Monday, May 21, 2012

This Week's Sierra Madre City Council Meeting Preview

Apparently there have been some complaints about the difficulty in accessing documents on the City of Sierra Madre website. So much so that lessons are now being given at the Library in the use of these new website features, done in the hope that people will then know exactly where the documents they want to see have been squirreled away. One observer noting that with the $40,000 in tax money spent to put the city's documents on-line, ease of use should have been an important consideration. The documents themselves may be complex at times, but locating them shouldn't be just as difficult.

This post was mostly written Sunday morning, and as of that typing there was no notice of any City Council meeting on the portal page of the City website. Nothing about what's going down tomorrow night was listed among the events, though important news on such things as Friday office closures were there.

This does not create the best possible impression, nor lend any sense of transparency to what is happening downtown. City Council meetings were announced there in the past, with an agenda attached as well. You'd think that for all the money spent to gussy up the City's website, all aspects of the service being provided there would have improved. That hasn't been the case so far.

But enough about that. The City Council Agenda shows that a lot of items are up for discussion this week. Some are carryovers from the previous meeting, which got so bogged down in Sierra Madre navel gazing over the Pinney Bed & Breakfast situation that far more important matters never did get discussed. Hopefully at this meeting some heavy lifting will happen.

There is some secret stuff that will take place before the public is invited in. The Hildreth Affair continues, as it has for some time now. Perhaps the judge involved in this matter has resisted our Colantuono and Levin City Attorney's attempts to trample the rights of a property owner? If so, that must be vexing for a law firm that specializes in helping local governments pilfer legal rights from its residents.

Also on the sub rosa docket are continuing labor negotiations with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. The SMPOA being a public employee labor union that believes it can continually sue the City for the most trivial of matters, yet still get additional benefits and salary increases for its membership. The overwhelming defeat of the UUT Measures in the last election could be an indication of how voters here feel about the SMPOA and its oddly mixed message. Their negotiating position just doesn't look look very strong right now.

With that the residents will be invited to enter Council Chambers and the public portion of the shindig will begin. Order will be called, and Mayor Pro Tem Walsh will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and give either an invocation or a moment of inspiration. You just never know which one it is going to be. The Agenda and the Minutes from the previous meeting will be approved (they almost always are), upon which time Mayor and Council Reports are given. Public Comment follows, and then the 2012 Older Americans of the Year, Jerry and Nan Carlton, will be given an award by Mayor Moran.

After all that we get to the Consent Calendar. Item 1A covers the spending of money, which it almost always does. $560,000 will cover the costs of running the City for the next couple of weeks. These include the bills, payroll and $21K for the Library. There are no RDA spends this time around. Is that now a thing of the past?

The second item on the Consent Calendar (1b) deals with permitting any property designated an "historic structure" to be used as a bed and breakfast. Something that the Agenda Report declares will help with the upkeep of legacy properties. The Municipal Code will be changed to allow these owners to both rent out rooms to tourists, and serve them toast in the morning.

Which I suppose is fine, but I am not certain how this exactly ties in with the Planning Commission's decision to allow the Pinney House owners to sell their rather large home to any buyer as a bed and breakfast. Maybe it is all in the CUP. This item would seem to open up the possibility of any property designated as historic to become a bed and breakfast. Which means that if every home in Sierra Madre becomes an historic property (and they all are, in their own way), then we could all open bed and breakfasts. Which would be very special, I'd think. At my house, built in the 1950s, we would serve TV dinners.

Item 1c has to do with the issuance of a TUP (Temporary Use Permit) for the 4th of July Parade, along with its associated festivities. If a mistake is made and they issue a CUP (Conditional Use Permit) instead, then there could be a parade every day. Which would become tiresome and ordinary. Parades should always be a special event, and not something that happens all the time. I hope they will be careful here.

The next item, designated 1d, authorizes the City of Sierra Madre to join in with the mighty Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force Joint Powers, or (get ready for it) L.A. IMPACT. What this means is that in the future when somebody asks about how a crime investigation is going, they will be told that the City cannot comment on any ongoing L.A. IMPACT investigation. This seems to fall under the Law of Inverse Relationships. The less effective the government agency, the more grand and fearsome the acronym.

After the conclusion of the Consent Calendar, we launch into Item #2, which is a Public Hearing. This is where the present City Council is expected to fix all the financial disasters of the previous one. The official title of this gargantuan topic is "Consideration Of Resolution No. 12-29 Adopting The Mid-Year Budget Amendments For Fiscal Years 2011-2013 Biennial Budget And Appropriating The Amounts Budgeted; Resolution No. 12-26 Establishing A Schedule Of Fees And Charges For Fiscal Year 2012-2013; And Resolution No. 12-46 Adoption Of The Classification Plan And Salary Matrix." Quite a mouthful. See if you can commit it to memory and, with your eyes closed, repeat each and every single word, complete with semicolons. I know I can't. Semicolons always throw me.

Now when you base your blog report upon the information given in city documents, what you come up with is only going to be as good as what it provided. And honestly, the Agenda Report on this three part humdinger is about as opaque as it gets. The clarity level being only slightly past mud. Which is likely by design as the City's finances are not quite as rosy as the previous Mayor attempted to make us believe. They want more money and doubt that anyone will give it to them.

This is a continuation of whatever it was that went on at the previous meeting. Here is what I wrote the day before that meeting:

(This) will probably consume a large share of the City Council's time this evening as it deals with what is termed Biennial Budget Considerations. The baseline for these considerations include:

A) The City is broke.
B) The UUT is now in danger of sunsetting in a few years, so who knows what will happen?
C) Additional cuts will be required.
D) Despite all of that we'll still be running a deficit.

Certain City Council members are likely to burst forth with earnest talk about the value of what this City produces, the extreme sacrifices that are being made by those here to provide those services, and other meaningless chatter. The stone cold fact is there isn't any money, and the residents of this town don't appear to see any reason to dig deep and change that equation right now. Particularly in light of the City's deceptiveness in the recent past when asking people to fork over more of their hard earned dollars.

What is going down here, to get dramatic about it, is a struggle for the survival of City government in Sierra Madre as it has been conducted over the last few decades. The money isn't there anymore, and neither is the CRA. Some of the more important revenue streams that the City has depended upon, especially water payments and Utility User Taxes, are petering out. People are conserving, or just reacting to the bad economy by using less. Which will make conducting business downtown as it always has been very difficult.

This won't be solved tomorrow night. And chances are the topic will still be around a year from now. In the end it will be fiscal reality that will dictate the downsizing of City Hall. Along with some other things that also badly need it. Eventually this will all happen irregardless, though there will be a considerable amount of talking about it along the way. Probably in hopes of sustaining the illusion that there is something that can be done about it.

Item #3 will see Bart Doyle step up to the podium and discuss his somewhat faulty performance as our representative to the Pasadena Unified School Districting Task Force (so-called). Something that we discussed here at considerable length on Saturday. You can access that discussion, plus all the reader commentary, by clicking here.

Next in view is Item #4, and the question here is do we want to challenge the imperial demands of the central state planning apparatus (SCAG), or just acquiesce in the building of 55 units of highly dense group housing in Sierra Madre. Despite the fact that nobody here wants it, and there really isn't any place left to put it. But the state doesn't care about any of that, after all they have development and real estate lobbyists to pay off. Cracking desirable old-line low density towns such as ours being precisely what these lobbies shelled out all those generous campaign donations to get.

The question that Sierra Madre must ask itself is should we be participating in this obvious statewide political corruption? Do we merely knuckle under and allow it to happen? Ethical demands do outweigh any other considerations in my opinion. After all, if you go along with this stuff, aren't you just a part of the crime? Sometimes you have to tell the likes of SCAG and the rest of that ilk where to go. Which in this case is somewhere very warm and far beneath the Earth's crust.

Item #5 is on the Agenda to make good on an oversight from the last City Council meeting. Council Liaisons and Alternate Liaisons were chosen for all of the applicable committees, but somehow the General Plan Steering Committee was overlooked. So what this one is intended to do is remedy that unfortunate oversight.

Item #6 has the interesting title of "Commissioner Appointment Process." Since 2008 such appointments have been made with the participation of the entire City Council. It now takes a majority vote of the City Council to place someone on a commission. Apparently Mayor Moran has requested a review of this process, with the suspicion of many being he has done so in order to concentrate more of that appointment power upon the office of the Mayor. Which is himself. It will be interesting to see if the other members of the City Council are willing to cede some of their power to him in this regard. Outside of Walsh, I really can't see anyone doing that.

By the way, 2008 was when Kurt Zimmerman was Mayor, with MaryAnn MacGillivray and Don Watts voting to put the current procedures in place.

The last round for tomorrow evening is lucky Item #7, which is boldly entitled "Discussion - Strategic Plan From April 17, 2012 Retreat." This is also carry over from the last City Council logjam, so I am going to reiterate what I said in my preview to that meeting.

(Item Number 7) covers the Strategic Plan Retreat from April 17. It includes such deceptively worded oxymorons as "Preserve Our Small Town Character with a Vibrant Downtown" and "Make Sierra Madre an Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Community." The rotten heart of this sugary sounding stew is the elevation of the development advocating so-called "Green Committee" to full Commission status. What this move is really about is incorporating a large downtown redevelopment agenda, along with SB 375, into our town's new General Plan. It is an attempt to raise from the dead the discredited "Downtown Specific Plan" concept. There is absolutely nothing "green" about putting high density development into our downtown. Don't succumb to all the greenwashing, this is the real aim here.

That is what I said two weeks ago, and I'm sticking to it.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

50 comments:

  1. We don't elect a Mayor, why should the Mayor get more power to name commissioners?

    In reality, the Mayor is a City Council member, nothing more.

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    1. Josh is here to help the realty community make more money in Sierra Madre. He is more of a lobbyist than a representative of the people. His aim here is to stuff as many pro-development people as he can on all of the applicable commissions. He knows that some other council members will resist, so he is trying to rig the process.

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    2. Moran has shown himself to be incapable of reaching across the aisle, as it were. He's angling to jack up committees and commissions with his buds, and heaven help Sierra Madre if he's successful.

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    3. This calls for close attention. I agree that it is likely only one councilperson will want to relinquish voting rights, and we all know who that is, but the others? If anyone besides Walsh wants to surrender to Moran, it'll stink of a back room bargain of some kind.

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  2. Please Attend: PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee Meeting Tuesday May 22nd 3:00 Education Center, Lower Level Conference Room. We need to continue the fight for equity for our Middle School. Cuts are already planned on the construction. Speak Up for Sierra Madre.

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    1. Another meeting that makes it impossible for working parents to attend.

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    2. True 8:57. The parents who have to use the public schools because they can't afford the private ones are the parents who are left out of the meeting. 3:00 in the afternoon - convenient for the PUSD.

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    3. 2:33, have you let the neighbors living next to the wrecked site know about the meeting? They may or may not have any kids in public schools, but from what I hear they are sick of the dust. Sick of it, and sick from it.

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    4. It always comes down to neighborhood organization, doesn't it?
      Get a meeting announcement flyer at each house next to the building site and you've got attendees.
      Probably not what the PUSD wants.

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    5. The PUSD pulled a bait and switch. Promise the world to get people to vote for Measure TT, then renege when the time came to deliver. I will never vote for anything they ask for ever again.

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  3. This is a long blog, Hard to stay awake to read in its entirety. Just like the Council meetings. I've mastered the identifying and retrieving of current City Council and Planning Commission Agendas. What I have not been able to access are historical documents - you know, like last year. Tryiing to find the City's water rate increase protest documents from April, May, and June 2010 is fruitless. Now I'm wondering if the vast trove of City documents have been transferred to the new system...

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    1. Why do you think the most troubling items are always put at the end?

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    2. On the Documents page, type Proposition 218 into the search box.

      I agree that user friendly is not part of the package. I have figured out how to use it, but you would have thought that for all that money, somebody would have requested easier access.

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    3. The Tattler makes a good point that there is nothing on the home page about council meetings. Even if you click on the calendar day for it, the only thing that comes up is the library city document tutorial, and that is right in the council meeting time, from 7:00-8:00. Very odd.

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    4. 8:24 am, you were a tremendous help! Front page just under the banner, in the "Search" box typed Proposition 218 and found what I was looking for. Thank you!

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  4. There is apparently another property owner on East Montecito suffering some of the same pain as the Hildreths. The project is next door to the Sullivan's public storage facility. The project was started, the hole dug with permits, inspected. Now the City says it needs more permits or different permits or new inspections. Is it just another stall tactic the City is using to stop all development on E. Montecito until the City can take away all the property for the homeless shelter and a transportation corridor? It has been months since any work has been allowed. Looks like the wood is going to rot and the weeds will take over. The property owner has spent thousands. Property owners beware!!! The property you own now belong to the City of Sierra Madre. You have no property rights in this town. I bet the owner wished he never started that project. He should have spoken with the Hildreths first. They have been screwed for years. It seems like the Hildreths have been the topic of conversation in secret closed door meetings a lot lately. I still wonder how much the City has spent on attorney fees in their attempt to steal the Hildreths property?

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    1. Didnt take long for the Asbury's Lima St Hotel to get approval. Was there even any inspection? Did the upgrade from white elephant family home to multi million commercial property require any permits? Seems like the Hildreths and their neighbor just picked the wrong street - or maybe their projects compete with the plans of prominent Sierra Madre proprietors...

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    2. Maybe it all depends on whether your house is a part of the Wisraria Festival or not.

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    3. Would that be Bill Coburn's Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce's Wistaria Festival? Let's call it what it is. The City forks over our taxpayer dollars; Bill and the CofC bring in the "consultants" to plan and run the whole magilla. It's no longer a quaint small town festival. But you're correct! If the Hildreths were on the Wistaria Festival open house roster they'd get their permits in the blink of an eye.

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    4. I thought the Hildreth case was hired out to another law firm?

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    5. The property owners are the Roses whose past proposed project was turned down. They are also the family that has the HUGE house on West Grandview. When their Montecito project was turned down because it wasn't Measure V complaint they left in a huff saying that they would build the biggest Measure V compliant building they could. It is just under the limits of what is allowed so no Planning Commission approval was needed.

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    6. Actually, if outside groups were planning the Wistaria Festival, it would probably be better organized. Bill Coburn and the Chamber board are in charge of the whole shebang. Kind of explains all the foul ups with the event, doesn't it?

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    7. They blame the rain.

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    8. Well, weather does have an impact on outdoor events.
      Nonetheless, the dedicated botanically inclined do always show up.
      You would think that the Chamber has a rainy day strategy by now.

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    9. They had the chance for rain insurance but opted out.

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    10. Do you think anyone in the Chamber has thought of getting in touch with other chambers in rainier climes, and finding out what they do.Festivals continue even in bad weather, so there must be contingency plans available for those who can think through possibilities.

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    11. They should have sold umbrellas

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    12. There are lots of inventive and creative ways to deal with rain on Wisteria Day.

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  5. New cartoons! Very funny!!

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    1. Not,if you are a chicken...

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    2. There is a sequel due soon called "Broasted!"

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    3. I thought the same thing OK.
      However, I think the Tattler is showing us that the citizens of Sierra Madre are watching their own demise when we watch council meetings.

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    4. Yep. A horror movie.

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  6. City documents. Chris Koerber's web site made it easy to find the documents.
    I heard that in addition to costing $40,000 to have the documents on line, the City now has a full time person in charge of putting them on line at the library. Anyone know how much that person makes?

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    1. Koerber's site was a simple display - it was great. Very clear. However, what the city site does is more complicated.
      Don't get me wrong - the site designers ought to be dropped in a area where they don't know one word of the language, and find their way back. That's what it's like for some of the seniors who aren't into computers.
      The program that builds up all the historical data is complicated - the user page should not be.

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  7. 95% of the interest in city documents is current. For things such as City Council and Planning Commission meetings it should be as close to one click as possible.

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    1. One click, hah! I've talked a friend through the process, and it was right side under this and then left side next to that and look for the font color to change and lots of responses like "No, that's not it, no that doesn't work, don't see it, can't get it."
      4 clicks from get to go.

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    2. My question is, does the city web site have a Big Brother function - is there a register that clocks who comes to look at the documents?

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    3. Good point. Maybe that's what comes with the $40,000.

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  8. I'm still surprised that the City Manager and the Mayor forgot to put the general plan update on their list when they were making the agenda for the last meeting. They both care such a great deal about the plan.

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    1. When all the hoopla about the General Plan subsides, it'll go back on the shelves to gather dust again.

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  9. The highlight of the evening will probably be Magician Doyle's presentation in which he will present a donkey to the council and then right before their very eyes turn it into a thoroughbred.

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    1. That will be worth the price of admission.

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    2. I'm waiting to see who's side the newly elected Councilmembers come down on... Moran or the rights of the residents.

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    3. Moran and Walsh are the end of the line for the dirts. They have nothing left in the gene pool that can walk on land.

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  10. You can make a web page and information disclosed there as easy as 123 or you can make that page difficult to follow through links and mysterious prompts as in Sierra Madre. This exercise is so obvious that they (the City + Council + IP's "interested parties") will make it so dificult that the information will remain burried. Savy City Wins Again! Boo Hoo Residents.

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    1. If that is the case they could have saved the taxpayers $40,000 and left it just the way it was.

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    2. They have a vested interest in keeping things complicated. The more Byzantine municipal doings, the higher the salaries.

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