But it has now come to our attention that this was not the only debt Sierra Madre foolishly took on back during the Shenanigan Era. There's more. A whole lot more. And there is a good chance that we still haven't found all of it.
But first, a story.
I have to admit to something. Until recently the only reason I kept my Los Angeles Times subscription alive was for the sports section and crossword puzzle. But when they broke the news about the Bell Scandal to the world, I found myself feeling quite appreciative. Because finally Los Angeles actually had a newspaper that was acting like ... a newspaper! That is digging into the rotted depths of what is laughably called government in this part of the world, then flipping it over so that all can observe the decay obscured beneath the false empathy of its corrupt politicians.
And this great newspaper didn't stop there.
Looking into Community Redevelopment Agencies throughout Southern California, the LA Times revealed in an article published over the weekend that hundreds of millions of dollars in public money that was supposed to go towards the building of affordable housing was not being spent on what it was intended for. Rather it was being used for, well, nothing much. Which means that what was uncovered here was a wholesale squandering of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers' money. Here is how The Times worded it:
Cities often give short shrift to affordable housing - At least 120 municipalities spent a combined $700 million in housing funds from 2000 to 2008 without constructing a single new unit, a Times analysis of state data shows. Nor did most of them add to the housing stock by rehabilitating existing units ... At least 120 municipalities - nearly one in three with active redevelopment agencies - spent a combined $700 million in housing funds from 2000 to 2008 without constructing a single new unit, the newspaper's analysis of state data shows.
However, as important as that story is, it is not the only issue we're posting about on The Tattler today. Rather it is also about something we found hidden within the on-line incarnation of this Times expose'. Because there inside the web version of this article is a database that details the individual CRA finances of hundreds of cities, including Sierra Madre. And the news is pretty devastating to anyone who cares about this place.
If you go to this link you will be taken to a page that details Sierra Madre's Community Redevelopment Agency finances. It shows an entire amount of $11,960,100. Out of that figure $10,402,975.00, or 86.98% of the total, is pure unadulterated debt. Throw in $1,354,000 in "planning and administration costs," and you can see that there isn't much left for us to do except make the payments.
And if you calculate that CRA debt out at an approximation of the going 30 year interest rates in 2003 or so, and then add both those numbers together, you will discover that our total CRA debt pencils out to approximately $31 million dollars.
Which, when added to our $23.2 million in water bond indebtedness, comes to around $54 million dollars. In other words, fiscal insanity initiated during the heart of the Shenanigan Era have put this City into a financial hole that it is going to be very hard for us to emerge from. Sierra Madre apparently is in some serious long range financial peril. The city was sold out from under us in the early 2000s by some extremely unethical people, and only now is the sheer scope of that financial disaster becoming clear.
I looked up a few other area cities to see if our predicament might be the rule rather than the exception. But apparently our neighboring cities did not opt for the kinds of financial suicide that Sierra Madre's false guardians committed back then.
Monrovia (link here) is carrying CRA debt in the range of $2,223,000, or a fairly low 15.32%. Arcadia (link here), our dear friends down the hill, have $0 in CRA debt obligations. That's right, not a cent of debt. Pasadena (link here), a city noted for its wacky redevelopment excesses, has debt payments on $11,675,000. Which, while pretty large, is only about half the CRA debt percentage that Sierra Madre is afflicted with. And Pasadena, being a much larger city, has greater resources to deal with it.
It is sad to think that all of this debt was run up, yet we got absolutely nothing out of it. $17 or so million dollars was raised, yet does anybody know exactly how it was spent? Or what it was spent on? Did we build a library? A school? Fix water infrastructure? Build an athletic center or retirement housing for our seniors? Affordable housing? A Mayor Bart Doyle copper memorial statue in the Turtle Park with accompanying water fountains generously populated with piping marble love nymphs?
Apparently not. My guess is that much of it was squandered on Downtown Specific Plan related matters. A dismal - though apparently extremely expensive - subprime era redevelopment scheme that later died a much deserved death at the hands of Measure V.
Here is an interesting observation someone shared with me this evening. Sierra Madre lost its bond rating in 2006 because previously City Hall had failed to file the financial information it was legally obliged to send up to Sacramento. In 2010 we finally did get a rating back, though we had fallen from a AAA to BBB ("junk bond") due to this gross malfeasance. Do you want to know exactly when our bond rating returned? About a week before the City Council first threw the prospect of a water rate increase at us. Quite a coincidence. Was the water rate hike part of a deal worked out to get us our bond rating back? And would doing so make issuing further bonds possible? As if enough damage hasn't been done already.
Now I'll be the first to admit that a lot of what is posted here is speculation on my part. But it is a good beginning, I think. And we will be filing a California Public Records Act Request with City Hall regarding the CRA debt disaster very soon. Just like we did with the Prop 218/Water Bond mess. Information that the City has around a week left to get to us.
The people of Sierra Madre deserve to finally know the truth about the damage that was done to their city during the Shenanigan Era. A time when the so-called political leadership of this town committed some of the most devastating financial blunders in Sierra Madre's history.
And it certainly doesn't look like we're going to get much of that kind of information from City Hall unless we use state law to pry it from their grasp.
Which we fully intend to do.