Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our $250,000 General Plan Consultant Doesn't Know Very Much About Sierra Madre

There is this notion at Sierra Madre's City Hall that the work they do is so incredibly complex and important that it can only be properly handled by specially trained professionals. And even then, despite the overall quality of those employed downtown, there are certain things so very special that even they cannot handle them. And for those situations we have consultants.

Now consultants possess very rarefied knowledge that can only be shared at a very dear price. You do not get to share in their expertise without first writing them a check. A very large check. A good example of this would be the consultant hired to write the Technical Background Report and the Environmental Impact Report needed to update our General Plan. This one has now set us back a cool quarter of a million dollars. Money that was raised through the taxes paid by persons such as yourself.

This particular consultancy calls itself The Planning Center/DC&E. They do have a website of course, and if you want to view it you can do so by clicking here. And on Tuesday evening they were in the house to present some of their findings about our town to the General Plan Update Steering Committee. The person making the presentation on behalf of this consultancy was a gentleman named Bill Fulton. Bill possesses degrees in all sorts of competencies from such places as UCLA, American University and St. Bonaventure. He has also taught various planning things at UCSB, Cornell, and UC Davis. He has authored stuff with names like "Sprawl Hits the Wall," so obviously he is professionally invested in the whole SB 375 so-called "Smart Growth" thing. And he started the website California Planning & Development Report, which this blog used to loot for information in the past. But not as much lately as we know a lot more than we once did.

Now paying people vast sums of cash to come here and tell us about our town strikes me as being a risky proposition. And as the G4 element of the City Council has found out, doing so with the GPUSC is particularly dicey as they are not only highly intelligent, but are also not particularly awed by those claiming special or privileged knowledge. People who have had real accomplishments in their lives are often like that.

Skepticism coupled with a devotion to the low-density traditions of Sierra Madre and its residents are always a dangerous combination for those who just want to ransack the place on behalf of developers, utility corporations and nutty Sacramento central planners. Along with anyone firmly tied by the apron strings to a beloved parent in the Real Estate trade.

And what they discovered when Mr. Fulton stopped by to present his findings to the GPUSC in the form of his Technical Background Report to our General Plan is that he not only did not know all that much about Sierra Madre, it appears that he might not have even visited this place all that much. Except maybe to pick up a check or two, of course. Rather he could very well have simply sat some interns down in front of PCs and had them Google the place from their offices in Ventura. Or perhaps San Diego, or even Berkeley, where they also conduct their business.

Here are a few of the things Mr. Fulton and The Planning Center/ DC&E had to tell us about ourselves that were so laughably incorrect.

- Orange Grove was listed as Orangewood and described as being the southern most boundary of the City. It is identified as having "landscaping (trees shrubs and groundcover), and sidewalks that line both sides of this corridor." As anyone driving down Orange Grove (East or West) will tell you, there are no sidewalks lining anything there, and any landscaping that you might see is probably some guy's carefully gardened front yard.

- On the Eastwicke Village Gift and Gallery: "The Eastwicke Village Gift & Art Gallery, located at 38 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard, offers a wide array of paintings, sculptures and figurines, much of which is art from local Sierra Madre artists." The Gallery's owner was surprised to hear this bit of information as she does not sell the work of local artists.

- Harlequin Fine Art Gallery: "The Harlequin Fine Art Gallery, located at 14 N. Baldwin Avenue, sells local art and art from all over the world. The Gallery also does restoration of oil paintings, porcelain, pottery, crystal and glass, as well as frame construction and restoration. In addition to appraisal, sales and restoration, the gallery offers art classes to students of all ages." The Harlequin is actually going out of business. Something that is made fairly obvious by the large "Going Out Of Business" signs in the front windows.

- The Howard Whalen Sculpture Garden: "The Howard Whalen Sculpture Garden, located at E. Carter Avenue between N. Baldwin and E. Mira Monte Avenue, is a permanent living memorial exhibition of Howard Whalen, who exhibited his sculpture nationally, and lived and worked in Sierra Madre. His studio is part of the garden, and exhibits many works and models." The Howard Whalen Sculpture Garden might have seemed permanent living memorial at one time, but that was before it was closed in 2008.

- Sierra Madre's Downtown Area: "... an enhanced landscape scheme along the commercial frontages could help distinguish this section of Sierra Madre from the rest of this corridor and also provide for additional shading and aesthetic appeal." A unkind shot at our beautiful downtown area? Echoes of the DSP? I can't help but wonder what the CRA folks would say about this after having spent many thousands of dollars on those bow outs.

- Kersting Court was singled out for multiple instances of special abuse. For clarity we have listed them here by letter.

A) "Kersting Court is located on the eastern end of the downtown district at the intersection of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Baldwin Avenue. A wide alley runs at a diagonal connecting Baldwin Avenue to Sierra Madre Boulevard. This diagonal helps to form a triangular island in the area between the storefronts lining the alley and the main streets. The island is landscaped with pepper trees and allows for passive recreation. Together, the shops and restaurants fronting the ally and the island form the City's beloved Kersting Court." I am not certain that any street having diagonal parking on both sides of it can quite be described as an alley. And while there are shops to one side of Kersting Court, I do not recall at this late hour having ever seen any "fronting" both the "ally" and the island. There are some shops on the other side, but they are separated from Kersting Court by something called Baldwin Avenue. Which is not an "ally," though it can be friendly as people do slow down from time to time and let you cross.

B) "In addition to the shops and restaurants, which attract visitors and locals on a daily basis, Kersting Court is frequently used by the City as a community gathering place. Throughout the year many City-sponsored activities are held at this location, including Family Movie Fridays in the spring, the annual Halloween parade, weekly farmers markets ..." Actually our sparsely attended farmers market is held on Hermosa Avenue next to Memorial Park. A fact that is conveniently available on the City of Sierra Madre website.

C) "Wooden benches are also provided for sitting and lounging." Being fond of lounging myself, I have often looked for wooden benches at Kersting Court for just that purpose. Alas, no such luck. The picnic tables are nice, though.

D) "These elements combine to create an easily recognizable and inviting place that encourages shop patrons to remain in the area. Locals visiting the Cold Stone Creamery, for example, can purchase an ice cream and then walk across the court to the island to enjoy their dessert on a bench." Shouldn't that have been "walk across the alley to the island?" Also, Coldstone has been kaput for a while now. And if I were Mr. Fulton I would keep an eye out for Mother Moo should I ever get back into town. She is a nice lady and all, but very dedicated to her business. There could be a crack on the head from a big scoop in his future.

Then there is something in this report called the "Civic Center." "The park is host to a number of community events during the year, and its open fields and recreation center allow for large gatherings to take place both indoors and outside." I think they might be referring to Memorial Park, except there isn't any recreation center there. Or they could be talking about the Community Recreation Center on the other side of town, but Sierra Vista Park doesn't have the outdoor bandshell that Memorial Park features. Maybe they just decided to combine the two and save some space.

One more for today. "Sierra Madre has its own Community Arts Commission, which promotes the community's interest in, awareness of, and appreciation for the arts. The Commission is charged with approving public art, much of which is created by resident artists, through the Arts in Public places Program." I know Halloween is over, but there are still a lot of ghosts in that paragraph.

I think you catch my drift here. A quarter of a million dollars just doesn't buy as much as it used to, I guess.

When informed of these and other inaccuracies by members of the General Plan Committee, Bill Fulton tartly replied, "That is why we call it a draft." Assuming that the word "draft" is now synonymous with poorly prepared reports delivered to the client months before they are actually ready, you still would have to wonder why he risked such embarrassment by exposing it so early. It was also suggested by Mr. Fulton that it is up to the GP Committee to correct its many errors. Obviously a consultant as busy as the one he is employed by has more important things to do than guarantee the accuracy of its work. No matter how much is being charged to do it. That is something for the people whose taxes pay him to accomplish.

Those of us who have followed this situation for awhile can recall a time when the General Plan Update Steering Committee was going to do all of this work themselves in order to save the City a lot of money. A quarter of a million dollars being a lot of cash to most of us. But at the insistence of the G4 City Council, along with their enforcer the City Manager, it was deemed that we would have to spend the money and hire the consultant. After all, it was budgeted.

But who would have figured that we'd pay the quarter of a million dollars and the GPUSC would still have to work on this Technical Background Report? Funny how things turn out sometimes.

Oh, and they had better hurry up about it. Because if this work is not finished by the end of 2012, as part of the deal made by the financial wizards at City Hall this consultant will start charging us even more money. For nothing, I suppose.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

85 comments:

  1. We don't need a consultant.
    This is another scam of the Gang of 4, and their development bosses to destroy our new General Plan and subsequently destroy Sierra Madre.

    Fire this individual now! This is outrageous.

    Our current GPUSC members are some of the most qualified and most intellegent people in Sierra Madre.

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  2. Of course Kersting Court is an Alley. It is Baldwin that is a Court. East Montecito is the 210.

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  3. I'm glad that Kersting Court is an island, we can put in a moat to defend ourselves when we are attacked by the SB375 gang.

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  4. I went to Kersting Alley last night looking for the Farmers Market and it wan't there. Did they move it again?

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  5. Municipal government workers and consultants have a got a partnership protecting each others places at the public trough.

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  6. Must be one of the John Buchanan do good things. Though I can't quite figure out where the do good part is.

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  7. So who picked these imbeciles?

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  8. We all complain about the lies of Joe Mosca, but what about John Buchanan! My God, he's lied to every honest citizen in this town.
    If John Buchanan ever told the truth.....he'd choke himself to death.

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  9. I don't think the consultant was made aware that in Sierra Madre there are people who actually read these kinds of things. I suspect he is used to turning in the phone book with a different cover.

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  10. The do gooder doing good by his smart growth phony green consultant pals.

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  11. Hey Bucky, Damn Good Draft!November 3, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    Keep up the great work, gov'nuh! Maybe we're actually in Malbu and you are "The Edge." Your decisions are getting tough to believe. It's going to take a lot of roach coach extravaganzas to make up for the $250,000 you blew on this waste of paper.

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  12. This is the most egregious waste of taxpayer money I have ever heard of. Makes stealing credit card number look like honest work.

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  13. Just The Facts Ma'am...November 3, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    I had a consulting business here in town for over 25 years. Offered my services for free on more than one occasion to city hall and various councils. They never asked for advise or mentioned information I had given them. Guess I wasn't charging enough.

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  14. We have some real watchdogs of the public trust down at city hall.

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  15. Why should the GP Committee have to spend their time correcting the consultant's mess? They did not sign up for this. This should be sent back to the consultant and tell his to fix it.

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  16. According to the report Kirstie Alley intersects the Baldwin brothers just east of Michigan on the Hasty Pudding Ranch.

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  17. This is outrageous. It is obvious they sat on their duffs in their plush offices and Googled old articles from the internet and looked at some maps. They never visited the city or even looked at the 1000s of picture that were submitted.
    Gotta go now to get some Coldstone in Kersting Alley.

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  18. If they can't get the simple stuff right, how accurate will the hard stuff be?

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  19. I think the draft Fulton was referring to was Miller Draft.

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  20. John can you post when the blog hits 500,000 hits since July? It is less than 400 Tattler readers away.

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  21. If we could get back half the money the g4 has wasted over the past few years, we'd be rich.

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  22. Off topic but very important:

    Star News: "Voter fraud allegation pointed at PCC's Jeanette Mann"

    Big score for Brian Fuller.

    Click on my name.

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  23. The only person to blame for the shoddy Technical Report is the consultant. Not the City Council, Not Staff, Not the Steering Committee, Not the Volunteers. ONLY THE CONSULTANT

    I hope other cities read their reports carefully.
    Mistakes like you describe can not be caught in spell check.

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  24. Did y'all get the Mann mailer that featured Buchanan at his sunniest giving her his support?

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  25. Well, they might have misadjusted a few facts, but this is hard work, so many streets, so many shops. They even thought I was Pa, but I've got to admit we are starting to look alike.

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  26. Who hired them, 8:59?

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  27. Good work, Crawford and Team Tattler!
    You nailed them again!

    My Name!
    This Mann woman keeps sending us big expensive glossy cards... To everyone reading this.....
    DON'T VOTE FOR HER....she is dishonest at best.

    BRIAN FULLER. Next Tuesday. GO VOTE. It is IMPORTANT!!!!

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  28. "Jeanette Mann insists that her Pasadena home is her son's permanent residence and said she has no idea whether his 19-year stay in Canada will be permanent."

    "Jeanette Mann passed at offering an opinion as to why a 19-year Canadian resident would be considered a temporary resident of the country and still be eligible to vote."



    Read more: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_19252488#ixzz1ceyrfGpP

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  29. I will gladly offer my services to those doe heads to proof read and correct inaccuracies
    in their work.
    I am very reasonably priced, 125K.

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  30. Fire the consultant, demand a refund of any and all monies spent (this "draft" could easily be interpreted as breach of contract) and then use that refund to pay our portion of the water main repairs up Mountain Trail for which we're supposed to receive federal matching funds. Resolve two problems at once. AND THEN fire Elaine Aguilar and recall what's left of the G4 immediately.

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  31. Her son has been in Canada for 19 years and she considers that temporary, so he can vote for her here in Pasadena.

    I guess that explains why six years to earn a two year degree seems like success to her.

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  32. Step back and look at the last three days posts on this blog. Any one of them alone would have been devastating for a city government. But all three? Three days in a row? What in God's name are they doing in City Hall?

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  33. where's your civility?November 3, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Way too logical 9:53.

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  34. John Buchanan endorsed a crook? Well, stop the presses.

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  35. I've learned that the draft Technical Background Report (TBR) is actually a treatment (as that term is used in the entertainment business) for a screenplay for the pilot reviving the Twilight Zone.

    What's missing from the TBR are the summaries of all of the scenes. In the summary of the first scene, we are introduced to our protagonist, a longtime resident of Sierra Madre, die-hard preservationist and opponent of "big-development" schemes. He awakens one morning only to discover that the world, as he knows it, has oh so subtly changed. In later summaries of scenes, those changes are shown.

    For example the southern terminus of the town is now called Orangewood instead of Orange Grove. As if by magic, an alley has appeared in Kersting court. Businesses that closed years ago -- like the Whalen Sculpture Garden and Coldstone Creamery -- remain open. And, Memorial Park and Sierra Vista park, which were located on opposite ends of the City, are now combined into two parks.

    The pilot ends with our protagonist responding to a knock at the door of his home. He opens the door and a 30ish young man with dark hair says "Hi John, it's Joe Mosca your best friend. Aren't you going to invite me in." At which point, our hero is supposed to scream (loudly).

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  36. I am sure the consultant was refer by the City Manager. Until the enforcer of misinformation leaves this town, only trouble will follow. Elaine is bad karma. Since her arrival all that was bad because of the Troll and his minions has grow worse, tenfold. I thought that she was leaving and going back to Glendale where she belongs. The problem is not soon enough.
    I think the Troll will look good in strips but again so will Elaine, we know she is still here only for damage control and to save her own skin.

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  37. 10:06, Thanks. Haven't laughed that loud in a long time.

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  38. "Next stop the Twilight Zone. I mean, Sierra Madre."

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  39. 10:06 Ha, Ha, Ha.

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  40. 10:06 - are you suggesting that Sierra Madre has now entered the Twilight Zone?

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  41. Less than 200 to half a million hits on The Tattler! Whoo hoo!

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  42. Why the surprise? and yes we should be indignant!

    The "consultant game" is pretty much groved. There is a generic outline that already exists with spaces that allow for input to make it appear constructed specifically for each City. It is a "cut and paste" project easily accomplished by an office secretary.

    Now present the ad hoc document to the client who will obligingly do the critique necessary to correct the short comings and eronous information

    The consultant contract calls for a several presentations to the City with the various people, departments, committees covering a time period (maybe 6 months). One person usually shows up professional in appearance with visual aids, graphs, demographics etc. speaking with authority because no one there truly knows enough to challenge the information presented. (except Sierra Madrens)

    The consultant has now performed on the contract and is ready to collect the quarter of a milliion dollars. And what do we get? A prototype document with a little tweeking to make it look specifically prepared for Sierra Madre. Who knew?

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  43. "Consider, if you will, a man of principle in an unprincipled town. And now consider if that man of principle awakens only to discover ......."

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  44. 10:46. Love it! Rod Serling from beyond the grave.

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  45. This consultant has been thoroughly depantsed.

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  46. Thanks 10:06. I was wondering why that vision of a door, clock and giant eye in outer space flashed before my eyes while I was reading John's article.

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  47. 10:06 says ...

    You're welcome 10:53

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  48. So it was that the consultant didn't want the locals to just take some measurements and do busy work, the consultant wanted the GPSC to do everything? How much money did we save by volunteering to count stuff? Seems to me it was a sham, a ploy to make the residents think they were doing someing important when the real plan has already been written - without the residents.

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  49. LOL reading John's article. LMFAO reading 10:06 and 10:53's comments.

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  50. I am sure John's examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The GP Committee shouldn't have to clean up this mess

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  51. Busy morning. Dropped the kids off at Maranatha High School. Visited a friend at Community Hospital. Kinda sad. Gonna drop by the Raven and the Rose for a pick-me-up cocktail.

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  52. I liked Sierra Madre best in the 50's. Let's just go back.

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  53. I guess you could say that this happened on Joe's watch. That is if he was actually watching instead of looking at himself in the mirror.

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  54. Thank you Leslie for exposing the errors in the techinal background report.

    I was present at the meeting and disgusted to hear of the inaccurate report. No apology! No accountability! Yet passed the buck and blamed assistants and census. What has the census got to do with it? Duh? And when speaker said, " Well that's why we call it a draft", I almost had a stroke. Who hired these jokers anyway?

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  55. Consultants create useless reports that are required by the state yet nobody even reads. They charge huge sums of money because what they turn in fits Sacramento's requirements. But are they useful documents that people can actually use? Of course not. They are just a check on the checklist of things that need to be done. An enormous waste of taxpayer money. No wonder California is in the sewer.

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  56. Those of you who thought Elaine was going back to Glendale, don't hold your breath, the City Manager from Monrovia got there first. Besides, remember be careful what you wish for, we need a sane City Council before we hire a new City Manager, otherwise we may get someone worse than Elaine.

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  57. This should be on American GreedNovember 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    At an inflated rate like $50 per hour, they are claiming 5,000 hours of "consulting."


    WHAAAAT!!!???

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  58. The waste of money is sickening.
    I thought the fact that volunteers from the community were working on it meant that we wouldn't have to spend so much.
    Sickening.

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  59. 5000 hours divided by 8 hours per day equals 625 working days.

    In 50 weeks there are about 250 working days (50 wks x 5 days = 250)

    They are billing us for 2 1/2 years of full time work (625/250=2.5)

    (It took me a little less than a year to figure this out.)

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  60. What's this deal about we have to pay them more because of a deadline???

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  61. Maybe the GP Update committee can be hired as consultants to the consultant?

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  62. $250,000 for the incompetent consultant, $0 for the GPSC. Sure, that is fair.

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  63. The GP Update Committee is really for the people. They stand up to the City Council and take on the consultants. We really owe these people a lot.

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  64. The last thing the G4 wants is hearing anybody's opinion. They want to create the myth that everyone in town wants the kind of development they want. Which is just not true.

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  65. I read the report, it isn't horrible, but it is clear that it is written by a non-local firm. I understand that they may not know things and need to rely on third party sources for information. HOWEVER - what I can't wrap my brain around is that it costs a quarter of a million dollars for that information and the subsequent EIR. For that amount of money they should at least have someone actually come to town and verify their facts. What is wrong with California when the legislature makes small towns like Sierra Madre spend so much money on such useless information? And one never knows, mistakes like this could lead Sierra Madre to be forced to zone for a homeless shelter...

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  66. Great job to Leslie who called the consultants out on their arrogant mistakes!

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  67. Not even Glendale would want Elaine back, let alone hire her. She is not qualified to run a bigger city, look at what she has done here with a small town. Elaine must improve her resume more by showing what development projects she brought to Sierra Madre. She needs to destroy our town more before she can get hire by another.
    Be careful with what would replace her? Can't get much worse. Look what she has done in such a short time, water bonds, homeless shelter, ALF, Hillside Development, Roach Coaches and of course the all important Elephant.
    No it is time for her to be fired or if we are lucky some other less cash strapped city will take her off our hands.
    Save Sierra Madre with a new City Council and City Manager.
    I will vote for any candidate that willing to remove her, she is the root of our problems.

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  68. 2:16. I'm no big fan of Elaine, but the problem really lies with the Council.

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  69. A draft is a truthful document in the beginning stages of writing that leads to the final draft. You cannot use a draft that is full of falsehoods. You want a document that just needs fine tuning not an entire rewrite.

    I agree that this report and this 'draft' document is a breech of contract and this firm should be fired!

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  70. I did not get my point across. This is not an original document written after research and interragation. The consultant has many hundreds of simmilar studies from his / her firm plus plagerizing other cities documents. It is largely a copied document.

    I am surprised that Robt Shapiro through "Legal Zoom.Com" doesn't offer "do it yourself Consultant Kits" for all those activities that our Counncil feel merit "expert consultant advice"

    This should have been supervised by our City's Attorney with a Staff Person doing the leg work. All we needed was a completed document to understand and copy from another city to prepare our own. That is what our Consultant will do for $250,000 What does our City Manager Aguilar do?

    Should have cost under 10 Grand

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  71. The process from the outset was the General Plan Update with a Steering Committee--not a new document without any precedent. Who are these grifters who call them selves planners? What a bunch of hooey!

    I looked up RBF from Irvine who did our DSP and they also did work for Yucca Valley which now has beforeit a proposal from Alta Loma for a three story 75 unit senior housing project. Stick out like a sore thumb just west of the intersection of Old Woman Springs Road and Hwy 62.

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  72. On another point, the $50,000 for the environmental report for the extention of the water pipe work north of Baldwin on Mt Trail. A similar report was done for the other work in town and sure, it is in a different area but you can tier EIR studies and keep the cost down and I am pretty sure if you didn't find any Indian settlement patterns at the level of the pipe work running east on Sierra Madre Blvd. you won't find them running north on Mt Trail. Bruce Inman's explanation to MaryAnn was simply disengenous. Why don't people gag on the smoak screen as they blow it all over the city council chambers. We are too trusting and unprepared.

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  73. Our city government is incredibly expensive. I am not sure we are getting real value for our money.

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  74. This is just an outrage....an OUTRAGE!

    These fine volunteers who are smarter and more honest than any consultant we've ever hired, work hours and hours for zero pay.....ZERO.
    The are volunteers....VOLUNTEERS.
    Then to add insult to injury, the useless, vile, mean spirited likes of a Nancy Walsh, insults them.
    Unreal!!!!!!!
    Get rid of these consultants and get rid Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran. The liar Buchanan will be leaving in April, and the mean Bosca thugs are soon to be leaving.
    Elect good people to the city council.
    Elaine can do nothing....NOTHING, if MacGillivray is the mayor in charge, with honest votes by councilmembers representing us!

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  75. I hear the Downtown Investors Club is consulting with Dr. Frankenstein about possible candidates for next April.

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  76. There is an alley behind the court that winds along up behind the storefronts to the west of N. Baldwin ending at West. Monticito between Baldwin and Alburn. It was walked by a bunch of DSP participants when it was trucked out at an area of great posibilities for that ignominous plan. I know I was on the walking field trip, I remember the RBF guy and the city council of the time, Bart was there, too. Mostly parking and back entrances and a place where you walk through to the front of the pizza joint and bean town. Starbucks does not have access to it, but Lenora Moss and other stores that were in the building that house the old Sierra Madre News does. Starbucks has to wheel its trash along the front of Kirsting court, up Winsor and back there somewhere. Go have a look.
    Alley, indeed!

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  77. I don't think anybody is disputing that there's an alley. However, the draft EIR incorrectly claims that stores front on the alley. No stores front on that alley.

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  78. Kersting Court is as much an alley as this Foster character is a proofreader.

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  79. Has anybody checked if anyone is getting a kickback or perk at the City from this Consultant?

    Is the Consultant a friend of a friend?

    Gotta be.

    Or, whoever hired the Consultant is incompetent as heck.

    I would have gladly provided a preschool level consultant report for half the price.

    Where do a I sign up to be a city consultant?

    Certainly qualifications or quality of work isn't a criteria.

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  80. It is a reoccuring problem with this city.

    We hire City Managers looking for a resume because we can get them a little cheaper but then the agenda of the City Manager is themselves and the next gig, often contrary to what is good for the city.

    It's happened over and over and over again.

    Our next city manager should be someone at the twilight of his or her career, someone who is above the petty nonense of our Councilmen and realize that they work for the people, not John Buchanan or the Council.

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