|Ten very long years ago.|
This isn't going to be too long of a post. A lot of people spoke at last evening's City Council meeting, and it should be obvious to everyone that nobody needs any lessons from me about how to save a town. Last night Sierra Madre knew how to save itself.
Somebody should make a movie about how all of this happened. There wouldn't be a dry eye at the bijou, with standing ovations every time it was shown. Just like there was last night when the City Council cast its remarkable unanimous vote to save this town from becoming an Arcadia North.
But, being a sentimental guy and all, and someone who has been mixing it up for a while, I thought I would take a minute and tell you about a guy named Salvatore Tesoro. He would need to be included in that movie somewhere. Maybe at the beginning, ten years ago when the One Carter debacle began and things were very different from what they are today.
I'm not sure how many people remember Salvatore. He was the guy who at that time put out a newspaper called The Sierra Madre News. It hasn't been published in years of course, but no matter. The screenshot above is a headline from one of its most celebrated editions. It is from almost a full ten years ago. The time when all of the really bad stuff first began to happen, then kept on going and, until last night, never seemed like it was going to end.
2005 was the year that a City Council, remarkably different from today's iteration, sold our town out to a developer, one that was supposedly going to build houses at One Carter. This despite the fact that hundreds of Sierra Madre residents had showed up at those City Council meetings back then and literally pleaded with them not to do it. And were ignored for their pains, at times vilified in the most incredible ways, and worse.
Some of those people were at last night's meeting. Some even spoke. They've been fighting for years, and never quit. Not even once.
As you might have guessed, those houses never happened. Being ridiculously inept, the developer our 2004 City Council so blessed us with quickly ran out of money. But not before he had stripped that little woodland hillside retreat of its ancient trees and orange groves. He was more of an unwelcome tree removal service than house builder.
Then this same fellow spent the next few years suing the City of Sierra Madre for the temerity of having given him carte blanche to destroy a priceless natural resource.
As the 2004 City Council proved, no bad deed goes unpunished, either.
This terrible blunder cost the taxpayers of this city hundreds of thousands of dollars in court and legal fees. Some even say millions. All to defend us from the developer the 2004 City Council had handed One Carter to rape and plunder. It was probably the single worst decision ever made by an elective body in this town's history. And, as you saw last night, the potential consequences are still very much with us today.
Salvatore was, and still is I assume, the kind of guy who believes in telling the truth no matter who it offends. He was not perfect at it, few truth tellers are, and he made many enemies along the way. Sometimes unnecessarily. But he was a fighter, and put everything he had into what he believed in.
Nor was he all that easy to get along with. I think the last thing Salvatore ever said to me was, "How did you get my phone number?" He changed phone numbers often. Considering the amount of heat he was taking from certain unhinged parties at that time, Salvatore had some good reasons for doing that.
This would have been after he had run for City Treasurer and lost. He got around 10% of the vote in a two man contest. After that most of us never heard from him again, though he still lives here.
Salvatore Tesoro was spot on about a number of things, and one of them was the betrayal of the people of Sierra Madre by their elected officials over One Carter. On this, and later the DSP (where we actually won), he was gloriously relentless.
It was an unhappy moment in this city's history, and Salvatore captured it all on the pages of his Sierra Madre News. He called the bad guys out, and trust me, they hated him for it. Literally. The above screenshot to me is the perfect encapsulation of what truly was a dark and ugly hour.
Unfortunately, it also wasn't enough.
Who knew that it would take a full decade to finally set all of that right? And if the above Sierra Madre News banner headline marked the beginning of a very long, contentious and strange trip, last night might very well be the long awaited happy ending. I personally think it is. I hope Salvatore was watching.
I'd call him and ask, but I don't have his phone number. I'd also like to say thanks. He stood up and put it all on the line when that was not the easiest thing to do. Like so many who got involved, an outsider who stood up. He did it the best he knew how.
One more thing before I call it a day
Would you believe that for the first time since the One Carter troubles began we as a city no longer just reacted to the threat of lawsuits and whatever other (to use a now famous phrase) "self-serving BS" the developer cooked up? A wall protecting us from all of that has now been built. It’s now clear what we want, and how we intend to get it. Developers must now either honor that or get lost.
After last night it is all coming into place. Throw in the soon to be completed General Plan and we will become a fortress of sorts. The town where the people just said no.
This is a tremendous victory.
Since the very beginning of the One Carter troubles we never had a city government that managed do what this City Council accomplished last night. One brief yet glorious version tried, and thankfully put into place some of the tools that finally got used to good purpose last night. But the rest couldn't have cared less, or worse. Go take a look at Camillo Road if you don't believe me.
Today we have the legal apparatus, parameters and now precedent to prevent McMansionization and other forms of bad development in this town. In a way it is a Measure V for everywhere. Minus the vote, of course.
For those of us who have been fighting to stop more One Carters from ever happening here, and curb the effects of that original one for the last 10 years (or even longer if you throw in Maranantha), it seems almost unbelievable.
You do know that we're not through, right? There is so much more that needs to be done. Don't go getting too comfortable.
But we can talk about all of that later. Today, let's celebrate and remember. And thank the many remarkable people who fought this fight, both now, ten years ago, and all that long time in between.