It has been my experience that most people prefer to be told what to do. Those who question local governmental authority are more often than not a minority, and often the cause of some stress to those who'd rather quietly submit to the City's endless requests for things such as more money. Apparently that is somehow preferable to thinking these things through. Even when the need for more tax or rate revenue was caused by financial malfeasance, or even plain old incompetence. Which could very well be the case with the water rate increases being demanded in Sierra Madre.
Trust me, the people who are orchestrating the attempt to suppress Sierra Madre's Prop 218 protest vote against a massive 61% water rate increase get this. Take the headline in this week's Mountain Views News, our weekly adjudicated newspaper that sadly serves as little more than an extension of our city government. "A Reasonable Discussion On Sierra Madre's Water Situation."
And what does this paper believe a "reasonable discussion" might be? Yet another article expressing the shopworn opinions of Sierra Madre's City Manager, Elaine Aguilar. Who apparently, and in the absence of any effective leadership from our current Mayor or most other elected officials, is currently the face of governmental authority in town.
This would be the third such article by my count. Most of the Mountain Views News's coverage of the water rate increase here has consisted of quotes and interviews with Elaine Aguilar. A woman who, without even living here, appears to hold considerable power in this community.
It is also important to note that throughout the six month buildup to these rather draconian rate increases not one single person opposing them was ever interviewed or quoted in this paper. An unfortunate situation when you consider that the MVN owes its marginal existence to the publication of City of Sierra Madre legal notices, which are funded by the taxpayer dollars of ALL the residents in town.
This particular article is built around issues raised by a Sierra Madre resident named Eric Olson. Eric sent these topics and questions in an email to each of the members of the City Council. Who, I assume, then all passed them on to the City Manager. Which makes sense in a way. As we have already said, in that building Elaine wears the crown.
Eric's e-mailed remarks and questions can be seen on the SierraMadreNews.net website, which you may access by clicking here. The MVN article that cites them, alongside the City Manager's comments, can be found here.
Please note that in this article's introduction the paper's publisher, H. Susan Henderson, credits the need for raising water rates in Sierra Madre to the lack of rain. Something that is not exactly true.
What I find particularly significant in this article are not the remarks from the City Manger, which we have seen in previous MVN reports. Rather a couple of issues that Eric Olson raised, but were passed over entirely. Especially this item:
No one wants their water bill to go up. On the other hand, everyone knows that the covenants we gave in connection with our water bonds are hopelessly in default and it is no surprise that our municipal credit rating stinks. We need to get our credit back.
Why did the City Manager avoid this particular item while commenting on almost all of the others? Perhaps it is for the same reason this topic has been ducked by City Hall over the last six months. That being it is the mismanagement of the repayments on the 2003 bonds that has helped drive our Water Department so deeply into the red.
By making interest only payments on this City's 2003 water bonds, an initial $6 million dollars in debt then ballooned to nearly $15 million. And only by raising water rates can the significant financial damage this disastrous mismanagement caused be remedied.
Why this issue has for all intents and purposes been dodged by City Hall is problematic. That the City should be asking for a lot more money from its residents for water, and without completely leveling with them about this extremely significant matter, is not the way things are supposed to be done.
My suspicion is that the reason why our local government agency has been hedging on this one is to protect the reputations of the City's deeply entrenched old boy's network. A group of aging past politicians who still exercise significant influence at City Hall. Their role in causing this financial crisis having been completely whitewashed by both City Hall and the weekly newspaper it controls.
We are now at crunch time in the Prop 218 water rate increase protest. And while victory over this latest big cash grab by the City is within reach, it is a long reach. By my rough estimate we are still somewhere between 500 and 600 ballots short of sending this deceptive mess back to the City Council for another look.
If the protest prevails, hopefully we will then finally get an accounting regarding the activities of the good old boys responsible, and find out why they thought making a decade and a half of interest only payments on millions of dollars in bond debt was such a brilliant idea, or ever used the money to fix the pipes.
You have just today and tomorrow to fill out your Prop 218 ballot and get it in to City Hall.
Do it. Don't be a sucker.