Tuesday, January 31, 2012

John Harabedian and Columbus Day

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue - "In 1492"

Meaningful political coverage can be rare in this town. Sure you get pictures of candidates with ambulances and fire trucks, several petite interviews that don't go very far, plus the infamous list of perfunctory pop culture preferences. But what does all of that really mean when you are looking for the true essence and character of a City Council candidate? Not very much I am afraid.

But that is where The Tattler comes in. We feel that for people to truly understand where a candidate is coming from, you're going to have to find something of actual importance, and then get it out before the people to see how it plays. And since this blog is not endorsing anyone (we love all the candidates and have no idea of who we're going to vote in April) we get to cover anything we like. We want The Tattler to be your source for the information you need to make the right choice. And if not that, then at least for some cheap entertainment.

Back in October of 2002 then Yale undergraduate John Harabedian, along with a classmate by the name of Matthew D. Houk, penned an essay entitled "Sharing the Story of the Native Americans." Printed in the Yale Daily News (click here), the purpose was to promote something called "Indigenous Peoples' Day." The indigenous people in this case being Native Americans, also known as American Indians. Indigenous meaning that they were here first. Or at least as far as we can tell.

There's also what the authors likely felt was a high moral purpose. That being to undo an historic wrong, one committed by none other than Christopher Columbus, the intrepid Italian explorer credited with the discovery of what was then known as the New World. The punishment to be exacted being the replacement Columbus Day with a new holiday, one in honor of those people already here when he happened upon the place.

Which would be controversial in itself. After all, Columbus Day is a revered holiday for many in this country, and a day off for the rest. But what takes this little trip to a whole new level is just how serious the authors of this piece felt Columbus' supposed crimes really were. Would you believe they place him at an Adolph Hitler level of nefarious historical infamy? Godwin's Law aside, there are 5 Nazi accusations made in just the passages I quote below.

Here is how the authors made their argument:

According to Ward Churchill in "A Little Matter of Genocide," by the time of Columbus' departure in 1500, the native population had been reduced from as many as 8 million to about 100,000, and by 1514, with his policies still a part of the institution of government he created, the native population had dropped to a low of 22,000.

Granted, many of the deaths were the result of disease, but does this in any way absolve them from any guilt? It is widely known that many of the deaths during the Holocaust resulted from disease and the terrible working conditions of prisoners were subjected to, but these deaths are still seen as part of the total loss resulting from Nazi policies and are not justified by saying that the Nazis "may have erred in their ways" and "cannot be blamed for inadvertently spreading germs" within the prison population.


And, not all germs were spread "inadvertently" as Clyne would like to believe. It is well known among the educated community that Lord Jeffery Amherst instructed his men to use smallpox-contaminated blankets to "extirpate" the Ottawas. Given these widely known facts, we fail to see how our comparison to the suffering of indigenous peoples in the Americas with the suffering of the Europeans at the hands of the Nazis in anyway "lacks historical integrity and disrespects the victims of Nazi genocide."

Columbus Day, while seen by many as the great beginning of "democracy, liberty, human rights, the belief in a transcendent god, and liberal education" in what was to become known as the United States, is seen by us as the great beginning of the Native American Holocaust. While the experience of the Europeans at the hands of the Nazis embodies the true meaning of the word (to be consumed by flame), our holocaust was one in which our people, culture, land and ideas were consumed by the metaphorical fire that raged across the continent and continues to rage this very day.

The repetitive use of the word "Nazi" aside, this is the first time I have personally heard Christopher Columbus equated with those who practiced genocide against the Jews, Gypsies and others during the Holocaust. And I do find it hard to believe that Columbus ever made it to Canada to give infected blankets to the Ottawas. As something of a history buff I have read a lot of "out there" stuff during my life, but a lot of this definitely pushes the boundaries a bit.

In another Yale Daily News article (click here), this one entitled "Students question value of Columbus Day celebration," we see John Harabedian continuing his crusade against Columbus Day a year later.

John Harabedian '04, former president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, ANAAY, said he thinks Columbus Day should not be celebrated at all. Instead, Harabedian said, people should recognize Indigenous People's Day. He was part of a large campus demonstration in support of Indigenous People's Day last year.

"Our activities could be seen as protest because they force people to stop and question what Columbus Day truly commemorates and to reflect on the repercussions that have resulted from the actions of such explorers like Columbus," Harabedian said. "It is important to remember that this country's founding -- and the development of most modern societies -- has cost the lives of many indigenous populations and incurred the extinction of countless numbers of human beings."

Not everyone shares in Mr. Harabedian opinions here, and among those who vigorously oppose that viewpoint is the Commission for Social Justice, the anti-defamation arm of The Order Sons of Italy in America. Writing on behalf of those organizations, and defending the reputation of what for many Italian-Americans is a great national hero, Vincent Sarno and Albert De Napoli had this to say:

For much of its history, the United States considered Columbus a man worthy of admiration. Columbus Day is one of America's oldest patriotic holidays, first celebrated in the 18th century. America has more monuments to Columbus than any other nation in the world. Generations of American school children studied his life and accomplishments. Teachers held him up as an example of a person of character, who overcame strong opposition and great disappointment, but never gave up trying to prove what he believed to be true.

Since 1992, however, the reputation of Columbus has suffered at the hands of special interest groups who have used the 15th century Renaissance navigator to further their 21st century political and social agendas.

As a result, today Columbus is often depicted as a slave trader, racist, and even "the Hitler of the 15th century." A small but vocal number of historians, journalists, text-book writers and teachers have helped spread these charges despite their questionable foundation in historical fact.

They have done so principally by judging a quintessentially Renaissance man and his actions by contemporary values. It bears noting that England did not outlaw slavery in its colonies until 1833; the United States until 1865 and Brazil in 1888. Some nations in the Mid-East, Asia and Africa continue the practice today.

Despite this controversy, Italian Americans continue to hold Columbus in high regard both for his historic achievements and also because Columbus Day is the only day our nation recognizes the heritage of an estimated 16 to 26 million Americans of Italian descent, who are relentlessly stereotyped by the entertainment, news and advertising industries the other 364 days of the year.

Sarno and De Napoli have put together some materials in defense of both Christopher Columbus and a time-honored way of viewing our nation's shared history. Each having been horribly defamed in their opinion. Called "Columbus: Facts Vs. Fiction," you can access these documents by clicking here.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Downtown Investors Club: What Elections In Sierra Madre Are Really All About

As we are reluctantly dragged into yet another of our somewhat troubling 2 year voting cycles, I think the time is right to talk a little bit about an issue that has underpinned every election here since 2006. It doesn't get discussed in the press at all, and you don't hear the candidates discussing it very much, either. But like a crazy uncle living in your attic, it is always there, and try as you might to ignore all that muffled thumping and bumping, this one never really does go away. And it doesn't look like it will this time, either.

Our crazy uncles in the attic are known as the Downtown Investors Club. At one time they considered themselves to be the really smart money in town, insiders closely connected to the powers that be back in the mid 2000s. And they were offered a sweetheart of a secret opportunity by those calling the shots in the City of Sierra Madre at that time, one that would make them lots and lots of money. Or so the DIC was assured. They cleaned out their 401Ks, trust funds and other accounts containing their life's savings, then eagerly shoved it all to the center. Their payoff was going to be some of the easiest money imaginable. They were all going to get rich.

The great investment opportunity they had been offered was a part of something known as the Downtown Specific Plan. This was a project style very popular with developers back then, and can now be seen all over the Western United States. Mixed-use by design, fueled by the cheap subprime loans available at that time, and about as cookie cutter and generic as can be imagined, these high-density storefront and condo combinations would now, had this happened, cover our entire downtown area. Most likely, and as was the case almost everywhere else this junk was built, only partially inhabited. Much to the detriment of our community's good looks, along with the property values of those owning homes here.

Unfortunately for the Downtown Investors Club, things didn't work out for them in quite the way they'd hoped. Some Sierra Madre residents, savvy from the beginning about how this boondoggle would change our downtown from the charmingly eclectic kind of place it had always been into something drab and depressing, put an initiative on the ballot called Measure V. Ostensibly a measure designed to curb over-development downtown, it placed strict limitations on what could be built there. And, when approved by the voters, it effectively killed the Downtown Specific Plan, along with the get rich quick schemes of those unhappy souls who'd invested almost everything they had.

The people who put their nest eggs into the Downtown Specific Plan never went away, of course. How could they? Most everything they owned was tied up in properties that wouldn't return any profit, and could only be sold at a loss. Even now they remain none too happy about this, and just like most people who an unkind fate had made its fools, still dream of getting their hopes, dreams and cash back. And the way they plan to get this done is to install a city government here that will overturn Measure V and allow them to finally wreak their havoc on this town.

Their only concern being to turn the kind of profits they were denied nearly 5 years ago. While most living here regard Sierra Madre as their personal place and birthright, these folks see it as an opportunity to make some big money, and then get out. Which, having been denied that opportunity a few times before, has now become a source of considerable anxiety for them. None of that crowd are getting any younger.

Like I said, this doesn't get talked about very much. But really it should. The acrimony of our political campaigns, the smears and innuendo, the paid cut-throat political consultants, and the large sums of outside money pumped into our little community's political affairs by concerned lobbying organizations such as the Building Industry Association and California Association of Realtors, all of this would not be a factor here without the assistance of the Downtown Investors Club.

Faced with an electorate that opposes the kind of development they need to build in order to get their lost fortunes back, these folks work instead to create a lot of false election issues and bogus controversies for their candidates to run on. Candidates that will invariably claim that they oppose the very things those supporting and financing their campaigns are determined to achieve. It is now almost a tradition here.

All of this will happen again this year. It's election time in Sierra Madre. It always does.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 28, 2012

John Capoccia's Blog Post On The Patch

John Capoccia has written a very thoughtful and dare I say it wise "Local Voices" blog column for the Sierra Madre Patch, and it isn't getting much traction over there. I have no idea why that might be so.

I am not here to launch any criticism at our Patch pals you might be relieved to know. They certainly have improved the site from the rather twee and counterintuitive nonsense it lived on in the past. Publishing John's column is a good indication of that. And they are trying to bring some meatier political fare to those who choose to graze there, so you'll hear no criticism from me on that topic today.

But why John's blog post is not attracting the kind of interest it should, as it certainly would have had it been posted here, is a mystery to me. You'd think Patch readers would enjoy the give and take of lively political discussion just the way Tattler readers do. But for some reason they do not. And while there can be interesting conversations (the Brandenburg family's struggle with the PUSD is particularly gripping), for the most part the folks there would apparently rather concern themselves with other, and for me, far less engaging things.

So rather than allow John's post to sit neglected, I thought I would pull out a couple of passages that I found to be important and open them up for discussion here. It really is a strong column, one that shows John Capoccia to be a reasonable man endowed with good sense and a keen understanding. It needs to be read and discussed.

My mother lives in an Assisted Living Facility. She refers to her room as "My Apartment." I told her about the controversy here in Sierra Madre regarding the proposed Kensington Assisted Living Facility. I explained that the developer does not agree with her. The developer says her apartment is really not an apartment or a "dwelling unit" because it doesn't have a kitchen.

She sneered and asked, "What difference does that make?" She says, "I live here. I just don't eat my meals here all the time. Other than that, it's like any other apartment." But sometimes she eats her meals in her apartment. And sometimes she even "cooks" in her apartment by opening a can of soup, warming it in a microwave, and then eating it in her apartment.

Some other things about her apartment. She receives mail that is sent specifically to her address. Her address is different and distinct from her neighbors. She has her own key. Her apartment is not shared by any other residents.

So what is ambiguous about the definition of a "dwelling unit?" If she isn't living or dwelling in her unit, then what is she doing in there day after day?

Out of all the things I have read about the Kensington ALF controversy here in town, this is the first piece I have seen that actually addresses the issue from the persepctive of those who might choose to live there. The key words here being "might choose."

The Kensington ALF will hardly be a fleabag or a flophouse. Nor will it be warehousing for old people. This will be a very expensive place to live, and I suspect that only those who can produce proof of significant worth in this world will be permitted to pass through its doors. And people with that kind of equity not only have options, but are used to exercising them. And I can't imagine that they would opt to live anywhere except in a place that they can feel is their own. One with a door and a lock. That is what people who have lived independently all of their lives would demand for that kind of money.

What the City has been describing, however, sounds at times almost like some sort of communal arrangement. Common areas and a common dining room, with the only place the residents there could retreat to for privacy being a bedroom, which would only be a space attached to a thoroughfare filled with not particularly happy strangers.

I'm not sure that is what privileged ALF residents will want. As we saw with John Capoccia's proud and independent mother, that is not the kind of thing people who have been successful all their lives would choose for themselves. And if they can afford the $4,500 or so a month it would take to live at the Kensington, they do have options. They will demand units, and the Kensington people know that. Which is really what the ALF will be providing. For that desirable market, there is no other business model possible.

The developer's calculus baffles me. It appears that they believe that Sierra Madre is comprised of BANANAS (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). There are a few of them around to be sure, but they are not the majority of Sierra Madreans. Most folks I've talked to speak very favorably of the project. They are anxious to see the existing eyesore in the middle of our downtown replaced with the proposed beautiful craftsman-style structure. They're also enthused by the prospect of additional revenue flowing into the city's coffers and excited about the overall boost to the local economy that the project would provide.

I believe that if the developer submitted the project to a vote of the people as required by the Voter's Empowerment Ordinance, it would pass by a resounding majority. However, it appears that the developer believes that the path of least resistance is to methodically dismember a plain, common understanding of what it means to live somewhere, and to scare up a controversy over that so-called ambiguity to serve their own interests.

Personally I prefer the term LULU - Locally Unwanted Land Usage - but that is just me.

John has identified the great mystery in what is happening here. Did Billy Shields and his partners really invest a king's ransom in this project just so he could get himself embroiled in an ongoing Sierra Madre political and land use controversy? Doesn't he understand that if he followed local law and put this project to a vote, not only would he win, but we'd probably throw a parade for him?

Instead Billy's ALF has become the catalyst for reigniting a near civil war in town that should have ended once and for all in 2007 when Measure V was voted into law. What is in it for him? Is he being used? Is he that naive? It just doesn't make any sense on the business level.

Either someone has been filling Billy's head with some really bad advice, or he just hates people voting on projects such as his. And if the latter is true, it would have to be one of the strangest occurrences in this town, a place noted for its often bizarre development behavior.

To locate John Capoccia's column in full, please click here. It is entitled "Leveraging a Definition of 'Dwelling Unit.'" You'll need to scroll down to around mid-page to find it. Go check it out.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kurt Zimmerman on the Revised Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Assisted Living Facility

(Mod: I was talking with Kurt yesterday about the "revised" document the City's Development Services department had just issued. While it appears that it is meant to be seen as an indication that this department had taken into account the large amount of resident feedback they'd received when the initial report was made available, it is actually something entirely different. Apparently for Development Services the concerns of the many people who wrote in meant very little. And the Planning Commission decision of a week ago Thursday even less. I asked Kurt to send me his thoughts on the matter, and here is what he wrote.)

The Revised Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Assisted Living Facility is now up on the City's website (click here). For those of you who don't have the time to read through this lengthy Study, I recommend that you simply turn to page 64 of the document. Once there, you will see that Development Services has decided that it's fine to simply ignore Planning Commission determinations.

Instead of reflecting the Planning Commission's decision from last Thursday to leave the current interpretation of Measure V well enough alone and apply a density limit of 13 dwelling units per acre for the project, the Study repeats the erroneous interpretation of Measure V from an earlier draft:

"The proposed assisted living facility is an insitutional use, and therefore the project's density is not defined in terms of dwelling units per acre. As such, the density limit of Section 17.35.040 does not apply."

In other words, Measure V's density limit does not apply to the assisted living facility project or any other "insitutional projects" in the downtown core.

Since the applicability of Measure V to the assisted living facilility project was the primary reason for the last Planning Commission's meeting, I'm appalled that the erronious interpretation in the draft remains in the revised version.

My couple of cents ...

It has always been my understanding that the only governmental body in town capable of overruling the Planning Commission is the City Council. Apparently that dynamic has changed, with the employees of our Development Services department now possessing the power to throw out, as if by fiat, any deliberative findings of this duly appointed City Commission. It really is quite radical a change in the way business is done here. You could almost call it a coup.

Also: I have always believed that in this country when a law is established by elected officials, it is the duty of those employed by the government to obey that law. And when that law has been established by a direct vote of the people, it takes things to an entirely different level. While a popularly enacted law is certainly no more (or less) valid than any established by elected officials, it does have a cachet not possessed by any other because it came from beyond the direct control of the government. And maybe that is part of the problem some officials have with it.

But again, the individuals employed by the Development Services Department apparently feel differently than I. And this revised document issued yesterday would seem to indicate that they believe neither the Planning Commission or the law has much of a hold over them, and they can do pretty much as they please. Which apparently includes extralegal advocacy for the financial interests of a developer who, like them, isn't even from this town. Or respects its people and laws.

Of course, it is improbable that Development Services went out and did this all on their own. Obviously they were put up to this by Mayor Buchanan. There is nobody else in town with the muscle at City Hall to force such so extraordinary an action. It also fits the Mayor's modus operandi to have surrogates do his dirty work while maintaining the fiction that he is somehow removed from such things. Overthrowing a City Commission and a voter approved City Ordinance, and all at one time, is no light task. Better to let the help take some of the heat.

It now seems clear to me that this is not actually about the ALF. If put to a Measure V vote that project would pass handsomely. Upon completion of the planning process I'd likely vote for it. It is an effective answer to the blighted eyesore that occupies that site today.

No, the real issue is Measure V itself. The City Council majority opposes a citizen review through the vote on downtown development, and their goal is to keep the ALF from going to such a vote. This would be the first Measure V election, and should such a vote take place it would further empower an ordinance that this Mayor never intended to honor. Despite all of his past fine words on the topic.

What we are seeing here is naked power at work. For people like John Buchanan the law is for those who have the lawyers. The City has those lawyers, and of course they are paid for by us. Yet they are being used by this Mayor and his enablers to take away our right to have a say on downtown development. Our tax money is being used here to deny us a right. In this case our right to something as fundamentally American as the vote.

Is this unlawful? Yes, it is. Do these individuals believe they can take our right to vote away, no matter what the laws on the matter might be? Of course they do. This is how naked power and corruption works.

It will take an enormous act of will to defeat them.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com/

(The photo seen above was lifted off the old Foothill Cities blog - click here. The photographer is Terry Miller.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Did the City of Sierra Madre Spend CRA Money On Things It Shouldn't Have?

You have to wonder what the consequences are going to be. The City is in the hole for $800,000 this year alone. There is also the matter of how much other CRA debt was also accrued in recent years. Have we been told about that yet? And should the City of Sierra Madre be audited by Sacramento as part of their $1.7 billion CRA rake back, will they conclude that much of our portion of the pie was not legally spent and demand that we give a lot of it back?

We could be in for a lot of trouble here. The catch being that nobody is really going to know for sure how much trouble at this point. And that includes the people running this town. I'm sure the City understands its potential exposure, but whether or not Sacramento will actually go to the long knives, or if they do, point them in our direction, is still up in the air.

According to City documents our Community Redevelopment Agency (RIP) has three appropriation funds. These are operational/agency appropriations, debt appropriation, and low-mod housing appropriation. Additionally, the Agency shared approximately 20% of the allocated cost in the Administration, Public Works and Development Services. But were they involved in the kinds of legally valid CRA projects that would justify the use of so much of the Agency's funds?

And that is where much of the trouble lies. As an example, the City's CRA (Redevelopment Agency) numbers from the current budget:

Personnel Costs:
Administration ---- $67,220
Elected Officials --- $9,764
Development Services --- $278,418
Public Works --- $21,958
Community Services --- $0
Non-Personnel Costs:
Administration ---- $685,464
Elected ---- $0
Development Services ---- $2,813,359
Public Works --- $151,481
Community Services ---- $0
Total for all above ---- $4,049,826
Total for personnel only ---- $377,360

The catch is Sierra Madre does not have any real redevelopment or CRA-style projects underway right now. Despite what you might have heard from one elected fool (click here), Sierra Madre doesn't have any of the kinds of blight fighting projects CRAs were created to fight. Plus the Senior Care Facility is pretty much rolling along now, with only upkeep and rent collections to worry about. And the low-mod housing project on Highland isn't really even a project yet. The residents there stopped it dead in its tracks last year, and ever since nothing much has happened. Nor is the ALF really underway, and isn't the developer picking up most of the existing planning costs anyway?

All of which will make justifying a $267,418 spend on Development Services personnel (salaries, retirement, benefits) hard to explain to auditors from Sacramento should they be sent our way.

Cities all over the State of California have been using their CRAs as a piggy bank. The question is how much money was taken out of that piggy bank, and what exactly was it used for. With no truly valid new CRA projects in existence, the Development Services spend alone looks extremely suspect.

What's possibly illegal here is the use of a big portion of the CRA's allocation on things that are either marginally, or not at all, related to legitimate CRA projects. The numbers we are seeing here, put under the magnifying glass of a state auditor whose mission is to reclaim as much money as possible, could end up looking rather suspect.

Here is another thing. Our state mandated City audits are once again late. According to people that I spoke with this afternoon, the City of Sierra Madre has only now hired an auditor to do the numbers. Which means we are not just way behind schedule once again, but could end up turning our audit in over a year late. The State requires that every City must generate its annual reports in timely manner, and they must come with an audit. Without fail. With no report or audit from us to refer to in Sacramento, we will attract the interest of people we'd rather avoid at this point.

Being a year behind could make us a target. And this is definitely the wrong year to be late with our paperwork.

More Funny Josh Tricks

At Tuesday's City Council meeting Josh Moran aired out the prospect of cuts being made in areas that will directly affect residents. These being due to the loss of CRA funds. Those targeted included such traditional hostages such as the Library and Community Services.
However, neither of these hostages have received CRA funds, and therefore would make them odd targets for cuts.

Of course, the real reason for this move by the Councilman is politics. Threats to things such as our Library almost always generate an emotional response in our City, and this would help Josh and his allies to free up some city General Fund reserves to prop up CRA concerns that are their real source of interest.

It is good to see that as our City slips into serious financial crisis at least some of our elected leadership is willing to stoop to scare tactics and demagoguery to achieve narrow ends that are irrelevant to solving any real problems.

Moody's Downgrades California Redevelopment Bonds

From the California Planning & Development Report (click here) comes this little ray of sunshine:

Credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service downgraded by one notch all California tax allocation bonds rated Baa2 and above. Moody's is monitoring all other redevelopment bonds and may issue a downgrade in the future.

It is nice to know that those CRA bonds we will be struggling to keep up payments on are settling down into a rating somewhere close to junk. It appears that Moody's is aware of the huge financial pressures cities such as ours are now going through, and they fear the potential effects on CRA bonds.

Apparently things are bad all over.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The City Council Votes To Run CRA Funded Staff Expenses With General Fund Money

"I think politicians should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we can tell their corporate sponsors." - Comment yesterday from a poster named Snarko

CRA Call to Order/Roll Call

Secret Conference with Legal Counsel - Apparently existing litigation stuff was talked about and a crystal ball was consulted to determine “facts and circumstances that might result in litigation but which the City/Agency believes are not yet known to potential plaintiff or plaintiffs.”

No reportable action taken in closed session regarding one case of ongoing litigation and one anticipated case.

Approval of Agenda, Approval of Minutes - Yes, yes, yes. It all got done. But really, does anyone at the dais appreciate the time and energy the City Clerk expends to produce the minutes for the Community Redevelopment Agency and City Council Meetings?

Mayor and City Council Reports - Not much going on here.

Public Comment - Guess what!! Our PUSD redistricting task force rep Bart Doyle is going to be invited to make a report to City Council!! Thanks Chris Koerber for bring this up! MaryAnn thinks the rep should come to every meeting and give a report! De Alcorn registered dissatisfaction with the secrecy of the closed sessions.

Presentation - Recognition of Citizen of the year, Richard Mays. Thank you Alma Mays for raising your boy up right. You should have been up there as well! A good man.

Consent Calendar

1a) Folks, they spent $684,593.66 up front – your tax dollars!

1b) And, another $391.67 in payments on behalf of the CRA;

1c) Removed part time employees from SDI.

1d) Chatted on about an RFP for audit services for the City of Sierra Madre, Community Redevelopment Agency and Public Finance Authority. Should be music to our ears that staff takes audits so seriously!!

1e) Second reading and adoption of Ordinance No. 1322… Earl Richey demanded that a moratorium on all future building be enacted based on the Council’s comments at the last council meeting “until you can ensure water available and at a fair price.” Wouldn't that make a great ballot question for this November? Show us the water, or shut down all the irresponsible and unsustainable development talk.

1f) Second reading and adoption of Ordinance No. 1327 Barbara Leigh pointed out how difficult it is to read smart meters and deal with tiered pricing, which results in many not knowing their water usage. Residents will be fined for water usage that cannot gauge.

Consent Calendar was passed unanimously.

2. Discussion – Resolution No. 12-012 Authorization for Appropriations of City Reserves for Costs Associated with the 2011 Wind Storm Energy.

Recommendation that the City Council adopt Resolution No. 12-012: Authorizing the appropriation of $936,000 from General Fund and $240,000 in Facilities-Internal Services Fund.

Elaine: Staff worked around the clock. 5,500 tons of debris moved; 6 months worth of trash. City spent $511,000. Want to appropriate General Fund reserves for these costs. Unmet expenditures, costs not incurred yet: $665,000. Generators, roofs. Both generators repaired – nice to replace, but not necessary. Need regular maintenance though, estimated amount $25,000 per year. Optional, $75,000 purchase generator as back up, and could use at Community Center. Council Chambers worked for a few people – not a big group. Roofs, $225,000. Can do spot repairs for $9,000. Just 2 city hall buildings. Tree $24,000 for trimming damaged but can live, $28,000 for tree removals. Down to $52,000. No replacements. $23,000 sidewalk repairs. Using in house staff, so that staff is not available to do other things. Replacement $225 per tree. 122 trees = $27,000. Arborists $40,000. Don’t really need, staff will make the call on iffy trees.

One note here. When the mountains of tree debris were removed from my street, it was done by a private contractor. I know this because I talked with those folks. The northern part of Grove Street was cleared by one contractor, and it was all done on a Sunday. I did not hear Elaine acknowledge that, or include contractors in her spoken list of expenses last night. Were they perhaps an Athens hire? I'm not saying City employees didn't work hard, but a lot of this work was done by contractors as well. And perhaps this was necessary, but it is something that we the taxpayers are now paying for. So as long as some people are attempting to take credit here, maybe we should thank ourselves.

Staff took a “sharpened pencil” to the recommended recommendations and a total of $695,000 was ultimately recommended.

John Capoccia, Chris Koerber, and Barbara Leigh tag teamed the Council during Public Comment.

Resolution No. 12-012 passed unanimously as amended

3. Discussion – Consideration of Resolution No. 12-14 designating the City as the Successor Agency to the CRA; Readopting the enforceable obligation payment schedules; designating the creation of the redevelopment obligation retirement fund; and consideration of the successor agency retaining affordable housing functions of the CRA.

Recommendation that the City Council and Agency Board provide staff with direction.

In other words, the City was using CRA money to run their day to day expenses over the years, and now that this money is gone City Hall is in a bit of a pickle. A practice contrary to most everything we had heard in the past about how this money was being used for its intended purpose, which was to fight our nonexistent blight problem (click here). Or to help to fund downtown's celebrated wine tasting room.

The Staff was asking for $500,000 so that they could have 4 to 5 months notice on job layoffs and program cuts. Josh Moran, perhaps not wishing to soil his soft white hands with such nasty work, recommended that Commissions look at possible cuts to programs and staff. Which, and excuse me if this seems harsh or uncivil, struck me as a rather craven copout. Volunteers should not be required to do the hiring and firing in this town. That is a job for elected officials.

Nancy Walsh wanted to spend upwards of $800,000 to make up for the CRA shortfall. Which shows that she would prefer to bankrupt this City rather than do what Josh had asked volunteers to do. Nancy took the lack of leadership we saw last night from Josh to a whole new level. Apparently buck passing was the order of the evening.

MaryAnn MacGillivray pointed out that this is not how moneys are spent in the private sector. The whole "spending good money after bad" concept being alien to the notion of profitability and sound budgeting good sense. Having myself worked on a floor where 30 out the 35 people working there were unceremoniously let go one morning (I survived), and were out on the street by lunch, I do understand how such unpleasantness is done. I'm also certain that it is not the taxpayers fault that the CRA is now gone, or their burden to temporarily prop up what is no longer financially sustainable.

John Buchanan helpfully pointed out that the City Council needed to cough up the money to keep "budgeted expenses going." The assumption being that if it is already budgeted, you must do it. Budgets being sacred for our Mayor. All of which to me was a good indication of just how weak the taxpayer bailout argument really was.

The best suggestion on the matter came from Barbara Leigh Cline who suggested that since the City Council lacked the will to do the job, perhaps staff should get together and vote to take the necessary pay cuts and save their positions that way.

The City Council directed that $250,000 be allocated to be used only if necessary while staff was directed to come back in two month with a plan to slash services, slash staff, and slash spending. A shortfall of $800,000 will somehow have to be covered if our downtown full employment greenhouse is to remain as it has been.

Quote of the Night: “We all have a problem. Get rid of properties in RDA, the city is not a developer. We’re overspending. We don’t have the money available for the services we have. We need to be realistic. This city council has not done a good job.” – Earl Richey

Resolution No. 12-14 passed with 3 ayes and a single nay. The dissenting vote coming from Nancy Walsh, who wanted to spend more than 3 times that amount. Nancy's compassion obviously being with City Staff and not the people she was elected to serve.

My take? With the passing of the CRA into the dustbin of history, so follows the business model of our current City Hall. The way government has been done in this town is no longer financially sustainable (to use a soft term for it), and running the City at a loss on the public's credit card is not the answer. What exactly will we get for our $800,000? Is it worth it to the tax payers to prop that place up? What exactly do we gain, and will it take a tax increase to make it happen? Those are the questions that need to be asked.

Delaying the inevitable with massive reserve spends is not the solution. Passing the responsibility on to volunteer committees is not the solution, either. This is a can that cannot be kicked down the road again. Or passed on to the next City Council.

The Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem should do their damned jobs rather than trying to buy some extra time. There are far more important issues than Josh avoiding having to do the politically inexpedient dirty work called for here. That is what leadership really is, facing a serious problem and doing what needs to be done. Not passing the responsibility on to future City Councils, or volunteer commissions.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

Open Mic Monday

I am laid out with whatever the bug du jour is this week, so today's post is whatever you want to make of it. Comments are all you get today. The money involved in the dissolution of Sierra Madre's CRA might be a good place to start. All the particulars for that one are in the City Council Meeting Staff Reports for 1/24 downloaded on the Chris Koerber for City Council site. Patrick Simcock's comments from yesterday that both loving Sierra Madre and advocating for high density building projects are not mutually exclusive could be another.

Here is another one. What is the role of this blog in this April's City Council election? Is there something positive that can be contributed here, or is our unsentitmental and hard news approach the antithesis of what most people expect in a Sierra Madre election?

You guys decide. I'm sidelined and out of action.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is John Stephens Dissing Sierra Madre?

There are several ways of disrespecting people and places. One is to name the names and disparage the targets with an assortment of critical observations and cutting remarks. Which is one of the common coins of journalism and politics. This has been going on ever since mankind first put chisel to stone in hopes of immortalizing their resentments in words. This was also a step up from clubbing your adversary about the head, which was the more prevalent form of conflict resolution at that time.

However, there are also more subtle ways of doing the deed, and one of them is to just write those you don't particularly care about completely out of whatever momentous topics you are covering. This can be done for a purpose, or just through a natural process of forgetting. The sting being that whoever has been forgotten will then understand just how little they really meant.

Perhaps you might recall the original editor of the Sierra Madre Patch, John Stephens. He was the founder of our hyperlocal (so-called) outlet of the vast Aol empire of Patches, running the place for about a year. Then one fine day he was plucked from this comparative obscurity and whisked off to a far grander stage in New York City, where he was ensconced as the "Trends Editor" for the Huffington Post. Which is also an Aol property, albeit one of far greater importance in this world of woe since it has exponentially more readers and actually turns a profit.

However, John's departure was apparently an imperfect joy for him. Despite the sunnier career prospects and, I suspect, better pay, John did claim to have some regrets. And he expressed them in the following passages of this October 28, 2011 Patch article entitled, "A Farewell to Sierra Madre" (click here).

While writing today's look back over the past year, noting both the successes and challenges I've had along the way, I'm met with a stark reminder not of any particular story, but of the personal connections I've made in my time editing this site.

Without your willingness to share your most personal stories, make introductions and invite me into your businesses and homes, none of this would have ever been possible. I am eternally grateful to every single resident of Sierra Madre for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful community.

So it is not without a considerable amount of sadness that I announce I will be leaving my post as editor of Sierra Madre Patch, effective Friday, Nov. 4. Recently, the call came from what I won't call greener, but certainly other pastures, and I will soon be packing my pen and recorder, bound for New York City where I have taken a new position as The Huffington Post's Trends Editor.

Looking out my window at the mountains above Sierra Madre Canyon, I can't help but reflect back on the last four years of my life spent covering this foothill village and the wonderful people who, like me, have been lucky enough to call it home. Then a deer walks by my front door - the same proud buck I see nearly every day - and I say to myself, "You're moving where?"

It goes on like that for a bit more.

So you'd think that at The Huffington Post its new Trends Editor would note this fondly remembered past as part of the short biography that accompanies his tag box (click here). Certainly Sierra Madre would figure prominently in a brief history of John's accomplishments, right? Well, apparently not. Far be it from my sunny self to be the bearer of melancholy news, but it appears that we are less than remembered.

John Stephens is the Trends Editor at The Huffington Post. He comes to New York by way of Los Angeles, where he worked in book publishing, as a freelance journalist and as the Managing Editor of a group of weekly newspapers in and around Pasadena.

Well, there you have it. No Sierra Madre, no Patch, no proud buck walking past the front door. Less than 3 months later and all of that has either been forgotten, or buried for being a little too embarrassingly trite for so cosmopolitan a venue.

Ain't that just the way.

Some great language we need to incorporate in the fight to save Measure V

There is just some wonderful stuff to be found in the article "One Bay Area Plan Called 'Social Engineering'" (click here), which can be found in a recent edition of a Bay Area publication known as The Independent News. Here are a few passages that excite and delight:

A group of individuals opposed to the "One Bay Area" plan demanded that the entire process be stopped and started over. One Bay Area would provide a framework for the development of the Bay Area over the next 25 years. MTC and ABAG are leading the effort.

Speakers tried to disrupt the meeting held last Wednesday in Dublin by waving signs and shouting. They called the plan an attempt at "social engineering by manipulating communities."

ABAG, which is the Bay Area equivalent of our equally delightful SCAG (still #1 in the ugly acronym category as far as I'm concerned), is trying to pull off the same SB 375 high density planning schemes we are currently being accosted with here. And just like we saw here last Thursday evening, people are not very happy about it.

Many called the process a sham because they said the public is left to make only minor decisions. "All of the most important decisions on this subject have all been made. They've been made by big developers and high-density growth advocacy groups. We were not at the table when all of those decisions were made," said Berkeley resident Doug Buckwald.

"A lot of this plan involves a loss of property rights," was a complaint voiced by more than one speaker. Others argued that the series of meetings were set up to achieve the results the leaders wanted to hear.

It looks like it is happening everywhere. Here is my favorite passage in the article. Check this out:

The opponents of the plan said they want to let the free market determine where and what type of housing would be built. One man stood up and shouted, "If we need stack and pack housing because there's a sufficient market for it, and people are willing to pay for it, it will get built without your intervention."

What a great way to phrase it. Stack and pack.

We certainly don't need any "stack and pack" development in Sierra Madre.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 21, 2012

University Study: Does Facebook Make People Sad?

"It is all just lights on a screen." - Steve Proffitt

Facebook, which for many is the on-line equivalent of the happiest place on Earth, might actually be depressing for some and causing people to have doubts about the meaningfulness of their lives. Or so the journal for Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking would have you believe. In an article entitled Facebook: Friends' Happy Pictures Make You Sad? (click here), ABC News lays out a bitter truth in the following clear and unmistakable language:

There are plenty of reasons to feel down in today's fast-paced, hectic world, and you wouldn't think that the world's most popular social networking site would be one of them. But that's exactly what a new study by Utah Valley University has found.

According to the study, Facebook is making us sad. Why? It's all about the kinds of pictures people post on their pages. Facebook photos generally depict smiling, cheerful people having good times, conveying a sense of happiness. Of course everyone likes to smile for the camera, so that good cheer may be inflated or false. As others view the photos, they may believe this conveyed sense of intense happiness is real, making them think that their friends are much happier than they are.

This window into what the more sensitive might believe is a better world that they don't get to live in could be bumming out millions. That such an excessive expression of unrealistic happiness can be convincingly conveyed by Facebook has always been lost on me. My reaction to most of the pictures I have seen on Facebook is that they are of people who shouldn't eat so much. Then again, I have been something of a skeptic and a non-believer for quite some time.

But this is one of those paradoxes you run into every once in a while. We here at The Tattler have often returned to a bit of wisdom that the influential 1970s social critic John Lydon had shared back then on the topic of popular success in the media. "There are no happy people, just better actors," being his appraisal. And while this probably is a little bit more cynical than need be, it might actually apply in this case. Facebook could now be the place where many go to act out their conceptions of happiness, while allowing them at the same time to hide the more mundane aspects of their lives.

And then there is the "friend" thing:

They also asked about the student's Facebook usage, including how many "friends" they had on the site, and how many of those friends were people they knew.

After controlling for race, gender, religious beliefs and whether the volunteers were unattached or in a relationship, the researchers saw a pattern: The more time students spent on Facebook, the more they thought others had it better than they did.

"Those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives," wrote Chou and Edge. "Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook "friends" agreed more that others had better lives."

I have often thought that someone claiming to have (let's say) 1,000 "friends" on their Facebook page might be stretching the truth a little because, let's face it, who can actually remember the names of a thousand people? I know I have trouble dealing with around 50.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg doesn't think highly of the users of his service?

In what might be shocking news to those who have adopted the Facebook lifestyle, it appears that CEO and Founder of the popular on-line social media service, Mark Zuckerberg, might not hold those who use it in a very high regard. This from gawker.com (click here):

Facebook CEO Admits To Calling Users 'Dumb F***s' - Mark Zuckerberg admits in a New Yorker profile that he mocked early Facebook users for trusting him with their personal information. A youthful indiscretion, the Facebook founder says he's much much more mature now, at the ripe age of 26.

"They trust me ------ dumb f***s" says Zuckerberg in one of the instant messages, first published by former Valleywag Nicholas Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider, and now confirmed by Zuckerberg himself in Jose Antonio Vargas's New Yorker piece. Zuckerberg now tells Vargas, "I think I've grown and learned a lot" since those instant messages.

Considering that Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook corporation have often been cited for their commercial misuse of private information provided to them by the users of his concoction, the quote really is quite revealing. You have to wonder if Zuckerberg's regret is based more on his need to control the effects of a Public Relations gaff than any fundamental attitude change about the people who helped to make him a billionaire.

Mark your calendars! Bart Doyle to speak!

According to The Voter, the official voice of The League Of Women Voters, there will be a "Lunch With the League" event held on February 2nd at the Women's City Club of Pasadena. The topic will be "Pasadena Unified School District Districting (Creating Sub-District Boundaries)," and the speaker with be none other than El Monte's favorite son, Bart Doyle.

Here is how they fluff the one-time Titan Development CEO:

Presenter: Mr. Bart Doyle, Task Force Member from Sierra Madre. Mr. Doyle has over thirty years experience as a consultant and attorney specializing in housing, land use, regional growth and environmental affairs. He is a former Mayor of Sierra Madre.

No mention of his current legal difficulties in El Monte stemming from the collapse of a billion dollar transportation centered redevelopment project in large part funded by public dollars. Or the involvement of the FBI and HUD in the investigation of that grim debacle. Maybe somebody should attend and ask about that?

And while you're at it, you might want to ask some of the League worthies in attendance why they intruded on our Measure V election a while back by actually endorsing the "No on V" position. Just one more thing that makes you question the non-partisan claims of this organization, and their continued role in conducting such things as our City Council election debates.

The time on Feb 2 is 11:15 a.m. Address and other particulars can be found by clicking here and scrolling down one page.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, January 20, 2012

Did YOU Pass the Ambiguity Test Last Night?

"So, to be clear, it's not really a proposed clarification City Staff is seeking from the Commission, but a rubber stamp for a novel - to put it politely - misinterpretation of Measure V." - Kurt Zimmerman

It was very nice to see a packed house down at the old City Council Boxing Chambers last night. Measure V, or at least the perceived threat to Measure V that was posed by what turned out to be a rather weak gambit from the dark forces of the Levinites (or is it the Colantuonians?) brought out an energized and highly informed crowd. One that not only spoke elegantly and with aplomb from the podium, but also hooted, laughed and groaned at all the most inappropriate times. I'm telling you, it was just such a joy to be a part of it all. I felt so much at home.

The Planning Commission had been tasked by somebody or other (nobody really seemed to know exactly who), with possibly altering a voter approved law through making changes to the meaning of the term "dwelling unit" in the applicable city code. Something that is clearly defined in Measure V.

Which might have seemed like an innocuous thing to some misinformed souls, but as visiting attorney and Measure V co-author Christopher Sutton pointed out, the California State Constitution does not smile happily upon those who would arbitrarily mess around with a law that had come into existence via the will of the voters. Which was the nicest way possible of saying somebody could very well sue the bejeezus out of this City if they screwed up and actually did what Danny Castro and the other City Attorney was asking them to do.

So you can see that the Planning Commission did have their hands full last night.

But look, what they had to do was hardly easy, either. The pressure coming down from City Staff and the Kensington people to change the definition of a dwelling unit and therefore allowing the developer to build their ALF with as many units and much density as they desire, was intense and quite real. And not only did they handle it all with a thoughtful grace, they also made the right decision. Something that doesn't always happen in this town. At least not lately.

But before we get to that, it is time for you to take the Tattler Ambiguity Test. It is very important that you do so. Below are the two definitions of a dwelling unit under discussion last night. One of them is the verbiage as approved by the voters who passed Measure V in 2007, and the other one was cooked up by a few of what Kurt Zimmerman refered to last night as "city insiders" looking to cut a break for a developer they seem to have fallen in hopelessly in love with.

So which one seems more ambiguous to you?

A) "Dwelling Unit" is defined as follows in a manner consistent with its 2006 definition in Sierra Madre Municipal Code Section 17.08.020: "Dwelling unit" means one or more rooms in a building designed and intended to be used as living quarters by one person or a family."

B) "Room(s) constitute a "dwelling unit" as defined in section 17.35.050 of the municipal code, if the room(s) (1) are only for one person or family: (2) are located in a single building; and include provisions for (3) living; (4) sleeping; (5) eating; (6) cooking: and (7) sanitation."

If you picked the Letter A then you agreed with the unanimous 7 to 0 decision of the Planning Commission on which definition is the best one on that all important dwelling unit question. A rather unmistakable message that was then sent on to the City Council for them to ponder upon. Which I guess means that the only ambiguity needing clarification now is what persons in the employ of the City (either salaried or contractual) actually thought anyone would buy into their pocket full of posies.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to the three City Council candidates who went to the podium and spoke out in their defense of Measure V despite the phone calls they got today from Elaine Aguilar. Those being (in alphabetical order because we have endorsed all of the candidates) Colin Broadrick, John Capoccia and John Harabedian. Your Tattler "Profiles In Courage" medallions with logo pendants and gold plated hoop chain are on the way. Wear them with pride.

After that all finally wrapped up Billy Shields from Poway stood high above the podium and delivered his pitch and PowerPoint presentation to the Planning Commission. This was done in hopes of having his dreams of building an Assisted Living Facility in just the way that he would prefer to do it fulfilled. That also being the most pack 'em in and profitable way as well, of course.

However, since the Planning Commission had just given their unambiguous blessing to some of the density restriction language of Measure V, which would effectively limit Billy to about a third of the units he desires to build at the regally monikered Kensington, I cannot see how he is going to gain very much traction on these matters. Unless he can somehow get the City Council to pull his chestnuts out the fire, he's kinda screwed.

One last thing before I do something I haven't done in weeks, which is to go to bed before midnight. I had parked my car on the far side of Memorial Park, so I needed to walk through it to get out of there. And as I walked past the east side of City Hall I couldn't help but notice that all the lights were on in Elaine Aguilar's office. And not only that, but seated right there at her desk was Elaine herself, staring most intently at her computer screen.

You know what? I think that instead of joining in with all the joy out in the Council Chambers like the rest of us kids, she was sitting there watching the meeting alone on her computer.

Hopefully she was happy with all that she had seen.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The City's Attempt To Silence City Council Candidates At Tonight's Planning Commission Meeting

Yesterday, and at the behest of City Manager Elaine Aguilar, each of the candidates running for City Council was told something that she felt was very important for them to know. It was stated to the candidates in a phone call that if they were to speak at tonight's Planning Commission meeting on the Measure V/Assisted Living Facility question, and if they were to express an opinion either FOR or AGAINST the ALF project, they could be putting themselves in some serious future jeopardy.

These calls, which were made by a surrogate, are being followed up today by calls from Elaine herself.

And what would that jeopardy be? If any of them were to speak their minds on this topic tonight, and were they later elected to the City Council, each would then have to recuse themselves from ever discussing the issue in the future because they would have already expressed an opinion. And because of this they would somehow lack for an open mind on the project should it come before any City Council they might be serving on. And the legal basis for this? According to Elaine Aguilar, such restrictions on the free speech of yet to be elected candidates is required by the Brown Act.

We are providing a link to the League of California Cities pamphlet on the Brown Act (click here) for you to look over. When you read this document you will clearly see that while the Brown Act does apply to recently elected but yet to be sworn-in candidates, it in no way applies to people who have not been voted into office by the electorate.

Elaine Aguilar's claims here have no legal basis and are apparently bogus. And how could they not be? Can you ever imagine a law that would make someone running for office legally responsible for every comment they have ever made? As they were originally stated? And after having been elected anything they might have said previously could possibly prohibit them from ever deliberating on these particular topics once on the City Council? What if they changed their minds?

By that logic Councilmember Josh Moran would have to recuse himself from any deliberations regarding the Measure V aspects of the ALF question because of the vociferous oppositional statements he made on the topic of this slow growth initiative back in 2007.

And can it really be that Elaine Aguilar is stating that no candidates can talk about this issue in particular during their campaigns, and should any resident ask about it they will have to tell people they can't answer their question because of the Brown Act? I'm sorry, but Elaine is speaking complete and utter nonsense here.

The apparent reason for Elaine's claim is that there is something of a panic at City Hall about tonight's meeting. What was originally supposed to be an obscure Planning Commission adjustment to some language used in the building code to define what a "unit" in a building project might be, has now been exposed as being something quite different. With many people having awakened to the fact that this is in reality a full-on attempt by the City to circumvent the resident approval requirements of Measure V.

We discussed this at length earlier in the week in an article you can access by clicking here. The Planning Commission meeting tonight is a high stakes gamble by the City to change the Measure V ordinance so that a resident vote will not be triggered during the approval process by the developer's out of compliance plans for the ALF. Mayor John Buchanan and Mayor Pro Tem Josh Moran, backed up by Colantuono and Levin (the law firm that we the taxpayers pay $250,000 a year to work against our interests), want to remove resident rights to vote on downtown development from the equation. And the way they plan on doing this is by illegally manipulating the voter approved definition of "dwelling units" in this ordinance.

So why this transparent malarkey about unelected candidates being bound by Elaine's novel and quite fallacious interpretation of the Brown Act? Obviously City Hall is worried about the level of opposition that will be directed their way tonight, and are now making a serious effort to silence some of this community's leaders. That being the folks running for City Council.

Unfortunately for City Hall, however, our candidates can read the Brown Act all by themselves. And I am happy to inform you that the efforts of the City Manager to coerce them into silence have apparently failed rather miserably. And the candidates that authentically care about saving our hard won right to vote on downtown development questions will be heard this evening.

You really need to be there and support them.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's the Same Old Tricks at Sierra Madre News.Net

File this under "Sierra Madre: Politics As Usual." Bill Coburn, about as partisan a blogger as you will find anywhere (though in that passive-aggressive sort of way that so typifies those of his partisan stripe), has now posted his first claim against the campaign of MaryAnn MacGillivray. It took about five hours after her filing to happen and, like everything else he has thrown at her in the past (which is a considerable amount), is entirely without merit. What makes this particular incident even more absurd than most of his past shenanigans is that after spending an enormous amount of effort making his case, he then confesses that it is entirely baseless. Which makes you wonder why he bothered to raise the issue in the first place.

Here Bill raises what he apparently hopes will become yet another time-wasting and attention diverting controversy based on nothing:

Editorial, posted 1/17/12 - I was contacted by a reader today who asked me why it is that nominations for our April 10, 2012 election were closed to day for races in which an incumbent was running and tomorrow for races in which an incumbent is not running, when the governing code calls for five days difference. As I started looking into it, I discovered that there are others in town who shared the same concern as the reader that contacted me. The reader pointed out that the Government Code section on elections, which governs our election, states that nominations are due by the 88th day prior to the election, which was last Friday, if incumbents filed papers, and if an incumbent didn't run, the residents had another five days to file nomination papers for a seat in which an incumbent was not running. This would seem to indicate that incumbents needed to file their nomination papers by last Friday, not today, as announced by City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger on Dec. 17, 2011.

Bill then goes on to post, and in all of their glorious entirety, three different Election Codes on the matter supposedly in support of this baseless canard. All of which you can read by clicking here.

So what is the answer to all this? It is very simple. City Hall was closed last Friday. Just like it was also closed on Monday. This was a 4 day weekend for those folks. Something that anyone with even a modicum of sense would have considered before cooking this nonsense up. Of course, a modicum of sense being something sorely lacking in whatever persons raised this canard in the first place. Names that Bill does not cite in his editorial, probably in hopes of insulating them from the effects of their own intellectual paucity.

At the bottom of his article, and after futilely expending hundreds words to establish some sort of validity for the case, Bill then explains why it is a load of nonsense. And, of course, he does this with the usual gratuitous slap at Nancy Shollenberger. Something that seems pro forma for Bill.

Note that all three of the above sections reference either "normal business hours" or "regular business hours." City Clerk (and election official) Nancy Shollenberger usually works by appointment only, and does not keep regular hours at City Hall (an issue in the 2008 election campaign), so there may be some gray area here, particularly if it can be shown that she has kept appointments outside of City Hall's posted hours. But since "by appointment" hours are kind of nebulous, using City Hall's posted hours seems like the logical course of action. Since City Hall was closed on Friday, over the weekend, and on Monday for the holiday, normal business hours ended on Thursday, prior to the 88th day, and began again this morning. So it seems that "normal business hours" in this situation ended at 5pm today.

First let's deal with the slap at our City Clerk. Like all of the elected officials currently serving, Nancy is not a salaried employee. Neither the Mayor nor the Mayor Pro Tem keep full time office hours at City Hall, and our two remaining City Council members do not as well. The reason being that all are volunteers, with most of them holding down full-time jobs. And while Nancy does receive some small remuneration for business costs and the long tedious hours spent transcribing things like meeting minutes, it is a mere fraction of the $150,000 or so that is paid to our City Manager. And good luck seeing her without an appointment.

The only reason why this nonsense became "an issue in the 2008 election campaign" was because Bill made it an issue by writing about it on his site and elsewhere, and more than once. All in support of Karma Bell, a then candidate for City Clerk that Bill supported quite vociferously at that time.

In a previous article posted by Bill on his site yesterday there was an allusion to this cooked up controversy over the City Council candidate filing timeline. I called Nancy Shollenberger and, after a few laughs on the topic of "usual suspects," she explained the care she took in establishing campaign candidate filing dates. This question had occurred to her, and she specifically raised it with Martin & Chapman, the recognized experts on all things election law. And they confirmed that because both Friday and Monday were dark days at City Hall, the due date for a filing such as MaryAnn's was yesterday, January 17.

As in so much of the nonsense coming from that quarter, it turns out that there is nothing behind it. And while I am certain those usual suspects will still try to get some traction with this one (the lack of reality thing has never slowed them down before), anyone with a modicum of sense will know that this poor little canard was dead on arrival.

It would be nice if we could have an election based on discussions about the real and very serious challenges that the City of Sierra Madre is facing right now. But apparently for Bill Coburn tall tales about bogus controversies that even he confesses are completely without merit seem to take precedence. And that is very unfortunate. We deserve so much more than a steady diet of nothing.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com