Sunday, June 30, 2013

Is It Too Hot Right Now for the Sunday News?

It's hot
(Mod: It might or might not be too hot for the Sunday News, but does that really matter? The ridiculous heat can hardly stop news stories from happening, you know. No matter how calamitous the climactic conditions, the march of current events continues relentlessly onward. Nothing will ever stop them, and we can hardly presume to believe any differently. Here is what we have for you this week.)

Anthony Portantino kicks off run for State Senate (Pasadena Star News click here): In a bid to re-enter the political arena, former state assemblyman Anthony Portantino will host a kick-off reception for his state Senate campaign in South Pasadena on Sunday.

Portantino, who was termed out of the Assembly last year and was replaced in November by former Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden, said he plans to run for state Sen. Carol Liu's 25th District seat when she's termed out in 2016. The foothills district spans from Tujunga to Upland and comprises the Angeles National Forest and the cities adjacent to it.

Portantino, a former mayor of La Cañada Flintridge, said he plans to campaign on the core values of transparency in government and education. "Those are the values of the foothill communities and those are my values and I think there is a need to continue to fight for them," he said.

Portantino served as a state assemblyman for the 44th District for six years. He has been a strong advocate for the California Public Records Act and an active opponent of the 710 Freeway extension to Pasadena. He currently serves on the California Film Commission and is a visiting fellow at USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. He is also a member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee, The Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy and the La Cañada Chamber of Commerce.

(Mod: Anyone who opposes the 710 Tunnel wins big points in my book. Couple that with support for the California Public Records Act and the favorable impression grows even more. Well, ok. Interesting that those two issues are being put forward. Where is he on SB375?)

Election Season is On (Fox & Hounds click here): Yesterday I received fundraising emails from both Abel Maldonado and Tim Donnelly, both seeking funds for their gubernatorial campaigns. I didn’t receive an email from Governor Jerry Brown for his re-election campaign … but I have received gubernatorial fundraising emails from him in the past, so it’s just a matter of time.

Maldonado’s pitch asked donors “to support a Californian who will defend your basic right.” Maldonado, of course, is that referenced Californian. The email was complaining about the governor signing a bill “that will allow him to meet in closed-door sessions with city or county elected officials.”

Donnelly’s pitch was straight forward: California needs a change in  leadership. “To return California to greatness, we need new leadership willing to take our state in a dramatically new direction. The old ways are broken. The politics of the past have failed to solve today’s problems. As for me, I refuse to stand on the sidelines in the hope that somebody else will rise to answer the call of duty.”

(Mod: Whether you love or loathe Tim Donnelly, he is against SB375 and forced Sacramento development demands. No RHNA numbers, no homeless shelter in the middle of Sierra Madre, no state officials suing us because we didn't build "workforce housing" or a "Transit Village" in any of our neighborhoods. Certainly issues I would base my vote on.)

In South Carolina, Paul seeks common ground among GOP (CNN click here): Making his political debut in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina, Sen. Rand Paul on Friday leveled blows against the Obama administration and sought to fuse some of his libertarian-leaning positions with the wider Republican Party platform.

The first-term senator from Kentucky, who's considering a White House bid, addressed his criticism of Guantanamo Bay, the government's surveillance programs and his proposals to cut defense spending--three topics that fall out of line with mainstream Republicans.

Paul spoke before a crowd in Columbia at a casual barbecue dinner hosted by the state's Republican Party. Friday's trip to South Carolina marked the third leg of his early-voting state circuit; last month he headlined events in Iowa and New Hampshire, and his summer plans involve more trips to early states.

Paul ticked off other examples of wasteful spending, including studies he frequently mentions that involved robotic squirrels and monkeys on methamphetamine.

He stayed on message, too, when he talked about a need for reduced spending in the Department of Defense.

"People say, you're not going to go to South Carolina and talk about waste in the military, are you?" he joked.

"There's waste everywhere," Paul continued. "It doesn't mean I'm against national defense. National defense is the most important thing we spend money on. It's one of the few legitimate constitutional functions--it should be a priority." But, he added, that doesn't mean it gets a "blank check."

"I think we should audit the Pentagon," he said.

(Mod: Audit the Pentagon? My goodness, wouldn't that be interesting.)

License-plate readers let police collect millions of records on drivers (Center for Investigative Reporting click here): When the city of San Leandro, Calif., purchased a license-plate reader for its police department in 2008, computer security consultant Michael Katz-Lacabe asked the city for a record of every time the scanners had photographed his car.

The results shocked him.

The paperback-size device, installed on the outside of police cars, can log thousands of license plates in an eight-hour patrol shift. Katz-Lacabe said it had photographed his two cars on 112 occasions, including one image from 2009 that shows him and his daughters stepping out of his Toyota Prius in their driveway.

That photograph, Katz-Lacabe said, made him “frightened and concerned about the magnitude of police surveillance and data collection.” The single patrol car in San Leandro equipped with a plate reader had logged his car once a week on average, photographing his license plate and documenting the time and location.

At a rapid pace, and mostly hidden from the public, police agencies throughout California have been collecting millions of records on drivers and feeding them to intelligence fusion centers operated by local, state and federal law enforcement.

An image captured by a license-plate reader in 2009 shows Katz-Lacabe and his daughters stepping out of a car in their driveway. The photograph made Katz-Lacabe “frightened and concerned about the magnitude of police surveillance and data collection,” he says.

With heightened concern over secret intelligence operations at the National Security Agency, the localized effort to track drivers highlights the extent to which the government has committed to collecting large amounts of data on people who have done nothing wrong.

(Mod: Say cheese. About 30 times a year.)

A Reddit Co-Founder's Devastating One Line Takedown of Facebook (The Atlantic click here) "Facebook makes me hate the people I know, and Reddit makes me love the people I don't." -- Alexis Ohanian, a Reddit co-founder, sharing one of his favorite quotes at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

(Mod: There needs to be a rule. If someone is your friend, you need to able to at least remember their name. And anybody who claims to have 1,000 "friends" should be required to recite all of their names.)

An Indian airline is hiring all female flight attendants to save money on fuel (The Daily Caller click here): A private Indian airline has decided to recruit only female flight attendants in future as its aircraft will burn less fuel carrying them than their heavier male counterparts.

The low cost carrier Go Air maintains that deploying air hostesses, who on average weigh 33-44 lbs less than male stewards, will help it save around Rs30 million ($499,000) per year in fuel costs.

Airline official’s estimate that every extra kilogram (2.2lbs) a commercial aircraft carries costs it an additional Rs3 per flight hour.

Operating 15 aircraft, Go Air employs 330 cabin crew members of which 132 are males.

Although none of the cabin stewards will be sacked, all forthcoming recruitment for the 80 additional aircraft Go Air plans on inducting by 2020 will be stewardesses.

(Mod: Maybe airlines should initiate a ticket cost by weight program. Kind of like pricing bananas at the supermarket. Svelte passengers being cheaper to fly and all.)

New Jersey woman gives birth on front lawn, hadn’t known she was pregnant (NY Daily News click here) She was not expecting — but she sure was pregnant. A New Jersey woman did not realize she was with child until she gave birth on her front lawn earlier this week.

Elizabeth Whitehead, 21, woke up with what she thought were cramps Tuesday. Her long-overdue period finally arrived, or so she thought.

She walked across the lawn toward the driveway of her Barnegat Township home just before 11 a.m. Then the 2-pound baby arrived. "It all happened on the grass," Whitehead told the Lacey Patch. "His head was out when I was on the grass."

Her boyfriend, David Windham, dialed 911. Police officers Michael Moore and Vincent Damiano arrived to find Whitehead lying on the ground beside the newborn — the umbilical cord still attached.

The 3-month premature child had no pulse and was not breathing, said Lt. Keith Germain. The officers performed CPR on the baby as they awaited the ambulance. The first sign of life came when the boy started to cry. "Once I heard a little bit of the cry, it kind of made me jump a little bit," Moore told NBC Philadelphia.

The baby developed a stable heart beat and regular breathing during the ambulance ride to Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, reported the Asbury Park Press.

(Mod: Many people living in New Jersey are too caught up in contemplating the larger philosophical issues of life to notice something as mundane as pregnancy. Also - are we big enough to admit that this child owes its life to a well tended lawn?)

OK, that's plenty.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Who Reads This Blog Anyway?

Do you?...
"I was disappointed to learn that Crawford’s blog was back up, and not surprised by his lack of humility. He is shameless." - Sue Levoe to the Sierra Madre Weekly, 4/22/10

Over the last 4 months The Tattler has been on a bit of a roll readership-wise. We've been averaging just under 75,000 hits a month, and if you add those numbers up the total comes to about 300,000. Which would translate to around 900,000 hits for the year. That is a lot of folks to have stop by and visit a government and politics blog that covers the news of a town of around 11,000. Of course, we also cover regional issues like the PUSD and the 710 Tunnel, plus related bizarre state issues, so there is a strong likelihood that we're drawing people from other places as well. I mean we would have to be. Those sorts of numbers would obviously be impossible to hit otherwise.

Why is this so? I have a theory. Most of our in town media appears to believe that people do not want to read anything too strong when it comes to local issues. Instead people prefer to read reassurances that all is good with their world, and there is nothing that you need to worry your pretty little head over, anyway. So we get reverential pictures of politicians chatting up seniors and petting dogs, or kids graduating from elementary school, and stories about bears. And there is absolutely nothing wrong about that. That too is all a part of our life here.

But what is missing is any actual discussion of politics and government on a realistic level. And to me that is unfortunate because if the actions of those empowered by us to make choices on our behalf, which includes spending millions of dollars in our tax money, are not publicly scrutinized in an unsentimental way, what is to keep them from doing whatever it is they want? Give a handful of people a few million dollars to spend, and do so without any supervision whatsoever, and what is to keep them from turning this place into another, say, Bell? It is a recipe for disaster.

The traditional role of news media in democracies such as ours has been to serve as watchdogs of the public interest. And, for whatever reason, around this town that role has fallen almost exclusively upon this blog. Which, I will admit, is something we do with a certain amount of joy. It isn't completely without challenges, mind you. And it does take a certain amount of counter-ideological fan dancing. But judging by the numbers our approach seems to works for a lot of people. You can only wonder why some of the other news vehicles here wouldn't want to give it a try sometime. It isn't like they have anything much to lose.

Of course, there are those who don't dig this approach, and occasionally they allow their feelings to be heard. And to be quite honest, we kind of revel in that at The Tattler. How else would you ever know that you are hitting your target if you can't hear them scream?

Nothing but trouble at The Patch

A news entity that somehow decided to cover nothing but the saccharine side of life is The Patch. There are literally hundreds of these things all across the country, and if you like your news content-free and without anything more nutritious to it than a Twinkie, then you ought to check out what they're laying down.

But from a business standpoint, it appears that this approach doesn't seem to be getting the job done. This from Business Insider (link):

Patch Has Cost AOL At Least $200 Million So Far, And Its Traffic Is Small And Flat Way back in 2011, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said he would spend $160 million that year building out massive networks of local news sites. Called "Patch" it would fill one of the last "white spaces" on the Internet.

The next year, Patch's price tag was $50 million plus. Along with Huffington Post, it was Armstrong's big bet for turning around the company. In the years since, AOL – or at least AOL stock – has done great.

But Patch is not. Why?

AOL's $1 billion patent sale to Microsoft is why. Patch has been a bad investment. Running it has cost AOL at least $200 million over the past three years, and as much as $500 million.

In return, it's gotten a network of sites that just aren't very popular or getting more so. In May 2012, Patch had 12 million unique visitors in the U.S., according to ComScore. In May 2013, Patch had 12 million unique visitors in the U.S., according to ComScore.

Everyone once in a while, we get a note from a Patch reader to letting us know the place is becoming a ghost town. Here is one like that:

"Hi there!  I have read and enjoyed your stories on AOL Patch since the Patch first came to my city, a couple of years ago.  I've been waiting to read one from you about the final death of the Patch, after it introduced its new format/model a couple of weeks ago. 

As a reader and frequent commenter, I found the new format unwelcoming so I stopped going.  The same is true of most of the people who used to comment on the stories.  While before the change some stories had dozens of comments, now you are lucky if you get a couple.

What is perhaps most indicative of how dead the site is, is that we had two huge stories in our town yesterday: a teacher was charged with having child porn in his school issued laptop (after showing students a picture of him naked), and masked armed robbers broke into a residence and even fired shots.  Both stories appeared in the patch, neither was shared or commented by anyone."

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bob Matheson's Letters to the Sierra Madre Weekly

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(Mod: Here is an interesting little slice of Sierra Madre history. Bob Matheson, who was an adamant opponent of my candidacy for the City Council in 2010, wrote in to the Sierra Madre Weekly during that election. Bob, who as you know later served time in prison in Canada for the possession of significant quantities of child pornography, was a large voice for the so-called "civility party," and even hosted the campaign kick off bash for the now expatriate Joe Mosca. In case you didn't get one, I have reproduced an invitation here for you. Apparently nobody who did attend remembers ever having received one. The third letter here has to do with our 4th of July parade. Something Bob is still free to enjoy.) 

RE: MacGillivary Slams Gavel On Mosca -
Sierra Madre Weekly March 25

Hats off to Terry Miller for so accurately describing our town’s Bully Pulpit! Two generations ago, “bully” was an adjective meaning superb/wonderful. Now it describes some of our elected officials, they’re arrogant bullies on the pulpit that is our City Council!!

Remember when elected officials served as “humble servants” of their constituents? Well, there’s nothing humble about the outrageous behavior exhibited in Council chambers by certain, seated members. Watch some of the meetings!! It’s not difficult to identify the culprits, their demeanor is as embarrassing as it is inappropriate.

Now we have a clear choice in Sierra Madre, and a chance to clear the air the foul behavior that has tainted the civility of our City Council. Voters can reject others of this ilk and elect three candidates who, I know, will put responsibility before rhetoric and character before character assassination.
I’m voting for Moran, Mosca and Walsh. Thank you all for running, and for giving us a chance to save Sierra Madre.

Robert Matheson , Sierra Madre
via sierramadreweekly.com
http://www.sierramadreweekly.com/columns/opinion/sierra-madre-election-letters/

Letters to Editor April 22
Letters to the Editor:

I mailed in my absentee ballot before flying out of town, and appreciate the City of Sierra Madre, sierramadreweekly.com, and other local media, for enabling me to stay in touch with this pivotal election on line. I really regret being away and missing the joy of celebrating the outcome with the like-minded majority!

I’m very proud of the dignified campaigns that the victors ran. I wouldn’t call the wide margin of the final numbers a “landslide,” but like the human immune system attacking bacteria, viruses, and other parasites, Sierra Madre voters went to the polls and decisively tossed the invading Contrarians out with the trash. The election was, in every sense, a mudslide. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and get back to being the treasure that is Sierra Madre.

In no particular order: Kurt Zimmerman = John Crawford = The Tattler = Irrelevant = MaryAnn MacGillivray = Don Watts. Period.

Bob Matheson, Sierra Madre
http://www.sierramadreweekly.com/columns/opinion/letters-to-editor-april-22/

Bob Matheson writes in about the 4th of July
Sierra Madre put it’s best foot and fire hose forward again this year as our townsfolk celebrated the birth of our country in grand, Sierra Madre All-American fashion. The parade, the jazz band and activities for the kids in the park, and of course the Beer Garden, are the traditional 4th of July treasures of Sierra Madre. Kudos to the always fabulous Fourth of July Committee, headed now by Matt Bosse, for pulling everything together. It’s a time and place that we all keep coming back to, year after year…a celebration that singularly embodies the “Spirit of Sierra Madre.” It’s why we enjoy living here!

Amidst all this great fun and success is there the risk of criticism? I saw a Fire Department engine occasionally stop and, very judiciously, spray a narrow pattern of water directly ahead. Common sense called for the water spray! The kids had a thrill they’ll cherish for their lifetime. I can’t imagine anyone being critical of doing the right thing!

So while our Fire Department was in the parade, our terrific Police, Water and Public Works Department employees should have been, too! They help keep things running 24/7, and deserve the same applause of an appreciative crowd. And talking about great people helping others, how lucky we are to have the fabulous Search & Rescue Team in our town, and in the parade, too!

BTW, There was live television coverage of the parade on KCBS-TV this year! If you missed it, you can still see the report on their website http://cbs2.com/video/?id=138802@kcbs.dayport.com.

Happy Birthday America!!! Bob Matheson”

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tony Brandenburg: Go! Go! Team Bogus!

"Special orders don't upset us"
All Hail, the Not So Epic Fail
So I wanted to find out what Renatta Cooper was up to when she got herself recycled as Board of Ed President. Mary Brandenburg and I did a PRA for all texts and emails of Renatta Cooper, Bill Bogaard, Adam Wolfson, and Mark Jomsky.

We just got our answer from our pals at PUSD’s lawfirm du jour, Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, et al. The first thing the attorneys told us is that they didn’t have to honor the texts or personal email addresses because a legal precedent had not been established. Good try on Mary’s part to try to test Smith v. City of San Jose (click here). A not so epic fail, but a fail nonetheless.

Are you on the winning team? Are you on Team Bogaard?
What could have been and what could be? What if Mayor McCheese got his druthers? What was he up to? Is/was he trying to keep Anthony Portantino in the limelight (click here) until his patron (click here) Carol “I hire Idiots to be Educational Consultants” Liu's freshness dating is past? That’s a three year commitment Billyboy!

So. Pasadena City Clerk Mark Jomsky of Calabasas, sends an email on behalf of the big boss, Mayor McCheese aka Team Leader Bogaard. The Mayor is putting forth former movie producer Anthony Portantino to get his name back out there in order to make way for his bid to replace the eventually to be termed out Carol Liu. Now, the burning question is why would Jomsky pull a politician from all the possibly available people? Why would he not choose someone who is unencumbered with partisan politics? Maybe  someone like, uh, like a judge? I know of one that would be perfect (click here). Why, oh why, Mr. Jomsky of Calabasas, are these suggestions stacked like an ad hoc committee of *special* community members?

Date: Wed, 15 May 2013
From: “Jomsky, Mark
To: Cooper, Renatta, Adam Wolfson

Subject: FW: Resource Articles

Hi Renatta and Adam,

Below are links to some articles and resources that I found doing research on the web. Interesting outcomes for some of the agencies, and maybe something to glean from those where there was controversy. There are examples of appointment processes where a large pool of applicants was culled down to a manageable number by an ad hoc committee for interviews by the legislative body. There was also one example where an agency ended up interviewing 19 applicants in one day (oy!) and then making a selection. When researching the City Council appointment process, I found it helpful to contact staff members from those cities to get feedback and learn some do’s and don’ts. Just a suggestion.

If you chose to utilize a community-based committee to reduce the number from 38 down to ____, the thought occurred to me that Anthony Portantino might still be a very good option for Chair. Perhaps, since he is not from the district, he might consider being a non-voting member of the ad hoc committee unless his vote was necessary to break a tie vote. So the composition would be as follows:
Seven District Representatives selected by the Board of Education
One City of Pasadena Rep selected by Pasadena City Council
One Altadena Rep selected by Supervisor Antonovich 
One Sierra Madre Rep selected by the Sierra Madre City Council
Anthony Portantino to Chair and vote only to break a tie.

Anyway, let me know what you think. I will be happy to discuss further.
Regards, 
Mark Jomsky
City Clerk
City of Pasadena

That is an interesting cast of characters, by the way. Why are Anthony Portantino and Michael Antonovich pitched by Jomsky to be involved with this? I mean, Portantino kind of makes sense. That’s just keeping his name in the papers, so to speak. But why Antonovich? And who would the mighty Sierra Madre City Council have suggested? Bart Doyle? The mind reels.

So. Speaking of Team Bogaard, Councilmember Steve Madison of Voter Annulment Court (click here) is another high profile Team Bogaard team player. Word is his main squeeze is over at the All Saints Church Office of Creative Connections (click here), the incubator which creates the ideas you know you need and stocks the people you need to know. Of course that is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the retaining wall of the Pasadena Council Chambers (click here)----like that Young & Healthy Program that partners with PUSD. Now I’m not one to suggest another, uh, marriage between mayoral hopefuls and connected Episcopeople, but when I hear Renatta Cooper sing holy praise to the Boston Schools/Community Model which is overseen by the Mayor of Boston, I can’t help but smell something fishy.

Someone should tell our fearless president self-reelect-reelect that fish fries are a Friday Night event, and not a Tuesday Night event. If she has any doubt, just ask that health food guy Tyron Hampton. Tuesday night board meeting menus should be saved for salads.

Oh. And be sure and invite our buddy, Ed “Salad Magnet” Honowitz, ok?

Too Bad there was no Chaser for Sheryl Orange; but, hey, thanks for the Wraparound
Oh, by the way. I went to the Board Meeting Tuesday night, the last of the current budget year.  I was interested to see if The Invincible Principal Principle would be upheld before the close of the budget year. This is the little administrator clause that saves useless principals who ignore the will of the families they serve and should be fired, but are kept in place, somewhere, ad nauseum.

No, I am not talking about Gilbert Barraza or Marcheta Williams. At least not this month.

I am speaking of Sheryl Orange, former Muir High School principal who is apparently now retiring as the layoff of her coordinator position (see below) was not rescinded, and this was the last board meeting where that was possible.  She was formerly so invincible a principal that the previous superintendent announced his retirement in late February of 2011 rather than give her notice by the mandated March 15 date that year, so scared he was of the potential for backlash from segments of the Muir community.  So she stayed on at Muir for the 11-12 school year.

Of course, we can’t forget that ol’ Eddy the Phonemaster Diaz was also trying to dodge the Brandenburg/Honowitz/Sierra Madre PTA situation.

So. Exactly where was Sheryl Orange in the 2011-2012 year when she was the principal of Muir? Well she sure wasn’t in Las Vegas, and if she had been, the rule is that it stays there and we don’t know about it, anyway.

Think of Sheryl Orange’s 2011-2012 year as PUSD Area 51.

What I can tell you she got a new job by the 2012/2013 school year because it was brought up at a Board Meeting we attended with Ron Thomas one year ago when a new program was pitched that night. I remember because Ron applauded the program. I should update him, I guess.

Anyway, she became the coordinator for this new program, a leftover from the previous academic chief, Alice Petrossian.  The latter had created this ghost program called The Academy for Success set up at Burbank School (i.e. the pasture). At $120,000 for Ms. Orange’s salary plus benefits, and a teacher at salary plus benefits, that’s a lot of money that went for a program that apparently never enrolled any students.

So, money was given to a middle school program that was supposedly housed at an elementary school. Well, this is a program that really didn’t exist.  Not only were the actual students placed in Learning Works or elsewhere, their magical doppelgangers were never enrolled. Can someone call for an accountant please?

A program that cost over $200,000 or so in real dollars, for students who were never actually enrolled at an elementary school that is technically closed except for preschool offices and community programs. That makes sense.

In a few days Ms. Orange will retire, probably with a little shove, and no thus no accountability for the outcome of the program, nor for the money, will ever take place.

All in the Family 
Speaking of dynamic administrators..... Way back when, Hoori The Food Gal Chalian (click here) used to be the principal of Jefferson Elementary School. To make a short story shorter, she went to battle a while back with Ramon Miramontes and the Latino families (click here) and set in motion a Parent Revolution of sorts. She was then transferred to the Alice Petrossian Wing at PUSD and a new position was created for her. Now known as the Coordinator of Innovation and Intervention, Hoori’s godmama established a future for the principal who couldn’t, but should’ve.

If nothing else, all of those purchase orders for food that keep showing up on monthly Board items really drives my curiosity and imagination. I am known as a bit of a Gandolfinist in the art of cuisine, myself. I mean, where does she put it all? Perhaps it’s French food. You know, high prices, but very little edible product.

Bon apetit!

¿Cómo se dice inútil USELESS?
Another couple of topics were related to the Pasadena Unified Unwelcome Center, a place designed at one point to be an inviting sunshiny room that made all newcomers to the PUSD feel cheery, welcome, and aglow with the promise of education. It hasn’t quite panned out for whatever reason, and it has now become necessary to rethink the whole idea and restructure a couple of jobs. Uh oh. Seems that a board member or two may be of the belief that an Arabic-speaking staff person providing a rousing Pasadena welcome to a small portion of a small ethnic percentage of Pasadena’s school community is a wiser choice than a Spanish-speaking staff person to offer a rousing Pasadena welcome to a large portion of the ethnic majority of the district. That, plus the nearly impossible navigation of the office, has pretty much extinguished its usefulness altogether.

Here’s a Couple of Grand Ideas
The time has come to start doling out the school representatives and subcommittees. That means the Brandenburgs need to start calling and emailing Elizabeth Pomeroy and asking her to take care of the mess over at Marshall Fundamental. The  futbol and football cloverfield. The disaster that is a tennis court. The mess that is the gym.

Once upon a time there were paraprofessionals at the schools who used to handle the follow up on absent kids. The positions were eliminated. Now as the district examines the current state of unexcused absences, most likely dumping the task on teachers, or not following up at all, comes the very real problem of lost revenues in ADA. Hey, maybe the money brought back in through a system that follows up on these absences could actually pay for the hires that got these kids back to school. Or the PUSD could do what Sierra Madre Principal Emeritus Gayle Bluemel did with my son for 8 months. Tell the state the kids are really just in school.

Or say that the students are enrolled at The Academy for Success over at Burbank.

Eugenics and You, Tee-Pee
Sandy Goodwick made a public comment about Eugenics and limned the need to include this history in the PUSD curriculum. Her comment discussed the infamous painting in Gosney Hall at Polytechnic, as well as the connection between The Human Betterment Foundation and the atrocities that would follow both in California and in Germany under the Third Reich.

Personally I believe it is time for us to call upon Polytechnic to remove the painting and rename Gosney Hall. I would suggest renaming it Jack Parsons Hall myself.

Anyway, last month a certain United Teachers of Pasadena bargaining representative made the following statement as a PUSD employee and Webster Elementary School Teacher:

Some of the kids that have been included into our classrooms are not placed properly. Not all children with special needs are fit to be included in a general education classroom.…...it is not a healthy learning environment for the special needs kids, for the general ed kids and it’s definitely not a healthy environment for the teacher.

See, that isn’t really about what is best for the kids, it is about what is best for the teachers. Oh, but I digress.

In fact, the statement, “Not all children with special needs are fit to be included in a general education classroom”  sounds to me just like the echo of eugenics, a popular Pasadena pastime and pseudo-science that Pasadena Unified still choose to ignore (click here). I am curious if the Pasadena Museum of History has touched the subject.

In any event, to assume that the idea of being “fit” to participate in society is hardly a novel idea. It goes back at least one hundred years. In fact, back to times when leading scientists and philosphers went as far as to determine who was fit to reproduce.

Back to 1921 when Margaret Sanger (click here) spoke of “fitness” as well:

As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the "unfit" and the "fit", admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. 

Sanger, as you may be aware, was a Eugenicist and the founder of the group Planned Parenthood. The Pasadena connection cannot be denied as ol’ Maggie had a connection to a little friend of the Proctor and Gamble Soap Family, Dr. Clarence J. Gamble and the Gambles are not an unknown name here in Pasadena. Clarence was known to visit the Gamble House, which was the home of David and Mary Gamble, his parents, and lived in the house as a child. He would practice medicine in Carmel and elsewhere. The connection: Clarence was a co- founder of the Human Betterment League of North Carolina in 1947. The other co-founder was James Hanes, a hosieries maven (click here). Think about that next time you put your socks and chonis on.

In a 1992 article titled The Truth About Margaret Sanger, which ran in Citizen Magazine and was reprinted on blackgenocide.org (click here), the following was revealed:

Gamble lost no time and drew up a memorandum in November 1939 entitled "Suggestion for Negro Project." Acknowledging that black leaders might regard birth control as an extermination plot, he suggested that black leaders be place in positions where it would appear that they were in charge as it was at an Atlanta conference. It is evident from the rest of the memo that Gamble conceived the project almost as a traveling road show. A charismatic black minister was to start a revival, with "contributions" to come from other local cooperating ministers. A "colored nurse" would follow, supported by a subsidized "colored doctor." Gamble even suggested that music might be a useful lure to bring the prospects to a meeting.

Sandy Goodwick’s remarks and research helped direct me to an interesting quote by G.H. Parker in a paper titled A Biological Forecast (click here) page 315 :

Not all children are fit for formal education. They have no business in either school or college, except in the former for the merest rudiments of learning.

Is it just me, or doesn’t part of eugenicist GH Parker’s 1913 quote sound uncannily similar to our Webster teacher/UTP Bargaining Representative’s 2013 quote? Is this what our local union representative intended? I want to assume it is not.

In any event, I think someone owes the disabled community an apology for her remarks.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Suddenly It Isn't Just A Blog Conspiracy Theory

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You may recall that about a month or so back Josh Moran referred to an argument linking the so-called "Public Safety Master Plan Survey" to the City's surreptitious effort to somehow resurrect the defeated UUT extension as a "blog conspiracy theory." You can certainly imagine which blog he was referring to. Josh's claim being that what this survey is actually all about is finding out what people want from their police department, and then making it happen. Done with only the best of intentions at heart.

You know how Josh can be. He actually believes people see things his way. Even when he is quite obviously just making stuff up.

So a funny thing happened last night at the City Council meeting. After this very matter had been discussed for a bit, Chris Koerber posited the notion that the true purpose of this so-called public safety survey had precious little to do with public safety. But instead had a whole lot more to do with creating a narrative designed to make an April 2014 do-over UUT vote successful. And suddenly everyone else on the City Council began talking as if this had always been understood. Even the original author of this nonsensical political gambit, John Harabedian, joined in.

Nancy Walsh went so far as to admit that this survey was not only just about the UUT, but that she would also have no problem trying to scare people into believing that if they didn't extend our state leading utility taxes we'd lose the entire Police Department. Lock, stock and barrel. Nancy also declared that she would have no problem approving a $20,000 payment to a consultant to make this sad little strategy happen.

Which, of course, it didn't. The vote split down the middle and, with Josh Moran off doing something likely more important to him, failed to pass. The consultant lost his $20,000 and an unexpected, but important, victory for fiscal sanity was won.

This Public Safety Master Plan was also one of Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian's leading campaign promises, along with being a payment on his political debt to the SMPOA. Quite an epic fail for the boy.

Which brings up a now relevant matter. Which is the only department in this City that has not had to make at least some sacrifices during the City's current fiscal travails? The Police Department. During all of the economic duress these past few years, the SMPD has remained not only virtually untouched, but has actually grown. And as the recipient of 53% of our General Fund, it remains the largest consumer of taxpayer money we have.

Can it be the time has come for them to make some sacrifices as well?

An observation. It seems obvious that Nancy Walsh and Johnny Process miss Josh Moran when he is absent. And not just because he is a reliable tie breaking vote. Without Josh's wordy advocacy his other two allies on the City Council have a lot of trouble making what they want stick. Both of them suffered significant defeats last night. It was great fun to watch.

Another defeat for Mayor Nancy and Johnny Process was over the unfortunate mash up of the Green Committee and the Tree Commission. What these two legislative marvels of the universe were hoping to deliver was something now known by the unfortunate acronym of EENER. Which, to my delight, even City Manager Elaine Aguilar began to use. I believe it stands for Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Commission, something that obviously sounds imposing enough, but does it really apply to a small town such as ours? We are hardly Soviet-era Albania.

The Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem's* mission last night was the get the City Council to agree that this purportedly vital group of our finest minds, especially SB375 advocate Paul Alva's mind, be immediately elevated to a position of great importance. Paul's advocacy of such bureaucratic ooze as "process" and "Sacramento initiatives" being important to the stack and pack development and real estate interests that offer so much political support to that side of the divide. They are, of course, the actual driving force behind all of this.

Unfortunately for them, however, and as pointed out by Councilmember Koerber, there is no EENER yet. The ordinance necessary to create this Frankenstein's Monster of a Commission hasn't even been voted into existence yet. And as John Capoccia (who was ON last night, btw) pointed out, you can't just create a Commission around a group of available people. There has to be things like an idea, mission and an actual purpose involved. You know, big people stuff.

I guess Nancy and Johnny were thinking about this more on a Mickey Mouse Club level of "the process." A big group of people got together and had fun at a meeting, so they should now be made a Commission. The reason being it would make them happy and prevent their feelings from being hurt. Thankfully the EENER was pushed aside for another day.

The third drubbing for Nancy Walsh and Johnny Process was over whatever "Art In Public Places" is all about. Apparently those building mighty enterprises like The Kensington and Dr. Sami's medical wickiup are supposed to be assessed a kind of 1% tax to be spent on the creation and display of public art. What that public art might be has yet to be defined. I thought maybe something along the lines of a statue of Lucky Baldwin would be the thing, though it now appears Arcadia beat us to it. The pigeons there rejoice at our expense.

Billy Shields was in the house to describe what this art stuff means to him. Billy, who can fake enthusiasm for quirky local bunkum with the best of them when he has to, spoke of his willingness to embrace public art with what he termed a designated "money pool." Something that caused me to vow that the time has come to resurrect my passion for the creation of Velvet Elvis painting. I'll bet Billy would like to buy a bunch of those for the Kensington.

Both John Capoccia and Chris Koerber expressed their concern that such an arrangement constitutes a tax, one that would be borne by the business community alone. Something further cementing our reputation as a fee ridden, utility taxed haven of commercial unfriendliness.

It wasn't all joy last night, of course. Consultants were hired in two instances, and our financial disaster of a waterless Water Company is well on its way to being propped up with the third water rate increase in four or so years. Proving the adage that good money often does follow bad.

There will be a "Prop 218 process" on this latest water increase, and I am beginning to believe that we really will have no choice but to participate in it. As a matter of principle mainly. Something we should want to stand by at least until City Hall actually levels with us about the true nature of our $19 million (including interest) in water bond debt. A financial disaster for this community that has never been officially explained. Most likely out of a perceived political need to protect the guilty parties.

I figure it will take somewhere around $3,000 to produce and mail Prop 218 ballots to every appropriate mailbox both here in Sierra Madre and wherever the relevant landlords might live. Something the City should legally be doing, but I am certain Teresa of Barstow (link) will find a way around that for them.

So we'll have to do it. Investors in this effort are encouraged to call. I don't want to cover this cost all by myself. I have tuitions to pay.

I thought Earl Richey asked a very good question last night. It is one he has asked on other occasions as well, but has yet to receive an answer. And I can't figure out why that is.

Why is it that the City is spending a ton of precious city resources on 3,800 transmitting water meters when our water infrastructure is in such terrible shape?

Given the amount of leaks and other water wasting structural deficiencies in town, this might be a misplaced priority. Shouldn't we be fixing some pipes first? And isn't delaying those repairs the kind of thing that got us into this mess in the first place?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tonight the City Kicks Off Two New Campaigns for More of Your Money

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I'm sure it is just a coincidence, or perhaps a scheduling fluke of some sort. Or maybe I'm just not sure. But at least conceptually you would think that the City would want to kick these two shady efforts off on different meeting nights. You know, so they don't get linked together like we are about to do for you here? Trust me, it's not what they're really looking for. But no matter, it does work for me. Not the fact that City Hall is working so hard to grab more of our money, but that they are making such a perfectly obvious muck of it. Something not completely out of the ordinary for them. Selling rate and tax increases never has been a thing done with elegance here.

The first money grab on tonight's City Council Agenda is Consent Calendar Item #1(f). Here is how we described this little swerve from budgetary decency in our Tattler City Council Meeting Preview yesterday:

f) RECOMMENDATION TO AWARD PROFESSIONAL SERVICES CONTRACT TO RAFTELIS FINANCIAL CONSULTANTS, INC. IN AN AMOUNT NOT TO EXCEED $48,000 FOR THE PREPARATION OF WATER AND SEWER RATE STUDIES: The City is gearing up for its third water rate increase in four years, and of course that involves the hiring of an expensive consultant. Euphemistically known as "water and sewer rate studies," what this involves is the consultant (Raftelis Financial of Pasadena) cooking up a case justifying the City's request for yet another water rate hike. Think of it as a marketing prospectus. And why does the City need to go out and ask us for more? Because the Water Department is being driven into bankruptcy by $19 million in water bond debt obligations from 1998 and 2003. Have I mentioned that before?

A couple of key points we need to raise about this item. First is the $48,000 consultant the City is hiring for this effort. Why, you might want to ask, does the City need to pay these guys $48,000, and what exactly do we get for all that dough? What Raftelis Financial of Pasadena is being hired to do is write a study that will come to a preordained conclusion. And that conclusion is the heavily indebted Water Enterprise is in a financial world of hurt, and it desperately needs more money to survive. In this case we're looking at the third water rate increase in the last four years, so it is a kind of serial desperation.

Now you would think that since the City needs to raise water rates again it must be running out of money. Otherwise why would they be asking for more? The logical conclusion being that they should do their own water study and save $48,000. Makes sense, right?

However, apparently City Hall thinks that it lacks the credibility with its restive populace needed to do such a study themselves and make it stick. So therefore they have to hire an outside consultant capable of giving all those concerned the sense that here is an authority that is both impartial and above reproach. Even though the report they will eventually deliver will say pretty much what City Hall asked it to say. I mean, you don't really believe the City would pay somebody $48,000 to write a report that says water rates need to go down, do you?

The other consultant driven money grab struggling to be born can be found inside City Council Agenda Item #3. Here is how we barked about this one yesterday:

3. DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN - SURVEY: It is odd that this one is not listed amongst the Staff Reports on the City's website today. But no matter, we've all seen this mutt before. This is an attempt by Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian to spend about $25,000 in our tax money for a "public safety" consultant to initiate a survey that will determine how people feel about the Sierra Madre Police Department. There are some in town that feel the SMPD is an expensive white elephant whose job could be performed more efficiently, and at a significantly lower cost, if we contracted with another agency.

The actual purpose of this survey is to establish that people here do like the SMPD. And since most residents haven't a clue about what the actual issues are here, it will probably achieve its end. This survey could then be used to gin up an argument that the residents should reverse their decision on the UUT extension, and instead vote to keep it going at a California leading rate of 10% to even 12% for another 5 years. After all, the lion's share of this UUT money goes to the Police. In the end this is really little more than a politician rewarding a lawsuit happy government employee union for supporting him in an election. Mr. Harabedian hopes to advance to an exciting career in county or even state politics someday, and in his party that dream is often enabled by soul kissing the ring of unions like the SMPOA.

The consultant this time costs a little less, $25,000 to be exact. Add that to the water rate consultant, however, and you're talking a cool $73,000 for the evening. Quite a tidy little investment for the City to make, and during a time of fiscal distress to boot. Your tax money working against you.

The outcome Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian is hoping for here is a reason for the citizens of our bucolic little town to approve the do-over UUT extension being scheduled for April of 2014. Pretty much the same one 64% of those living here voted against in April of 2012. No easy task, especially since most people have pretty much had it with City Hall and its endless squawking for more money.

Here is the spice. What Johnny Process and his political allies are looking to do here is make the 2014 UUT do-over vote a referendum on the Sierra Madre Police Department. With the message being that if you don't vote for a UUT renewal at our current California leading rate of 10% to 12%, the City will have to do away with the SMPD. An act of political hostage taking that is all too common among the grubbier varieties of tax hungry pols.

Now you might wonder what the big deal is, and why should you have to pay so much money just to keep the SMPD cruising around town all day and night? Couldn't we bring in the Sheriffs, or even security guards? After all, we now have third party blue suits on mopeds handing out traffic tickets, so what is the difference? It's not like they ever catch any crooks. Or register child pornographers.

And that is the beauty of the Mayor Pro Tem's* $25,000 consultant-run community policing survey. Like the water rate survey of the Raftelis Financial folks, it too will come with a preordained conclusion. Johnny's hired survey will be worded and conducted in such a way that the results will be that the people of Sierra Madre simply adore the SMPD, and couldn't imagine ever living without them. And then, once armed with that information, City Hall will be able to conduct a campaign not to merely extend the UUT, but run a crusade to save a Police Department that so many love.

It's a chump play for certain, but you know there is never a shortage of those.

So how high is Sierra Madre's Utility User Tax (UUT)?

It is really high. When you factor in the number of utility categories actually taxed, Sierra Madre has the highest utility taxes in the entire State of California.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Thanks to a thoughtful post yesterday from a concerned reader, we can now enjoy the services of MuniServices (click here), a free Internet service that allows us to compare the UUT rates of every city in California that has utility taxes.

I ran a few off for you, starting with our town.

Sierra Madre:
Telephone (see ordinance definitions)
includes Wireless, Intrastate, Interstate and International - 10%
CATV - 10%
Electricity - 10%
Gas - 10%
Water - 9%
Sanitation / Solid Waste - 9%

Here is Arcadia:
Telephone - 5%
Intrastate - 5%
Interstate - 5%
International -5%
Wireless - 5%
Electricity - 5%
Gas - 5%

Claremont:
Telephone
Intrastate - 5.5%
Interstate - 5.5%
International - 5.5%
Wireless - 5.5%
Electricity - 5.5%
Gas - 5.5%
CATV - 5.5%
Water - 5.5%

Glendale:
Telecommunications - (see ordinance definitions) Includes wired and wireless telecommunications; intrastate, interstate and international services; ancillary services; VoIP; paging; and private communication services - 6.5%
Video - including CATV and IP-TV - 6.5%
Electricity - 7%
Gas - 7%
Water - 7%

Pasadena:
Telecommunications
Intrastate - 8.28%
Interstate - 8.28%
International - 8.28%
Wireless - 8.28%
Electricity - 7.67%
Gas - 7.9%
Video - 9.4%
Water - 7.67%

Whittier:
Telephone
Intrastate - 5%
Interstate - 5%
International - 5%
Wireless (Instruction A*) - 5%
Electricity - 5%
Gas - 5%
CATV - 5%
Water - 5%

That should give you a pretty good idea of where we stand. So you know, there are two cities that do come close to Sierra Madre in the sky high UUT rates department. They are the City of Bell and the City of Compton. Certainly complimentary company for us to be in. However, both tax fewer utility categories than Sierra Madre, thereby crowning us the city with the highest UUT rates in California.

Congratulations.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, June 24, 2013

Your City Council Meeting Preview is Now Ready

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Tuesday evening the Sierra Madre City Council will once again meet to deliberate upon some of the most important issues facing our town today. Water will be among the topics of course, but there will be others considered as well. As always, your concerns are of the uppermost interest to this blog. You're not just a reader, you are also a member of our community.

You are also invited to attend the gathering of this community and its elected officials on the City Council, and our hope is that we can help you by providing important insights into the matters under consideration. We will also be attending the meeting and reporting from Council Chambers as well. We spare little effort here at The Tattler, and no matter what the sacrifice it will get done.

The meeting opens with one closed session item. The City Attorney has decided that only elected officials should be in on this one due to its sensitive legal nature, and the presence of such as us might somehow prejudice the outcome. Here is how this portion of the meeting is unveiled on the City Council meeting agenda:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL - Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(d)(4). The City Council finds based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation. Initiation of Litigation: Number of potential cases - One (1)

Usually this means that someone is suing the city again. Happens all the time. Surprisingly these lawsuits are often initiated by actual employees of the City of Sierra Madre, and usually the SMPOA, which is the union representing the men and women of the Sierra Madre Police Department. People for whom the California State Lottery just doesn't seem to be enough anymore. Later on in the meeting Councilmember John Harabedian has a $25,000 item up designed to help the people of Sierra Madre show their love and gratitude for the Litigious Blue Legion. You can only wonder why.

However, it doesn't look like this is the case tomorrow night. California Government Code Section 54956.9(d)(4), as defined by the State of California (link), reveals the following:

54956.9. (d) For purposes of this section, litigation shall be considered pending when any of the following circumstances exist: (4) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.

So it appears that instead of us being sued, this is one of those rare occasions where the City of Sierra Madre is suing somebody else. Who it might be is a secret that you and I are not allowed to know about just yet. But I can tell you that one of the winners will be Colantuono & Levin.

Once that is either pushed down the road or perhaps even resolved, the City Council will exit the safety of the back room and face the hordes of eager residents awaiting them. Well, maybe not hordes, but there will be some people there. The meeting kicks off with the Consent Calendar, and the first item of business is, as always, the spending of the money.

Let me be the first to warn you that there are nine Consent Calendar items for the meeting. This is not for the weak. You have to really want to do this.

1. CONSENT CALENDAR 
a) RESOLUTION NO. 13-46 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS: The spend total for this meeting is a comparatively mild $598,014.45. This includes warrants (you and I call them bills), payroll and a little something for the Library. A new shipment of purple covered bodice rippers perhaps. Among the more noteworthy spends are $77,846 for Third World Edison, $46,200 to Byrd Industrial Electronics for its celebrated SCAPA update, $13,155 for our ever vigilant City Attorney, $10,886 for the Dial-A-Ride people and $208 for Tai Chi Chuan lessons.

b) CITY COUNCIL REVIEW OF REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS FOR THE INSTALLATION OF AMI WATER METER READING SYSTEM: As hard as it is to believe that anything concerning our Water Department can be described this way, Item 1b is about a Request For Bid Proposals (RFP) for "smart" meters. This way they can be read from afar as each one of them contains its very own electronic transmitter. And if they are anything like the "smart meters" that Third World Edison employs, it isn't just how much water you've been using lately that gets transmitted downtown. Usage patterns, times of maximum consumption, when you and your family are at home, all that stuff will now be known to perfect strangers. Bruce Inman wants to buy a bunch of 'em (3,809 by my reckoning), and since the Water Department is debt laden to the point of near insolvency he has to go to the City Council to obtain the cash. The justification is that over the course of time we'll save a lot of money in personnel costs. Since all of this info will be beamed back to the Mothership, nobody will have to travel to our homes to take water meter readings any more. According to the vendor sales material attached to the Agenda Report, we are being offered an easy payment schedule as well.

c) STATUS OF SAN GABRIEL VALLEY MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT PROJECT FUNDING REQUEST: The Water Department is leaving no stone unturned in the quest to keep its creaky debt ridden operation going, and that includes going back to people we already owe a bunch of money and, hat in hand with "will work for water" sign intact, asking for more. But we're not just asking for more money, we are also asking for debt forgiveness on a huge loan. Something that must feel a little awkward to some folks at City Hall. The debt forgiveness part involves $1,456,875 for the MWD's Mira Monte loan. The MWD is also forking over $939,000 for our water main hook-up, which is supposed to go fully operational sometime in July. We are now seeking $12,500 in marketing funds to help sell the need for water conservation. More indications that the $19 million dollars in water bond debt from 1998 and 2003 is slowly killing off the Water Department. It is time for City Hall to finally come clean.

d) CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION No. 13-47 DESIGNATION OF VOTING DELEGATE AND ALTERNTE (sic) FOR LEAGUE OF CALIFORNIA CITIES ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND BUSINESS MEETING: The days when we used to send 80% of the City Council and a bunch of City Staffers to League of California Cities confabs for some lobbyist lap dances are apparently over. Besides, this year's LCC shindig is being held in Sacramento in late summer when it is still hot up there, so I am not certain as many would want to go like they did when it was in San Francisco. According to the Agenda Report the recommended voting delegate is Nancy Walsh, with Chris Koerber going along as the alternate. Hopefully Chris will keep on eye on Cha Cha so she won't get conned again as badly as she did by the Buxton people.

e) CITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION No. 13-49 ADOPTING COMMITTED FUND BALANCES FOR FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2013: Karin Schnaider will step up to the plate and give the City Council some of the funky lowdown on the City's somewhat parlous finances. This one being specifically about money that has already been committed to select projects. The dark shadow hanging over this matter is the residents' refusal to renew the UUT at 12%, with the strong possibility that when the City Hall goes out with its beggarly do-over vote it will happen again. Something that is certain to wreak havoc with Karin's bookkeeping.

f) RECOMMENDATION TO AWARD PROFESSIONAL SERVICES CONTRACT TO RAFTELIS FINANCIAL CONSULTANTS, INC. IN AN AMOUNT NOT TO EXCEED $48,000 FOR THE PREPARATION OF WATER AND SEWER RATE STUDIES: The City is gearing up for its third water rate cost increase in four years, and of course that involves the hiring of an expensive consultant. Euphemistically known as "water and sewer rate studies," what this involves is the consultant (Raftelis Financial of Pasadena) cooking up a case justifying the City's request for yet another water rate hike. Think of it as a marketing prospectus. And why does the City need to go out and ask us for more? Because the Water Department is being driven into bankruptcy by $19 million in water bond debt obligations from 1998 and 2003. Have I mentioned that before?

g) SECOND READING OF ORDINANCE No. 1339 AMENDING CHAPTER 9.36 OF THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE PERTAINING TO ALARMS: This one has been lingering for a bit. The upshot here is that if your alarm system goes off and the City's emergency services folks answer the call with sirens blaring, and it then turns out this was not necessary, you will be fined. City Hall is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to squeeze more money from the folks living here. This is yet another attempt to get more.

h) CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION No. 13-35: ADOPTING THE CLASSIFICATION PLAN AND SALARY MATRIX FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014 AND FISCAL YEAR 2014-2015, RESOLUTION No. 13-41: REDUCING THE PERCENTAGE PAID BY THE EMPLOYER OF THE EMPLOYEES’ CONTRIBUTION TO THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM FOR FULL-TIME UNREPRESENTED STAFF, RESOLUTION No. 13-42: REDUCING THE PERCENTAGE PAID BY THE EMPLOYER OF THE EMPLOYEES’ CONTRIBUTION TO THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM FOR MEMBERS OF THE CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, RESOLUTION No. 13-44: ELIMINATING THE PERCENTAGE PAID BY THE EMPLOYER OF THE EMPLOYEES’ CONTRIBUTION TO THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM FOR FULL- TIME UNREPRESENTED STAFF, RESOLUTION No. 13-45 ELIMINATING THE PERCENTAGE PAID BY THE EMPLOYER OF THE EMPLOYEES’ CONTRIBUTION TO THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, AND RESOLUTION No. 13-43: AMENDING THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE AND SIERRA MADRE CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION: It looks like the City's employees didn't have a successful negotiation with our elected representatives and staff management. A lot of the benefit costs that used to be picked up by the taxpayers are now going to have to come out of their pockets instead. They can't be very happy about that. Will this make it difficult for the City to retain them? Would we as a community survive the loss of their services? My take is they're not going anywhere. Here is a thought. Wouldn't it be something if these lost benefits were later reinstated once the UUT do-over vote passed?

i) RESOLUTION No. 13-48 GRANTING TEMPORARY USE PERMIT No. 13-06 FOR A HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE ROUND-UP EVENT ON AUGUST 31, 2013: Like Santa Claus, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works only comes to Sierra Madre once a year. But unlike Santa they only take stuff away. But that's OK because what they take away is the dreaded hazardous waste. Most of which has been sitting in your garage for a while and, thankfully, everybody lived.

This concludes the Consent Calendar portion of the meeting. Take a deep breath. Now take another one. You good? OK, here come the regular agenda items.

2. DISCUSSION – PUBLIC FACILITIES IMPACT FEES: APPROACH AND UPDATE FEE IMPACT STUDY: This could actually end up being a good thing. As it stands now, those who want to build (as an example) 5.5 bathroom "modern family" McMansions in town would have their applicable facilities impact fees levied on a per unit basis. Which means that our prospective McMansion builder would pay the same amount as someone building a 500 square foot piano case of a home up in the Canyon. I am all in favor of the "per square foot" schedule of fee payments. The bigger you build, the more you should pay.

3. DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN - SURVEY: It is odd that this one is not listed amongst the Staff Reports on the City's website today. But no matter, we've all seen this mutt before. This is an attempt by Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian to spend about $25,000 in our tax money for a "public safety" consultant to initiate a survey that would determine how people feel about the Sierra Madre Police Department. There are many in town that feel the SMPD is an expensive white elephant whose job could be performed more efficiently, and at a significantly lower cost, if we contracted with another agency.

The actual purpose of this survey is to establish that people here do like the SMPD. And since most residents haven't a clue about what the actual issues are here, it would probably achieve its end. This survey could then be used to gin up an argument that the residents should reverse their decision on the UUT extension, and instead vote to keep it going at a California leading rate of 10% to even 12% for another 5 years. After all, the lion's share of this UUT money goes to the Police. In the end this is really little more than a politician rewarding a lawsuit happy government employee union for supporting him in an election. Mr. Harabedian hopes to advance to an exciting career in county or even state politics some day, and in his party that dream is often enabled by soul kissing the ring of unions like the SMPOA.

4. DISCUSSION – REAPPOINTMENT AND APPOINTMENT OF APPLICANTS TO VACANT COMMISSIONERS’ SEATS AND REQUEST FOR DIRECTION REGARDING THE ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMISSION: This item could end up being action packed. Mayor Walsh has made clear her disdain for Commissioners who don't eagerly kowtow to her will, and her stated threat to "take certain people out" could be acted upon tomorrow night. Make certain you have plenty of popcorn handy for this one. The unnatural coupling of the Green Committee and the Tree Commission could be consummated here as well. The new name for this unholy union is the Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Commission, or EE-NARC for those of you who revel in the acronymic.

In my opinion this has always been a rather sneaky ploy to put LA County uber-bureaucrat and John Buchanan acolyte Paul "What's It All About?Alva into a position of influence. But make no mistake, the mania driving our control freak Mayor is dominance of everything pertaining to City Hall. In the process debasing what once was a wonderful system of selfless volunteers working for the betterment of this City into the lowest and meanest level of partisan politics.

5. DISCUSSION – REQUEST FOR WAIVER OR REDUCTION OF PUBLIC FACILITIES FEES – 215 NORTH BALDWIN AVENUE: A husband and wife development team wants to cram multi-unit 530 square foot duplexes into a lot at 215 North Baldwin Avenue. And right in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Sierra Madre history they want a waiver of all their Public Facilities Fees, which includes a hook-up with our impoverished Water Enterprise. Danny Castro is against it. Thank you, Danny.

6. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ORDINANCE MODIFICATION TO SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE CHAPTER 17.90 – ART IN PUBLIC PLACES: The City is tumbling into an abyss on so many levels, and here is what Nancy Walsh wants us to be concerned about. Hopefully the previous items will consume so much time that it won't get to this. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Nancy contemplates public art.

7. DISCUSSION – STRATEGIC PLAN UPDATE FROM APRIL 4, 2014 RETREAT: Sure, whatever you want.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Tattler Sunday News: The Super Moon Edition

Super
(Mod: Usually we begin these Sunday News reports with a dry monologue belittling the effort and questioning the value of the report itself. We are not going to do that this week. However, there is something of a problem with this approach, and that is it leaves us with very little else to talk about. Normally we can bang out a couple of paragraphs knocking the entire effort. But that won't happen today. So instead we are just going to jump right into the week's news without any further delays.)

Dan Walters: Corruption flourishes in Los Angeles County (link)
Los Angeles County contains a quarter of the state's population and is home to the nation's second most populous city, more than 80 smaller cities, a like number of school districts and literally hundreds of single-purpose districts providing fire protection, water, parks, recreation and other services.

The county itself and each of those entities has its own board, administrative superstructure and the power to extract fees and taxes and to borrow money. Collectively, they probably disburse about $100 billion a year for one purpose or another.

That's big money in anyone's book, but the impact of Los Angeles' local governments goes beyond collecting and spending money. Their actions have other, immense economic consequences, such as deciding whether land developments can proceed and under what conditions, or who pays what for water.

Los Angeles County's bewildering mélange of overlapping, and sometimes competitive, local government entities has existed for many years, but in the last couple of decades another element has been introduced – its evolution into the nation's most ethnically diverse metropolitan area, thanks to an immense wave of migration from other countries.

When coupled with the decline of the county's once-powerful aerospace industry, one effect has been its sharp bifurcation into enclaves of self-indulgent wealth, surrounded by vast tracts of poverty – especially in the immigrant-heavy smaller cities in the county's southeastern quadrant.

A corollary impact has been, unfortunately, the corruption of many local governments that function semi-secretly, little noticed by media and ignored by their residents, many of whom are noncitizens who cannot vote.

When the Los Angeles Times revealed outrageous self-dealing by politicians who had seized control of the small, poverty-stricken city of Bell a few years ago – resulting in criminal prosecutions – those knowledgeable about the region knew that it was just one of many such situations.

The county is rife with corrupted local governments – and that's just the half-dozen that have been publicly exposed.

(Mod: A good report, and there is more of it if you hit the link. But it is one thing to talk about LA County's general corruption. It is quite another to dig out the specifics. We need more specifics.)

Obama confuses British chancellor with soul singer (link)
Politics can be hard on the ego, as British Treasury chief George Osborne learned when President Barack Obama apparently forgot his name at this week's G-8 summit.

Britain's Sun and Financial Times newspapers reported Thursday that Obama repeatedly referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as "Jeffrey" -- and later apologized, saying he had been thinking of soul singer Jeffrey Osborne.

Jeffrey Osborne, whose hits include "On the Wings of Love," said he was delighted the president was a big fan. He added, "Tell the chancellor when I come over I will have to hook up with him and we will do a duet."

George Osborne, who changed his name from Gideon as a teenager, tweeted: "One unexpected breakthrough from G8 -- offer to sing with legend."

(Mod: What this story does not mention is that the British PM had first mistakenly referred to the President as O'bieber.)

Lingering Odor Perplexes Neighboring Cities (link)
Neighboring Pasadena and Arcadia residents are confused by the lingering odor emanating from Sierra Madre, according to reports.

"It's so weird," says Lilac Flores, 47, an Arcadia resident. "I always knew Sierra Madre for the trees and taxes."

The smell has been described as that of a high school locker room full of old cheese, dirty workout clothes belonging to an Olympic weightlifter, or week-old sushi dipped in mechanical grease. Residents are unaware of the smell, which local psychologist Ian Madd attributes to high familiarity with this odor.

"I've forgotten about it, honestly," he said, loosening his tie and eying his armpits. "Even though I have a PhD, I'm not immune." However, he claims "They're just pheromones," and that local citizens have no reason to worry for their health.

A team of volunteers from Monrovia, Pasadena, Arcadia, and San Marino was sent in to investigate. Half of the volunteers requested gas masks while entering the city limits, and by an hour in, two experienced significant discomfort. However, data was gathered despite complications: the smell was present in all areas but City Hall, where an overwhelming scent of air freshener and window cleaner was found to overcome the all-encompassing stench.

City officials could not be reached for comment, though an anonymous councilmember was seen outside wearing a hazmat suit, doing the cha-cha, watering her driveway, and turning on her sprinklers. When asked about the situation, she shouted "you aren't invited" and squirted this reporter with her hose.

Recently, restrictions on water have been put into place requiring residents of Sierra Madre to reduce their water use by twenty percent or face penalties. A press release from City Hall states the following:

"The City of Sierra Madre maintains that the 'odor' reported by citizens of nearby municipalities is not related to water restrictions, nor are the five dehydration-related illnesses. The City sends its regrets to all affected."

Until more research is done, the origin of the odor could remain unknown for weeks to come.

"Somebody should spray the city with Lysol until then," jokes Flores.

(Mod: I know that I myself have smelled nothing, though it is disturbing to think that we as Sierra Madreans could soon be be odor profiled.)

Unelected swarms of bureaucrats hope to harass Bay Area citizens (link)
A brilliant American leader once wrote: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” That brilliant American was Thomas Jefferson, as he refered to King George III of England, in the Declaration of independence, which he authored.

Something similar to the autocracy of King George III is coming to the Bay Area. What is arriving is Plan Bay Area, a long document that will, if enacted, irreversibly transform the Bay Area’s land-use patterns.

Plan Bay Area’s goal is to curtail the use of cars and push Bay Area residents into high-rise, high-density housing. The housing, often called “stack and pack” housing, is to be located near such transit hubs as BART stations. In theory, stack-and-pack housing will lead to less carbon dioxide pollution, and — again in theory — keep the planet from becoming too warm.

Two main forces behind Plan Bay Area are the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

ABAG and MTC respectively have boards of directors who have never been elected directly by voters. Thus, ABAG and MTC are similar to King George III, an unelected ruler who told the American colonies how to behave.

To help these ABAG and MTC rulers achieve their goals of having Bay Area residents ditch their cars and live in stack-and-pack housing, urgent legislation needs to be passed immediately by the California Legislature.

The legislation must require all ABAG and MTC directors and all ABAG and MTC employees to surrender their driver’s licenses and move into stack-and-pack housing.

If less driving and more stack-and-pack housing are such good ideas, let those bureaucrats who want to implement Plan Bay Area be examples for the rest of us.

(Mod: I like the idea of government SB375 enforcement committees being forced to give up their driver's licenses and forced to live in 400 square foot apartments. Just as long as they don't do it here.)

Suicide prevention signs to be placed on Colorado Street Bridge (link)
City officials earlier this week approved a plan to post suicide-prevention signs on Colorado Street Bridge. The Pasadena Public Safety Committee approved the project at their meeting Monday, Pasadena spokeswoman William Boyer said.

More than 150 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge since the bridges first recorded suicide in 1919, city officials said. The bulk of the suicides took place during the Great Depression, however 13 suicides have occurred at the bridge since 2006. Some have come to call the structure "Suicide Bridge" because of the deaths that have taken place there.

In an effort to combat the issue and save lives, the committee approved plans to place bearing messages of hope and suicide prevention hotline phone numbers at the pedestrian entrances to the bridge, Boyer said. The final design of the signs was not complete, however officials were considering messages such as "There is hope," and "You are not alone."

The signs were tentatively expected to be put in place in August. "The key point is that we value human life and we want to keep our residents safe," Boyer said. "There have been studies that have been done. The survivors of attempted suicide, for the most part, regret their actions."

"We're coming up with language and a message to give people and extra moment to contemplate what they're doing," Boyer said.

He added that similar programs have been successful in other jurisdictions in helping to prevent suicides by giving those who are considering taking their own lives "an extra moment to pause."

(Mod: The strange infamy of Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge grows.)

The Transit-Density Disconnect (link)
Around the world planners are seeking to increase urban densities, at least in part because of the belief that this will materially reduce automobile use and encourage people to give up their cars and switch to transit, or walk or cycle (Note 1). Yet research indicates only a marginal connection between higher densities and reduced car use. Never mind that the imperative for trying to force people out of their cars has rendered largely unnecessary by fuel economy improvements projected to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars (see Obama Fuel Economy Rules Trump Smart Growth).

In a widely cited study, Reid Ewing of the University of Utah, and UC Berkeley’s Robert Cervero reported only a minimal relationship between higher density and less driving per capita. In a meta-analysis of nine studies that examined the relationship between higher density and per household or per capita car travel, they found that for each 1 percent higher density, there is only 0.04 percent less vehicle travel per household (or per capita). This would mean that a 10 percent higher density should be associated with a reduction of 0.4 percent in per capita or household driving.

More people in the same area driving a little less means overall driving is greater, as Peter Gordon reminds us. This is illustrated by the Ewing-Cervero finding --- a 10 percent increase in population density is associated with  9.6 percent increase in overall driving, as is indicated in Figure 1 (the calculation is shown in the table). Ewing and Cervero placed this appropriate caution in their research: "we find population and job densities to be only weakly associated with travel behavior once these other variables are controlled."

There is another limitation to the density-transit research. The comparison of travel behaviors between areas of differing density   provides no evidence that conversion of an area from lower to higher density would replicate the travel behavior of already existing (historic) areas of higher density.

(Mod: It would seem to me that the biggest flaw in the whole "transit village" concept is the notion that once placed in low income housing the inmates will then automatically take public transportation. In my opinion most are more likely use the money they will save on rent to purchase a car.)

Get ready to howl: Supermoon to rise this weekend (link)
Moon maniacs, this is your weekend. A so-called supermoon will rise in the east at sunset on Saturday.

A supermoon occurs when the moon is slightly closer to Earth than it typically is, and the effect is most noticeable when it occurs at the same time as a full moon, according to James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

This full moon is not only the closest and largest full moon of the year, according to astronomy website EarthSky. It's also the moon's closest encounter with Earth in all of 2013. So it's not just a super moon — it's the closest super moon of the half-dozen or so that will occur this year, EarthSky reports.

The word supermoon was coined in 1979 by astrologer Richard Nolle, says AccuWeather's Mark Paquette. Nolle used the term to describe a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is at or near its closest approach to Earth.

The moon will pass within about 221,000 miles from the Earth on Saturday night, compared with its "typical" distance of about 238,000 miles.

Garvin says the moon may seem bigger, although the difference in its distance from Earth is only a few percent. For instance, the moon on Saturday night will appear 12% to 14% larger than it will next month.

The moon's effect on ocean tides is higher during a super moon than any other time, so expect higher and lower tides than usual, reports Sean Breslin of the Weather Channel. (The high tide this weekend is also known as a "king" tide.) There is no connection between the supermoon and earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"If you're looking for a more thrilling lunar event, a larger supermoon is expected on Sept. 28, 2015, and the largest supermoon until 2034 will occur on Nov. 14, 2016," Breslin says.

(Mod: I don't know if you saw it last night, but the super moon lit up my backyard pretty well. We need to arrange one of those for Halloween. That would be something.)

We now conclude the Tattler Sunday News for this week.

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