Saturday, May 29, 2010

The City Gave Us A Tree. But Alas, It Perished

It wasn't for a lack of watering. Our children's allowances were awarded by the liquid foot (or whatever the term is) during this project, and water was lavished on our beloved California Oak most evenings. Delicious mountain well water was all it knew throughout its short and tragic life. And it couldn't have been from the lack of sunshine, because our little yard is blessed with a rich share of God's sweet golden abundance. As are most homes in Southern California.

During my brief and rather meteoric political career, and this would have been during its ascendancy as I haven't heard much from that quarter lately, I received an email from City Hall (or "The Palace" as some people are wont to say), informing me that I was to be the lucky recipient of a beautiful California Oak sapling, courtesy of some government program or other. The impetus behind this being that a city tree person had noticed that a similar small tree in my yard had died, and due to the rules of this government funded program it must be replaced. Because, after all, we are the "Tree City." Which means we need to have trees.

Now I did protest that I really wasn't worthy of this honor. No trees in my yard had died. As a matter of fact, there are a few scrubby little wretches that I've been trying to kill off for years, and they just won't succumb. There was one tree however, some kind of delicate ornamental flowering thing sitting in the front of my yard, that did seem to be on its last roots a while back. But on the wise advice of a green thumbed neighbor, I cut it back. And for whatever reason, it has now revived and is covered with sub-psychedelic purplish leaves and little red flower buds. The hearts sings to see such a rebirth.

"No matter," said The Palace. "We're going to give you a tree anyway." I was flattered by this I must admit. No City government - and we're talking my entire life here - had ever given me anything in the past except traffic tickets and dirty looks. So the tree was planted and the kids began their tender first efforts in horticultural care.

The damned thing died anyway, and now sits there in my front yard forlorn and slowly falling apart. A metaphor for something profound, I'll bet. Dead things often are. I kept thinking that the City tree checker might be coming by to "scope" (to use planning talk) its demise and remove it. Or even replace it as we are the Tree City and all kaput trees need to be replaced or we'll lose status. Or even some funding, we must never forget that.

But nobody of that ilk has noticed this tragedy. Or if they have, perhaps they've lost interest. Or they're off on more important missions. I don't know. But if you are the person in charge of such things, please come and take it away. I'm not sure if I might be violating some City or state codes if I did it myself. Trees, even dead ones, having rights in California.

(The Tattler will be observing Memorial Day by not typing. We do have some rather shocking information to share, and we will be posting that Tuesday, June 1st. Enjoy the long weekend!)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Your Friday Tattler Executive News Summary

(Ed. We've covered quite a few stories these last couple of weeks, and I thought that today might be a fine time to revisit a couple of them and see what has been going on. Plus The Tattler will be awarding its long awaited endorsement in the Democratic race for U.S. Senator today as well.)

Despite the strong support given to it by such local civic treasures as Susan Henderson, Bart Doyle, John Buchanan, and Hail Hamilton, Measure CC received its smallest percentage of support right here in Sierra Madre. Something that must be coupled with the fact that Sierra Madre also had the second highest percentage of people who actually voted in this election. Despite the legendary local figures supporting it, no area within the Pasadena Unified School District showed less enthusiasm for adopting a parcel tax than our little city. But Sierra Madre did turn out to vote in relatively good numbers. Or at least we went to the Post Office.

This is something that City Hall here might want to ruminate upon as they work to line up additional fees, rate increases, and new taxes for us to pay. It could very well be that Sierra Madre has pretty much had its fill of being nickel and dimed by government entities who never quite seem to be able to get enough.

Here is how the Measure CC numbers broke down:

Pasadena
District 1: 21.4% turnout - 61.6% voted yes
District 2: 28.4% turnout - 58.4% voted yes
District 3: 17.3% turnout - 73% voted yes
District 4: 34.6% turnout - 44.6% voted yes
District 5: 20.4% turnout - 68.2% voted yes
District 6: 33.5% turnout - 49.5% voted yes
District 7: 28.6% turnout - 54.1% voted yes
Sierra Madre: 33.94% turnout - 43.61% voted yes
Altadena: 27.66% turnout - 56.74% voted yes
Unincorporated Areas: 26.18% turnout - 44.69% voted yes

The 710 Tunnel Process Grinds On

You're hip to this whole "process" thing, right? Joe Mosca uses the word endlessly, so you know there must be something wrong with it. By "process" most compliant functionaries of the state bureaucracy that ran California into the ground are referring to a series of planning events leading up to a conclusion most people would consider awful. Here in Sierra Madre the "process" has now begun in the effort to turn large portions of our funky old town into the kind of generic "mixed use" development ghetto we can see in so many of our neighboring cities. The water rate hike being a necessary first step in funding the kind of infrastructure needed to support the 300 or so "units" SCAG will soon be demanding we build through the now SB 375 driven "RHNA process." And you know that when SCAG says jump, our Mayor Mosca straps on his jet pack. In his mind that's both "process" and an example of a positive attitude.

So the process on the 710 Tunnel moved briskly forward yesterday. And according to today's edition of the Los Angeles Times, this stage of the process involved the bold move of hiring a consultant. And apparently the MTA meeting where this all took place was something of a riot.

MTA board approves new studies of 710 extension - The measure calls for the MTA to hire a consultant to explore options for relieving congestion, improving safety and addressing community concerns in building the link from Alhambra to Pasadena.

After repeated disruptions by protesters from the Bus Riders Union and two arrests, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority unanimously approved a new round of studies for the proposed 710 Freeway extension, including an analysis of alternatives to a tunnel or highway.

(The Bus Riders Union, who apparently are people extremely dedicated to riding those beautiful Metro buses we see so much of through the windows of our cars, were very upset by a recent fare increase instituted by the very folks running this meeting. And they got their protest on so strong that it caused this august MTA panel to suffer a 3 hour delay as police struggled to get these bus loving knuckleheads out of that room and into the pokey. The Metro men then being forced to conduct their deliberations behind locked doors.)

The measure approved Thursday calls for the MTA to hire a consultant to study the project and explore "a full range of options" to relieve congestion, improve safety, address community concerns, and supplement future planning efforts.

What says process more than hiring consultants? Word is this passage in the process will cost the taxpayers of California around $60 million dollars, and in the end result in a report that will mean nothing to anyone living a full life. Why not just declare the issue a dead one, move on, and save this bankrupt state from having to spend even more money? There has got to be a better way to get colorful imported plasticware out of Long Beach and inland to Wal*Mart than digging a $20 billion dollar hole under South Pasadena.

California Versus Greece

Our good friends over at Pasadena Sub Rosa have reprinted a delightful article by Gary Shapiro of The Daily Caller. You might recall something we posted here a week or so back that celebrated California's entry into the list of Top 10 sovereign governments most likely to default and leave its creditors holding nothing but their stomachs. And you should also be aware that Greece, a European Common Market nation so deeply in debt that it nearly triggered a worldwide economic panic (and might still do so if things don't get straightened out and soon), also graces that Top 10 list. In this article Mr. Shapiro details the similarities between Greece and our own troubled state of economic mind.

California and Greece have roughly similar GDP output ($333 billion and $343 billion respectively), as well as similar debt levels ($500 billion and $552 billion respectively). But that only includes state debt for California. When you factor in California's 17 percent stake in the U.S. economy, which is saddled with $8 trillion in debt, the state's total liability is over $1 trillion.

In many ways California as a state has bigger problems than Greece as a country. The unemployment rate in California is higher than that of Greece. And California spends more on many government programs. For example, the 167,000 inmates in California prisons occupy 11 percent of the budget, or $8 billion. By comparison, Greece prisons hold only 12,300 prison inmates.

Both California and Greece suffer from a huge number of unionized government employees accustomed to large defined benefit packages, including annual salary increases and lifetime pensions. Much as been made of the ability of Greek government workers to retire at age 53. In California, government workers can retire at 55. As Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has noted, the amount California spends on its pension programs has increased by 2,000 percent in the last decade to over $7 billion annually.

I always find that it is good to keep such things in mind when analyzing the performances and achievements of our state legislators. World class failure like this is nothing to be taken lightly. And if results are the true gauge of a worker's performance, then our elected officials in Sacramento must truly be among the worst human beings on the planet. Maybe we should send the Bus Riders Union north to visit with them?

And the Vaunted Tattler Endorsement for the Democratic Nomination for U.S. Senator Goes to ... Mickey Kaus!

You can check out my man Mickey in that photo at the top of this post. There you can see him in his attack dog debating posture, fiercely exposing the hypocrisy and fecklessness of his opponent. Now originally he had challenged Barbara Boxer to join him in this debate, but she knew that if she showed up her political days could be numbered. Besides, she had a fundraiser to attend. So in her absence Kaus chose to debate a box named Barbara. And let me tell you, by the time it was all over Barbara Box was dragged unconscious from the room and straight to recycling.

Why Mickey Kaus you ask? Well first of all I have been reading his stuff for about a decade now. Mickey was a blogger before it was cool, and he still is one now that it really isn't anymore. And not just any old blog, but the legendary Slate, which is still very much in existence, now as an appendage of the Washington Post news empire. He has also written for a raft of other places such as the New Republic and Harpers, as well as having authored a few books, included the acclaimed The End of Equality.

In what was perhaps Kaus's biggest victory to date in his race with Barbara Boxer, the Los Angeles Times decided to remain neutral and refused to endorse either candidate. Which, if you think about it, is kind of a big deal. Here is how The Times characterized both candidates:

We find that we're no fans of incumbent Barbara Boxer. She displays less intellectual firepower or leadership than she should.

We appreciate the challenge brought by Robert "Mickey" Kaus, even though he is not a realistic contender, because he asks pertinent questions about Boxer's "lockstep liberalism" on labor, immigration and other matters.

In an ensuing press release, Mickey Kaus discussed this almost endorsement of his candidacy:

But the Times said it doubted that Kaus would step away from his "Democratic-gadfly persona" were he elected.

"I can see where the Times would have that worry," he said today. "As a blogger, I've been a professional gadfly. But I understand that people need a Senator they can turn to for help -- and they need a Senator to stand up on issues, like the environment and Wall Street regulation, where the need may often be less to find new ideas than to defeat old interests."

"I've always admired the role Daniel Patrick Moynihan played in the Senate. I think there is a role for gadflies and for people who turn over ideas and question dogmas. That's what the Senate was supposed to be all about. But people want a leader too, and I would intend to be one. "They obviously don't think Boxer is one."

As far as who is a realistic contender: "That's for the voters to decide. The point is the paper got a look at both of us and decided not to endorse the three-term incumbent over the blogger."

Today The Tattler proudly endorses Mickey Kaus for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from the State of California. I hope you will join with us on June 8 and support this most worthy of candidates as well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Rather Novel Solution to the Problem of Faithless Local Government

The arrogance of those running our fine local governments can at times be quite insufferable. After all, their power does come from us, and mostly in the form of taxes. Money being what empowers government just like it empowers anything else controlling a lot of it. The big difference being that, unlike in the private sector, the production of value as manifested in the accumulation of money is rarely something we see coming from our City Halls. Government being basically a spender, one that can only replenish itself through the repetitive acquisition of money earned by others.

Which is why some have a grievance with the tax beneficiaries currently enjoying positions of political privilege. It isn't so much the lack of gratitude that offends, because anyone who has achieved an emotionally stable adulthood does not waste a lot of time waiting for that. Rather it is when those who dwell within the taxpayer funded hothouse that provides them with a decently compensated living decide that they know better than those paying the bills. And then go off to do things that many feel are not really in our interest. Which is where we could very well be in Sierra Madre right now.

A good example would be the water rate hike currently being worked in Sierra Madre. Nobody I've spoken to wants it, and the revulsion seems almost universal. Yet the confidence shown by the City that they will be able to slip this by the residents approaches the serene. So much so that they have offered no compelling argument in favor of it, nor do they show any signs of attempting to do so until after the so-called protest period is over. Rather they apparently feel that they'll get what they want, and then use the money to accomplish development goals as they see fit, not us. Their accountability to those whose money they are spending being essentially nonexistent in this matter.

An example of this pristine indifference to the popular will was displayed by our highly compensated City Attorney Tuesday evening. Discussing the water rate hike with our City Manager during a meeting break, she was overheard as saying, "They'll never get the required signatures."

There is a group of folks in Monrovia who have come up with a compelling solution to the problem of faithless local government. Using runaway city employee pensions as a starting point, they are now in the process of getting something very interesting on the ballot there. Employee pensions apparently being as out of control in Monrovia as they are in many other places in this state, including Sacramento.

Here is how an article in today's Pasadena Star News tells the tale:

Group wants to abolish property tax in Monrovia and cut off funding for city employee pensions - A group of residents is pushing for a ballot measure that would abolish the city's decades-old property tax and effectively cut off funding of pensions for city employees. Retirement benefits in Monrovia are fully paid for by the city without any contribution from the employees, according to City Manager Scott Ochoa. Some residents want that practice stopped.

The group has drafted a petition and will soon gather signatures to get a measure on the next ballot eliminating the city's property tax, which contributes $4.2 million toward the city workers' pension plan. "With the current condition of the state of California and federal economies where people are struggling to find work, pay their mortgage and simply put food on their tables, it is unreasonable for the property owners of the City of Monrovia to continue to bear this financial burden which in no way benefits them or their families," reads the petition drafted and signed by John Jogminas, Kathryn Reece-McNeill, and Cyrus Kemp.

I guess the idea being if you can't control the beast, or get it to make wise decisions that are in the interest of those who sustain it, perhaps the best thing to do is what it fears the most. Starve the critter by denying it the tax money it lives on.

Certainly a successful ballot initiative ending property taxes here in Sierra Madre would effectively cripple any of the development initiatives currently being incubated by our new City Council. Or any of a number of other bad ideas, actually. If you ever wanted to put an end to government that believes it is beyond having to answer to its taxpayers, you couldn't find a more effective way of doing it.

Another item of interest here. One of the three people behind this move in Monrovia to put an end to squandered property taxes is a blogger. Cyrus Kemp is the longtime host of Monrovia City Watch. And while this worthy blog has been quiet as of late, it is good to see someone from our brotherhood of obsessed local news junkies taking on the malefactors in such a bold and hopefully effective way.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Civility Is Boring

The thrill is definitely gone. Those exciting nights where the Sierra Madre City Council let loose with their passions and concerns about our little town have been replaced by something else. A kind of quiet placidity that is more herbivore than carnivore. A collective chewing of cuds as it were. You keep waiting for something to happen up there amongst the elected officials, and yet nothing seems to ever quite take off. Two of them hardly ever speak at all. If it wasn't for MaryAnn MacGillivray speaking up as often as she does you'd think you were witnessing the meeting equivalent of a lard sandwich. And while I never doubted the direction the new City Council would be taking us, I couldn't have imagined that the tactic they might be employing would be quite this aggressively passive.

I suppose Joe Mosca having finally gotten the job he wanted could be having an effect here as well. His endless resentment over not being chosen Mayor having had an unfortunate effect in the past on his predilection for occasionally prickly behavior. He does not handle rejection well.

MaryAnn mentioned at the beginning of the meeting that she had attended a joint Monrovia and Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce seminar on SB 375 and has a CD available for anyone interested in hearing what went down. She described it as very informative, and we're all about that.

Public comment had two high points and a low. The issue that received the most eloquent of attention was the water rate hike. Linus Pakulski spoke about how he was mystified why funds were not being set aside for infrastructure improvements all along. It's not like the water costs anything, so how was that money spent? He briefly recapped the situation: 12-1/2% state unemployment, highest sales tax in the nation; and a $40K fee for infrastructure hook ups in Sierra Madre. He then went on to say that although the increase was represented as 16% the first year it quickly escalates to 40% within 5 years. Mr. Pakulski characterized the situation as political manipulation. He said the City Manager shouldn't be asking citizens for more money, she should just deal with the problem.

Donna Sutcliff joined with Linus in objecting to the proposed water rate hike by describing it as an extreme burden for those on Social Security and fixed incomes. Further commenting that "it" - the increase - is underhanded and unethical and the City should have included a ballot with the opportunity for citizens to protest the rate hike. She proposed that a low-income accommodation be made.

It was at this point that Mayor Mosca reminded the faithful that a public hearing on the matter would be held at 6:30 pm on July 13. Which paradoxically is also the day that objections to the hike need to be received by the City Clerk. Something that seems a bit out of kilter to me. How can people - some people anyway - truly know if they object if they haven't had a chance to observe these water rate deliberations? And wouldn't that be after it is too late to object? Very odd timing.

Tim Hayden took to the podium to compliment the City Council on the harmonious nature of tonight's meeting, and then launched into a series of his usual gripes about the Canyon Advisory Committee. This time it was something about how this now disbanded committee didn't have any members experienced with the Municipal Code. The municipal code apparently, at least in the mind of Mr. Hayden, being something that only elect and highly trained professionals such as himself should be permitted to grapple with. He then went on to recommend that once the Planning Commission reviews the Committee's work the public should be allowed to vote on it. I'm certain that the massive public discontent with preserving the Canyon as it is would lead to Mr. Hayden getting everything he wants in an election.

There was some discussion on the purchase of fleet vehicles. It looks like we'll be getting some new vans and sedans, and that seemed to meet with everyone's approval. There was some confusion about "green credits," however. How eight passenger vans could be considered green is beyond me, but maybe there was something here I missed. Air Quality Management District funds would be used, so maybe these new vehicles emit a higher quality of greenhouse gas. The matter was shelved for future revelations.

The TUP for a Real Estate sign for the "Stonegate at Sierra Madre" Development was up next. Teryl Willis spoke about how the used car lot orange flags made the place look like a circus that ran into a mountain, and hoped that they could be placed by the sales trailer rather than out front. Which is much more appropriate if you think about it. Dennis Furtig, a representative of One Carter LLC, reluctantly agreed to give up the flags. He also bemoaned the fact that they haven't sold a single lot since February, something he intimated was due to the lack of adequate signage. Which is kind of an odd observation to make given that One Carter is not exactly on a busy thoroughfare, and few folks would see them anyway no matter what they looked like. But perhaps he meant signs and flags that could be seen from the 210.

The issue of Assessment Districts emerged next, and you can see how this will be an endless "process" leading to an inevitable conclusion. It was agreed that staff would provide a feasibility study on how long it would take to do a feasibility study. At which time they will then launch into a feasibility study on doing the feasibility study, I suppose. The thing really is a hodgepodge of topics. Tree trimming, street lighting, street repair, and landscape maintenance all being thrown into this little plastic shaker and stirred. The key here is street repair. Something that could lead to something very expensive. Keep your eye on that slow moving target.

The General Plan Update Committee was up for consideration next, and again it was a fine example of people saying everything except what was really on their minds. The elephant in the room being cloaked by an unwillingness on the City Council's part to seize it by the tail and face the situation. Or something. The jargon laden term "process" was used several dozen times, always a sign of delay and inconclusiveness. A word that those who use it seem to believe gives them an air of seriousness and profundity. Mayor Mosca proposed a study session be held for the new City Council members, both of whom happily nodded their agreement. Their curiosity apparently never having caused them to take the radical step of looking into the matter on their own, or calling any of the members of the Committee to discuss. It was even suggested that they could go to one of the Committee meetings! That is, if it isn't canceled like all those other meetings.

The confab wrapped up with a discussion about the possibility of making changes to the Sierra Madre Municipal Code regulating the permitting of filming and video production in the City. Something that could actually bring in some cash if properly handled. And create a booming local industry for film extras. We do live in a character rich environment, and outside of pizza delivery that could very well become our foremost enterprise.

I'm telling you, if this keeps up SMTV3 viewership could plummet into the single digits.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Agenda Man: Night Of The Big Spenders!

You can tell that the Shenanigan Era is back by the way the City Council meeting agendas are written. Rather than the clear and open language we've become accustomed to for the last couple of years, now we can see a return to the dense bureaucratic squawk of the bad old days. And even if you find the writing to be abstruse and richly pointless, you can sense that what it really means is the Gang of Four is preparing to get its spend on. And we're talking about some serious cash. Big time Sacramento style spending that will involve indebtedness for years to come.

Of course, the agenda for tonight's meeting isn't without its moments of droll comedy. That we're forking over another $10 grand to our so-called Community Redevelopment Agency should certainly be a poignant reminder that it's probably going to be be sucked up by Sacramento in the next round of confiscations. Which, while it is certainly better that the state should use this money to help fund California's public education system than what it was originally intended for, wouldn't it be even better if we didn't have a CRA at all? As far as our property taxes go, Sierra Madre's CRA has become the equivalent of the Gulf Oil Leak. Our money keeps gushing out and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Better to just plug the damn thing and shut the whole mess down.

Then there are the deliberations our City Council will engage in over the very serious matter of the Temporary Use Permit (or "TUP" for the acronym infected) for "Stonegate At Sierra Madre." Which I guess is the name some marketer came up for what is more commonly referred to here in town as "McMansions On the Hill." Hopefully John Buchanan will cut the ribbon.

Now in the past there had been discussions regarding signage up there on the rocky road to nowhere. And it was generally agreed that the sign should be small, unobtrusive, very temporary, and in no way like the kinds of big old things you can see out on the 210 freeway hawking banks and lite beer. However, we are in the new era now, and I suspect we'll be hearing talk about how important it is that this TUP be for a sign that is noticeable and clear. After all, there are some big old houses to be sold. Hopefully the Stonegate sign won't come with flashing multi-colored lights and a North Korean-style public address system.

And you just know the Go4 is dying to disband our current General Plan Committee and spend that $300,000 on a consultant that will cook up the SB 375 compliant document they so ardently desire. The last thing any of them want is a General Plan that will in any way assert the traditional independence of Sierra Madre. That is something they most decidedly wish to see come to an end. It gets in the way of business.

Not to be in any way dismissive of their importance, but these kinds of items are just low hanging fruit. Certainly subjects that we are very familiar with. However, did you know that there is something new mixed into this agenda? And it is revealed to us in only the vaguest of terms? Snuck in, as it were, upon little cat paws in hopes that none of you would notice? That can be seen way down there at item #4. The sucker punch is delivered this way:

Discussion - 2010-2011 Assessment Districts - Engineer's Report And Resolutions Of Intention No.'s 10-33, 10-34, And 10-35 ... Recommendation that the City Council defer increases in the amounts of these assessments; and adopt Resolution No. 10-33 initiating assessment proceedings for FY 2010-2011 and directing the City Engineer to prepare and file and (sic) Engineer's Report; and Adopt Resolution No. 10-34 approving the Engineer's Report for FY 2010-2011; and adopt Resolution of Intention No. 10-35, to levy the assessments for FY 2010-2011 and set the Public Hearing on said assessments for July 13, 2010. Additionally, staff seeks direction whether a feasibility study on the establishment of a city wide street assessment should be undertaken.

This is most likely the initial foray into Joe Mosca's campaign threat to raise around $5 million big ones to pave our streets. Rather than the fiscally responsible pay-as-we-go approach to repairing our streets, Joe would rather do it Sacramento-style and borrow a lot of money through the bond process, effectively saddling us with 20 years of significant new debt. The service alone would end up being around half the amount, or $2.5 million dollars.

Of course, by the time all that money comes due in 20 years, Joe and anyone else involved will be long gone. As would the effects of the street repairs. But that would hardly be their problem. And, as anyone not born yesterday can tell you, "feasibility study" most certainly means consultants. Someone to hold the hands of City Staff as they traipse down the primrose path of bond issuance.

The good news here is that, like the water rate hike that has so many in town up in arms, this can be stopped if 51% of the folks in town decide that they don't want to face 20 years of paying service on a $5 million dollar street repair bond. If you follow this link you'll be taken to something known as the Streets and Highways Code Section 22585 - 22595. And, unlike the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting, the issues in question are laid out in clear and unmistakable language. Let me cite the two most relevant passages:

22585. Proceedings for the formation of an assessment district shall be initiated by resolution. The resolution shall:

(a) Propose the formation of an assessment district pursuant to this part.
(b) Describe the improvements.
(c) Describe the proposed assessment district and specify a distinctive designation for the district.
(d) order the engineer to prepare and file a report in accordance with Article 4.

The descriptions need not to be detailed but shall be sufficient if they enable the engineer to generally identify the nature, location, and extent of the improvements and the location of the assessment district.

And then there is this:

22593. Proceedings for the formation of the assessment district shall be abandoned if there is a majority protest, as defined in Section 53753 of the Government Code.

Which is why the hearing is being proposed for July 13, 2010. It will be the same night as the hearing on the water rate hike. Some coincidence, eh?

So it looks like not only are the Moscateers trying to raise our water rates 40%, but they're also going to try and whack us upside the head with a $5 million dollar bond that will eventually cost the taxpayers of this town around $7.5 million to repay. All with intention, I believe, of tarting the old town up for the real love of their lives, developers and development.

And they certainly are not wasting any time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

State Seizures Of City Redevelopment Cash: Is It Actually A Good Thing?

If you listened to certain City officials you would think it was the most outrageous government act since something called "taxation without representation" was upsetting people back in the colonial days. The taking of City redevelopment funds has created a tremendous hue and cry, at least amongst those who live and breathe within the taxpayer funded hothouse we provide for them. $2.05 billion in redevelopment money was seized from cities just like ours and shipped north to Sacramento. And the reason? So it can be reallocated to cash starved public schools throughout the state.

If you ever want to be able to read every single newspaper article dealing with the affairs of California all in one place, and on a daily basis, you need to go to a site called TotalCapitol. One of the really cool things they do there is rate the amount of hits these articles are getting, and then send the most popular to the top of the vast heap of daily news items they host. The feature is called "Top News & Opinion," and it is about as complete a sensory overload of Golden State political and governmental minutia as you could ever hope for.

Now last Friday an Orange County Register opinion piece by Steven Greenhut lingered at the top of the Total Capitol news article heap for the entire day. The reason being that it was generating hits o' plenty on the internet. Entitled "Grab that redevelopment cash," the column made the rather contrarian claim that when the State Legislature glommed up all that redevo-dough, it didn't just do a good thing, it also accomplished about the only really positive bit of work Sacramento has done in a while. That is, and in true Robin Hood style, robbed the grubby well-to-do and gave the money to the deserving poor.

I'm going to quote a few passages for you. See if you don't agree.

Few things are more ironic, and infuriatingly funny, than listening to California's notoriously ham-fisted redevelopment agencies complain about the state's "theft" of redevelopment funds. Last week, California cities had to comply with a Sacramento Superior Court judge's ruling requiring them to make the first of two payments transferring a total of $2.05 billion to the state over the next two years.

We heard whining, weeping and gnashing of teeth. "They have stolen more than $6 million from the city of Vista," said that city's Councilwoman Judy Ritter, as reported in the North County Times. Ritter and other San Diego County officials followed the California Redevelopment Association playbook to the max: They posed at a press conference with a giant $165 million check to emphasize all the supposedly vital funding that would be diverted from "job creation and economic development."

Actually, the court ruling that allows the state to divert redevelopment funds to public schools is one of the few bright spots in a dismal state budget picture, as state legislators continue to resist the fundamental budget reforms needed to close a gaping $19 billion fiscal hole.

Hard-pressed California taxpayers should not shed any tears for redevelopment agencies, which know a thing or two about theft, given their wanton abuses of eminent domain powers and their misuse of taxpayer dollars for corporate welfare and cadres of government dependent consultants. CRA and the League of California Cities, another taxpayer-funded interest group that has been decrying the loss of redevelopment money, funded a campaign that ultimately stopped serious eminent-domain reform in California, leaving property owners vulnerable to seizures if cities find a "better" use for their land or business. It's good to defund those agencies.

Indeed it is. Having our current City Council flush with redevelopment cash would be like allowing an infant to play with a meat cleaver. Particularly given the bobblehead penchant for unseemly redevelopment and bringing in things like chain retail. Better that the state take the money away so that our fellows cannot be tempted do something stupid like use it to help fund some kind of multi-abuse complex where Taylor's Meats now stands. All in the hopes of fulfilling the addled dream of attracting something like a Sit N' Sleep or BevMo.

Redevelopment turns cities into giant tax-sucking mechanisms that sacrifice the general quality of life for more sales-tax revenue. Redevelopment officials are so intent on maximizing the tax benefit of every parcel that they clamp down on freedom within cities ... Small mom-and-pop stores and suburban-style housing developments are viewed as liabilities, while city officials compete with other cities to lure malls and car dealers and high-rise condos. The cities that have become most dependent on this redevelopment cash - which redirects dollars from schools and public safety to "economic development" - cry the loudest as the state takes back a small percentage of these ill-gotten gains.

As we've seen here recently, the same people who pushed for Measure CC (the parcel tax that would have raised a few million bucks for the Pasadena Unified School District) are now those wailing the loudest over the Sacramento's CRA snatch back. I personally think that the best possible use for Sierra Madre's remaining redevelopment money would be to turn it all over to the public schools. Though somehow I can't imagine those great heroes of the PUSD, John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, getting behind that one any time soon.

The Looney Views News Typo of the Week!

One of our most popular features is back with a truly splendid example of the art of the typo. Actually this particularly bizarre instance came from last week (May 15). Things got so busy around here that I forgot all about it. But it is a fine specimen of Hapless Harriet's flapping synaptical editing process, and certainly does deserve being honored here on The Tattler. The cited article was published on the front page (where all the best LVN typos seem to occur), and is entitled, "A True Sierra Madre Treasure."

On Friday, Sierra Madre resident Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx was honored as the city's 2010 Older American Of The Year. Xxxx is an active member of the Sierra Madre Friends of the Library Board and United Methodist Church, past Scout Leader, strong supporter of the Sierra Madre Environmental Action Council and much, much more.

Each year the President of the United States, the Governor of California and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors designate the month of May as Older American Month. This year's theme is "Age Strong, Lice Strong!" a motto certainly appropriate for the effervescent, ever busy Xxxxxxxxx.

Now I have never noticed any correlation between older Americans and effervescent lice, but I do know that the nitwits at the LVN sure do come up with some astonishing typos. You don't think there might be some disgruntled employee there slipping them in on purpose, do you?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Are City Staffs Now Planning Their Own Obsolescence?

Can it be that a lot of the regionalization projects City staffs within the SCAG region are now working on will eventually lead to employee redundancies and even their own obsolescence? As we have seen in the corporate world radical staffing reductions can be achieved when companies merge their assets, thereby saving a lot of money by paring down the head count. So perhaps all the happy talk about "cities working together to help solve their problems" through regional government is more about the savings that can be realized through employee cutbacks than kumbayah?

An article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times recently highlights some of the regionalization pressures cities are under these days as they deal with huge debt loads and declining tax revenues. Here is how The Times laid out the predicament faced by three of our neighboring cities, plus the possible solution:

Cash-strapped cities consider joining forces - Officials in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are considering consolidating services from police dispatches to technology, jointly purchasing supplies and linking public transit.

Faced with multimillion-dollar budget deficits brought on by spiraling revenue and escalating employee costs, Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are considering consolidating a wide range of services and programs to save money. Early discussions have focused on joint police dispatches, technology services and joining together to buy supplies from paper clips to brake pads. Long-term ideas include a bus service linking the three cities. The goal is to pull inspiration out of desperation, officials said, as they try to weather the recession. The ideas are in their infancy, but officials stress that they won't be easy because regionalizing services probably will lead to staff reductions.

Up until now any discussions of regionalization we've had usually dealt with the pressures being put upon towns such as ours to accommodate the kinds of massive development called for in such Sacramento initiatives such as SB 375. The Jetsons-style vision of the future that sees us exiting our bucolic single family home lifestyles for densely developed core cities closely packed around transportation corridors and employment centers.

But certainly that can't be all there is to it. As we know, the driving force of most everything in this old world of ours is money. SB 375, despite all the greenwash being used to sell it to the citizens, is in many ways an effort to prop up such failing California industries as development and construction. The pitch to the suckers being that they aren't giving up a higher quality lifestyle, they're helping to save the world. Now go turn your house over to the city and buy yourself a nice fifth floor condo.

Isn't it logical that one of the forces also behind the kinds of regionalization coming along with SB 375 would be the ability to consolidate city services within a larger regional apparatus? And in the process saving a whole lot of increasingly scarce money?

Why would every city need a planning department when planning is being handled by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)? Why would every city need to maintain a finance department when fiscalization of regional resources becomes the way taxation and the allocation of funds are accomplished? Or a fire department when that service can be easily handled through budgetarily more efficient superstations located throughout the San Gabriel Valley? And beyond the vanity factor, are there really any good reasons for each and every town maintaining a Police Department when that responsibility can be easily pooled into a regional force, one that would be far cheaper to staff, maintain and (most importantly), pension?

"You have to look at the impacts on labor, budget savings, service levels, and then look at the amount of brain damage you have to go through to actually pull this off," said Burbank City manager Mike Flad. "When you're dealing with 80% of your budget being labor, efficiency means less people."

In Sierra Madre we haven't been quite as pressured by the financial constraints being faced by our sister cities, at least for now. The UUT hike has been far more provident than even its advocates hoped, and the revenues raised through this tax increase have been able to float a lot of otherwise quite expensive boats through this seemingly endless recession. But the UUT hike does have a sunset clause, and given the financial pressures many now face in their business lives, there is no guarantee that the voters will ever approve such a thing again. And then how will Sierra Madre be able to justify some of the things we're paying for now? Under conditions such as those saving a million bucks a year by signing on with another city's police department might get a second, and far harder, look. Something that could be just the beginning of some other very serious cost cutting as well.

Politics is often about convincing people to support things that are actually detrimental to their own personal interests. Done in order to help a favored constituency achieve its financial goals. In Sierra Madre's recent election we saw gullible voters become convinced that the regionalist pro-development candidates were actually the ones working towards preserving the independent small community that most here favor. That the perpetrators employed some of the nastiest tactics seen this side of Los Angeles to make it happen is, of course, to be expected. It's how the big boys get what they want.

But here as elsewhere it is not just the voters that are needed to achieve these kinds of unpopular goals. The willing cooperation and hard work of city staffs and employees are required as well. People who could very well be happily working towards a time when their services will no longer be required.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How To Stop The Water Rate Increase Scam


This is how it can be done. Copy and paste the letter Don Watts has provided below, along with the attached reply form, and e-mail it to everybody you know. Then tell your friends to e-mail it to everyone that they know. Make sure it is understood that unless they fill out this form and send it in, they are going to get hit with a whopping 16% increase on their water bill. And soon.

Under Prop 218 we have the right to put a stop to wholesale rate increase scams such as the one currently being run on this town. But it will mean that 51% of the water rate payers in Sierra Madre will need to fill out Don's form and mail it in. A tall order for certain. Yet none of us should ever forget, we have some hard won Constitutionally guaranteed rights here in California. And among them is the right to review and reject de facto tax increases such as this one. Let's do it.



171 Adams Street

Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024

626.355.4576

wattsaia@yahoo.com


Don Watts A.I.A.

Architect


Memo

To: My neighbors

From: Don Watts

CC:

Date: May 19, 2010

Re: Your water rate increase

Dear Neighbor,

Under Prop 218 , the City is required to have your approval of a 16% rate increase. If you don’t respond , your non-response means you approve this rate hike.

I personally don’t approve of this rate increase because the added funds can be used to pay for new infrastructure development. This is simply welfare for developers. If they build they should be paying for their own increased capacity needs, separate from the existing residences

Your current water rate payments now are meant to pay for the overhead necessary to keep your water system working, not to expand development that will mean greater demand and possible water rationing. Water is becoming a scarce commodity, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to raise rates.

Take 15 minutes and send or give the City Clerk your no vote, otherwise your non response is a yes vote.

Attached is a note you can use to mail and pass on. Time is of the essence.

Respectfully,

Don Watts

City Clerk City of Sierra Madre

232 West Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Dear Sierra Madre City Council, City Manager, Director of Public Works, and City Clerk,

I protest the proposed water rate increase charges for 2010 to 2015.

Sincerely,

Date:_________________________________
Name:_________________________________
Street Address:_______________________
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prop 218 and the Water Rate Hike

In the Tattler comments section recently a very interesting conversation broke out regarding the possibility of Proposition 218 allowing bill payers here a say on any proposed hike in our water rates. I thought I'd post the exchange here because I think this matter deserves some further review. Given the as yet unstated agenda of our new City Council, everything should now be considered subject to further examination and review. And if it involves us paying more for a basic city service, then we have an obligation to exercise due diligence. Otherwise we are really doing nothing here.

This is what I wrote about the matter in my May 12 review of our most recent City Council confab:

Bruce Inman spoke about the many reasons why our water rates will go up. There were quite a few of them, and he at least seemed to feel he'd made a good case. Of course, we had to be told that it was good for us because it would help us save water. Tiered rates encourage people to use less, or so the theory goes. But wouldn't it be great if just once when utility rates or taxes are raised we aren't helpfully informed that it is beneficial to our well-being? I'm not sure how much longer the tired notion that having to pay more for government services is good for us will work. Maybe the consultants told Bruce to say that?

Apparently there is a way for the public to overturn any water rate hike under Prop 18. It involves getting 51% of the city's water customers down to a public hearing and counted as being against it. The logistics of making such a protest stick are pretty daunting, though. Just the cost of getting enough torches into the hands of a few thousand people alone would be excessive. The Council voted to move this on to its inevitable conclusion, and a nearly 16% increase in our water rates goes to a public hearing in July.

There wasn't much of anything said in comments about this the next day. However, on Thursday of last week the following exchange broke out on the water rate hike proposal put forward by Mr. Inman. Here is how it went.

May 13, 2010 7:12 PM: Re: Water Hike ... Needed for aging infrastructure or an excuse for gouging the "Little Persons" to enable a free lunch for the Development interest. Have you forgotten the "much needed" new pipeline on Grandview? It was promoted as an emergency situation. Of course, as it turned out, it was used to provide water to the Stonehouse development.

May 14, 2010 5:40 PM: Proposition 218, don't we need a vote of the residents to raise water rates? Sierra Madre could soon be in violation of this proposition. Easy to look up. Our last City Attorney (Michael Colontuano, Sandra Levin's partner) wrote an interesting article about this in 2004 for the League of California Cities magazine. Yes, the water rate increase could be used for bringing about a bigger pipeline for the development we avoided by defeating the Downtown Specific Plan. That will be back on the table now with Mosca, Moran, Buchanan and Walsh at the wheel. Keep an eye on closed meetings regarding the parking lot below Howies. That is one of the last public properties that the city (citizens) still own.

May 14, 2010 5:40 PM: Proposition 218 (ceres.ca.gov) - In November 1996, voters enacted Proposition 218, a Constitutional amendment intended to close the so-called Proposition 13 loopholes relative to excise taxes, benefit assessments, and fees, and to settle arguments over the applicability of proposition 62, the voting requirement for general taxes. Proposition 218 added Articles XIII C and XIII D to the California Constitution. Pursuant to Section 1 of Proposition 218, it is to be known as the "Right to Vote on Taxes Act." Proposition 218 both controls how general taxes are levied and requires certain previously levied general taxes to be ratified by the voters.

Proposition 218 reduces all taxes to either general taxes or special taxes. It defines a general tax as "any tax imposed for general governmental purposes." A special tax is "any tax imposed for specific purposes which is placed in the general fund." No special district (the definition of which includes school districts) may impose a general tax. By virtue of their specific purpose, taxes imposed by a special district are defined as special taxes. Charter cities, who has successfully argued that the statutory initiative Proposition 62 did not require them to submit general taxes to popular vote, now lose that argument to Proposition 218"s constitutional amendment.

No local general tax may be imposed, extended, or increased until it has been submitted to and approved by a majority of voters in the jurisdiction. Tax proposals can only be considered at scheduled general elections, unless the governing body of the city, county, or special district unanimously votes to place the question on the ballot at a special election.

May 16, 2010 6:08 PM: Prop 218 will not be triggered for a water rate increase. Colontuano is considered the premier Prop 218 attorney working on behalf of cities throughout the State. He figures out ways to circumvent the spirit of Prop 218 while still being in legal compliance, or at least creating a defensible position.

May 16, 2010 8:46 PM: We watched Colontuano create a defensible position here - for the hillside developers.

That is where things stood for a day or so. But then the following post was left a couple days later, and I have now been told by someone who knows better than I that this is pretty much the definitive comment of the series. Check it out.

May 18, 2010 11:10 AM: Prop 218 - for a water hike affecting all residents with a water bill, they must have a 45 day notice in writing (by mail) of the increase. The residents have that time period to contest the increase in writing (sent to the City Clerk so it gets recorded) and if a majority rejects it (again in writing) the City Council can not implement it. Demand a mailer that has a return rejection form included. The City of San Diego has a notice like that. Cities will try to be sneaky and not properly inform the public that they can reject a water rate hike. This is the aspect of Prop 18 that does not require a vote of the people but does require the mailed notice which people can then reject in writing. So we can make a difference and fight their funding. The budget is balanced now. Watch the parcel numbers on the closed meetings so they do not sell the three parking lots we still have as public property (not owned by the CRA). The lot below Howie's, East Montecito (Baldwin and Montecito), and the Mariposa parking lot. They have to be publicly noticed for sale at a City Council meeting. There are rules per the State of California. Read them and make sure they are followed.

Sounds like this return rejection form on the water rate hike notice to be sent out by City Hall is a good enough issue. And definitely something that needs to be discussed during Public Comment at next week's City Council meeting. We have some rights here, and there is no good reason for our not exercising them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Win $2,500 from the Federal Government for Making a Video On Why Rulemaking Matters!

You know how it works, right? Our elected officials, whether they be
Congressmen, Senators, State Assemblymen or State Senators, get to make the laws. But once our legislators have taken mighty truths and crafted them into the law of the land, their work is then passed on to the bureaucracy for application and finishing. And if you think people are flat out disgusted with our national and state representatives, it is even worse for the poor woebegone slobs that have to take the fruits of those mighty labors and turn them into annoying rules and regulations. The kinds of things mere citizens such as ourselves have to deal with constantly in our daily lives.

Apparently the long suffering souls who toil daily in our bureaucracies are not happy with the lowly status they enjoy with those they serve. And at least some of them have decided that they're finally going to do something about it. The Environmental Protection Agency, which functions kind of like the California Air Resources Board (CARB) does here locally (wait'll you get a load of the RHNA numbers they're going to hit us with in a couple of years!), has now initiated a contest in hopes of changing those negative perceptions. One where you can win $2,500 in taxpayer dollars for making a video helping them to convince people about the importance of rules and regulations. And they've even made a video introduction for this contest to help you along. It is called Rulemaking Matters! Video Contest Introduction. This video being, of course, an explanation of the rules of the contest. Because rules matter. Click here for further instruction.

Of course, not everyone will follow the simple instructions to make a short and creative video that highlights the importance of government regulations. But wouldn't the world be just so much better a place if people took the time to understood these kinds of things? And then find it in their hearts to comply, rather than cracking wise about it? Here is an example of the kind of inappropriate and uncivil video that won't win you a single penny of the EPA's $2,500.

Now having evolved (or devolved depending on your viewpoint) into a kind of a political agnostic, particularly on the topic of something so inane as party politics as practiced in the State of California, does have its advantages. And one of them is that I can now enjoy reading any old news site I like no matter what their overarching political philosophy. For me it has all become an ala carte political world. I get to take the good and leave the bad behind. You should try it sometime, it is very liberating.

One site I've recently come to enjoy is entitled The Freeman - Ideas On Liberty. Very Libertarian. And as a very nice segue from the video contest detailed above, here is a brief summary of their Fifteen Things to Despise About Government Regulation article, which was posted there on May 11.

1. Laws and regulations may institutionalize bad choices. Example: Farmers in California, enjoying subsidized water prices, grow water-intensive crops such as rice and cotton in desert areas despite endemic water shortages.
2. Special interests lobby the government to get their products or services mandated by regulation. Regulation becomes part of an overall business strategy, and winning advantages a full time job for thousands.
3. Regulations can create (or destroy) entire industries overnight. Corporations, aware of the power of government regulation, lobby Congress for both protection and advantages. Which they often get, and at our expense.
4. Regulations are often the result of compromise, but what is often politically possible may be neither practical nor environmentally friendly.
5. Lobbyists may support regulations to hurt their competition. Influence becomes more important than the public good as market forces become less important than winning regulatory advantages.
6. Regulations can eliminate or alter feedback, which makes the necessary evolution of the peoples' business more difficult.
7. "Hard cases make bad law." All too often regulations are hastily written in response to the public demand that government "do something." Panic legislation can give a kind of permanence to the unfortunate conditions that created it in the first place.
8. Regulations have unintended bad side effects. New laws or regulations may change the incentives people face and encourage them to act in ways lawmakers had not foreseen.
9. Regulators don't bear the costs of their regulations and so have little incentive to ensure benefits outweigh those costs.
10. Public officials are self-interested, and their self-interest may not always be in the public interest. Careers can be advanced by emphasizing the needs of the involved industries over the needs of the taxpayers.
11. Once in place, regulations are very difficult to eliminate.
12. Industries exert enormous influence over the government agencies created to regulate them. Which only serves to solidify the positions of those companies that already dominate the regulated business.
13. Laws and regulations stifle innovation, and reward the same old things.
14. National regulations can create nationwide problems, no matter what the more local needs may be.
15. The existence of regulations and regulatory bodies give people a false sense of security.

I suspect that once the current regime here is Sierra Madre transforms us from being an independent city to one firmly folded into the Sacramento controlled regional planning bureaucracies they are so enamored of, the resulting flurry of outside regulations and rules will make most folks positively dizzy. That is all part of having the responsibilities of local government removed, you know. What used to be done by local people will now be carried out by the regional government and its aligned contractors. With our priorities more often than not coming in a distant second.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Few Follow Up Stories

The SNF Mystery Continues: The currently available story on the vanished 'For Sale' signs at the Skilled Nursing Facility is both vague and unpromising. The immediate reason for the disappearance of the signs being that the deal between the owner and the company hired to sell the place is up. There apparently was a time element involved, and since nothing had happened and time had run out, there was no reason for the signs to remain in place. They just had to go.

However, the second half of what we've been hearing is that nobody new has been brought in to continue the process of finding someone to take the place. The word being that the current and rather aesthetically indifferent owners haven't quite decided exactly what it is they want to do with the troubled nursing facility.

The timing issue does raise some questions, though. Having the deal with the Realtor hired to sell the place scheduled to run out just after the Sierra Madre election had taken place does make it all seem like the effort was a little on the insincere side. And perhaps that was the time Fish Construction knew they might want to be reviewing their options? More news on this story as it becomes available.

Why I will never vote 'yes' on a state bond issue again: We all had a good laugh over Hasan Ikhrata's brilliant idea at the recent La Quinta/SCAG conglomeration. That being since redevelopment funds were becoming increasingly scarce these days due to Sacramento confiscations, incentives would need to be put into place to encourage cities to work towards sustainability. Which I guess is why Hasan unveiled the notion that a $2 million dollar prize could be made available so that cities can compete for big cash prizes for appropriate planning. The criteria for winning being that you make your city as spectacularly compliant to the demands of SB 375 as possible.

But did you know that there are some other ways to plan your way to Sacramento gold? Apparently there is something known as the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentives Program, and they are taking applications to win the big bucks as we type. Known as SB 732, and also the brainchild of California State Senator Darrell Steinberg, it offers an Ikhratian carrot to those cities and towns feeling the SB 375 stick. Here are how the prize criteria break down:

The sum of five hundred eighty million dollars ($580,000,000) shall be available for improving the sustainability and livability of California's communities through investment in natural resources. The purpose of this chapter include reducing urban communities' contribution to global warming and increasing their adaptability to climate change while improving the quality of life in those communities.

Just so you know, this money became available when Proposition 84 was passed by the voters. Originally designed to help keep our water pure and our beaches clean, Prop 84 apparently has now become (at least in part) a grant program for cities that are willing to work to get their planning right with AB 32 and SB 375. Here is how this is described:

The Sustainable Communities Planning Grant is funded by Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006. It added Division 43 to the Public Resources Code, Chapter 9, Sustainable Communities and Climate Change Reduction Section 75065(a), authorizing the Legislature to appropriate $90 million for planning grants and planning incentives that reduce energy consumption, conserve water, improve air quality, and provide other community benefits.

So when you cast your 'yes' vote on Prop 84, all with the intent of cleaning up beaches and making the rivers nice, would you have ever dreamed that you were also voting for something that would provide money to city planners hellbent on bringing high density development to places like Sierra Madre? And, to take this to its logical extreme, perhaps the reason "Go Slow Joe" Mosca would want to spend $300,000 on consultants to place SB 375 elements into our General Plan is so that he can try and claim some of these Prop 84 moneys?

Like I said, no more 'yes' votes on state bond issues for me. Apparently once these bonds are approved and the funds effectively borrowed, you never can tell what the money will be used for.

Something rather unbelievable. You might recall our discussions of a California Assemblyman by the name of Isadore Hall III. He was the gentleman who authored a bill that made it possible for Ed Roski Jr. to avoid the ignominy of having to suffer CEQA reviews before he could build an NFL Stadium and adjacent shopping mall in City of Industry. The real purpose of Hall's bill being to cut off at the knees any attempt by certain concerned area residents to tie the boondoggle up in court until the environmental and sustainability (to use the jargon) issues were worked out. We wrote about this in October of 2009, and you can access the article here.

Well, it turns out that Assemblyman Hall is continuing his fine work even today. Concerned about preserving the legacy of a former State Legislator, he has now proposed a bill that would rename a portion of the 405 Freeway the Kevin Murray Highway. Kevin Murray being a fellow who served for 8 years in the state legislature, forced to retire in 2006 due to term limits. Here is how columnist Robert Rector describes the possible ramifications of the honor Hall wishes to bestow upon his esteemed colleague:

According to Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters (Murray's) legislative career was about average. He carried a few significant bills, including one aimed at encouraging installations of solar energy panels on roofs. Murray also carried some questionable measures, such as one stemming from the messy divorce of Southern California supermarket tycoon and major political donor Ron Burkle, to close public access to legal documents in divorce cases.

Unfortunately, Murray joined the politicians-with-their-pants-down brotherhood when a Los Angeles County Park Police officer found him with a prostitute in Murray's state-leased black Corvette, parked outside John Anson Ford Theater just after he was sworn in as a state senator. Apparently that qualifies him for everlasting commemoration, at least in Hall's eyes.

These little insights into the thinking of the Legislative Eminences currently wrestling with California's myriad problems up in Sacramento really do give us hope that the future will be a better place.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Skilled Nursing Facility: Where Did Those 'For Sale' Signs Go?

We've all heard about Black Helicopters. Those mysterious military aircraft that some suspect can be seen hovering in the skies when particularly unpleasant things are being done to this freedom loving land by mysterious and unknown international conspiracies and cabals.

But here in Sierra Madre we have a different worry. And that would be Black Maseratis. There was one seen at the Skilled Nursing Facility the day after our City Council reorganization. Occupied by burly looking gentlemen with Ross Perot haircuts and wearing nearly identical business clothing. And wouldn't you know it? They were back at the Skilled Nursing Facility again just yesterday. What these dudes have been doing there nobody seems to know for sure. But there is one thing that is very certain. When they got back into that car yesterday, and then sped off to wherever it is they come from, the 'For Sale' signs at the Skilled Nursing Facility were gone.

Now you may recall that those 'For Sale' signs were a pretty big deal not so long ago. After years of watching the SNF falling into disrepair, it was decided by the City Council that an effort should be made to get something happening there. The building had become a symbol that the opponents of Measure V rallied around. To them it was certain proof that the economic viability of Sierra Madre had been forever harmed when the Downtown Specific Plan was voted out of existence. So when actual 'For Sale' signs appeared on the site, it was
seen as the coming of a Sierra Madre renaissance. We were finally moving forward and the building that had become the center of so much local contention would soon be just another prosperous Sierra Madre business again.

But now those signs are gone. And nobody seems to know why. Has the property been sold? Are we finally going to get the Urgent Care Center this town so desperately needs? Or could it be that we're about to witness a less happy outcome. Has Fish Construction taken the Skilled Nursing Facility off the market? Perhaps they've worked out a special understanding with the Moscateers? One that involves a possible return to planning for the kind of high density condominium settlement that was the reason this property had been purchased in the first place?

As of this typing nobody has any answers. But a lot of people are working on this, and as the day goes on we hope to post new information. If you have anything you would like to share, or theories you would want to air out, or just have some questions to ask, then please post them here. Because there are a lot of people who need to know.