Friday, August 6, 2010

The Mystery of the $10 Million Dollar Federal Grant

I think we spoke about this a while back, but I'm going to have to bring it up again. It is a good enough story, but also we have never really come up with any kind of satisfactory answer to what I think is one of the more important questions around town right now. That being, what exactly was that $10 million dollar water infrastructure grant all about? And why in the world would the Feds want to give all that money to us? Is it really because of our pleasing appearances?

If you went to the City of Sierra Madre website a few weeks back, and then looked at the information provided regarding that robust water rate hike being pushed there, you would have read about the $10 million dollar Federal grant we would get if only we could raise $8 million in matching money. At that time the source of that grant money was indicated on the site as being the "FEPA." Which was a rather clunky way of identifying the wondrous and famous Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

When I was out collecting autographs for the water rate protest that Fifth of July, I ran into Elaine Aguilar and Bruce Inman. Both were hanging out with a rusty water pipe at Memorial Park. They were using this pipe to try and convince passersby that it was reason enough to raise water rates nearly 40%, and spend $18 million dollars. It was a sad looking pipe, apparently very old, and it wasn't drawing in many folks. Most of the crowd excitement seemed to be centered around a nearby vendor booth selling rubber band and potato guns.

Elaine in particular seemed anxious to speak with me about the water rate issue, and began peppering me with all kinds of dubious information. It was then that I brought up that EPA grant money. I had recently spent a little time poking around some of the websites associated with that agency, and all of them spoke avidly about the importance of the high density infill development scheme known as "Smart Growth." A concept based on the idea that if you build lots of densely packed condos next to bus and rail stations, the citizens living there will magically give up their automobiles in order take inconvenient and slow public transportation instead. Thus saving the world from Global Warming.

It is a theory that many skeptics have yet to buy into. And as far as I'm concerned is just some greened up cock and bull story designed to gull credulous knuckleheads into allowing high density development into places that have traditionally resisted it. Such as Sierra Madre.

Elaine attempted to assure me that the $10 million in EPA money she had her eyes on came with absolutely no strings attached, and that lovable old Uncle Sugar was just going to give it to us to do whatever water things we wanted with it.

I told her I had some serious doubts about her claims, that bureaucrats in Washington DC always use our tax money as a tool to reinforce their policies, and in this particular case that policy would translate into new water infrastructure needed for some rather serious development here. After all, this sort of thing is written about all over the EPA websites, and in the most glowing of terms.

The conversation exhausted, I wandered off to gather more signatures, and Elaine went back to introducing people to the at-risk pipe. Within a week of that moment all references to the "FEPA" were scrubbed from the water rate information posted on the City of Sierra Madre website, and replaced with the less revealing wording, "a federal agency."

I received an email yesterday from one of my more regular correspondents. She is not from here, but sees similarities in what we are facing and things going on in her own community. She referenced two articles from a website called DC.Streetsblog.org, which is one of the more strident "Smart Growth" sites around these days. And wouldn't you know it, there was some very specific language on the topic of Federal money being spent for a "Smart Growth" initiative called the "Livable Communities Act." Check this out:

Livable Communities Act Clears Senate Committee - The Senate Banking Committee voted 12-10 yesterday in favor of the Livable Communities Act, legislation that would bolster the Obama administration's initiatives to link together transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental policy. The administration has been taking steps since last March to coordinate between the Department of Transportation, HUD, and the EPA. This bill, carried in the Senate by Connecticut's Chris Dodd, would formalize those partnerships and authorize more funding to work with.

Most of the action would flow through HUD. This year the agency is funding $150 million in grants supporting regional efforts to improve access to transit and promote walkable development. The Livable Communities Act promises to scale up that program significantly, creating a new office within HUD, called the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, that will distribute about $4 billion through competitive grants.

It seems as if there are now vast sums of money in Washington to push for this sort of thing. A conceptualization that is strikingly similar to what SCAG has been pushing for right here in the Southland. And while California's own SB 375 has pointed this state towards a belief in the world saving powers of condominiums and buses, the seemingly endless billions of dollars Washington is willing to throw into this pipedream would certainly dwarf those efforts.

So how exactly would this money be funneled into something like an $18 million dollar water infrastructure reconfiguration in a town of only 10 thousand or so souls? Read on.

How Will Obama's Sustainability Team Spend Its $150 M? A Preview - Before the U.S. DOT gave some early clues as to how the agency would craft its new transit funding rules, deputy housing and urban development (HUD) secretary Ron Sims answered another question that's been on the minds of transit and local-planning wonks: How will the Obama administration's three-agency partnership for sustainable communities spend its $150 million funding for this year?

Here is what senior officials are thinking, Sims told the U.S. Conference of Mayors:
- $100 million is set aside for grants to local communities that present innovative energy-efficiency plans.
- $40 million is set aside for grants to encourage enactment of local zoning and planning reform that makes mixed-use, transit oriented development more feasible.
- $10 million is set aside for research into "the link between transportation and the built environment," Sims said, with an eye to creating location-efficient mortgages that take mobility costs into account.

Now with such agencies as HUD and the EPA focusing so much of their precious fiscal resources on so-called "Livable Communities" style redevelopment, where are they going to find the odd $10 million in water money to give to Elaine and Bruce with "no strings attached?" And certainly everyone can understand that the first step to creating that kind of development in Sierra Madre would be fixing those darn pipes, right? Along with finding some new water sources up there in the hills to slake the thirst of all the new people moving in to live in those "Livable Communities" condos we'd be required to build in order to get grants like this?

Wouldn't that be a kind of reason for giving Sierra Madre a $10 million water infrastructure matching grant? As a necessary first step in making us a so-called Livable Community? As opposed to whatever it is they think we are now?

Of course, if we should somehow be allowed to see the paperwork the City has for that EPA grant, we'd know exactly how the Federal Government would wish the money be spent, and why. Because to me, given the current thinking in Washington, the notion that the EPA would give us $10 million with limited requirements on how it is to be used seems a little too good to be true. Yet somehow City Hall has not seen fit to include that kind of information with their other literature on water rate hikes, both past and potential. So I guess we just can't say for sure.

Perhaps it just isn't any of our business, and we should instead confine our interest to that water pipe. Maybe that is just a more "livable" thing to do.

51 comments:

  1. It looks like what Sims told the conference on mayors that this is exactly where our fabulous 4 council is headed. Beware, citizens of Sierra Madre and be involved in our general plan update because you too can live in a Pasadena or Arcadia some day courtesy of our current city council.

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  2. Crawford ends this frightening commentary with:

    "Maybe it just isn't any of our business, and we should instead confine our interest to that pipe. Perhaps it is the "livable" thing to do."


    Then again,perhaps NOT, John.
    If the "regime" wants us to follow like sheep (tax paying sheep), we must resist with vigor.

    Tattler fans, band together! We can fight this evil menace facing nearly every city.

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  3. Ever notice that when the city defends things like this, their defense usually is something along the lines of "they don't understand," or "they haven't thought it through." But somehow we just aren't treated like adults and given the real information. Getting a copy of the EPA grant paperwork would be a step in the right direction. Hopefully a city administration that prides itself on being transparent and open will let people see exactly what it is they are basing their claims on. It would be the right thing for them to do.

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  4. Not to change the subject too much, but today's Pasadena Star News editorial says John Chiang ordered that cities post all city employee salaries on their websites. Why hasn't Sierra Madre complied? Our site shows only a few employee salaries. Should we call Sacramento and ask?

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  5. Exactly right, 7:13

    That's why there is so much abuse by these regimes, from the cities all the way to the Feds.
    They treat us like children, and I'm afraid it's a lot of our fault. Many of us act and think like children...."take care of us" "what's in it for us"?
    The good news is, people are starting to wake up and grow up and think like adults.
    You would be amazed how much your true self worth comes out when you take responsibility for your own lives.

    The adults reading this blog, are here because they want to know the TRUTH, unless of course you are part of the "regime" and another breakfast is ruined by Crawford and company....how dare "those people" tell the truth about us, again?

    Keep telling us the TRUTH, John Crawford, we can handle it. We will fight with you, we want to take charge of our property, our future, and when our children grow up, we want them to be adults.

    DOWN WITH THE REGIME!!!!!!!!! Take back Sierra Madre, adults.

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  6. transportation hub hahAugust 6, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    Twice this week I have ended up driving behind the Sierra Madre Transportation Gateway Shuttle, or whatever it is called. The first time was around 6 pm, the second around 8:30 am, both times you would expect it to be full. Not a person aboard, except the driver - or some very, very short people whose heads didn't come up above the seats.
    What a waste of fuel.

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  7. Is there a federal grant for "Already Livable Good Job" communities like Sierra Madre?
    That's the kind of money we should be going after.

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  8. more baffle mints pleaseAugust 6, 2010 at 8:25 AM

    Something to add to the list of public disclosure documents, the paperwork for the EPA grant.

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  9. still read the papersAugust 6, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    Great post on the subject from a few days ago:
    Anonymous said...
    Check out this article when Placerville recalled two council members for raising water rates not intended to protect existing infrastructure but to promote new development.See Article below:

    Water and sewer rate hikes spark Placerville council recall bidTuesday, (Source: The Sacramento Bee)By Cathy Locke, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

    Mar. 9--Hefty water and sewer rate increases have prompted a group of Placerville residents to seek the recall of two City Council members.

    Vice Mayor Dave Machado and Councilman Mark Acuna said they were served with recall notices last Thursday.

    The notices state that the councilmen "caused great financial and emotional hardship by raising water and sewer rates to unreasonable levels."

    The council, following public hearings, voted unanimously in October to increase sewer rates by 88 percent and water rates by 43 percent. They said the debt service on $45 million in state-required improvements to the city's wastewater treatment plant and the need to upgrade an aging water distribution system left them no choice but to boost rates.

    Machado was elected to his first term and Acuna to a second term in November 2008.

    Acuna said he thinks the other three council members -- Pierre Rivas, Patty Borrelli and Carl Hagen -- were not targeted because their terms expire in November, the earliest a recall election likely could be held.

    John Nerwinski, leader of the recall effort and a councilman in the 1990s, could not be reached for comment.

    Although the rate increases appear to have precipitated the move, the notice of intent to circulate recall petitions also accuses the council members of allowing a conflict of interest to exist by having John Driscoll, a lawyer, serve as both city manager and city attorney.

    It also says that they have failed to maintain streets and sidewalks to reasonable standards and have spent taxpayer money on "potential" new projects, rather than protecting existing infrastructure.

    "It's very disheartening, especially in a small town," Acuna said.

    He said he has championed efforts to help provide rate relief for low-income households.

    The wastewater treatment plant improvements were critical, he said, noting that in 2006 the state Water Resources Control Board found the plant out of compliance and began levying fines.

    Machado acknowledged that the rate increases are painful. But, he said, "If those who are pursuing the recall really dig into the facts and the background as I have ... they'll find there is not a lot of maneuvering room."

    He argues that redevelopment offers the best hope for funding infrastructure improvements and providing rate relief.

    City Clerk Susan Zito said recall proponents would have to collect the signatures of 25 percent of the city's 5,149 registered voters to qualify a measure for the ballot.

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  10. People have to do it for themselves now. Too many elected officials and city hall types are in the pockets of the big interests.

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  11. Here we go
    "have spent taxpayer money on "potential" new projects, rather than protecting existing infrastructure. "

    Would have been nice to have that quarter of a million dollars and more from the downtown specific plan fiasco to fix a few pipes, wouldn't it?

    While we're figuring expenses, just how much did the dspf cost us, all bills considered? The quarter of a million was just for RBF, our constant companions.

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  12. 7:13 said: "Getting a copy of the EPA grant paperwork would be a step in the right direction." My inference from various posts is that the palace would refuse a direct request: under what pretext?

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  13. Sir Eric, I agree with the following:
    "And as far as I'm concerned is just some greened up cock and bull story designed to gull credulous knuckleheads into allowing high density development into places that have traditionally resisted it."
    However, we have to allow for the fact that originally the intentions of the greenies were good - they just got eaten alive by the development industry.

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  14. F- the "palace"......DEMAND IT!!!!!!!!

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  15. 9:02 - Not sure about the pretext, but by not allowing the EPA grant document to be examined by the public the city has helped to fuel speculation that there are strings attached. Development strings.

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  16. EPA grant document--ask for it as a Public Records Request Act? This should not be a document requiring secrecy as it is probably not competitive (ie others will want the information to undercut the city efforts to qualify for the $$$).

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  17. SO many good and honest people have fallen victim to the Glad Handing, and spin of the City Council and the administrators. Its sad.
    It's only natural people would rather believe in them rather than face the unpleasant reality, they are being "played".
    Eventually, they will catch on, and will turn on them in anger.

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  18. There is no more mystery of the 10 million since you have brought it out into the open. Thanks, Sir Eric. Now the shuffle is going on faster in City Halls across America and they better fasten those tap shoes cuz not all American's shut up and trust so easy.

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  19. Center on Budget and PolicyAugust 6, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    "In California, a $19 billion budget deficit will force thousands of workers to take furloughs, resulting in a 14 percent pay cut.* All except in Sierra Madre, of course, where City workers enjoyed a 4% hike. And where at seemingly regular intervals one more SMVFD volunteer is added to the ranks of "paid". Wo what's that about?

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  20. Where'd you find that gem?

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  21. This is the only listing for the EPA for the City of Sierra Madre:

    "The overall goal of the grant to the Cities of Arcadia and Sierra Madre is to upgrade the drinking water resources in both Cities. The project is based on a recommendation from the 1996 Infrastructure Restoration Program administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Six projects are identified, three for the City of Arcadia and three for the City of Sierra Madre. The City of Arcadia projects are the Orange Grove booster pump station replacement, the installation of the Longley and Camino wells, design of the East Raymond basin water resource plan. The Sierra Madre projects are Mira Monte reservoirs and booster pump station, water well siting study, and design of the East Raymond basin water resources plan(joint project)."

    So what's the deal? Maybe the $10 mil grant can't be funded until the city secures the matching funds? That would explain the urgency...

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  22. Any date on that?

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  23. EPA Award Date of 9/1/2009. Grant awards current through 8/4/2010.

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  24. Be plenty of water for all kinds of development after that happens, I'd
    bet.

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  25. BTW, I called the city. The positions and salary ranges are expected to be posted next week.

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  26. Metagene ActivationAugust 6, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    I like what commenter 8:37 brought up, I found a story in July 2007 about Elaine Aguilar being hired out of Glendale to come to Sierra Madre. It seems before that she was in La Puente. You need to toss her and Inman, I searched the city of Sierra Madre website document part, there on 5/11/2010 is a water rate hike part 5 of 5, the auditor report is there too, it says there was no adequate planning or saving for the water line infrastructure, yet it states 20 million was spent on infrastructure. Who got the jobs to do the 20 million, will probably be a big eye opener, that should be listed in the city budget. If redevelopment is for blight perhaps you can get the water pipes declared blightful and wrench the funds out of the redevelopment money. Force a review of Public Works, go back to 1998 since this is where the parity bonds with San Gabriel Municipal Water remember, Leung was on the water board, and nobody believes that Doyle and Sedlik (Mr. Green build/jobs local and state level) were truly unaware of Leungs alleged criminal activities.
    I saw a El Monte /South El Monte Chamber of Commerce awards story the other day, and all the sleaze bags are still working the crowds there. Instead of being ashamed that we are doing business with a communist country that treats its people like dirt, that US-China real estate summit Aug 25 to the 27 is going to result in even more development. By the way they are asking a 1,000 dollar fee from each cities redevelopment agency that want to attend.
    This was announced by the El Monte City Mayor at last Tuesdays meeting. That was the hardest thing to swallow in 2007, that my city was in business with a firm Called Titan, that was physically located behind a foreign trade zone door, which made them immune to prosecution by local authorities or courts. These guys that can afford to invest 500 thou to get a green card, made that money off the backs of people who make three dollars a day. It stinks, the cities that are prostitutes for the money stink, the politicians that marry asian ladies, are the stinkiest fish in the wrapper. Huff, Antonovich, Roski no offense to the ladies, but they seem to reap the rewards most often in this China-US sell off of America for the money. The cities have no ethics, no concience,
    no morals, they just maintain the illusion to the citizens that they do. The bigger pyschopath secret keeper money taker you are, the more you are promoted by your political peers. Let the bell toll, make it the liberty bell.

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  27. Here is my question. If this EPA grant was known in September of 2009, why was the water rate hike proposal to raise the matching funds not made public until the middle of 2010?

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  28. The September 2009 EPA Grant is the one for the just completed work to the reservoirs. The water rate hike to raise matching funds is a new subject. It doesn't appear on the EPA site. Probably because the city hasn't raised the matching funds to claim the grant.

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  29. It won't be anything near full disclosure until the EPA grant paperwork is made available. I can't help but think that if this grant was as free of "green" development (oxymoron) obligations as we've been told, it would already be out there.

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  30. Don't forget to remember the 80,000+souls we murdered in an instant 65 years ago....REMEMBER PEARL!

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  31. Sierra Madre residentAugust 6, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Wow metagene activiaton, interesting post.
    I'm all in favor of:

    "Force a review of Public Works, go back to 1998 since this is where the parity bonds with San Gabriel Municipal Water remember, Leung was on the water board, and nobody believes that Doyle and Sedlik (Mr. Green build/jobs local and state level) were truly unaware of Leungs alleged criminal activities."

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  32. when will our city staff and 4 of our Councilmembers QUIT lying to us?

    nobody in his or her right mind would ever believe or lie that a 10 million dollar grant comes with "no strings attached" - just how stupid does Elaine, Buchanan, Mosca, Moran, Walsh and the attorney think we are?

    and please Elaine, do you really think that we want the city and this council to have $ 10 million dollars to do with as you/they see fit?

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  33. Elaine Aguilar, then Glendale Assistant City Manager (or ?) did not apply in the first round of our City search for a replacement for John Gillison. The then City Council interviewed the first batch and did not choose to hire one of them so our interim CM, the retired guy from Monrovia who had also sat in an an interim between Tammy Gates and John Gillison (someone remember his name, please?) went out and recruited Ms.Aguilar. Those of us paying attention to Glendale's overdevelopment and hillside issues at the time were seriously worried. But look to see who was Sierra Madre CC at the time and you will see her appeal.

    You need to build a portfolio of
    "accomplishments" in your present city before thinking of moving on to another city. Hense, the 'congratulations' comment made to Ms. Aguilar by Bart Doyle the night of the swearing April 27. John Buchanan is one of the two connectors across all of this (with Doyle).

    Keep the info flowing!!!!!!

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  34. I did look to see who was on the Sierra Madre CC at the time of Aguilar's appointment. It was Zimmerman, Mayor; MacGillivray Mayor Pro Tem; John Buchanan, Joe Mosca, and Don Watts.

    May I paraphrase? Keep ACCURATE info flowing!!!!!!

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  35. Um, 1:31? If you go to the City of Sierra Madre site you will note that Elaine got her job in August of 2007. MaryAnn MacGillivray was elected in April of 2008.

    The Mayor in August of 2007 was Enid "Two Minutes" Joffe.

    Next?

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  36. Ouch! Somebody must be embarrassed!

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  37. Didn't Michelle Keith get her underwear in a bundle because she didn't get the job and take very expensive education paid for by the good citizen of Sierra Madre off to Bradbury?

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  38. Back in about an hourAugust 6, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    Okay who was the mayor and CM from 1998 and the 2003-2005 scandal years? El Monte was missing 8 million dollars, the miraculously a Ms Wong was hired to find it, Miraculously Mr. Eugene Wong Moy was reveling in his redevelopment glory, it is probably more correctly O'Moy. But right after she found it she was replaced. I noticed that Sierra Madre did not turn in a SCAGGIE budget out of all the cities in SGV on a big report, I think it was 2003-2005 era, next???

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  39. In July 1998 Hayes was Mayor, Doyle was Mayor Pro Tem, Miller-Fisher, Stockly, and Lambdin were Councilmembers.

    Lambdin only served one term as I recall.

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  40. I think it's so clever of the dirts to figure out a way to have the federal government support development. And remember, it's not just about a better infrastructure. There's only as much water here as there is. If we have a brand spanking new pipe and reservoir system that doesn't make it miraculously bigger. What will help, however, is adding capacity. How do we add capacity? By linking up with other water districts. Something Joe Mosca set in motion by his very first official vote as a council member. The City can buy from Arcadia, and it does, but it's got storage capacity in other districts that it can't really use because it's not connected. So No Strings Attached water money could be helpful to allow for connecting and expanding so we can get more livable for more people.

    Watch these people carefully. We're right to be suspicious.

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  41. On May 10, 2004 Stockly was Mayor, George Maurer was Mayor Pro Tem, Buchanan, Joffee and Torres were Councilmembers.

    Tamara Gates was City Manager and Michael Colantuno was City Attorney.

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  42. December 15, 2005 saw Maurer listed as Mayor, Torres as Mayor Pro Tem, Buchanan, Joffee and Stockly as Councilmembers.

    Gillison was City Manager

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  43. Dr S - One of Mosca's constant refrains during the election was how he was going to work with other towns to get "help with solving our problems." I guess an in town lack of water for development would be a problem for a slithering BIA messenger boy.

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  44. Dear Mod, much better font for the articles and comments - thanks.
    You don't exactly write short sentences you know. They tend to be long, complicated, and full of ideas. The shorter column width can make it a challenge.
    However, you could scratch your ideas into dirt with a stick & I'd still be reading.

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  45. I like the new font. It's easier for me to read.
    I'm old.

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  46. Also old says:
    maybe you need some new glasses.

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  47. Yeah, obviously I've been messing around with the site a bit. I got some emails about the font, so I went back to what I'd been using previously. Outside of a little fine tuning, I think we're where we need to be. No more radical changes for a while, I promise.

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  48. I'm a big fan of focals. I have all three.

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  49. Response to post 8:37 and 1:07 pm:

    Don Hopper was the ex-city manager of Monrovia who was Sierra Madre's Interim city manager once in 2006 and once again in 2007. Yeah his vacation home in Baja is right next to his pal Bowden of Bowden Development in Monrovia. Well you can see whyBuchanan, Joffe and Mosca picked him for interim ....birds of a feather flock together!

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  50. Just because we have new pipes (bigger) and a new well, and a new pump, it doesn't mean we have more water. If the City is dumb enough to think we can have more development with a new infrastructure, they are lying to themselves. Water is water is water and we can't make more of it.

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  51. It's a classic paper water situation. Accumulate tax payer money, lay new pipes whose capacity far outstrips the available water supply, check off the boxes on the paperwork of 50 or so state and federal bureaucracies, accumulate approvals and more taxpayer money, then build densely packed housing units that nobody will buy. Then accept awards for helping to save the world.

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