I remember when I started this blog I worried a lot about how I'd run out of things to write about. Now I worry about where I will find the time to just keep up with it all.
So the big news is Jerry Brown has finally put the ax to the CRAs, or RDAs depending on your taste in acronyms. After decades of eminent domain abuse, truly awful development and the corrupting influence of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars placed into the hands of small town oligarchs and the redevelopers who love them, the monster has finally met its well deserved end.
Look at it this way, if Sierra Madre didn't have a redevelopment agency, the Downtown Specific Plan and Measure V, along with all of those unfortunate effects still afflicting us today, would never have happened.
Here is the good word from the LA Times:
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Wednesday proposals to abolish California's existing redevelopment program ... Under AB 26 1x and AB 27 1x, California will force its existing network of more than 400 redevelopment agencies, which spend property tax dollars to fix up blighted areas, to dissolve and join a new redevelopment program. The agencies would hand over $1.7 billion to the state for the privilege in the coming fiscal year, as well as $400 million each year thereafter. Supporters of redevelopment agencies have likened the plan to extortion and have promised to sue.
The cost of opting into the new redevelopment scheme being so high it is assumed that only the wealthiest cities will be able to participate, and even then may not choose to do so due to the vast expense. Of course, there are those who are so determined to have a redevelopment agency that they will spend $100s of thousands of taxpayer dollars for the privilege. And our very own John Buchanan has apparently already budgeted for just that contingency. Without having the kind of "conversation with the community" he plans to have about the UUT.
But then again, why should he? There isn't that much the community can do about it, whereas the UUT could be vastly diminished next April. Conversations apparently only happening when there is something that he wants.
Speaking of the UUT ...
I'm trying to get my mind around what looks, at least anecdotally, like a disconnect between the City Council and the UUT Oversight Committee. There is some suspicion that the UUT Committee, by coming up with their recommendation to raise utility taxes by 2%, was doing something that they had been encouraged to do. Which explains their shocked reaction when they realized that the City Council wasn't going to take their hard work to heart.
Larry David, who has a gift for being outraged without losing command of the language, put his sense of disbelief into these words:
"Aren't you going to ask why we recommended raising the UUT rate? Won't there be any questions, or any debate?"
All he got back were half smiles and silence. Nancy Walsh did note a little later that they had worked hard, helpfully pointing out that there are plenty of other commission positions open for them should they wish to continue serving their community.
In today's Pasadena Star News (click) there is an article that details the rather abrupt treatment the UUT Oversight Committee received in exchange for their pains. Here is how Mayor Buchanan shooed the flies:
"We felt that in these economic times, it was better to give our citizens a break," Mayor John Buchanan said on Wednesday. "We were able to balance the budget without increasing the rates, but yes, we had to make some cuts to our program."
There really is some kind of disconnect here. Previous UUT Oversight Committees (I was on one) never even considered the question of rates. The job was to check spends and make sure that they had been made appropriately. And when I was a part of that excitement the oversight from City Staff was not just present, but highly active as well. Short of requiring us to ask permission to use the bathroom there wasn't much that they didn't control.
For me it is hard to believe that this particular committee's decision to meet an extra 3 or 4 times to grapple with the issue of raising the UUT rate to its full permissible 12% was not done without at least the tacit approval of someone in authority.
So were they set up? Was UUT Oversight Committee's call to raise the rate 2% in order to deal with the $860,000 shortfall in public safety costs done so that the City Council could give the appearance of holding fast on tax increases? Could it be they were unwitting partners in a publicity stunt?
The NY Times calls Patch a "Content Farm"
Recently the NY Times published a very intriguing article called Google's War on Nonsense (click). The topic is "content farms," which are corporately-run operations that produce bulk internet nonsense with the express desire of "gaming" the Google rating system. The notion behind this exercise being to drive hits to an owned entity, improving that company's page views, thus enabling them to charge more for advertising.
Here is how the Times explains it:
Content farms, which have flourished on the web in the past 18 months, are massive news sites that use headlines, keywords and other tricks to lure Web-users into looking at ads. These sites confound and embarrass Google by gaming its ranking system. As a business proposition, they once seemed exciting. Last year, The Economist admiringly described Associated Content an Demand Media as cleverly cynical operations that "aim to produce content a a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it."
As a verbal artifact, farmed content exhibits neither style nor substance. You may faintly recognize news in some of these articles, especially gossip - but the prose is so odd as to seem extraterrestrial. "Another passenger of the vehicle has also been announced to be dead," declares a typical sentence on Associated Content. "Like many fans of the popular "Jackass" franchise, Dunn's life and pranks meant a great amount to me."
These prose-widgets are not hammered out by robots, surprisingly. But they are written by writers who work like robots. As recent accounts of life in these words-are-money mills make clear, some content-farm writers have deadlines as frequently as every 25 minutes. Others are expected to turn around reported pieces, containing interviews with several experts, in an hour. Some compose, edit, format and publish 10 articles in a single shift. Many with decades of experience in journalism work 70-hour weeks for salaries of $40,000 with no vacation time. The content farms have taken journalism hackwork to a whole new level.
The "content farm" phenomenon had become something of a problem for Google. Why would anyone want to use their search engine when most of the stuff any request turns up is content farmed junk?
So who is responsible for creating all this strange stuff? The NY Times goes on to identify the culprits:
Business Insider, the business-news site, has provided a forum to a half dozen low-paid content farmers, especially those who work on AOL's enormous Seed and Patch ventures. They describe exhausting and sometimes exploitative writing conditions. Oliver Miller, a journalist with an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence who once believed he would write the Great American Novel, told me AOL paid him about $28,000 for writing 300,000 words about television, all based on fragments of shows he'd never seen, filed in half-hour intervals, on a graveyard shift that ran from 11 p.m. to 7 or 8 in the morning.
So why would a company like AOL be doing this? Page views and money, of course.
Mr. Miller's job, as he made clear in an article last week in The Faster Times, an online newspaper, was to cram together words that someone's research had suggested might be in demand on Google, position these strings as titles and headlines, embellish them with other inoffensive words and make the whole confection vaguely resemble an article. AOL would put "Rick Fox mustache" in a headline, betting that some number of people would put "Rick Fox mustache" into Google, and retrieve Mr. Miller's article. Readers coming to AOL, expecting information, might discover a subliterate wasteland. But before bouncing out, they might watch a video clip with ads on it. Their visits would also register as page views, which AOL could then sell to advertisers.
The good news is Google has now responded to this threat to their credibility, and has instituted a new algorithm called "Panda." One designed to weed out content farmed nonsense so that legitimately produced news information can be easily retrieved by those using the world's largest search engine. Panda is apparently still a work in progress, but it is credited with already improving Google service in this regard markedly.
Which means that in the not too distant future, when you are looking up a topic of personal interest on Google, your search request won't automatically turn up a million Patch articles.