While the meeting agenda itself is available on the City of Sierra Madre website, the Staff Report is not. Which is hardly surprising.
The section that deals with the topic of today's litany of impertinent observations, Measure U, falls within the "Three Year Goal" section of the handout. Measure U being a familiar old friend as it is the same voter approved initiative that permitted the City to raise our Utility User Taxes up to 12% (a 6% or so increase) a few years back. Mostly to help cover a raise for the Sierra Madre Police Department, though some funds have been used for other things as well. It also permitted the expansion of our PD to its current frisky levels.
This voter approved UUT increase "sunsets" (begins to deflate to its original 6% level) next year, and it is up to we the people to decide whether we wish to renew this Measure U or not.
The portion of the City Council Strategic Plan Retreat we're discussing today deals with what has got to be a most important topic for anyone working at City Hall right now, and that is to Achieve Financial Stability. Which, from my rather callous perspective, means maintaining City Hall at its current (or perhaps even greater) size. I do not think it suggests that the people or buildings of Sierra Madre will become in any way unstable should we not decide to renew an old tax hike. I suspect that on a personal level everyone living here will be just fine. Or at least as good as they are today.
No, by "financial stability" we are talking about maintaining City Hall's operating budget at levels deemed adequate by those working there. Who, of course, would like to see the budget maintained at its current level or, perhaps, even increased. What working person wouldn't want to make certain that the organization they're working for has enough cash to keep them employed? Which in this case, since we're discussing government here, means assuring that the people are taxed enough. At least in their opinion.
Here is how the Strategic Plan Agenda describes this quest:
ACHIEVE FINANCIAL STABILITY - There are also five objectives for this goal. The objectives include, presenting a recommendation to the City Council for consideration of whether to place the renewal of the Measure U portion of the Utility Users' Tax on the April 10, 2011 ballot. Another objective involves the Administrative Services Director introducing additional on-line services, such as business license renewals. Then at the January 10, 2012 meeting the City Manager and Administrative Services Director will present to the City Council, for discussion, an analysis of the City's financial challenges and current and future revenue streams.
In order to place Measure U back on the ballot (there is, I believe, a November 22nd deadline involved), the process (so to speak) to do so would have to kick off in October of 2011. It is at this time the Administrative Services Director and City Manager would perform the following service for the City:
Present a recommendation to the City Council for consideration of whether to place the renewal of the Measure U portion of the utility users' tax on the April 10, 2011 ballot.
But here's the kicker. While it is not included in any of the documents provided to me, I have it on a very good authority that there is absolutely no intention on the part of City Staff to ask that the renewal of Measure U through the vote of the people include a Sunset Clause! Something that was wisely included as part of the original Measure U at the insistence of then City Councilman Kurt Zimmerman. What this means is should the voters decide to renew Measure U next April, the increase will become permanent. With no possibility of voter participation in this matter ever again.
In other words, as in the case of Measure V and the Assisted Living Facility questions, the voters are once again being intentionally squeezed out of the picture.
Which does not strike me as being very democratic. And I personally cannot see voting myself both a renewed high utility tax rate and decreased rights as a voter at the same time. That would be a little too much to stomach.
Will a Measure V vote on the Assisted Living Facility make the ballot?
The fix could very well be in on this one. While City Staff is being frightfully careful about hitting all the due dates for a vote on the renewal of Measure U, no such care is being taken for a Measure V vote on the rather jumbo-sized ALF. If you look at the schedules you can see that the Assisted Living Facility plans (and whatnot) won't even arrive on the desks of the Planning Commission until December. And with November 22nd being the apparent deadline for a Measure to make it onto next April's ballot, it would seem that there would be no public vote on this matter at this time.
I assume that this is meant to serve a two purposes. It denies the people their legally mandated vote on this matter, while at the same time providing scheduling as the excuse for this happening. Thus skirting any legal complications that could arise from ignoring the law.
You can sense that when it comes to the participation of the people in deciding the fate of their City through the ballot, the unfortunate trend downtown these days is to kick us to the curb.
The #1 Most Viewed video on ABC's Eyewitness News website is about John Shear. As part of the buildup to tomorrow's celebration at Santa Anita of John's incredible sacrifice, ABC News in Los Angeles created a pretty striking video of exactly what happened that day. Since hitting their website the video has gone viral, and is their big traffic driver right now.
If you haven't seen this yet, you can view it by clicking here. Once having seen this you will have no doubt as to the incredible courage it took to save a little girl's life. Click here.