Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Last Night's City Council Meeting On The General Plan Update Was … Really Good. There, I Said It.

At one point during last night's City Council meeting the following somewhat liberating thought occurred to me. What if things were to change so much for the better in the City of Sierra Madre that my gadfly of a blog was no longer necessary? After all, it is the somewhat obstreperous child of a certain tumultuous period in the history of our favorite town, and certainly at that troubled moment this nightly exercise in typing became a quite necessary thing. Or at least I and my handful of beloved accomplices have always thought so. 

But what if that time should finally pass into history, and something far more caring and protective of Sierra Madre take its place? For one thing I wouldn't have to be sitting at the kitchen table at midnight writing stuff like this. Instead I'd be sleeping. Which honestly I'd much prefer to be doing at this moment. Though the bagel and iced tea I just made for myself taste pretty good.

However, while we are probably not quite at that point just yet, last night's City Council meeting did give me at least an indication that the luminescent glow on the horizon might actually be a sunrise. Rather than just another late night hillside brush fire, or somebody surreptitiously burning their trash.

So how good were last night's deliberations on the General Plan? Very good. I'm going to list here four or five of those finer moments and even wiser decisions. You might have noted a couple of them that I passed over, and I'd be grateful if you added your favorite moments here as well. I can't remember everything, you know.

But before we do that, let me just say that the Slow Growth Movement (in capitals because why not?) of this town won some very big victories last night. I am not certain anybody five years ago would have ever believed that such a thing could happen. We were all so underground back then. Anonymous, as it were. But apparently this did happen. Others called and confirmed it for me.

Matt Bryant, one of the leading lights in the newly formed Preserve Sierra Madre group, and a guy who knows his way around a microphone, gave what I thought was a pretty brilliant speech. But not only did he talk about some of the things that many of us have long hoped for, he actually made four of them stick. And by that I mean the City Council agreed with him, and then shuffled those notions straight into the General Plan deck where they'll do the most good.

They are:

1) Language is important. Somewhere along the line (it might have been the Planning Commission at a time when they really should have taken that coffee break) replaced the word "ensure" with "encourage" in their version of the updated General Plan. As in, "We need to encourage little Bobby not to hit the neighbor's puppy with a stick." Which is wrong. We need to ensure that Bobby doesn't hit the puppy because bratty little kids (and most developers) don't respond very well to encouragement. They need to be forced to behave. Matt Bryant asked that the word "ensure" be returned to the General Plan. The City Council said sure, why not. And then did it.

Yes!
2) The question of "lot splitting" was dealt with. The word dense (which can either describe the process of packing housing into a community or someone's intellectual limitations), is not what the people in Sierra Madre are looking for. And taking single house sites and then replacing what was there with twin Thin Man homes, is not what anyone really wants. The City Council responded to the request that this practice be severely curtailed by promising that they will do just that. And they put that into the General Plan as well.

3) Height restrictions had somehow vanished from the General Plan mix. Otherwise known as L7.3 (I was called an L7 in high school more than once), it had hopefully kept the forces of darkness from building looming two story shadow makers in neighborhoods where everything else is a sunny and very Sierra Madre single story. L7.3 was returned to the fold and the General Plan will now prevent so grievous a thing from ever happening again.

The next item is rather remarkable. It really is. I thought I should say that first.

4) Institute a Design Review Committee. What is a design review committee you might ask? It would be a group of people who would ensure (and not merely encourage) that the wisdom contained within the General Plan be applied to all new projects in town. Housing and otherwise. This is, in my opinion, a direct response to what happened with those two damned things being built on Camillo Road. The soon to depart Director Danny, of what was once unfortunately known as Development Services, claimed that these twin monsters met the legalistic requirements of that time, and therefore he had to give that crass idiot of a developer the approvals he wanted. But this was (to put it as nicely as possible) an error. The 1996 General Plan was not consulted, with the result being folks on Camillo Road will now forever suffer those twin monuments to City Hall faithlessness.

Other things happened, of course. Heather Allen noted that someone had slipped into the General Plan the term "largely built out." This in regards to the downtown area specifically, but might also be applied to the rest of the town as well. Heather wanted that changed to simply say "built out." Which is what was originally there. The City Council did that. Language counts, and we need to ensure (not just encourage) that the proper words are used. Otherwise the weasels will escape from their hutches and eat the chickens.

Mayor John Harabedian needs to be commended for the way he ran this meeting. The three minute clock was ignored, as was the Joe Mosca joy button. People went up to the podium whenever they felt the need to do so, had their say, and got a respectful response. The artificial border between City Council and concerned resident somehow melted away, and this truly became a community discussion.

Just neighbors talking to neighbors about how they want to see planning and land use done in this town, with little of that stupid and phony hauteur so prevalent during some of our previous Mayoral administrations. Nobody was told to sit down or threatened with being "taken out."

Quite a night. Now if we can get City Hall to live within its means (or should I say our means), while also instituting the proposed governmental reforms that are so obviously needed here, there could be some hope for this place yet.

Perhaps then I could retire this blog. Or better yet, just change the name to The California Tattler and go after the rest of the state. Lord knows that they deserve it.

We'll have to see. Like I said, we're not there yet. But closer than we were last month.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

81 comments:

  1. Abandoning the blog is City Hall's biggest dream! One of the major reasons that last night went so well is because of the Tattler. folks have been well informed for several years now and are beginning to act on the information you help provide. and frankly, City Hall is a bit fearful of your power and influence. an old rule of politics is that when you are ahead, you don't slow down; you press the pedal to the medal and get as far out ahead as you possibly can because the opposition will do it's best to catch up. Keep a going' Crawford. keep a going' good citizens of Sierra Madre.

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    1. Things could turn on a dime without the Tattler's watchful eye. None of us should forget that. One bad election and we're back to square one.

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    2. If the Tattler went away, things would revert back to the way they were. Not with this City Council because its composed of decent people, but the blowhards seem to gravitate to positions of power and authority so they would be back.

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    3. There is no one who has done more for Sierra Madre than John Crawford and the Tattler...and no I'm not John Crawford and I'm not is wife.

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    4. I agree with you 7:17. I think John Crawford has been the citizen of the year for the last five years. Thanks John.

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  2. I suppose it matters not when the citizens speak at the podium if the re-play on KGEM is edited for spin and has no comments from the podium. We shall see.

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  3. It was a great meeting for a change. Mayor Harabedian is to be commended as are the usual council members. Heather was brilliant. And while it was suggested that city hall had nothing to do with changing or writing any of the general plan, I think it is fair to say that the city staff had a verbal say in changes. Council relies on staff for info. Verbal communication is rampant and can have an effect on what the council or the planning commission thinks. We need the city staff to back the desires of the citizens who pay their salaries. There are changes needed at city hall. As tired as you may be, John, we still need you. Hopefully in the future your blog will only have to be about the good things here. I'm afraid if you take on the state, you will never rest.

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    1. I'll only trust Harabedian when he's off the Council - still have issues with him being unethical with his campaign marketing to get elected and how he's placing himself on political causes as a Mayor to promote himself

      maybe he's a good secretary and that's it?

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    2. I think the Mayor should be given more credit for what has happened. If he was in the Nancy Walsh model, it would be a completely different ballgame. He is respectful and genuinely listens to the residents. He is also a smart person. So far, he has done a great job and we need to give him credit for that.

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    3. John is doing a good job because we are holding his feet to the fire. If Noah had been elected the situation would be much different now.

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    4. There does exist the possibility that John is doing a good job because he believes in what he is supporting. But even if he doesn't, the fact that he would see himself as a representative of the community and actually listens to what they have to say, is also a nice trait. Either way, he is to be commended.

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    5. still, he cheated ethics to get elected

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    6. Yes, 1:52 is right, there was that little matter of violating the law in his promotional materials. Just means don't trust him completely.

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    7. I have not seen anyone run a meeting or deal with the public as well as he does.

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  4. I think it's the one-two punch of concerned citizenry and cutting the $$ to pay for big pensions.

    This General Plan update is far from done. Keep up the heat, Sierra Madre concerned citizens!

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  5. There was a turning point last night but don't forget, we were all surprised by the unanimity reached at the Moratorium vote which tells me that the Moratorium vote was not a aberration. I would say a few things have happened. First, we now have a Mayor who behaves like a gentleman and runs about the best meeting that the residents could hope for.. We also have some darn good people on the City Council who care about the community and I include Gene Goss in that group. We are all not going to agree on everything, but I really believe that every one of the City Council members is trying their best to do what's right by this community. There may be more than one path to get there, but their hearts seem to be in the right place. I think we have also all come to the realization that Sierra Madre is worth preserving. There is no other town like it in the San Gabriel Valley and the residents understand that.
    Then we get to the Tattler. What a role the Tattler has played in shining a spotlilght on hypocracy and bad policy. If only other cities could have a Tattler keeping an eye on things, you can bet that thy would be a lot better off. The Tattler keeps the residents informed and even if one disagrees with some of its positions, it starts a debate on issues that need to put in the light and debated.
    Unfortunatey though, we and the Tattler need to remain vigilant because we are only one election away from returning to the old way of doing things. But I'm with the Tattler, a new dawn seems to have arrived here in Sierra Madre.

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    1. We can descend into darkness again before you know it. So stay informed and speak out!

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  6. I think it starts with Mayor Harabedian and the way he conducts himself up there. That set the tone for the interaction with the residents and the interaction among the council members. We also have some new additions to the City Council who are really making a difference.

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    1. yeah but he's still anti Measure V and pro UUT

      so is Goss

      and both were endorsed by John Buchanan

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    2. The UUT can cut a few different ways. I would like to continue to monitor how everyone does going foward and not see anyone tainted by Buchanan. Buchanan has to endorse someone and that doesn't mean that person will emulate and agree with everything Buchanan wants.

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    3. I keep waiting for Gene to show me something.

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    4. So far Gene has shown us he's in favor of the Moratoriums and in favor of preserving this town. Not too bad in the short time he's been in office.

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    5. I don't recall him showing much leadership on this issues. My guess is he voted for these because he didn't want to cast the only NO votes.

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    6. Gene may surprise us up there.

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    7. Gene is know to this whole City Council thing. He'll do just fine. He just needs a little seasoning and experience.

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  7. Sorry Tattler, but we will always need you. It may be safe for you to branch out a bit right now because the entire State of California is going down the drain but don't let up on Sierra Madre. We still have a ways to go.

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  8. @ 6:42- Good morning Gene Goss. well, it's either you or your wife that wrote that post. Nice try to bump up your image, riding, once again, on others coat tails

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    1. Gene did come to a realization about what the red lines in the GP update paperwork were for. Give him a break.

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    2. Just don't ask Gene-O to understand a budget. That's a bridge too far.

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    3. 6:42's comment is excellent, and 7:06 has an allergic reaction to Goss.

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    4. Gene will get up to speed eventually. I think he made the assumption that being on the City Council was easy, and that all he'd have to do is make empathy sounds to get by. Not the case.

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    5. Did you know Gene grew up on a ranch? he knows how to fix things.

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    6. He got a chance to talk about that when he went door to door during the campaign.

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    7. As long as Gene Goss gets to the right result, it doesn't matter to me how he gets there. While Goss may still be trying to get his sea legs up there and maybe is more reticent than some others, at least he has not actively tried to thwart the over-development crowd. For that, he should be commended. He also voted correctly on the Moratoriums. For those giving Gene a hard time, imagine if instead of Gene, you had Walsh, Mosco or some others up there. Gene is going to learn the ropes, he lives in the community and hopefully has the community's interests at heart and so let's see how he does going forward. So far, he has done a good job.

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    8. I'm not as optimistic as you are 11:35, but I'm willing to keep an open mind.
      He seems kind of lost at the meetings. I agree with the earlier comment that he might not have known how much work and study was necessary to prepare for meetings.
      And you meant he hasn't tried to thwart the "anti-over-development" crowd, right?
      Easier to just say Slow Growth. The "anti-over-development" is a phrase created by the defense we were forced into when the pro-over-development folks started accusing us of being against all and any development - like the extremists they really are.

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    9. That & Gene loves him some higher taxes!!

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    10. Meant to say he has not supported over-development thus far and seems to be a slow and sustainble growth guy. If that continues he scores a few points with me on that issue. Let's see how he does on other important matters facing the city.

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    11. Tax me Goose!

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    12. imagine if lame brain Noah Green had been elected

      he'd be trying to promote Halloween tourism

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  9. Congratulations to Matt Bryant and all those incredible people who worked so hard reviewing the General Plan and making suggestions to the Council for a better General Plan!

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    1. Matt is a real keeper.

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    2. Think we could get him to run for council?

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  10. I love the idea of a Design Review Committee. Hopefully we will get some people who are really dedicated too the principles expressed in that document, It is the will of the people, and the people need to defend it. This committee will do that.

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    1. When Tom Pendelbury was on the planning commission he spoke to the need of a Design Review Board for many years..... It no one was listening.

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  11. I don't know what happened to the mayor on Independence Day, but apparently social ostracism during parades is also a very effective political tool for our residents.

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  12. I agree that a design review committee is a good thing, but like anything we want to ensure it does not get out of hand. We don't want one homogeneous look for all houses in Sierra Madre. Part of the charm is the eclectic mix of mismatched houses. I love walking down the street and seeing a ranch house next to a 1920's craftsman, next to a Spanish revival, next to a sleek ultra modern house. I even like the glass house on Laurel. It may be different looking, but in terms of size and scale, it is well within the limits of the surrounding houses. Part of why my family moved to Sierra Madre was the homey eclectic, not all the same houses on the block feel. I would hate to see a design review committee push Sierra Madre in a direction where everything started to look the same.

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    1. A Design Review Committee will not tell you what kind of Design you may pick from, but it will help the process to make sure that the home's size, for instance is generally compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. It will also give the neighbors a chance to voice their concerns if a design will adversely impact on the value of their home. That will usually happen, not because you built a Craftsman vs. a Glass Modern, but because the configuration or size of the home will block your views or privacy. I don't think anyone can argue that its fair for one person's dream home or a developer's gain, should result in the loss in value for the surrounding neighbors who could be adversely impacted. If the neighbor's concerns are unwarranted or illogical, then they lose. If their arguments have some merit, then the design should be modified to take into account the neighbors' concerns. A Design Review Committee would be an excellent idea.

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    2. I think it's a necessary idea, given the aggressive and underhanded nature of the majority of developers.

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    3. Its one more layer that can help protect and preserve the town. Other cities have seen the result with over-development gets away from you. Before you know it, the city is runined. It can all happen very quickly.

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  13. That's not what we had in mind for a review board. We want to stop the cookie cutter look.

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    1. A design review committee would be there to make certain that the guidelines in the General Plan are followed. That is pretty much it. Like the Planning Commission they wouldn't be there to actual design anyone's house.

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    2. Looks like the PC just designed Adele's cottages

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    3. My guess is the Planning Commission is following a script created by the city atty. One designed to weaken CETT's lawsuit as much as possible. She has the PC bending over backwards, even when McDonald attacks them personally like he did at the last meeting. The approval of that one ridiculous house is no longer the issue. It is what CETT's atty will have to use in court.

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    4. Shoulda fired the City Attorney back in 2012.

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    5. The Planning Commission should have shown CETT the door a long time ago. No one should be allowed to abuse the proces the way this developer and their attorney did. It used up alot of valuable time of the Planning Commission and the residents. They should be penalized in some manner for their conduct.

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    6. This stopped being about the house months ago. It is all about the lawsuit now.

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    7. With CETT, we will need to engage in hand to hand combat as Bob Spears said - every step of the way to hold these people to the fire. They are not good neighbors or friends of the community. Its all about the money for them and we need to make them spend it.

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  14. The cable messed up again. Need to tell Elaine, again. She said it would be fixed by last week. Oh wait, maybe she did fix it.

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    1. I called KGEM last night and they told me not to worry. Everything will be fixed in time for the next meeting.

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    3. I tried to watch on the computer last night and it was a mess. Looks like nothing has changed.

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    4. Just tried to check, but can't because KGEM is not playing the meeting from last night (though it was playing the rerun last night!)
      I tried to watch the meeting, and saw the broadcast working in fits and starts. I think what happens then is that when the tape is played back, any of the stop/start points are deleted. Or something. Very frustrating

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    5. There hasn't been "tape" for many years....

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    6. Too bad. At least tape would work.

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    7. Make the city go back to the bidding war of you feel KGEM is doing a lousy job... I assure you that the market has gotten a lot more competitive since and if you feel that upset about their lack of service then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Don't just sit in front of your computer screen, go and voice your frustrations!

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  15. Do we know when the General Plan will be finished and put into effect? Are we getting close?

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    1. What I've heard is that the Environmental Impact Report consultant will need around 6 months to cut and paste this thing. At a cost of $250,000, btw. Once that is finished the updated General Plan should be good to go.

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    2. We have to have a consultant? Elaine said it would take 9 months for that. I'm sure it could be done faster than that.

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    3. The General Plan needs to be finalized as soon as reasonably possible. However, we don't want to approve a fault document. Its very good but not quite there yet. We are right here at the end. A little more effort and we can get it right. Then it becomes the blueprint for the city for the next 20 years.

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  16. We don't need a consultant.
    Use Delmar, Harabedian and Arizmundi.
    MacGillivray and Willis will help.
    Price is right for top class competent people who live in Sierra Madre

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    1. Part of the joy of hiring a consultant, for the city manager anyway, is that she can trust that the money will also buy her the agenda she wants. Trust me, that agenda is not slow growth.

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    2. Slow growth won't pay for those Platinum Pensions. Elaine may be jealous of millionaire Nancy Walsh.

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    3. Nobody can fund raise quite like Elaine. Don't sell her short!

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    4. We don't need a consultant. Its been picked over enough. It is close to being good to go.

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    5. Staff wants to stall the general plan so the Mater Dolorosa development can get done.

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  17. Where is Tom Pendelbury? hope he happy in his retirement, hope he reads this blog. Hope the Tattler will keep up the great work, but I will be just as pleased to read the California Blogtail. SMILE.

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    1. 4:04 seems to have started Happy Hour about 56 minutes early.

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    2. I'm jealous. Mine started an hour late.

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  18. Couldn't have gone better last night. Let's keep the pressure on and get this done.

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  19. How do we tell them we don't want an outside consultant? Or if we have to have one can there be a volunteer group to make sure Elaine doesn't get her way?

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