Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Your City Council Calm Before the Storm Report

There was a lot of jockeying for position on some rather large upcoming issues, which resulted in very little being decided at last night's City Council meeting. It was an Act I, and with many more to go. This doesn't mean that no choice issues were discussed, because there certainly was some of that. But after each and every one was discussed there remained a lot more to go. Some very meaty stuff is on the way as you probably know, but first there had to be some dancing.

One point that has to be made is how Councilmembers Capoccia and Koerber have changed the tenor of these meetings. They are indifferent to any attempts by Elaine Aguilar to generalize or airbrush difficult financial matters. Instead they ask specific questions that require hard, detailed answers. It is fun to watch them make her work so hard. I'm not certain she quite expected this level of professionalism, or intensity. Her comfort level at City Council meetings has visibly diminished.

During the Councilmember chat portion of the meeting John Harabedian did note that the COG is in a chaotic state. He pointed out that Nick Conway was put on administrative leave due to his early morning visit from the DA and his merry men, plus one of its more lucrative holdings of The COG, a transportation construction set up called ACE, is fleeing the sinking ship. Taking their huge Federal grants with them. I seriously doubt John's two predecessors would have shared such controversial fare with us.

During the time when Councilmembers get to discuss their recent activities, Nancy Walsh proclaimed that for the first time ever she had nothing to report. By my recollection this is was the third time she has said something like that.

Josh Moran talked about how bad unemployment is in Los Angeles, and noted that here in Sierra Madre the jobless rate is only 3%. He then went on to drop this dead fish: "... as a city we attract a different sort of person." I guess all those unemployed people in Los Angeles will not find the Mayor of Sierra Madre inviting them to stop by for a latte' anytime soon. So much for social equity. Don't give us your hungry, your tired, or your poor. Josh is having none of that.

Chris Koerber questioned a check for a code enforcement issue that was cut for the law firm Dapeer & Rosenblit. And that topic segued nicely with Koerber's request for more details on other checks listed in the warrant reports. This was so it would be easier to make certain that we are not paying for the same things twice. As these reports are written now it is impossible to tell where a lot of our money is going. Something City Councilmembers are supposed to be concerned about.

During Koerber's observations on the warrants the City Attorney needed to look up the Labor Code on item 1d dealing with Volunteer Workers Comp. Because Ms. Highsmith didn't have that information with her, that item was postponed for a bit. Staff had not provided a copy of the prior ordinance on this and referenced a section of the Labor Code without actually including it in their report. Not a good moment for them.

Lawyer Depeer of the law firm Depeer & Rosenblit got up at the podium to try and justify the 20% increase he wants this City to pay for his firm's work enforcing our many fine ordinances and codes. Sadly he gave the impression that he was practically begging to hold on to the gig. John Capoccia asked Lawyer Depeer how all the other cities his firm serves are taking the news of the 20% increases he is asking. Depeer said some were down with it while others cities are in such dire financial straits that he didn't even ask them for more money. Which does beg the question of why he believes Sierra Madre is capable of paying him more. Do we look like a soft touch?

John Capoccia suggested that since there are so many hungry young lawyers out there, Dapeer's argument that his firm had to pay more for new hires was not a very good reason for a price hike. Lawyer Depeer didn't have an answer to that.

A jovial Josh got his signature chortle on about acronyms, welcoming Sierra Madre's Director of Services Development Danny Castro to the podium with a hearty "It's DC up at the P!"

The Library Board appointment went to Gene Goss, which quite obviously was an act of political cronyism. Three other candidates were up for the job, with two of them having put decades into volunteering at the Library. One of them, Bill Nelson, actually collaborated with Michelle Zack on her acclaimed history of this town. Both he and candidate Barry Ziff have years of actual volunteer work at the Library. Another candidate up for consideration, Ken Goldstein, is a senior executive at Disney with a specialty in major fund raising. Something that would be a nice asset for the library to be able to tap into. I don't think we're going to get much of that with old Gene. However, Nancy thought he would fit in with Library society nicely, which was her rather pungent way of saying that Gene is "one of us." You, dear reader, probably are not. Take it as a compliment.

Billy Shields got up and pitched the ALF for a while. Apparently business is booming in the God's waiting room business, with 90% of all available living space now occupied. And at the ALF his goal is to have the place filled at all times with 96 souls. It was revealed that Billy, and those like him, would encourage family members to visit their infirm relatives under his care, which does raise the parking question. But than again, what doesn't? He also claimed that the ALF would bring business and visitors to Sierra Madre as well.

John Capoccia started off the conversation by asking how much property tax Billy's Kensington project would bring us. The figure given was somewhere between $35,000 and $50,000. A number that, you may recall, the Planning Commission did not believe was a "best estimate."

Chris Koerber wanted to make certain that the Conditional Use Permit (or CUP for you who speak acronymic) is fully presented and vetted before they actually vote on anything. Which is smart. All the information should be fully in place and discussed first before any voting takes place. Breaking this down into separate little pieces would not serve the cause of good government well. The big picture is always the best one.

During public comment on this item Kurt Zimmerman made a speech in support of the Kensington, calling the project "our last best hope for this blighted property." Then he also noted that Measure V was made for buildings like this, and that the definition of a dwelling unit there is crystal clear and irrefutable. With the letter and the spirit of the law being the inclusion of the voters in major projects such as this one. The "suites" interpretation didn't even exist until 5 years after Measure V was voted on and passed by a public vote, and is irrelevant.

MaryAnn MacGillivray stood up to speak and made it very clear that the law states that there is no other valid definition of a dwelling unit than the one found in Measure V, and anything else would have no legal relevance in this matter. To which I would add that you can't just start making up new laws because the current one is inconvenient, no matter what various shady City Attorneys might claim. Entire jails are filled with people who thought they could.

This was followed by a long and factually suspect conversation about a so-called Kensington Specific Plan. This featured a full half of an hour of wheel spinning by the three participants. Josh Moran, Terry Highsmith and Danny Castro all seemed to be in a competition to see who could make less sense. In my opinion it was a three way tie for first. They are either deliberately muddying the waters or need to get themselves checked out for an early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The Kensington presentation was a lot of very familiar talk, and seemed like a set up for conversations to come. Everyone was quite polite and decorous. One new piece of information that was shared with us by the City Attorney is that a "specific plan" can open the door to some unintended consequences because it would be general in nature, and cannot be limited to just this project alone. It might have the Kensington's name on it, but others could come along and use it as a precedent for other facilities of this kind. Kind of a revelation for the people watching at home. Ms. Highsmith then went on to note that it would take another legal vehicle to keep things specific to this project. Like maybe Measure V?

All of which brought us to the last chapter in this meeting, which was the call for an "RFP" that could possibly result in our getting a new City Attorney. The costs for legal services being the sole consideration here. The highlight was watching Josh Moran's chops fall when he realized that John Harabedian was going to side with Chris Koerber and John Capoccia and vote to allow for a financial review of our legal services to take place. Something that makes perfect sense in a buyer's market like the one we exist in now. We do need to save money.

There was a very delicate dance performed during this conversation, with all (with maybe the exception of a grumpy Nancy Walsh), proclaiming that this had nothing to do with the quality or style of the legal services we have been receiving from Colantuono & Levin. Which was, of course, an attempt to keep a very large elephant out of the room.

Josh was visibly concerned about all of this, however, as it is clear that the loss of C&L would put a serious dent in his attempts to keep the Kensington from going to a true Measure V vote. Resident rights suppression being one of Colantuono & Levin's specialties, and a reason why City Hall is willing to pay them far more than what we would have to shell out for another firm. The water rate increase disaster being a good example. That we might hire a firm that would insist on following the law on a Measure V issue like the Kensington probably keeps many Downtown Investors Club members up at night. And Josh's phone a-ringing.

The City Manager was told to bring back some useful information on an RFP and how it could be done. The Michael Colantuono puff piece she presented to the City Council this time around apparently not being what was needed.

It should be noted that Nancy Shollenberger was on vacation this week, and in her place was the very able Assistant City Clerk, Anita Delmer.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

81 comments:

  1. This is why Sierra Madre often remains mired in mediocrity. Last night the council majority chose to offer a political reward to one of their own, Gene Goss, instead of appointing a "new" person with scads of experience and connections to the Library Board. So, no more complaining that it's "always the same people" who volunteer and "we don't have enough money" I hope that Mr. Goldstein will not fold up his tent and go home. He is a great resource.

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    1. Agreed 7:21. Here's hoping Mr. Goldstein will have seen how much support he had from two council people, and that he will apply for another commission - or reapply for the Library Board.

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    2. I've had my doubts about the library board ever since the Downtown Dirt heyday, and the appointment of Miguel Perez.
      Definitely a rigged game.

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    3. There are no greater mediocrities than Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran.

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    4. It's quite possible that Goldstein frightened the entrenched political appointees at the library. Kind of too new-fangled what with all that modern stuff.

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    5. It is possible that the click did not see Goldstein as being one of the kinds of folks who would join in their favorite topic of conversation. That being just how wonderful they all are.

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    6. Goss had to be appointed to some board because he will likely run for a council seat again in two years. He's got to show that he's been involved in city business, like, you know, Colin what's his name...

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  2. Do you think Mr. Goss will recommend that the library collection become "eclecticly moderate" ? I know this is a position he supports.

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    1. I got it that Goss has spent a lot of time in libraries - but not ours, and he hasn't done any volunteer service there. He and his family have been patrons. So that's a qualification to sit on the board?

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    2. Maybe he is a Migwell Perez fan and wants to follow in those dainty footsteps.

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    3. IMO, your remark is inappropriate for this forum

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    4. Miguel is a very literary man. His close connections with the Cumquat showed the lyrical nature of his mind.

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    5. Please explain, 7:51.

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    6. 7:46 was out of line.

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    7. 8:11, was it the use of the word dainty, or the making fun of a guy's first name?
      The point is a valid one - Perez was given the position on the Library Board as a political move - and it was a surprising one. Once again, other, more qualified candidates were passed over, and Perez didn't seem to be much of a fan of reading.

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    8. Miguel's email address is migwell@eartlink.net. The usage is ironic, and reflects the humor he sees in the strange pronunciations of his name by non-Spanish speakers. When he grew up he was known as Arnold.

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  3. John Harabedian has an odd mind. His inspiration to kick off the meeting last night was a moment of silence. Yes, RIP to the deceased person, but I'm not certain how this inspires the council and staff to the job at hand. His COG report began "There's not much to report..." and then went on to relay info about Nick Conway and a possible split with the Alameda corridor. And then, during the RFP discussion he said that the C&L atty for the planning commission is "brilliant". Really?!

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    1. Highsmith is very bad at communicating. She ends up leading the council and the public into more confusion than less. And please, enough with the "it's complicated." Your job is to clarify, not bumfuzzle.

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    2. Harabedian gave a genuine report about the COG, which would be the first time the residents had a chance to hear the truth about it in a few years (Mosca and then Walsh), and he voted to gather information about alternatives to our current legal representation? Better than I hoped.

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  4. If the Alf is built, the first three residents should be Nancy, Josh, and Johnny H. These three are a danger to themselves and the community.

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    1. It is sadly humorous that the chief obstacle to the Kensington being built is city staff.

      The residents want it (mostly), the developers want it (badly) and the city staff and city attorney are putting everyone through so many meaningless hoops that it has turned into a comedy of errors.

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    2. They're incompetent, biased against the people of Sierra Madre, and need to be shown the door. The whole rotten lot of them.

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  5. Thanks to council member Koerber for calling for greater specificity in accounting for the many checks we (the taxpayers) have to send out!

    Anybody else get the feeling our city staff and some council members would happily walk by Ross to go to Nordstroms? They seem to have no idea that there are goods and services available at less than the top dollar.

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    1. In spite of Mr. Koerber's grand gesture, the time to question the expenditures is before the check is cut. Nor do I see it as the Council's responsibility to "make sure there are no duplicate payments". I think grand gesture may well translate as grand standing.

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    2. So 7:54, you are for continued ambiguity on just what the checks cover? "A" vehicle, instead of the specific vehicle? Glad you're not balancing my checkbook.

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    3. It's a part of the "whatever" mind set about finances in Sierra Madre, the casual "give or take ten thousand."
      We have an endless amount of cash, and there's no need to be a penny pincher.

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    4. Like that, 8:09. It is also the "we can always raise fees and taxes" mindset of the dirts.

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    5. Actually the Council does not review checks before they are sent out, that responsibility is delegated to the chief administrator, Elaine Aguilar. The purpose of the check register is an added layer of financial oversight, so that Council can review what is taking place, ask questions, seek details and then determine if the chief administrator is doing her job.

      As a taxpayer, the questions raised by Mr. Koerber are exactly the kind of "grand standing" I want to see from my elected officials.

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  6. What happened to the SGVCOG report that Nancy was going to distribute to Council after attending the COG meetings? Fall by the wayside?

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    1. Fell into a file cabinet is more like it. I'm sure you could find a copy in the papers from the meeting when she announced that. Probably in the library. Ask Goss where.

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    2. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theory nut, but my view is the SGVCOG problems are a result of a lot of San Gabriel Valley Democrats, closely tied together who are making a truckload of money on the taxpayers.

      All these green things, the energy wise grant, the Edison President who went to the Department of Commerce (he was a green nut with ties to the National Resources Defense Council) are related to making money for contributors and supporters of "progressive" elected officials.

      Nick Conway has deep ties to the Democratic Party going back to the days of Jimmie Carter. Many of the SGVCOG elected officials have ties to low and moderate income housing, and green initiatives. It is a money making scam. These politicians are in it for the money. They feed on these grants.

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    3. In Sacramento the biggest supporters for SB375 were the development and realty lobbies. And those dems who voted for it found these lobbies to be very generous at campaign time. Greenwash is just a sales pitch to force SCAG housing into cities that don't want it. Only a moron could believe that building high density mixed use development in downtown Sierra Madre is going to save the world from global warming. It is a con, and like all cons has everything to do with money. Which is the only green these people really care about.

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    4. Ah if only it were so easy, and corruption was party specific.

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    5. The COG President Angel Carillo is a cocky rooster who never answers a direct question. The incoming Prwsidemt is a pompous gasbag. Both are friends of Conway. We need to get out of this organization.

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    6. 10:43 ---- the money goes to the party in power. That is what the Democrats and GOP fight over. The rest of that stuff is how they market themselves to their constituencies.

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    7. Funny how different people can see things so differently....I don't see Angel Carrillo as a cocky rooster, instead I see him as a guy who is in way over his head. He lacks the skills, knowledge or intelligence to be effective. If you watch videos of the COG meetings closely, you might be able to see the strings as Conway manipulates his little puppet.

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  7. Kudos to Kurt and MaryAnn for speaking out about Measure V last night. You couldn't find two more fine people to draw the legal line in colors so bright that even Josh and Nancy can see it.

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  8. 7:54,,,,, your right that it may look like grandstanding, depends from what angle you are looking. From my angle it looks more like having some clarity, maybe from another angle it may look like Koerber may not know some things here or it's maybe not readily available information. I give him credit for having brought that up.

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  9. even when Walsh reports something it is always of little substance and superficial

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  10. Can somebody post Kurt's speech? I hear that he laid everything out clear and concise, which is a nice contrast from our City Attorney.

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    1. Great idea. The city clerk (or her most able assistant) will no doubt have a copy.

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    2. Kurt Zimmerman should be out city attorney.
      He should be the City of Sierra Madre's attorney.
      This would be a very good thing!

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    3. 9:15, Amen.
      Honesty, intelligence, transparency.
      Too much to hope for?

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  11. The appointment of Goss to the library board is clearly an attempt to improve his resume for his next run for city council. He was the least qualified applicant.

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    1. It is a shame that the services of such eminently qualified people was sacrificed for something like that.

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    2. Someone with the fundraising talentS of Mr. Goldstein would have been a Godsend for the library. What a wasted opportunity!

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    3. Look what joining all the committees and commissions in town did for Colin. However, Moran was true to his word. He does make appointments according to the signs in the yard, just like he said he would.

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    4. Fine me, Goose!

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    5. no surprise, Moran stated publically once that he had every intention of appointing his friends and supporters to city committees

      he admitted upfront that he couldn't be trusted

      what a dweeb and he gets elected?

      only in sierra madre

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  12. Walsh seems to spend 90% of the meetings sitting there in silence. I guess all in all that is a good thing, but I seriously wonder what she brings to the gathering.

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    1. Without doubt, Dancin' Nancy brings "to the gathering" a vote. I recall once she bucked the majority to vote with the People's candidates but for the life of me I can't remember the issue. Yep. Nancy brings a vote.

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    2. She was born to cha cha.

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  13. I am new in town and watched my first Council Meeting. How in God's name did this town elect Nancy Walsh? The woman just sits there like a bump on a log. Also, your City Attorney was really rude to the former Chair of the Planning Commission. Where I used to live, if a City Attorney behaved that way, she'd get fired.

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    1. City Hall here regards a significant portion of the community as the enemy. The City Atty shares in that outlook. Nancy is the product of a Satanic intervention. Welcome to Sierra Madre. Join with us.

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    2. My guess is that Attorney Highsmith just lost it.
      She was totally rude.
      Something along the lines of:
      Just because one person here voted against it and disagrees doesn't mean there's a problem.
      We can catch that flustered and aggressively hostile moment on the playbacks.

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    3. We need a video of that moment.

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    4. Where Walsh really goes wrong to my way of thinking is when she doesn't speak for an hour and then barks out dogmatic opinions. There was real confusion last night - more than once I know - at the point when it was discovered that the planing commissioners had never actually seen the final edit of the documents they worked so tirelessly on. That was what led Highsmith to get snippy, and when the idea of sending the materials to the PC for a final review came up, Walsh said "Don't give it back to the Planning Commission." Strongly opinionated with such little reasoning to support the decision.

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    5. The last thing Highsmith wants is for the Kensington matter to go back to the Planning Commission. The dirts got what they wanted there. Letting it go back to the PC os to risk them waking up and realizing how much BS they'd been fed by Danny and Jr. City Atty.

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  14. +1 on that rude City Attorney.

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  15. Anonymous @ 12:31, please take the time to go to a council meeting and share your feelings. Let them know that you are amazed by their behavior and that of the City Attorney. And welcome to the community.

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  16. Bill Bradley nails itJune 27, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Kudos to the Tattler for running with the substantive issues that don't get covered otherwise, and the councilmembers who are raising critical issues. It's what's desperately needed if the USA is to get back on its feet again. This from Bill Bradley's new book, "We Can All Do Better":

    (On the mass media spin and BS info dumping)
    The losers here are the people, who would like to know: What
    happened in the city council meeting? Or in the congressional committee
    room? How was the money for schools spent? How did that
    special-interest tax break make it into the tax code? Who agreed
    to the pensions that bankrupted our town? What did corporation
    X do for the ten thousand workers it just fired? How will the latest
    technological innovation affect jobs? These are the kinds of questions
    that rarely get answered, at least on television. If people in
    power are not held responsible for what they do, it will be easier for
    them to abuse that power. Without facts to challenge a government
    official or a CEO, the people’s questions and accusations are parried
    by elementary public-relations tactics.

    http://www.billbradley.com/books/we-can-all-do-better/

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  17. If you really look at the Library Board of Trustees appointees, none of them really have the qualifications to serve on a library board. Pete Siberel although does a great job with the trail race and other recreational activities has been on the library board for years as well as his wife. Stockley is a banker in Pasadena somewhere. Glen Putnam a JPL engineer of some type. Colin a cop. To get on these commissions is more of a high school popularity contest and who your drinking beer with. Its all about the chosen few". Not to mention getting your name on a plaque when the and if a new library is built.

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    1. The city already owns the lot just south of the library. Now if only they could find a skillful fundraiser!

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    2. So Walsh was right 1:22, and Goss "fits". Goldstein would have rocked the boat - and probably gotten the money for the much awaited library expansion. Don't want too much success, do we?

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    3. If the library gets too good, how are you going to make the case for building a new one?

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  18. Here's my favorite part of Measure V. It clearly shows how prescient the lawyers who worked on it really were.

    "...in no event may the city staff or city council approve any policy or take any action which directly or indirectly undermines or is inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter except through the voter approval mechanism..."

    Jeez, what more could they have said? Where's the ambiguity?

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    1. If the city tries to work around Measure V in regards to the Kensington, they will be breaking a voter approved law. Plain and simple.

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    2. I take that to mean that they are not supposed to play word games with definitions like dwelling units and suites.

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    3. If the city council lets this slide, we should sue.
      It's worth the effort, otherwise we give away the town.

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    4. City Hall's war on resident rights is never ending. This is the biggest battle in years.

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  19. There goes Stockton.
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/06/city-managers-statewide-track-stockton-bankruptcy.html

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    1. Re: Stockton
      You ain't seen nothin' yet. California's chickens are coming home to roost!

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  20. LA Times is offering a "sunshine" site for crowdsourcing info on government agency documents and records. Should be interesting to see what gets put up here, since LAT staff reviews it first. They have to worry about liability and political influence, so I'm not real optimistic about this one.

    http://documents.latimes.com/sunshine/

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  21. I often wonder what attracts our citizens to run for a seat on council or any of the commissions for that matter. Do they thrive on contention. It can't be much fun. I was on one of our commissions in the anticipation and hopes to preserve and make better our little town. My experience changed my opinion of our city. I had an innocent and naive view of Sierra Madre. My seat opened my eyes to how divided this town really is. I became aware of the "underground" here in town. People that I knew as friendly acquaintances I now saw them as unhappy individuals. My seat spoiled my myopic view of this town unfortunately. So many unhappy backstabbing people. Sierra Madre reminds me a giant high school. Included with the "most popular" and the selective few.

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    1. Are you certain that you understand the issues facing this town? You come off here as being rather superficial and incurious.

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    2. It must be the "Be nice or leave me alone" guy.

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    3. Welcome to planet Earth....

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  22. Yes, and the type of people that Sierra Madre DOES attract, Josh? Child pornographers (your friend Matheson), defrauders of the public trust (Mr. Bart Doyle, in reference to his criminal behavior towards the city of El Monte and his many nasty performances in this town), and developers and their local investment club randy for a little raping and pillaging of our small town. Mr. Moran, you are in good company, indeed.

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  23. I'm a Democrat and insulted with the comments tying Nick Conway to us. There's no money coming our way from Nick. Remember the raid?nick was making sure Nick was being paid.

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    1. I am also a democrat, but recently changed my registration to decline to state. I don't want to be associated with the corrupt political machine that runs LA County. Nick is just a small part of that.

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