capable of doing the job? Officials who would be far more representative of the concerns of all the people in this town, and not just their cronies. People who think doing their job for the people doesn't mean nodding and smiling anytime the Mayor orders them to, or colluding behind the scenes in obviously scripted and illegal attempts at sneaking through unpopular agendas.
Places Where Direct Democracy Is Working
Here is a partial list of towns currently involved in City Council recalls:
San Jacinto City Council Recall - California 2010. A group calling itself SCRAM (San Jacinto Corruption Recall Active Movement) has put the recall of its very own Gang of Four on this November's ballot. The issue is corruption. Link to this story by clicking here.
Rio Vista City Council Recall - California 2010. Those who support the recall of Jack Krebs, Janith Norman and Jan Vick are upset that these Councilmembers voted to increase the city's water and sewer rates. Click here.
Brentwood City Council Recall - California 2010. "An effort to recall Mayor Bob Taylor and other members of the Brentwood City Council began in October 2009 ..." The issue is the seizure of the City's main park for use by developers. Click here.
Mission Viejo City Council Recall - California 2010. Lance MacLean allowed expenditures in the city to exceed revenues by more than $11 million. Supported a 100% pay increase for City Council members. Click here.
Montebello City Council Recall - California 2010. Kathy Salazar and Robert Urteaga were just successfully recalled. They were targeted because of a July 2008 vote to award an exclusive no-bid 15-year garbage removal contract to Athens Services. Click here.
It's certainly nice to know that we have some meaningful options.