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.