Friday, May 31, 2013

In Sierra Madre a Public Records Act Request is Like a Box of Chocolates

Mama always said ...
You know what a PRA is, right (link)? It is a California law stating that anything you might want to find out about a government agency and what it has been up to lately is not a secret. You have the right to know, and they have to respond to your written request for  information or face some pretty stiff sanctions from the law. On paper this is a very good thing because it means there really isn't much that any government entity does that can be hidden from the public. All you have to do is write it all down, hand it in to a government official, and they only have a few days to get you everything you have asked about.

Of course, like most things involving the law, there are two sides to all of this. There is the cheerful news that you are an empowered citizen with the power to know all, and then there is the fuzzy gray reality. Government officials will tell you as little as they possibly without actually getting into any trouble, and whatever documents you do get will likely be about as useful as worm boots.

Or at least that has been my experience here in Sierra Madre.

But that doesn't mean the process (so-called) isn't completely useless or a waste of time. Sometimes what you get back is revealing in an insightful kind of way, and other times it is just flat out hilarious. And certainly it is a better experience than going down to a City Council meeting and asking questions from the "3 minute podium." Even if they do deign to reply to your earnest efforts, what you'll get for your troubles is rarely much more than a patronizing pat on the head.

I sent in a PRA to Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar earlier this week requesting information about our Moody's water bond credit ratings. Certainly a topic everyone is just dying to know about these days. These ratings tanked badly in 2011, and I wanted to know how things were going today. Especially since a Pasadena News article from October of 2011 (link) quoted Elaine as saying that Moody's could have our water bonds back up to AAA by now. Something that'd allow the City to refinance our bond mess at the more favorable current rates and save we the taxpayers a lot of dough. Something that obviously has not happened.

Here is how I asked my questions Tuesday morning:

Good morning Elaine.

I would like to request all information regarding the current state of our Moody's water bond rating. The jumping off point for your search should be this passage from an October 6, 2011 article in the Pasadena Star News titled "Moody's drops Sierra Madre water bond rating." It is linked to today's post on my blog.

"Credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the city of Sierra Madre's Water Enterprise bonds from AAA to an A bond rating due to insufficient water rate revenues, according to a report by the credit agency.

The downgrade does not affect current indebtedness or bond payments and Sierra Madre officials said Thursday the second year of an incremental rate hike approved in early 2011 will serve as the remedy.

"The bonds will be re-evaluated in another year, and assuming the revenue estimates and the revenues that rate payers are paying, we will regain our triple A rating," said Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre city manager."

The results of the Moody's evaluation you refer to in this article would be great. Also I would like to hear your reasoning for the optimism expressed to Star News reporter Brian Charles when he was preparing this piece. Certainly the steep drop in our Moody's bond rating was not good news that week, so why did you believe that the problems would be remedied so quickly? I would like to compare his notes with yours.

Thanks for looking into this. I know these are hectic times. 

Elaine Aguilar's reply arrived in my email box yesterday afternoon around 6:00. Like much of what Elaine sends out, there are a lot of words involved. Not that I should ever be one to complain about that.

Hello John,
I am responding to your request for public records (your initial email request is at the bottom).  The purpose of this email is to notify you that the City does not have any records responsive to your request.  I don’t have any notes, emails, or documents relating to my comments to the newspaper, or relating to the “current state of our Moody’s bond rating”.  I don’t have any notes, emails, or documents relating to my comments to the newspaper, so I can’t confirm that the newspaper has even quoted me accurately, given the length of time since the article was published.

The item that I can provide is the current link to the City’s water bond rating analysis (link).

While I don’t have records responsive to your request, please know that I am available to meet with you if you would like to discuss the water bonds, or any other matters pertaining to the City.  I also wanted to respond to what I think is your basic question -  The newspaper quote did not infer that I thought the issue would be “remedied quickly”, nor do I believe that I was expressing any “optimism” to the reporter in that regard.  Logically speaking, bonds are rated periodically, and in the case of our water bonds, the decreased rating, as stated by Moody’s was due to “debt service coverage levels which were just sum-sufficient in 2010 and 2011, city officials' slow implementation of increased rates in response to weak coverage, the enterprise's strong cash position, and a stable, affluent customer base within the City.” 

The Star News article was written in October 2011, only three months after the implementation of the first rate increase (July 2011) and nine months before the second rate increase (July 2012).  So I think my comment was probably primarily based upon the “known fact” of the water rate increases and the information that the “slow implementation of increased rates” was a factor Moody’s considered as indicated in their summary. 

Thank you for contacting me and giving me the opportunity to respond.  Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.   
Sincerely, Elaine

Certainly this did contradict the statement Elaine reportedly made to the Pasadena Star News. That being Moody's would once again review our precarious rating situation in regards to our water bonds, and then they would reevaluate our predicament. Something that Elaine, in the article, at least implied would work out in our favor. Which, of course, it has not.

I then asked this further question: Did our bond rating change between the time of the PSN article and now?

Elaine answered me thusly: Hi John – the link I included in my earlier email is the link to the current Moody’s report – the same “September 30, 2011” rating remains. “New York, September 30, 2011 -- Moody's Investors Service has downgraded to A3 from A1 the rating on the City of Sierra Madre Water Enterprise (CA)”
Elaine

Being a stubborn fellow, I tried once again to get Elaine to tell me something I didn't already know. So the bonds were never reevaluated?

Elaine again: Not that I can see from their website.

I tried one more time. Any idea why Brian Charles of the Pasadena Star News quoted you as saying that the bonds in question would be reevaluated by Moody's within the year? 

ElaineNow, if I had the ability to know what other people were thinking ---I’d have my own Vegas show!!  Seriously John – no idea what Brain was thinking or how he chose to interpret whatever it was I said. 

And that is how this PRA ends. Not with a bang, but with a "he said, she said" situation instead. My pen pal apparently was determined to not acknowledge that she had said anything at all like what Brian Charles of the Star News quoted her as having said. And wouldn't you? Unless the Star News has an actual tape recording of that conversation, there really won't be much in the way of any happening content that I will have to share with you.

However, I did tell you earlier that occasionally there is something insightful that you can pick up from these exchanges, and I believe we have one of those right here. City Hall is on a total clampdown on the water bond question. Nobody there is talking about our massive debt or the possibly dire effects it is having on our rapidly collapsing water enterprise. Which really is the black hole at the center of Sierra Madre's financial debacle, and why every possible rate, fee, and tax is now being pushed up as high and quickly as possible.

You have to wonder why this is being kept from us.

The public is not reacting well to the news of water restrictions

Our City Manager puts out an occasional report to the City Council that allows the reader an inside look into what is going down at City Hall. Fortunately for this blogger you can find this report on the City's website if you poke around a little. Or you can check it out here (link). And the news Elaine has to share on the upcoming water restrictions is probably not what our Mayor and Councilmembers are looking for.

We have been receiving phone calls about the recent action to implement mandatory water conservation. So, the good news is the word is getting out - but the bad news is the calls we've received are primarily from individuals who are not pleased about the need to conserve water. There was one call from an individual who was in the process of changing out his front lawn to low-water landscaping and he wanted to know if the city was offering any rebates.

I'm not completely sure, but I think many of us are about to take part in a great adventure.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tony Brandenburg: Making the Right Friends In All the Wrong Places

Renatta has her mind made up
File Under “With Friends Like These” Department
The sub-districting fiasco, created by a paranoid city to fend off a lawsuit that was never filed and never would have been, is one of the follies of recent time that shows how absolutely inane a local government based on rules on top of rules has become. It is so far-fetched and ridiculous that we now stare into an abyss and wait for a Board of Education - one voted in by regional self-interests, is going to somehow make plausible decisions not just for their constituencies, but for the others as well.

Yeah. That will happen.

At this point in time the absolutely laughable is taking place right before our eyes.

Renatta Cooper has suddenly become the number one public commenter on the value of a Latino voice on the Board of Education. The most obvious declaration is found here in an editorial where Renatta tells us all how important it is to have Latino representation by writing three paragraphs about African Americans in leadership roles.

She not only fails to show where the Latino representation in the district is, she also fails to explain why African American children in this district are overrepresented in special education, why the children of African American descent are more frequently suspended and expelled in Pasadena, and where the African American leadership is while all of this is going down. Most tellingly, she fails to show why she does nothing about it but to occasionally mumble.

Now Renatta, who has done so much, is suddenly concerned about the Latino voice.

Really Ms. Cooper?

I can think of a couple of autistic Latino children in Sierra Madre that you didn’t do a damn thing for (click here).

The Presidential Seal, or: Today’s Dictator, Today
Two weeks ago, in a totally laughable coup, Tom “Baby Otter” Selinske nominated Renatta “Presidential Seal” Cooper for president, effectively stealing the presidency in an election that should have never happened in the first place. It was a bold move, one that even Larry Tate would envy.

See, if anyone bothers to read the ed code and the bylaws and the board policies would know that the position of president is supposed to based on seniority and rotation. Technically that would place Scott Phelps in the position of president - a position already held by Renatta Cooper last year - and that would place either Kim Kenne or Elizabeth Pomeroy in the vice president’s position. If I recall correctly, Kenne declined the position, and in a mind boggling move, the newbie, Tyron Hampton was made Vice President.

His first order of business was to challenge the superintendent in a bid to placate the UTP. In two days Tyrone went from a newbie to a gold card member. Not bad for the first month. Put the guy in the spotlight, let him make his mistakes out in the front of the class, and distance themselves or embrace him as the political chips fall. It almost hurts to watch.

Now I am going to do the unthinkable. I am going to ask a couple of questions. I want you to think about this.

Why was Renatta Cooper’s first piece of writing after becoming president an essay that was not designed to bring about unity, but to splinter off and reach out to one single segment of the community? Did she believe that would validate how she changed the rules and then stole the presidency? Does she believe that justifies how they have changed the rules for the vacant seat, and how that will be stolen, too?

Does she believe that her advice should be followed by the Latino population, and that they should follow her lead? Or is it the last wheeze from a dinosaur who is well past her political prime? The last gasp from a self-serving nonentity that nobody took seriously in the first place?

Does she really believe she has done the children any favors when so many kids are misidentified and punished on a scale that doesn’t match the larger population?

Does she really believe that the schools to prison pipeline routes around her, and not directly through her?

Isn’t there a little secret memo that came from a local Latino group, one with a few names on it that happened to show up in the top 9 candidates to squeak through? Maybe a memo that went to all board members, and thus is a public record that we don’t know about? Maybe one that supports my assertion that three or four Board members had a little talk before the paper screening took place?

Which reminds me.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Custodian of Records: Denise McElroy, Beth Leyden
RE: Public Records Act Request
Dear Superintendent Gundry,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), I ask to (inspect/obtain a copy of) the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:
Any and all video footage from the May 14, 2013 Board of Education meeting involving cameras facing the audience during the meeting. The requested video footage is during public comments made by Tony Brandenburg, including the public comment directly following.
We also request any and all correspondence between May 3rd and May 16, 2013 between Lt. Gourdikian of the Pasadena Police Department and the following PUSD staff/Board members:
Tom Selinske
Ed Honowitz
Renatta Cooper
Elizabeth Pomeroy
Adam Wolfson
Diane Orona
I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even prompter reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record[s] in question...... etc.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Sincerely,
Tony and Mary Brandenburg

The Angler......?
I was once told to ask Renatta how many people in her family enjoy the fantastic health benefits of that PUSD plan she’s been getting as a board member.
So, I am asking. How many, Ren?
Check it out, UTP, the health packages that you have, as I am sure you have been told by PUSD,  are rather expensive. They are one of the things that cost the district, and thus the public, and the budget so much. They are also one of the best perks in the Board members’ packages.
I know one of the applicants who didn’t need the package, and was going to actually donate his stipend (click here).  Haha. He got one vote, probably from the only Board member that read the application.

Oh, By the way, Renatta, I Think You May Have left Something Out
May 23, 2013
Custodian of Records: Denise McElroy, Adam Wolfson
RE: Public Records Act Request
Dear Superintendent Gundry,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) and including the precedent established in the ruling in Smith v. City of San Jose (Case No. 1-09-CV-150427) re: electronic messaging, including texts, emails and voicemails from private accounts, but pertaining to city/school district business. I ask to obtain a copy of the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:
All emails, text messages, and voicemails, including those from private accounts, during the period of May 6 through May 15th, 2013 between the following officials of PUSD and the City of Pasadena and regarding the appointment to the vacant Board of Education seat, and also regarding the appointment of the President/Vice President of the Board of Education:
Renatta Cooper- Board of Education Trustee
Tom Selinske- Board of Education Trustee
Tyron Hampton- Board of Education Trustee
Bill Bogaard- Mayor of Pasadena
Mark Jomsky- City Clerk of Pasadena
I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even prompter reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record[s] in question..... etc.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Sincerely,
Tony and Mary Brandenburg

Touche’ Madamn President (May 28, 2013)
The following was presented by me, with no one holding my hand, nor speaking on my behalf,  to the Board of Education on May 28, 2013 (click here).

These are some of the anomalies I have found thus far in the process. It is not my intention to figure out who, or what occurred that allowed this to take place. I am aware that there are Board members who were compelled to participate through coercion, through the threat of having no voice in the process, or who lacked the knowledge or skills to resist these decisions. For this reason, I apologize in advance for having to make broad statements, but must do so because this unit -willingly or not- allowed many of these events to take place.

I. The Board of Education has shown bias in the screening process.
A. In reviewing the files for the 38 applications, one of the application files referred to the applicant by first name, and the remaining 37 by their last name. This suggests familiarity to a single candidate and shows preferential treatment and bias.

B. The second example of bias by the Board is the screening process, itself. In failing to redact the applicant names the applications are simply a formality and the criteria is based on popularity and not on skills.

C.The third example of bias by the Board is that there was no process for screening and there was no standard for criteria in the decision making, thus the review was not objective and relied solely on the personal opinions of the six members.

D. The fourth example of bias by the Board lay in the failure of each member to independently read and review the entire 38 applications, and  instead relying on one another for information within the applications.

E. The fifth example  of bias by the Board lay in their failure to develop and use an unbiased tool to screen the applicants.

F. The sixth example of bias by the Board rests in the failure of the Board to have a rating tool at all prior to taking a vote in the paper screening process.

II. The Board of Educations has committed Brown Act violations in regards to the interview process and screening process. The Board President should be held accountable for these actions as the leader who presided in these actions.
A. The first example of Brown Act violations is for failing to  disclose all meetings and discussions related to the screening process.

B. The  second example of Brown Act violations is in regards to meetings in which decisions were made which changed the  interview process which was set for June 1st and should have included all 38 applicants if they were eligible-and which was changed without notifying the public of the changes, nor notifying the public of the meetings in which these decisions were made, nor posting the minutes from said meetings.

C.The third example of Brown Act violations is in the discussion of the applications by Board members in private meetings prior to making decisions.

D. The fourth example of Brown Act violations took place in meetings which discussed the placement of the current president and vice president prior to formal elections, and which changed the process by which the leadership is designated.

III.The Board of Education is not qualified or competent to interview the candidates
A. The Board members are not knowledgeable in Robert’s Rules, and yet are interviewing applicants in their use. At the May 14 Board Meeting, two Board Members spoke during public comment in violation of the very rules that they are supposed to uphold. This suggests that the Board is not qualified for the interview process because they themselves do not understand Robert’s Rules.

B. The Board is not qualified in the interview process because their criteria shows a fundamental lack of understanding and clarity.
According to the Board’s own criteria for the process an applicant should have a layperson’s understanding of public education. The statement itself denies access to qualified applicants and further suggests that applicants should be without knowledge of the process. This contradicts the rest of the criteria which suggests applicants should have knowledge that a layperson would not have.

C. The Board of Education is not qualified to interview the candidates because the Board has ignored the voice and will of the voters.
The Board has shown its inability to honor the voice of the people by accepting applications and interviewing candidates who were flatly rejected in the Democratic Election process.

IV. The Board President has demonstrated  Bias and Incompetence in this process
A. The Board President has demonstrated incompetence to perform the interview process by failing to control the Democratic Process and the Constitutional Rights of the public
. At the April 23 Board Meeting I was kicked by a community member, and verbally accosted by a district employee during public comment. This was all under the supervision of the Board President who did nothing. This demonstrates that the Board President lacks control of the Board Room, and does not understand Robert’s Rules.

B. The Board President showed bias prior to the screening and interviews through her statements to the press prior to a vote being held. In making statements to the press on May 2 and May 22 and May 23 regarding ethnicity  and her personal preferences prior to the screening and interviews.

C. The Board president influenced the outcomes with those statements and which may have influenced the outcome of the process.The Board President should recuse herself from the process for these and other previously stated actions.

D. The Board President made statements demonstrating that she believes she is above the Constitution of the United States by denying equal access and opportunity to all applicants.

Sorry, Charlie, We don't want Tuna with Good Taste; We want Tuna that Tastes Good
A finer “thanks, but no thanks” has never been had. Well, by me, and the 27 other people that have already gotten one, I mean. Oh well (click here). I think I have already addressed this above, but maybe I should ask Diana Orona. I am sure she knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak.

Thank you for applying to fill the vacant Seat 4 on the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education in a replacement capacity.  Because of the overwhelming number of applicants for the seat, board members conducted a preliminary screening of applications on May 28 to determine who will appear before the board for a final interview.

After careful consideration, the board has not chosen you for a final interview, but wanted to express their appreciation for your willingness to serve the children of the Pasadena Unified School District. They thank you for your time and hope that you will remain involved in PUSD.

Diane D'Arco Orona
Superintendent's Office

It Should Come as no Surprise, or ... Not All Grapes Are Sour
Before I am accused of sour grapes (click here), and it is bound to happen due to the inevitable poster who doesn’t read the whole blog before firing, you should know a couple of things. The first, and most important thing is that I proudly exercise my right to free speech.

That means that the Board are well aware of what I write. Having said that, on May 27 an investigative reporter contacted Elizabeth Pomeroy about the events at Sierra Madre Elementary School a couple years back. I am certain my name came up. Two weeks ago my daughter played her a serenade, and there were nightly silent vigils at her house.

I betcha Doctor Pomeroy didn’t vote for me. Neither did Tyron, or Renatta. Speaking of Renatta Cooper, she called Tom Selinske "Doctor Selinske" three times at the last Board meeting. Nothing like puffing up an undeserving ego, Coop. I figure that I got a “no” vote from Selinske because Renatta said so. It must be nice to have someone new pulling the strings.

Can you tell I am crushed and devastated by it all? Lament with me (click here).

The second thing is that I have already said I will not run for the office. That is simply because I refuse to spend my money on an election I don’t care about, nor to raise money means to owe favors. I don’t do well with that. I was OK with an appointment. It required no money, and no promises.
I like to be debt free.

The third thing is that there are far better people for political positions like these. The kind that say, “Yes, Sir” (click here) I am not so good at that. I ask way too many questions.

I am unhappy that the President and her little puppets changed the rules. There was supposed to be an interview. You don’t really think I was going to sit there and answer their questions, do you? I had planned to show everyone how little they know about this charade. Oh, they knew it was coming. They made sure it didn’t happen. They may be stupid, but they’re not stooooopid - if ya know what I mean.

As for Gretchen Vance, I know everyone loves her and all, but exactly what has she done on the Oversight Committee? Besides nothing, I mean.  The fact that she had a perfect opportunity last night to ask about the Measure TT bond and construction when it came up on the agenda, but said nothing means ... what? Would it have interfered with her interview? Does it matter? Maybe there’s a good reason why Gretchen Vance doesn’t want to be my Facebook friend. Maybe she and I aren’t made of the same stuff.

Mikahla Rahn? I don’t know her, but as an adult who was once a child who was tossed aside, and because of programs like hers, I managed to stay involved in school through ROP type programs, and out of jail. I learned to print my own shirts and flyers and stayed out of the kinds of trouble that the rest of the system had already planned for me. As the father of a child treated the same way, I am personally indebted to people like her. I don’t know if she has a conflict of interest asking to be appointed to the board, but ya know what? To be perfectly honest, I don’t really care.

All the same, I am sure I will never recover from this major setback (click here).

To be honest, I was quadruple booked for June 1st anyway. I had booked the Board interview, and a robotics competition my son is in, and my other son is supposed to test for his first belt, and I have a book reading I am scheduled to do. It kind of makes it easier for me to not participate at all in the the rest of the Board of Education charade.

In fact, it wasn’t news to me at all. I was notified last week when I was on my way to Las Vegas where I planned to see the Weirdos (click here) who I hadn’t seen in ten years, and I was scheduled to sing a few songs with a couple of guitar players that I really admire - James Williamson (click here) of the Stooges and Captain Sensible (click here) of the Damned. It probably doesn’t mean much to Elizabeth “Where am I?” Pomeroy, but it meant a whole lot to me.

Oh yeah, and I got to make fun of the PUSD to about 4 media outlets.

I leave in a few days on an East US/Canadian tour, and then a couple weeks later I'm off to Europe for five weeks. I have tons of press I need to do for a new album. Most of my life is booked through 2013 already.

So. I really didn’t have the time to be a board member, only the desire to help the kids. The smart guys will have to do that part. I am sure they will do just fine. After all, they’ve done a smash-up job so far.
I will just have to be content to be the pitbull on the sidelines.

Growling.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The "Not Me!" City Council and a New Two Tiered System of Government In Sierra Madre

"We don't want to do this, we don't want to upzone, we don't want to be punitive - but we will do this, we will upzone, and we will be punitive." - a reader's comment last night on the City Council's "Not Me!" voting process.

There was a lot of regret in City Council chambers last night. Nobody wanted to vote on new zoning classifications that would permit things like the building of 20 unit per acre condominium development, but they voted for it. Nobody wanted to fine the residents for using more water than they ought to, but they voted for that, too. And most on the Council felt that they needed to make it clearly known that they were not the ones at fault here. That won a majority of their votes as well.

So in honor what was probably one of the least noble meetings in quite some time, I would like to rename them the "Not Me!" City Council. The place where bad things get done, they know they're bad, nobody there wants to do them, but they do it because they have to. Or so they've said. Maybe it's a kind of fatal attraction. Or perhaps a form of addiction since they do insist that none of it is their fault.

I know that I did mention a "two tier" system of government in Sierra Madre, but now I think we might want to call it a "two class" system instead. Because based on a pair of the big decisions that were made last night, we now apparently have two very separate class distinctions in our community.

Look at it this way. Developers in this town were given some very nice things last night. Or at least they should think they were. The development community will now be able to load up an acre of infill land with upwards of 20 brand new condos, and they were given a whole new zoning category to do it. Multiply that a few times, throw in some other sweet deals they were given last night, and we could be on the verge of quite a little high density building boom in this town.

This at a time when we are apparently in the midst of a near-cataclysmic water crisis. The development folks were given this mighty bounty with little or no consideration of the effects it would have on our already at-risk water supply.

On the other hand, the residents of this town, most of whom are not in the position to be building 20 unit stacked and packed condominium projects any time soon, can now look forward to being fined quite substantially for doing things like watering their lawns, washing their cars or filling their swimming pools. All in the name of, to savor Josh Moran's  term, "protecting our aquifers."

So why is your average lawn watering resident potentially being punished on behalf of the aquifers, while those soon to be building high density development projects that could actually consume as much water as just about every lawn owner combined are being given a whole new class of building rights?

The message that was sent last night is an interesting one. For residents the news is that there will be fines for using too much water, resulting in dead lawns, empty swimming pools and dying trees.

For developers and their allies this is all about a brand new mandated building code that will permit the building of large 20 unit condo blocks that will make them a whole lot of money. Done with no consideration for the effects this might have on the very same water supply you use.

So why is that? It seems rather obvious to me. Dead lawns and fines for you, exciting new development opportunities for them. Some people must count more than others in the minds of the Not Me! City Council.

The Green Whatever

The Green Committee and the Tree Commission have now been lumped together under another name, but nobody at the dais seemed to know what this new confab is going to do. Something that makes you wonder what exactly it was that the City Council thought they were doing. Usually when people name something they first know what it is they are naming, while also having a reason for doing so.

My question that didn't get answered

I guess I'll have to file another PRA request to get an answer to this one. Not that I should ever assume it will get answered there, either.

The question is about our water bond ratings, and whether or not they have returned to their AAA status of yore. Here is the passage from an October of 2011 Pasadena Star News article called "Moody's drops Sierra Madre water bond rating" that caught my attention (link):

Credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the city of Sierra Madre's Water Enterprise bonds from AAA to an A bond rating due to insufficient water rate revenues, according to a report by the credit agency.

The downgrade does not affect current indebtedness or bond payments and Sierra Madre officials said Thursday the second year of an incremental rate hike approved in early 2011 will serve as the remedy.

"The bonds will be re-evaluated in another year, and assuming the revenue estimates and the revenues that rate payers are paying, we will regain our triple A rating," said Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre city manager.

Given that the City is raising water rates again, and that our water bond rating is presumably still floating face down in the aquifer, how is it that City Hall was this wrong? Why did our City Manager claim that our water bonds would be back at Moody's AAA level by now when that just didn't happen?

Do we even know what our water bonds are rated now? According to this article a re-evaluation should have taken place by now. So where's the result?

However, it does fit the pattern of City Hall not wanting to talk about our water bond woe.

Two Sierra Madre residents made the Board of Ed cut last night

This from the Pasadena Star News (link):

Top candidates emerge for vacant Pasadena school board seat

By James Figueroa, Staff Writer
twitter.com/jfigscribe

PASADENA -- Three leading candidates have emerged from a pool of 37 applicants for the vacant seat on the Pasadena school board, and another six might join them in the interview process.

Mikala Rahn, Laura Romero and Carmen Vargas were each named by four of the six sitting board members as top candidates based on their applications. The board members each submitted eight to 10 names as part of the paper screening process, and the applicants with the largest tallies are expected to be interviewed on June 1.

Ruben Hueso, Stella Murga and Luis Ayala, who each lost election bids this year, wound up on three board members' lists and would be interviewed if the board decides to consider the top nine candidates. Also receiving support from at least three board members are Cushon Bell, Serafin Espinoza and Gretchen Vance.

One person out of the 38 initial applicants didn't meet the qualifications of being a registered voter within the PUSD boundaries.

The board is expected to make an appointment in June, and that person would serve until the seat is up for election again in 2015.

Gretchen Vance and Mikala Rahn are the two Sierra Madreans left in the race. Something that could soon to be down to one as Dr. Rahn runs a Pasadena charter school called Learning Works (link), and it would be a clear conflict of interest should she be selected.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wake Up! It's City Council Meeting Night!

Mayor Pro Tem* Process Fatigue
I'm telling you, I could use a nap myself sometimes. I can't begin to tell you of all the evenings I have drifted off into dreamland during City Council meetings. However, I am usually safely at home sitting on my couch watching the whole thing on TV when sleep rolls in. How much more embarrassing it would be if the need for slumber overtakes you while seated at a position of honor at the dais. Not to say that the Mayor Pro Tem* actually did fall asleep, mind you. He can be a bit touchy on that topic, and understandably so. After all, it is unbecoming for a guardian of the public interest to be seen slumbering when the peoples' business is being conducted.

But as anyone can see, a mighty struggle with Morpheus took place in seat #2. You can only wonder at the steely will it must have taken to vanquish so relentless a foe.

Hopefully everybody got some rest, because tonight's City Council meeting promises to be a lengthy one filled with many difficult topics. I know I did. The blessings of a 3 day Memorial Day Weekend gave me the opportunity to write this week's City Council meeting preview at a leisurely pace. That extra time really did make a world of difference to me.

The meeting begins as it always does with the secret session. This is where our City Attorney (known to some wags as the "Belle of Barstow" for obscure reasons), meets in private with the City Council to discuss items of a sensitive legal nature. Usually this involves lawsuits emanating from the Sierra Madre Police Department, and tonight is no different. This is an outfit that wants us to know just how much they care about Sierra Madre, and do so by suing us over and over again. Somehow they apparently believe will get them another raise and increased benefits from the grateful taxpayers. Here is what the Staff Report says:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL
Anticipated Litigation Pursuant to California Government Code Section 54956.9b(3)(C). A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the City Council/Agency pm 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/Agency. Receipt of Claim pursuant to Tort Claims Act or other written communication from Sierra Madre Police Officer’s Association threatening litigation (copy available for public inspection in the City Manager’s Office).

Personally I think the SMPOA has lost its mind, and all they're doing here is digging their own occupational grave. How the SMPOA is going to convince taxpayers that they have their needs in mind while repeatedly suing them is beyond me. I'm not certain postcards with pictures of teddy bears dressed up like policemen is going to do it this time. A NO vote on the UUT do-over ballot initiative in April of 2014 would be a fine way of showing your feelings on this matter.

Periodically the City Manager has a job review from the people she works for. Since that isn't us we won't be allowed to witness this event, either. Here is the notice:

PERSONNEL Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54957 Public Employee Performance Evaluation Title: City Manager

After these delicate matters are concluded the Wizard of Oz's curtain flies open and vast hordes of civic minded residents will flood (or pour) into the room. Apt metaphors since the following Public Hearing notice is also announced for this evening on the City of Sierra Madre website:

Due to low water levels in the aquifer that Sierra Madre draws all of its water from, the City Council will hold a Public Hearing on May 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm. At this time, the Council will discuss increased mandatory water conservation measures.

We will see if these "increased mandatory water conservation measures" will be backed up by actual water use restrictions, or if this becomes just another City Hall money stream (sorry) enhancement effort in the form of penalties and fines for as yet to be determined over-usage. The many lush lawns of Sierra Madre hang in the balance.

Having planted a rather wild looking patch of drought resistant California native plants and cacti in my front yard I hope to be on the sidelines for this one. Not that I expect to be immune from fines and penalties, mind you. Especially if my suspicions are confirmed and this turns out to be more about fund raising than water usage.

After all of the above is accomplished the usual meeting rituals will be conducted so that the evening's juju is in line with the desires of the overseeing government Gods. It is only then that the money changing can commence.

1 - Consent Calendar
a) RESOLUTION NO. 13-36 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS: This evening's spend comes to $693,957.68. A sum that wouldn't have been quite so large had it not included $145,687.50 for something involving a Mira Monte Reservoir Replacement. There is also a $60,890 hit for services performed by the General Pump Company, bringing the total Water Division spend this evening to over $200,000. Sierra Madre's water company, for all intents and purposes insolvent due to its massive water bond debt load, now relies upon City Hall and the taxpayers to cover many of its bills these days.

This is, of course, the actual reason for the next wave (sorry) of water rate increases. It is also the part where you are expected to happily, and without any complaint whatsoever, further cover the costs of bad city investments out of your own pocket. Done without the City ever acknowledging that the actual reason for this awful financial crisis, along with the resulting rot in our water infrastructure, is because they behaved irresponsibly a few years back.

b) REJECTION OF CONSTRUCTION BIDS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012-2013 STREET REHABILITATION AND DIRECTION TO RE-BID THE PROJECT WITH REDUCED SCOPE: A number of streets are up for repaving, but the companies that bid on this work couldn't submit anything that fits within the City's budget. While there are other options available to the City Council (such as either raising the budget by $30,000 or lopping a few streets off the paving list), the likely result here is City Staff will be instructed to go out and try to find someone who can get the job done for what we can actually pay.

c) APPOINTMENT TO THE UTILITY USERS TAX OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Back in 2008, when the general public here was suckered into raising utility taxes to some of the highest rates in California, one of the scraps thrown our way was that a yearly conclave of the common man would gather to gaze upon the books to make certain the City is spending this additional dough appropriately. I was on this committee once and I can tell you it is a pretty ridiculous exercise. The money gets spent as the City sees fit, and since it is City Hall that supplies all the data to this committee for its compliance checks, the prophecy is always a self-fulfilling one. Anyway, one member of UUTOC fled screaming into the National Forest for some reason or another, and a replacement needs to be chosen. Tonight that deed will get done.

2 - PUBLIC HEARING – CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-27 TO ADOPT THE 2008-2014 HOUSING ELEMENT, INCLUDING GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENTS TO ADOPT A NEW RH1 LAND USE CATEGORY AND TO CHANGE THE LAND USE DESIGNATION OF PROPERTIES LOCATED AT 271 AND 293 MARIPOSA AVENUE FROM RH TO RH1; AND CONSIDERATION OF ORDINANCE NO. 1337 TO ADD CHAPTER 17.29 ENTITLED “R-3 H MULITIPLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL HIGH DENSITY” TO THE MUNICIPAL CODE AND AMEND THE ZONING MAP; AND CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-28 TO REZONE PROPERTIES LOCATED AT 271 AND 293 MARIPOSA AVENUE FROM R-3 TO R3H - There can be little doubt that the majority persuasion on this City Council is deep into the tank for development and real estate interests. They are basically under the thumb of these people, with the only remaining question being what is in it for them.

What these (very) special interests demand more than anything else is the ability to build high density housing wherever they see fit. Tonight they are looking for a big breakthrough in their struggle to turn Sierra Madre into Duarte Adjacent with the creation of something called "R-3 H Multiple Family Residential High Density." Something that basically allows them to pack out small infill lots with massive amounts of new housing. How this can be considered a "sustainable best practice" during the City's current water crisis might be a reality based question, but then look at the damned fools we're working with here.

There is also a bunch of poppycock in the Staff Report about RHNA numbers and that $50,000 piece of cookie cutter consultancy our Sacramento compliant housing cutout Karen Warner cooked up, but that was all a canard to baffle the suckers. The majority of the City Council will vote for this because the special interest folks they answer to demand it. Most Sierra Madre residents have long opposed anything like this, but since when do their opinions ever really count? They're just here for taxing purposes.

3 - PUBLIC HEARING - SECOND READING AND ADOPTION OF ORDINANCE NO. 1338 AMENDING CHAPTER 13.24 OF THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE PERTAINING TO WATER CONSERVATION, CONSIDERATION OF URGENCY ORDINANCE NO. 1338U PERTAINING TO WATER CONSERVATION, AND CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-12, A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL ADOPTING MANDATORY WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY SIERRA MADRE RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES - When most towns wish to keep their residents from using more water than is available, they just tell them what it is they can no longer do. Banning things like lawn watering, hosing down cement walkways or washing your car being some of the more commonly used restrictions. But this being Sierra Madre, where increasing City Hall revenue is always the #1 consideration, here the method used will be billable financial penalties. The inference being that you may use too much water of you like, but you'll pay more for doing so.

The City does list the option of practically shutting off water to residents that refuse to comply, but will it actually be used? Except possibly in the most extreme cases, never. The lawsuit considerations alone would seem to preclude it from ever happening. If you assume that this one is more about money than water, you'll probably be right.

4 - PUBLIC HEARING – RESOLUTION NO. 13-29: A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL AND THE SUCCESSOR AGENCY OF THE FORMER COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY ADOPTING THE BIENNIAL BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEARS 2013-2014 AND 2014-2015 AND APPROPRIATING THE AMOUNTS BUDGETED RESOLUTION NO. 13-34: A RESOLUTION APPROVING THE STATEMENT OF INVESTMENT POLICY FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014. PFA RESOLUTION NO. 67: A RESOLUTION OF THE PUBLIC FINANCING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE ADOPTIN THE BIENNIAL BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEARS 2013- 2014 AND 2014-2015 AND APPROPRIATING THE AMOUNTS BUDGETED. RESOLUTION NO. 13-37: A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL REDUCING THE SERVICE HOURS AT CITY HALL AND THE COMMUNITY RECREATION CENTER OFFICE - Shorter version: You'll be paying more and getting less. What we should be doing is paying less and getting less. I don't see that as being a problem. Somehow I think we will all survive quite nicely with less City Hall in our lives. Plus that way we'll get to pocket the change.

5 - DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-31 IN SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL 135 (PADILLA), LEGISLATION THAT WOULD CREATE A STATEWIDE EARTHQUAKE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM - CALTECH has worked up something that will give the people of California a :30 second warning on the next big earthquake. State Senator Alex Padilla is looking for about $80 million dollars to make this happen, and is asking cities like Sierra Madre to declare their support. The technology may be shaky, but otherwise why not?

6 - DISCUSSION – DISUSSION (sic) OF GOALS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND NAME OF A NEW COMMISSION CONSISITING (sic) OF COMBINED TREE ADVISORY COMMISSION AND GREEM (sic) COMMITTEE - It is important to note that the City is pushing this thing forward without really knowing what it is the new Commission will actually do. Or at least coming up with a plausible reason for it happening. You'd think that if this was so important the need would be obvious. Which it is not, despite all of the resources squandered on this mess. Nor have they even figured out what to call it yet, though we recommend the Bureaucracy Sustainability Commission. B.S. for short.

The reason as I see it is the development/real estate crowd controlling City Hall needs a dependable ally in their fight to get SB 375 up and running in this town. You know, the state law that claims building high density mixed-use condo development will somehow save the world from global warming? As ridiculous as that sounds, it has been a cornerstone of the Green Committee's loopy deliberations up until now.

7 - DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF THE PREPARATION OF A PREFERENTIAL PARKING POLICY - This one has to do with people leaving their vehicles parked on the streets for extended periods of time. What it will end up as is yet more permits for the City to sell. It seems that everything being done downtown these days is all about getting more money for City Hall. Yet one more consequence of Sierra Madre's insane water bond debt and the inability of this city to deal with it. Except to ask for more money, of course.

8 - DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ORDINANCE NO. 1339 AMENDING CHAPTER 9.36 OF THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE PERTAINING TO ALARMS - If your alarm goes off and City of Sierra Madre emergency services answer the call, and it turns out that there was no good reason for sounding it in the first place, then you will be fined. Another way of raising more money for the Government Services Flea Market at 282 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.

9 - DISCUSSION – STRATEGIC PLAN UPDATE FROM APRIL 4, 2013 RETREAT - Somewhere there is someone who cares about this. But since it was put at the very bottom of the City Council's agenda for tonight's meeting, it must be nobody that counts.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, May 27, 2013

We (Finally) Have A Winner!

Way back on May 12th we announced a contest designed to help create an affirmative and planetary needs compliant title for the newly created mash up of the Green Committee (previously renamed I've been told) and the Tree Commission. A ploy designed to bring commission status to a rather unaccomplished committee whose sole purpose is apparently to help force Sacramento central planning standards upon our beautiful and idiosyncratic little city.

All apparently done so some rotters can make a few bucks I suppose. What other reason could there possibly be? It's not like their claim that building a few blocks of densely packed "transit village" condominiums with attached nicknack shops in downtown Sierra Madre is really going to save the world from global warming. It is just a fairy tale the government process types tell to fools. And Lord knows we have plenty of them running around.

But I have digressed into an all too familiar territory for this blog. Here is how we described our contest way back when:

We have only held this contest twice in the nearly 5 year existence of the Sierra Madre Tattler. At this moment I cannot recall the reasons why we did it before, and honestly I am too lazy to go into the pile of 1,400 or so posts back there and find out what it was we thought we were doing.

But that said, today we are once again offering a 30 count box of audio music CDs from my own personal collection of thousands to the person who can come up with the best new name for the soon to be mashed up Tree Commission and Green Advisory Committee. This is your chance to be rewarded for your creative abilities, an opportunity that sadly does not come along as often as it should in adult life.

A slight disclaimer here before I explain the rest of this. The CDs you will receive are of my choice. No way am I going to allow you to come here and take my Art Ensemble of Chicago or Jon Spencer Blues Explosion CDs. Part of the reason I am doing this is because my place has become entirely overrun with these things and I need to move some of them out. But that doesn't mean giving up my favorites.

So what you will receive is a box of CDs that I have personally selected for you. Chances are you have never heard of any of the bands you'll get to listen to if you win this contest. Most of them will be pretty obscure to you. And if you don't like them? As the gentleman from the Republic of Georgia who just fixed my refrigerator might say, "Not my problem."

So yes, we now have a winner. It took me an extra week along with the help of some readers to get it done, but here it is:

Bureaucracy Sustainability Commission

We here at The Tattler are very happy with this name, and would like to commend the poster who brought it to us. This reader has also informed us that this name can be spoken in Acronymic as well (see below), something that true believers in "the process" (think "the force" in second hand clothing) will find helpful. Acronymic being the official second language of the Process Police.

B. S. Commission

Seems like quite a natural thing to say to me. I know that I will certainly have no trouble using it, and often.

The winner, who posted anonymously (The Tattler strongly supports anonymous posting and often finds that those who complain about it are something of a unicorn's arse), should email us immediately so we can get your 30 count box of audio compact discs to you as quickly as possible. A physical address will help us to achieve that goal.

We would also like to point out that if you don't like the music on these CDs, they can be used for Christmas decorations as they are reflective and quite shiny. I have also seen them used to man up the presentation of anemic scarecrows. A recommended usage as well. And they will skip on water if you take them down to a lake or river and throw them properly.

Enjoy the rest of your 3 day weekend. Remember that today is Memorial Day, so don't be an ingrate. Get out and show your appreciation for those who sacrificed so much to keep this not just the land of the free, but also the best country anywhere.

It didn't just happen, you know.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day in Sierra Madre

I received an e-mail from Duncan MacGillivray regarding the VFW's Memorial Day ceremonies tomorrow. I had asked if there was something I could post on this site to jog peoples' memories a little, and here is some of the information he put together for me regarding this year's commemoration:

"Veteran's of Foreign Wars Post 3208 invites the public to Memorial Day ceremonies at Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery on Monday, May 27, 2013 at 11:00 AM. Refreshments and sandwiches to follow."

The VFW through this ceremony commemorates the sacrifices made by our veteran dead of all wars, while also renewing its pledge to honor them by helping the living.

As we all read in the Grand Marshal announcement put out by Sierra Madre's 4th of July Parade Committee, no organization in this town is more generous or dedicated to public service than our Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Charles Carter from Mater Dolorosa will be the keynote speaker. In addition to working at the monastery Charles is also a military veteran. His perspective is an interesting one and he will have a lot to say. Monsignor Kreckelberg from St. Rita's will be giving the opening prayer. Congresswoman Judy Chu may be there, though it is not confirmed as of this typing. The City Council has also been invited.

Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan will be in attendance as well. All present to help honor their fallen comrades in arms.

There hasn't been a formal press release this year that I know of, but we do have a couple of things that I was sent by Duncan that I would like share. Here are brief biographies of two of our World War II veterans who I am pretty sure will be in attendance Monday.

Staff Sergeant Ken Anhalt: Staff Sergeant Ken Anhalt served in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations with the 15th Army-Air Force. He was with the 459th Bombardment Group as a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. Staff Sergeant Anhalt won several Air Medals with Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal is given by the United States for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while in combat action. Oak Leaf Clusters initially were used to denote subsequent multiple awards of the Air Medal.

In case you don't know a lot about the Air Medal (and I didn't), here is a description from a website called Orders, Decorations and Medals (link):

The Air Medal was authorized by President Roosevelt by Executive Order 9158, dated 11 May 1942, and established the award for "any person who, while serving in any capacity in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States subsequent to September 8, 1939, distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight." Authorization was announced in War Department Bulletin No. 25, dated 25 May 1942. Executive Order 9242-A, dated 11 September 1942 amended the previous Executive Order to read "in any capacity in or with the Army."

Criteria: The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the armed forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Awards may be made to recognize single acts of merit or heroism or for meritorious service. Award of the Air Medal is primarily intended to recognize those personnel who are on current crew member or non-crew member flying status which requires them to participate in aerial flight on a regular and frequent basis in the performance of their primary duties. However, it may also be awarded to certain other individuals whose combat duties require regular and frequent flying in other than a passenger status or individuals who perform a particularly noteworthy act while performing the function of a crew member but who are not on flying status. These individuals must make a discernible contribution to the operational land combat mission or to the mission of the aircraft in flight.

Petty Officer Gordon Caldwell: United States Petty Officer Gordon Caldwell served on the second U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft Carrier, one of the most famous carriers in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the USS Saratoga, CV-3. While a member of the crew of the Saratoga, Damage Control Petty Officer Caldwell participated in the battle of Iwo Jima and other Pacific Theater operations.

On February 21, 1944, Petty Officer Caldwell fortuitously escaped a certain death during general quarters lock down while his ship was being attacked by the Japanese. The Saratoga sustained 7 direct bomb hits and 5 Kamikaze hits by the enemy. Eleven of Petty Officer Caldwell's division buddies died at their duty stations as a consequence of one of the explosions. Gordon took from the body of one dead Kamikaze pilot the Lugar pistol he recently donated to a military museum in New Orleans.

After the Japanese surrender Petty Officer Caldwell continued to serve on board the Saratoga as part of Operation Magic Carpet, bringing tens of thousands of war veterans home to the United States.

Our Memorial Day commemoration is one of thousands all across America

This news comes from the VFW's Washington Weekly:

Memorial Day 2013
National Commander John Hamilton will be representing the VFW in the White House Monday morning, as well as participating in Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Locally, many of our 7,200 VFW Posts will be having similar ceremonies to honor our fallen. As we gather to remember the more than 1 million Americans who served and died in our nation’s conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War, please remember to keep our 83,000 missing and unaccounted-for servicemen—and their families—in your thoughts, as well as the men and women assigned to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, who are tasked with bringing them home from some of the most austere places on Earth. As of today, there are 73,661 missing from World War II; 7,918 from the Korean War; 1,647 from the Vietnam War; 126 from the Cold War; and 6 from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More information, plus loss statistics, are available at the DPMO website.

That is what I got. Thank you to all who served. To forget would be an extraordinary act of ingratitude.

Wednesday the Sierra Madre Congregational Church honors its three World War II vets

I received the following email Saturday afternoon from Bill Witczak:

Hi John, We are having a tri tip BBQ this Wednesday at 6:30 pm. We have 3 men who attend SMCC that fought in WW II and who, after the dinner is over, will be interviewed by Pastor Paul about their experiences. We thought this would be a great opportunity to honor those who served in WW II. The charge for dinner is $8 for adults, but for all vets there will be no charge. By the way the food is great. I know you have a wide reach in town, so I thought I would get this to you in case you are interested. The event is open to all young and old. Kids under 18, eat for $4.

One more thing

The winning name in our contest to properly name the Green Committee/Tree Commission mash up will be announced tomorrow. The Tattler has been receiving a lot of e-mails on this matter from anxious contestants, and I wanted them to know that a decision has been made. The winning entry will be revealed in 24 hours.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, May 25, 2013

October 2011: Moody's Drops Sierra Madre's Water Bond Rating Two Places

Mod: As the City of Sierra Madre gears up to raise our water rates for the second time in a little more than two years, it is important to remember just how poorly the folks downtown handled it last time. The inability of the City to admit that the coming water rate increases are due to its bad bond deals continues to this day, with just under $1 million going to the Bank of New York yearly to cover debt and interest obligations. Just in case you have ever wondered where the money for badly needed infrastructure repair and new wells goes ... This Brian Charles authored Pasadena Star News article (link) also includes Elaine Aguilar's now infamous claim that our Moody's water bond ratings would be back to AAA within the year. That statement was made by her in October of 2011 and, like so much that Elaine has told us on the topic of water, it didn't turn out to be reality based ... The only way that Sierra Madre's water division can recover as a functioning business unit is to either get out from under its $19 million dollars in disastrous water bond debt, or continually raise our water rates. Which option do you think the City has once again chosen?

Moody's drops Sierra Madre water bond rating

By Brian Charles, Staff Writer
Posted:   10/06/2011 10:34:26 PM PDT
Updated:   10/06/2011 10:35:37 PM PDT

SIERRA MADRE - Credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the city of Sierra Madre's Water Enterprise bonds from AAA to an A bond rating due to insufficient water rate revenues, according to a report by the credit agency.

The downgrade does not affect current indebtedness or bond payments and Sierra Madre officials said Thursday the second year of an incremental rate hike approved in early 2011 will serve as the remedy.

"The bonds will be re-evaluated in another year, and assuming the revenue estimates and the revenues that rate payers are paying, we will regain our triple A rating," said Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre city manager.

Last year, rusty water pipes were paraded through Sierra Madre City Council meetings in an attempt to rally support for rate hikes. City officials said the hikes were needed to upgrade 2.95-square-mile city's water system that supplies water to less than 11,000 people.

City officials pitched the rate hike as necessary to keep the water system from falling apart and said nothing about a bond rating or bond indebtedness, according to John Crawford, resident and blogger for the Sierra Madre Tattler, who broke the story on his website early Thursday morning.

"When they first packaged raising the water rates, they pitched as the pipes were broken and the pipes needed to be fixed," Crawford said. "They didn't say it had anything to do with bonds."

It didn't take much detective work to discover the real issue was pulling in enough revenue to keep credit rating agency from dinging Sierra Madre's bond rating and making moves such as refinancing bonds next to impossible, he said.

"Later on Sierra Madre residents discovered that this was about the bond covenants," Crawford said.

Sierra Madre city officials switched tactics and repositioned the rate hike as necessary to satisfy credit agencies, but the public outcry had grown intense - there was massive opposition to the rate hike and the increase was challenged legally with the city eventually emerging victorious, he said.

The political scuttlebutt forced the City Council to hedge on a full-scale rate hike.

Instead of spiking rates high enough to meet the bond covenants requirement of 120 percent of funding for this year, the city slowly rolled out the rate increase and won't meet the revenue levels needed to satisfy credit agencies such as Moody's until 2012, Sierra Madre Mayor John Buchanan said.

"You trade-off coming fully up to speed on your bond covenants right away, against the need to bring your people along slowly ... and not hitting people with the increase right away," Buchanan said. "Of course the first proposal in front of us was for a steeper increase, but there was a second issue, the residents were opposed to a steep increase and we have a fair number of senior citizens on a fixed income."

Crawford blasted city officials Thursday for the quagmire left by not being forthcoming on the bonding issue from the beginning and a failed plan to keep the city from being downgraded.

"We pay more money and we still don't have a triple A rating."

Mod: One more thing. The 3rd most viewed article The Tattler ever produced is called "The Real Water Rate Misinformation." Written in November of 2010, it continues on this blog's Top 10 list to this day. The article details City Hall's less than honorable avoidance of our water bond issues back then, and how they only owned up to their problem when forced to by the people of Sierra Madre. The similarities with what is going on now are striking. You can link to this post by clicking here.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, May 24, 2013

Next Tuesday's PUSD Meeting: Playing the Race Card All Over Again?

Bingo.
There is a certain journalistic territory that I have decided I am going to have to call Colemania. Named in honor of the Pasadena Weekly's very own Andre' Coleman, it is a place where the more delusional political stratagems advocated by the hidebound remnants of what was once the blushing flower of Pasadena progressive politics still gets its airing out. Mostly from the pulpy piles of neglected PW's stacked once every seven days or so upon rusty street racks placed long ago in front of liquor stores, real estate offices, lottery shops and other places where the legendary real people go.

Having often observed the results of this longterm process (so to speak) myself, I can only conclude that the legendary real people apparently don't read very much. Or they don't read the Pasadena Weekly. Something that might also explain the sidewalk success of the picture rich Pasadena Outlook. Not that I revel in that sort of thing, mind you.

Anyway, one of the topics that enchants the still wheezing progressive rump represented by the Colemanian remnant is packing the Pasadena Board of Education with what are nostalgically referred to as minority members. Even though Latinos represent the largest student population bloc in the Pasadena Unified School District and, as early as next year, will be the overall majority population in the entire state of California as well. Something that is going to turn a now weary world view upside its head once certain folks get around to grasping the significance of it all. Which, based on past performance, will likely be about a decade or so after the fact.

As an example of the Colemanian redaction in action, here is a sample of the rich harvest that was published in the Pasadena Weekly on Valentine's Day of this year:

Making the grade - Minority candidates poised to take on incumbents for new school district seats (link): Should two of three incumbent candidates lose re-election on March 5, minority officeholders for the first time could hold a majority of votes on the recently reconstituted Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.

Seven minority candidates — four Latinos and three African Americans — are running for four vacant seats, three of which are occupied by white incumbents seeking re-election. 

The emergence of Latino and African-American candidates is a result of the district’s going from at-large elections, in which each voter was able to cast ballots for all of the candidates, to district-only or neighborhood elections in seven districts.

The change, approved by a special task force hoping to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, was later approved in June by 54 percent of voters in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, the three communities that make up the district. The 2001 Voting Rights Act prohibits “racially polarized” elections that impair the election of minorities. 

None of that quite happened as planned, of course. The incumbents all handily won their races for re-election, deeply confounding the old white guys responsible for this so-called "subdistricting process." These being a rather effete folk who somehow believed that in certain districts the plurality of minority voters would only vote for minority candidates. Which, technically, they did when they elected incumbents in those areas. But I digress.

So that was then, and now I probably shouldn't gloat anymore. Today we find ourselves in an entirely different predicament, though equally odd in a way that the PUSD does better than anyone else. Let us peer into the Colemanian cranium for a brief overview of this latest woe offensive.

Filling the void - Pasadena school board set to review applications for district’s open at-large seat (link): The Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education will begin screening applications next week in hopes of filling a two-year board vacancy, a byproduct of the decision to change elections in the Pasadena Unified School District from at large to districts.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the six sitting board members will begin poring over 38 applications for the seat left open by Board member Kim Kenne’s decision to leave that post and seek a four-year term in her newly created District 1. Board members Ramon Miramontes and Ed Honowitz did not seek re-election in March, and Tyron Hampton won the April runoff for the new District 3 seat. With incumbent Board members Scott Phelps and Elizabeth Pomeroy winning re-election in their respective districts, and Board President Renatta Cooper and Board member Tom Selinske still serving their previous terms in Seats 4 and 6, respectively, one seat remains open.

From the pool of candidates for the job, board members will select eight names for consideration and rank them in descending order. The top three rankings will receive four, three and two points, respectively, and the remaining five will each receive one point.

After all of the points are added, the top-ranked applicants will be interviewed by the board early next month. From there, board members will once again rank their choices until someone is chosen. The at-large board member will serve until the seat, along with the two remaining seats — 2, 4, 6 — sunset in 2015

“Hopefully we will have some consensus or commonality on the top six to eight candidates and then they will be invited back for interviews in June,” said Cooper.  “I am hoping we will be able to reach clear consensus. I know there are people who are trying to organize to push for an election, which would be very expensive, and most likely voter turnout would be very low and take money away from the kids."

Yes, there are some exciting commonality themes that do need to be discussed here. One being that the Board of Education had promised all of those brave souls who stepped up and declared themselves candidates for appointment to this "at large" seat a fair share of time to discuss their bad selves before the six remaining Board of Education members. It looks now as if that may be in doubt. A potential bait and switch that, if true, is certain to have at least 30 of the applicants scratching their heads in chagrin.

Another concern going around is what the criteria will be for weeding out the vast majority of these candidates and choosing what Renatta Cooper happily refers to as "the top six to eight candidates." For some insight into that issue we dip back into Colemania for this insight:

Not for sale - Underdog Tyron Hampton easily wins District 3 school board seat (link): Hampton’s victory leaves the school board without an elected Latino board member for the next two years, despite the work of a special task force, which did away with Pasadena Unified School District’s at-large voting system and divided the school district into seven neighborhood voting districts in order to increase Latino representation on the board. The change was made to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially polarized elections.

Although Latinos make up about 61 percent of the district’s student population, over the past four years there has been only one Latino board member, Ramon Miramontes, who did not seek re-election in March.

The board could still end up with Latino representation if board members appoint a Latino member in June to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kenne, who, following implementation of the district-only voting system, opted to run for the District 1 seat instead of finishing the remaining two years in the at-large seat she won two years ago. Longtime Board member Ed Honowitz decided to not seek re-election, leaving one seat open.

So is it possible to assume here that we are being told that the main criteria for making it into the final eight (or six) next Tuesday will be Latino ancestry? I believe so. Based on some of the statements made by Board President Renatta Cooper, that could very well be the case. Here is one of them from an unattributed PW article:

Calling all candidates - Five political hopefuls — none Latino — vie for open Pasadena School Board seat (link): "I believe the school board should be representative of the constituency served by the school district,” said School Board President Renatta Cooper. “With that in mind, given our demographics, clearly we need Latino representation at the school board level, at least one person.”

Now there are people whose opinions I respect that strongly believe Renatta Cooper is engaging in a form of progressive racism by making such a statement. That race should be the reason why someone is appointed to this at-large Board of Education seat, rather than talent or experience in that line of work, has some folks decidedly put off. Especially when you consider that race could very well have been why the PUSD Districting Task Force ripped off Sierra Madre's voting rights in last March's BOE election.

However, I have a moderately different take on this. The current six members of the Board of Education are split into two equally divided camps. One faction, led by Scott Phelps, takes a more pragmatic approach to running a school district, and is more apt to exercise fiscal constraint when it comes to spending the taxpayer dollar. Given the depressing fate of Measure TT's bond sale millions, I'd say there are some good reasons for supporting this viewpoint.

The other faction, led by Renatta Cooper, seems to believe that the PUSD should become an appendage of the social equity delirious ACT crowd. The notion being that public schools shouldn't serve merely as places where children go for an education, but also as shining beacons of hope where the world gets saved from its many evils, and on a regular basis.

Attempting to save the world in this way being a very expensive, and almost always futile, proposition.

The so-called "subdistricting process" was, in my opinion, never really about gerrymandering racial equity. Rather it was a political race card designed to further empower the kinds of outre' political agendas advocated by Ms. Cooper, along with the likes Peter Dreier, Ed Honowitz, Bill Bogaard, John Buchanan, and the rest of that crowd. It was a race based political ploy, played in hopes of achieving dominance over the hundreds of millions of dollars controlled by the Pasadena Unified School District. Especially the $240 or so million left from the Measure TT bond fiasco.

It really is always about the money, you know. And more often than not, development as well.

Next Tuesday the race card will be played again. And largely for the same political purpose. That being to do for the Renatta Coopers of this world what they could not achieve at the polls, retain political and ideological control of the PUSD's Board of Education.

With the result being yet more years of the kind of abject failure these same people have already brought to our public schools.

That election idea is starting to sound better all of the time, right?

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Bob Matheson You Didn't Know

Matheson in his AFN t-shirt
I received several emails from a Tattler reader recently who has been digging into the Bob Matheson situation here in Sierra Madre in hopes of unearthing more information than we already have. Matheson, as I am certain you know, is the once upon a time socially and politically prominent Sierra Madre resident who was arrested and convicted in Canada in 2011 for owning and transporting a computer laptop loaded with lurid child pornography, both photographic and video.

Bob did some prison time in Canada because of this, yet despite all of his problems returned to Sierra Madre to resume life here with absolutely no change to his legal status in this community. He is as free to go where he wishes as anyone else living here. A situation that has outraged many in this community, while at the same time having been met with a profound and at times puzzling indifference at City Hall.

Here is how this concerned Tattler reader introduced his discoveries:

Bob has been involved in TV and radio production for his entire life. I have seen him running the city council productions when I first became involved in this mess and didn't know who was who. I am sure it was him. John I may not have told you this, but I was an internal investigator for several large department stores for many years after I left the Army. This past has enabled me to follow a piece of a clue for years, I'm like a bloodhound that way. I have over 500 felony arrests for theft, with a 100% conviction rate. All of these have come down to a paper trail and video. This is why I feel this is such damning evidence of cover-up on very high levels.  Here is the best of what I found. 

The first find by our contributing reader is from a document produced by the California Historical Radio Society. Bob Matheson's lifelong involvement with radio broadcasting, which began in the Bay Area where he grew up, has caused him to become concerned about the preservation of a museum dedicated to the early years of Bay Area radio. If you click here you will be taken to what is basically a 2012 fundraising appeal for this effort. In the section reserved for comments, here is what Matheson has to say:

July 18, 2012 at 10:41 pmI doubt I’m the only one who entered a career in broadcasting as a result of growing up with the radio stations in the Bay Area. From being KCSM-TV’s first student cameraman to retiring as the Director of Broadcasting at the American Forces Network IAFN Broadcast Center. It was the best career I could have ever hoped for. And being asked by Red Blanchard’s daughter to write Red’s Obituary was the greatest honor I’ll ever enjoy.

I thought of the stations I listened to most as a kid, and decided my first contribution to save the CHRS would be $740 because of the incredible influence Red Blanchard had on my career. But then I thought that’s not enough, so Emperor Gene Nelson got the nod, and I’m proud to have pitched in with $1,260.

OK, the rest of you…get off your butt and put your money where your heart is, in the memory of those early days of broadcasting in the Bay Area. Russ Hodges, Don Sherwood, Ira Blue and many others are counting on you!!

I don't know if I would have described writing anybody's obituary as "the greatest honor I'll ever enjoy," but the Red Blanchard connection is significant for today's story. It is also important to note that this statement was made after his significant legal problems with child pornography in Canada concluded and he had returned to Sierra Madre. I suppose this can also be considered a part of his return to normal life (as it were) unscathed.

Red Blanchard was a pioneering Bay Area disc jockey and one that Bob Matheson both admired and was inspired by when he was growing up. And at a 2008 Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame dinner honoring Red and other legendary radio personalities from that area, Matheson played a significant role. Here is how the event was described in the Bay Area Radio Digest (link):

Capacity Crowd Cheers BARHOF Class Of 2008 An overflow crowd of fans, friends and colleagues was on hand to welcome the latest group of inductees into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame on October 1 at the Doubletree Inn on the Berkeley Marina.

Sixteen of the seventeen members of BARHOF's Class of 2008 were represented at the gala luncheon, including Broadcast Legends Red Blanchard and Don Klein.

New inductees Rosie Allen, Alex Bennett, Renel Brooks-Moon, Bob Fouts, Mickey Luckoff, Terry McGovern and Dave Sholin were all present for the ceremony.

Matheson's part at this event was to help induct Red Blanchard into this regional radio Hall of Fame. His portion of that evening is described in the Bay Area Radio Digest this way:

Other presenters included Bill Faust (for his step-father, Doug Pledger), Bob Matheson (for Red Blanchard), Ed Baxter (for Rosie Allen), Ronn Owens (for Mickey Luckoff), Dana Jang (for Mikel Hunter), Mike Preston (for Dave Sholin), Ted "Hezzie" Johnson (for Dude Martin) and Al Newman (for Terry McGovern).

Matheson's speech honoring Red Blanchard is available on YouTube and can be linked to by clicking here. The video is described this way on its YouTube page:

Uploaded on Mar 7, 2011 -- Red Blanchard is inducted into the San Francisco Bay Area Radio/TV Hall of Fame. Rene White produces this startling video of Bob Matheson introducing Red at the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame Awards event; ripped from history's living flank!

In retrospect it seems pretty obvious that Red Blanchard deserved a far better emcee and obituary writer.

Bob Matheson, whose own radio career seems to have been spent exclusively in the employ of the Armed Forces Network, views himself as a Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame member. You can find him mentioned in this BARHOF document by clicking here

Bob is also listed on the Broadcast Legends site. There his industry affiliation is "Armed Forces Radio & Television." Whether being on this site means you are an actual "broadcast legend," or merely someone who paid to have himself described that way, is unclear. There is also no date on this on-line document. I am not certain that any of the Armed Forces would be too crazy today about this affiliation. The link to this one is found here.

Bob Matheson's radio and television career did begin with the military, specifically the Air Force. During 1966 and 1967 Bob spent his time on Ramey Air Force Base in Aquadillo, Puerto Rico. Which was not a bad duty station when you consider where many other military personnel were spending that era. Click here for a link to a Ramey Air Force Base Historical Association page dedicated to Bob Matheson.

Bob later went on to a career in the Armed Forces Network (AFN, as on his t-shirt pictured above), and can be found quoted on topics germane to that organization in several places. Here on a site called EE Times (link), Bob is quoted on the rapidly changing preference of military members for music over sports broadcasting. 

DoD signs off from sports radio broadcasts (7/5/2006 4:47 PM EDT) WASHINGTON — The days of sitting around the barracks listening to a ballgame on the radio are apparently over. 

The Defense Department said Wednesday (July 5) it is discontinuing later this summer play-by-play radio broadcasts of sporting events. The reason?

Armed Forces Radio "audiences prefer to watch the greater variety of sports on television rather than listen to them on the radio," Robert Matheson, director of broadcasting at the AFN Broadcast Center (Riverside, Calif.) said in a Pentagon statement. "When radio sports coverage comes on, most listeners tune out."

Matheson was also quoted on this topic of great military importance in Air Force Magazine. Here is how he was quoted there (link):

Radio Games End“What we found was when our single-channel, local AFN radio station switched from music to a sports event, more than half the audience left. Music is what they’re looking to be entertained with. When they can’t find music, they’ll go to their iPods or CDs or computers.”—Robert Matheson, director of American Forces Network broadcasting in Riverside, Calif., as AFN announces plans to drop play-by-play radio broadcasts of sports events, Baltimore Sun, July 7.

There was also this from a press release put out by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2006 (link):

AFN To End Radio Play-By-Play Sports The Department of Defense announced today that the American Forces Network (AFN) will cease broadcasting play-by-play sports on radio later this summer.

The decision to discontinue live play-by-play sports on radio was based upon a series of Department of Defense worldwide audience surveys of military members and civilian employees stationed overseas, which showed the preference of viewers to watch sports, rather than just listen to them.  The impact of live sports on overseas local affiliate radio schedules was also factored into the decision.

“AFN audiences prefer to watch the greater variety of sports on television rather than listen to them on the radio,” said Mr. Robert Matheson, director of broadcasting at the AFN Broadcast Center in Riverside, Calif.  “When radio sports coverage comes on, most listeners tune out.  Our mission is better served when the largest possible audience tunes in to non-sports programming and spends more time listening."

Despite all of the claims above about not broadcasting sports on the Armed Forces Network any longer, the following Bob Matheson related story can be found on a site dedicated to Missouri Valley Conference basketball (link): 

December 30 MVC Telecast to Be Shown Worldwide on American Forces Network
The Missouri Valley Conference and FSN Midwest will give a unique "thank you" to American troops with the telecast of the Northern Iowa at eighth-ranked Wichita State men’s basketball game on Saturday, December 30. The television coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. Central on December 30 from Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

In a special event titled "This One’s For You," the telecast will recognize American Armed Forces serving overseas. American troops worldwide will be able to watch the game via American Forces Network (AFN).

The telecast will feature greetings taped by American troops -- deployed in Iraq -- with ties to Wichita and Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Troops from 130th Field Artillery Regiment in Topeka, Kansas, and members of the 1st Battalion of the 133rd Infantry Iowa Army National Guard -- which includes several UNI ROTC graduates -- will be featured.

Said Robert Matheson, AFN Director of Broadcasting: "This isn’t the first time that FSN Midwest has gone the extra mile for our men and women in uniform around the world. It is such a privilege to work along side individuals and industry professionals who continually place our military at the top of their priority list. This event says a great deal about the Missouri Valley Conference as well as the people who make the broadcast happen. It not only honors those who stand in defense of this country, but it is an incredible ‘touch of home’ that cannot be underestimated, especially at this time of year. Your efforts are sincerely appreciated and on behalf of Americans stationed in 176 countries and serving aboard U.S. Navy ships at sea, thank you and well done."

So there you have it. The Armed Forces Network "broadcast legend" with a predilection for child pornography. The kind that features photos and videos of young boys both alone and having sex with adult males. And also an individual who worked with advanced television and other communications technology on military bases where young males are the predominate portion of the population.

I guess the military didn't think to ask, and Bob Matheson didn't see the need to tell. Not completely unlike what is still happening in Sierra Madre.

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