Friday, April 30, 2010

SCAG Gets A New President! (Plus other equally explosive information)

Well, it looks like we devotees and fans of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG for the acronymically inclined), will be bidding a fond adieu to the remarkable leadership and vision of El Centro's own, Jon Edney. It seems like only yesterday that, as then reigning President of SCAG, Jon stopped by Sierra Madre's City Hall to plead with us to remain within that storied organization. We did have fun with Mr. Edney, and we wish him all the best in his next position of (I'm certain) singular importance. But times relentlessly change, and now SCAG will soon be welcoming its new president, a gentleman who goes by the name of Larry McCallon.

It appears that Larry will be crowned El Presidente de SCAG at a big shindig taking place in La Quinta on May 5-7. My bet is that the ceremony will take place in a generously sized hotel assembly hall as the lucky attendees enjoy a really tasty chicken lunch with a nice glass of wine. Perhaps two. And this really is going to be a gala and star-studded affair. Scheduled to speak will be Senator Barbara Boxer, Speaker of the State Assembly John Perez, and the new State Senate Minority Leader, Bob Dutton. It really doesn't get much more exciting than that. A true powercore of California political might concentrated in one place, all with the purpose of anointing a new SCAG President while at the same time paying homage to an industry that can be so very generous when it is time to raise re-election money.

Here is what Larry had to say when the announcement of his elevation to this office was revealed to the world:

"I appreciate and am very humbled by the confidence my colleagues around the region have placed in me. I look forward to working with each of the jurisdictions, transportation commissions, and sub regions, and all of our partners, as we continue to plan the future of this region. California is the key to America's economic vitality and future, and Southern California is the State's economic engine. Working together we can grow our economy and ensure sustainable healthy communities for our citizens."

All very boilerplate and sustainability correct, of course. I mean, this is the kind of job that goes to consummate organization men, and you would hardly expect to hear anything with even a ripple of controversy to it from such a gentleman. Predictability, constancy, and an unquestioning adherence to recognized authority is what is called for in a job like that, and I'd bet in Larry McCallon that is exactly what they're going to get.

Or is it? Now as we have discussed before, SCAG is all about state control over regions and cities, serving in particular as an enforcer for the centralized planning mandates of Sacramento and Washington. And as such it truly is the ultimate manifestation of intrusive big government. So how do you explain the following statement, which Larry presented to the world and history in 2009 upon his acceptance of a seat on the State GOP Board of Directors?

"As a lifelong Republican, and candidate for the Vice Chair Inland Region of the California Republican Party (CRP) in February 2009, I believe that government is the best when it is limited in scope, that economic growth comes through free enterprise and lower taxes, that individuals and their families need to be responsible for themselves, and that our country's security is assured by only a strong national defense."

All well and good I suppose, but how can you reconcile the contradictions between these two statements? On the one hand Larry is about to become president of one of the most prototypical big centralized government entities of all, SCAG, while at relatively the same time professing to believe that government is at its best when it is "limited in scope?"

But then again, perhaps I am reading way too much into these speeches. After all, I suspect that Larry really is just another organization man, and he just gives the kinds of speeches that best reflect the office he is about to assume. He does and says what is expected of him. Looking for authenticity in politicians is a sketchy quest at best.

Larry McCallon currently serves as a City Councilman for the City of Highland. And while Highland is nowhere nearly as impoverished as Jon Edney's El Centro, it is no Sierra Madre, either. According to City Data.com median yearly income there is approximately $6,000 lower than the California average of $61,000. While at the same time the "living index" in Highland is 121, which is considerably higher than the U.S. average of 100. Home values there are around $150,000 less than the state average as well.

One particularly disturbing statistic about Highland that City Data.com reveals for us is its high percentage of registered sex offenders. In May of 2009 there were 77 living there, or 1 for every 664 residents. Sierra Madre, on the other hand, has only 2 registered sex offenders living within its borders, which is a ratio of 1 to every 5,417 residents.

On the Flash Report we can see that Larry McCallon has been on a career path that has quite logically led to his current success at the area's preeminent planning and development bureaucracy.

The County Board of Supervisors appointed McCallon to the County Indian Gaming Local Community Benefit Committee where he serves as the Vice Chair. He is President of the League of California Cities Inland Empire Division, is a member of the League's Board of Directors, serves on the League's Admin Services Policy Committee, and is a graduate of the League's Mayors and Council Members Leadership in Action Program. He has been awarded a Leadership Fellow Certificate in the National League of Cities (NLC) Leadership program and is a graduate of the SCAG Leadership Academy at USC.

For a guy who claims to be the advocate of small government he sure spends a lot of time hanging around in big government circles.

The Google Ratings are in, and who has the #1 blog in Sierra Madre?

If you go to a Google site called "Check My Page Rank," you can track how websites stack up traffic-wise with their rivals. Google ranks blogs on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 naturally being the lowest, and 10 the highest. As examples, yahoo.com ranks a big #9/10, while the Pasadena Star News site clocks in at #6/10. Each higher level representing an exponential increase in page views.

Here are the current Google blog rankings for Sierra Madre:

The Tattler - #4/10
Mary Forney's Blog - #4/10 (a great horse racing site)
Mountain Views News.com -#3/10
Sierra Madre News.net - #3/10
Beacon Media News.com - #3/10 (Beacon is the home of the Sierra Madre Weekly, plus 6 or so other masthead names.)

So it sure looks like all that publicity we've been getting lately has been paying off. And let's face it, after you've spent some time with The Tattler, why in God's name would you ever want to go back to the other news sites? Especially since we're practically all they talk about these days?

Living With Bears

An organization called the Lake Tahoe Bear League will be putting on a presentation this Sunday on how to co-exist with those darn bears. You know, the big fuzzy dudes who knock over garbage cans and take up lots and lots of print space in the Pasadena Star News every time one of them shows their fuzzy face in the human habitat? Unfortunately bears can be very controversial in our area. As the Bear League so aptly puts it:

"Why: Because Education Always precedes Respect + Responsibility. It's up to all of us to respect the lives and nature of the animals in our midst and to accept the responsibility of keeping them wild and our environment safe for our families. What we do not understand, we fear. Come and find out what you can do to make your space safer and save the Bears at the same time!

The presentation takes place this Sunday, May 2nd, at 1:00 pm. The location is Sierra Madre Middle School, located at scenic 141 W Highland. No word yet if any bears are planning to attend.

The Man from Carlsbad

Looks like we were just a little bit incorrect when discussing the Man from Carlsbad in our article on the colorful reorganization meeting at City Hall Tuesday evening. You might recall that this was the irate gentleman who spoke forcefully from the podium about controlling people who speak forcefully from the podium during the public comments portion of City Council meetings. In particular those folks who advocate the slow growth perspective on development issues here in Sierra Madre. Which on the surface of it seems odd since the new City Council is also supposed to be all about slow growth. But you know how that one goes.

Turns out this dude's name is Larry David, and while he at one time did hail from Carlsbad, he has been a resident of our quaint foothill village for the last 6 years. And wouldn't you know it, he is not just an attorney, but also one that specializes in real estate. Which I guess puts his brief talk Tuesday evening into a more realistic setting. Catch up with Larry by reading about him on his NOLO page. NOLO ("Legal Solutions for You, Your Family, and Your Business") being something like 1-800 Dentist, except it's for attorneys.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Reorganization

"Civility is a tactic, not an issue." - MaryAnn MacGillivray

Public comments kicked it off. De Alcorn stood up for MaryAnn MacGillivray by reading into the record some information that was first published here on this site. The charge that MaryAnn had turned her back on the people of Sierra Madre during the 1991 earthquake, published apparently with no corroborative investigation by the Sierra Madre Weekly, was soundly refuted. The letter that was the work of a number of people, some listed on this site as signatories, along with a letter written by former Sierra Madre Fire Chief Ed Tracy, pretty much sealed the deal on the canards published by the Weekly.

De Alcorn was followed by the editor of the Sierra Madre Weekly, John Stephens. Now believe it or not John and I used to talk to one another quite frequently when I was writing for his paper. He often asked for my opinion on Sierra Madre matters, and I was always glad to answer his questions. So when he stood in front of the Sierra Madre City Council and claimed that he had repeatedly asked The Tattler for the author's name of the letter we published here, I was puzzled. I had received no phone calls, though of course John Stephens does have my phone number. Nor did I receive any e-mails, though the address of this site is plainly visible. We did get a few anonymous posts demanding to know who wrote it, but they came off as oddly confrontational and they weren't cleared. It is ironic that Mr. Stephens, who proclaimed himself offended by what he called the anonymity of that letter, and made quite a big deal about it, apparently chose only to communicate with us through anonymously placed blog comments.

Now Mr. Stephens attempted to obviate the effects of Father Bamberger's unfortunate and false comments about MaryAnn's role in the 1991 earthquake. And he even went to the Sierra Madre Library in an attempt to find evidence proving that perhaps those comments had some merit. But what he found there caused him to regretfully admit that Bamberger's remarks were incorrect. What is sad is that had Mr. Stephens done that kind of editorial legwork before he published remarks that have obviously proven to be an embarrassment to both him and his paper (along with Bamberger I might add), this incident would never have occurred. But John didn't, and the result is that he had to come to Sierra Madre and defend the paper his lack of professionalism caused so much harm.

Mountain Views News columnist Hail Hamilton, who will now and forever be known on this site as the "honorary posterboy for the new civility," delivered what was, in the opinion of many of those I've spoken with this evening, perhaps the most venomous and strange speech ever issued from our City Council podium. References to the Mayor as "the wicked witch," and those whose opinions he does not agree with as "winged monkey goons," were so bizarre and over the top that when his ranting finally ended there were nothing but gasps of disbelief in the room. Even those who profess to dislike MaryAnn seemed like they couldn't quite deal with what they'd just heard. When the meeting was over Hail was observed practically running from the building and out into the night, with people getting out of his way as fast as they could. Letting the crazy train go by, as it were.

Thankfully people such as Fay Angus, Chris Bertrand, and Carol Parker all stepped up to the podium and delivered statements that brought relief and calm to many of the assembled. Fay was particularly gracious in presenting MaryAnn with a huge bouquet of flowers, with gifts for both Don Watts and Kurt Zimmerman.

The mystery guest of the evening will have to be known here as "The Man from Carlsbad." This gent, apparently a recent initiate into the world of lawyerdom, and at the heroic age of 61, seemed to have some kind of a problem with people speaking during public comment. In his democracy-challenged view the residents of our town should be severely curtailed in their rights to express their opinions from the podium, with only duly designated officials being allowed to speak at any length. And he'd come a long way from home to say just that. Whether this was an oddly random occurrence, or a clumsy attempt at working towards establishing a new regimen in City Council meeting discipline, remains to be seen.

Awards were presented to our departing Councilmen, and speeches were given. Don Watts delivered a sincere speech on his desire for an easing of tensions here in Sierra Madre, and was well received. Kurt Zimmerman, his puckish wit intact, stated that he had not planned to say anything much. But since the "Man From Carlsbad" had brought up the topic of inappropriately long speeches, he decided he would have to do just that. But, he reassured the faithful, he wouldn't go on for all that long.

Kurt pointed out that much of what the City Council had accomplished in the last couple of years had been the subject of some recent gainsaying in the local weeklies. So he thought he'd take the opportunity to list some of those accomplishments. Here is what Kurt saw as the best his time in office had to offer:

1) The establishment of the Paramedic Program.
2) The ordering of City finances, with audits completed, budgets balanced, and a surplus established.
3) Successfully lobbying for the $3 million dollars that covered the costs of the Santa Anita Fire. And he thanked Congressman David Dreier for his kind assistance in that effort.
4) Capital improvements, especially regarding city water.
5) Administrative and legislative accomplishments. Particularly in the area of our smoking and noise ordinances.
6) Preservation. Resisting the deleterious effects of over-development.
7) Settlements in the 1 Carter and Stonehouse debacles.
8) Measure V. Thanks to this heroic effort Sierra Madre remains a two story town.
9) Sierra Madre's planning ahead for mudslides and associated damage. When disasters struck, the City was ready.
10) The healthy and very American debates that have taken place over the last four years here in town. Big issues have been widely discussed, with the result being a greater awareness, at least amongst the participants. After all, isn't that what democracy is all about? A notion that seems almost quaint considering the suffocating and heavy handed political correctness of our recent election.

Kurt then cited something Bill Coburn had written on his site about the new Council "bringing MaryAnn back into the fold." Kurt took this as the inspiration for what he thought would be a great idea. Why not make MaryAnn the next Mayor Pro Tem? That this idea was so poorly received showed that the unity we've been hearing so much about has clearly defined limits.

Then it fell upon MaryAnn to deliver her last speech as Mayor. She discussed many of the accomplishments Kurt covered, then added a few of her own. The Canyon and General Plan Committees being noble examplars of citizen run democracy in action. And far preferable to the expensive and unsatisfactory consultants that had been so much the rule in the past.

MaryAnn issued a warning to the City about what to look out for over the next few years. SCAG, she declared, is Sacramento's enforcer of unfunded mandates. And regionalism and statism are the biggest threats to Sierra Madre's continued existence as an independent city in control of its own destiny. AB 32 and SB 375 subject us to expensive and arbitarily imposed Sacramento mandates that we are in no condition to accommodate or afford. The central state planners want to tell us whether we should drive a car or take mass transportation, what kind of house we can live in, or how many people we must make room for in our town, even if we do not have the resources or space to do so. "Quislings are everywhere," she said. "So beware."

Joe Mosca took the oath of office, as did the two newly elected members. Joe became the new Mayor by a 4 to 1 vote. John Buchanan became Mayor Pro Tem, also by a 4 to 1 vote. The one dissenting vote was MaryAnn, who told me that she does not want to be in any way responsible for the things that she believes these two individuals will do.

To me it seems obvious that an era has ended. I for one fear that the Sierra Madre we have long known and loved will soon be gone forever. Swallowed up by the massive metropolis, along with its politicians, that until now had always stopped at our city line.

After the meeting a political veteran, now working for one of our state representatives, stood in the lobby looking pensive. Turning to a gentleman who was standing by his side, he was overheard as saying, "This is the lowest it's ever been for Sierra Madre."

Yes, indeed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Letter from Ed Tracy

April 26, 2010

Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray
City of Sierra Madre
232 West Sierra Madre Boulevard
Sierra Madre, California 91024

Dear Mayor MacGillivray:

I read with great interest the April 15, 2010 issue of the Sierra Madre Weekly and noted the comments relating to the June 28, 1991 Sierra Madre Earthquake.

The events of the Sierra Madre Earthquake were indeed tragic. Severe damage impacted numerous homes and businesses throughout the City. The efforts of the Sierra Madre Police Department and the Sierra Madre Fire Department were extremely professional and performed in a timely manner to help ensure the safety of the community’s citizens and the preservation of property. In accordance with the pre-designated Sierra Madre Fire Department’s Emergency Operations Plan, which included the activation of the Sierra Madre Fire Department’s Emergency Operations Center in Fire Station # 41, the members of the fire department were unselfish in their dedication to serve the community. While several members of the fire department experienced damage to their homes, they responded to the fire station and within minutes of the earthquake were on the fire department’s apparatus and responding to emergency calls in their pre-designated areas throughout the City, reporting the status of the incident to the Fire Chief and other Chief Officers assigned to the Sierra Madre Fire Department’s Emergency Operations Center. The information received from the units in the field, along with the information gathered from the news media were provided to the Sierra Madre Police Department and the City Administrator throughout the day and night of June 28, 1991 and the following day. As the Sierra Madre Fire Chief, I was extremely proud of the coordinated emergency response of both the Fire Department and the Police Department and the related communications with the City Administrator during this entire event.

I recall that at the time of the Sierra Madre Earthquake, the representatives of the City of Sierra Madre City Council were attending the ICA Conference in Rancho Bernardo, California. Upon being advised by the City Administrator of the earthquake, the members of the City Council (consisting of Roy Buchan, Clem Bartolai, Gary Adams, MaryAnn MacGillivary and George Mauer) immediately left the ICA Conference and returned to Sierra Madre. After checking their property for damage, of which you were hit the hardest, the members of the City Council met at the City Hall with the Fire Chief, Police Chief and Police Watch Commander, and the City Administrator to determine the extent of the earthquake’s damage, the impact to the City and the course of action to be taken for the subsequent 24 hour, 48 hour and 72 hour periods as it was anticipated that there could be serious “after shocks” which could cause additional damage throughout the City and the potential for serious injuries to its residents.

The City Council declared a state of emergency due referencing the entire City as an emergency/disaster area on June 28, 1991 (i.e., the same day as the Sierra Madre Earthquake!). In addition, Los Angeles County also declared a state of emergency on the same day as the Sierra Madre City Council due to the extensive damage throughout the County.

After the emergency declaration by the Sierra Madre City Council, numerous meetings were held with the surrounding cities and status updates relating to the City of Sierra Madre were provided by the Fire Chief and the Police Chief.

In reading the Article in the Sierra Madre Weekly, I was surprised of the comments made almost nineteen (19) years later by Michael Bamberger regarding the “fire department’s hands were tied with limited resources on hand.” The fire department had adequate personnel throughout the incident and responded well to the event, as noted above. At the time of the incident, and due to his position in the fire department, Michael Bamberger, was not involved in the command operations of the strategy and tactics associated with the incident and the updates provided to the City Council and the City Administrator. Therefore, his statements referenced in the Sierra Madre Weekly article are unfortunately not factual. Additionally, the statement that he and many others “lost respect for MacGillivray” is unfounded and did not exist in the fire department during my administration as you were always supportive of the fire department and appreciative of the services provided by its members.

In addition, the Sierra Madre Fire Department used to be viewed as an apolitical entity and its By-Laws prohibited a firefighter from getting involved with the politics of the City. As evidenced by the Sierra Madre Weekly, and its reference to Michael Bamberger being a “long-time Sierra Madre firefighter”, perhaps this By-Law no longer exists in the Sierra Madre Fire Department, or maybe it is just not enforced by the leadership of the Sierra Madre Fire Department and the Sierra Madre Firefighters’ Association.

In closing, I wish you continued success on the City Council and I congratulate the new members of the Sierra Madre City Council and wish them luck as you all go about the business of maintaining the wonderful quality of life in the City of Sierra Madre which I enjoyed for twenty-nine (29) years.

Sincerely,



Edward D. Tracy
Sierra Madre Fire Chief (Ret.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Sierra Madre Weekly's Shoddy Attack On Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray Debunked

During the recent Sierra Madre elections the most bizarre accusations against the authentic slow growth candidates were made in our compromised local media. This was, of course, nothing new. Big money was riding on the defeat of independent city government here, and as we have seen in the past, mere bagatelles such as truth and ethics were not something that ever got in the way of the kinds of Sacramento-style attack politics used by these individuals.

But in what was a rather bizarre move that more than a few suspect was orchestrated by the Downtown Investors Club, many of the attacks being leveled were against the sitting Mayor of Sierra Madre, MaryAnn MacGillivray. Someone who was not on the ballot. And even after the election was over, the onslaught didn't end. It is as if they thought that by continuing to lay on such abuse they could force her to resign.

Today we will be discussing an ugly and false accusation of negligence in office made against Mayor MacGillivray. One that has now, thanks to the hard work of outraged Sierra Madre residents, willing witnesses, plus one very thorough attorney, been thoroughly debunked. Why the out of town individuals responsible for publishing this garbage believe they can continue to function here in this manner defies logic. And questions remain as to who their local enablers might be.

The letter reproduced below - which is the combined work of several angered residents - was originally intended for mailing to The Sierra Madre Weekly and publication there. But as that publication has shown itself to be an unreliable and unprofessional venue, it was forwarded to The Tattler by Mayor MacGillivray for publication here instead. Which we are more than glad to do.

April 16, 2010

To: Terry Miller (Sierra Madre Weekly 124 E. Chestnut Drive, Monrovia, CA 91016), and Michael Bamberger

Dear Father Bamberger and Mr. Miller;

In the Sierra Madre Weekly newspaper, April 15, 2010, Michael Bamberger was reported to have asserted certain facts about Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray, as reported on page 10, as follows:

"According to Bamberger, a priest (sic) and long-time Sierra Madre firefighter, events witnessed during the 1991 earthquake in Sierra Madre caused him and many others to have 'lost all respect for MacGillivray.' According to Bamberger, MacGillivray and other council members at the time were on some sort of retreat when the earthquake hit town. Upon learning of her hometown's serious quake which caused extensive damage, the then city councilmember MacGillivray returned to check on the status of only her own home before promptly returning to the retreat without attending to the emergency. She and the council did not declare a state of emergency to qualify for emergency government money and the fire department's hands were tied with the limited resources on hand. 'It took weeks for us to even have a Declaration of Emergency,' said Bamberger."

This is information that is false and specifically intended by you to tarnish the reputation of Mayor MacGillivray. We believe you intentionally stated facts that you knew were inaccurate because the true facts are as follows:

According to the Sierra Madre News, published on Thursday. July 4, 1991, following the Friday, June 28, 1991 Sierra Madre earthquake:

Sierra Madre City Council and Los Angeles County declared the area an emergency area the same day - The News called the Governor's office and was told by the deputy press secretary that the governor (Pete Wilson) is still waiting to gather all the data from the Office of Emergency Services. They will assess the extent of the damage and inform the governor.

The Mayor of Sierra Madre was Andrew Roy Buchan and the Mayor Pro Tem was Gary Adams.

The following week's Sierra Madre News published an account of the emergency meeting that took place in the City Council chambers on July 5, 1991, as follows: State, Local Officials Attempt to Solve Earthquake Problems - Those officials who met Friday at Sierra Madre City Hall to discuss alternatives to solving some of the communities' cleanup problems since the June 28 earthquake and the ensuing aftershocks were Robert Bartlett, Mayor of Monrovia; Assemblyman Dick Mountjoy; Richard Andrews, state deputy director of the Office of Emergency Services; Sierra Madre Mayor Andrew Roy Buchan; Assemblyman Rusty Arelas and State Senator Newton Russell.

Mr. Bamberger, you have falsely stated that it took weeks for the declaration of an emergency to take place under the clear implication that this was a result of a failure of Mrs. MacGillivray. This is false. The City Council declared an emergency the same day as the earthquake. One week after the earthquake, the city was hosting a meeting of six principals from local and state agencies, lead by Mayor Andrew Roy Buchan. It was at this meeting that the city received word that Governor Pete Wilson declared the state of emergency the day before (reported in the Star News, July 6, 1991).

In your attack on MaryAnn MacGillivray you have failed to acknowledge that she was just beginning her second year of her first term in office. As a City Councilmember without portfolio as Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem, she had no ability or duty to perform any affirmative acts to achieve the declaration of emergency, which was declared on the same day anyway. The State's declaration of emergency was announced to the City representatives on Friday, July 6, 1991, which was only 1 week after the earthquake.

In fact, you have distorted a few facts involving the day of the earthquake. The true and complete facts are that the entire City Council was attending a conference of the Independent Cities Association (not a "retreat") in Rancho Bernardo. Because the damage at Mrs. MacGillivray's home required rectifying and necessary clean up, she was perforce left at her home for a period of time during which the other council members decided to return to City Hall and pass a resolution to declare an emergency. This action was unknown to her until she was picked up again because in those days (19 years ago) people did not all have cell phones and many of the telephones were out. The Council then returned - together - to the conference to finish the City's business the next day.

Hopefully the information presented here has cleared this unfortunate matter up.

Signatories to this letter include: Tommy Ann Miller, Carol Parker, Don Watts, Shirley Moore, Melissa Thew, John Crawford, John Hermann, John Shear, Diane Shear, Sherry Robison, Fay Angus, Anna Laws, Marge Bourgeois, Lee Cline, Gary Hood, Barbara Cline, Barbara Leigh, David Darbyshire, Michael Howard, Pat Alcorn, De Alcorn, Teryl Willis, Deb Sheridan.

Research was done by Caroline Brown. Caroline has on file the pertinent Sierra Madre News and Pasadena Star News articles cited in the letter. Those interested in receiving copies of the cited articles are encouraged to send their name and address to The Tattler via SGVTattler @ gmail.com.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Proposition 16: A Major Utility Corporation Run Amuck

We posted some information earlier this week about Proposition 16. A reader had sent in what I thought were some interesting revelations about not only what PG&E was trying to do to protect their monopoly in Northern California, but also the way politics is often done in this state. And that with Prop 16 we were seeing the cash-driven perversion of democracy that pervades so much of our electoral process being taken to a whole new level.

One of the great things about running this news site is you never really know who is going to show up. In many ways it is the people who post their views here that makes the place happen. So when somebody left a comment under the name of John Geesman, former California Energy Commissioner, 2002-2008, I had to admit to being intrigued. Turns out the guy is not only the real deal, but he also has a blog dedicated to one purpose only, debunking Proposition 16. Called PG&E Ballot Initiative Factsheet, Mr. Geesman lays out all the sordid details of not just the initiative itself, but also the bizarre antics of PG&E's CEO, Peter Darbee (pictured above). A man who has almost single handedly turned the concept of the citizen initiative process completely upside down.

John Geesman, on his Blogger profile page, lays out his mission statement this way:

I was dumbstruck when I read that PG&E's board had authorized spending up to $35 million on this initiative. The local governments, municipal utilities, and irrigation districts who are its targets are prohibited by law from spending anything to oppose it. California's investor-owned utilities face a Himalayan task in modernizing our electricity system and building the infrastructure necessary to serve a growing economy. They ought to focus on that, rather than manipulating the electorate to kneecap their few competitors. Has there ever been a time when we needed greater downward pressure on electricity rates? Perhaps I can contribute to stopping this outrage by assembling this information. Won't you help by using email or the "Share" button above to disseminate each post as broadly as possible?

So I thought that we'd take Mr. Geesman's request one step farther. As of this typing he has posted 8 articles on his highly informative site. We are going to reproduce two of them here. We are doing this in the hope that you will come to better understand just how bad an initiative Proposition 16 is, and that you will help to spread the world. PG&E is attempting to use the initiative process to buy themselves a permanent monopoly in Northern California. But in order to do that they will need the peoples' votes. We must help make certain that they do not get them.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Peter Darbee's Dog of an Initiative: 3 Tapeworms Eating Away at the Internal Logic of Prop. 16

On February 25, I had the privilege of testifying on Proposition 16 before the joint hearing of the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee and the California Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. This is what I said:

Thank you for the opportunity to be heard in opposition to Proposition 16. I delivered my first legislative testimony to your predecessor committees in 1975. In the ensuing 35 years, beside spending two decades in the bond markets, I served as Executive Director of the California Energy Commission when Jerry Brown was Governor; as the Chairman of the California Power Exchange during our disastrous experience with incompetent market regulation; as a Board member of the CallSO when Governor Davis asserted the State's authority over that body; and as the attorney member of the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2008. I'm proud to say we licensed 26 power plants and one transmission line during my most recent tenure at the CEC.

I'm retired now, but spend much of my volunteer time as the Co-Chair of the American Council on Renewable Energy, prodding governments around the world to recalibrate their energy policies in order to accelerate the pace of technological change.

Never, in all of that time or in any of those venues, have I seen political activity by a regulated utility so far outside the bounds of acceptable conduct as PG&E's sole sponsorship of the Constitutional Amendment politely referred to as Proposition 16.

I am mindful of the contempt for the legislative process, reliance on deceptive wording, and resort to strong-arm tactics that are manifest in PG&E's campaign. But today I want to take Proposition 16 at face value, and focus your attention on three tapeworms that eat away at the internal logic of the measure itself.

Tapeworm #1 is the elimination of customer choice. Who among us in today's economy doesn't recognize that fewer choices mean higher prices? That's true of any commodity. Yet Proposition 16 actually wants to restrict the ability of electricity consumers to buy from anyone other than for-profit monopolies. Has California ever faced a greater need to bring competitive pressures downward on the price of electricity? But PG&E wants to lock its monopoly advantage into the State Constitution.

Tapeworm #2 is the mystery of where all this campaign money is coming from. PG&E says it will spend up to $35 million, and insists all of that money will come from its shareholders. You and I know that every nickel that passes through PG&E's books comes from its captive customers -- its regulated utility is the only business PG&E has! The CPUC determines what PG&E's cost of capital should be in order to provide for investment in needed infrastructure. But it sure doesn't set that rate at a level calculated to bring a $35 million slush fund for sole sponsored political adventurism. It ought to be illegal to take ratepayer money and use it politically against ratepayer interests. If PG&E's making an excessive return, it ought to give the money back.

Tapeworm #3 is a serious drafting error in the "grandfather clause" of Proposition 16. The authors attempted to exempt existing municipal utilities operating within their current territories, but they used an outmoded and unworkable "sole provider" definition. That means that within the existing 48 munis, every new connection -- every new home buyer, every new business -- would be subject to an election requiring the approval of two-thirds of the voters. That's the kind of drafting mistake the legislative committee process is designed to prevent.

Three tapeworms are enough to kill even the meanest dog, and you ought to do what you can to put this mongrel down. Your colleagues in the Senate who signed the Steinberg letter in December had it right. PG&E should acknowledge its mistake, abandon its campaign, and bring whatever grievance it thinks it has back to the Legislature for further consideration.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

CEO Report Card: How Much of the Goldman Sachs Kool-Aid Did PG&E's Peter Darbee Drink?

Five years is a long time on Wall Street. It's a long time at PG&E. Peter Darbee has been CEO of PG&E Corporation since 2005. He was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs from 1989 to 1994.

It's said that you can take the individual out of "Goldmine Sachs" but you can't take "Goldmine Sachs" out of the individual.

And in the the several days since the SEC launched its historic civil fraud action against Goldman, it's been difficult to ignore some commonality between two tone-deaf CEOs having a difficult time keeping their companies out of the ditch.

Each has an odd, mildly blasphemous way of mixing divine guidance with his pursuit of Mammon. A profile in the Sunday Times of Goldman's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, 55, put it bluntly:

An impish grins spreads across Blankfein's face. Call him a fat cat who mocks the public. Call him wicked. Call him what you will. He is, he says, just a banker "doing God's work."

The British newspaper characterized Goldman Sachs as a cultish teamwork environment with insecurity hardwired into the system. "There is a deep and constant paranoia about everything we do," one senior manager approvingly said. What drives this process?

One former Goldman banker describes the culture as "completely money-obsessed. I was like a donkey driven forward by the biggest, juiciest carrot I could imagine. Money is the way you define your success. There's always room - need - for more. If you are not getting a bigger house or a bigger boat, you're falling behind. It's an addiction."

The 56-year old Darbee, more than a decade out of Goldman at the time, struck a note of piety in his inaugural interviews as PG&E's CEO in 2005, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that "It's the Ten Commandments that drive my world view."

"You don't lie. You don't cheat. You don't steal. You don't commit adultery ... If you don't have the right set of values in place, you're not going to get anywhere."

Darbee has an awkward and conflicted attitude regarding his own compensation.

On the one hand, he massaged PG&E's internal system to produce a $10.6 million gusher for himself in 2009 -- that's 74% above the median for large utility CEOs measured in the Wall Street Journal's annual compensation survey. And 8% above Blankfein's 2009 take!

In the adolescent, mine's-bigger-than-yours, locker room ambiance that pervades Wall Street, that's a serious score keeping threshold.

On the other hand, as Darbee observed in an interview in mid-2009:

"I think it's fair to say that some earlier administrations here at the company really focused on "let's make money." We found that approach didn't inspire employees, it didn't cause people to admire and respect the company as much, and it didn't help PG&E attract new employees."

The 2005 Chronicle story quoted from Darbee's initial address to the employees:

"I think the clear message is you want more from management and more from your leaders in terms of identifying the vision for your company."

As the newspaper account put it, "Turning things around, he said, hinges on restoring a sense of integrity within the company and, in turn, winning back the trust of customers."

In words that may ring particularly loudly for Darbee in today's Proposition 16 context, the Chronicle reported:

In his speech to employees, he said he wants PG&E to "eliminate the term 'ratepayer' from our vocabulary." Instead, he wants workers to always say "customer." "A customer is someone that we have to go out and .. win day in and day out," Darbee explained. "A ratepayer suggests someone who is the prisoner of a regulated utility."

What to make of these remarks from the sole sponsor of a $35 million propaganda campaign carefully designed to intentionally mislead said "customers" into building an even higher wall around their captivity? Not to mention that, to date, his cynical defiling of the California initiative process has been denounced by every newspaper editorial board to address Proposition 16.

"It's going to be a big job," he acknowledges. "But over a period of three years, five at the latest, my objective is for the customers of this state to say 'Wow!'"

Wow.

Bonus coverage: For a bizarre 60-second recording of PGE's CEO Peter Darbee -- who paid himself 8% more than Goldman Sach's CEO last year -- boasting to Wall Street investors that Proposition 16 is meant "to diminish" voting rights by erecting a 2/3s majority wall around his monopoly franchise, click here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's Earth Day, So What Better Time To Push Along the 710 Freeway Tunnel?

A news site I enjoy reading is Glendale's Sunroom Desk. The reporting there is always incisive, and coming as it does from a city that has taken the lead in fighting the 710 Freeway Tunnel, often has some great insights into this important San Gabriel Valley issue.

Yesterday's edition of Sunroom Desk pointed out something that I thought needed bringing up here. It is Earth Day after all, that one 24 hour period set aside each year for us to contemplate what exactly we are doing to this place. And wouldn't you know it, Metro has designated today as the one to move along the "710 Freeway Tunnel process" just one more step forward.

Here is what SD pointed out for us:

Item 55 on the April 22, 2010 MTA Board meeting agenda includes a motion by MTA Directors John Easana and Gloria Molina to remove all zones except Zone 3 for 710 Tunnel consideration, in a bid to move that option forward in the study stage.

As we discussed earlier this week in the "Houses and Tunnels" post, we are well into the "process" phase of the 710 Tunnel. A kind of bureaucratic strip tease of options, scoping, reviews, rereviews, budgeting, consulting, testing, and whatever else they do, all with the purpose of cozening this project forward to the point where everything will be in place and, to use the popular term of the day, "shovel ready." At which time those driving the process will attempt to bum rush the public into accepting what to many potentially affected SGV cities appears to be nothing less than an environmental disaster.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a true "process" if the Green issues weren't paid at least a little bit of lip service. Which, thanks to the keen eyes at Sunroom Desk, is one of the many things we can find in Item 55 to the April 22, 2010 MTA board meeting agenda.

Over the years, outreach and consensus building have been crucial components in the transportation process. In addition, Metro has expanded its bus and rail transit services, as well as other motorized and non-motorized transportation options, and invested in signal synchronization and transportation demand management programs to provide a more balanced multi-modal system throughout the County. While much has been accomplished, in terms of identifying and addressing potential challenges associated with highway improvements and tunnel concepts for Route 710, the next steps need to reflect the current transportation planning context as well as new and emerging environmental challenges such as reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

The themes of that finely crafted bureaucratic boilerplate switch so radically the reader runs the very real risk of whiplash just by reading it. So on the one hand Metro congratulates itself by making public transportation changes that will theoretically get people out of their cars and into buses (thus helping to save the world from global warming), but on the other hand they seem to be doing all they can to move forward a tunnel project that will dump vast amounts of new auto and truck traffic onto the 710, turning our little slice of God's green earth into the equivalent of a global warming magnifying glass.

But I suppose that is all besides the point. The contradiction, though unfortunate from a marketing perspective, is actually all one and the same. The real drivers here are real estate development and commerce. And be it the 710 Tunnel or the Gold Line, strip away the greenwash and all you'll see is the money.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good News On Funding for Pasadena Unified School District? Plus the Dirty Lowdown on Prop 16

Sometimes you'll come across some very good news, and find yourself just not believing it. Maybe it's because there is so much bad press these days when it comes to government and the funding of our public schools that something this logical and sensible doesn't quite register. Your brain just refuses to process what could actually be a wonderful solution to a terrible problem.

Then there is always that other instinctual defense mechanism, the one that doesn't allow you to admit that Sacramento might actually have gotten something right when it comes to school funding. And that they did it in spite of the setbacks it could cause to the ability of their darlings the state and local redevelopment agencies to get their occasionally questionable work done? Momma, who turned out the lights? This from the always excellent Pasadena Sub Rosa news site:

A new law amending the state's existing redevelopment law may make the Pasadena Unified School District's $7.1 million Measure CC Parcel Tax unnecessary after ballots have already been mailed to voters. Under the California Assembly Trailer Bill ABX4-26 enacted last week, redevelopment agencies are now required to divert their funds set aside for affordable housing to local schools.

Reportedly the new state budget legislation adopted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor last week provides for what is being called a "dramatic" take of $2.05 billion of redevelopment funds statewide for public schools ($1.7 billion retroactively for the 2009-10 fiscal year - this year - and $350 million for 2010-11.)

Existing Redevelopment law requires cities to set aside 20% of their tax increment funds for affordable housing. Tax increment Funds are the added property taxes generated from new redevelopment projects. Pasadena has $29.7 million in annual tax increment funds and 20% of that would be $5.94 million. According to the City of Pasadena's website, it has $10,234,320 in its redevelopment affordable housing fund as of 2009-10.

The Pasadena City Council has yet to act on this astonishing new law, with the consequences being that the Pasadena Unified School District has yet to receive any of those desperately needed monies. You can only wonder why they would want to delay. Personally I think they need to get their priorities in order.

(And just so you know, some cities have already begun procedures that will lead to the freeing up of this badly needed funding for public schools. A City of Belmont staff report on the matter can be accessed here.

Once the process gets underway this really will be a double blessing. One because it will pump some badly needed funds into our area public schools. But it also removes a good chunk of available shenanigan money that has been put to such poor purpose in the past. That this redevelopment dough can now be put a far more important and necessary use just seems almost too good to be true. You'd think people would be talking about it more.

And now some unkind words about Proposition 16:

You just have got to love the big utility companies. Their near-monopoly in many parts of this state has made them wealthy beyond the dreams of most corporate empires. And when it comes to protecting their economic suzerains and interests, there isn't a whole lot that they won't do. Including attempting to turn the state constitution and the initiative process on its head.

According to the Sierra Club there is a truly awful proposition on the ballot this June called Proposition 16. Apparently the work of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), it is an attempt by the goliath energy producer to strangle any possible competition that might arise before it really gets started. And we're talking about such things as municipal and privately owned utility companies, including those who would use such renewable resources as wind and solar power to produce electricity. Here is what the Sierra Club has to say about it:

PG&E wants you to vote for a constitutional amendment that would make it tougher for you to buy cleaner electricity from someone else. The company is the sole sponsor of Proposition 16, a measure on the June ballot that would require two-thirds voter approval before cities, counties, and local power agencies could choose an alternative energy provider. This measure would also prevent existing local utilities, such as City of Alameda, Sacramento, and Silicon Valley Power in Santa Clara, from adding new customers, even within their districts, without first going to the ballot. Although PG&E refers to the measure as "The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," the measure provides no right to vote on PG&E expansion efforts or on its rates, among the highest in the country.

Nice to see that PG&E has taken a big interest in protecting our right to vote, though honestly I was not aware that there were any looming dangers to this basic American freedom right now. Selfless patriotism just seems so unlike them. And apparently PG&E's kind attentions are not just limited to writing their self-interest into the state constitution.

PG&E frequently states that switching to its competition is risky. Yet PG&E customers risk getting their lights turned off more than those of other utilities. PG&E is cutting service to a staggering number of customers who are missing payments - far more than other utilities.

You can only wonder where their kindness ends. But since they have invested $30 million in helping to pass a proposition that will protect us from cheaper and cleaner energy, you can understand their economic constraints right now. Better to turn off Granny's lights than risk the terror of fair and open competition.

Critics of Proposition 16, including the Sierra Club, consumer advocates like TURN, elected leaders, public power agencies, and newspaper editorial boards see the ballot measure as even more dangerous than PG&E's other anti-competitive efforts. The Sacramento Bee characterized Proposition 16 as a case of "a powerful special interest seizing the initiative process for its own narrow benefit." In a January editorial the paper said, "If Prop 16 passes, it enshrines unfair protections against competition for PG&E, one of the richest, most powerful corporations in the state, into the California Constitution."

Hopefully this one will go down to defeat. Though you always have to take into account the astonishing ability of the voters to cast ballots against their own economic self-interest. You know, like people who might actually believe that Proposition 16 is about protecting your right to vote.

But for me, I'm thinking I will cast a big 'No' vote on this one.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today's Sierra Madre Planning Retreat

We should probably be able to get the first real indication of where Sierra Madre's newly elected City Council will be taking us today. Look for clues on such matters as hiring consultants, any new direction on the creation of the new General Plan, Canyon Zone Committee, development issues, the use of bonds for infrastructure repairs (aka "Sacramento Solutions"), and the role of regionalism in any future city development plans. Here is how an article in todays Pasadena Star News breaks it down:

Sierra Madre elected officials and city staff will gather for a one-day planning retreat today to review the city's key goals and update its objectives for the next six months. In recent years, the City Council has held "strategic planning retreats" twice a year to monitor progress and to come up with a 6-month blueprint for action that reflects the city's primary goals.

"It's a good way to make sure that we're moving forward on a lot of our goals so we're not just being reactionary," said Councilman Joe Mosca. "With so many things going on, we're studying our priorities and making sure that we are moving toward them."

Mosca's odd use of the word reactionary aside, the feel good goals described in the article are "achieving financial stability," getting people to trust the city's government more, get people more deeply involved with the affairs of the city, and hiring good people to work in City Hall.

Or, as Elaine Aguilar describes it, "a collaborative, in-put intensive process." Which I think means there will probably be a whole lot of talk.

A "revised strategic plan" comes out of this meetings as well, something to be approved at a future City Council confab.

The retreat kicks off at 8:30 this morning at 8:30, and is supposed to wrap-up by 3:30. It is being held at the Youth Activity Center at 611 E. Sierra Madre Boulevard.

Bonus coverage: The Supreme Court has just overturned a federal law banning animal cruelty videos, terming it a violation of the right to free speech.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Houses and Tunnels

Houses: As the development and planning world scrambles to achieve the ultimate in the sustainability correct planning trends of the day, all in hopes of getting their unfair share of the vast quantities of borrowed foreign capital being promoted as "stimulus" and other funding by Washington, an occasional moment of reality can be glimpsed. It never lasts for long of course, the corporatist world does not financially reward such free thinking these days. After all, people do need to be kept on message. But the word does get out once in a while. Besides, nothing sustains failed business models quite as well as centralized planning backed up by lots of tax money. We have plenty of banks, mixed-use development emporiums, and auto companies that stand as proof of that. Stakeholders all in the debt economy.

In a March 18 posting on a blog run by the magazine Mother Jones, Kevin Drum discusses an often heard canard in the planning world, that the planners themselves are responsible for suburban sprawl. This popularly held belief being that "zoning and land use laws encourage sprawl, and if we did away with them we'd have a greater number of dense, walkable neighborhoods." That said, he then makes the following ridiculously reality-based observation:

There is a lot I could say about this, but that's a mistake in a blog post. So I'll stick to one main point: these regulations aren't something that's been imposed by "government." They exist because people really, really, REALLY want them.

I need to be clear here: I'm neither praising nor condemning this, just describing how things are. To get an idea of how strongly people feel about this, you really need to come live in a suburb for a while. But failing that, consider the balance of power here. Corporations would like to be able to build wherever and whatever they want. Wealthy land developers would like to be able to build wherever and whatever they want. And local governments hate single-family neighborhoods because they are a net tax loss: they cost more in services than they return in property tax remittances. And yet, even with corporations, wealthy developers, and local governments all on one side, suburban zoning is ubiquitous. This is a triumvirate that, under normal circumstances, could get practically anything they wanted, but in this case its not even a close fight. Suburban residents have them completely overwhelmed.

Kind of flies in the face of much of what we hear these days. The notion that people will somehow flock to new transit oriented development projects, in the process abandoning their single family homes and greenhouse gas producing automobiles for daily thrill rides on the various Metro transportation venues, is a near religious creed for many. After all, doesn't SB 375 preach that high density development and light rail will help save the world from global warming? We now have a new City Council in Sierra Madre where that facile ideology will be preached to us often, and whether or not there is much truth to it, there is still that little problem with what consumers actually want. After all, if people did want the swinging Metro lifestyle there wouldn't be quite the condo glut we can find in places like Pasadena, correct? Those unwanted units would have been sold years ago.

That's how strong the desire is for suburban sprawl. Again: I'm not taking a position on whether this is good or bad. And I'm not saying that everyone needs to understand what they're up against here. It's not zoning per se that causes sprawl, it's the fact that lots of registered voters actively want sprawl and have successfully demanded rules that keep density at bay. These kinds of land use regulations aren't going away without the mother of all knock-down-drag-out fights first.

Drum ends with this rarely asked but essential question:

... outside of a big city core, has anyone ever successfully built a walkable, high-density suburb? Not a village or a small town. I mean something dense and walkable: a place where sidewalks are busy, mass transit is good, and there are plenty of high-rise apartment buildings. I know the New Urbanist folks talk about this a lot, but do any actually exist?

Tunnels: A word you hear a lot of these days is "process." The concept of "process" is usually trotted out when something particularly unpopular is being marketed to a hostile public. The development of Sierra Madre's "Downtown Specific Plan" was a good example of "process." What this is really all about is holding off a skeptical public long enough to get the planning and set-up in place, then allowing the citizens to have their say, but only after everything is pretty much shovel ready. The ensuing pitch being that since everything is ready to go, and it really is such a wonderful plan that involved vast sums of money and a whole lot of time to create, why would you ever want to stop it now? Killing off an unpopular planning initiative is always easier in the early stages then it is after there is something tangible and complete to market to the citizens.

And nowhere is the "process" more evident than in that slowly creeping inevitability known as the 710 Freeway Tunnel. This boondoggle (present cost estimate $3.73 billion), would close the gap between the Foothill (210) and Long Beach (710) freeways. The years of successful opposition in South Pasadena to the completion of this project having literally driven it underground.

Here from a blog called The Source ("Transportation News & Views"), is a description of the next step in the 710 Freeway Tunnel process:

Looking to solve one of the region's most vexing freeway problems, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors will consider next week launching a new round of environmental studies on how best to improve traffic caused by the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena.

One of the organizations that has attempted to put itself at the forefront of sustainable (or "Green") development here in the Los Angeles region is the Southern California Association of Governments (or SCAG). So what are they doing getting into the freeway tunnel business?

The Southern California Assn. of Governments, which advises on regional planning issues, has long supported a tunnel. A recent draft study contracted by SCAG and using SCAG modeling data examined how a tunnel would impact traffic patterns in the area...

Isn't this the same organization that is pressuring so many towns in our area to accommodate high density development in order to create a transportation dynamic that will cause people to give up their cars and take things like Metro buses and the Gold Line? So why would they also be working to make possible a freeway tunnel, something ostensibly being designed to make motoring more merry and convenient? For an organization that claims to be able to peer into the future and deduce our planning needs for the next 30 or so years, this seems like quite a paradox, especially given the article's conclusion:

Generally speaking, many surface streets and freeway segments saw improvements in traffic flow, but it wasn't universal. A tunnel, the study found, may also increase traffic volume on the 210 north of the 134, the 10 east of the 710 and the 5 north of the 2. The study has not yet been published online.

Since one of the Sacramento mandated goals of SCAG is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the San Gabriel Valley through the building of high-density housing, which will supposedly cut down on automobile traffic, it seems odd that they would also be advocating the creation of a tunnel that would undo any of the purported good effects of all that development. A bit of a contradiction, as it were.

One more thing: We changed the title of this blog a little bit. Since Sierra Madre, the original home of The Tattler, has now elected a city council that will work to diminish the role of our city hall in favor of a more consultant driven regional government approach, we have decided to go regional as well. Many of the issues we face here are common to our neighboring cities, and we will be reaching out to concerned people there as well. Look for contributions from some of the area news sites, plus reprints and other features. There will, of course, still be a lot about Sierra Madre. But again, with our city soon to be folded deeply into the "collaborative" regional government system, that coverage will need to be expanded.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Open Letter To Patrick Simcock

I received the following note from a gentleman named Patrick Simcock. It seems quite typical of the kinds of things we've been hearing from those who did not understand the real issues in our recent campaign, nor recognize the dishonesty in the claims made by the Mosca slate. Either that or Mr. Simcock chose to believe that these things were not important. Rather he seems to lean exclusively on emotional appeals, while offering no proof of the claims being made. Which is typical of those who take that route.

Below is a portion of what Patrick had to say. I am responding here because Mr. Simcock cc'd the MVN and Coburn's site, declaring his letter to be an open one. I've also edited for brevity.

When you announced your candidacy on your blog and promoted Alcorn, Crawford and Watts, I began reading it to learn what you were about. Though I thought you made some good points, I couldn't believe how angry and off topic many of the comments were and that you encouraged them! Honestly, during the last few months, I told people to read it as a way to promote the candidates I was voting for - Moran, Mosca, and Walsh. That's how absurd it became! I think your blog is one of the reasons you and your slate lost. The personal attacks went so far that everyone HAD to defend themselves. A couple of stones can be tossed one way or another, but when someone is under a constant barrage, they will defend themselves. You cornered some good dogs, and now you seem confused as to why you were bitten.

The election is over. The new council will be together for two years. I hope everyone, including the media, starts to focus on the positive things that can be done to make Sierra Madre an even better place. But this has to be a two-way street. I'm not saying there won't be controversy, but let's keep the personal attacks to a minimum.

John, if you love Sierra Madre like I do, please put down the hatchet. Don't give up on what you believe in, just stop the personal attacks. Civility is what was preached in this campaign, and I'm extending my hand to start it ... Either way, don't continue down the path that will further divide the town that I have and probably always will call my home.

Here is my reply:

I am saddened that you feel that I have engaged in personal attacks on my blog. I have used this venue to discuss what I feel are important issues not only here in Sierra Madre, but throughout the State of California. Certainly you can recognize that there are serious problems that require some airing out. And yes, the viewpoints of public figures are fair game, and even if they don't always enjoy having their records criticized, it is important that such perspectives be made available. Perhaps you could provide some examples of things I've said that fit your uncharitable description? It is the mark of a serious person that when they make claims such as the ones you have here, they back it up with proof.

I am also troubled that you do not seem at all concerned by much of what has been said in the Sierra Madre Weekly or The Mountain Views News. The nasty and dishonest attacks on our current Mayor, MaryAnn MacGillivray (look for a piece on my blog that exposes some of the egregious claims being made in these papers shortly), have truly been over the top. I would be curious to hear your take on that matter. You know, because of that two-way street thing you mentioned.

One of the reasons my blog has achieved the level of readership is has is because it is truly the only venue in town that provides in-depth information of concern for both the preservationist slow growth perspective and the need for small California cities to maintain their independence from Sacramento control. These are things that receive no serious coverage in any of our local newspapers, including the sadly compromised Pasadena Star News. Please remember, I received over 1,000 votes in last Tuesday's election, so it isn't like there is no audience for this stuff. There are also over 12,000 comments on this site, an unprecedented number for a blog that discusses the affairs of so small a city.

Try and remember that this is a Democracy, Pat. And in a Democracy all points of view can be freely expressed. Even mine. Does it get rough on The Tattler comments board at times? It sure does. It also gets rough on a lot of other sites as well, including those run by The Washington Post and Pasadena Star News. Both of whom have written editorials lamenting that fact. It is the nature of the beast.

Let me leave you with a suggestion that I always offer to those who have written me expressing the kinds of sentiments you have here. If you don't like what is being written on the Sierra Madre Tattler, you are certainly free not to read it. Or better yet, start a news site of your own. I'd be curious to read what you have to offer. I personally find it to be a most enjoyable pastime, controversy and all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is The Sierra Madre Cumquat Era Back?

With the return to power of John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, has the Cumquat Era returned as well?

In the name of a twisted civility, overly ardent Mosca supporter Terry Miller, in a lengthy Sierra Madre Weekly article, has delivered a torrent of defamation and abuse against Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray.

So is this how soon to be seated Mayor Joe Mosca perceives his new era of comity and getting along is going to go? By unleashing his oddest attack dog against someone who has worked as hard and as long for Sierra Madre as MaryAnn MacGillivray? For what purpose?

So where exactly is this civility we've heard so much about? Is this how the new regime celebrates its return to power, with ugly attacks from its surrogates? And is this what we have to look forward to for the next few years? If so, it seems obvious to me that the citizens of Sierra Madre have no idea of just what they elected when they voted last Tuesday.

All of this also begs the question, are there no adults in charge at The Sierra Madre Weekly?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Pasadena Star News Praises The Tattler

"There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community." - Oscar Wilde

Well, nobody was quite as annoyed as I was by the way this election turned out. Here I'd already picked out a red convertible Ford Skyliner with signature vanity plates (what self-respecting City Councilman would ever ride in a 4th of July parade without vanity plates?), and wouldn't you know it? The voters consigned me to the sidelines with the candy catchers. Life can be funny that way. Except, of course, nobody is allowed to throw candy at parades any more, or squirt water pistols lest they be hauled off for assault of some sort. It has become that kind of world, I suppose. Just sit and wave the little signs the politicians hand out, and then carry your beach chairs back home.

But just when things looked their worst along came the Pasadena Star News to awaken me from my dolorous ruminations. And I don't know if it was out of kindness for my electoral debacle or not, but they really did pay me quite a compliment, referring to The Tattler as being "snarky, funny, (and) eloquent..." They also used another word to describe this humble blog, but since they've yet to phone me to discuss such things, and I never once said anything to deserve so inelegant an appellation, I'm just going to assume they made an unfortunate assumption and let it slide.

Of course, whoever wrote this piece (humility preventing him from putting his name to it, I guess), also attempted to paint me as being a hard right radical. Something my conservative friends will probably find quite humorous. Those Obama signs I had out in my front yard a year or so back, along with that troublesome "No on Prop 8" sign, or the fact that the only conservative I've ever voted for in my life is Sierra Madre's soon to be former Mayor, has been the stuff of gossip - and much laughter - there for months. That they ever accepted me in the first place really was quite an act of kindness on their part. A lot of the folks who support my own ideological persuasion having wandered off into the darkness.

Then there was the time a supporter walked up to me at a coffee, a concerned look on her face, and told me that a group from her church had shown up at her door and told her that she needed to take down my lawn sign because "Crawford supports the gay agenda." They didn't leave many strategies on the table during this race.

Of course, the Star News does have its own agendas. And they support them because, let's face it, like many daily newspapers with one foot in the Chapter 11 grave they really don't have much of a choice in the matter. Editorial independence being something they can no longer afford to practice. And they do know how to earn their keep. Check this out:

Instead radicalism was rejected. Extremely slow growth or no growth was not - that's what the moderates who were elected stand for as well, and that's what's best for Sierra Madre. The election of the sensible hard-working Mosca along with civic volunteers Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh is a victory for common sense. Here's hoping the misplaced mudslinging introduced to town in recent years will fade away.

Now the characterization of soon to be Mayor Mosca as hardworking has got to raise a chuckle amongst the political cognoscenti here in town. After all, wasn't the almost non-existent attendance of our Joe at all those SCAG and SGVCOG meetings we believed he was attending when it was his responsibility to do so a point of light in our lives when it was first revealed on this site? And can we really describe as "slow growth or no growth" persons who fought tooth and nail any attempts to curtail development in this town? To the point of calling upon fellow citizens to boycott businesses not showing a proper vigor in supporting the development cause? In particular the troublesome Downtown Specific Plan that would have brought with it the greatest gout of new development in this town's history, leaving us with Pasadena percentage levels in unsold condominiums?

But I guess we've covered all that before. And if you're looking for a realistic appraisal of our little town's idiosyncratic politics, you'd probably have better luck looking under a rock. The Star News does what it does, and everybody has got to earn a living, I suppose. Nobody should be surprised by anything they read there.

And as far as mudslinging goes, I can only assume that the secret editorialist of the Star News, safely ensconced in his dark palace of blown budgets and rapidly mounting debt, has never had the unfortunate experience of having read The Cumquat, The Mountain View News, or the Sierra Madre Weekly. Because I'm sure so staunch opponent of such impolite forms of scribbling would be loudly condemning just that from his storied pages of editorial indignation as well.

(Of course, there was that front page Star News article praising the pornographic Cumquat a couple of years back, but I guess that was another time. You know, back when they still had subscribers and people cared about what it is they have to say.)

So I guess we should all dummy up about it and get on with our lives. This is the age of regional government, that vast intermeshing of once independent cities into the regimens of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, folks that want to do for us what we used to do for ourselves, but supposedly is beyond us now. And backed by the might of Sacramento, and even my buddy President Obama, I guess the chances of us stopping all that now are slim and none. It was a glimmering that only lasted for a couple of years, and a final victory never really was within our power. But we dared to dream. Something that ended when the mouse that roared got flattened beneath the wheels of something far bigger than we'd ever known.

Someday we're going to have to figure out exactly what that was.

But does all this mean we should just shut up about it as the Star News suggests? Sit quietly and accept their secondhand version of what "sensible and moderate" is all about? Nah. If there is one thing I got out of this election it is that I own a blog that gets written about in the great bankrupt dailies of this abundantly populated county. And while the notoriety can at times be grating, this is Los Angeles. Fame being the currency that powers the crash cart in our part of the world. So why would I want to give all that up now just because I got fewer votes than Nancy Walsh? I'm not sure I see the logic in that.

Besides, we have work to do. Just because the Moscateers won it all is no reason to go soft on them. After all, this is Sierra Madre, and we do have our traditions. We've always done resistance very well here. And seriously, is there anything left to lose?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Closed For Spring Renovations

Monday, April 12, 2010

Susan Henderson's Final Campaign Whopper: LA Sheriff's Department Is Taking Over Sierra Madre

Perhaps it is a sign of just how desperate the Moscateer slate's supporters have become. Lacking any real issues to talk about, they have now resorted to having to make them up. And they just don't get more manufactured than the whopper in this morning's Mountain Views "News." This from its publisher, Harriet "Susan" Henderson:

Despite the fact that there is currently no executed contract between the city and the Sheriff's Department, within days of the request for Phase II of the proposal, LASD officers were heard making plans to transfer to Sierra Madre this summer. According to one officer who shall remain unidentified, the word has already "come down" that the Sheriff's Department will be taking over Sierra Madre. "Deputies are already trying to position themselves for assignment to Sierra Madre," said another source.

The anonymous source being, of course, one of Susan's most tedious and often used ploys. How can anyone trust a paper that seems to have such a chronic problem getting people to speak on the record?

I spoke with Sierra Madre Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray this morning, and here is her statement on Susan's claim:

This is absolutely without truth whatsoever. Not true in any way. A fantasy that borders on absurdity. The LASD is not moving in, and there is absolutely no basis for claiming it is.

City Councilman Kurt Zimmerman was equally adamant about the speciousness of Susan's claim:

The article is a fabrication. There are no plans to replace our police department with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, nor are there any plans to replace our volunteer fire fighters with a fire department from another jurisdiction.

The former Mayor then went on to say this:

In keeping with her other articles, Susan again doesn't identify by name her source.

Has the fear mongering from those supporting the Mosca Slate now reached the point where all they can do is fabricate their nonsensical claims out of thin air? Was this particular canard saved for a time when it would be impossible for the record to be set straight through a mailing pointing out the dishonesty that apparently motivated the MVN article?

Today's edition is apparently being delivered to the driveways of at least a few neighborhoods. With rains expected to arrive shortly, their fate is in doubt.

(Note: This post originally appeared on Sunday. Because of the importance of the issues raised here I've extended it for a second day.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Final Push

Somehow we've managed to almost get to the end of this election. Having at one time believed April 13 would never arrive, I am now wondering how it got here so fast. And having now gone through most of this experience has given me a keen understanding of a few things. First of all it is a grueling process. Not just because of the demands on your time and energy, but also because the effort kind of consumes you. I find myself thinking of almost nothing else. Issues, yard signs, postcards, what to say on this blog, the atrociously one-sided and frankly libelous things that have been said in the buffoonish weekly press, trying to puzzle out the issue-free and evasive shenanigans of the "other side's candidates," all of this has become my daily companion and source for late night contemplation. I now understand why people can be reluctant to answer the call when asked to run for City Council. It is certainly not a job for the weak or overly sensitive.

But on the other hand, the experience has been an intensely rewarding one as well. The energy and creativity of those who have worked on my campaign has been astonishing. I now realize why it is that Sierra Madre has managed to evade the wrecking ball all these years. It is that thin line of remarkable people who rise to the occasion and transform what might have been a one man band into a movement. I am the heir of something incredible, and I stand on the shoulders of those who had picked up the banner long before I became a part of all this. I consider this to be one of the most gratifying and frankly humbling experiences of my life. Sierra Madre is the home of some remarkable people. It has been my honor to get to really know them, and I have made some of the best friends I've ever had.

I've received the devoted support of my family. My two elementary school-aged sons have become policy wonks. The notion that we might run out of water should we allow for Pasadena-style development is troubling to them, and they can't quite get their minds around the notion that there are people who don't seem to care about this. They've come to the conclusion that these lost souls must not care about things like taking baths or washing their clothes. My wife, now completing her second Doctorate in the mysterious workings of the human mind, has been the source for many insights into the personalities and motivations of those I've been concerned with. I have an amazing oppositional research department.

In my family and my friends I have a lot to be grateful for. Becoming involved in running for City Council has helped me realize just how blessed I am.

I have now walked about 50% of this town. There are some rather forbidding hillsides I've yet to tackle, plus a few other neighborhoods as well. I'll try to visit all of them in the time remaining. Introducing myself to the people of Sierra Madre has been an eye-opening experience. The vast majority of them are in complete agreement on the over-development issues, with most of them having a very keen understanding of this concern. It is the lifeblood of politics in this town. Sierra Madre has been blessed in that the people living here are a very savvy and intuitive bunch. They've figured it out and know what they want. It also helps that our town is something worth being loyal to. It is an inspiring foothill village that affords us hard-working middle class types the opportunity to live in a place that is both affordable and extraordinary. That we get to run it ourselves is also an important factor. We are not that kind of over-built Sacramento appendage that so many other cities have become. It is a remarkable little town and the loyalty it inspires from those living here is a rare and wonderful thing. People understand what they have, how it could be lost, and what they must do to keep it.

But like I said, we're almost at the end of this thing. And there is a lot of work that remains to be done. I sense that we are going to win, but that is no reason for complacency or taking things for granted. The other side is cornered and growing more desperate as they've begun to realize that time is running out for them. And as we have seen in the past, that is when they get their strange on. Time to hit the streets and continue the conversation with Sierra Madre.