|The Einstein that doesn't make bagels|
The meeting opens with two incognito sessions with whomever is our City Attorney these days. There have been some bailouts at Colantuono & Levin lately, and it is becoming quite hard to name the players anymore. The first case involves the Hildreth lawsuit, news of which was first revealed here on The Tattler. The City is spent vast sums of money to get a hole it doesn't like filled in, mostly because it would make them feel weak and ineffectual if they did not. All of which led up to this lawsuit.
CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL
Pursuant to Calif. 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. Existing Litigation: Case No. CV12-10339 Case Name: Jeffrey M. Hildreth and Taryn N. Hildreth v. City of Sierra Madre et al.
This next one? Who knows. Something new is going down, and we have no educated, or even uneducated, guesses for you. Anyone who does know something is invited to leave a comment and fill us in. It could be the cops, of course. After all, it usually is.
CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL Anticipated Litigation Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(b). A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the City Council on the advice of its legal counsel, based on the below- described existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the City Council
Once those matters are aired out the doors of the Council Chambers will fly open and hordes of diligent citizens will stream into the room, eager as ever to witness, and participate in, our municipal democracy. During the initial moments of this meeting rituals steeped in the history of our civilization are performed. I've described these rituals quite a few times before, so if you don't mind I am going to skip all that today. Let's get to the money part. It is what people really care about.
1) CONSENT CALENDAR
a) RESOLUTION NO. 13-02 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS
b) RESOLUTION NO. 13-03 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS
The spending of the cash is a twofold effort this time around as the City Council took Christmas off, thereby canceling an opportunity to approve demands. But money was still spent. You may be anticipating a big spend because of this doubling up, but that is not the case. Tomorrow night a mere $493,515.18 will go out the door. Relatively modest considering some past spending events. Some of the bigger spends include Edison at $33,000, and the mighty Colantuono & Levin with $18,272 coming their way. Hopefully they won't be getting too many more like it from us.
c) ELECTRICITY USAGE AND COST TRENDS
Considering the $33K check we're cutting for Edison, this Consent Calendar item couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Unfortunately the Staff Report for this one is pretty much boilerplate language about how much City Hall has reduced energy usage, and that they plan to do more of that sort of thing in the future. Some of the information here is clearly outdated. Example: "With rising utility costs, the City of Sierra Madre has taken various steps to monitor electricity usage and conserve energy. Staff has been monitoring data back to 2004 and completed an electricity audit at the end of 2010." Far be it from me to complain, but it is now 2013. Just in case anyone forgot.
2) DISCUSSION – RESOLUTION NO. 13-01 ADOPTING INTERIM MEASURES TO COMPLY WITH NPDES PERMIT NO. CAS004001 AND DECLARING THE CITY’S INTENTION TO DEVELOP AND ADOPT PERMANENT LOCAL MEASURES FOR PERMIT COMPLIANCE
"NPDES" is the acronym for "National Pollution Discharge Elimination System." Apparently there is a permit involved in all of this, and it is over 500 pages long when you include its many appendices. Perhaps the state bureaucracy responsible for this dense pack of life denying gibberish plans to stop pollution discharges by taking a few copies of these 500 page permits and stuffing them up the mouths of whatever pipes are responsible? Probably the only way this is going work. You can access this visitation from a world beyond by clicking here. I wouldn't recommend it, though. I've met people who have actually looked at this thing and it changed them. Not in the good way. And I am not certain what they mean by their usage of the term "waterboards." Is that how they get polluters to confess?
3) DISCUSSION – OPTIONS FOR COMBINING CITY COMMISSIONS, COMMITTEES, BOARDS, AND CONSIDERATION OF CREATION OF A WATER AD HOC COMMITTEE
One of the ways of participating in our City's government available to residents is to serve on a commission, board, or committee. There are many of them, which is as it should be. There is a lot going on, and thankfully the community has always answered the call for volunteers. Unfortunately, this time honored way of doing things in Sierra Madre has now been deemed by City Staff to be inconvenient. Here is how they phrase it:
The amount of staff time dedicated to each commission varies, and can range from 1 to 2 hours per month, up to as much as 40 hours a month. While every attempt is made to staff commissions with exempt staff (no overtime costs), there are many occasions when direct costs are incurred from full-time and/or part-time staff's attendance at commission meetings or events ...
The Staff Report carries on in this passive aggressive way for a while longer. Here is how I see it. Which do you think is more important, a commission of resident volunteers, or the presence of some random City Staff member? Obviously it would be the commission. So how about commissions start meeting without any City Staff present? The commissions would remain intact, they'd probably get more work done, creativity would rise and the City would save a lot of money! Honestly, I have spoken with many people on commissions and to a man, or woman, they have all said City Staff presence is not always necessary. Rather than getting rid of any commissions or committees, or jamming a few of them together, just tell City Staff to butt out. Do they really always have to be there?
There is also some palaver in item #3 about creating an Water Ad Hoc Committee. In the Staff Report they list the responsibilities this WAHC would have, the first one being, "Advisory to City Council and Staff on Water Rate Review." That pretty much sums it all up. This could very well result in yet one more gathering of earnest citizens who end up being manipulated into claiming rates have to increase. A necessary "best practice" as neither the City Council or City Staff would ever care to find themselves in the position of having to utter the words "rate increase." Better to get human shields to do it for them.
4) DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN
Probably one of the worst efforts put forward by an elected official here in quite some time. As we have discussed previously (click here), this is basically Councilmember Harabedian's love offering to the Sierra Madre Police Association for their support in last April's election. An attempt to give the SMPD a relevance on paper that it lacks on the street. It will involve the hiring of a very expensive "public safety" consultant, this at a time when the Councilman has also voiced his support for raising our utility taxes to 12% to make up for City Hall financial shortfalls. 12% being by far the highest utility tax rate ever seen in the State of California.
This item is also deeply immersed in Los Angeles County Democratic Party politics. Harabedian, an individual with obvious political ambitions, certainly understands that in order to advance his career in a one-party jurisdiction you must please its major campaign donation sources. And no source of political cash has been more generous to the organization Mr. Harabedian aspires to gain favor with than public employee unions. Something Harabedian hopes to finesse with as much as $50,000 of our tax dollars. You couldn't find a better example of what is wrong with Los Angeles County politics than this stinker.
By the way, an alert from the SMPD went out to Sierra Madre Block Captains yesterday detailing two more home robberies, plus an attempted third, over the weekend. I really cannot see how spending $10's of thousands of dollars on a consultant is going to do anything about the serious and very real problems we are facing here.
5) DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ACTION REGARDING CITY’S “PROTEST” TO THE PROPOSED CLEAN WATER, CLEAN BEACHES MEASURE
While the UUT 3 is working hard to raise utility taxes on us, it appears that the County of Los Angeles is trying to do something very similar to them. Obviously City Hall isn't happy about it. We shouldn't be either since that cost will come out of our hides. It always does. They might act like it is their money, but we know it comes from us.
What the County is telling everyone is that this is a necessary way of raising money to keep the Pacific Ocean and its beaches clean. However, once the money is in their hands their likely course of action will be to instead create a vast new bureaucracy and staff it up, thereby extending the reach of their already considerable power in our lives. The chances that somehow this will prevent impure rain water runoff from polluting the ocean and beaches is absurd. All it will really do is put additional redundant L.A. County employees in new air conditioned white pickup trucks so they will be able to go back and forth to Starbucks in comfort.
I hope the City chooses to protest this. Certainly we should all want to do so as well. This "Clean Water, Clean Beaches"measure would be yet another County tax. A parcel tax on the rain no less, one that will serve no real purpose besides creating a new tier of future pension recipients.
6) DISCUSSION - CONSIDERATION OF APPOINTMENT TO VACANT SEAT ON METRO SAN GABRIEL VALLEY SERVICE COUNCIL
First let us be clear, all seats on the Metro San Gabriel Service Council are empty. Whether there are bodies in them or not. There was no Agenda Report on this one, so I am kind of in the dark here. But didn't Joe Mosca have this gig once upon a time? He probably didn't show up to those meetings, either. Somehow the world survived, and the empty buses rolling through Sierra Madre ran on time.
7) DISCUSSION - AWARD OF BID TO WILLDAN FOR BUILDING INSPECTION AND PLAN CHECK SERVICES
The City that claims to be "full service" will now employ an outside company to do things such as plan checks and house inspections. We do have a paid part timer to handle this stuff, but you can imagine how that is working out. City Staff put out an RFP, and the company they have chosen as the grand prize winner is Willdan. Apparently they will receive 62% of all plan check money received from people like you, and 72% of the permit fees received, also from folks such as yourself. Strikes me as being a pretty sweet deal.
By the way, this brings up a question I never seem to get answered. If we pay taxes to City Hall, why do we have to pay extra when we want some actual work to be performed by them? Aren't we paying their salaries already? Why should we have to pay fees on top of that? Aren't we already paying these people to work with the taxes we already pay? It seems to me that we are being forced to shell out twice for services we use, and once for those we don't.
8) DISCUSSION - STRATEGIC PLAN FROM OCTOBER 24, 2012 RETREAT
This is kind of a running joke at City Council meetings. This item is always put at the end, and because things run late it then gets pushed to a future meeting. The last retreat was almost 3 months ago, and they still haven't found the time to let the dog and pony out. The City Manager takes it seriously, for what that is worth. So there must be something wrong with it.
City Council meetings are like the lottery. You have to play to win. Check it out why don't you?