Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Demo Moratorium Could Turn Into A Sierra Madre Showdown Tonight - Plus More On Embezzlegate: Pasadena's Sheri Stevenson Speaks Out

At risk Sierra Madre
Mod: The word on the streets of Sierra Madre is there will be some opposition to the Interim Demolition Moratorium this evening, with the folks who want to bulldoze the Henry A. Darling home apparently planning on being front and center with their colorful array of complaints (link). In a widely distributed e-mailing yesterday Preserve Sierra Madre put it this way: "A demolition moratorium is particularly crucial because the owner of 126 E. Mira Monte has submitted an application to demolish a beautiful 1907 Craftsman home complete with such classic Craftsman architectural details like box beam ceilings, wainscoting and a river rock fireplace."

This particular home is now at the center of the debate because it represents what many in Sierra Madre are fighting to save. That is preserving heritage homes from the kinds of mansionization that have afflicted our now otherworldly looking neighbor down the hill. The fact remains the owner of the Henry A. Darling house really does want to build something far larger on that property. Something that therefore makes this a not atypical example of a very unfortunate phenomenon.

The nonsense argument that will likely be dragged out tonight is there is a sacred covenant floating somewhere in the developer-speak ether declaring newly arrived property owners have the right to do as they wish with their land, while the rights of people who already live (and own) in this community should somehow be completely ignored. And whatever claims current residents might have to legacy, privacy, views, air and sunlight (not to mention hanging on to their existing property values), cannot hold a stick to the luminous principles protecting mostly out-of-town McMansion builders. No matter how invasive or destructive their intentions, or where they get their funding.

You see, McMansion builders are actually freedom fighters. No, really. Just not for any of your freedoms. They prefer the one that claims they can take whatever they like, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Things could get heated tonight. You really do need to tune in.

Pasadena's Sheri Stevenson speaks out

Pasadena City Hall Insider: As a former co-worker and one who admired Sheri Stevenson immensely, I commend her to you as an unimpeachable source.  She has worked tirelessly to restore a sense of dignity and fairplay to City of Pasadena workers.  When the PMA layoffs began, employees became apprehensive, felt threatened, and did not know whom to trust.  The interim HR Director, literally a plant installed by Michael Beck, maintained dossiers on all of the dissidents, working closely with the City Manager's office to create an atmosphere of fear and isolation.  Sheri Stevenson brought light to the ugly, ugly chapter in the history of the  City of Roses that is Michael Beck.  She continues to bring hope to those who unjustly lost their jobs. Yesterday Sheri posted these comments to this site.

In 2012, Mr. Beck laid off Jean Luter, a Management Analyst in the Finance Department and, similar to those in 2011, an outspoken Budget Watchdog. Ms. Luter, another well-respected, older (over 50) African-American employee, had amongst her duties the oversight of all City purchasing cards (credit cards). Immediately prior to being laid off, Ms. Luter had recommended that a couple of the department heads be sanctioned for improper use of City purchasing cards. She recommended that certain restrictions be put in place with impartial oversight by the Finance Department. Less than one month later, Ms. Luter was laid off, and the department heads were made responsible for monitoring and approving their own purchasing card expenditures.

In 2012, I was also laid off. I was Vice-President of PMA, a Management Analyst, and an outspoken Budget Watchdog in the Public Works Department. In fact, Mr. Beck publicly labeled me Pasadena’s “Resident Contrarian” because it irked him when I questioned inaccuracies in the budget. 

I could go on, but my three minutes will be up shortly. A common theme here is that there are many, many City employees who were and are honest, ethical, long-term City employees. We took pride in our work and weren’t afraid to speak up and question, challenge, and verify. Laying us off was an “in your face” message to the rest of the City employee population that it is, in fact, very dangerous to follow the mantra of “If you see something, say something.” 

Laying us off contributed to a culture of fear for those employees who would speak the truth. And believe me, there’s a lot more that could be said. If Pasadena’s H.R. Department had given it any thought, they would have been wise to do exit interviews with laid off employees, as they would have nothing to lose at that point to discuss the many, many additional things each of us knows and could share with a listening ear. Instead, City employees still working quickly learned to keep their mouths shut.

When asked if this investigation would impact his job, Mr. Beck replied, “As it relates to me personally, this isn’t about me, it’s about the City of Pasadena and ultimately we need to ensure that we can rebuild confidence that the community can have with the City of Pasadena, and that’s what we will strive to do.” 

I would ask you, if it’s not about Mr. Beck, if it’s not about the City Manager who leads our fine City, then who is it about?

Ironically, the same day that the FBI set up their command post in Pasadena and the Department of Homeland Security worked with Pasadena’s TART team to secure the city for New Year’s events, Mr. Beck sent a letter to City employees in which he borrowed a law enforcement phrase. “If you see something, say something,” he encouraged them.

Let me tell you, from personal experience, what happens when you do just that. In 2011, Mr. Beck laid off Susie Sulzbach, an honest PMA President, Management Analyst, and outspoken Budget Watchdog. 

In 2011, Mr. Beck also laid off George Owens, Pasadena’s own Internal Auditor. Mr. Owens was a well-respected, older (over 50) African-American employee who saved the City of Pasadena more than enough money each year to cover his own salary (including benefits and burden) plus significantly more. 

CM Beck apparently did not appreciate the close scrutiny and recommendations for checks and balances that Mr. Owens professionally provided to all departments, including the City Manager's own office. In the City's closing brief regarding the 2011 arbitration requested by PMA (page 11), it states the following, "Grievant Owens was an internal auditor who was assigned audits directly by Mr. Green and reported directly to Mr. Green. In evaluating the impact on the Finance Department, Mr. Green determined that Grievant Owens’ loss would have a minimum impact on the Finance Department as Grievant Owens was in a single-purpose position. Grievant Owens duties could, when necessary, be conducted by an outside auditor or those audits would be conducted by Mr. Green or one of Mr. Green's immediate subordinates." 

Apparently Mr. Andrew Green, Finance Director, did not, in fact, conduct any audits personally, especially in the Finance Department, and he felt that singling out the City's auditor would have "minimum impact." $6.4 million in losses seems to prove that Mr. Green's actions were short-sighted at best and demonstrate fiduciary irresponsibility at worst. 

Another comment of interest was left here last evening.

City Hall employees used to be surveyed about the city and the city manager - since Beck arrived, that stopped. The City has yet to complete a 5-7 year old classification study for all employees to ensure they're actually doing what they're paid to do (or not paid to do). The morale of the entire city is dead. It doesn't exist unless you're one of Michael's direct reports or someone else on the gravy train (basically all his hires....lots of money but nothing to show for it). 

If the city council really wanted to know whats going on in Pasadena, they don't need investigators, they need to sit down and have an honest conversation with the 3,000 employees that actually do the work in this down. But that will never happen because they're all a part of this political backscratching system they created and they know exactly what the issues are but refuse to resolve them. It's just too convenient to have a yes man as city manager, even if it costs taxpayers millions of dollars. 

Paid investigators over simple conversations between elected officials and those who work there? Has it really gotten that bad? Is that what the elected officials there believe the taxpayers want them to do, conduct a government by consultant?

We will continue to monitor the situation in Pasadena as closely as possible. What started out as a case of embezzlement is now becoming so much more. 

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

99 comments:

  1. Weeping for PasadenaJanuary 27, 2015 at 5:45 AM

    Re Pasadena and the missing million$$:
    Nothing to see here, move along.

    Beck, Terry Tornek and Jacque Robinson need to go. TODAY.

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    1. From FB Invoicegate attributed to Phillip Koebel:

      Here's the sequence... July 2013 MSC asks about UUP. No response for 9 months. May 13, 2014 MSC asks again about UUP and Tornek pops a blood vessel. 5/27/2014 Bagneris asks DA to get involved. 5/28/2014 DA asks for secrecy. Bagneris and Beck issue gag order to Staff and Council. Beck hires KPMG in early June. KPMG completes audit early November. Beck asks and Council gives raises for Foster and Green in late November. On 12/30/14, DA makes arrests and City holds press conference and Tornek posts May 13 MSC meeting on his campaign website. On 1/5/2015, Foster and Green do powerpoint. On 1/20/2015, Beck fires Foster and Green without cause.

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  2. That 1907 Craftsman home is the poster child of why we need a moratorium. You don't buy that kind of a home if your intention is to tear it down. The kind of people who buy those kinds of homes are the same ones who will pick it up off of its foundation and haul it a hundred miles down the road if they have to or take it apart piece by piece, label the pieces and re-build it exactly the way it is somewhere else if they have to. Take a look at the interior photos of that home. It truly is a classic that should not be torn down. If the owners had wanted a bigger home, then buy a bigger home - don't tear down Sierra Madre's treasures.

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    1. Unfortunately, this is how it all starts. People come in and start tearing down architecturally significant homes and then you lose the City. Of all the homes, that should not be torn down, this would be right up there at the top of the list. Can you imagine the history of that home. As a general rule of thumb, if a home has a name like the Henry A. Darling House, it should probably not be torn down.

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    2. Agreed. The poster from a few days ago who said it had to be demoed because the rock foundation was earthquake proof was full of cr*p. Preservationists have the house jacked up and the foundation rebuilt. Happens all the time.

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    3. Every person who cares about this city needs to draw a line in the sand right here. If the Henry A. Darling House can be torn down, then none of Sierra Madre's treasures are safe. Come to the meeting or email your City Council and urge them to enact the demolition moratorium.

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    4. Good point 6:32. While its not cheap to replace a foundation, I would venture to say it probably a bit cheaper than spending over $900,000 for a home, demolishing it and then re-building a significantly larger home. Like any buyer, they would have done an inspection and probably had an expert look at the foundation if that was an issue. If it was going to be more than they could handle, they should not have bought the home.

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    5. Just out of curiosity, does Sierra Madre have a Historical Society. Where are those people in all of this? In Pasadena, the historical society would have been all over this situation. They need to get engaged too and not leave it up to others to preserve this town.

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    6. Good question. If this house was a horseshoe nail you'd never hear the end of it.

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    7. Glen Lambdin demoed the Historical Society when he was Mayor. Very pleased with himself.

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    8. 7;30 Yes there is a very active one , you must not live in town

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    9. Its hard to believe that we have no historical society in Sierra Madre? I suppose someone could tear down LIzzy's Tavern if they wanted to. What's next?

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    10. The President of the Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society is Amy Putnam. Amy is a close political ally of former Mayor Nancy Walsh and served as Treasurer for Nancy's efforts to pass a draconian UUT increase last spring. See how these things tie together? I don't think those hoping to preserve Sierra Madre's heritage homes will find much love from that quarter. http://www.smhps.org/board.html

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    11. Will Ms. Walsh be speaking tonight? Her talks are so vibrant.

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    12. Researched onlne and came up with an Historical Preservation Society that operates through the auspices of the Sierra Madre Library. As 9:22 am states, in appears to be very active. However, it does not function as a commission or committee and offers no actual preservation of structures including homeowners or interested persons appearing before it to apply for status. That entity was in the past controversial and ultimately dismissed by Glen Lambdin during his tenure as Mayor. Apples and Oranges.

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    13. Considering the language Nancy used at her last talk maybe she will have some new tattoos to show us.

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    14. 9:48 translated - they don't give a fig about preserving Sierra Madre's heritage homes.

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    15. 9:48 - then how do you account for this page? http://www.smhps.org/historic-properties.html

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    16. Just visited the Historical Society site and I must say I was impressed. It's colorful, fun and up to date for the 2014-2015 cycle. Parts of it are still under construction. However, it's not to be confused with the now defunct Cultural Heritage Commission which served an entirely different purpose. Would that the new City Council could find the time to consider re-establshing this sorely missed commisson!

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    17. Is it perky? A lot of people prefer that.

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    18. 9:22 - you state this group is "very active." Can you cite some of the things they have accomplished?

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    19. 9:48. Please, no.

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    20. This is for 12:08 do your own research But just this weekend there was a very well attended (200apx) history of the trails and sierra madre by about a dozen authors

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    21. That's nice. Where do they stand on preserving classic Sierra Madre homes such as the one on Mira Monte?

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    22. 1:17 someone pointed out to you earlier in this post that the historical society is not the cultural heritage commision they do ( Did ) not have the same goals

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    23. I thought it was a joke.

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    24. So they're under orders to not have an opinion, and they're obeying? That is a very strange thing to me.

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    25. Maybe they are like the Sierra Madre Environmental Action group. They care about Bailey Canyon, but that's it. Never understood why they were silent in the Carter mess, or why they don't call themselves the Bailey Canyon Action group.

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    26. 3:54 - Anything that has to do with Nancy Walsh is truly bizarre. 6:09 - I agree! Where are those people?

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  3. Don't let anyone tell you that there is something so wrong with that home, that it can't be fixed. One post from the Tattler link talked about the river rock foundation. There are many houses that have river rock foundations in southern California. Often times and over many years and earthquakes and what not, they are in need of repair. You can either jack up the house or shore it up by building a parallel foundation. You don't just tear it down unless that was your intention in the first place.

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    1. You are correct. The foundation is fixable. I do that work. It is dirty and uncomfortable to do the work in such a confined space -in the crawl space with the spiders and rat poop. But it is doable because such labor is low skill and cheap.
      What is not cheap are the exorbitant Development Impact Fees the City of Sierra Madre charges owners trying to restore/improve old homes. These Fees are so high that when I present a bid ,the homeowner sees that over half the cost is Fees .They either decline the much needed restoration work/sell/ or get a bootleg job done. Most of the work is under the house so the Inspector/neighbors never see the workers.
      So goes the Law of unintended consequences. The old homes fall into such advanced disrepair ,it is easy to claim they need a demolition not a restoration !
      Solution : encourage restoration ,not development. Re-think the unhelpful Fees as a start. Encourage restoration to Code, with Permit and Inspection. The current Fees have a totally negative Impact on restoration.
      And yes, I am biased. I do this restoration work- but seldom in Sierra Madre any more. But I also love old houses and hate to see them demolished just because of greedy pension-boosting Fees.

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    2. Great comment. Thank you.

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    3. Thanks for the insight 9:04 although I'm surprised there would be development impact fees on an existing home that is just being repaired. I'd like to know exactly what the owners discovered about this home that they didn't know after they did all their inspections and still bought the home. I can't think of too many people who buy a classic Craftsman like that to simply bulldoze it. It really doesn't make sense. If there is something that need fixing in Sierra Madre's rules to promote the restoration of homes, I'm all for it. But you have to have a buyer and an owner with a certain mindset. Its obviously a different mindset with you are willing to apply for a demolition permit.

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  4. The "development is freedom" crowd is a small but colorful group of characters. Their arguments are usually so logic impaired that people break out in laughter.

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  5. We need people to voice their opinions at the meeting. The Council only seems to listen when people are there. The same goes for the Planning Commission. We need to fill that room, also.

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  6. If you go to Redfin and read the real estate agent's marketing remarks, they say: "This home exudes a kind of permanence and sense of place that can only be earned." Evidently the "Henry A. Darling House" did not earn enough to prevent the wrecking ball. The real estate agent goes on to say: "Extensive intact period features make this home the perfect restoration project." My conclusion, the "Henry A. Darling House' found the wrong buyer.

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  7. Awesome description Tattler:
    "...a sacred covenant floating somewhere in the developer-speak ether declaring newly arrived property owners have the right to do as they wish with their land, while the rights of people who already live (and own) in this community should somehow be completely ignored"

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    1. It will be interesting to see if any of the Bob the Builder cult actually tries to use that. They're not exactly creative and haven't come up with new material in years.

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    2. That was actually only hit on a little. The biggest theme of the night was that we have enough rules and regulations right now. Don't worry.

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  8. “Show down. Story at 10.” Once gain you exaggerate. No different than the rest of the media.

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    1. 9:04 clearly doesn't follow city business closely. The Vance family appeared before the planning commission at its last meeting, and said the moratorium was unfair. Maybe for them, it is. They will be there tonight to ask for an exception. That's a potential problem.

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    2. Hey 9:04 its "again" not "gain." Totally different meaning.

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    3. 9:20 We went thru this last week the family that appeared before the last planing commission last meeting do not own the Darling house it was another property !!!!

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    4. We do not need Grammar police ,i was just a typing mistake

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    5. Gain is a laundry detergent. But it is also a dog food.

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    6. Come on, you guys, eye on the donut not on the hole!

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    7. I've seen that donut. The hole is the best part.

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    8. You always need the Grammar Police.

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    9. Then it appears that the Grammar Police does not know the difference between a spelling error and a grammar error as they left several such errors unaddressed. Besides, spel is a four letter word.

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    10. 10:49, right. I did not post a remark that confused the issue, but you did. The Darling house will not be demolished, yet, if the moratorium goes into effect. Also impacted by the moratorium are another family in another house on another street who are going to be asked to be exempt from the moratorium. So we know that at least one family will be there who will be against the moratorium, and it's likely there will be more. Clear?

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    11. Can't resist - 12:21, it's "the grammer police do not know", not "does not know."

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    12. Existentially YoursJanuary 27, 2015 at 12:49 PM

      Who am me?

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    13. That ain't right.

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    14. Grammar police is the nom de plume of an individual, therefore as third person singular: he does not know, not do not know as in third person plural: they do not know...whatcha think?

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    15. Being the Grammar Police is a thankless job. In the end all they have is each other. That is why they have formed the GPOA.

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    16. In that case, 5:04, it would be Grammar Policeman or Policewoman.

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    17. That would be Grammar Policeperson. You're welcome.

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  9. Anyone who doesn't support the demolition moratorium must take a drive to Camillo. From Grandview, turn north and go about one lot up. It's a nightmare.
    Actually, now that they are painted dark, you can see them from Grandview itself.
    Remarkably bad result of demolition.
    Anyone know who the architect was?

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  10. Once again, people need to show up at the meeting tonight. We need that domolition moratorium to give everyone a chance to catch their breath and survey the homes that may have historical significance. Why this wasn't done long ago, is a mystery to me but better late than never. Email.the City Council if you can't attend the meeting. It will take you all of three minutes but it can make a difference. It all comes down to whether the person who wants to bulldoze our historical treasures cares more about their potential gain than the community cares about the loss of its historical treasures.

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  11. It was the cultural heritage commission that was dismissed under Glenn Lambden not the historial society. The historial society is a group of folks who flail around and get a modest amount done as the group of 10 'active members have 12 passive ideas. Typical problem of a small town: big fish in small pond.

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    1. Their website has been under construction for an eternity.

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  12. Harabedian John <jharabedian@cityofsierramadre.com
    Capoccia John <jcapoccia@cityofsierramadre.com
    Arizmendi Rachelle <rarizmendi@cityofsierramadre.com
    Delmar Denise <ddelmar@cityofsierramadre.com
    Goss Gene <ggoss@cityofsierramadre.com

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  13. I have heard a rumor that the pro over-development side is finally organizing and plans to actually make it to a meeting tonight. Huh.

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    1. Go ahead, make my day.

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  14. Yes, there was a Cultural Heritage Commission. The ordinance still exists but the commission was dismissed and the duties turned over to the Planning Commission. All this was the fall out of a protracted fight againt preservation by the property rights group that objected to their historic homes being listed without their permission. This is also why the City of Sierra Madre received a C- grade from the Los Angeles Preservation group (I may have that name wrong). A group of preservationist hired Susan Brant-Holley and sued the city of Sierra Madre and won. The city had to pay the lawyers fee ($250,000) and redo their removal of the houses listed through a legal ordinance not just a sweeping City Council resolution. It was Bart Doyle who orchestrated this mess, trying to delist the homes without doing environmental review. Preserving vintage homes and neighborhoods also preserves the environment: trees, water, open space, etc. There is state legislative language now regarding historic preservation: Margaret Buckner vs the City of Sierra Madre. Probably on line.

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    1. It is always money that drives these destructive individuals. They prey on the gullible.

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    2. John Vanderveld went on and on and on and on, even when Mayor Harabedian asked him to wrap it up - his reply "I only have five minutes left." Thank God he is no longer part of the Planning Commission!

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  15. I'm really looking forward to seeing who comes out to speak against the utterly reasonable and conscionable demolition moratorium.

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    1. Those who want to build their "dream house." Hello, why don't you actually buy a vacant lot (none of which exist in Sierra Madre). One of them said, "4000 sq ft is not a McMansion." Huh? Is your name Adele Chang?

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  16. I am not in Sierra Madre tonight. I am running a music event in Long Beach. I still have to work for a living, and I do stuff like that. I will be following along here, so let me know what you see. Thanks!

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  17. Demolition permit applied for on a property on North Grove, second house down from Bailey Canyon gate on the west side!

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    1. They are adding a 500 sq foot addition.

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  18. Sitting in the audienceJanuary 27, 2015 at 7:27 PM

    The Chambers are packed.

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    1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

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  19. Let's face it, this particular house is not really historically significant. It's looks dark and drafty compared to modern housing. It's hasn't been well kept and it's foundation is not well suited to earthquake country.

    But you know what it does appear to have going for it? Honesty. The lucky homeowner who resides in it can daily enjoy the locally sourced river rock and old-growth timber that provide their shelter. They can rest comfortably in the kind of cozy surrounding unique to the true craftsman style. Should this house be razed it is likely to be replaced with fake wood veneers, fake rocks veneers, plastic-laminated cabinets and doors, and all sorts of commercial-grade mishmash.

    But don't just take my anonymous word for it. Here's what Gustave Stickley himself has to say, "...the influence of the home is of the first importance in the shaping of character.... When luxury enters in and a thousand artificial requirements come to be regarded as real needs the nation is on the brink of degeneration.... That is why [we should plan] houses that are based on the big fundamental principles of honesty, simplicity and usefulness, - the kind of houses that children will rejoice all their lives to remember as 'home', and that give a sense of peace and comfort to the tired men [and women] who go back to them when the day's work is done."

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  20. Good ol' Gustave. He still owes me money.

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  21. Whenever the pro-development crowd shows up, their public comments are full of a kind of victim rage. Very self-righteous group of people. Lot of anger issues.

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  22. Must be a late meeting tonight. There's no KGEM, so I hope someone will post what happens.

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    1. Strangely I can get it on my cell phone. But not my computer.

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    2. On the computer it's a replay from the beginning of the meeting. Go figure.

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  23. Forgive them for they know not what they say (or type).... THEY ARE NOT FLIPPERS - Go to a city council meeting and you will find this out first hand.

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    1. No, not flippers. But flipping nuts? Yeah.

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  24. Ordinance 1360-U passed unanimously.

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    1. Thank Heavens. This council is amazing.

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    2. They were not bullied by extremists.

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    3. The devil is in the details. Stay tuned.

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    4. "The devil is in the details. Stay tuned." Very true, as the new exception "crafted on the fly" just sacrificed the Mira Monte house.

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  25. Glenn Lambdin can't let go. He must have made some big promises to his angry friends.

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  26. Ms. Brown of the Mira Monte House, interrupted the council meeting saying that people were saying vile things about them on the tattler. She said we should all be ashamed of ourselves. She said her mom told her and wondered why she wanted to live in Sierra Madre. What is this woman talking about? I feel for the Vances and feel they should be allowed to complete their house. Even the Felikian's should be allowed also. One other lady Riboux? should be allowed to complete their house, too. But the Brown's? Not so sure. Rather self-serving. Mr. Crawford, you missed quite a meeting!

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    1. I hope they were handing out Kleenex.

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  27. The flipping crazies completely alienated the city council with their stupid antics. What do they think this is, 2006? Time warp Lambdin led his little sheepies off the cliff. Welcome to Sierra Madre, fools.

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    1. I think most of them are just uninformed. They "love this town", but don't realize the reason we even have the town is because of actions like the one the council took tonight.

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    2. Newbie property owners in town are about to learn that screeching like infants will not help them.

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  28. Sorry if you could not watch the council meeting as you really don't know what you are saying. Those people who spoke up about their housing projects were families, not flippers, not developers. I'd like to know what stupid antics you are talking about and what nutty things they are saying. And, by the way, the amendment they put on the ordinance will not help the Mira Monte project so who knows what will happen next.

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    1. Would video tape replays help you?

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  29. "And, by the way, the amendment they put on the ordinance will not help the Mira Monte project". I guess it depends on what you mean by "help". It will help it get torn down.

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    1. I disagree. They'll have to prove it has no historical significance. Good luck with that. Volume and rude behavior won't help prove that point.

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  30. I'm watching now. Very edifying...Donald Songster was the other hero. Up to Glen Lamdin - I'm waiting for Julie's tirade. So far I've heard, "I want," "I want," "I want."

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