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.