"State Senator Carol Liu wants to give our students the same due we give our prisoners." - Mayor Josh Moran's take last evening on an interesting Liu campaign theme
This is going to be the speed version of what went down last night. It is very late and all I am really thinking about right now is getting some rest. Or so I hope. Maybe not. Of course, the City Council meeting was restful at times and, I'll be the first to admit, the moments of excitement were not that common. But there were a few. If you made it through the whole thing and caught these brief shining moments of clarity then you truly walk among the select. You are also probably an insomniac.
A few interesting points were raised during the discussion of the Consent Calendar. John Capoccia brought up the Michillinda/Sierra Madre Blvd traffic light, which apparently partially desecrates Sierra Madre territory. It appears that we share ownership with Pasadena, and that costs us $2,800 a year. Chris Koerber commented that this is a very good reason for never wanting another one.
John Capoccia commented on the $25,000 fuel bill for Sierra Madre's fleet of vehicles. Using the current average price per gallon and vehicle milage estimates that comes out to 62,000 miles worth of driving in a 3 square mile village. Elaine Aguilar assured him that it takes a lot of driving to get the City's work done. It turns out that this $25,000 figure covers only 4 months, and that the actual yearly total amount needed to fuel the purple fleet is $75,000. Which I guess translates to 186,000 driving miles. Perhaps the Green Committee should look into the global warming aspects of this. And maybe more walking is called for here as well.
Chris Koerber discussed the $705,000 Joint Powers Insurance Association payment the City needed to make. A staggering amount of money made even worse by the fact that apparently there is an additional $2,000,000 in payments to go. Out of this evening's figure the breakdown is approximately $192,000 for Workman's Comp, with the balance going to cover General Liability. If you were to take the insurance and legal expenses of every City in California and add them up, the total figure would be enormous. If Sacramento is looking for a way to free up some tax money to pay down its billions of dollars in debt, maybe this is it. Time to do some legislating.
Both Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh emoted glowingly about State Senate candidate Carol Liu. Which is reason enough to vote for her opponent. Apparently Carol impressed them with her perceptions on the RHNA issue, and how built-out foothill cities such as ours are in no position to accommodate the heavy layer of new development this could create. Carol apparently charmed them with her skepticism about the so-called "RHNA Process," and how, if elected in our new State Senate district, she would do something about it. I doubt that very much.
Two appointments to the Senior Community Commission were made without much undue comment from the City Council. The two candidates who achieved their goals were Fran Garbaccio and Marilyn McKernan. Pat Birdsall did have an impressive resume, which included the establishment of a publication for retired Sierra Madreans called "Senior Moments."
Water Conservation and the need for controversial fines and other penalties was aired out a bit. I found it interesting that apparently this is not just for times of severe drought and other water emergencies, but for non-crisis times as well. In a City where the water billing haul has declined markedly because of resident conservation, the need to create penalties for over-usage kind of rings false. This was hardly the first time the penalty portion of this Ordinance has been reviewed, with Bruce Inman commenting that what he was presenting last night fairly represented the easing of penalties requested by the City Council the last time this matter came up for review.
You could easily see that the City Council wanted much more than a ten foot pole to touch this one, and the item was once again sent back to staff for further tinkering. And, of course, not for the first time.
The more interesting portion of this discussion came during Public Comment. The call for capturing more rainwater runoff, plus using "gray water" for things such as toilets and garden watering, were once again brought up by concerned residents. There was also the matter of bizarrely inaccurate water billing. We have all heard the horror stories, and an especially compelling one was repeated last night. The question being how can a City claim the right to levy financial penalties for over-usage on residents when it can't even get its water billing straight?
The "Requests for Proposals for City Attorney Services" was taken on next, and as slow moving a process as this is, you could sense that something inevitable is on its way. It is expected that once our offer to entertain bids from legal firms is sent out by City Hall, there will be a robust response from an industry that has suffered terribly during the Great Recession. Which is why it makes so much sense to go out for an RFP at this time. There are a lot of hungry attorneys out there looking for business, making it a buyer's market. Plus it would be nice to have a City Attorney that puts the peoples' business ahead of specious agendas that have much more to do with the interests of those who threaten our way of life here. We won't be seeing much real action until 2013, but I think that now we at least know it will really happen.
There was one odd moment. Nancy Walsh asked Chris Koerber to discuss the numbers he'd gotten from the legal firms he had already spoken with. Chris responded by saying he had spoken to no legal firms about this matter, and what inspired him to initiate an RFP for legal services came from reading articles on the topic in The Wall Street Journal. Apparently many businesses have achieved great savings by going out for new bids on legal services. You really have to wonder who it is that coaches Nancy. Obviously she does not come up with these odd gambits all by herself.
I found Item #5 to be particularly interesting, in part because the issues spoken about last night were covered here on The Tattler years ago (click here). The topic was all about our local City run bus business and what in the world we are doing being in it. Which means this blog is finally going mainstream, I guess. On August 17 of 2009 we noted the following:
Gateway Coach Express - The numbers:
1) Ridership: June 2008 229 trips, June 2009 219 trips. Quantity of riders is down 10 trips. Assuming 1 person rides both ways, that is 5 less riders for the month.
2) June 2009: Assuming 1 person equals 2 trips, that comes to 109 round trips. Assuming 22 workdays per month, that comes to fractionally less than 5 riders to and from the Gold Line every day. Meaning this shuttle is more often than not empty.
3) Youths and Seniors ride for free. Adults made 80 of the trips, so at .50 cents a throw the City of Sierra Madre took in $40.
4) Cost considerations: An average of just 5 people are using this shuttle roundtrip daily. This works out to 3 hours of bus time plus driver salary for 5 people.
That was 3 years ago. Last night concerned residents supplied similar figures to the City Council, some of whom expressed shock at the profligate waste of funding this represents. John Capoccia pointed out that it costs the City $75 to bus someone to the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station, which is almost quadruple the cost of a cab. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in state funding, some of which could be used for far better purposes. Thankfully it looks like we are finally going to get some action on this. It certainly took long enough.
The promised flow chart detailing the progress being made by the General Plan Update Committee in rejiggering Sierra Madre's General Plan was revealed next. Things are going well and soon this project will be completed. The atmosphere during this discussion remained civil, which is quite a contrast to the strange outbursts on the topic in the past from Joe Mosca and Nancy Walsh. What an adventure it has been for the volunteers involved in updating this important document.
Finally the City Council had its long needed discussion on "City Council Liaison Duties and Responsibilities." This is actually one of the more important topics to come up in a while. The failure of City Council liaisons to attend meetings or to participate effectively when they do show up is far costlier than you might have imagined. And I am not just talking about Sierra Madre alone here because this is a problem everywhere.
A strong example of the consequences of this failure to lead would be the San Gabriel Valley Council Of Governments, or COG. For years this organization was used as the personal piggy bank of an unscrupulous official, and it was done in plain view of the City Council liaisons who attended COG's meetings. And right up to the point when this individual was arrested by the D.A. on three (correction: four) conflict of interest felony counts, only a select few liaisons to the COG were reporting that anything was wrong. Among them our own Don Watts and MaryAnn MacGillivray.
Democracy only works when the citizens are intimately involved. A category that especially includes City Councilmembers.
That's enough preaching for today.