Do you know what Nancy Walsh does not love? People and events that she cannot control. Especially when those involved are not only smarter and more accomplished at what they do than she is, but also do things the way they want to without caring one whit about what Nancy might think. And in ways the poor dear often finds to be most complicated.
And there is no group of people that she cannot abide more than the General Plan Update Steering Committee. Their independence, integrity, hard work, clearly established abilities and, most of all, their lack of willingness to do what she wants when she wants it, makes her very very mad.
Last night Nancy Walsh launched another of her somewhat bizarre attacks on the volunteers of the General Plan Update Steering Committee. A group of people who for four long years have given their time and professional energy to work very hard on mastering and bringing to life the intricacies of this City's General Plan. People far more concerned about what those living here want for their city than the outside special interests that Nancy cares about.
But it certainly wasn't anything we hadn't seen from her before. Demeaning the good works of caring volunteers is not something Nancy Walsh is at all shy about.
What set Nancy off last night was a letter from the Chair of the GPUSC, Denise Delmar. Chair Delmar felt that the City was on its way to spending a lot of money for General Plan consultants that was completely unnecessary. $30,000 for editing and typing documents to be exact. The GPUSC had done their job, and now it was time for City Staff to do what they get paid to do. But instead they would have rather spent a lot of taxpayer money.
Denise wrote a letter to Councilmembers Koerber and Capoccia about this irresponsible squandering of taxpayer dough, along with a few other things. Councilmember Koerber read it out loud to all who were gathered there last night, and this is what she said:
Dear Chris and John,
I hope this finds you both well. I'm writing to you regarding an agenda item on the Tuesday, June 11th City Council agenda. I am unable to address the City Council due to a business obligation in San Jose, and quite frankly my experience as GPUSC Chair has made me very leery of addressing the City Council.
I am concerned about staff's request to increase the consultant's fees to "finish" the General Plan Update. The GPU is complete, all policies have been vetted and updated where needed, this was done with the community's input and the development of the Guiding Principles. In August of 2012, a list was developed on all open items that needed to be completed before the GPU Draft could go to the Planning Commission, and the items on this list were completed in October. Planning Commission members and GPU members were told to expect this to be on the November Planning Commission agenda. In January 2013, committee members were given differing explanations for the delay, and then a March meeting was called.
The March meeting was with our consultant who gave the committee feedback, such as word usage, the matrix format, etc. I was shocked to get this feedback in March, when much of the text had been completed months, and even the year, before. The consultant had not seen any of it, until January 2013. I asked the consultant in March if the introduction, appendix, glossary and implementation plan have to be included to move to the review process. She said they do not need to be included.
So, the committee once again pulled it together went through and indicated where the staff needs to insert the graphs, change the "questionable words" and even did the staff's work of preparing a non-matrix document, in order for the GPU to move through the review process.
We met again in May, and decided that the implementation plan committee would continue working and have something by Labor Day. The Appendix committee would continue working and have something by Labor Day as well. We also suggested asking the consultant if they have a general glossary at their disposal to send to the Appendix committee, who could then modify it for Sierra Madre. We suggested a City Council Member, Planning Commission Member, and GPU Committee Member update the introduction once it has gone through the Planning Commission and City Council review process. In the meantime, the first page should just be the Guiding Principles.
As you probably know by now, I "calls 'em like I sees 'em", and I see more stalling on the part of city staff. This document could have gone to the Planning Commission in November; it is a draft, not the final product. When I interviewed the consultants I was told by this firm that they would help with the formatting for the end product, in order to submit it for a public hearing and the state review. It is baffling why we are being charged now. The implementation plan is not a requirement, so why would we pay a consultant to do work that is not a requirement? We don't even know if the City Council wants an implementation plan in the General Plan.
Staff is more than capable of correcting the very few typos , and sentence flow problems, since they are the ones who initially pointed them out. If staff is not capable of such minor clerical tasks, then we have a much bigger problem. Further, the introduction is not a requirement, and therefore it should not be written by a consultant. Staff has the graphs, we have indicated which graph goes where, and all they have to do is insert them. This does not have to be done by someone who has General Plan experience, or even Planning & Development experience. This is basic word processing. Why would we pay expert rates to do word processing?
This is the people's document, and the people have written the document, but at this point staff has to own it, and actually do some work. Through this whole process, it has been the committee members who have put together the work plan, the timelines, the deadlines, the sub-committees, and we did not get direction from staff at all.
Four years ago, when I started on this committee I had no idea of the amount of hours that would be put into managing this project. I thought that job would have been done by the paid staff. Now that we aren't managing the project anymore for free, the city staff is ready to pay almost $30,000 to someone instead of doing it themselves. Remember, a part time planner was hired to help with the work load of that department because of all the work the GPU would generate.
Thank you for your attention,
It was at this point that Nancy Walsh blew up and launched her attack. Here is how someone commenting on this blog last night described it:
How dare Nancy Walsh spew her uninformed nonsense regarding the qualifications of the General Plan Update Committee. She stated that it was the city that got the meetings televised so it would be transparent. The committee asked for that so the community could follow along better. The committee asked for additional meetings so they could proceed more rapidly and that was met by a NO as it would take up too much staff time yet there is staff all over the place at meetings where they are not needed as Elaine is such a micromanager she cannot let an underling answer a question without her interference.
Where was Walsh when the 1996 General Plan was created? All she has to do is look at the credits given for the participants and she will see that it was the work of the citizens of the city of Sierra Madre, then, as it should be now. This consultant firm at the cost of $200,000.00 (the exact amount was quoted by Capoccia) could not do the work without the imput of the volunteers. Much of the data procured by the consultant had to be reworked as it was boiler plate and did not match the facts on the ground.
Denise was right, of course, and despite Nancy's unfortunate and uncalled for attacks on goodhearted volunteers who have worked so hard for the people of this community, the City Council agreed that City Staff could do some honest clerical work and save the taxpayers $30,000.
Danny Castro, under whose purview the City Manager stated this all falls (welcome to the undercarriage of the bus, Danny), stood up to say that he and those he works with have a lot to do, and while they can do this kind of work, questioned whether it would be a good use of their time.
Which to me is yet another good argument (along with the water shortage) for establishing a building moratorium in this City. It would free Danny up to do the editing and typing necessary to help complete the General Plan.
How out of touch is our City government?
If you had attended the meeting last night you would have seen that Council Chambers were packed. There were two distinct groups in attendance, one was there to protest the recent peculiar City Council decision to inappropriately fine water customers for what they believe is rampant over-usage, the other to protest the remarkably unfair treatment of a much beloved Sierra Madre physical therapist named Yvette Natalia del Corazon.
I am not going to spend too much time describing what was said last night by either group. A lot has been written here about the water situation lately, and I am sure you are all up on this situation. And the wrong that was done to Yvette is clearly obvious. Both of these groups of folks featured many highly articulate and well-informed speakers who delivered strong arguments that in the end had a profound impact on the City Council.
Yvette was "grandfathered" back into good legal graces with the City, and the City Council made some serious noises that sounded like they were going to try and fix many of the problems associated with their ham-handed decision to financially penalize water users no matter what their individual situations.
But what needs to be asked is how is it our City government has become so out of touch with the residents of Sierra Madre that this large outpouring of resident anger became necessary in the first place? I was there, the place was packed for both portions of the meeting, with the concern being genuine and at times even intense.
So how did it get to this point? And why didn't our city government understand that their unfortunate actions could evoke this level of concern from the residents?
Can it be they are really that out of touch?
"We are only obeying orders"
This is my favorite example of how badly out of synch City Hall has become with the folks they supposedly are working for. On the Consent Calendar last night was an item identified on the meeting agenda this way:
SECOND READING OF ORDINANCE NO. 1337: ADDING CHAPTER 17.29 ENTITLED “R-3 H MULTIPLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL HIGH DENSITY” TO THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE AND AMEND THE ZONING MAP
What this bright and shining example of city-speak indicates is that those who supposedly carry out the will of the people of Sierra Madre were in the process of legally enabling the building of 20 unit high density "stack and pack" single acre condo complexes at a time when the city is also fining residents over their water usage.
This is an incredible disconnect on two levels. The first being that very few people in this town want that kind of development here, and haven't for decades. The other is how can you possibly allow that high level of development in a town when our water situation has gotten so bad that people are not only about to be fined wholesale, but also threatened with having their water actually turned off?
The City Manager defended all this by stating that the City had no choice but to do it because Sacramento mandates such planning be allowed to happen.
So since when did obvious wrong become an acceptable solution in Sierra Madre? Don't we have the will to fight for the right things anymore? Do we merely take and obey central government orders these days?
I thought that kind of thinking ended badly about 70 years ago.
Can you handle some good news?
By a 5 to 1 vote last night the Pasadena Unified School District's Board of Education voted to approve a contract for the building of Sierra Madre's soon to be brand new Middle School. The long frustrating wait is finally over, and starting in the first week of July we are going to see the construction of something that will not only be a great addition to our community, but also something we can all feel a lot of pride in.
Think about it. How ridiculous would it have been just two months ago to think that not only would this school would ever get built, but we would also have a Sierra Madre representative on the Board of Education to vote for it as well?
Thanks to Councilmembers Chris Koerber and John Capoccia for all their hard work to help make these two important events happen. Plus the efforts of many other equally effective people as well.
Sometimes we win one. Or even two. But we always have to fight like hell to do it.