There was quite a bit of conversation on the topic from at least some of the elected officials, but most of it seemed pro forma and pat, as if everything had already been said and it was time that the long awaited decision be made. I mean, how much more of their nonsense on this topic could they possibly shovel our way?
Again, the "outreach process," which apparently only involved the participation of about .018% of the people living in this town (many of them not rate payers, or even adults for that matter), was cited as proof that their version of the truth had ignited a strong popular will to pay more for water. Even though much of that "process" was based on things that were later shown to be laughably untrue.
Needless to say, low farce hung heavily in the air. It was a thoroughly embarrassing spectacle.
MaryAnn MacGillivray gave her proposal to allow the people of Sierra Madre the right to meaningfully participate in the decision to take more of their money one more shot, but it was rapidly squashed by Mayor Mosca. Josh Moran, who briefly pronounced himself intrigued by her ideas, obediently snapped back into the bobblehead fold like a rubberband once the voting began. This City Council, basing the legitimacy of its decision on that minute portion of the city's overall population that participated in its (mis)informational water walks, pushed through what it had always intended to do. No matter what anyone had said along the way.
Something that I think many may have missed is MaryAnn's proposals on what exactly the people of Sierra Madre would be owed by this City Council should they be allowed to voluntarily acquiesce in the water rate increase. Here she laid out some cold hard truths for all to hear, and not just on the rate hike, either. She also gave some key insight into where her always opaque colleagues might actually be taking this town.
Here is what MaryAnn had to say:
The Council should acknowledge that the people of Sierra Madre, the ratepayers, were not entrusted with a full disclosure and information related to the need for water rate increases, leaving many, therefore, with the feeling that their intelligence and commitment had been challenged.
Needless to say, the look that passed over Joe Mosca's face upon hearing that was less than joyful. To have it stated from the Council dais that his 8 months of loopy machinations and manipulation on these matters were insulting to the intelligence of many Sierra Madreans can't be what he was hoping to hear that evening.
A citizen oversight committee should be appointed and meet at the end of the initial 6 month introductory period and every 6 months thereafter. Their purpose, much like the UUT Oversight Committee, would be to assess and assure appropriate tracking and use of funds. If there is an opportunity to lower the rate in a given year, the committee can make that recommendation.
Again, not what the Mayor, or his brain the Mayor Pro Tem, wanted to hear. I doubt that there will ever be an occasion where either one of them would ever wish to hear the words "lower the rate" spoken in their presence. But if they didn't enjoy hearing that, what came next would even further harsh their mellows.
As the Council enters the preliminary budget considerations after the first of the year, it should commit to this community that in return for "stepping up" during these difficult and uncertain times we will cut in any and all possible areas except those that compromise delivery of vital services. No new debt will be incurred during this period since that would destabilize the Water Enterprise Fund which defeats the intention of the increase in the first place.
John Buchanan's reaction to this part of MaryAnn's statement seemed nearly visceral to many in the room. His head dipped and he squinted sideways at her with a look of queasy antipathy. Because here she had clearly disparaged what will be the key thrust of his agenda when he becomes Mayor in a few months.
That John Buchanan will attempt to issue whatever bonds he deems necessary to raise the money it will take to make this town attractive to developers seems obvious to many observers. Street paving, sewer reworking and, of course, water infrastructure expansion being the items considered to be at the top of his list. The debt load for such things would be immense should all of that be allowed to happen, dwarfing by far what we now face as a consequence of the 2003 bond debt.
And then there is the $7 million for a library he is rumored to want to leave behind as his legacy. That such a personal vanity would come at the expense of 30 years of debt service to the rest of us being besides the point for our "live for today" Mayor Pro Tem, I suppose.
What must be made clear is that this water rate hike was always about the need to clean up the City's bond rating, something that was severely harmed in 2004. It is only by regaining the "AAA" rating that was squandered through bad business practices during the Shenanigan Era that this City Council will be able to sell even more bonds. Which apparently is what John Buchanan sees as the panacea for all of Sierra Madre's ills.
The fight to get back our rights to a Proposition 218 review of the water rate hike is hardly over. But even that is only a first step. Buchanan's agenda, backed up by three Council members willing to follow him no matter what the consequences to the City they claim to care about, comes at the cost of immense amounts of new debt.
For the good of Sierra Madre that has to be stopped.