It's like open mic night at Chuckleheads, the comedy club for the humor impaired. No wonder the room emptied out. Everyone needed to leave and get a drink.
The City is in dire financial shape, revenues are falling, businesses are closing, jobs are being eliminated, the taxpayers are in a full blown revolt, and the foothill version of Shecky Greene has decided now is the time to launch a personal one man comedy crusade. Can this guy ever see past his own self, even for a moment?
Probably not. But despite the de-evolutionary air of city government in steep decline, there was an meeting agenda, and the elected officials on hand did get through it. Here are some of the more enlightening moments.
John Harabedian, a guy who is unlikely to ever stray from his political agenda, kicked it all off by reporting that he had attended the recent meeting of the SGVCOG, and that there really wasn't all that much to report about. This was, of course, the same week that COG's ruling figure, Nick Conway, had his home and offices searched by the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. No need to mess with anyone's pretty little head by talking about that. Not when there are batteries to be recycled.
Nancy Walsh informed us that she is transitioning. She also worked the machines at the wine tasting room at The Bottle Shop. The Chamber of Commerce is on a roll, despite the recent rash of disasters they have weathered. They're in a dynamic mode. That is what Nancy said.
Enid Joffe appeared at the podium to discuss the UUT Oversight Committee she chaired. This is something that she helped create when UUT rates were first increased back in 2008. Just before the voters dumped her. This UUT Oversight Committee has the odd task of tracking money after it has been spent, all done to make certain that it was done correctly. Which is kind of like looking for the proverbial horse that left the barn a few days earlier.
Enid happily informed us that our current Utility User Tax rate of 10% (which, when you include the vast array of utility categories it covers here in Sierra Madre, makes it the highest of its kind in California), just isn't keeping up with City spending. $2.4 million is collected annually, yet somehow there is now a considerable shortfall in revenue.
Could it possibly be the City spends too much? Under the current Mayor, are we even allowed to suggest this might be the case?
Chris Koerber brought up an interesting UUT related fact. Apparently some UUT rate payers of Sierra Madre are now voting with their feet. Or at least with their cellular phones and anything else they can carry. Chris asked Elaine Aguilar if it was true that people here are skipping out on paying their Sierra Madre utility taxes, and she said that it is not only true, but it has become quite a trend as well. And all it involves is an out of town address.
Apparently a favorite destination for Sierra Madre's utility tax refugees is Monrovia, a city that has no UUT whatsoever. And if you have your cellular bills sent there you won't have to pay our 10% UUT tax. Get yourself a P.O. box in Monrovia, have your cell phone bills sent there, and you can enjoy the benefits of what has become a San Gabriel Valley utility tax haven.
Elaine also confessed that it is almost impossible to catch such folks, and even if they somehow did, there really isn't anything they can do about it.
De Alcorn spoke wisely about the need to channel the Green Committee's energies into researching our precarious water situation in Sierra Madre. Which is about as green an issue as you can possibly find. Of course, the scarcity of water in this area is one of the chief impediments to development, so this received little comment from the majority faction of the City Council.
There was a brief segment of this meeting dedicated to the topic of whether three eucalyptus trees on Lima should be cut down. I personally became ambivalent about eucalyptus trees after a couple of them fell on my house during the windstorm last winter, but that's just a personal issue with me.
The issue with the trees is that the City can no longer afford to trim them in the manner it used to during better times, and that because of this dangerous things are falling off of our woody friends. Like half ton branches that, should it be your bad luck day, would flatten you. And it is cheaper to just cut them down than it is for residents to prune them. Or so one gentleman contended. Long story short, upon the recommendation of the Tree Commission it was resolved that the trees are to be spared. My advice would be just don't trust them.
A huge amount of time was spent discussing the Buxton Market Demand Study. There are several layers to this burnt onion, with the secret sauce being that this pricey consultant has uncovered the identity of products that Sierra Madreans buy, but you just can't purchase here in town. My guess is that one of them is toilet paper. Ever try to buy toilet paper in this town? If you are really hard pressed, the only place where you'll be able to get some is by purloining a couple of rolls from the Kodiak at Memorial Park. Maybe there is an embargo.
There was a lot of giddiness attached to this portion of the meeting agenda, and you might have gotten the feeling that for the two senior City Council members there is an almost messianic element to Buxton's Market Demand Study. Probably because they are the only two members on the current City Council that voted to spend $30,000 on this bizarre squandering of scarce taxpayer money.
Nancy Walsh talked a lot about that part of the Buxton Market Demand Study dealing with "branding." She apparently got to see a presentation about this amazing concept at that League of California Cities meeting in San Francisco we sent her to last summer.
Somehow Nancy has become convinced that if we cook up a few snappy slogans coupled with alluring logos (in Wistaria lavender I'll bet), people will begin to see Sierra Madre as a desirable place to spend their money, thus increasing our sales tax base, saving City Hall from its approaching financial debacle and giving the Chamber of Commerce something to do with their time.
Kind of reminds me of a similar argument made a few months back to justify bringing so-called gourmet food trucks to Sierra Madre. The notion was that fans of these trucks would follow them here, decide that they like the place, and come back here often to shop and dine. All we the taxpayers had to do to unleash this magical bounty was pay some of the Chamber of Commerce's bills for the event. Well, the trucks came, people ate, they saw Sierra Madre, and now, a few months later, restaurants are closing, both left and right.
From simple minds come simple solutions.
This was followed by two items that went nowhere. The first was some poorly conceived change in the commission appointment process. Mayor Moran had somehow decided that it was an awkward process, particularly for tender young people applying for youth commissions. Nobody bought his arguments and his proposed changes were rejected. The other was the five year update for Public Facilities Fees. This is one of those things where you the tax payer get to pay fees to cover the cost of work done by a city staff whose salaries you have already paid for out of your taxes. It was decided that nothing should change there, either.
The last round was the best one. This had to do with somehow turning the Green Committee into the Green Commission. Chris Koerber and a by now decidedly snotty Josh Moran faced off over this one. The Green Committee, which recently issued its so-called Accords (which it freely admits to having ripped off from the United Nations Green Accords), is basically a pro-development front advocating for things like redevelopment heavy "smart growth." Which in our case means razing portions of downtown Sierra Madre and replacing them with "Transit Village" style projects. Which is something very reminiscent of the old Downtown Specific Plan. Or the disastrous Rancho Cucamonga, should you ever get out that way.
And they are hardly hiding it. Here is the offending passage, which is called "Action Item Eight." It is right there at the very heart of the Green Committee's Accords:
Adopt urban planning principles and practices that advance higher density, mixed use, walkable, bikeable and disabled-accessible neighborhoods which coordinate land use and transportation with open space systems for recreation and ecological restoration.
All of which is, of course, just a greenwashed version of the call for centrally planned high-density development. In this case being the United Nations, which is about as central as you can get. Apparently the Green Committee has somehow become convinced that stack and pack condos with attached shoppettes and nicknack emporiums are going to save the world from global warming. Or something.
It was rather ironic seeing John Harabedian defending this obvious big time development scheme through his copious use of such jargon as "process." Which, in this case, is careening towards those kinds of generic redevelopment so important to the agenda of that political machine he sold us out to. One that receives an awful lot of campaign cash from all of the usual development, construction and realty lobbies.
Poor John, he is starting to look and sound more like Joe Mosca every day.