Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Devil Is In The Details - And In Sierra Madre Water Use Has A Lot Of Details

Not easy.
I live in two towns these days. There is San Dimas where my house is, and Sierra Madre where my blog continues to live. One is where I sleep, the other is what I spend a lot of time thinking about. Which is more than fine with me. I've been writing about Sierra Madre for almost a decade now, lived there for fifteen years, and I continue to find the place to be quite fascinating. However, and despite myself, I am now picking up a lot of information about San Dimas. Old habits die hard, I guess. And even though I'd promised the nice people I live with that I would not try to repeat my Sierra Madre experiences in the new place, I have now begun to discover ways to compare my two towns.

Our water bill in San Dimas last month was $88.78. Living on the side of a mountain I don't have a lawn, but I do have a pool. Our water company, Golden State Water, is privately owned. You might recall that during the last water rate increase "process" we were repeatedly told that private water companies are in league with big evil, and they will gouge you for as much money as they can possibly take, and more.

That has not been my experience. Water here costs less.

Fines for the use of too much water, or even the threat of them, have never been directed at me or anyone I know. Nobody wants to get inside my house to "inspect" it. Nor does anyone want to count my trees and bushes, or examine my property using some kind of flying Google function. All you are required to do here is pay your water bill on time.

San Dimas also uses the L.A. Sheriff's Department, and L.A. County Fire. When the next hill over was set on fire by some jackass arsonist last October, three helicopters and a flotilla of fire trucks showed up and had it out within two hours.

It was very impressive. Massive choppers flew about 50 feet over my house. The place shook. It was a remarkable show of force.

San Dimas is having an election next month, but it won't matter. There are no term limits here and people keep electing the same guys over and over again. Big old dudes they are too, conservative as all get out, and they run a town that has not gone into debt for decades. And they do it without a UUT.

The people here are mostly happy with their government, support the public schools, and don't see any reason to change anything.

It all seems so simple. But then again, maybe I just don't know enough about it. After all, it took me around five years to figure out Sierra Madre. I'll let you know if I find out anything different.

At last night's Sierra Madre City Council meeting I became aware of something I'd never realized before. Sierra Madre has its very own governmental atmosphere. It's like a bubble, and it is a very complex one. I know, I was caught up in it for years. And believed the entire time that this was how things had to be.

Unlike where I am typing this now, things are almost always extraordinarily complicated, and takes a lot of effort to figure out. And even then you practically need a Phd. to grasp it. Maybe I had to step away 20 or so miles east to understand this.

Last night's City Council discussions on the water shortages is a good example. Most people in Sierra Madre are doing what they are supposed to do about preserving water. They're not all perfect of course, but three quarters of the people living in The Foothill Village are doing it well enough.

And then there are the rest, a minority of folks who apparently are complete jerks about the water thing, and couldn't care less about a drought that is apparently the worst in recoded California history.

Now you would think that identifying these water hogs would be a simple matter. All you'd need to do is look at how much water they're using, briefly check out their situation, and if the amounts then appear to be ridiculous, go after them. How hard can it be?

But under the Sierra Madre bubble that would apparently be far too easy. Here is how Heather Allen described the following extraordinarily complex nonsense when she spoke from the podium last night.

Our water target numbers are extremely low. Our Summer number is 14 and our Winter number is 12. The problem began on June 7, 2013. Every water customer received a target number. We received 12 units. About six weeks later we received a second letter. Each water customer would now have two targets - one for Summer and one for Winter. We received 14 units for the summer and 12 for the winter. 

We polled our neighbors. One neighbor (with approximately the same property size and number of people in their house) has been assigned 52 Summer units. A send neighbor (whose property is a little larger but with only one person in the house) had been assigned 40 Summer units. 

We were assigned 14 Summer units.

We appealed on Sept 4, 2013. We turned in an application and attached a letter to it. We received a letter back from the City on October 16, 2013. The City awarded us one additional summer unit. The Winter number remained the same.

On August 11, 2014, City Hall sent another letter. This was in regards to the "Mandatory 30% Water Conservation Target." All water customers were assigned new numbers. I believe this is when the current City Council voted to require that the residents cut their usage back another 10%. We were assigned 14 units for the Summer. 

Essentially, the city took back the one unit we gained through our appeal.

Why? Is this is how the City of Sierra Madre intends to get its water usage under control? By jacking around some very nice people over one unit of water? People who had already been using an extremely small amount of the stuff anyway, and deserved far better treatment? While others in town have lawns as green as a shamrock, and let the stuff just flow down the gutter?

Why the near pathological complexity? Perhaps that is just the culture of Sierra Madre's government. The reduction of everything to an extreme level of twitchy minuteness that is both maddening to those who are subjected to it, and in the end utterly futile as a way of preserving dwindling water supplies.

It isn't like that everywhere, you know. Step back some time and take a good look.

My advice? Just go after the big water wasters and be done with it. Leave everyone else alone. This is not rocket science.

It was not a very good night for City Staff

Two key moments that to me indicated the City Council was not very pleased with the hired help last night. The first is they pushed back implementing penalties for the over-usage of water. The reason for this being that, and after all of this time, City Hall has yet come up with any reliable criteria for deciding who exactly is using too much water in Sierra Madre, and who is not. Or even what that might be. You cannot tell with any real confidence right now. Things are all over the place.

Couple that with the sad fact that 71 water use appeal applications from residents had somehow been swept under the rug didn't help staff's case, either. This was so egregiously bad that Bruce Inman was forced to mail out a letter of apology to the affected residents before last night's meeting even took place.

The other big tell came from the quite surprising Gene Goss. Addressing City Manager Elaine Aguilar directly, and in no uncertain terms, he told her that the matter of those 71 ignored water appeal applications was unacceptable, and must never ever happen again. An unusually contrite Elaine meekly responded that it wouldn't.

It was an extraordinary moment. Elaine Aguilar, the once seemingly supreme voice of city government in Sierra Madre, was actually reprimanded in front of the entire city by an elected official. And over the complaints of a resident, no less.

I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like it in Sierra Madre before.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

62 comments:

  1. Go after the big water wasters? Good idea, but when the fines are imposed, these are the residents that that are going to help fund the Calpers. Isn't it always about money? Oh what to do?

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  2. Bet you wish I got that mad over the budget. Except I don't understand numbers.

    PS: We need to increase the UUT rates now.

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  3. Why did Goss embarrass the City Mgr. in open session? Anyone who's ever managed people knows you don't embarrass a team member in front of others. You talk to them one on one.

    Damned heavy handed, I think.

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    1. He took the side of a resident, You may not like Gene, but honestly I think we need a lot more of that. Somebody should have kicked Inman's butt as well.

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    2. The water department is Inman's responsibility. Do you think the fact that he is not qualified for his position shows at all?

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    3. Bruce doesn't know who the water wasters are, but he knows how much we will keep paying him when he retires!

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    4. How many more ways can they wring money out of the water department? Aren't we now in the middle of a series of rate hikes? How much more money do they need?

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    5. Heavy handed?... Elaine and Bruce are the heavy handed ones. It's time for both of them to be terminated. We need a change, they represent everything that is wrong with our city management. Bruce in my opinion is a flim flam man, like a carney. Elaine is part of the past... Plkease replace them both!

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  4. Part of the reason why Sierra Madre water rates are so high is all of the interest only bond debt.

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    1. Thank you, Bart Doyle.

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    2. We continued to suffer the consequences of the worst era in this town's history.

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  5. One other thing about the targets: we moved from one SM house to another SM house. Our water target is based on the use of the people who used to live in our new house. Our target is north of 30 but our use is always below 20. We are a smaller household, don't water our grass and practice conservation. Our target makes no sense. There should be a better metric for defining realistic targets.

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    1. The City Manager said last night that if you have a higher alloted number that you consistently don't use, they want to decrease that number. I say fight to keep your number, the day may come when you are told to save another 10%.

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    2. The city needs to go after the real water wasters and stop nickel and diming residents who do not use too much water. It's like cops who work real hard at traffic tickets when there are houses being robbed.

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  6. the city should have put in the RFID water meter readers a year or so ago when they were talking about it. they would then have had a much better handle on the true water usage and would (hopefully) better manage this drought situation. but no, they would rather be incompetent Chickens running around with their heads cut off. Unfortunately, their actiona affect everyone else in town.

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    1. No more smart meters please!

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    2. That RFID water meter salesman's boat payment is due, will the RFID meters tell Bruce something the current meters don't?

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    3. You get to read the smart meter, too, and better understand your water usage without waiting 60 days for the "off by a day or so" reading that goes on now that sometimes puts you into a second or third tier.

      Some cities bill monthly. Wouldn't smart meters allow for that?

      Something on our water bill now that should get on everyone's last nerve is the Inmann question: Have you used water wisely today?

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    4. another bonus of using the smart meters is the billing process. It could probably eliminate at least one pension accumulating city employee

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    5. Smart Meters is an oxymoron.

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    6. Ha ! 10:31, I like your style!

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    7. the cost of the smart meters would pay for that employee for years. it only takes him a week to read the meters every other month, 6 times a year. If the smart meters would eliminate Bruce, then I'd approve.

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  7. Tattler, great solution. Any chance the city will listen?

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    1. With this council there is a chance. I couldn't be at the meeting and Kgem wasn't working - but it sounds like residents can be hopeful a good solution might be coming.

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    2. PLEASE - email the Council members. They do listen, but there must be lots of us before they will do something. I have the smallest number, 12 - even though I live in a "McMansion" by Adele Chang's definition - 3 car garage. Actually I have 2500 sq ft. Historically I've not used much water because I've been conserving for years, so that it why I get dinged!

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  8. In October and November the agenda item on the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources commission that took up two entire meetings was the implementation of the fines and penalities for the residents of Sierra Madre not meeting the mandated water conservation goals and violating such requirements of days of week to water/allowing run-off in to the streets, etc. These fines and penalities had been in the various iterations of the water conservation ordinance from early on but not implemented.

    EENR was tasked by the City Council to finally review and suggest implementation!

    Or was it from the City Council?

    Given the discussion that resulted at last night's meeting, the concerns of the City Council regarding the wide range of difficulties the city faces with the particulars: alloting units based on usage and previous conservation efforts, fairness, big consumers vs small consumers, billing irregularities, etc., I firmly believe that this is a problem that needs to be laid directly on the desk of the City Manager and Public Works Department Director.

    You cannot blame the EENR Commission (no matter how annoyed you were with the former Green Committee) or the long existing Tree Commission (two of those original members ultimately resigned from the EENR) as this whole group was consigned to this over-extended approach to city environmental issues by Nancy Walsh and the City Council she mayored.

    There better be a better way and someone who is supposed to be earning a salary in this city needs to get busy now!

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    1. Great comment 8:07.

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    2. There should have been a firm plan in place from the beginning. It's like Obama Care, let's pass the law and figure out the details later....or maybe this was their plan?

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    3. I think the plan was to baffle us with BS, then fines fines fines.

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  9. Sorry 6:02AM Elaine needed to be reprimanded in public. The other way has not a difference with her. If I get this right, the city says they don't have a way to find the water wasters? Hard to believe. They do the billing. The info is right there. One of them mentioned tattling on your neighbor. I had occasion, this morning, to see to houses that had a lot of water running down the street. I am not about to turn them in. Elaine made it sound like they would have to give up a valuable employee to drive around the city and take note of the offenders. So, as city manager, you talk to all your employees and give them a street or two to peruse as they drive into work. Not hard. The early bird might just catch the worm. Once an adress is noted then ya send a notice that they will be fined. People are given allotments of water use according to their lot size and the number of people living there. THREE BATHROOMS ONLY. If you have 5 bathrooms you don't get extra.Should equal out everyone to some degree. Tattler is right, nothing is easy and simple. Everything hinges on not having enough help, the right computer program, etc. Money, money, money. Get 5 volunteers to drive the neighborhoods and make random reports. Give them guidelines to follow. Did overwatering happen once or was it observed 5 times. Duh! The budget is coming up. That should be interesting especially as I heard Mr. Harabedian say something to the effect that there would only be more cuts in that. Mismanagement in the city becomes clearer everyday. They mislead, lie, hedge, act concerned, and aren't. Mr. Capoccia and Elaine have some kind of love fest going on. He needs to step back and really see what's going on. Very miserable meeting last night with no questions answered and nothing positive accomplished.

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    1. At least no penalties were voted on, right?
      It is crazy frustrating that the city can't figure out where the large bills are as opposed to the smaller use bills.

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    2. Capoccia ran as an anti-tax fiscal conservative. After he was elected there hasn't been a tax, fee or rate he hasn't voted to raise. This is a money issue, and Capoccia is right there advocating for it.

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  10. San Dimas VS Sierra Madre, I'll bet most if not all San Dimas city workers live in San Dimas!

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    1. Chief Giannone lives in San Dimas. Smart of him to choose a town that uses the Sheriff's Dept.

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    2. Does he get his kicks on Route 66?

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    3. Sign in Chief's yard: "Protected by LASD."

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  11. I would like to thank Colleen and Heather Allen. That was one if the best examples of informed citizen public service I have ever seen. Extraordinary work. Thank you. You shook the foundations of City Hall.

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  12. The reward for not being a water pig is that the city leaves you alone. I can't think of something people want more.

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    1. and by god, if you step off the line the water gestapo created using their brain drone technology, they will zap your ass for it

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    2. Google is watching.

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    3. Bruce Inman: Eye in the Sky

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    4. that's a mighty big ...... uh..... hole in the sky

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  13. You are only allowed to use the toilets and showers in the city that you are a resident of. Try enforcing that one.

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  14. I agree 8:25. I came home from the meeting, went out to walk my dog, saw my neighbor's sprinklers on, as usual, with water running down the street. Shall I turn them in? No, of course not! Miserable meeting with not much accomplished, yup. This City Council does listen, but what annoys me the most is that those of us who have a target goal of under 20 will have to file for an exemption, if we want to be able to take a shower more than once a week. Why don't they just do what Inman said with his chart - sq footage of house plus sq footage of yard times number of people living there. What's hard about that?

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    1. Probably your neighbors do not want to pay for wasted water and their sprinkling system could use some adjusting. If you have good relationship with them it would be useful to share your observations with the goal of saving them money.

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  15. Director of Public Works Bruce Inman is incompetent & unqualified for the position. He provides frequent evidence of his ineptitude by his own hand. City manager Elaine Aguilar is also incompetent and unqualified. This latest imbroglio implicates them both - again. I do not fault them for their stupidity. I fault the Council and voters for not just tolerating these two devious miscreants and rewarding them generously with lavish salaries, benefits and an easy work environment. In the real world ,these two dangerous fools would have never made the first cut at interview time.
    So why Dear Tattlers do you coddle such egregiously hostile employees ? Yes hostile to all you hold dear about Sierra Madre.

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    1. Right on the money, 8:52! It's time to give them their walking papers.

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  16. I have three toilets: the one in the basement guest room is rarely used. The master bathroom is used throughout the night with one flush in the a.m. The one off the living area is used throughout the day by three people and it does get a couple of flushes throughout the day. No outside watering for years. Laundry and dishwashing, showers for three people. I would like to think that we have been using water very carefully for many years, added now with this delayed toilet flushing, it won't be too much longer until all of Sierra Madre, not just other consciencous like us, will be doing the same. Oh yeah, the dog has a nose push water dispenser but he is no big gulper!

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  17. The way Bruce and Elaine had this set up was to maximize the money they would pull in from fines. Unfortunately for them the city council decided to listen to the residents last night. Those two tireless public servants couldn't have been too happy about that.

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  18. Why can't they just simply divide the burden per-capita based on number of residents in each dwelling?

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    1. That just might be too much common sense 11:52.

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    2. It isn't the City's business who lives in your house. Non of their damn business, actually.

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    3. I agree. Don't want them in my house, don't want them asking what is going on.

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    4. 12.51& others I agree with you .
      But it is not sufficient(unfortunately) to simply state your reasonable expectation to privacy in your home and not be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure.
      What more evidence do you need to boot out Inman and Aguliar ? They use a totally stupid proposal to get them the right to send their peeping Toms into your home on the pretext of "helping' you.They use the EENR as stooges. Clearly neither Inman nor Aguilar are working for the good of Sierra Madre. Probably never have been. They already have a very comfortable exit strategy- our tax dollars at work again !
      Until the cause of the rot is removed, it will continue. The longer they stay ,the more good employees they corrupt and pervert, the more of our taxes and water they waste. We have a choice.But nobody has ever made a proposal for removing them both . Why?

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  19. http://www.sgvtribune.com/general-news/20140927/daily-water-allocation-could-be-the-next-california-drought-strategy

    This San Gabriel Valley Tribune article gives a broad perspective on cities trying to come up with daily water allocations as one approach to fairness in water allocations. No easy answer.

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  20. Why do tier three homes pay less for water than someone living in a tier one home?

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    1. I am not sure what you are asking? The tiers 1, 2 and 3 apply across the city to all homes, using water at the lowest, middle and highest rate. What is a tier 3 home? They would have to have already used water in the amounts of units that pushed them from tier 1 through tier 2 to end up using water at the tier 3 rate.

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  21. If the City Manager does raise rates, there is problems funding pensions.

    Warning there is a number of lawsuits that are going to cost the City's taxpayers big time thanks to the mismanagement of our City Manager, Will bankrupt our City! But again, at least we could re Negotiate employee pensions.

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  22. At least that may give the Sierra Madre citizens the wake-up call to fire for cause those Senior Managers(Aguilar & Inman) that got us to the brink of BK and beyond. Does it really have to get so bad before remedial action is taken?
    The only way to jettison Elaine Aguilar and Bruce Inman is for the City of Sierra Madre to declare bankruptcy?

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  23. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune article above does mention this (false) hope:
    ".....cautioned against charging too much for water because it could be a violation of Proposition  218, which says water agencies can only charge for the cost of water service. If a municipal agency charges more for water, it can’t make a profit, so it will have to charge someone else less. This leads to inequities, he explained....."
    The water company will have noooooo problem wasting any surplus by many means. For example giving away free toilets to out of town contractors(oops, they do that already?) Giving rebates for Smart(?) irrigation controllers, shower heads,drip irrigation kits. Oh , they will easily find a way to waste the surplus. Will they use it to improve water storage, pumps,wells,settling ponds -probably not.

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  24. Funny, my water bill was 176.45, and that's for 2 months, yours was 88$ for the month, hmmmm

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  25. San Dimas has several large shopping centers including a Lowes and Pacific Sales, some car dealers, etc. Their tax base must be huge compared to Sierra Madre. Yes, they rely on ground water but also buy water from the MWD and another water company. I would say that it is not possible to compare us with San Dimas.

    The government in Sierra Madre is different too. It is cookie, confusing, and strange. How anyone could make sense out of last nights meeting is beyond me. So lets look at what we have, try to make things work, and not worry about any other community.

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