Some of us can remember when Joe Mosca claimed to be committed at the very core of his being to preserving the small town character of this community. He ran his entire first campaign on just that issue. Seems so long ago now. Today things are very different, of course. So much so that last night he was all about getting the taxpayers to subsidize fees for such predatory development as One Carter. Joe doesn't even pretend to care about that "preserve Sierra Madre" thing anymore. Apparently being termed out has now freed his inner town wrecker.
But we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves here. There were some other things that happened before Joe gave his big pitch for using taxpayer dollars to give financial breaks to developers.
Nancy Walsh kicked things off by saying she went to the General Plan meeting. Which is good, but mere attendance is often not enough when delivering a report to the City on important matters. You should also share what it is you saw there as well. Then again, she also said that there has been no conflict of interest found in the Nick Conway affair at the SGVCOG. Apparently Nancy, while present at several COG meetings, has yet to pick up on the fact that an investigation hasn't actually gotten underway yet. Mostly because the District Attorney needs to finish up some prior obligations first. Like Court trials already in process. Nancy also said the Farmers Market was going very well, even though it is more like a flea market than anything to do with produce, and potential customers have been staying away in droves.
Joe Mosca claimed that he has been getting e-mail from "a lot of people" saying his Sunday afternoon meeting schedule is inconvenient for them. So much so that he is thinking of changing his hours. Good to see that he is showing some flexibility on this important matter. He also said that the way we are represented in the Pasadena Board of Education might change sometime soon. Currently each of our 7 elected representatives are responsible for the entire district. In the future each representative could be elected from a district of their very own, with the territory of each based considerations such as ethnicity. Which is very L.A. County these days. Something that I believe is also known as Balkanization. But don't quote me on that.
MaryAnn MacGillivray discussed her attendance at a meeting of the Council for Watershed Health. An organization rightfully believing "that biology gets worse as development increases." The good news is that the purity of our water is very good, mostly because our upper watershed is located in the Angeles National Forest. Which is about as undeveloped as things can get. But even in the lower watershed things are pretty good, mostly because Sierra Madre is a low density town. The notion here being that should Sierra Madre become overbuilt, the quality of our water would worsen. We are the guardians of our watershed, and as such have an important responsibility. Good stuff.
MaryAnn also questioned why The COG doesn't show up at SCAG and RHNA Subcommittee meetings. Since we're paying them $8,600 or so dollars a year in dues, you'd think they'd go to a meeting once in a while and represent us. Yet another indication the "The COG" is much more about rubber stamping Sacramento planning mandates than anything like regional advocacy.
Josh Moran saw Elvis at the park, free In & Out burgers somewhere else, a lean mean fighting machine in City Hall, and noted that lots of people showed up at the Hart Park House construction kickoff. Listening to Josh is like reading The Mountain Views News.
John Buchanan saw redistricting maps in our future, August 3rd to be exact. And they were a lot closer when he finally finished speaking about them. Pat Alcorn spoke at Public Comment about redistricting as well, and Joe Mosca, apparently misunderstanding what she was talking about, tartly informed her that the Angeles National Forest is not a desert. Random? Sure. But you can't say that we don't get our money's worth at these meetings.
The first of the main bouts was the discussion of Public Facilities Fees. Currently these fees are at levels established in 2009. Which, according to the appropriate consultant study on the matter, is the correct amount as it covers all City costs in bringing new development on-line with such things as water and sewers. Something that John Buchanan, Nancy Walsh and MaryAnn MacGillivray saw no need to change.
Josh Moran and Joe Mosca saw things differently. Both wanted to roll fees back to 2006 levels, with the taxpayers picking up the difference. Joe claimed that while the current fee study is very good, he also felt that some fee relief was needed because when they are too high it limits what we can do. Which raises the question, gives relief to who? And who exactly does Joe mean by "we?" As far as I have been able to tell, everything taxpayers in this town are obliged to pay for has gone up these last few years.
The following exchange then took place: MaryAnn replied, if the study is OK, and the policy is OK, then should it also follow that the fees are OK as well? Joe countered that the current fee rates may inhibit certain types of development, and how that development might happen. Promoting development being the main point for Joe now. MaryAnn then asked, "The fees are too high for what?" Joe dodged. "A lot of people" are looking to to throw out the study, quoth he. Just like a lot of people are calling him about his Kersting Court meeting times. MaryAnn replied that we should not be subsidizing large development. Joe replied that we would be doing ourselves a lot of good if we rolled it back.
Which again begs the question, do who good? Fee and license charges, along with water rates and UUT rates have all gone up in the last few years. Unless you are a wealthy Sierra Madre developer or liquor store owner, you won't stand to see a dime from Honest Joe's Fee Discount Service.
Here is how John Capoccia answered that rhetorical question: "Below cost recovery needs to be a benefit for us, so why would we give this away? Future costs could very well be much higher. You folks can agree to reduce these fees on a case by case basis. Don't burden the taxpayer to help pay for development."
Which is basically what Joe (and Josh) were pushing for here, taxpayer funded welfare for developers. Joe (and Josh) then went on a long happy walk down Deception Lane by claiming that their concern is really about small homeowners, green houses, and the little guy who wants to put a porch on his humble abode. Which is crap. What this is really all about is (as a best example) the passing of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Public Facilities Fee costs for hooking up still unbuilt McMansions at One Carter to sewers and water mains onto the backs of the taxpayers.
Which, for a guy who back in 2006 ran as someone who would never allow such bad things to happen, is really quite a change. Joe doesn't even pretend that he isn't in the pockets of the developers any more. He is as owned as they come.
The discussion about opting ourselves into the CRA at the cost of $676,000 then followed. MaryAnn MacGillivray, supplying the actual math involved (something City Staff had failed to include to the incurious G4 in the Staff Report for this item), held up a chart that broke it all down. In their barest essence the options are these. If we pay the $676,000 to the state, and $160,000 per year for the remaining 4 year period of our CRA's existence, we would be able to hold onto $4 million dollars in restricted funds. If we opt out, we would receive about half of that, or $1.8 million, but in unrestricted General Fund monies.
The dollar figures alone would indicate that opting in would be the superior option. But that $4 million would be restricted CRA funds. Which means they could only be used in the downtown area, and then only for certain kinds of things. The argument was made that if this money was sent to Sacramento the state would only fritter it away. But when you consider the recent rash of CRA spending here in Sierra Madre, can it be said that the City Council has spent its own money any more wisely? Did we really need $50,000 consultant studies on things like resident consumption habits and parking?
There was an undercurrent of social conservatism versus gay advocacy at this point of the conversation. Much of the CRA claw back would be used by Sacramento to fund education, and with the passing of SB 48 gay history will now be included in the public school curriculum. MaryAnn's belief is that this is a decision that needs to be made by parents, and not government. Joe and Josh both stiffened visibly at this suggestion, with Josh muttering something under his breathe about Glenn Beck.
For the record, I don't do social conservatism. It's just not there for me. Fiscal conservatism? Sure. City Hall would be run out of a back room at Arnold's Hardware if I had my way. Right behind the chicken wire and rakes. With City Council meetings being conducted at a picnic table. Call it my inner Libertarian, but I honestly don't care what people do with their private lives. Live and let live. People should be allowed to succeed or fail in life without people on either side of the social agenda getting involved. But unfortunately this issue is going to be what a lot of people take away from this meeting. The demagogue at The Sierra Madre Weekly will be foaming at the mouth I'm sure.
Three people stood up from the audience and questioned the wisdom of our keeping the CRA. Barbara Leigh stated she was not at all sure that the way the City has spent its CRA money is much to brag about. MaryAnn's math was interesting, but honestly, "have we spent this money any more wisely than Sacramento?" Barbara then asked the City to prove its case by supplying a list of all the CRA spends it has made over the last few years. Which won't happen, of course.
John Capoccia said we should commit the City to paying less money, and getting less property tax money. But what we would receive would be far more useful as it would be unrestricted General Fund monies. We could use this General Fund money anywhere and for anything, rather than just putting it into the CRA. John asked that the City Council to delay the decision for two weeks so that the public could better decide what is really best for Sierra Madre.
The most powerful attack on the CRA buy-in came from Chris Koerber. His point was that how could we trust Sacramento to keep its word on the costs associated with keeping a CRA here in Sierra Madre. By spending that $676,000, and then committing the City to spending $160,000 a year for the time remaining for our doomed CRA, the big assumption being made is that the state won't raise that yearly cost to something much higher later on. You trust Sacramento at your own peril. There is no guarantee whatsoever that this cost will not go way up, and that what looks like a gain for our CRA fund now could easily become an ugly deficit later.
Chris then asked what successes can we credit to our CRA. "How many jobs have been accomplished with our CRA?" he asked. The answer to that question is exactly the same as how much blight it has cured. None. "Time to pull the plug," he concluded.
Our unimpressive new City Attorney then launched into a strictly by-the-book regurgitation of League of California Cities talking points on why the CRA is good. Her talk was far more political advocacy than any kind of legal exposition, and didn't change anyone's opinion either way. More proof of who the law firm of Colantuono and Levin really works for. It certainly isn't us.
In the end an "Urgency Measure" was passed, which put the City on the road to keeping the CRA. The presumably less urgent part will likely be passed at the next meeting. If there is any good news here it is that our CRA only has 5 years left to go. Chances are pretty certain that once its term of existence lapses, we will not qualify for any kind of renewal. But that still means 5 more years of downtown crony payoffs, special people fee discounts, gifts for developers, ill conceived consultant studies, and whatever else the vanity of the G4 Council behooves them to spend our money on. Which is what will inevitably happen when there are millions of dollars in funds designated to fight blight in a City having none. It is a situation ripe for abuse.
The City decided to spend $45,000 (plus $6,000 in licensing fees for years after) for a scanning service that will make thousands of City documents and reports available on the City of Sierra Madre website. There wasn't much argument against this happening, and anything that makes city information more readily available is a good thing. But again, that is a lot of money for something that isn't all that much more complicated than Xeroxing. Two PCC students majoring in computer science could do the same job part time, and at a fraction of the cost.
The bicycle situation was discussed. All agreed that people on bikes running stop signs is a bad thing. The all purpose Sierra Madre solution, giving out tickets, was lauded once again. We do need a bike lane on Sierra Madre Boulevard, there is one in both Arcadia and Pasadena. And the same bikers pass through those towns without incident. But somehow our City Council doesn't get that.
The City Council then went back into private session. Judging by the Mayor's look of exasperation at the beginning of the meeting, it appears that the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association negotiations have entered a new and delicate phase.