Friday, July 30, 2010

The Odd Couple? The Sierra Madre Congregational Church and Mayor Joe Mosca

One thing that I got whipsawed on during last April's election was the "gay lifestyle" issue. I had never even mentioned the term for fear of inadvertently bringing the political correctness police upon my person. It got me anyway, but not in quite the way some might assume.

I first became aware that I had a bit of a situation while attending a campaign coffee at a supporter's house. A friend who lives just down the street from me, and about as loyal an advocate of my candidacy as I had last April, pulled me aside to confide something. A socially conservative Christian lady, and clearly uncomfortable with what she was about to share, she'd decided it was the right thing to do. It had to be said.

"John," she began. "People came to my house today and wanted to pray for me." Not being a particularly devoted Church kind of guy (I have an unequivocal faith in God, though many of the middlemen claiming to speak for Him have given me some pause), I put on my best look of concern. "Yes?" I asked. My neighbor cleared her throat and continued. "They're going to pray for me because I have one of your campaign signs in my front yard." She had my attention because, let's face it, this sounded vote threatening. "Why would my sign in your yard cause them to pray for you?"

"Because you support the Gay Agenda. They found you saying so on your blog."

They pretty much had me dead to rights on that one. There is an article around 300 or so posts back in the pile where I discussed my opposition to Proposition 8. I believe that anyone should be allowed to marry the individual of their choice, and it really isn't anyone's business who that person might be. I work in an industry where a lot of my coworkers are gay, and this government enforced denial of their freedom to marry has been especially hurtful to many of them. I offer no apologies for this opinion because I frankly cannot see how other people choose to live their lives is any of my business. Or yours, for that matter.

What seemed odd about this visitation my friend received from those counseling her against supporting me because of my opinion on gay marriage is that they made no mention of Joe Mosca. Joe, of course, is a noted supporter of the gay agenda, and shares in my belief that gay people should have the right to marry. And, like myself, he was also running for City Council.

So could this have been a little Swiftboating done on Joe's behalf? Those supporting the Bobblehead Ticket left precious little of that sort of thing on the table, so I personally wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. After all, I was also accused by some geniuses of wanting to outsource our volunteer fire department in order to save the city money.

In circles where this cause is a prominent concern, Joe Mosca's elevation as the first openly gay Mayor of Sierra Madre became a bit of an national sensation. Publications such as The Dallas Voice, Edge Boston and Edge San Francisco, Chicago Pride, Day Life, Queer Sighted, Curbed, along with many others, ran articles heralding Joe's political triumph. In the gay leaning media that week, Joe Mosca was a hero.

So if our Mayor, Joe Mosca, was to join the Sierra Madre Congregational Church, what would happen? Would he be a hero for them, too? Would he be allowed to ascend to high office there as well? I have often found that the widely suspected political alliance between Mosca and our Congregationalist friends to be an odd marriage of convenience. Joe, as a lockstep supporter of the Sacramento "develop big and at all costs" crowd, would certainly get a leg up from a Church that not only owns a large swath of our downtown area, but has also long yearned to build that kind of mixed use Condo Candy Land nonsense we can see in so many other cities. They stand to make some major green if they do. As they would have had the DSP not been stopped by Measure V, something Joe strongly opposed as well. So in that sense such a political partnership is clearly understandable.

Yet if you were to judge by what can be found on the SMCC website, particularly on the social issues we're concerned with here, these two parties are about as far apart as human beings can possibly get and still be on the same planet.

If you go to the Sierra Madre Congregational Church website and click on the link for the Elder Selection Process, you will find some rather stringent guidelines informing the faithful on the Church Elder selection process. Among "The Qualifications of an Elder" listed are these items:

- Self-controlled, disciplined, demonstrating moral integrity, in both public and private life and possessing a good reputation even outside the church (1 Timothy 3:2 7; Titus 1:7 8).

- The husband of one wife and leading his home well, with children who believe as well and live disciplined lives (1 Timothy 3:2, 4; Titus 1:6).

The key here is the reference to 1 Timothy 3:2. This is the Biblical passage that many Christian social conservatives have cited to buttress their arguments against such things as ordaining gays as ministers and church elders. These edicts are based on the words of the Apostle Paul, a legalistic fellow who constructed many of the laws that have governed churchly affairs over the last 2,000 or so years. Legalistic interpretations of the Gospels apparently being much easier for most folks to deal with than any of the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

Peter Buck, Assistant Professor of Religion at Charleston Southern University, cites Paul's words in an article he boldly calls Signs of the Apocalypse:

The Presbyterian Church USA has been heading in this direction for years. In addition to the constant assault of the pro-gay agenda, the denomination lowered its standard for marriage last year in an effort to give the local presbyteries silent latitude in determining whether to ordain gay men or women or not. At last summer's General Assembly, the denomination noted to remove from their constitution these words adopted in 1996: "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." So much for Paul's call for elders to be "a one woman man." (1 Timothy 3:2; a word-for-word translation.)

A Pastor by the name of Ken Silva adopts a similar viewpoint in an article entitled Bible Outs Gay Marriage. After several sweaty paragraphs on these matters, he draws this conclusion:

So in closing this first part, we look quickly at the ludicrous statement from Phyllis Tickle: "our Lord does not speak much about sexuality." How pious, "our Lord;" for sure, Satan is very pious. But the opening text I used above flies in the face of those foolish enough to put self at center; however, it is written in the last days - "People will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2). Notice carefully that, concerning church doctrine, Tickle takes the emphasis off what God said - the law...Scripture" - and instead elevates the fickle feelings of human beings - "we have changed...we have evolved."

Again, Tickle is correct...but no the way she thinks. A sad result of the seeker sensitive Church Growth Movement is that evangelicalism has indeed changed; it has evolved...away from God's word.

Gay Christians have been working very hard to counter these kinds of arguments as notions about gay marriage and ordination have now reached a far wider level of public attention. Here the site Gay Christian 101.com has this to say on the matter:

Please don't let anti-gay Christian radicals steal your peace of mind. Some Christians use the words found in Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3 against homosexuals. Their faulty thinking goes like this. It's only "natural" for men to love women and women to love men.

Gays and lesbians don't fall in love with the opposite sex (and straight Christians can't figure out why) so they conclude that same-sex love between gays and lesbians must be unnatural or against nature. It's a knee-jerk reaction for those Christians to also insist that "without natural affection" describes gays and lesbians.

I would hope that the Sierra Madre Congregational Church will speak out soon against these unfortunate attitudes, and affirm that their Elder selection process is open to all no matter how they choose to live their private lives.

BIG Wednesday

If you click here you will be taken to the SMCC's "BIG Wednesday" web page. Here they list a series of 5 electives designed to help parishioners enrich their lives as Christians. The topic we're interested in is the fifth one.

Wednesday Night Solutions: A video series by Henry Cloud and John Townsend that presents practical tools for developing life and relationships.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend are two Christian Psychologists with a lot to say about affairs of the heart, stressing in particular the need to "draw lines" between what is beneficial to you as a seeker, and those things that might not be so good for you. Their company, Cloud-Townsend Communications, has sold 100's of thousands of books and videos, and apparently they command handsome fees on the socially conservative Christian lecture circuit as well.

Now the approach here is decidedly gentler than what we saw from the fire breathers above. Their take seems to be along the lines of "love the sinner, but hate the sin." Something which includes the clear message that through your love you can save the souls of those who have "chosen the gay lifestyle."

There are two weblinks that show the Cloud-Townsend videos dealing with gay lifestyle issues. On the first one (linked here) the following question is asked:

My teenage son seems effeminate to me. Even as a child, he never wanted to do typical boy things. I'm worried about his sexuality. What should I do?

On the second weblink (click here) a similar question is asked:

My son is gay. Should I try to make him change or accept him as he is?

In a printed "question and answer" format, Dr. Henry Cloud discusses these delicate matters for us. The overtly "tough love" approach seems to be eschewed here, but the message remains the same. The "gay lifestyle" is wrong, but that doesn't mean you should stop caring for the sinner. Within reason, of course. After all, not everyone is to be saved.

Question: One of my good friends recently announced that he's gay. He knows I don't approve of his lifestyle, but I'm committed to being his friend. However, he's begun acting differently around me and doesn't share things like he used to. How do I let him know where I stand?

Dr. Henry Cloud: If he is a believer, then you have a different role to play. Again, the first step is to show him the love of Jesus and to connect with his heart. He may not talk as he used to with you because he doesn't know if you'll accept him. Remember, grace is unmerited favor - meaning, he doesn't need to be straight to merit your favor.

If he continues to not respond to your attempts to be a good friend, tell him that you sense some distance between you and want to know what is wrong so you can be close friends again. Ask him if the distance is related to his recent announcement. If it is, let him know that you're still his friend and don't want your friendship to end. Your values are certainly important here, but more important is God's love, which can be shown by your friendship. In that way, you may be a real help to him, instead of being a judge who just takes a stand against him. Talk to people who have experience in ministering to those in his lifestyle. Learn from their insight, compassion and honesty.

Now I suspect that this growing distance Doctor Cloud is discussing between the concerned Christian friend and the wayward gay person stems more from the annoyance of privacy invasion than anything else. And Cloud does prepare that caring friend for the disappointment of failure, and the possible need to pack it up and move on.

Jesus was the one through whom both grace and truth were realized (John 1:17). The kind of friend you can be is one who shows both. Sometimes that means showing patience and sometimes it means separating yourself from the situation (1 Corinthians 5:11). Seek answers with love, prayer and wisdom. God bless your efforts to be redemptive.

Redemptive meaning here, of course, saving that lost soul from being gay. Something that I doubt the gay person is at all interested in, even if he could do something about it.

So what I'm going to assume is that this widely suspected relationship between our Mayor and the Sierra Madre Congregational Church must be based on something other than shared social values. Which would apparently make this yet another case where Real Estate Development has trumped ideals.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bell and You

"Any change is resisted because bureaucrats have a vested interest in the chaos in which they exist." - Richard M. Nixon

The City of Bell and its high paying ways have become a topic everybody is talking about lately. Or at least those of us daft enough to care about such things. Some folks discuss it with a kind of "I told you so" glee that stems from their personal belief that things are quite rotten in the not so hallowed halls of government, and have been for a while now. And the people who work in those halls laugh when they talk about Bell as well, but in a nervous sort of way. As if they aren't certain that we don't believe they're not that different from our wayward neighbors down the road.

And it keeps getting worse for the once well compensated officials from the City of Bell. It's not just the ridiculously inflated salaries anymore, or the fact that they were leading lives of out of town suburban splendour on the back of that city's struggling and largely minority working class poor. It could very well be that they kept their elective offices through election rigging and fraud. This from yesterdays Los Angeles Times:

Lawsuit against Bell suggests voter fraud in 2009 election - A lawsuit filed Monday by a former Bell police officer makes a variety of serious allegations about city officials and suggests voter fraud in a 2009 election.

According to the lawsuit, filed by James Corcoran, off-duty police officers in Bell distributed absentee ballots in a 2009 municipal election and told would-be voters which candidates to support. The former police officer alleges in the suit that he was forced out of his job of 25 years in retaliation for informing state and federal authorities about the officers' actions and reporting alleged misconduct involving City Administrator Robert Rizzo and other city officials.

Corcoran alleged that in 2009 he reported to the California Secretary of State and the FBI "that off-duty police officers were taking absentee ballots and providing them to voters to fill out" and that officers were instructing individuals how to vote. He also asserted that ballots were filled out for people who were dead.

There has been some speculation that there are similarities between Bell and our very own Sierra Madre. Of course, we're not talking about salaries here. Even Sandy Levin's part time position here doesn't pay quite that much. But the way the two cities are set up, and how they are both managed and run, do have a few interesting similarities. It apparently is a government model developed many years ago, and shared by more than a few cities here in California.

Here are a few paragraphs from a very insightful article on the California Planning & Development Report site that shed some light on this idea. Entitled "Bell: The Latest 'Suburb of Extraction,'" its author, Bill Fulton, a former elected city official from Ventura, shares these thoughts:

Much of the blame, of course, lies with the individuals involved, who have taken a highhanded approach with taxpayer funds and, at least so far, seem pretty unrepentant about it. But much of the blame also lies with California's Byzantine system of local government, which gives officials in a small, poor city - elected and appointed - what detectives might call opportunity and motive to misbehave.

The motive lies in California's squeaky-clean, progressive-era approach to local elected service, which assumes that you can, as it were, de-politicize politics. Elected officials are supposed to act like a board of directors, not like political hacks. Governmental managers are supposed to be highly trained professionals, not political cronies. Managers should be well-paid for their efficient, productive work; and electeds should be viewed essentially as volunteers, as if they were serving on a nonprofit board.

Pretty much describes what we have here, both in its best, and worst, possible incarnations. Our General Plan struggles can be seen as a great example of this dynamic in action. Professional staff puts pressure on part time elected officials to bring in expensive consultants (who work in a way that city staff finds compatible) to do the job, effectively removing the governing process from citizen control. But residents, sensing that their priorities are getting shoved aside by those who answer to outside forces with potentially hostile agendas, also lean on the City Council. And it is when the elected officials decide to partner with the employees and other associated interests rather than the people they were elected to serve that we begin to see the distrust and even hostility to government that exists in Sierra Madre today.

Of course, in Bell that motivation was simply money. Here in Sierra Madre it is, strangely enough, slavishly serving the interests of developers, big energy corporations, realty concerns, and Sacramento. And I say strangely because I've never quite figured out what it is that motivates these people to work so tirelessly against the wishes of the very people they were elected to serve.

The California system also discourages constituents from being watchdogs in that both governmental and financial system is cumbersome and bafflingly complicated. Different city governments provide services in all kinds of different ways. Some have a police department, some contract with the sheriff; some run fire departments, libraries and parks, while others are located in a special district where the city has nothing to do with providing fire, library, or parks service. So its hard to know what your city does or where your tax money goes. And all California cities are subject to thousands of laws that even the most assiduous city attorney has a hard time keeping up with. A complicated system belongs to those who understand it and, frankly, makes it possible for the insiders to game the system.

Gaming the system being a full time passion of our friends in the Downtown Investors Club.

The notion that city government is too complicated and difficult for the average resident to comprehend, and that everything needs to be done by specialized and highly paid experts who know better than the taxpayers, seems to be endemic in cities such as ours. That was the notion officials in Bell used to justify their salaries, and it is also what is used as the rationale for much of what we see coming out of our City Hall. Of course, these matters aren't really all that hard to understand, and honestly I think that whole "Wizard of Oz" man-behind-the-curtain routine has become pretty hilarious myself. All you need to do is put in the time to unravel the nonsense. Because that is what most of it is.

One more thing. On the latimes.com site there is a thoughtful piece on access to public documents. As someone who spends a lot of time scouring the internet looking for information to use on this blog, having cities put more of their documents on-line seems like a pretty good idea to me.

On the media: Let's put more public documents online - Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know more about the war in Afghanistan than about how much public officials are paid in Los Angeles County. Some private companies and citizens are trying to change that ... (later) The only shame is that we have truckloads of needed detail about a war half a world away but only the barest clue about government hanky panky right under our noses. Think the recent salary scandal in Bell, which paid its top officials like junior executives at a Fortune 500 firm. Is there any reason why every city in California shouldn't put up a Web posting with the salaries of top employees and elected officials? How about a state law that says the information must be posted online?

I personally think that is a marvelous idea. An example of how this would be of great use here in Sierra Madre would be with an aspect of our ongoing struggle to contain City Hall's endless enthusiasm for a huge water rate hike.

On the City of Sierra Madre website there is a brief discussion about the $10 million dollar matching grant we would receive should the city raise $8 million through the water rate increase. Originally the City website identified the source of that grant as the Federal Environmental Protect Agency. The EPA, like many Federal agencies of that kind has, under the Obama administration, been an advocate for things such as Smart Growth. Which is a kind of woolly notion claiming that we can build our way out of things such as Global Warming. This is, of course, the core notion behind SB375. I believe it is also what informs John and Joe's water rate hysteria. We wrote about this here on The Tattler a few weeks back. Which must have had some effect because, if you go back to that same place now on the city's site, you will see that "Federal EPA" has been changed to read "Federal Agency."

If Sacramento were to pass a law that would require City Halls such as ours to put its documents on-line, we would be allowed to read the Federal (or is it EPA?) documents about that grant and what strings - in any - are attached to obtaining this cash. Federal money is often used an inducement to get the folks receiving the cash to adhere to Washington policies. Which in this instance could very well be decidedly big development oriented.

So is that the case here? Will this $10 million in Federal money come with an obligation that we accommodate SB 375 style so-called "Smart Growth" development here in Sierra Madre? To know that for certain we'd need to look at the Federal grant documents. And that is the potential smoking gun we have not been allowed to see.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Keystone Kouncilmembers

"I'm not comfortable with this organic free flowing growing ... thing." - Nancy Walsh

I've finally figured out what John Buchanan and Joe Mosca's problem is. They just can't say what is really on their minds. Everything they attempt to do is for one purpose only, development. It is the reason why they are here and not hanging around some golf course with the rest of the guys from the powerplant. But they'll never actually come out and say this because they know the hue and cry in this town would be deafening. So they just kind of tippy toe around the issues, occasionally raising a small question here and there in hopes of somehow steering the conversation away from such dreaded things as popular democracy, or what the town actually wants. But they never really take things any farther.

Their peculiar situation has pretty much robbed these two fellows of the ability to get very much done. They control this City Council by a 4 to 1 majority, yet somehow still manage to lose no matter what the topic. The reason for this being delightfully simple. They support an agenda that is so overwhelmingly unpopular in this town that they dare not even mention it. And since it is really all they know, there is very little else of importance that they have to say. Which leaves the two of them about as metaphorically bound and gagged as Hannibal Lecter being rolled around on his little warehouse wheel cart.

There were really only two issues up for discussion tonight. One was the water protest, and the other was the General Plan Steering Committee. And has been the case since this City Council was organized, it was once again the Keystone Kouncilmembers versus MaryAnn and the people of Sierra Madre. This was mostly an exercise in damage control and politics on their part because, let's face it, things haven't been going so very well for them lately.

The water protest issue quickly went from tragedy to low farce. The numbers were read, and the narrow and legalistic technicalities that permitted 270 or so protest forms to be thrown out carried the day. However, sensing which way the political winds were blowing on this issue, the Keystoners decided to not make use of this grubby victory, instead opting to initiate something euphemistically known as "community outreach." The assumption being that a couple of thousand Sierra Madreans signed protest forms because they didn't know any better, and all it will take to bring them around is some postcards and e-mail from City Hall.

However, rather than doing any actual reaching out to discover what the community is thinking, this instead turns out to be a plan that will make use of every possible communication and media tool available to the City to sell the water rate hike. In other words, they're going to try and ram this one down the community's throat.

Here is a list of the assets City Hall hopes to exploit in order to peddle something so incredibly unpopular that almost 50% of the water rate paying population of Sierra Madre signed forms and petitions to stop it:

1) Walk and Talk - This used to be called the "Water Walk," but the name had to be changed when people began to ask City Staff to prove that they could recreate something only Jesus can do. This would include a tour of the water works and permission to rub the Siemens tanks. All based on the risky assumption that any of their supporters who might attend are capable of doing both at the same time.

2) SMTV3 - Taking a cue from the old Soviet Union, City Staff intends to create (and at God knows what price) a half an hour propaganda film on our water woes and why those who allowed things to get this bad deserve more of our money. The plan is to show this film over and over again on SMTV3. I would hope they would want to complete the effect by filming it in a grainy black and white.

3) Community Presentations - Boiling down their water film down to 5 minutes, and then coupling it to the wonders of PowerPoint, individuals who live off our taxes would then fan out across the community to do fund raising support for City Hall's costly version of a less popular reality.

4) Rerun Joe Mosca's Re-election Campaign - Apparently this is Joe's idea. That being to make use of all the civic clubs and society groups to help organize the effort to win support for a big fat water rate hike. Which is basically the same tactic used to elect Joe Mosca and his Bobbleheads.

5) Panel Discussions - Supposed experts on the subject would be invited to crack water-wise in front of an empty room. People opposing the hike would be asked to participate, but since they won't also be allowed access to any of the other aspects of the media blitz, I would recommend politely refusing this honor.

6) Use the AM Radio Station - The thing is barely up and running and already it is being used for political propaganda. Anybody not see that one coming? Hopefully they'll get that siren fixed soon so concerned citizens will be able to sound the Blowhard Alert System (BAS).

7) E-Blasts - I doubt that those residents who handed their e-mail address over to the City ever believed that it would be used to spam them.

8) Mailers, post cards, and notices. Apparently there is to be a whole schedule of them, and at $1,500 a pop. Kind of like back in the heyday of the "No on V" mailings.

9) The Looney Views News. It wasn't mentioned because, let's face it, even these people are ashamed to associate themselves with this rag. But you know that this taxpayer supported venue will be used by City Hall on a weekly basis.

Now if all of that isn't wacky enough, there was a revelation that MaryAnn MacGillivray coaxed out of a very reluctant Sandra Levin. That being as long as the next water gouge stays below the maximum dollar limits of its previous incarnation, Prop 218 cannot be used again. Something that I suspect some of the Keystoners might believe strips the residents of their one real recourse. I guess we're just going to have to fill them in on some little numbers known as ballot initiatives. And I'm using the plural here because there is no way that we should stop with just one.

Too Much Democracy for John and Joe?

It is becoming obvious even to me that Denise Delmer is not only one very smart lady, she is also an incredibly focused one as well. And she came up with this uniquely American notion that the people of this City should be allowed to chart the destiny of their own community. Pretty wild idea, eh? Imagine, an independent city free from the grim confines of consultant driven regionalism. Or a General Plan that reads like the DSP. No wonder John and Joe looked so dour.

Under her plan, the General Plan Steering Committee would invite in as many volunteers as possible to give their viewpoints on where they would want to see Sierra Madre in ten years. This wouldn't be a committee per se, because they would then be similarly constrained by the Brown Act. Which is where the real beauty of this thing can be found. Because as volunteers they wouldn't be subject to the Brown Act, which means they can get together any old time they want to talk about the General Plan and what they want it to be. All without expensive legal babysitters and City Staff hovering over them. In the process creating a true peoples' document.

The Mayor seemed quite adamant at one point that no matter how these volunteers were organized, it would be a Brown Act situation. It took a patient explanation from our highly compensated City Attorney to show him the errors in his assumption.

Now John and Joe were obviously troubled by this vision of so much freedom. Which I guess is why they asked Denice to repeat herself over and over. Maybe they thought that if they asked often enough the meaning of her words might change. Their only barely hidden agenda, development, requires the hiring of expensive consultants who would then work to plug into our General Plan key elements designed to enable the central planning mandates of Sacramento as spelled out by SB 375. Their obvious hope is to establish General Plan subcommittees that they could then staff with their compliant cronies, propping them up with highly compensated consultants who would then do the actual damage. Leaving the subcommittee members themselves free to attend dinners honoring their dedication and hard work.

None of which happened last night. Thanks to one very determined and resourceful lady.

One More Thing

Anybody catch Joe's repeated snickering over his calling out the names and addresses of residents walking up to the podium for public comment? They don't call him Eddie Haskell for nothing, you know.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who Won?

So I was out this evening at a late dinner with a bunch of folks from work, and didn't get home until around 11. It wasn't my intention to post anything tonight, I was just going to let what I put up yesterday ride for another day. But there in my email box was the following Google Alert, originating from the Pasadena Star News:

Sierra Madre City Clerk says not enough protests to defeat proposed water hike

Reversing an announcement she made last week, City Clerk Nancy Sue Shollenberger said Monday not enough valid protests were submitted by water customers to defeat a proposed water rate hike.

A total of 1,719 valid protests were received against the hike - 129 short of the 1,848 needed for a majority to defeat the proposal, Shollenberger said.

Now there will be those who will claim that by coming up 129 water rate payer signatures short that somehow those who invested some serious sweat equity into protesting this nearly 40% water rate hike lost. That City Hall got their pound of flesh, and the incredible wave of democratic fervor that swept Sierra Madre a few weeks back was all for naught. The powers that be had prevailed as they always do, and honestly, what was it you people were thinking?

But if the people of Sierra Madre had not flooded City Hall with hundreds upon hundreds of protests, if the Council Chambers had not been filled with people passionate in their belief that they are the ones who call the real shots in this community, would we have ever been able to read paragraphs like the ones that follow?

Mosca says he plans to propose at least five more community meetings where residents will have an opportunity to get more information and ask questions about the proposal.

The city could develop a new proposal, based on residents' concerns, he said, or "at the end of the day, maybe they will feel that the proposal we put on the table is a good one," he said.

"The upside of what has gone on so far is we have a lot of people paying attention to this and really wanting more information," Mosca said. "So now is the time to get out there and go on a listening tour, understand what their concerns are and address those concerns."

After that, the council can "come back in a couple of months with a proposal that makes sense to people," Mosca said.

Had we not gone out into the streets and spoken to people about this draconian water rate hike, had we not gone door to door and talked to our friends and neighbors about what was really going on (because it was obvious that no one else was going to do it, including our so-called adjudicated weekly newspaper), what we are hearing now from Mosca would never have been said. He'd just have taken the money and run.

This rate hike, which was dumped on the public with such small warning, would now be the law. And our water bills would already be reflecting this. The only thing that stopped this City Council from immediately passing this rate hike was Proposition 218 and the backbreaking work of 30 or so incredible people who refused to be treated like subjects in somebody's realm.

We won. We did something nobody thought we could do. The political will of the people of Sierra Madre stopped a nearly 40% water rate hike. And unless this City Council comes back with something realistic, and explains it in a way that is both timely and credible, we will stop it again.

Even if we have to go to the ballot next time to do it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Agenda Man Speaks Out About Tuesday's City Council Meeting

There are really only two items here worth discussing in any depth. The General Plan Committee and the Water Rate Protest Tabulation. But they are both closely tied together by the one real issue that drives the agenda of this City Council, and that is development. It is time to call any denial of this obvious fact for what it is, deception and propaganda. This City Council wants to put into place the groundwork for the kinds of high volume development that was stopped cold by Measure V. And that is the reason they are fighting so hard to contain the obvious distrust of them shown by the residents here over the water rate hike. Basically this meeting is about damage control. They know that if their real agenda becomes any more exposed than it already is, their ability to get the job done could come to an end.

How strange it must be for John Buchanan, Joe Mosca and Elaine Aguilar. To be working so very hard to make something happen, yet never being able to discuss it in an open and public way. The people of Sierra Madre overwhelmingly oppose the agenda that these people are quietly pushing. The Water Rate Protest proved that. And Buchanan and Mosca know that the only way they'll be able to pull this off is if they can keep their real goals under wraps. Something that is already becoming more and more difficult to do. The more they have to deny that development is driving such actions as the near 40% water rate hike, the less believable those denials become.

Items 2 & 3 are really the same. Item 2 (Discussion - Water Rate Protest Tabulation) is a topic that has degenerated into yet another politically motivated Swift Boat exercise during the last week, something along the lines of what we saw in the past election. It seems this is the only trick these folks know. Apparently set in motion by the Gang of Four with the assistance of City Staff, they've called out the same old war ponies used last April. But this time the attacks and misleading accusations from Susan Henderson and Bill Coburn have fallen upon deaf ears. Coburn's News.Net site is now the home to three long and deceptive articles on the tabulation process, but he has yet to receive a single reader comment to any of them. As of Sunday evening large stacks of Mountain Views News are sitting unclaimed in their racks. People just aren't buying into that garbage this time.

The target of this politically motivated attack is the City Clerk, someone charged with the huge task of tabulating the forms and petitions cranked out in unprecedented numbers by the water protest. An elected official, Nancy Shollenberger had been repeatedly, and inappropriately, stonewalled in her requests for information by the City Manager, a salaried employee. Ostensibly charged with cooperatively looking over the results of the water protest by Mayor Joe Mosca, the activities of the City Manager have been rather to set into motion a divisive and secretive recount in hopes of discrediting the water rate protest. Something the concerned enablers apparently hope to achieve through use of the narrowest of technicalities.

Which begs the question, why did the City Manager's office do the recount at all? Since Mosca has said the water rate hike as it now stands is not going forward, what was the point?

You'd have to assume that the purpose of the recount is to scapegoat Nancy Shollenburger in hopes of shifting the blame from where it really belongs, the ineptitude of Mosca's City Council. Rather than facing up to the real message of the water rate protest, it was decided that it is better to blame the tabulator. The City Manager can't possibly have been doing this without the sanction of certain elected officials.

Item #3 is called the Water System Outreach And Education Program. But it comes from that same bag of tired tricks. The wacky assumption we're being asked to make here is that nearly 2,000 Sierra Madreans filed water rate protests because they didn't know what they were doing. And now all it will take is a few rusty show pipes and Director Bruce Inman holding PowerPoint presentations to make it all good again. If there is a better indication of just how out of touch these people are with those actually living in this town, I don't know about it. They really should get out of their bubble more often and actually talk to people.

Item #4 (General Plan Update Identification Of Technical Committees / Areas Of Expertise) can be summed up in three words. Hiring expensive consultants. Stymied in their attempts to increase the number of members on the General Plan Committee from 5 to 9 in order to better influence its decisions, this City Council gambit is designed to enable consultant dependent subcommittees. These subcommittees would then attempt to plug key planning elements into the General Plan in order to facilitate the kinds of large scale SB 375 development called for by Sacramento through Federally funded strawman agencies such as SCAG. Done with the full and eager support of John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, of course.

The ideal of resident staffed volunteer committees taking care of the important business of Sierra Madre is obviously not something this City Council shares in. It has nothing to do with technical expertise or any of the other bogus justifications being ladled out. Rather it's that this City Council does not trust these all too independent citizen committees to give them what they so badly want. They'd much prefer to hire expensive out of town consulting outfits they know will give them results that are in compliance with the regional and state development mandates they support.

As an aside, I can't see how very many people will be wanting to volunteer for committees under this City Council. Part of the appeal of Committee work is getting involved with things that are of true importance to the community. But with much of that now being given to expensive consultants, who is going to want to volunteer? I can't see too many skilled persons really wanting to spend their evenings exploring the possibilities of basket weaving.

I hope everyone will be at Tuesday evening's City Council get together. The issues are huge, and your participation is more important than ever.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Your Sunday News Report

Here at The Tattler we don't only take care of our spiritual culture, we also put it into homily sized and easily consumed portions. Then we serve it up in a way that befits the fast food ambiance so prevelant here in the California car culture. And no, we never want fries with our order. We ask for the salad.

There has been some talk recently in Sierra Madre of a possible ballot initiative that would restrict the ability of the City Council to spend crazy money. The idea being that any large expenditure being considered ($50,000, or maybe $100,000) would have to be put to a vote of the citizens. Kind of like Measure V and building height requirements. Go over 2 stories in your planning and you'll need to ask the permission of the people who actually live here. Something that has yet to happen.

Now this might not be the fiscal panacea some believe it is. And it could be something the state might challenge on Constitutional grounds, as a buzz killing example. But it certainly could be quite a conversation starter, and given the revelations coming out of the City of Bell, a timely little issue as well.

If you're looking for a reason as to why we might need to do such a thing, here is a good example. Back when there was the Ad Hoc Finance Committee, they looked over all of our expenditures. This was all part of an effort to build up a rationale for the massive UUT increases that were later voted into existence by Sierra Madre residents. And one of their more piquant findings was just how radically our City Attorney costs have gone up. Here is how those figures broke down:

Fiscal Year 2002 - 2003: Charles Martin $38,250.00
Fiscal Year 2003 - 2004: Charles Martin $35,615.00
Fiscal Year 2004 - 2005: Colantuono & Levin $294,852.42
Fiscal Year 2005 - 2006: Colantuono & Levin $249,799.53

It seems to me that if something like that would have had to be approved by the voters first, it would never have happened. Or even been proposed.

Our Dear Friends At Majestic Realty

They certainly do seem to be well-connected with Der Ahnold over there at Majestic Realty. Not only did the big oaf step in to help waive any pesky CEQA reviews back when Big Ed Roski wanted to build his City of Industry shrine to the National Football League (who seems to have turned its collective nose up at his love offering, by the way), now The Austrian Oak has given the Majestic ones perhaps the influence perk of all. Check this bad boy out:

Gov Appoints Controversial Real Estate Exec To CA Transportation Commission - This week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Fran Inman, Vice President of Majestic Realty Co., to the California Transportation Commission. This is the second public boon for Majestic Realty in the past 12 months. Last October the Legislature and Governor handed Majestic an unprecedented exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for a 75,000 seat football stadium in the City of Industry.

Inman's potential position with the Commission could prove highly profitable for Majestic Realty. The Commission is responsible for allocating funds for the construction of highway, rail and transit improvements throughout California, and for advising cabinet officials and Legislature. Majestic, it so happens, owns much highway-adjacent property including the site of the proposed football stadium.

Transportation and the construction thereof is at the very heart of SB 375, the lobbyist bought development boondoggle designed to breathe some life back into one of California's last remaining industries, construction. That Sacramento seems to have sacrificed the independence of cities like ours in order to make this happen has made things such as the AB 32/SB 375 axis controversial locally.

Speaking of which ...

There is a great article up on the Cal Watch Dog site that literally tears the PC poppycock being used to oppose Proposition 23 to shreds. Called "Going Green is Becoming Irrelevant," and written by Katy Grimes, it highlights the exodus of skilled high paying jobs in this state as corporations flee for sunnier business climes.

Now we have often heard Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Green bring up his idealized notion of bringing "green jobs" to Sierra Madre. He never goes into much detail on what exactly these color specific jobs would be, but does speak as if he assumes that this is a notion that all agree upon.

So he probably would note enjoy observations such as this one:

Incredibly, in just two days already in July, California lost three company headquarters - Globalstar Inc. is leaving Milpitas for Louisiana, eEye of Irvine will move to Arizona, and TriZetto Group will leave Newport Beach for Colorado. In just the first half of 2010, 85 companies left California, nearly double what occurred through all of 2009.

Vranich says that the exodus has reached such an alarming point that California ought to declare a "state of economic emergency." He added that "unless there is a reduction in the hostility California directs toward businesses, we will see more commercial enterprises calling site relocation companies for help in finding friendlier states in which to locate."

The farce of "green jobs" is almost funny, except politicians all over the country are buying into it. There are not millions of green jobs being created in the way Jones claims. Most companies merely have to get green certified to be able to classify employees as "green" in order to play the "green" game. Jobs are not being created - just reclassified.

Katy Grimes then goes on to make this pointed observation:

The obvious question is why is government pushing an industry when the free market is not? If green jobs were really so profitable, then tens of thousands of business owners would be scrambling to get into the game. Instead, guys like Van Jones travel the country giving speeches, selling books and lecturing people about how they live. Guilt does not drive change.

Good point. If there was actual money to be made in so-called "green jobs," California would probably not have the 12.5% unemployment rate it has today. Something to consider when Johnny Green leans on the General Plan Committee to include things such as "green enterprise zones" into this city's blue print. We really don't need to include was is basically political propaganda into a document that is supposed to be a reality based road map to the future of Sierra Madre.

And Finally ...

Rooster Coburn launched on his somewhat cluttered News.Net site what I guess was supposed to be a big initiative challenging the tabulation of the water protest signatures by the City Clerk's office. To me it pretty much smacked of the "swift boat" style attacks this fellow engaged in during the recent City Council elections, and I was going to challenge some of his loonier premises. But you know what? Nobody seemed to give a damn about what this guy had to say on the topic. And as of this typing Rooster has yet to receive one single reader comment to his bellicose claims.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How Sierra Madre Is To Be Sold

"I think there are some very evil things about gentrification." - Jim McKay

After the Mayor and his brain the Mayor Pro Tem get their way and Sierra Madre is served up to the Ed Roskis and San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnerships of this world like so much thinly sliced ham, how exactly will they market our birthright? After all, everything has to be properly packaged and sold. Especially when you're asking for a lot of money to buy in. And there really is a bunch of the kind of quaint and historic here that makes for an exciting and high quality real estate prospectus.

And now, thanks to those fine folks who are trying so very hard to sell some of the many fabulous (though aging market-wise) Stonegate at Sierra Madre lots, we now have a pretty good idea of exactly how our town will be marketed to that most desirable of area real estate consumers, the upwardly mobile and highly compensated employees of large Los Angeles County corporate interests. Or at least the ones that are left. The kinds of folks who can plunk down a couple million big ones for some pleasant hillside scenery and lots of highly accessorized square footage.

But you do know, it isn't enough to just get yourself ensconced in a fine McMansion with stunning views of Arcadia. Today's person of discernment and taste would also want to set that bad boy down in an area with some colorful points of local interest. A town where fascinating people carry on with their lives in unique shops and fine dining establishments, with a little carefully preserved boutique history to ponder as you whisk down Baldwin and head off for a day at the mall or the golf course.

Here is how those pushing the million dollar lots up at Stonegate at Sierra Madre describe our little portion of the world:

Pass through the gates of history to the lifestyle of today at Stonegate at Sierra Madre.

Become a part of a small town with big personality, where life is as sweet as the flowers that star in the annual Wisteria (sic) Festival, and neighbors get together for community concerts, ice cream socials and wine tastings.

Live at the feet of the stately San Gabriel Mountains, in a valley where the climate is generally warm and sunny year-round, even when the surrounding mountain peaks sparkle with snow. Explore nearby nature in the Angeles National Forest, Mt. Wilson Trail Park, and other regional recreation areas. Up for more adventure? From your home in Stonegate at Sierra Madre, you can visit lakes, rivers, mountain resorts, wilderness areas, the desert, or miles of seashore, all within a 30 minute to one hour drive.

Enjoy every convenience of contemporary living in the City of Sierra Madre, with close proximity to the Westfield Santa Anita Shopping Mall, Santa Anita Golf Course and sporting events at the Rose Bowl. With numerous mass transit stations throughout the valley and access to I-210 (sic), it's an easy commute to the employment centers of Los Angeles or Riverside counties.

And did you know that the scalped hillside that was once one of the most scenic wilderness areas within the borders of Sierra Madre is literally a-brimming with history? And that the McMansion you build there will make you as one with that storied Sierra Madre past? Giving your lifestyle statement the kind of authenticity you might otherwise lack when living in something having all the character and architectural grace of a La Quinta Inn?

When you pass by the arroyo pillars that frame the entry to Stonegate at Sierra Madre, you are connecting with 150 years of rich history. These restored pillars are treasured remainders of three prominent historical structures which have occupied the Stonegate site.

In 1860, the property was homesteaded by George Macomber. The cabin that he built here in 1882 still stands, and is Sierra Madre's oldest remaining structure.

Nathaniel Carter, the founder of the City of Sierra Madre, purchased the property in 1881, and began construction of his family home, a large Victorian mansion. In 1882 he set the stone pillars at the entrance to his property, and added a barn and several outbuildings, exotic gardens, watering ponds, and a citrus orchard, where he developed the Carter orange. The Carter Barn and the pillars remain on the property today.

In 1939, the Willis family acquired the property, demolished the by-then dilapidated Carter home, and built a "modern" structure in 1941, complete with garage and swimming pool. Considered an architectural treasure, it was featured in Architectural Forum magazine and served as the family's residence for almost 60 years.

Today, you have the opportunity to make your own history, on a site that the City of Sierra Madre's founder deemed so desirable, that he built his own home right there. Today, you can pass between the historic entry pillars of Stonegate of Sierra Madre, and let the past lead you home.

Never mind that those bearing the name Willis have been regularly brutalized by some of the developers that have made such a wretched mess of the Carter hillside, because that is not the history you'd really want to know about as a Stonegate of Sierra Madre resident. Nor should you be concerned that your cozy wickiup nestled amongst those quaint relics of the past is inside of one of the state recognized most dangerous fire zones in this part of California. Or that you'll be sitting smack dab on top of a highly active earthquake fault line.

And, if you really are fascinated with its history, that you could wake up late one night suddenly aware that you are living in an area considered to be an ancient sacred burial ground by many of the area's indigenous peoples. Rumor has it things do get spiritual up there.

I mean, if you're really interested in history, you've got to want to take in more than just the kinds of gaucherie being offered by the folks pushing these lots.

Anyway, when choice parts of Sierra Madre are rezoned for large scale development, this is the kind of bollocks that will be served up and put into slick pamphlets to help sell off the real estate holdings of banks and developers that will - at least theoretically - have benefited by the duplicitous agenda of our current City Council.

Of course, somebody will actually have to buy all this stuff. And the way things are going in this country, that special breed of person might be very hard to find.

This from Planetizen.com:

The Commercial Real Estate Crisis Is Coming

Nearly half of the commercial real estate in the U.S. is underwater, according to Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She is concerned that a coming crisis could sink the current recovery.

What they're talking about here is the second leg of the development depression, which was caused largely by the subprime lending insanity of the early 2000s. The first half was the home real estate crisis, which mostly affected private residences. The steep decline in housing prices that have sent so many homeowners here into a state of shock was apparently only half of the ride. The other half is commercial properties. The office buildings, shopping centers, and condominium projects that sit empty from New York to Pasadena. And that portion of the crisis is only just beginning to make its presence known, with the full effects expected in the next year or two.

From Planetizen:

Alison Stewart: So are we going to see small cities with skyscrapers that are empty?

Elizabeth Warren: Well-

Alison Stewart: Store fronts that are empty?

Elizabeth Warren: Quite frankly, we are going to see some of that. See-through buildings, where the building has already been built, but there are no tenants in it, so you can see from one set of windows all the way over to the other. There will be some of that. there will also be some other adjustments that will be made. In some cases the mortgage will repossess the property and is able to sell it to someone else and get it off their books.

Sounds like more government bailouts to me.

And what is the value lost by having 50% of American commercial properties "underwater," as it were? Apparently it is in the trillions of dollars.

Good luck with that Stonegate at Sierra Madre thing. You're going to need it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Residents Enraged At Being Cheated Out Of Their Right To Pay More For Water

(Ed: Today's post is an attempt at anticipating this weekend's Looney Views News article on the water rate protest count. You know it's going to be the usual angry indignation, coupled with predictable hysteria and ad hominem attacks, so it shouldn't take too much crystal ball gazing to get a good read on this one. Here is our attempt at peering 3 days into the future.)

Residents Enraged At Being Cheated Out Of Their Right To Pay More For Water
By Belladonna Blunderbuss

The streets were filled with the outraged cries of hundreds of Sierra Madreans this weekend, angered by the realization that they could very well have been cheated out of their right to pay more money for water. "It's our water!" said one visibly angry resident. "Who dares to think that they have the right to tell us how much is too much to pay?" A sentiment that has found many adherents here.

One mother, her teenaged daughter visibly racked with sobs, told the harrowing story of how the frail and lonely child was subjected to the cruel taunts of her out of town schoolmates. "When they found out how little we're paying for water here in Sierra Madre, they turned on my daughter and shunned her. They told her she is no good because she drinks cheap water. Cheap water! This has been so humiliating, for all of us!"

The problem stems from the usual small group of individuals, people who used misinformation and intimidation to coerce unwitting residents into giving up their rights to high water rates by signing "documents." Many of these signers have now told this paper that they actually thought they were giving their approval for paying more. "Evian has nothing on Sierra Madre's water," said 42 year resident Bardley Blanderstone. "The only difference is you pay more for it, so you think it tastes better. By holding down the cost of our City water, these people have condemned us to a life of believing that our water is less flavorful. I for one can never forgive them for that."

At City Hall the recount has been going on around the clock for the last four days. City Manager Saywatcha Wannahear, gazing over a table filled with smudged and oftentimes indecipherable protest forms, gave what she feels is the most accurate reading of the results. "483 are signed with the names of dead people, with another 912 a mixture of dog and cat paw prints. The remainder are filled with doodles of stick figure guys drinking beer and chatting up women. As far as we have been able to tell, absolutely none of the signatures come from living water rate payers."

Sensing that there are many stories that need telling, we asked some of those out on Sierra Madre Boulevard today about their personal experiences in this series of tragic events. "I had to commit my twin sons to a special care institution this morning, " said one visibly aggrieved father. "When they discovered just how little I've been paying for their water, and how their beloved pet rabbit Hammy has been drinking that cheap stuff, they began to cry and cry. It went on for three days. I just couldn't take it anymore. I will now spend the rest of my life on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena drinking wine out of a paper bag and whistling at office girls on their lunch hour."

An elderly couple walked up and told me the following heartbreaking story. "We've been in Sierra Madre for a long time. We raised our children here, retired here, and yes, this town has been good to us. But now there are those who are saying that we shouldn't be forced to pay more than what we can afford for water. Which will cause us to stay on here and not move. How will new houses be built if people like us are just allowed to hang on? By keeping water rates low, aren't these people denying us the significant life experience of extreme geriatric stress and displacement anxiety?"

The primary issues for those opposing the water hike seem to be that they don't like volunteers, firemen, the library, gardening, the Kiwanis Club, and people who are different. Since recommendations for a rate hike have been around for years, they really should have been used to it by now. That they aren't speaks volumes about their limited attention spans. There is no reason why the rest of us should continue to suffer the effects of their misplaced anger.

Beefy Sideburns, Executive Director of the Sierra Madre Commerce Club, took two opposing viewpoints simultaneously. "Many of our members are against the water hike, which to me indicates that they do feel we have been paying too little. I think that once they really understand that water costs money, they'll pay for it. Otherwise they'll just have to do like the rest of us and gladly write their checks to our All American City."

The Reverend Round Cannonball of the Contributional Church of Realty put it this way, "You only honor God's wondrous creations by paying fair value for them. When you underpay, you play with diabolical forces that harm you in ways that are unimaginable. And believe me, where you're going you'll beg to pay more for water. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to lunch with the Mayor."

I did briefly get a chance to speak with the Mayor. He informed me that water rates will not be going up before they do. "It is basically a process of reaching out and educating people about the needs of our town," he said. "We will be holding Powerpoint Parties and Lunch & Learns on alternating Saturdays over the next couple of weeks. Trust me, it is only after we've spoken about this in a meaningful meeting format with residents will we do what we want to do anyway."

Finally, outraged resident Gandy Dancer has taken his feelings on the matter straight to the streets. Standing in Kersting Court with clip board and papers in hand, he has asked residents to sign a pledge to volunteer to pay three times the amount of whatever their water bill might say. So far he has gathered an incredible 14,000 signatures in a town of less than 11,000. "Those people with their water rate protest need to be taught a lesson they won't easily forget. From now on we in the Coalition of the Water Willing (COWW) will be paying triple. If that doesn't teach them, then perhaps nothing ever will."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some People Are Just Going To Have To Face It - The Water Rate Protest Won

There are certain individuals within our storied city governmental apparatus who seem to think that the rules can be changed after the game has already begun. Or even after the game is completely over. We can see that now as our Mayor and his brain, the Mayor Pro Tem, attempt to weasel people who share their corporatist philosophy into the General Plan Committee mix. The flood of trendy and colorfully named subcommittees they've been busy concocting will burst upon our collective consciousness at next Tuesday's City Council meeting. All of them a day late, a dollar short, and expensive consultant dependent.

Now with the earnest souls at City Hall scurrying around from Rate Payer Lists to Assessor Plots to the Yellow Pages (depending on which works best for them), we can see another abrupt after the fact attempt at rule change taking place. Rather than dealing with the fact that tabulating results of everything from elections to water protests is traditionally the job of an elected official known as City Clerk, these hirelings seem to believe that this is something they are eligible to do. You can only wonder what exactly it is they're cracking on.

Oh, and in case you are unaware, a City Clerk is an elected official. This being part of a government system that has evolved over the centuries, and for some very good reasons. Voter sanction differentiating them from functionaries, flunkies, lickspittles, toadies, yes men, messenger boys, apple polishers, nincompoops, and bureaucrats. In other words, they hold the distinguished office of City Clerk at the pleasure of the voters, and not just because some locally influential big-a-shots gave it to them. Which is why we have City Clerks count the votes, and not Three Fingered Louie.

But even if none of this traditional form of democratic government existed, there is something else that renders the current protest counting pretensions of City Staff entirely moot. And that is the May 11th City Council Meeting Agenda. In particular that part referred to as:

GUIDELINES FOR THE SUBMISSION AND TABULATION OF PROTESTS.

Now this part of the May 11th City Council agenda, which was approved and set in place unanimously by the City Council, details how the Protest Forms from the water rate hike controversy are to be tabulated. These are the rules that were set down on that lovely spring evening, and nothing since has ever in any way legally altered them. No matter what Joe Mosca might have said later on. And just because paid employees such as the City Manager and City Attorney aren't grooving on the results still doesn't mean the rules can be changed after the fact.

Here are the City Council approved rules for the Tabulation of Protests:

1. The City Clerk shall determine the validity of all protests. The City Clerk shall not accept as valid any protest if the City Clerk determines that any of the following conditions exist:

a. The protest does not identify a property served by the City.

b. The protest does not bear an original signature of a record owner of the parcel identifies on the protest.

c. The protest does not state its opposition to the proposed fees.

d. The protest was not received by the City Clerk before the close of the public hearing on the proposed fees.

e. A request to withdraw the protest is received prior to the close of the public hearing on the proposed fees.

3. (Ed: they skipped a number) The City Clerk's decision that a protest is not valid or does not apply to a specific fee shall constitute a final action of the City and shall not be subject to any internal appeal.

4. A majority protest exists if written protests are timely submitted and not withdrawn by the record owners of a majority of the properties subject to the proposed fee.

5. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the City Clerk shall complete the tabulation of all protests received, including those received during the public hearing and shall report the results of the tabulation to the City Council upon completion.

And that is pretty much it. Does anybody see anything in there about the City Manager conducting her own on the side counting operation? No, I don't think you do. The only person who was authorized to tabulate the results and report the outcome is the City Clerk. Nobody else.

Now I guess that there are those who would like to engage in some sort of political myth making by cooking up numbers of their own. Rooster Coburn has laid a couple of eggs to that effect over on his News.Net site. And I guess that the City Manager might see some similar career advantage in this as well. Certainly it will give Susan Henderson something to get her rant on about whenever the new issue of her Looney Views News emerges. But will Sierra Madre residents become enraged because now they won't get to pay higher water rates? Mmm, no. I don't think so.

And does any of that have validity in the real world where actual laws apply? No, none whatsoever.

This is now over. The 40% Water Rate Hike is dead in the water. The residents of Sierra Madre have spoken. It is time for City Hall to stop annoying people and move on.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sierra Madre: The Mouse Roars Again

(Ed: The Greensward Civitas site occasionally gives out awards to towns who show the courage and depth of caring to actually stand up to those who would exploit their communities for narrow private gain. Often with the cooperation of elected and city officials who have somehow forgotten exactly who it is they are working for. Here is how editor Laurie Barlow describes our victory in the fight against a 40% water rate hike, along with all that entails ...)

Sierra Madre residents have just won another battle with those who would like to devastate its character for profit. The current City Council, with the lone exception of MaryAnn MacGillivray - the past Mayor - has attempted to push a significant water rate increase through without justifying these increases or the scope of the water system repairs and upgrades. Through a manipulation of the process, the Council attempted to make it seemingly impossible for residents to engage in a process of protest. However, the citizenry has once again pushed back at these tactics by mounting a successful walking campaign to get far more than the sufficient required protests lodged with the City Clerk. On Sunday, July 18, the local Tattler blog posted the press release from the City Clerk, certifying that the protest was successfully carried out.

Interestingly, the Tattler also records this comment:

The City Clerk did not have access to the Assessor's Parcel Numbers List/Owner's Names. If this list is made available to her, she will be happy to check the list once again.

Which was a bone of contention throughout the entire process, and seems to have been withheld from everyone. This may become the grounds for some kind of City Council challenge by the residents to the whole intentionally obfuscated process. It's a shocking demonstration of how developers are seeking to control a city for the opportunity to build large projects that require more water allocation. So much for regional control and coordination of local needs and resources allocation, that's simply a development steamroller. It seems to have set in motion again the citizen revolt that resulted in the earlier Measure V which halted planned major development in Sierra Madre's downtown, another local resistance to the building industry honchos vested in Sacramento.

The mouse is a dangerous beast.

Sierra Madre Police versus Los Angeles Police

(Ed: Some interesting math was sent in by a reader. The comparison is between Sierra Madre's resident to cop ratio as compared to that of Los Angeles. Here is her note ...)

I just got a call from an old friend who is a new Tattler reader. She used to work for the LAPD and was married to an LA cop. Our 31 officers got to her, so she went to the website LAPD.org for their 2010 midyear report. Here are the comparisons:

1. Sworn officers: LAPD 9,961; SM 31
2. Population: LA 4 million (roughly); SM 10,500 (roughly)
3. Square miles: LA 468; SM 3

By my rough calculations that comes out to: LA, one officer per 400 people. SM, one officer per 338 people.

It appears that we have a greater police to resident ratio than Los Angeles. Yet according to the LAPD site, Los Angeles has 400 gangs, with 41,000 known gang members. How many gangs and gang members does Sierra Madre have?

Marilyn Diaz on small city policing

(Ed: In today's Pasadena Star News there is an article describing the process South Pasadena is undergoing to select its new Police Chief. Many experts have been brought in to help facilitate the process, such as our very own Chief of Police Marilyn Diaz. Here she describes what is expected of Police Officers in towns such as ours.)

Diaz said cities like South Pasadena and Sierra Madre face similar challenges in policing. "In small communities, where there is very little crime, we fight to keep officers trained, stimulated and current with trends of policing," she said. "We also have to meet a great expectation from our citizens because of the small and tight knit character of our communities."

Sierra Madre residents, Diaz said, expect to see police officers serving in more than a public safety role in the community, whether it be community service or volunteering.

Like South Pasadena, Diaz said Sierra Madre battles residential burglaries and other types of property crimes.

SCAG vs. Democracy

(You really have to enjoy truly spirited SCAG skewering. There is never enough of it, so when something of particularly high quality comes along, you really need to stop and smell the roses. Here is an editorial questioning the extra-legality of this organization that ran in the Orange County Register last October ...)

It seems like something out of a conspiracy novel: Phantom government agencies with no accountability and no judicial oversight making decisions for cities and their citizens. Unfortunately this is a nonfiction book, it is exactly what happened last week when the California Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction over the Southern California Associations of Governments, this letting stand a SCAG mandate requiring Irvine build more than 35,000 new housing units by 2014, including about 21,000 units of "affordable housing."

This ruling is particularly jarring because it illustrates the mounting power of government agencies that have no electoral accountability or judicial oversight - a terrible subversion of democracy and liberty.

Think about it. SCAG is saying that Irvine must build roughly 40 percent of the entire county's affordable housing requirement even though Irvine contains about 6 percent of the county's population.

We recognize that there is a little irony in the decision, given the majority of the Irvine City Council is known for a pro-affordable-housing agenda, but nonetheless the mandate by SCAG is wrong, and the Supreme Court's decision to turn a blind eye to the problem leaves us puzzled. What the court has essentially said is that SCAG is its own judge, jury and executioner, something contradictory to our state and federal constitutions. Irvine lost the lawsuit because the state high court said it did not have authority to overturn SCAG's decision. So, who does?

Tomorrow's Headline Today

(Ed: Well, it is not our headline. At least not yet. But if the water rate protest is shot down in the next two days by the development advocates in control of our city's affairs, this could very well ours, and sooner than you think. This from the Pasadena Star News ...)

Former mayor, others oppose city's plans for more mixed-use development for downtown South Pasadena -- A group of residents is criticizing South Pasadena officials over plans to build another mixed-use condominium and retail development for the downtown commercial district.

Former Mayor Mike Montgomery, a lawyer, is leading the informal group that has focused its opposition against the most recent condo project proposed for downtown.

"We don't understand why the city wants residential condominiums in a commercial district," he said. "Residential units don't benefit the city. The cost of public safety and services (for new residents) exceeds the revenue generated."

(Later ...)

City officials believe those projects, plus the one proposed for the corridor just east of City Hall and west of Fair Oaks Avenue, will help South Pasadena pay for all of its services and avoid a structural deficit projected for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

(Note: Isn't anticipating and spending revenues against as yet to be built mixed use projects what got places like Pasadena into the debt crunch they're in now? Empty buildings pay very little in taxes. Remember, if the spend happy Go4's plans go forward, this rationale is certain to be used.)

Foothill Cities Blog R.I.P.

It was once the center of regional attention as the place where many contentious issues were openly discussed, including such things as Measure V and the Mosca Recall. Sadly, it is now no more. With no one maintaining the place (the last article posted was sometime last February), the site has apparently become the victim of a rather toxic malware attack. Unprotected sites being particulalry vulnerable to assaults from individuals who take pleasure in such things. For your protection we have pulled the link from our "Sites of Interest" listings.

One more thing for today. We are awaiting word on whether City Hall will be heeding the clearly demonstrated will of Sierra Madre's residents on the water rate increase, or be making the kind of disastrous decision that could lead to this matter being put on the ballot for a popular vote. The Tattler will be posting any new developments as they come in.