Monday, January 21, 2013

Preview and Commentary on Tomorrow Evening's City Council Meeting

Stick figure discrimination
The second City Council meeting for the month of January follows the first. Nothing much has changed there. Plus I can also assure you there will not be a third one because no month is long enough for that, though some of the meetings are. This meeting also follows the Martin Luther King's Birthday holiday, which tells us that City Staff will be coming off of a long and restful weekend. It also means that they could be a little sleepy and we may be able to trick them.

The meeting starts off with Lawsuit Time, which unfortunately takes place in private. This is done because legal counsel feels these proceedings could be too stimulating for some residents, while it might inspire copycats as well. The first Lawsuit Time activity is described thusly:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL: The City Council finds based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation. Initiation of Litigation: Number of potential cases - One (1) G.C. 54956.9(c)

According to FindLaw.com that particular number item means something rotten is afoot (click here). Like maybe somebody is waving a litigation ugly stick at us. Here is how it is defined in a more legalistic sounding lingo:

(C) The receipt of a claim pursuant to the Tort Claims Act or some other written communication from a potential plaintiff threatening litigation, which claim or communication shall be available for public inspection pursuant to Section 54957.5.

Whatever this is, it can't be good. It hardly pays to open the mail sometimes. Then there is this other one. It looks like somebody is in big trouble.

PERSONNEL: Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54957 Public Employee Discipline/ Dismissal/ Release.

The always useful (in a minor way) Findlaw.com defines that magic GCS number in the following manner (click here):

Nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to prevent the legislative body of a local agency from holding closed sessions with the Attorney General, district attorney, agency counsel, sheriff, or chief of police, or their respective deputies, or a security consultant or a security operations manager, on matters posing a threat to the security of public buildings, a threat to the security of essential public services, including water, drinking water, wastewater treatment, natural gas service, and electric service, or a threat to the public's right of access to public services or public facilities.

Not a lot to go on here, but as a stab in the dark I'd say they caught somebody expectorating on the spreading grounds. But you didn't hear that from me.

Once these confidential matters are discussed and brought to whatever resolution is possible, the doors to Council Chambers are thrust open and the people allowed to witness a democratically elected legislative body in action. Raw, in your face freedom.

CONSENT CALENDAR
a) RESOLUTION NO. 13-07 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS: The money spending always goes first because where else would it go? Besides, it has been already spent anyway as this is just to let you know how bad the damage really is. This time around they have really put the hammer to the piggy bank, with the entire sum spent being $888,890.05. And if that seems like a lot, it is. $664,156.49 of this is in "payroll transfers" for the dates Jan 3 and Jan 17, 2013. Why that first portion didn't get transferred during the last City Council meeting is still a mystery. Some of the large lump sums included here are $35,454.36 for the Peoples Republic of Edison, $26,414 to Axontech LLC for keeping the City's computers going, $1,660.00 to the City of Pasadena for inmate housing, and $22,672.30 to West Coast Arborists for trimming those darned trees.

b) RESOLUTION NO. 13-05 FUEL PURCHASING POLICY: You might want to check with your Doctor first to see if your heart is healthy enough for fuel purchasing policy. You good? OK, apparently this is another one of those "costs are greater now than they were (fill in the blank) years ago" deals, and so City Hall needs more money. Don't they always? This time they want the authority to purchase an additional $50,000 in gasoline and diesel for our fine fleet of almost green vehicles. Here's the spiel:

Analysis: City fuel costs are now three times what they were five years ago based strictly on on market value. At the lower prices, a load of fuel did not exceed the City Manager's purchasing threshold, but at today's market price a full load has at times exceeded this purchasing policy amount. 

You know what I'm thinking? Maybe the City Manager should sit down with the Green Committee and have a little discussion about their "Walkable Cities" program. Not only is it both an economical and healthy choice, but it would serve as a good example to the residents of Sierra Madre as well. Plus then we wouldn't have to spend $50,000 on gas.

c) ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF THE 2012 STATE HOMELAND GRANT PROGRAM AND SUBRECIPIENT AGREEMENT: If you ever want an example of why the Federal Government is in a state of fiscal disarray, Consent Calendar Item (c) would be a fine place to start. This gift comes from Homeland Security and is worth $50,000 bucks. Money that is to be spent on a Video Conferencing System and associated gear so our Fire Department can watch the same training presentation as their brothers from other cities. The topic is the "interoperability of firefighting tactics and strategy." In case of a national emergency the last thing we need is competing Fire Departments arguing over which end of the hose to use.

d) RECOMMENDATION TO AWARD A CONTRACT TO GENERAL PUMP COMPANY FOR ADDITIONAL REPAIRS TO WELL 3 AT A COST NOT TO EXCEED $363,000: This is money City Staff feels is needed to bring Well #3 back up to sway. Apparently it is operationally shot in many different and interesting ways, and as this particular well is one of the City's largest water producers, we'll be in a lot of trouble once lawn sprinkling season begins if it isn't up to snuff. While the main recipient of our largesse is the General Pump Company, the work also includes reconditioning and reassembly by a company called Longmire Swaging, Inc. $292,592 of this cash would be liberated from the water fund balance. The water fund balance being something that will come up ad nauseam later in the evening. See "red" items below.

2. PUBLIC HEARING - ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-04, APPROVING THE PROPOSED PROJECTS FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT FUNDS FOR FISCAL YEARS 2013-2014 AND 2014-2015: This is money that comes from something called the Community Block Grant (CDBG) program. It is cash passed down from Uncle Sugar and run through the sticky fingers of the County of Los Angeles. Since we never had the kinds of development projects that fit the requirements of this thing, we used to swap it off to cities that could use it in exchange for General Fund money. They won't let us do that anymore, so now we have to spend it ourselves. After reviewing exactly what can be done with this money, City Staff has come up with two ways to spend it. $44,000 would go to build "22 handicapped curb access ramps," with the rest being used the following fiscal year for something called the Handyworker Program. Which, if you are poor, old and broke enough, means someone will come by and do some repair works on your shanty at no expense to you.

3. PUBLIC HEARING - THE BRITISH HOM (sicSPECIFIC PLAN, A SPECIFIC PLAN TO GOVERN THE DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATION OF AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY USE ON THE SUBJECT PROPERTY; MUNICIPAL CODE TEXT AMENDMENT 12-02, AN AMENDMENT TO TITLE 17 OF THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE TO INCORPORATE THE BRITISH HOME SPECIFIC PLAN REGULATIONS: The one big growth industry in Sierra Madre these days is seeing to the care of (and equity acquisition from) the massive and rapidly aging baby boomer generation. They're rich, they're rather entitled, and they certainly aren't getting any younger. As a matter of fact, the first wave is getting to the point where they can't take care of themselves anymore, and that spells solid gold for Assisted Living Care industry. The Kensington is one incarnation of this melancholy phenomena, but wait, there's more! This from the Staff Report:

The British Home recently purchased the single family residential property at 676 Ramona Avenue, a contiguous R-1 parcel to the west of the British Home site. The parcel is 9,880 square feet and developed with a 2,333-square foot, one story single family residence including a 400-square-foot garage ... The proposed project also involves demolition of the existing residence and garage at 676 Ramona Avenue, and construction of Lambert Cottage, a new one-story, 3,591-square-foot residential building, comprised of 8 bedrooms with closets and private bathrooms with sink, toilet and shower. 

I think the word is out. Who knows, once the British Home gets their hustle bustling they'll start to acquire even more chunks of that Ramona/Manzanita neighborhood and stretch out even more. Rumor has it they hardly plan on stopping with just that Ramona property. And why should they? There is a lot of money to be made here. The gold rush is on in Sierra Madre.

4. DISCUSSION – PASADENA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT (PUSD) CONSTRUCTION UPDATE: The boys from the PUSD are back in the hizzy, and as usual they will have a whole list of excuses and sob stories for us about why they just can't seem to get anything done. This time the disaster that never ends is the quasi-demolished Middle School and the PUSD's inability to make anything happen there. Its been two and a half years since the place was razed and they don't even have the reconstruction bids done yet. Apparently the bids they just received came in at around $9 million over budget, which is big money even for the PUSD. So big, in fact, that they have now gone out for even more bids. Yes, this is going to take a while.

As Ramon Miramontes has so eloquently put it: "Where there's incompetence, you don't need a conspiracy." And he's right, of course. As with so many things, it all just seems to happen at the PUSD, and precious little was ever really planned. They're just doing what comes naturally. There is supposed to be a representative from the PUSD coming here to deliver their latest litany of woe. Who that person might be is not identified by in the Staff Report. For now we're just calling him "Mystery Guest."

5. DISCUSSION – AWARD OF BID TO WILLDAN FOR BUILDING INSPECTION AND PLAN CHECK: It just goes to show that it is a good thing to push back against people once in a while. Despite the claim that Sierra Madre is a "full service city," there are any number of things that we hire other folks to do for us. Building inspections and plan checks are two of them. Willdan, the company City Staff (hearts) for whatever reason, put in a bid that seemed rather high to the couple of City Councilmembers that don't have to use their fingers to count. Here is the appropriate Agenda Report on how things have turned out:

At the January 8, 2013 meeting, the City Council continued this matter and directed staff to provide a comparison of how each of the building services firms were rated to determine staff's recommendation to award the bid for building services to Willdan. The Council also requested that Willdan agree to reduce their proposed percentage of fees from 62% for plan check (and) 72% for permits, to 60%/70% respectively, and that Willdan also agree to discount their hourly rate for other services by 20% ... In response to the Council's request, Willdan has reduced their percentage of fees to 60% for plan check / 70% for permits, and agreed to discount their hourly rates for other services by 20%.

That was entirely too easy. To me it looks like Willdan had padded their original proposal because they believed the (heart) of City Staff would help them to sneak their initial bloated bid by. The City Council should ask them to go back and try again. There are plenty of companies out there that can do this work. Many of whom would be glad to supply their best bid the first time.

(Water Rate Increase Alert! The next five items (in red) have to do with the City's desire to raise water rates for the second time in three years. Click here for a related article. City Staff has been  tasked with rolling out new water rate increase product for Mayor Moran, and they are taking a "kitchen sink" approach in this effort. Each item needs to be looked at separately, of course, but do keep your eye on the big picture. These are a marketing set piece designed to sell yet another water rate increase. Have no doubt about this.)

6. DISCUSSION - DISCUSSION OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO THE WATER FUND: This litany of woe is designed to set the stage for the water rate increase discussion. Rates were raised in the past, but they are no longer adequate to the needs of the Water Department. The City has instituted many cost reductions, including "freezing staff positions," but to no avail. Water bonds cannot be refinanced, but the financial pressures could be eased somewhat by using General Fund moneys. However, City Staff does not recommend it. The only thing left is to once again raise water rates.

7. DISCUSSION - DISCUSSION OF THE CITY’S WATER METERING AND BILLING SYSTEM: This has to do with the various kinds of water meters the City uses, and the costs associated with that. While this report is fairly mundane, the important message you are expected to take way is that the City pays a lot for water meters, the prices continue to go up because of technological advances in the field of water usage measurement, and that is probably not going to change even if cost saving measures are put into place.

8. DISCUSSION - DISCUSSION OF A POTENTIAL CITY UTILITY (WATER, SEWER, STORM DRAIN) STUDY: This is the actual request from City Staff and the Water Department that the City Council financially enable them to request bids for a consultant study on the necessity of raising water rates. We wrote about this on Saturday in a post called "City Hall Prepares To Raise Water Rates Again," which you can access by clicking here.

9. DISCUSSION – UPDATE REGARDING PLAN TO ARREST THE DECLINE OF THE EAST RAYMOND BASIN WATER LEVEL: This is in line with Bruce Inman's recent proclamation that the City of Sierra Madre will run out of water in twelve months. A message that was delivered several months ago. Fortunately no lawns have been harmed in this process, at least so far. This report tells us that we receive 85-90% of our water from the Raymond Basin, the water level there has been dropping 4 feet every month, there are only 358 feet left, and it will cease to serve our needs in a little more than 12 months. There are several plans in the works to help alleviate some of the effects of this problem, but they will take a lot of money. In the meantime City Staff is recommending the institution of some forms of water conservation and use restrictions.

10. DISCUSSION – UPDATE FROM CITY COUNCIL WATER SUB-COMMITTEE (MAYOR MORAN AND COUNCIL MEMBER CAPOCCIA) REGARDING AD HOC WATER COMMITTEE: As we saw in the effort to raise Utility Taxes in 2008, Ad Hoc Committees are often used to help the City build the case for a rate hike. Since the credibility of the City government in this matter is often effectively questioned by those who will have to do the paying, persons of good reputation from the community are chosen to deliberate on these matters, often in close conjunction with City Staff. For whatever reasons, in the past Ad Hoc Committees have always come to the conclusion that rates must be raised. For that reason Mayor Moran will enthusiastically recommend the formation of an Ad Hoc Water Committee.

11. DISCUSSION – COMMUNITY BUDGET SURVEY: The chances of this one getting discussed by the City Council tomorrow night are nil. This is a discussion regarding on-line surveys of residents, in this case done in order to make them more aware of the City's budget. In order to do this City Staff would need some additional money to hire the outside companies they feel are necessary to conduct these surveys properly.

Of course.

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51 comments:

  1. Here is what you need to know about the budget. We spend 53% of the general fund - over $3 million a year - on police services. Most cities spend 25%. According to staff we could save $1 million a year if we contracted with the sheriff. That is a huge savings on our $6 million annual budget. This one change would put the city in surplus, make tax hikes unnecessary and leave plenty of money to dig a water well to China.

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    Replies
    1. LET'S DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    2. 6:29 - Not quite an accurate comparison with other cities. Other cities have large budget amount for fire safety and such, which than, as a percentage would make what they spend on police a smaller percentage. don't misunderstand me, I'm 100% in favor of looking at the sheriff for Sierra Madre, but I don't think the percentage of budget argument is very strong.

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    3. Are you comparing apples and lemons?

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    4. Crawford!
      I suggest we have a UNICORN/DIRT column here once a month with all their lame arguments in favor of big government and over development and other "crimes".

      It would be fun for us all to knock the hell out of their dumb remarks!

      Let's Do It!!!!!

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    5. I don't know. That might take an entire second blog.

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    6. The Dirts have Sue's Mountain Views News every week. That's plenty enough. Fitting, too.

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    7. I hear they're changing the name of our adjudicated weekly newspaper to The Sunnyside Plagiarizer.

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  2. We beat them before we can beat them again.

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  3. where there's incompetence you don't need conspiracy. one of the greatest statements of the month

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    Replies
    1. Pretty much sums up the Board of Ed under Honowitz and Selinske.

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  4. If Sierra Madre, California spend 53% of the general fund $3 million on police services. Then it is following in the footsteps of other bankrupt cities in Califonria who disregarded financial warning signs of doom.

    California cities that have changed over to the sheriffs department have reaped $1 million to $2 million a year in savings to their general funds.

    This of course allowed residents to reclaim control over their citys budgets.

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    Replies
    1. We really need to elect people who will do this.
      Thank you for your post 8:25. Please post here often.
      People like you will save Sierra Madre.

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    2. Let's look at hiring
      Arcadia police or increasing the use of part-time officers from LA along with contracting out to the sheriff. Why not spend the money on this rather than on some ridiculous safety survey.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. "Raw, in your face freedom."
    True!

    And nice parsing of the water rate hike strategy.

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    Replies
    1. You hear a lot of criticism of City Council meetings, but what you you replace them with?

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    2. That's kind of an extreme either/or approach 9:49.
      Criticism is good for course correction.
      If you'd like a compliment, to give this council their due, they have reigned in the emo Mayor and they are having shorter meetings.

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    3. 9:49 wait until Dancin' Nancy is Mayor!

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't know you were ever left alone.

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    2. it is disturbing to think that all those who want the water rate increase are capable of is a string of obscenities.

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    3. potty mouths flow like water, do they?

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    4. They're very taxing.

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  8. How much do we pay for the retired Sierra Madre Police? I believe the LASD would be paying the retirement for their people.
    Looks like more savings to go with LASD!

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  9. must be Bart Josh or John is online

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  10. Hey Mod,
    I have to work today and I'm still on The Tattler! At least until IT blocks me...

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    Replies
    1. Or they fire you.

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    2. must work for the government

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    3. Either that or it's Steve and his is fantasizing about having a job.

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    4. government's not working today

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    5. When does it?

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  11. Alert! There will be a special Council Meeting on Wednesday 23rd to discuss the two contracts that made the cut for City Attorney. Both proposals are posted on the City site. One of them, of course is Colentino and Levin.

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  12. Wednesday 5 PM at City Hall. Com'n out and ask emabarassing attorney questions.

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  13. Not only is Hail Hamilton missing from the MVN, so is Rich Johnson. However, there is an abundance of new real estate ads. Maybe Susan Henderson is tossing Hail and Rich to benefit from her Unicorn buddies.

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    Replies
    1. Say what you want about Rich, at least he writs his on material.

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    2. Maybe Susan is gentrifying.

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    3. Ironic. A few years ago the realtors were rallying behind Josh Moran to boycott Sierra Madre businesses because of a paper Susan Henderson worked for and she wrote in favor of Measure V and now the realtors are all her best buddy.

      The money in this town is slimy. All I know is I'm following Josh's pleas to boycott Sierra Madre businesses but it is only the real estate agents who advertise in Henderson's paper. Nobody else - just them.

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  14. 8:33
    I would prefer you identify Quality vs Size in chasing government. There are corrupt small governments as well as corrupt large governments. Bell, Vernon, and Industry were about as corrupt as a governments can get and they were relatively small. Big vs small is not where the bones are burried.

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    Replies
    1. I think part of the poster's point is that too often small cities such as our own become dominated by bigger government agendas that do not necessarily work for them. The independence of small cities is being threatened by those whose intentions are not always benign.

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    2. You mean like the green committee? Or do you mean "full service city"?

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  15. Small city governments spend or waste close to $500,000.00 a year on dues and associated fees to attend those events sponsored by those club like Orgs. These gatherings for the "club members only" are to set the tone and direction of current or next years business to be conducted for the common good of the club members cities?

    Just by association they have to join in like a RICO mob, to stay in good graces with the other political members. Mob rule, not voting citizen's rule.

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    Replies
    1. Can you imagine a state where small cities are left alone and allowed to do the things those living there want done? Rather than having our rights sold by the state legislature to whoever bribed them last? That certainly isn't California in 2013.

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  16. I think that is Mexico

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  17. Who pays the Sheriff's retirement?

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    Replies
    1. Taxpayers - from a much wider base.

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    2. The deal is as part of LA County we are already paying the Sheriffs. Whether you like it or not.

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  18. If it's a fully funded pension it's paid for when they retire, that's the way it should be.

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    Replies
    1. You don't have any idea what you are talking about.

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  19. I think of all the half witted officers who have retired from our city and we are still paying them a generous pension so some can work part time as mall security.

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