Now we here at The Tattler have expressed our concern that this is the beginning of yet another attempt to get the UUT back on the ballot. For an unprecedented third time, let me add. With the intent being to allow the residents to know about the many terrible things that will happen if they don't knuckle under and raise utility taxes to, let's say, 8%. Or two ticks above and beyond the 6% rate the residents approved at the polls. Twice.
But I have been told that this is not necessarily the case. The City Council really does fear that a third attempt to raise utility taxes would not be very well received by the residents, and they don't really want to have to risk that. Instead they want to find out what people really do think about all of this, and then move on from there.
So I have suspended my disbelief for the moment. Here is what I took away from those conversations.
The Outreach Program is supposed to be a way for Sierra Madre's elected officials to have a dialogue with residents and business owners outside of City Council and various commission meetings. One goal is to have a series of meetings on one topic every quarter. The idea is for City Council members to go to various community and civic meetings to discuss a selected topic. There would also be a large Town Hall meeting, and an online meeting for people with computer access who can’t get to any of these meetings.
The first topic is, quite naturally, the General Fund. As we are all aware, the expenses for FY16 and FY17 will be far greater than revenues. There are several reasons for this. The General Fund has taken on extra expenses over the last few years with the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System (NPDES), Workers Compensation Liability Payments, Calpers, increased police salaries and benefits, the Paramedic program, and additional Fire Department personnel, a large portion of whom are now actually being paid. In case you didn't know. Apparently they have volunteered to get paid.
The General Fund has also lost significant revenue with the loss of the CRA, along with the UUT sunsetting back to its original 6%.
The community meetings with various groups, plus the Town Hall and online meetings, are an opportunity for residents to tell their elected officials not so much what to “cut,” but what programs they want to keep. Along with ideas for revenue, either through a parcel tax, the dreaded increased UUT, or raising fee costs. Or even out of the box, charge a fee for the fire volunteers who are getting their training here in Sierra Madre before moving on. Or perhaps a car wash and a big bake sale.
City Hall probably needs to stop accusing people of getting the city into this situation, which we heard a lot of at last Thursday's special City Council meeting on the budget. It didn't happen overnight and they should have seen this coming. And, from City Hall's perspective, wouldn't a 6% UUT be better than a 0% one?
As much as some would like to use the reserves to balance the budget for those two years, it would only be passing the buck on to another City Council. The City needs to now be very realistic and live within its means. This is not as simple as raising the UUT or eliminating the Library, or contracting out the Police Department. It could take a combination of eliminating expenses (which means some services and personnel cuts) and increase of revenue of some sort.
That is, if you would go for it.
For the people who are not part of the Community Foundation, Rotary Club and Kiwanis, the big Town Hall on May 9 is very important to attend. They say they want to hear what you have to say.
So please, do let them hear it. Here is the schedule from the City Manager Report.
Preserve Sierra Madre's Letter to the City Council
(Mod: Things got a little rough two weeks ago, with Mayor Harabedian and Councilman Goss making some rather gothic accusations of paranoia and fear on the part of the residents. We will have more on that tomorrow. However, the City Council's two seat mansionization minority expressed some fears of their own. Preserve Sierra Madre has decided to take the opportunity to allay some of those fears. Here is what they had to say.)
Dear Mayor and City Council Members:
On behalf of the Preserve Sierra Madre coalition, we just wanted to reiterate our support for all of the Planning Commission's recommendations to improve the Municipal Code.
We also wanted to address a few of the issues that came up at the last City Council meeting.
1. We don't think there is anything wrong with 2-story homes. As was pointed out, there are many 2-story homes in Sierra Madre. We are talking about changes to what exists right now by either a developer tearing down an existing home and building a new, usually 2-story home or an existing owner of a 1-story home that wants to add a second story.
All we are saying is that because the 2nd story has the most chance to impact on the neighbors' views, light, privacy and value, the burden should be on the party making the change to show that it will not adversely impact on the neighbors. That is the purpose of going through the CUP. Keep in mind that the existing owners chose their home and paid a certain price because it might have certain attributes like views, natural light coming through the windows or privacy.
In the whole scheme of things related to building a new 2-story home or adding a 2-story, the cost and delay from a CUP is not to much to ask to make sure that its done in a manner that is compatible with the existing neighborhood and the least impactful on the neighbors. It doesn't mean they can't do it. The mandatory CUP for 2nd stories is simply an acknowledgement that there needs to be a reasonable balance between the property rights of an owner who wants to change things and the property rights of the neighbors who don't want to see someone else's dream home become their nightmare.
2. We don't think such a CUP process will lead to fighting amongst the neighbors. If the project is a good one and minimizes the impact on the neighbors, the owner building the 2nd story should not have any concerns. If it will have a significant impact, then give the neighbors a chance to discuss that in an open forum. If you really want to see fighting amongst the neighbors, let a project just get rammed down the neighbor's throat with no input from them. It seems to us that would lead to a far worse breach amongst the neighbors.
3. Finally, squeezing down the floor area limits is something that cities are increasingly recognizing as a solution to the mansionization that is occurring all over the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere. We have always had limits and always will. The discussion really is about where to put the ceiling. Given what we see happening in other cities and what we are starting to see in Sierra Madre, it seems reasonable to try to get out in front of this issue by lowering those ceilings.
We would respectfully suggest that the Planning Commission's recommendations be approved without modification. If we run into some issues or complaints down the road, we can all re-visit the issue. We suspect, however, that rather than receive complaints, you will instead receive the accolades from grateful Sierra Madre residents who see these provisions as a big step forward in preserving our village in the foothills.
Thank you for all your hard work and efforts on behalf of our community.
Preserve Sierra Madre