Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tattler Sunday: Weekly Report & News Review

(Mod: We're back with yet another installment of the Tattler Sunday News. I did have other plans for this evening, events that mostly involve such life affirming activities as eating, drinking, staring at glowing electronic screens, and then sleeping. Sleep being the important ingredient since I really could use some. But so great is my sense of duty to the Tattler reading audience, both here in Sierra Madre and out there in the great beyond, that I added this to the menu of my activities. Here is the result of those efforts.)

Jerry Brown vetoes package of local redevelopment bills (Sacramento Bee click here): Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a package of bills that could have let local governments retain some redevelopment money for affordable housing and other economic development projects following the dissolution of California's redevelopment agencies, his office announced this afternoon.

In his veto messages, the Democratic governor said the measures could distract from the winding down - and cost savings - of redevelopment.

Senate Bill 1156, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would have allowed local agencies to establish "Sustainable Communities Investment Authority" to finance redevelopment-like projects. Assembly Bill 2144, by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, would have expanded the types of local projects that could be financed under existing infrastructure financing districts.

"Expanding the scope of infrastructure financing districts is premature," Brown said in a veto message. "This measure would likely cause cities to focus their efforts on using the new tools provided by the measure instead of winding down redevelopment."

Citing similar reasons, Brown also vetoed two other, similar bills: Senate Bill 214, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assembly Bill 2551, by Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego.

(Mod: The redevelopment whack-a-moles keep popping up, and Jerry just keeps hammering them down. So is this what the so-called "Green Commission" was going to be all about? To become a redevelopment money funded "Sustainable Communities Investment Authority?" I guess we won't be needing them around after Jerry scuttled that little doozie.)

AOL's redesigned Patch websites make a play for neighborhood groups (Poynter.org click here):  Patch's new site design went live in five Long Island, N.Y., towns (last) Sunday evening.

The new design is less newspapery, Patch creative director Abel Lenz told me Friday, when he, chief content officer Rachel Fedderson and Patch CEO Jon Brod gave Poynter a demonstration of the site design. There's an anchor spot up top for editor's picks, but all the rest of the content flows down a center column, much like Advance's sites in New Orleans, New Jersey and elsewhere.

But there's a key difference between a reverse-chronological blog view and Patch's new design. Patch readers will be able to follow certain topics - e.g., sports, government, businesses - and they'll also be able to create groups on Patch whose updates will feed in among the local news they're interested in: A blog, or a private group, or a public one for a kid's soccer team, in the example they showed me.

(Mod: In other words they're going social. You can see examples of the new Patch design by accessing the Poynter.org article. It struck me as being even more banal than what Patch offers now. Sierra Madre Patch will have this totally reworked design up in a few months. After having lost $140 million last year on Patch, with this year's losses projected at close to $100 million, you'd think AOL would have figured out what they want their hyperlocal sites to look like by now. One of the truly immense failures in Internet business history staggers on.)

Iranian News Agency Plagiarizes The Onion (New York Times click here): Apparently unaware of the unwritten rules of both ethical journalism and satire, an Iranian news agency published an edited copy of a report from The Onion on Friday, without crediting the original or acknowledging that it was fiction.

The Fars News Agency, which is close to Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, posted its version of the report on its English-language Web site under the same headline used by The Onion for the original four days earlier: "Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama."

Although the dateline for the news brief says the reporting was done in Tehran by Fars, the first sentence is identical to the earlier Onion parody: "According to the results of a Gallup poll released Monday, the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than U.S. president Barack Obama.

The second sentence of the Fars report, however, changed "have a beer with Ahmadinejad" to "have a drink with Ahmadinejad," and entirely omitted The Onion's description of the Iranian president as "a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed."

The final two sentences of the original Onion report, quoting a fictional voter in West Virginia who prefers Iran's president, were published unchanged by Fars:

"He takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does." According to the same Gallup Poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn't try to hide the fact that he's a Muslim.

(Mod: Anyone know if Fars is looking to hire Hail Hamilton?)

Mortgage rates hit all-time low (Pasadena Star News click here): Average rates on fixed home mortgages dipped to record lows Thursday, hitting levels most industry experts figured they'd never see.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on a 30-year loan dropped to 3.40 percent. That's down from last week's rate of 3.49 percent, which was the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on a 15-year fixed mortgage also fell to 2.73 percent, down from its record low of 2.77 percent last week.

"Every time I tell people the rates won't go any lower they do," said Donna Baker, a Realtor with Podley Properties in Monrovia. "I don't know how the banks can loan money to people at these rates."

(Mod: And that is the catch. The people who need these kinds of loans the most, young parents, fixed income older peoples looking to refinance at these low rates, don't get approved. The restrictions on banks as to who they can lend money to, put in place after the housing collapse, cut off the very people who would be helped the most. Which is why this doggy mostly stays in the window.)

Poll finds Prop. 37 is likely to pass (Los Angeles Times click here): By more than a 2-to-1 margin, California voters favor an initiative to require food manufacturers and retailers to label fresh produce and processed foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

With less than six weeks until election day, Proposition 37 is supported by 61% of registered voters and opposed by 25%, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. An additional 14% were undecided or refused to answer.

If approved by voters Nov. 6, the labeling initiative would make California the first state in the nation to require labels on genetically engineered crops or processed foods, such as corn, soybeans, sugar beets and Hawaiian papayas. It would require labels on supermarket shelves or on food packages.

The California ballot issue is being watched closely by experts who say it could set the stage for battles in other states and perhaps thrust the issue of labeling genetically modified organisms to the forefront in Washington.

(Mod: This initiative has huge support in Sierra Madre. I have heard from many people who are hoping that this will pass. It looks like they will be happy on election day.)

Camden, N.J., city leaders say laying off all police will increase safety (Mercury News click here): Two gruesome killings of children last month - a toddler decapitated, a 6-year-old stabbed in his sleep - served as reminders of this city's reputation as the most dangerous in America. Others can be found along the blocks of row houses spray-painted "RIP," empty liquor bottles clustered on their porches in memorial to murder victims.

The police acknowledged that they have all but ceded these streets to crime, with homicides on track to break records this year. And now, in a desperate move to regain control, city officials are planning to disband the Police Department.

The reason, officials say, is that generous union contracts have made it financially impossible to keep enough officers on the street. So in November, Camden, which has already had substantial police layoffs, will begin terminating the remaining 273 officers and give control to a new county force.

The move, officials say, will free up millions to hire a larger, nonunionized force of 400 officers to safeguard the city, which is also the poorest in the nation.

(Mod: Sierra Madre, of course, cannot afford to fix water pipes, infrastructure or streets. Yet 53% of our General Fund goes to a Police Department that also appears to be outmatched by criminals. We too could bring in a County force, save $1.5 million, and in the process possibly not run out of water. )

Note: September marks the 8th month in a row that The Tattler has drawn over 50,000 hits. Not bad for a small city news site.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tired of the Way California is Being Run? Then Why Not Just Secede?

We wrote about these guys a while back. And I hadn't heard too much about them since, even though I did check around from time to time. But a series of newspaper articles recently have shown that a loose alliance of elected officials out there in the Big Dusty are still quite serious about leaving the Sacramento occupied regions of California and creating a 51st state that they would call South California. The border of which would be found just on the east side of the Angeles National Forest. In case you're thinking of making a run for it.

And it even looks like they're throwing a party tonight. It is party night in America, you know. And if you and your date are looking to do something a bit beyond just another Saturday evening at the cinema, this could be a novel way to spend the evening.

Now I'm certain there are many who would find this idea to be hilarious. Governor Jerry Brown, upon being informed about this nascent rebellion against the rule of persons such as himself, famously quipped, "Secession? What is this, 1860?"

However, once you get yourself past that kind of thinking, what would the downside be? No SCAG, no COG, no SB 375, no AQMD, no League of California Cities, no more of that "49th in the country ranked public school system" rhythm, no crazy taxation, no tens of billions of dollars in debt, no insane Sacramento central planners and their bought-off legislative enablers telling us we need to build 300 stack and pack doghouses on Sierra Madre Boulevard because it will somehow save the world from climate devastation. None of that.

Think of the time and money our City Hall spends dealing with all of those kinds of half corrupt Sacramento mandated junk. Would you miss it if it was suddenly gone? Would anyone?

Of course, things this cool just don't happen in the real world. But since this is The Tattler, we are not afraid to dream. Or entertain notions that are not exactly in the wheelhouse of anyone's currently accepted versions of popular reality. You want stories about the best places to get boiled noodles, or where to get your poodle curried, go read Patch or something.

This from the clarion of the farthest ends of the valleys, The Press-Enterprise [click here]:

A movement to split California into two states continues more than a year after a Riverside County supervisor's anger with Sacramento led him to propose secession.

Since Supervisor Jeff Stone first brought up secession in July 2011, he's helped form a group to pursue the idea. That group, California Rebellion 2012, has a website [Mod: click here], is getting ready to accept donations and is planning a rally for sometime next spring.

California Rebellion 2012 accepts donations and is officially registered as a political committee with California's secretary of state. It formed about 15 months ago and has about 600 members ... By phone, e-mail or the group's Facebook page, about 14,000 people have expressed support for the group's efforts.

The group's website makes the case for South California. The front page includes the commentary "Is Secession the Only Solution?"

"The fact of the matter is that the State of California is too big to govern," the commentary read. "The political priorities of Southern California and Northern California are completely different ... The formation of a new state is necessary if drastic measures aren't implemented to curtail out-of-control spending, and the oppressive overburdening of California's citizens and businesses."

Meanwhile, over at the Southwest Riverside News Network.com [click ye here], they have this to add:

California Rebellion: Movement to break up Calif. into two states to hold Temecula rally - When Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone proposed breaking up California into two states, the reaction ranged from, "that's crazy" to "count me in," noted a key organizer of the break-up movement, officially called "California Rebellion."

Darrell Connerton of Temecula, a friend of Stone's who is a general contractor and a political consultant, says Stone's movement to split the state is far from over; in fact, it's moving ahead and gaining supporters.

Committees have been formed to do everything from seek financial donations to comb through California's Constitution with an eye on revisions to eliminate things that are "job killers" for the proposed new state, Connerton said.

On Sept. 29, supporters will discuss these and other issues when they gather at their first big kick-off rally at Vail Lake, east of Temecula. Stone and others are expected to address the crowd at the event that will feature live music, food and information booths ...

Unfortunately, should the new state of South California ever actually see the light of day (and I personally am not staking too much emotionally on this happening anytime soon), Sierra Madre would not be a part of it. The counties permitted join this new geographical entity are limited to Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, San Diego, Orange, Kings, Kern, Fresno, Tulare, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa and Mono. For some reason they aren't interested in Los Angeles County.

But who knows, since we would be on one of the western edges of South California, at least sort of, maybe we could ask for some kind of an exemption and get in that way. It would certainly make for an interesting Sierra Madre ballot question. My bet is Josh and Nancy would be against it.

Think about it. Since we'd then become a South California border town, maybe we could get assigned one of those plants and vegetables checking stations for down on Baldwin Avenue just before the Arcadia line. In addition to performing the important task of keeping those darned farmers market people out, it could also become the largest employer in town. Outside of City Hall, of course.

Think of the benefits it would bring to our downtown.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sierra Madre Police Association Gets Its Odd On

In one of the strangest attempts at community outreach seen here in quite some time, the Sierra Madre Police Association (the city employee union formerly known as the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association or SMPOA) has delivered to the mailboxes of Sierra Madre a four page document they simply call The Report. Despite all of the lawsuits against the City initiated by the SMPA, with the considerable legal expenses involved coming straight out of the pockets of we the taxpayers, they apparently want to make it known that they care about you.

The Report kicks off with a message from the President of the SMPA, Ed Delcoure. Ed, who is pictured above, was featured on a John Harabedian for City Council postcard in uniform, and with his SMPD patches provocatively removed. This matter has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the City for quite some time now. Police Officers appearing in uniform on campaign material, and as such an inferred city funded departmental endorsement of a candidate, is an egregious violation of applicable California state law.

Or at least it is our assumption that an investigation is ongoing since the City has yet to issue any reports about this matter. The City of Sierra Madre most famously never discusses any of its findings until after its investigations have been completed. And since we very rarely hear the results of any of these investigations, it must be assumed that the folks at City Hall are still quite busy with a whole flotilla of them. After all, truly transparent government always recognizes the peoples' right to know.

But I digress. Here is a passage from Officer Ed's "Message from the President:"

On the front of your newsletter you should have seen information about Crime Stoppers with their motto "Make the Call...Stay Anonymous." Crime Stoppers is a non-profit organization that plays a vital part in our ability to solve crimes. Anonymous web, test, and phone tips are all possible through this organization.

It would seem to me that an important part of police work would be knowing the difference between the front and back of something. And the Crime Stoppers blurb that Officer Ed Delcoure speaks of here is actually found on the back of this newsletter. Officer Ed's smiling picture is on the front. A picture taken on City Hall property, I might add. Speaking of inferred endorsements.

That said, there is also the stated assumption that crimes are being solved here in Sierra Madre. I have yet to hear much about any solved crimes. Have you? I know that the investigation into the robbery of my home two years ago is still ongoing because I have yet to see a report about it. Of course, even getting the SMPD to return a phone call can be tough.

One thing we always do hear about is whether the crime victim had left a door or window unsecured. That being the one part of the investigation that is always shared with the public right away since it helps to establish the notion that the SMPD was not at fault. In Sierra Madre the paramount need is to assure us that any problems that may occur are the responsibility of the residents. Government can't do everything, you know. No matter how hard they may claim to try.

City Councilman John Harabedian is the subject of fulsome praise throughout The Report. So much so that I have to wonder if he even knew about this in advance. Frankly I would think that he'd find this both embarrassing and somewhat inappropriate. Here is one of the many passages describing the soaring virtues of the Councilman:

Councilmember John Harabedian is representative of the fine Sierra Madre natives who continue to have a positive influence in our community by serving others, ensuring our safety and leading our city.

I have to ask here, is it appropriate to refer to Councilman Harabedian as a "native?" The use of that term does have colonialist connotations that historically are deemed patronizing and pejorative. Unless, of course, the word is being used to describe drought resistant plants. There is also the insinuation that "natives" are a kind of recognized elite in town, and only those who are Sierra Madre born and bred can be seen as possessing superior virtues.

The law firm that supplies the intellectual muscle behind the 120 or so police organizations in our portion of California (including this town) is Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. The partners at this law firm are all former police officers themselves, and it is an organization known for its militant and at times extreme tactics. The constant lawsuits that we face from the SMPA being one of those tactics. In addition to enriching the law firm itself, they serve as a way of exerting fiscally punishing pressure upon this city government to fork over the pay raises and pension benefits that are a constant goal of this bunch.

Until recently Lackie Dammeier & McGill had prominently displayed on its website something they called the "POA Playbook." Recent controversies involving the use of the kinds of tactics described there have caused LD&M to pull this noisome list from its website. Fortunately this document has been preserved in an article posted to the Friends Of Fullerton's Future website called "The Cop Playbook: Public Safety Has Nothing To Do With It." It can be accessed by clicking here. This truly is a frightening little piece of work. Here is one passage from it:

Public Message: Always keep this in mind. The public could care less about your pay, medical coverage and pension plan. All they want to know is "what's in it for them." Any public positions or statements by the association should always keep that focus. The message should always be public safety first. You do not want wage increases for yourself, but simply to attract better qualified candidates and to keep more experienced officers from leaving. 

Two issues of burning local importance are raised in The Report. The first is the topic of traffic tickets, something everyone in town seems to be aware of. The claim in The Report is that the large increase in traffic tickets issued here in Sierra Madre is not part of a drive to increase revenues at a City Hall that has spent itself into a fiscal crisis, but rather to prevent traffic accidents and keep the public safe. In a town where the traffic limit tops out at 30 mph and there are no traffic lights, I am not sure Sierra Madre has ever been known for having too much trouble with these kinds of problems.

Of course, and as I am certain you know, the focus on public safety is right out of the POA Playbook.

The other issue is also right out of the POA Playbook. You remember that bit about retaining "better qualified candidates and keeping more experienced officers from leaving," right? Something very similar to that can be found in Officer Ed's "The Report."

Under the rubric "Understanding Your Sierra Madre Police Officers," here is how this is put:

Many experts agree that today's law enforcement officer is one of the most complex and demanding occupations there is. Even in our small town of Sierra Madre we face an ever sophisticated criminal element that requires constant training updates for our officers ... Many other departments seek out our officers because of the many tasks our officers perform. We feel that losing an officer to another agency is detrimental to our long-term success and ends up costing the taxpayers money.

The message here is clear. Unless you give the SMPA the cash raises it is demanding from the City, officers from the SMPD will leave for the many other departments that crave people having their skills and training. And that should we fail to up their pay scale we will find ourselves unprotected from a crime wave that will then consume the town. All of which is patently absurd. Nobody wants our cops. And besides, at 53% of Sierra Madre's General Fund, exactly how much more can we be expected to spend on a police force whose only real talent appears to be issuing traffic citations?

One last point before I wrap this up. "The Report" is hardly a unique document. Rather it is the work of a company called FPS Media. And if you go to their site (click here) you will find that the template used for the SMPA's colorful little flyer is actually quite generic and common to many other police departments as well. This apparently is a very cookie cutter public relations operation, and because of that puts into severe doubt the authenticity of much of what Officer Ed has (supposedly) written here.

And wouldn't you know it, listed first among the endorsers of FPS Media is none other than Dieter Dammeier, the Managing Partner of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. Here is his advice:

"Now more than ever, I recommend positive public relations outreach to all of my clients and FPS Media is where I refer them."

Quite obviously Officer Ed Delcoure and his SMPA know how to take orders, and who they should take them from.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Today's Pasadena Star News: Who Stole Sierra Madre's PUSD Board of Education Seat?

(Mod: Our latest op-ed column for the Pasadena Star News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News. Click here for the Star News.)

In a recent Star News column on local Pasadena politics Larry Wilson came up with what for some of us in Sierra Madre was a kind of revelation. Or at least it was somebody's revelation, with Larry being happening enough to quote his informed yet unnamed source for an op-ed piece. Here is what was said in that day's portion:

Back to the Pasadena School District: "Scott Phelps will probably be challenged on the west side by Ken Chawkins, who chaired the PUSD redistricting task force. Roberta Martinez and Khatchik Chahinian, both of the task force, are said to be running in their newly defined districts."

Since that column was published two of those suspected candidates have gone on to deny they are seeking Board of Education seats. Whether this actually means they are not running, or just in a politically convenient denial phase, remains to be seen.

This set off some bells here in the Foothill Village because, as I shall reveal, it was not the first time we'd heard such a thing. The following passage, posted anonymously to my blog, the Sierra Madre Tattler, said something quite similar. The rub being it was written before the (deep breath now) Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education sub-districting ballot question, Measure A, was even voted upon by We the People. Or at least those few among us who had actually bothered to vote last June. Here is how this prescient post went:

The fact is the commission that drew up the maps and decided which sub-districts would get elected first was made up of failed Board of Education and Pasadena City Council candidates.

Their names are: Ken Chawkins, who lives in West Pasadena. He failed in his run for school board and so drew a District for himself and designated it open in 2013. Roberta Martinez, who lives in Northwest Pasadena. She failed in her run for school board and so drew a District for herself and designated it open in 2013. And Khatchik Chanhinian, who lives in North East Pasadena. He failed in his run for Pasadena City Council.

These are the true reasons why the Districts were drawn the way they were and why Sierra Madre has to wait until 2015. So that the Sub-District Commission members designated the seats they intend to run in  upfront in 2013.

Mark my words. The three Commission members will all pull papers to run for school board in 5 months to run in the sub-districts they created for themselves and made sue were available in 2013.

Something that distinctly smelled like a conflict of interest, and could even be something worse should it come to pass.

What makes all of this so poignant to Sierra Madreans now is that Measure A passed, and having done so kicked us to the back of the democracy bus. While the majority of these shiny new Pasadena Board of Education "sub-districts" will be electing their first ever exclusive representation in 2013, our own district, along with a couple of others, will not get to choose representatives until the year 2015, a full two years later.

This while the aforementioned Chawkins, Martinez and Chanhinian are all rumored to be running next year for Board seats they themselves designated as open for business. Done with only their own political careers in mind.

Equally dismaying is that the two former Mayors Sierra Madre had sent to this PUSD Sub-Districting Task Force Commission to protect our interests, Joe Mosca and Bart Doyle, sat quietly by as our rights to equal Board of Education representation were blatantly ripped off. With Doyle going so far as to claim that the reason for this was because some current "at-large" representatives needed to be allowed to serve out their terms, which end in 2015. Our second class status being due to luck of the draw.

Something that we now suspect was not true.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Last Night's City Council Meeting: Rolling Out a Doomsday Scenario for All the Folks at Home

"This is what happens when you kick the can down the road." - John Capoccia

Last night all of those well kicked cans came back out for another spin. But I must admit, the marketing was new, and quite decidedly apocalyptic. The City is going broke, it is being consumed by old bond debt, and on top of all that we could very well run out of water within the year. Which will make a lot of us unpopular at work when we show up unshaved and smelling like too much Old Spice. A whole lot of badness in that if you think about it.

This very dire sounding information was quite abruptly revealed to the residents last night, and the consequences were laid out in no uncertain terms. The inevitable solutions were shared as well, and these were very familiar. Renewing the UUT at as high as 12% in 2014, and preparing the public for sharply increased water rates. To do otherwise would be to risk the end times.

In other words, it is back to business as usual. Many of the same issues that have been discussed over the past several of years have returned, and the campaign to raise taxes and water rates has begun all over again.

I guess it all depends on how much of this you choose to believe. Many of the players on last night's stage are the same people who tried to sell the previous water rate increase as vital because the City's ancient water pipes and infrastructure were on the verge of a liquid armageddon. Only to have it later revealed here on The Tattler that what this was really all about was servicing debt on some old water bonds lest our Standard & Poore's ratings go down. Which they did, paradoxically, and after our rates had been raised a full 7%. A whole lot of good that did us.

And while nobody evokes a sense of doom quite as effectively as Bruce Inman, especially when he is talking about the City of Sierra Madre running out of water in 12 months like he did last night, it must be remembered that he is also the same guy who ran around town a couple of years back lugging around a piece of old rusty water pipe and claiming the city's waterworks were about to implode unless we started paying more for water.

If Bruce had wanted to be straight with us back then he would have been lugging around a satchel filled with 1998 water bonds instead. But I digress.

And there is a bit of a disconnect to all of this as well. How can City Hall on the one hand advocate the building of the 96 so-called "suites" Kensington, while at the same time proclaiming we're on the verge of running out of water? I personally feel that my credulity is being taken for granted here. If they were actually serious about our running out of water, wouldn't they be busting their humps to institute a building moratorium?

Of course, it wouldn't be a launching of new public relations product by the City if it didn't come with a marketing campaign. This one kicks off with a grand October 24th get-together of the City Council and members of our various commissions and committees to discuss our financial woes. The purpose being to lay out all of the consequences to each committee and commission should the UUT "sunset" and return to 6%. With the message being that if you wish to save all that is important in your special world, then you must join with Mayor Josh Moran and renew the UUT at 12%. And while you're at it why not raise the water rates as well?

In other words, the campaign to raise just about everything has now begun anew. All done in the hopes that City Hall will be allowed to continue to do business as it always has, and that nothing much will either be sacrificed or changed. No matter what the real financial consequences to those who pay those taxes and rates might be.

But as I said, it really all depends on what you choose to believe. It is going to be interesting to watch this obviously orchestrated little scenario unfold, water apocalypse and all.

It is also sad to think that much of our City government really isn't serious about saving money, and instead is content to try and peddle the same old "raise everything" solution to their problems. As they have so many times in the past.

Maybe we'll just have to go broke before these people finally get serious.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Slightly Different City Council Meeting Preview

(Mod: I was going to go through the entire agenda and discuss each and every one of the items like I usually do. But then it occurred to me that after the meeting tonight I will do exactly the same thing all over again, except this time having actually witnessed these events. And so, armed with this fine new reason for not spending most of Monday evening writing about stuff that you yourself are perfectly capable of figuring out on your own, I thought I would just post tonight's meeting agenda. With comments added where required. Just to keep traditions alive. Here it is:)


AGENDA REGULAR MEETING SIERRA MADRE CITY COUNCIL

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 Closed Session – 6:00 pm Open Session - 6:30 pm

City Hall Council Chambers 232 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard Sierra Madre, California 91024

Josh Moran - Mayor, Nancy Walsh - Mayor Pro-Tem, Council Member John Capoccia, Council Member John Harabedian, Council Member Chris Koerber, City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger,  Richard Mays, City Treasurer

The Council will listen to the public on any item on the agenda. The City Council cannot legally take action on any item not scheduled on the agenda. Such items may be referred for administrative action or scheduled on a future agenda. Comments will generally be limited to three minutes per speaker.

PUBLIC COMMENT FOR ITEMS ON THE AGENDA:
Persons wishing to speak on any item on the agenda will be called at the time the agenda item is brought forward. Persons wishing to speak on closed session items have a choice of doing so either immediately prior to the closed session or at the time for comments on items at the open session.

PUBLIC COMMENT FOR ITEMS NOT ON THE AGENDA:
Time shall be devoted to audience participation early on the agenda. If additional time is needed, the Mayor will allow for same at the end of the agenda.

CLOSED SESSION

RECESS TO CLOSED SESSION REGARDING:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL
Mayor Moran, Mayor Pro Tem Walsh, Council Member Capoccia, Council Member Harabedian, and Council Member Koerber. Regarding Closed Session Items - Existing Litigation Pursuant to California Government Code Section 54956.9(a). The City Council/Agency finds, based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation. Jesse Toribio v City of Sierra Madre; Case number GC048667

CONFERENCE WITH LABOR NEGOTIATOR
Pursuant to California Government Code Section 54957.6. City Negotiators: Elaine Aguilar, City Manager, Elisa Weaver, Director of Human Resources, and Karin Schnaider, Finance Director. Employee Organization: Sierra Madre Police Officers Association

CALL TO ORDER/ROLL CALL

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE AND INVOCATION/INSPIRATION (John Harabedian to invocate and inspire.)

REPORT OUT FROM CLOSED SESSION (Mod: Since it was all SMPOA stuff, which is virtually endless, there will be nothing to report. Besides, you know it's all lawsuits and demands for raises, right?)

APPROVAL OF AGENDA 

APPROVAL OF MINUTES

MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL REPORTS

PUBLIC COMMENT (Mod: Public comment could get particularly interesting. Apparently those "smart" water meters the city spent a vast sum of money on transmit erroneous information back to the Mother Ship, with more and more people reporting having received absurdly inaccurate water bills because of that. The rumor is the City has known this for a while, but for some reason kept quiet about it. This cat is now out of the bag.)

ACTION ITEMS

1 - CONSENT CALENDAR

a) ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION NO. 12-79 OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE RATIFYING CERTAIN DEMANDS (Mod: The spend this week is a relatively modest $539,310. The total spend for September is $2,172,540, however, but that also includes those 2 weeks in August when no City Council meeting was held. Average daily spend is approximately $48,000.)

b) APPROVAL OF SECOND AMENDMENT AND EXTENSION OF TRANSPORTATION SERVICES AGREEMENT WITH FIRST TRANSIT, IN. (Mod: It apparently costs $18,431 a month to keep those mostly empty buses circling our community.)

c) CANCELLATION OF SECOND REGULAR CITY COUNCIL MEETING FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER (12/25/2012) (Mod: What exactly will people do this Christmas if they don't have a City Council meeting to attend?)

d) REFINANCING 1998 WATER BOND (Mod: The refinancing didn't work. No bank was interested. Back to the old water bond covenant shuffle.)

e) RESOLUTION NO. 12-76: A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL AMENDING THE SIERRA MADRE CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND DISCLOSURE MONITORING AGENCY CODE (Mod: This sounds like it might be something interesting, but it is basically a paperwork item. Happens every two years. Titles change, positions change, and therefore what somebody's skin in the game changes, too. This updates that picture.)

2. DISCUSSION – FINAL DRAFT TECHNICAL BACKGROUND REPORT – GENERAL PLAN UPDATE (Mod: If you look at the Staff Report for this item you will see an actual facsimile of this document. You can tell it was prepared by a consultant because it has a full color cover with pictures of buildings and landscapes. This is a checkmark item on our way to completing the General Plan Update. Cost us a fortune.)

3. DISCUSSION – CITY COUNCIL DISCUSSION OF FISCAL YEAR 2013-2015 BUDGET PLANNING (Mod: This will consume immense amounts of time. It involves how much the City will spend, and on what, during these 2 years. This versus exactly how much will actually be available to spend, a figure I suspect some will find kind of sobering. Think of it as making sausage.)

4. DISCUSSION – SIERRA MADRE STATE OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE (Mod: Since a significant portion of our spare cash goes towards servicing bond debt covenants, things like water pipes and related infrastructure often get kicked to the back of the bus. Ironic, isn't it? Bonds that once upon a time were supposed to help repair our infrastructure now make it impossible to do so.)

5. DISCUSSION – HOUSING ELEMENT REVISION (Mod: This is one of those RHNA compliance reports we must submit to the state showing that we submitted something to the state. Sacramento presumes to tell us what we need housing-wise, and even though their central planning mandates don't work for us, we legally have to issue a report telling them that we had a lovely time and can't wait to start building. Then we await their approval. This particular item has been back and forth with the state for several years now. City Staff hopes to finish this process before the next one starts.)

6. DISCUSSION – EARTHQUAKE INSURANCE FOR WATER SYSTEM (Mod: The cost of insuring City owned properties against earthquake devastation $116,209. The value of the property insured is $29,256,981. The total amount of money we will receive if everything is reduced to gravel by the "Big One" is $500 million.)

This concludes my report. I'd be glad to answer any questions.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gil Aguirre on the SGVCOG's Brown Act Training Reluctance

(Mod: Last Thursday the SGVCOG held a meeting, and the topic of Brown Act training came up. It wasn't the first time, and given this organization's infamous run-ins with this state law, along with some rather obvious consequences, you'd think they would be eager to learn. However, along with ethical challenges often comes entitlement, a notion that somehow the rules don't apply and that any attempt to bring so rogue an organization to legal heel is in blatant disregard of its perceived "specialness." I think that after reading Gil's post you will agree that those still running the COG have a lot to learn.) 

"We are being punished"

Those were the words used by delegate Bruce Lathrop at the recent San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) meeting to describe having to participate in a review of the Brown Act, the State's primary open meeting and transparency law.

And Mr. Lathrop did not seem alone in his sentiment. The entire SGVCOG board struggled to even agree on a time for the review, with SGVCOG President Barbara Messina concerned that a quorum of the Board might not even attend.

One might think that the Board members were being asked to sit through an arduous two day seminar, or at least a class stretching over several hours. But that is not the case, the review would be a mere one hour long.

Now if there was ever a need for a Brown Act review session by a legislative body, the SGVCOG Board might qualify as the poster child for such training. Litigation was filed last year against the agency alleging what can only be described as a litany of past and ongoing violations. Lapses such as: holding unauthorized secret meetings, preventing members of the public from speaking during meetings, failing to post agendas for meetings, and discussing items of business which were not on the agendas. I'm sure you get the idea.

And this Brown Act training, or punishment as the Board seems to see it, is really a self-imposed condition. You see, the Board previously voted to settle the litigation and agreed that they needed the training. Apparently during a brief moment of clarity, the Board felt complying with the law might be a better way to go than risk facing a judge where real punishment might be doled out.

Based on their track record for violations, the SGVCOG Board should consider embracing this review instead of resisting it. With all due respect, each of the members should plan on arriving early, getting a prime seat down in front and taking copious notes during the class. Their past actions certainly show that they are in desperate need of learning more about their legal obligations to the public, which is, of course, who they are supposed to serve.

Mr. Lathrop got it wrong. Bruce, along with the rest of the SGVCOG members, aren't the ones being punished. It is the public who is being punished, and has been for a while. We are being punished for our decision to elect officials who are willing to disregard our rights and conduct themselves more like a secret society rather than a body of public servants.

The SGVCOG members would do well to remember that we elected them to conduct our business, not their business, and that we have every right to observe and participate in that process.

Hopefully that will be covered in class.

(Mod: To find out the names of your SGVCOG Brown Act Class of 2012 members, feel free to click here.)

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More News Than You Can Shake A Stick At

(It's Sunday, but this is no day of rest for the Sierra Madre Tattler. While Sierra Madre may have its vocal proponents for a  more leisure-centered lifestyle, we don't subscribe to it. As a matter of fact, we don't leisure very well here. The reason being it often turns out to more, and harder, work than just, well, working. Lunches must be prepared, children inspired, clothes packed, plans made, and then there is all of that socializing, which invariably requires a lot of standing up. But worst of all is the credit card bill that arrives, like clockwork because these guys don't mess around, 30 days later. No, it is far safer - and more cost effective - to just sit in the back room with the lap top and work on the blog. Let those others "take it easy." We have work to do!)

Panelists blast 710 extension at Pasadena forum (Pasadena Star News click here): ... Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist from Caltech who researches earthquakes, said he has serious concerns  about how the tunnel would hold up in an earthquake. He said although many people think a tunnel would be completely safe, many have collapsed or been damaged in recent global quakes.

John Seinfeld, an atmospheric researcher with Caltech, said the 710 freeway already pumps harmful gases and particles into the air. "Those of us in the field of air quality in urban areas have long considered the 710 freeway to be arguably the dirtiest freeway in the country," Seinfeld said. "And that really is a function of the heavy-duty truck traffic on the freeway.

These particles and gases cause serious health problems for those living or going to school along the freeway, especially children, said Rob McConnell of USC's Keck School of Medicine. He said numerous studies have shown that air pollution can cause asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, said the 710 project is "one of the worst transportation proposals in its effect on historic structures." Vibrations from a freeway tunnel and air pollution could pose a serious threat to historic buildings, she said.

Ara Najarian, a Glendale councilman and Metro board member, said his biggest concern is the cost of the proposed tunnel. "Ranges of official estimates that have come through are as low as $1 billion up to $14 billion," Najarian said. "That's crazy, right? How can we start down the road to build something if we have no idea where it is going to end?"

(Mod: A representative from Metro was on hand, and pronounced these findings "biased." But rather than provide any information herself, the Metro person said there would be future events to educate the public about "the benefits.")

Tiger's den jumper wanted 'to be one' with beast, police say (CNN click here): A 25-year old man was charged with trespassing for jumping out of a monorail car into the Bronx Zoo's tiger den because he wanted "to be one" with the animal, police said Saturday.

David Villalobos, who us hospitalized in stable condition, said "his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger," according to Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman.

Villalobos was riding on the zoo's Wild Asia monorail around 3 p.m. Friday when he jumped out of the rail car, "cleared the exhibit's perimeter fence," and landing in the den, according to Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny.

Villalobos suffered a broken right shoulder, broken rib, collapsed lung, broken ankle, broken pelvis and puncture wounds, according to police spokesman Brian Sessa. He later claimed to have pet one of the tigers before it backed off," Sessa added.

(Mod: Had authorities allowed the inevitable to occur, Villalobos probably would have become one with the tiger. Most likely by being eaten.)

Independent voters reach record in California (Los Angeles Times click here): More Californians than ever before are registered to vote without affiliating with a political party, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Friday. 

Bowen said the latest registration numbers show 3,672,229, or more than one-fifth of those on the voter rolls, listed no party preference.

Of those affiliating with a party, 43% are Democrats and 30% are Republicans. Most of the rest belong to one of the five minor parties recognized by the state: American Independent, Americans Elect, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom.

(Mod: In the spirit of full disclosure, I recently re-registered as "Decline to state." Which is an inaccurate term. I am quite willing to state that I am no longer affiliated with any political parties, and believe that I just did.)

Spain is breaking up; why not California? (Cal Watchdog click here): Within a decade the majority of Californians will be of Hispanic descent. I'm hoping that, once aging Gringos like Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are retired, some of the best aspects of Hispanic politics will be adopted.

For example, Spain -- la patria -- is breaking up. In particular, wealthy Catalonia is tired of being taxed to death by the centralized regime in Madrid. It's demanding the return of $5 billion stolen by Madrid, as well as tax cuts.

That sounds just like the more productive areas of our state, such as San Diego County and Orange County, "donor counties" that are being robbed by California's centralized wastrels in the state capital.

(Mod: I wonder whatever happened to those "51st state" guys out in the desert. That sounded kind of exciting.)

Survey Finds Most Likely Voters Favor Proposition 30, But Split On Proposition 38 (Noozhawk click here): Half of California likely voters support Proposition 30, the measure Gov. Jerry Brown and others put on the November ballot to raise taxes, primarily for education programs. Support is slightly lower for Proposition 38, the initiative by attorney Molly Munger to raise taxes for schools. These are among they key findings of a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, with support from the James Irvine Foundation.

When read the Proposition 30 ballot title and label, 52 percent of likely voters say they would vote for it, 40 percent would vote no and 8 percent are undecided. The initiative would increase taxes on earnings of more than $250,000 for seven years and the sales tax by a 1/4-cent for four years to fund schools and guarantee public safety realignment funding.

When likely voters are read the ballot title and label for Proposition 38, 45 percent say they would vote for it, 45 percent are opposed and 11 percent undecided. Proposition 38 would increase taxes in earnings for 12 years using a sliding scale, with revenues going to K-12 schools and early childhood programs and, for four years, repaying the state debt.

(Mod: Other California results from the PPIC Poll include a 42% approval rating for Jerry Brown, 22% approval rating for the State Legislature, Prop 31 is going down in flames, Prop 32 is losing by a tiny margin, people don't want the death penalty anymore, and Obama leads Romney by 14% with 8% saying they will vote for 3rd party candidates.)

Enjoy your so-called day off.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Measure ALF: The Quietest Sierra Madre Ballot Question Ever?

So do you know what Measure ALF is? It is going to be on Sierra Madre's ballot this November, along with some other issues and candidacies, most of which are of only marginal relevance to us living here behind the Michillinda Curtain. Ballot measures in this town are usually a burning issue, and in the past folks have gotten pretty wound up about some of them. Not so much with Measure ALF, however. It has been pretty quiet, especially over the last couple of months.

If you were to look Measure ALF up on the internet you would find the pickings especially sparse. I was unable to find a website advocating either a "Yes" or "No" vote on this question. There is some verbiage about it on the usually dependable Ballot*Pedia site, though even they admit that what is presented there is not in any way complete. Here is what they have to offer us:

A Sierra Madre Amendment of the Kensington Project, Measure ALF ballot question is on the November 6, 2012 ballot for voters in the City of Sierra Madre in Los Angeles County.

If Measure N (?) is approved, the City of Sierra Madre's municipal code will be amended to permit development of "an assisted living facility consistent with the Kensington Living Facility Specific Plan not exceeding two stories, thirty feet in height and seventy-five assisted living suites, for the parcels located at 33 North Hermosa Avenue (at) 245 West Sierra Madre Boulevard."

The development company Fountain Square Development West wants to develop the proposed assisted  living facility.

Not that long ago there was some focus on this issue, much of it stemming from anxiety felt by certain concerned residents over the fate of Measure V, aka the "People's Empowerment Act." It was felt, and not without some justification, that certain City Councilmembers were in the tank for the developer (they almost always are), and were working to undercut Measure V in what is its first true ballot test. And as you can see in the wording of the actual ballot question, they did manage to foul things up a little bit. Again, from Ballot*Pedia:

Measure ALF: "Shall an Ordinance be adopted to amend Sierra Madre Municipal Code Section 17.35.040 (Core Density Limit") of the People's Empowerment Act (aka Measure V) to permit development of an assisted living facility consistent with the Kensington Assisted Living Facility Specific Plan not exceeding two stories, thirty feet in height and seventy-five assisted living suites, for the parcels located at 33 North Hermosa Avenue an (sic) 245 West Sierra Madre Boulevard?"

I bolded the term "assisted living suites" because it is what some would cite as the fly in the ointment here. There is nothing in Sierra Madre's elegantly constructed and time-tested Municipal Codes about "assisted living suites." Had this been termed "assisted living units," then we might have been able to assume that there is a complete legal validity to this statement. The "suites" verbiage was coerced by certain individuals for what is suspected of being $10s of thousands of dollars in misallocated City Attorney fees. The question here being one of intent. Was this an attempt to create a new category of development in Sierra Madre, and should this precedent be enabled by the electorate would it cripple Measure V in any future similar such development questions?

That is a big question, though one that does not seem to be setting anyone on fire. At least not lately. Of course, if you were curious to find out what the truth of the matter might be, you could likely do so if you had around $60,000 and Chris Sutton's phone number. I have the phone number, but I am a little short on the $60,000 thing. Though I can tell you that while I do avoid any involvement with Scratchers, I am playing California's Super Lotto twice a week.

Beyond the small group of folks who care about this issue, however, which is probably fully understood by about 40 of Sierra Madre's nearly 11,000 residents, there hasn't been too much activity on the Measure ALF front. There was a "Lunch and Learn" held at the Park Hart House this week. It wasn't completely a free lunch as those attending were expected to listen carefully to the presentation. Plus it was given by the Kensington's developer, Billy Shields, so I don't expect there was much in the way of "point/counterpoint," as they used to say.

There was also some kind of discussion on the matter held at the Kiwanis Club recently. These Kiwanis sessions are not often noted for being a hotbed of intellectual activity, but again there was food involved. Another indication that for some in town the preferred route to winning their votes is through the stomach.

And yesterday I received a report from a local resident who neither attends "Lunch and Learns" or Kiwanis confabs that the Kensington's Billy Shields has been spotted hanging out at the taxpayer supported Bottle Shop Wine Tasting Room, apparently quizzing the bibulous oenophiles there about how they plan to vote on Measure ALF. I am not sure those being questioned about their voting preference knew that much about the topic, and probably viewed Mr. Shields as being something of a buzz kill.

So I don't know. Pretty quiet if you ask me. However, Measure ALF is strongly supported by every City Councilmember, civic organization and business collective in town, so perhaps it is the near unanimity of support here that has made much conversation about Measure ALF seem unnecessary.

Of course, it is when this entire glittering constellation of local worthiness is so unequivocally on board with something that The Tattler becomes a little uncomfortable.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

(Note: Pictured at the the top of this article is a room from the other Kensington. The one called "Palace." I've been told that the suites there are far more exclusive.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Law Firms are Literally Beating Down the Doors at Sierra Madre City Hall

I don't know if you spend much time with the City Manager's Report on the City of Sierra Madre website [click here], but I heartily recommend you check it out when you get the chance. I do, and there are all sorts of interesting things to be found there. In the past this worthy document was circulated only amongst the elected and upper managerial types downtown, but since state law now dictates that all such things must be made available to the public, you too can access all of the latest information straight from the very hub of our local municipal power.

Or, if you prefer otherwise, you could just come here and I'll eventually fill you in. It is no problem whatsoever, I really enjoy doing it. And the feedback I get in exchange is a priceless gift.

The big excitement this week is that word is quickly getting around legal circles about Sierra Madre's Request for Proposals (RFP) for City Attorney services. And apparently eager pin-striped pettifoggers are stampeding right past that oddly proportioned little kid with the fishing pole statue and straight through City Hall's storied mechanical doors. You'd think it was the gold rush times or something. And who knows, perhaps it is. Here is how this news of our RFP is shared in the City Manager's Report:

City Attorney RFP's - This week, the City's notice that we were accepting proposals for City Attorney services appeared in the Daily Journal. As of today, I have received fifteen (15) requests for copies of the proposal. Here is a list of firms requesting proposals as of today:

Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart
Richards, Watson & Gershon
Vandeventer Black, LLP
The DeArmas Law Firm
Kimbirk Law
Viterbo L. Valera, Esq.
Aleshire & Wynder, LLP
Graves & King, LLP
Martin & Martin, LLP
Burke, Williams & Sorenson, LLP
Lynberg & Watkins
Colantuono & Levin, PC
Meyers Nave
Thomas Hrouda, Attorney at Law
Randall A. Spencer, Attorney at Law

Some of these names are quite uniquely impressive. As an example, and I don't know what his resume' looks like or whether he has ever actually won anything in Court, but can you imagine the incredible responsibility of having to go through life with a name as grand as Viterbo? That is one of those quickly achieve greatness in life or succumb early to the infinite wrath of the meanest kids on the playground kind of names. Or at least it would have been where I grew up. I'll bet he is one tough dude.

The Daily Journal [click here], which appears to be the place where legal beagles go to look for new opportunities to ply their trade, is available to us on-line. I found the ad that the City of Sierra Madre ran there for the first time this week, and it reads thusly:

Notice Inviting Request for Proposals for City Attorney Services, Sierra Madre, California. The City Council invites interested municipal law firms and attorneys to submit written proposals to provide City Attorney services. Sealed proposals will be received in the office of the City Manager up to 5:30 pm on December 10, 2012. For a copy of the RFP and proposal requirements, email EAguilar@cityofsierramadre.com

My $5,000 bill for posting this notice will be mailed out to the City of Sierra Madre sometime today. I do have to wonder why it hasn't also run in the Mountain Views News. Can it be that our legal notices are now being shifted over to the Daily Journal? Are we looking at a possible breach of contract here? Celebrated attorney-at-law Susan Henderson may wish to investigate this matter. Or who knows, perhaps she should just apply for the job of City Attorney instead.

(A heads up to interested attorneys: Advertising on the Sierra Madre Tattler is a recognized method of getting noticed at City Hall. For your convenience our motivated rates are listed in the right hand column of this page.)

It has been noted by those in the know that this is quite a flood of interest at so early a stage. And that by December we could be looking at literally dozens of applicants for the honor of being Sierra Madre's City Attorney. Couple this flood of interest with a down market for legal services right now and I think we could be looking at quite a bidding war. Hopefully it will get to the point where they will actually pay us for the privilege of working with Sierra Madre. We are interesting and colorful people after all.

One more observation. It is intriguing to note the inclusion of Colantuono & Levin on this list of early potential applicants. Can it be that perhaps they will be bidding against their old rates when they apply for what has been their job for the last decade or so? I would hope that if they do beat their current prices they will reimburse us for the years of overcharges.

Of course, C&L already has one vote in their pocket. Nancy Walsh, as you must recall, voted against our going through this RFP process. Which means that when (or if) Nancy runs for a second term on the City Council, she will have to explain why she was opposed to saving the taxpayers some dough.

But who knows, maybe she just didn't make that connection.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Unsatisfied Public Records Act Request

Myself and another concerned individual filed a Public Records Act request with City Hall for targeted billing statements submitted by the law firm Colantuono & Levin during the fall of 2011. This being, of course, the legal corporation that we are somehow shrunk-wrapped to for City Attorney services, and have been for nearly a decade.

The purpose of this request was to track certain payments that I had been concerned about, but was also done in hopes of finding something really juicy to write about here on the blog. I know that our readership enjoys a good City Hall scandal, and it is my belief that there is at least the potential here for a pretty decent one. However, as of this moment we have not been able to find what it is we're looking for, and there is a reason for that.

In case you are wondering, the source for this concern was described at length in an article entitled "A Brown Act Dinner With Colantuono & Levin?" You can find it by clicking here.

In the upper left hand corner of this post is an example of what we received from the City. If you click on this inset it should hopefully enlarge, and you will clearly see a large black box right in the middle of the page. Which is, of course, where all of the useful information was going to be found. Naturally we were not very happy to see it there. Nor were we happy to see similar black boxes in the 150 or so other pages that accompanied this one. It all looked like something that would have been made public by the CIA.

When this PRA was first filed with the City, we did receive a letter from City Manager Elaine Aguilar telling us that she would not be giving us exactly what it was we'd been asking for. And that despite the clearly delineated legal requirements of the State of California on this matter, it was decided by those running our City's affairs that they would only supply the information that they wanted to supply. Everything else being "redacted." Here is how this compulsion for secrecy was explained by Elaine:

The documents for items 1 to 3 will be available for your review on or after August 16, 2012. The invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted. Information, other than dates, times spent and total billed, will be redacted.

Apparently redaction, in Elaine's mind, means placing a big black box in the middle of the page and covering up almost all of the interesting information.

Now we all know that the attorney/client privilege so unfortunately invoked by Elaine as the reason for not fully honoring our Public Records Act request actually is - in practice - a good thing. At least it is a good thing when it is not abused. After all, if an individual was to find himself in a legally delicate condition and couldn't share his troubles with an attorney in complete secrecy, and without fear of what he was saying ever being exposed to the public, chances are good he wouldn't say anything at all.

However, in this case we were not asking for testimony, sworn affidavits, tapes of teary back office confessions, or anything else like that. We were just asking for billing records. We just wanted to be able to put a date to a certain meeting that might have gone beyond the legal sanctions of the Brown Act.

Here is another point. Who exactly is the client here? If you examine the document above, you will see that it has something to do with One Carter and that dusty stillborn housing development up there. Since this is public business, and the legal work funded by taxpayer money, doesn't that also make we the people the client? Outside of the bank stuck holding the bag on this disaster prone development, who else would have been involved in December of 2011? And since we are paying for the attorney, isn't it our right to know?

I'd hate to think that our tax money, designated for City legal services, might be spent on someone or some thing that is not us. That would constitute a rip-off of a most extreme kind. And certainly City Hall cannot have become a free legal services charity for miscreant real estate developers.

So what client is named on this invoice? Does this mean it wasn't actually us?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What If You Don't Want Any Trees? Does It Make You A Bad Person?

Don't get me wrong, I like trees. I still have a bunch of them here in my yard. They provide lots of cool shade during the summer, and are generally nice to have around. I have even gone to the trouble to try and find out what species they are, and what exactly it is that I should be calling them. And as soon as I get it all figured out I promise I am going to share that wisdom with you.

I used to have some fine 100 year old eucalyptus trees in my yard. We were very proud of those myrtles, and they were allowed to grow as untrimmed and wild as they probably would have in their native Australia. Without the koala bears, of course. Though they did provide an occasional stopover point for the local emigre flock of green parrots. Who, by the way, respect none of us and thoroughly enjoy loudly heckling humanity from the safety of 100 feet up. They also have eyes on the sides of their heads, which is why they have to tilt their noggins to look at you. They are an odd bunch and should not be trusted.

Lately, though, I have developed a certain ambivalence about my trees. I don't hate them, mind you, my nature boy respect for the wild things still runs fairly deep. I'd be foolish to live right up close to a National Forest if that wasn't the case.

It is just that after last November's windstorm I have become aware of the dark side of tree ownership. Two of those mighty eucalyptus trees came crashing down during that mighty blow, one taking out my garage with the other laying across the entire length of my roof, perforating it here and there and causing Casa Crawford to leak like a Federal employee with a book deal during rain events. Also the top portion of our elegant backyard sycamore took out the family room in the back, damaging our fine collection of Parker Brothers board games in the process. My limited edition "full battle" version of Risk was completely destroyed, and I still mourn its loss.

Fortunately we are productive American citizens who pay both our income taxes and home owner insurance, and at the expense of the thoroughly browbeaten desk dummies whose home disaster coverage we bought, we now have a new roof, new up-to-code back room (the old one wasn't), and a completely rebuilt garage. The insurance guys paid for every last bit of it. They had no choice. We wore them down in a cruel and merciless way. We enjoyed doing it.

But here is today's Tattler Quandary. There is an article over there on The Patches (in a move likely driven by economics the individual town Patches have pooled their reporting and the same articles now appear on the numerous McBlogs they pimp in our area) that talks about some gummint move to replace all of the trees that were taken out in that fateful windstorm. The total budget for this noble act is apparently $1.9 million dollars that L.A. County borrowed from somebody, out of which Sierra Madre gets a $42,812 cut. An amount that would seem to be enough to buy a vast forest of saplings.

A few years back we lost a tree in our front yard, and lo and behold some fellow from the City of Sierra Madre showed up one day and planted another one. It was a replacement tree we were told. A fine young thing it was, at least at first. It died despite the generous amounts of water we gave it. We went on to refer to it as the joke oak.

So here is what I'm asking. Am I somehow obliged to accept replacement trees this time around? Is there a law stating that I am required to allow the planting of new trees where those once mighty eucalyptus stood? Because I have to be honest with you, I don't really want them.

I do appreciate the idea that Sierra Madre is a tree city committed to maintaining its "urban forest," as they say. And that for every tree that falls a new one must be planted so that everything remains just as it is. I am all about everything remaining just as it is. It has become my mission in life to see that this is so. Or at least an interesting and diverting hobby.

However, and having acknowledged the greatness of the tree cause, I would still prefer that the north side of my humble home remain as it is today. That is, treeless. This is because having ended up with around 30 tons of wood on my roof the last time the Santa Ana winds howled down Bailey Canyon, I have come to believe that trees, at least in that particular spot, are a menace. I know they'll be small and harmless at first, and I am aware that I will not live for another 100 years, but I still don't see the point in accepting that risk. Future generations are depending upon me to take a stand on this.

So here is my question. Is it some kind of law in town that I am required to accept replacement trees from the local government? Is this legally mandated, or is this something that can be handled on a voluntary basis? I have nothing against spending around $43K in tax dollars replacing fallen trees. Or at least I sort of don't. But I would much prefer that they be planted somewhere else besides my yard.

The City just cut down a bunch of trees at Bailey Canyon Park for some obscure reason. Maybe it was National Beaver Day and they wanted to let the chips fly and celebrate. I don't know. But they should feel free to plant my trees up there.

After all, they'll be needing to replace those as well, right?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Security at Sierra Madre Elementary School is Called Into Question

Two Sierra Madre Elementary School parents, readers of The Tattler who have been following some of the discussions here, sent me some documents that are both interesting and, in one instance, disturbing. Two of these documents are Public Records Act requests, the other a denial letter from the PUSD. These documents raise a lot of questions in my opinion. The parents have asked that I leave their names out of this article, a request that I am more than willing to honor.

The partial reason for the two Public Records Act (PRA) requests had to do with an incident at Sierra Madre Elementary School involving their son. One day their child had been removed from class without their knowledge or permission, and they wanted to piece together the reasons for why this might have occurred. They also wanted to know what adults might have been present throughout the incident. Here is how the relevant portion of the first PRA read:

June 16, 2011
Edwin Diaz
Pasadena Unified School District
351 S. Hudson Ave
Pasadena, CA 91109
RE: Public Records Act Request

Dear Superintendant Diaz,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), I ask to obtain the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:

- Volunteer sign-in logs September through October 2010 ** Volunteer log 10/15/10 when our son was removed most of (the) day

This request, which is a portion of what was asked for (most of which we have redacted here for the purpose of brevity and relevance to where we are going with this), was never honored. The logs were never supplied to the justifiably upset parents, despite their concern over who might have been present on the campus at this time.

In between the time of the initial, and in this instance ignored PRA request, much happened. Including the arrest, trial, conviction and imprisonment of Robert Matheson in Nova Scotia, Canada. A resident of Sierra Madre during the time outlined in this request, he serves as an extreme example of the kinds of undesirable individuals who could have visited the SME campus during the period in question. Had this happened he could have signed the visitor logs that had been requested in the PRA. Or at least we could hope that, in the very least, that would be the case.

This was at a time when the Sierra Madre Police Department was doing an exhaustive investigation into the affairs of Robert Matheson, and they certainly would have wanted to check public school sign-in records. There must have been a procedure in place to investigate the possibility of predators on campus, and these records would have been among the first resources they would have wanted to check.

Because of the lack of response to the first PRA, plus their now additional concerns, the parents filled out and delivered a second, and more expansive, request. Again we have redacted those portions not relevant to the topic we are discussing. Here is how this one read:

March 27, 2012
Jon Gundry
Pasadena Unified School District
351 S. Hudson Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91109
RE: Public Records Act Request

Dear Superintendent Gundry,

Pursuant to our rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), as well as through FERPA and IDEA, we ask to obtain the following, which we understand to be held by your agency:

- Sierra Madre School sign in logs from September through October 2010 for visitors, as well as the sign in log for volunteers.

This time they did receive a reply to their request, but it was not the one they had hoped to see. Here is how the relevant portion of the PUSD's letter in reply read:

April 11, 2012
XXXXX XXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXX XXXX
Sierra Madre, CA, 91024
RE: District Response to Public Records Request dated 3/27/2012

Dear Mr. and Mrs. XXXXXXXXX

We are in receipt of your above referenced request for public records. Please be advised as follows:

We are unable to produce documents for the following request: Sierra Madre sign in logs from September through October 2010 for visitors, as well as the sign in log for volunteers.

- We will not be able to produce these documents because all sign-in logs are discarded at the end of the year.

Adam Wolfson
Director of Communications and Community Engagement
Cc: Superintendent Gundry

A couple of observations before I wrap this one up. Had the first Public Record Act request been honored, it would have fallen within the time period described by Mr. Wolfson. Which means that our concerned parents would have at least been supplied with some SME sign-in records.

But then there is also this. In a time when everything is computerized, and the storage of documents in no way compromises limited storage space or creates fire hazards, why were these records destroyed? While at one time the piling up of vast amount of paper records presented certain problems, that is not the case now. This is an antiquated answer to a problem that properly managed should no longer exist.

In times as litigious and threatening as these, wouldn't you want to keep all such records close at hand?

So why were these visitor sign-in records destroyed?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, September 17, 2012

Measure A: PUSD's "Big Lie" Finally Exposed

As a regular Tattler reader I am certain you recall Measure A, the Pasadena Unified School District ballot initiative that radically changed the responsibilities of each Board of Education member from districtwide to seven different subdistricts. Resulting in each district then having its own exclusive representative. This new regime was largely built along ethnic lines, two Northwest Pasadena districts where Latinos are in the majority, a West Altadena district that is a majority African American, with the remaining four being largely white districts. Including one that lumps Sierra Madre in with Southeast Pasadena.

A kind of resegregation of the Pasadena Unified School District, and in the eyes of some a return to the bad old days of the 1970s.

A big problem for us here in Sierra Madre is that while a majority of these districts will be allowed their own exclusive subdistrict representative in 2013, for some strange reason we won't get ours until 2015. Something that still seems patently unfair. The reason given by various shady PUSD apologists being that recently re-elected Board of Education members such as Tom Selinske needed to be able to serve out their entire terms in office. With Sierra Madre being called upon to make the noble sacrifice for these solons of scholarship.

This was ratified and made ballot ready by a specially appointed PUSD so-called "redistricting taskforce commission." One where our representatives, Joe Mosca and later Bart Doyle, sat passively by (if they showed up at all) and allowed this city to be stuck with a form of second class citizenship. And while a bizarre form of political correctness was given as a rationale for all of this, the real reason has now been revealed. Stick around and I will tell you what that was, and why we were misled by those who were supposed to represent us.

Pasadena Star News writer Brian Charles pretty much nailed the racial politics involved in an April 7 piece entitled "Pick Your Poison:"

Voters in the Pasadena Unified School District will vote again to decide how they will elect their school board. The current system, a quasi at-large voting mechanism, has been under attack for more than a year. The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights said PUSD was "vulnerable to a lawsuit" if they don't switch to a ward system similar to the composition of the (Pasadena) City Council.

The push is for diversity. Creating voting districts around "communities of interest," jargon for black people, Latinos, rich people and poor people, would assume that everyone in the community is represented on the board. But beware of Balkinization. It's currently possible to influence all seven members on the board since they run citywide, and each voter in the district can in effect flip the board every two years.

On June 6 of this year we posted an article called Measure A: Sierra Madre Loses (click here). It announced that Measure A had indeed been approved by the voters, and that we'd been kicked to the back of the bus and would not have our own representative until 2015. This was also the day that the LA County District Attorney's Office searched the home of COG's miscreant El Supremo, Nick Conway. Which, while a good thing, also meant that a rather remarkable prediction contained in this Tattler article was largely overlooked. It had been made the previous day by an anonymous poster, and we were so impressed we stuck it in that day's article. Here is how it read:

The fact is the commission that drew up the maps and decided which sub-districts would get elected first was made up of failed Board of Education and Pasadena City Council candidates.

Their names are: Ken Chawkins, who lives in West Pasadena. He failed in his run for school board and so drew a District for himself and designated it open in 2013.

Roberta Martinez, who lives in Northwest Pasadena. She failed in her run for school board and so drew a District for herself and designated it open in 2013.

Khatchik Chanhinian, who lives in North East Pasadena. He failed in his run for Pasadena City Council.

This is the true reason why the Districts were drawn the way they were and why Sierra Madre has to wait until 2015 ... because the Sub-District Commission members designated the seats they intend to run in upfront in 2013.

Mark my words. These three Commission members will all pull papers to run for school board in 5 months to run in the sub-districts they created for themselves and made sure were available in 2013.

That was last June. Now leap forward several months to this moment in time. In a Larry Wilson column titled "Pigskin Preview of Pasadena Politics," which ran over the weekend in the Pasadena Star News (click here), you will find this rather remarkable passage:

Back to the Pasadena school district: "Scott Phelps will probably be challenged on the west side by Ken Chawkins, who chaired the PUSD redistricting task force. Roberta Martinez and Khatchik Chahinian, both of the task force, are said to be running in their newly defined districts."

So there you go. The June 6 prediction may have been right.

Of course Chawkins, Martinez and Chahinian are very much in league with the establishment cabal currently on the Pasadena Unified Board of Education. The same sad bunch that includes Ed Honowitz and Tom Selinske, characters responsible for the Measure TT "bait and switch" funding debacle that threatens Sierra Madre's schools. These are also the folks at the center of a new controversy that involves steadily declining PUSD enrollment and a scheme to sell off the resulting excess real estate to stack and pack housing development concerns.

Another PUSD big lie, quite possibly exposed. Despite all the claims of grandiose political correctness through ethnic engineering, it could have been all about nothing more than rigging some new voting districts for crony candidates favored by the current Board of Education. With Sierra Madre once again left holding the bag, of course. Isn't that always how these things always end up?

When will we ever be rid of these awful people? With this new restacking of the Board of Education deck, the answer apparently is not for a very long time.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com