Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The City's Vulnerability On The Prop 218 Question

"People will hear what they want to hear." - John Buchanan

Last night MaryAnn MacGillivray took one more shot at trying to get the G4 to recognize the wisdom of once again putting the water rate hike out for the review of the rate payers through the Prop 218 mechanism. She went so far as to offer the enticement of raising water rates even higher than originally proposed last spring, but it was to no avail. So deep is the G4's fear that the people of Sierra Madre will once again rise up against them that they opted to take less money. All because to ask for more could once again trigger Prop 218.

Which makes John Buchanan's tiresome little rap about having been elected to lead all the more farcical. Because for all intents and purposes this was a full scale retreat in the face of what those who they were elected to serve really want from them. Which is fiscal restraint and a city government that isn't so absurdly expensive.

Though it was somewhat interesting to hear John, Joe and City Staff discuss our water bond debt last night, and how 90% of any rate hike would be absorbed by the servicing of that debt. Interesting because when the rate hike was first proposed 7 months earlier they didn't dare to discuss that issue at all. Rather they all opted to tell people it was all about repairing water infrastructure. Which was not the truth.

On September 13th I delivered a letter to City Hall detailing their vulnerability on the Prop 218 issue. Many mistakes were made during that legal procedure, all of which are clearly spelled out in this letter. I thought I'd reprint it here today because many of the issues descibed there will become very important in the months ahead.

Elaine Aguilar
City Manager
City of Sierra Madre
City Hall
232 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard
Sierra Madre, CA 9024

Dear Ms. Aguilar:

As you know, on July 27, 2010, the Sierra Madre City Council ("Council") at its regularly scheduled meeting determined that there were an insufficient number of valid protests to defeat the Council's proposed water rate increase. Thereafter, the Council resolved to conduct a "public outreach program" to convince residents that a rate increase was actually necessary.

For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase, not less than 45 days after mailing a legally adequate, written notice of the proposed rate increase to the record owner ("Owner") of each identified parcel.

California's Proposition 218, which amended the California Constitution, requires, among other things, that 45 days before the hearing on any proposed rate increase that the City provide written notice to the Owner of:

(1) "The amount of the fee proposed;"

(2) "The basis upon which the amount of the proposed fee or charge was calculated;"

(3) "The reason for the proposed fee or charge."

The provisions of Proposition 218 including the above requirements "shall be liberally construed to effectuate its purposes of limiting local government revenue and enhancing taxpayer consent." The written notice ("Notice"), which was sent to the voters on or about May 17, 2010, does not satisfy these constitutionally mandated requirements and effectuate the purposes of Proposition 218.

First, the written notice does not provide each Owner with the proposed fee increase as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice requires each Owner to estimate his/her/its increase based on such factors as the meter size and the applicability of a discount for "low income." Because the Notice lacks definitions of an explanations for such factors, however, it is impossible for each Owner to make any estimation.

Second, without such definitions and explanations, each Owner cannot comprehend "the basis upon which the amount of the proposed fee or charge was calculated" as required by Proposition 218.

Third, the Notice does not provide "the reason for the proposed fee or charge" as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice states vaguely and in the present tense that "the City imposes its water rates in order to fund the City's costs of operating and maintaining the water system, as well as to pay off the costs of improvements to that system." Absent in the Notice, however, is the actual "reason" or "reasons" that the current level of funding is insufficient to accomplish these purposes and suddenly must be increased.

Realizing that the Notice failed to adequately inform each Owner about the proposed rate increase, the City belatedly sent each Owner a flyer ("Flyer") entitled "Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet FAQ" on or about June 23, 2010. For the first time, the Flyer reveals that an Owner can determine the meter size diameter by finding the meter box and then looking for a stamp on the meter inside the box. If that fails, the Flyer provides the names and numbers of City employees who can "look up" the size of each Owner's meter. Also, for the first time, the Flyer explains that the term "low income" refers to both "low income" and "extremely low income" as those terms are defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The explanations and definitions in the Flyer provide information that some Owners could use to estimate the amount they would be charged under the proposed rate increase and the basis of such an increase. This critical information was not provided to the Owners, however, until on or about June 23, 2020, which is less than 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.

For the first time, the Flyer also discloses the "reasons" for the City's decision to increase dramatically the water rates in Sierra Madre. The Flyer states that absent an increase:

1. Deterioration of the water system will result;
2. Sierra Madre will lack sufficient funding to avail itself of local, state and federal matching water system funds;
3. The City's Water Department might be sold;
4. The City's water fund credit and bond rating will deteriorate; and
5. Groundwater levels will continue to decline.

Many Owners no doubt appreciated the City's belated dissemination of the reasons for the proposed water rate increase. Once again, however, this critical information was not provided to the Owners until on or about June 23, 2010, which is less than 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.

For the reasons set forth above, the undersigned reiterate their demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase to the Owner of each identified parcel.

Kurt Zimmerman,
Anita Delmer
John Herrmann
John Crawford

While certain individuals would like to limit this discussion to just water rates, this is now about something far more important. It is about the defense of our rights as citizens.

We should not sit quietly by as four rather low calibre city councilmembers take away our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to review what is for all intents and purposes a tax hike. People have fought and died to defend just those kinds of freedoms. It behooves us to not allow such individuals the power to strip us of something that important.

It is time for us to begin discussing what actions we must take. This has now become a matter of basic principle. We need to stand up, be heard and take back our stolen rights.


  1. Touche!Take action indeed..Enough discussion.Rate Payers know well by now that they were hoodwinked and deceived.Stealing from one's neighbors who elected you to represent their interest not only defines moral slackness but a careless disregard of your obligations as an elected official.We can only hope for your sake that the actions taken by you in this matter do not lead to more serious consequences for you.

  2. Whadda ya mean we can hope "for your sake..."? I for one especially hope that their actions lead to more serious consequences for them!

  3. Count us in! We're ready to take it to the next level but we need someone smarter than we are to take charge. Can we have a conversation with the letter signers? They're going to want our help and I should think sooner rather than later.

    And please, tell us where to send the check!

  4. Obviously this is a rogue city council. The people have a duty to step
    up and put them back in their place.

  5. Do you think it is a coincidence that they voted to raise our water rates right before Thanksgiving? When Mosca said we now get to go home and start cooking our turkeys I thought I would throw up.

  6. L listened to that mealy mouthed Buchanan all night last night and an convinced more than ever that he is nothing more than a corporate boot lick, a lick spittle yes man. A groveler working in the interests of what now appears to be a complete corporate takeover of the United States. Whatever we do is not in the name of independence but should be done with the full resolve that we are liberating ourselves from the chains of economic slavery.

  7. Joe and John have their orders. Problem is, they take them from the
    wrong people.

  8. Dittos..7:00..count me in too!I know others are interested too!

  9. Rather than repeat the 218 process, it would be far easier to have a recall of these so-called leaders. We could then elect a city council more in concert with the people.
    I bet my baby shoes, people won't be snookered by the political ad men this time around.

  10. Turn about is fair playNovember 24, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    Perhaps ask Kevin Dunn to help, if it weren't for the dirty dealings of Buchanan who forced them out of Sierra Madre, he might like to help out.
    I know his heart is still with us.

  11. If the people do not stand up against this regime, we are as good as finished.

    Please contemplate the difference between a true AUTHORITY and an AUTHORITARIAN.

    John Buchanan and Joe Mosca are "authoritarian". They are politicians of the lowest degree. Disgusting.

    Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh are pathetic and incompetent. Equally, disgusting.

    MaryAnn MacGillivray is a true AUTHORITY and a true PATRIOT.

    Thank you, John Crawford for reprinting this letter for us. It really says it all, now doesn't it?

  12. Did anyone else notice something is "wrong" with Nancy Walsh?
    She doesn't seem to be tracking, at all.

  13. I noticed that, 8:40. Joe asked her to comment on the most important issue of the day, and she had absolutely nothing to offer. She sat there in complete silence. It was very disconcerting.

  14. A friend made an interesting observation.
    Sandi Levin......she does ALL the talking on the Prop.218 issue. None of the councilmembers.

    Has she told them not to comment?
    If so, why?
    Is she afraid they will say the wrong thing?
    She seems nervous when commenting on this issue.
    Again, why?

  15. Nancy should write her orders on her hand. But wait, the way she flips them around the writng might be seen on TV.

  16. They have the votes.
    As Buchanan said, "They hear what they want."

    If anyone thought the outcome would be nay different they are drinking Kool-aid or are from another planet.

    Time for a legal warchest.

  17. Sir Eric, people in town need your letter posted. Most shops signed and need follow up. Would you copy your letter and place them in shops for people to see?

    Everyone deserves the truth.Not everyone can attend nor watch the CC meetings.

    We need your letter published in as many places as possible.


  18. Don't you get it? The G4 is going to do what they want. What you do, say, or write makes no difference to them. Only a lawsuit delivered with a sledgehammer upside their empty heads will get their attention.

  19. Buchanan's best moment? When he was visibly and verbally offended at the concept of saying the council would not tae out another bond.
    Guess what he's planning.

  20. The council of idiots. Even when MacGill came up with a plan that would work on the debt and increase the reserve fund twofold and avoid future debt, all SlowJoe could focus on was pointing out that she was asking for more money. Are you asking for more money? You mean more money? He doesn't have the capacity to understand her excellent plan that would indeed end up, because of a redone 218 and a greater time period, in more money. But it would be gotten honestly and with the goal of no more debt.

  21. The Sierra Madre Council Majority Theme:


    Don't worry your little brains about bankruptcy. We are smarter than you and we are in change.


  22. Buchanan needs a new script.
    That same old "It's not popular but it is necessary" tripe has been his refuge since Rob Stockly taught him how to deliver it during the Carter hearings.
    You have to laugh at the way he dismisses the wishes of most of the people.

  23. I think everyone should back off of Walsh. She's in way over her head, can only parrot what her bossmen say, and looks pretty miserable about being on the council.

  24. 8:51, the silence from the G o' 4 on 218 absolutely seems inspired by the oh so pricey 'advice from counsel'. There was one moment when Moran came perilously close to saying something and he sputtered around until Levin stepped in.

  25. What are the council reports for? Social whirl descriptions? 80% of what was "reported" is totally irrelevant to city business.

  26. Something is also seriously amiss with a council member who has to keep saying "I was elected! I was elected!"

    We know.

    We regret that fact.

  27. The worst thing Buchanan did last night was to drag the good name of Wade Bonds (he said Bond - Freudian slip?) into the discussion.
    Mr. Bonds, you council watchers may recall, made a powerful speech in which he said more than once, "I know you need money but not from me.." He did not say "I know you need to raise the water rates" as Mr. Buchanan claimed. In addition, while praising Mr. Bonds for being so "genuine", Mr. Buchanan then threw him under the bus with his childish "We govern and we must act now."

  28. MacGillivray was brilliant.
    MaryAnn's comment about the NO NEW DEBT, absolutely set Buchanan off.
    If that isn't enough to tip us all off, I don't know what is?
    You got it right!
    They want to bankrupt us. The are totally fiscally irresponsible!

  29. What Buchanan actually said 9:51 was

    It comes to a point where we have to act. We have the authority to act. We were elected to do this.

  30. They sure blew past Gray Hood's great suggestion - the more water you use the more you pay. Way too simple and clear, yeah?

  31. the city manager said they weren'tNovember 24, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    but last night proved that they are counting on more bonds.

  32. Did anybody else hear John Buchanan refer to the Mountain Views News description of the water issue as complicated? Imagine using that source to back up your position?!

  33. Mosca showed more than I wanted to see of his own rationalizations he must structure to live with his lying self. He said that the councils were stewards who have 'risen to the occasion'. He is probably satisfied today with self congratulations.

  34. Stewards, phooey
    These councils lost the right to sell downtown to overdevelopment; they lost the right to control what goes on in hillside development unless they adhere to the HMZ, and now they'll lose control to take out bonds, hopefully.
    Govern, phooey

  35. When MaryAnn said the city council can't expect to take on more bond debt, Buchanan's head almost blew up. That's what this is all about, you know. Cleaning up the bond covenant problem so they can sell more bonds. They need that money to fix up the town so they can attract developers.

  36. It looks like we the residents have to limit the council's ability to do any damn thing.

  37. They embarrass themselves.

    Maybe that is why Nancy is silent. She is beginning to get it...

    They have less and less support from the community. And, they are running out of rhetoric.

  38. Yes 10:24, I saw that too.
    So the plan is to ever increase the debt.
    The way to collapse.

  39. The Planning Commission made the council look so dim.

  40. I say recall the G4 and run the Planning Commission for City Council!

  41. The Planning Commission was the adults,
    the Gang of Forlorn were the teenagers.

  42. Buchanan probably split a gut over the idea of not continuing to go deeper into debt because he wants his 7 million dollar library. Oh right, as he constantly points out, if you wait, it will cost more, so his 10 million dollar library.
    The Buchanan Monument to Obsolescence.

  43. Mmmm,
    Okay, that's it. I've officially become a member of the Angry Mob!
    I'll be in my garage this weekend sharpening pitchforks and building torches, I've just had it!
    Sir Eric, what say you?
    What recourse does the citizenry have?
    I personally will be researching recall procedures this weekend, I'm not sure how it's handled on a city council, I know it can be done at the state level.
    Does the gang of four really believe that we will stand by and allow this to happen? Are there really that many voters in Sierra Madre who are disconnected from the process?

  44. This batch may be the worst council in Sierra Madre's history.
    Mosca has air between his ears.
    Buchanan prefers being a dictator and can't get to a point without a 5 minute preamble
    Moran seems spring loaded nervous all the time
    and Walsh is not there.

  45. I suspect Nancy was silent because her constituency is made up of seniors - many of whom are against the rate increase. It wouldn't have done for her to support Buchanan and Mosca and still try to maintain integrity with the seniors.

    No wonder she looked as if her decks were awash.

  46. Yeah, but Nancy still voted for the rate increase. Which goes to show where her
    loyalties lie.

  47. The Zimmerman-Crawford letter is an implicit threat of litigation against the City of Sierra Madre, if it doesn't follow the notice requirements of Prop. 218.

    It's just a matter of time before a lawsuit is filed. Then, Buchanan can explain to us why spending taxpayer dollars in a lawsuit fighting taxpayers' rights is really in the best interests of the taxpayers.

  48. I agree with the posters who surmise that this dispute is really about borrowing money by floating bonds for an expensive new library we don't need.

    Buchanan is waiting until he is Mayor before attempting to pull that one over on us.

  49. John Buchanan thinks we haven't got this figured out.

  50. Don't think so, 11:45

    That a-hole knew after MaryAnn pulled her brilliant slick as a gut move, explaining to the folks the real reasons....the bond debt.
    Great try, can out think, out class these gangster4''s just too damn bad you can't out vote them.
    Hang in there anyway, things will change.
    Thank you for your fantastic service to Sierra Madre, MaryAnn.

  51. Sierra Madreans for Sane Financial PracticesNovember 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    The residents must remove the power of the council to make financial decisions above 15 or 20 thousand dollars.
    We need instead to form a citizens' oversight committee with a revolving membership that always includes people from different camps, and the ability to spend large sums can only be given with their approval. If the money is big enough, it can only be spent with a public vote of confidence. We'd be at least a quarter of a million dollars richer from avoiding that disastrous Downtown Specific Plan nonsense.
    Enough of this terrible waste and mismanagement.

  52. There should be some kind of psychological screening for people who sit on city councils.
    Fragile egos are a disqualification.
    Fragile egos lead people to react to problems and discussions as though they are about the person, personally.
    So it's not a proposition 218 violation, it's an attack on John Buchanan's right to act.
    It's not about being prudent and catching on to a better plan as presented by councilwoman MacGillvray, it's about Joe Mosca's perception of an eleventh hour and time to act.
    It's not about inspiring the community to come together and work our way out of debt, it's about Josh Moran lawn signs or the lack thereof.

  53. But isn't that California politics? Boiling everything down to the personal, and then proclaiming your victimhood? Adults are in short supply these days, 3:25. And most in that exclusive community are smart enough to avoid politics like it's the plague.

  54. Mr. Buchanan was indeed elected to represent the people of Sierra Madre, he was not elected to enforce or enact legislature which is not in the best interest of the people of Sierra Madre. Just because he is in a leadership position, does not mean he is a leader. It is the leaders of this town that will get the Sierra Madre back on track. One does not have to be “elected” to be a leader.

  55. Buchanan is an authoritarian.
    Not an authority, there is a big difference.

    MacGillivray is an authority.

  56. WHAT IS THIS?????????

    I get in my face this article in the Star-News (see link) from Nancy Walsh about how she was in great personal peril from a terrorist attack until she got out of Mumbai. NO MENTION OF THE EMERGENCY EFFORT MADE BY MARYANN TO GET HER OUT OF THERE.

    This is the most self-serving, ungrateful bunch of pap masquerading as PR that I've ever seen.

  57. Nancy Walsh is not tracking. Not tracking at all.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all my slow growth friends, especially the Crawford and MacGillivray families!

  58. I believe Councilwoman Walsh has many issues that make it difficult for her to fully serve on the City Coucil. but I ascribe to the philosophy that I do not have the right to make any of her personal problems worse. Too bad that she took the advice of her Civic Club associate to run for City Council. She has taken on too much. Too bad for Sierra Madre, because the problems she brings to making long-standing decisions for the City of Sierra Madre are our business.

  59. MacGillivray called Congressman Dreier and the Congressman pulled the strings to get Nancy out of Mumbai.

    As far as I know, Nancy had never thanked MaryAnne.

  60. Happy Thanksgiving to the Zimmerman family too.

  61. From Nancy's pen to your computer...November 25, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    Quotes from Nancy's diary.

    Was this a report on a City Council meeting?

    "This is where you get to be scared,"
    "But Walsh, still unaware of the dangers ahead, had drifted to sleep"
    "no staff was in sight".
    "My thought - what was I going to do?"
    What the Hell! Think I'll nap until I can talk.

  62. The Gang of 4 are only truly comfortable when they're talking about themselves. And usually the punch line is they're victims of something.

    Incredibly boring people.

  63. Not nearly as boring as the mean spirited folks who are using their idle time to bash Nancy Walsh on Thanksgiving Day. Get a life.

  64. Sunset Magazine has a brief piece on Sierra Madre downtown in the current issue.

  65. Yes, let's stop bashing Nancy and instead give thanks to MaryAnn, David Dreier, and now Tim Donnally who are still working hard for our wonderful town. Nancy is too busy keeping civility on the City Council to give credit where credit is due. Thanks, Nancy.

  66. I'd like to give thanks to Pat and De Alcorn, John Crawford, all of the Zimmermans, Old Kentucky, the General Plan Update Steering Committee and the Outreach Team, those great volunteers on the Planning Commission, Nancy Shollenberger and her deputies, all of the Clines, Fay Angus, Jim Engle, Earl Richey, and all the folks who stand up to be counted.

    Sierra Madre remains a great place to live and play because of all of you.

  67. Not sure if 12:09 will enjoy this observation, but if you were staging a play about Thanksgiving, which member of the Gang of 4 would you pick to play the turkey?

  68. Amen to 12:31. There about 50 people, some behind the scenes, who are working diligently to keep this town. Thanks to all of you, you know who you are.

  69. I'm just hoping that Kurt files a lawsuit forcing this issue. We all know that he has seen the inside of a court room and Mosca/Buchanan are paper lawyers who are actually just public relation mouthpieces.

    And Kurt has already proven that he runs circles around our City Attorney, she is so glad Kurt is gone because she knows lightweight Joe and John won't and can't challenge her.

    Buchanan is going to do whatever he wants regardless of the cost to the city.

    Hopefully whatever this group of 4 Councilmembers do can be undone by the next Council.

    Only John Buchanan finds logic in lying about a implosion of our water structure just so he can hide a 7 million dollar library in a city that doesn't need it.

    What a bombastic buffoon.

  70. I dunno, given her hateful and spiteful nature to most of us, I sort of wouldn't have minded if Walsh had stayed in Mumbai. She could have taught the natives her old foogie dancing and raised their water rates instead of ours.