Friday, June 8, 2012

Notes From Last Night's Planning Commission Meeting On The Alfington Project

It was a bit of a slow moving drama last night, but there was an interesting tension in the air nonetheless. The meeting featured a developer who was practically crawling out of his skin with desire to get the Planning Commission to give its blessing to his project tout suite. After all, there was still a lot of stuff coming up with the City Council that needed to be done before ballot language could be crafted to put the ALF up for a vote this November. Time, in his anxious mind, was rapidly running out. Just like it is for everyone in life.

The Planning Commission, however, felt that there was actually something more important than meeting developer Billy Shields's tight approval schedule. That being they should be allowed to actually read what were newly amended documents first before signing off on them. After all, and for whatever the reasons, they had only been given these documents 2 hours before the meeting had begun. Which means they would be signing off on something they hadn't even read yet. And while that might work in Washington DC or Sacramento, it wasn't going to happen with our Planning Commission. They were going to do their due diligence no matter what anyone might think about it.

Billy's attorney, Scott Jenkins, who had been so impressive in previous meetings, made the mistake here of ruffling feathers by pushing the Planning Commission just a little too hard on the issue. "You have staff that you rely on, this is a City Manager form of government," quoth the learned barrister. The notion here being this is all that they should need. Trusting City Hall being, at least for some portion of this community, a bit of a novel concept. And something that indicates that Mr. Jenkins had not followed the events of the water rate increase process here a while back.

Bob Spears replied by saying that the decision of the Planning Commission would be based on due diligence. Gina Frierman-Hunt concurred, and said that it would be unethical to sign off on anything that she hadn't read first. So why hadn't they received these documents before 4:30 that very day? The mystery was never clarified, though it did appear that staff and the developer had spent a lot of time putting it all together. Perhaps they had been having too much fun and lost track of the time.

Kevin Paschall wanted to know if the developer's attorney was suggesting that City Staff had screwed up, and it therefore fell upon the Planning Commission to make up for their shortcomings by just looking the other way and signing off. Kevin indicated that he wouldn't do that either, and shouldn't the public get a chance to look things over as well? Nice to see transparency at the top of somebody's agenda in that room.

The good news of the evening was that the Planning Commission had classified the entire project as "residential with ancillary commercial." Good news because that meant there was no need to amend the General Plan in any way to accommodate the Kensington. Something that would have created a dangerous precedent, one certain to be exploited by that surly bunch from the Downtown Investors Club. None of whom are getting any younger, I'll have you know.

John Hutt, a man noted for both pithy observations and exactitude in his use of language, offered that there is not one person on the City Council who is a land use expert. And because of this professional lapse they will be deeply reliant upon the Planning Commission's expertise. Their input thereby being vital. No word yet if Nancy Walsh took offense, or later attempted to take him out.

Caroline Brown brought up the issue of safety concerns. Something that could be an issue should a rush to judgement take place here. As an example she cited two parking spaces in the current ALF lot that are "accidents waiting to happen," and therefore needed to go. Something that would then further exacerbate the pressing need for parking at the ALF. A gentleman by the name of Collins had noticed gasoline tank storage on the site. He asked if anyone had been paying attention to that, and wondered if that meant more such tanks could be found under the ground there.

The highlight of the evening for this dogged observer was the big catch on the kitchen issue. Kevin Paschall noticed, despite the brief time this newly crafted meeting book was in his possession, that many of the cooking machines that the Planning Commission had been told were not going to be used at the Kensington were there in the attached Specific Plan.

Then Gina nailed it when she said that the only reason they had decided that these Alfington wickiups were not true dwelling units because they had no kitchens, and that included kitchenettes. Were they cynically trying to change everything right under their noses?

Of course, another issue might be whether what was trotted out last night actually conforms to Measure V. Or if it was yet another cynical manipulation of certain aspects of this project to give the appearance of being in compliance in order to avoid a true Measure V vote. In other words, yet another ploy designed to placate those certain individuals whose hatred of Measure V has become something of a mentally unhealthy obsession.

So here is today's Conspiracy Alert. And we do love our conspiracies here at The Tattler. Was this the reason why the amended Kensington paperwork was only given to the Planning Commission two hours before the meeting began? And why they were being asked to hurry through everything and sign off on the project without even reading the paperwork?

Billy then went into a soliloquy about how he would agree any changes that Danny Castro had wanted (there were some issues earlier), and if he did would the Planning Commission please then approve the plans? Time, as he had noted earlier, was running out. The Planning Commission did like the changes he had made, so why not just show a little trust in your fine City Staff and get it done?

Obviously there must be some large money to be made in the ALF business if a developer is willing to give up a big bunch of his planning desires just to stay on schedule.

In the end the only decision that was made last evening was to move up the next Planning Commission meeting to this Monday, June 11. This to accommodate an anxious Billy the Builder's fervent wish that everything will then be approved by the PC and could then be placed into the hands of the City Council at the 2nd meeting of this month.

A schedule that probably depends on what our very thorough planning commissioners find in that stack of paper once they finally get the chance to actually read it.

Yesterday's Scandal Du Jour

As one wag put it in a post late last night, Sierra Madre has become the "Felony of the Month Club." And yesterday this month's latest candidate for Felony Poster Boy stood up and watched as the District Attorney rummaged through his house, his office and apparently what little is left of his life as a highly remunerated government employee.

There is a big article about this today in the Pasadena Star News, our daily chronicler of the goings on in the San Gabriel Crime Valley. Here is how they break down the denouement of one Richard Van Pelt (click here).

Homes, offices of Pasadena City College administrators searched in bribery probe - Investigators from the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office searched the homes and offices Thursday of two high-ranking administrators at Pasadena City College.

Allegations of bribery were leveled against Richard Van Pelt, vice president of administrative services, and Al Hutchings, the college's facilities services supervisor. The two men are accused of taking bribes from contractors in exchange for construction contracts at PCC.

So why does this matter to us living here in Sierra Madre?

Van Pelt was recently appointed by the college to a membership on the successor agency to Sierra Madre's Redevelopment Agency.

Nice to see that a gentleman with such valuable experience in the handling of money was entrusted with looking after so much of ours. I'm sure that his expertise will be missed by his illustrious colleagues on our CRA Successor Board. Maybe they can give Richard some tips on where to find a good lawyer. Looks like he is going to need one.

There is also an article up on the Pasadena Sun site and, cold-hearted cynic that I am, the next-to-last lines had me howling with laughter.

PCC Student Trustee-elect Hanna Israel said she was shocked by the allegations. "It comes as a blow to me because I was working closely with both of them on sustainability issues," she said.

I'd despair for this old world if it just wasn't so darn funny at times.

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64 comments:

  1. Great article! One correction, next planning comm meeting will be on Monday June the 11th

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  2. Gosh. How could anyone working with idealistic young people on sustainability issues also be taking bribes from construction companies?

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  3. "He holds a Ph.D. in administrative management from Walden University, an M.B.A. and a Master's of Science in Business Organizational Management from the University of La Verne, and a bachelor's degree from Ambassador College."
    from Pasadena Star
    Notice a common thread amongst the more corrupt of our public officials? Most have spent an inordinate amount of time in America's insitutions of higher(?) learning.

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    1. Certainly does give the little buggers a sense of entitlement. Which in this case was also a license to steal.

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    2. Walden. Isn't that where Mike Doonesbury went to college?

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    3. Couldn't get into an accredited college or university? All three of those "institutions" accept "life experiences" in lieu of college credits to round out a degree. Sorry not impressed.

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    4. Obviously Van Pelt would have benefited if any of these Harvards Of The Highway had leavened his fine business education with some ethics training.

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    5. Come on, you guys - don't blame the institutions of learning for Van Pelt's serious ethical deficiencies. Some people are just born BAD...

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    6. Hey, I have a great idea. Why don't we just just put them behind bars and save the state the bother of having to investigate, actually lay charges if the evidence is there, and then try the case. It seems clear that the allegation is really all we need to secure a conviction. Why wait to see whether the allegations hold up - that just takes way too much time and expense. Oh, and we all know that there have never been any documented cases of false accusations, and that the District Attorney's Office is infallible.

      Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but let's please remember that everyone is entitled to due process FIRST. Let the process run its course before the character assassination begins. I think that is what I would want if I were in this position. Is that not what we would want for ourselves, if we were in a similar situation? Let's actually see how this unfolds before piling on with, at this point, unfounded conclusions in response to hearsay. It has amazed me to see how quickly we are willing to condemn before the facts are known. Will no one stand up for due process and "innocent until proven guilty"?

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    7. Let's hope that the DA's office is at the top of their game when they prosecute Nick Conway and the PCC Duo!

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    8. Sounds good to me. Which jail? Though I'm still going to want to talk about it.

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  4. Bob Spears would be better off if he pulled his bottom lip over his head.

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    1. You see, I disagree. I think he stopped a major load of BS from being endrun around the Planning Commission. I think he did a good job last night. He called Billy out as only he can.

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    2. I liked the way Spears called out the 'lawyer for the project' (most projects don't come with their own lawyers, right?). Spears told the lawyer that the commissioners lived in the town, and that they were not paid.

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    3. I have yet to see any large project that does not have a lawyer involved do you recall the clear cut mud mountian at the top of Baldwin? Spears is out of touch with reality, and is a dirt spinner.

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    4. 8:54, that was my remark about most projects not having their own lawyers, hence the parentheses, and I may be occasionally our of touch with your reality, it's true, but dirt spinner? Not so much. And yes I remember mud mountain. Still think Spears did a good job in holding the ground for the commission's right to read documents before they approved them.

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  5. Well, there are more honest people than there are crooks, with and without college degrees. The observation of correlation with higher learning and corruption is strained.

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    1. True, but if you are going to be able to steal at a higher level you are going to need the credentials to get there.

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    2. An online PhD can be just as good as a traditional one - but it also can be more fraudulent.

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  6. Check the college degrees of the Bell City Manager.

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  7. Good God. Oldest con in the book: "You've got to act now!"

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    1. Hey, it works on the Shopping Network . . .

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  8. I find it interesting that now we have 2 members of our CRA successor organization under scrutiny by various law enforcement investigators.
    Along with the SGVCOG,it almost sounds like organized crime has infiltrated our distinguished pro development crowd....

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    1. The best thing that could EVER happen to Sierra Madre City Hall is if BART DOYLE was the next to be charged with these type of crimes.
      This man needs to get out of our city politics, once and for all.

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  9. 7:43: Calling it "strained" is too kind. I would have said that with a little more "book learn'n" the education naysayers might be able to see that their belief in such a correlation is not only lacking evidence but is also absurd.

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  10. Mr. Shields will compromise on just about anything the commissioners want, which makes me think the pot o' gold at the end of this thing must be enormous. Quite a motivation. And how much do you think the lawyer costs, anyway? So they're incurring legal expenses from the beginning. We're talking serious buckage.

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    1. I felt for Director Castro when Shields said something like "We'll accept whatever language Danny wants" there at the commission, when they must have reached a stalemate when they were hashing it out together before.

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  11. Our Planning Commission works harder than most of our city staff.
    They also are working on behalf of US, the people of Sierra Madre.
    Thank you Kevin Paschall and the Planning Commission for working for the people.

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  12. I wonder at which point in last night's discussion did Elaine Aguilar toddled out of her office, where she no doubt watches the Planning Commission, AND the Development Services Director, Danny Castro, to the city council chambers with a note in her hand and goes past the speaker at the podium and has her "chat" with Danny, giving him the note. I wonder....?

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    1. I saw that too 9:17, but I think it was in reference to meeting availability, master calendar stuff. The toddling up with notes action you have to really worry about is the city attorney kind.

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    2. Very good question 9:17.
      I wonder as well!
      Thank you to all the Tattler readers who attended this meeting, you are watching out for us, the people of Sierra Madre!
      Good job.

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    3. The puppet master appears when she is absolutely needed.

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  13. The second item on the agenda was most odd. A guest house on Oak Meadow (go find the oaks on Oak Meadow someone), which is off Orange Grove to the east of Baldwin. Kind of Sierra Madre's no man land... wonder if they even have an idea Sierra Madre is north of them. Well, anyway, a guest house where your guests will have to come insde to freshen up if they don't want to meerly have a spit bath as it has only a powder room and no shower and guess what, a bathing opportunity is not required for a guest house. Bogus stuff, this! If I was a neighbor to this I would be watching for porn movie stars or other nafarious activities.

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  14. What is troubling here is that if this was an attempt to avoid a true Measure V vote on the Alfington and not some bogus facsimile, then Billy was playing a part in that effort.

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  15. Good work on the PC's part and we should all certainly attend next Monday night's meeting. We should also call vehemently for agendizing of the RFP for legal services which Chris Koerber requested at his very first council meeting. There could not be a better time to eliminate our dependence on Coluantano & Levin, since this firm has not done anything to support the interests of the residents of this town since it was hired by the Downtown Dirts. We need legal representation that actually protects the local interests rather than subject us to the rape and pillage of overdevelopment.

    A resounding yell must be made also for a vote on the ALF. Warm up your tonsils prior to Monday night's meeting...!

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  16. Billy is also underway with a similar project down the Marina del Rey way where a vote of the citizens will be required. He knows the drill. It is all part of doing business. Don't feel sorry for him if he has to pay the lawyers a few extra hours of billable.

    All in all, it is still pretty damn big, going to really impact that neighborhood, but is less of an eye sore in its current design configuration.

    Say bye bye to what was once upon a time a good community hospital that sat well on the site. I feel sorry for the neighbors to the rear. They are in for a nightmare of building noise and dirt and then a life-time of cardoor slamming in the parking lot below.

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  17. Billy and "staff" tried to bum rush the planning commission last night. Bad move on their part. The PC has long memories.

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  18. Did anyone else hear the estimate of ten delivery trucks a week?
    That doesn't sound realistic for 96 assisted living residents plus staff.

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    1. How big are the trucks?

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    2. Since they'll be coming through town one way or the other, let's hope they're not 18 wheelers.

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  19. Does anybody know where Asst DA Demerjian is today? I was kind of hoping he had planned a trip to Sierra Madre.

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    1. I bet there are a whole lot of 'public servants' who are wondering the same thing...

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    2. A lot of LA County employees have Fridays off. Don't know if the DA's office has the 4x10 schedule.

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  20. As far as public employees in these parts go, this adds a whole new level to the old "Thank God it's Friday!" refrain.

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    1. Look on the bright side. The traffic's lighter on Friday mornings.

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  21. Want something to worry about? There will be two new planning commissioners appointed soon.

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  22. Don't forget the local paper, The Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0608-pasadena-college-20120608,0,7543454.story?track=rss

    We are in a heck of a situation if all we can find is felons to do our City's work.

    On the first issue, the ALF situation has revealed a very important fact. Developers are working with borrowed money. Sooner or later they have to pay the debt service on that money and if their buildings haven't been built and their project hasn't been completed, this can be a real painful squeeze for them. There's a message here. Pay attention.

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    1. Like "ladies in waiting" in the Queen's court, most everyone in politics is a felon in waiting. Some of them are just better at getting caught than others. And without a criminal record, it's difficult to become born again.

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  23. From a police blog on Mr. Al Hutchings an juicy comment:

    Hold on, I'll call and reserve the bleachers. Someone order the popcorn and drinks. Let's all sit back and enjoy this show, shall we?

    Turns out, I knew this guy, briefly. We attended sergeant's school together in 1996. Oddball then, and an oddball now. As I recall, he's a PhD and speaks fluent Russian (a real asset to work in Maywood). As for his fall at LAPD, he was always "being called in on an O/T basis" to translate in "big hush-hush Russian crimes." A little deeper digging found there were no call outs for his skills. He falsified overtime slips, as a sergeant, stealing cash from the City.

    So fired from LAPD for dishonesty, fired from a teaching job for dishonesty, and resigning from Maywood after being caught having relations with a woman....yeah, a top candidate, indeed. This should be very entertaining.

    Link to whole 2008 story:
    http://forums.officer.com/t82283/

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  24. Van Pelt gets skinned????

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  25. All in all it's been a pretty good week. True a booking photo of Nick Conway would have been nice, but Asst DA Demerjian has done some truly remarkable work. When he gets the County Assessor soon, the world will be a better place.

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  26. The tired refrain that public servants do nothing and are lazy and overpaid is, well, tiring.

    Most public servants that I've encountered are hard working and dedicated -- even dedicated to serving the perpetually malcontent, those who often willfully fail to understand processes that are often in place to prevent the very abuses they claim government employees are always engaged in. More than a few of the malcontents delight at yelling, screaming, and cursing, sometimes calling day after day, because they believe that public servants work for them and therefore they have the right to be abusive to "the help" if they choose. Tantrums.

    And overpaid? You just don't know how hard many public servants work for the low, yes, low pay. I'm not talking about politicians for whom talk is all they seem to do. I'm talking about the behind the scenes people and the front line low and middle level staff, the people who daily return abuse with a smile, who worry how they'll complete their work on time when several new projects are dumped on them because the entire department that handled such projects has been cut. The people who lose sleep at night worrying about all they have to do tomorrow, the next week, the next month and on without end in sight in this age of tight budgets and limited staffing.

    No doubt there are abuses and even crimes. But one need only look to Wall Street and private enterprise to see how greed and corruption not only involve a few thousand in bribes here and a few hundred thousand in losses there, but corruption on a scale that collapses world economies.

    So, yes, absolutely ferret out corruption, but let's go after the wrongdoer. Stop painting all public servants with the same brush - it's wrong, not based on empirical evidence, and mean-spirited.

    Geez, some of these public servants are your neighbors and friends, people who really are trying to make life better for others. You may not be one, but maybe one day your child will.

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    1. Governments have never produced anything of value for average people. The purpose of government has always been and will always be to take power and resources away from individuals in order to consolidate it in the hands of rich, powerful elites. Those with welfare jobs will always try to justify their existence as servants of the nanny state as necessary, no matter how much it bankrupts society.

      If you chose a welfare job for yourself, it's only because you knew you would have it for life and would never have to compete in the real job market. Which is why, I suspect you have nothing but disdain and contempt for people that do compete everyday.

      As Margaret Thatcher once said, "the problem with socialism is that eventually, you run out of other peoples' money."

      Now your corrupt government is running out of other peoples' money and your job is on the line. So instead of taking responsibility for your own poor decisions, you're going to blame it on everyone else. Clearly you have become obsolete, not only to society in general but to your masters specifically.

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    2. Well, that explains why Thatcher's poll tax was so popular...

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    3. Next time you need to call the police for help, ring up Margaret.

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    4. Wow, 7:50, where to start?

      How about at the most visceral: Are you the biggest, strongest, and toughest person around? No? Then how long would you last without the government that provides you with protection: military, police, laws and courts to protect your life, liberty, and property?

      Do you grow your own food and livestock? Produce your own appliances, clothes, household goods, etc? No? Then how will you eat and purchase goods without the government providing the accoutrements, such as the interstate and local road system, irrigation, various subsidies to corporations, etc., that allow for interstate commerce to thrive, bringing the country's staples to your doorstep and helping to ensure that your food and products are as safe as possible.

      Perhaps you're a good digger. Did you dig your own water well? Or do you rely on the government to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to bring you fresh water, and to regulate so it's safe.

      Generate your own electricity? No? Then you must rely upon the infrastructure that the government subsidizes to ensure that the government subsidized satellite TV, internet, and phone system you enjoy works consistently.

      Obviously, I could go on and on, but you either get the point or cannot.

      You make a lot of incorrect assumptions about me, but I have been in both the public and private spheres and am fortunate enough - perhaps through some good decisions rather than the poor decisions you somehow attribute to me - to have the education and experience to be able to move pretty smoothly between the two. I can say, however, that I actually love very much my public sector job, not because it pays more (it doesn't though I can't honestly state that my wages are low) and not because it's less taxing work (it isn't), but because I enjoy helping other people by righting wrongs that have been done to them.

      Somehow and sadly, I get the feeling that that is something you would never be able to understand.

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    5. If one of my kids is a civil servant, 5:50, I hope he/she can still get a defined benefit pension. Lord knows I don't have one.

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  27. Beautifully written, 5:50. I suspect you do not work in Sierra Madre.

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  28. There certainly is a Rodney Dangerfield aspect to working for city government.

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  29. One last thought: I don't mind paying taxes, but I do not like having my tax dollars used to enrich the major shareholders and executives of government contractors. So the idealist in me would certainly like to shrink that portion of government spending.

    Better yet, the realist in me would prefer to see those tax dollars spent on government or other work that improves our lives.

    Before anyone calls for my head, recall that GDP = C+I+G. So those who want to eliminate the G (government spending) should be prepared for an economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look to us like the Gilded Age.

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    1. Methinks 9:36 is one of those "food stamps create jobs" types ala Nancy Pelosi.

      Remember, every $ that govt. spends was already taxed from someone who had to earn it. Uncle Sammie takes it from us, or more likely, borrows it for us or our children to pay back later.

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  30. 9:46 and 9:48 are both right. The right gives our tax money to corporations, the left to the poor. Two kinds of welfare, neither of which do middle class taxpayers much good.

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  31. And don't forget paying for two f'd up wars...

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