|Water use remains a big concern|
Like I said earlier this week, newly minted Mayor John Capoccia has taken the reigns of the City of Sierra Madre during some very interesting times. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. The ancient Chinese malediction, "May you live in interesting times," does come to mind. The underlying suggestion being that such times can also bring much disorder and trouble along with them. Things that are always interesting, but you'd be much happier viewing them from a safe distance.
For a blog writer that seemed incredibly convinced yesterday that we are on the verge of seeing yet a third campaign to put a utility tax increase initiative on the ballot, I couldn't find much evidence of that going on last night. There have been three community outreach meetings held to date, and as far as I can tell there has been no actual mad rush of residents demanding that everyone pay more taxes in order to rescue the city from a horrible fate.
Rather the takeaway so far has been that the city should just learn to live within its financial means like the rest of us. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
There is also the way these outreach meetings have been conducted. City Hall's presentation at these confabs has now been cut to a bare bones 10 minutes. Basic information is laid out with the rest of the time devoted to hearing what the residents have to say. Nobody is just talking at them now.
Which, when you think about it, is not the way meetings with residents usually go in this town. No officials, elected or otherwise, are trying to tell people how things are, and that they'd better knuckle under or go home. Instead they're listening.
There was no real City Council tax hyping going on at last night's meeting, either. Why is that? I think there could be a new consensus developing at City Hall. Our elected officials seem to be coming to grips with the notion that raising UUTaxes a couple of points isn't going to make much of a difference.
Spending has steadily increased over the last five or so years to the point where it really cannot be financially sustained anymore. That often kicked can has finally hit the wall. The Fire Department isn't really volunteer anymore, they're getting paid. The Paramedics are still getting by on the same voodoo budgeting they've always lived off. The Police have gotten their raises and benefit boosts, though they don't seem to think it has been enough. Pension costs just keep growing.
Public safety costs are today closing in on 60% of the General Fund. Where does it stop?
Raising utility taxes 2% won't get it done. This is quite a serious new addition to the political vocabulary around here. There really is no other option than deep spending cuts along with laying off some staff. Unless you can figure out some way of convincing the residents of Sierra Madre that a 15% UUTax is a fun way to go, then there is not a whole lot more anyone can do.
It is no longer a question of whether making deep cuts is necessary, rather it is where and when they will happen. That is a question being asked at the outreach meetings.
There was a lot of discussion about water and exactly how Sierra Madre is going to deal with those draconian new state water mandates. City Staff came prepared with some interesting suggestions, most of them very expensive. But none more so than Bruce Inman's idea of spending $1.5 million dollars to purchase radio meters that would alert the city to who is using too much water and needs to be fined.
The City Council was not that impressed with this idea and passed. The cost seemed high.
The question of who exactly is going to monitor resident water use and deal with lush lawned offenders in the brave new Jerry Brown world was discussed for a while. With the City Manager suggesting that she be authorized to hire a person to do this work. Current City Staff being way too busy with other more important things to handle such a burden themselves.
This suggestion quickly joined Bruce Inman's $1.5 million dollar electronic snooping solution in the circular file. Apparently staff has yet to come to grips with the idea that budgets aren't endless, and the "this is how we always did it before" mentality no longer flies here.
If you ever want to consider just how this city got into its current financial dilemma, this would be it. We have a City Staff that just doesn't want to deal with the fact that you can't just keep raising the cost of doing business here and stay fiscally afloat.
A couple of residents that I had never seen there before chastised the city for not getting its act together on water use monitoring. Jerry Brown's $10,000 a day fines for not cutting water use here 32% seemed like an important consideration to them.
Which, of course, it is.
Their solution? Have Sierra Madre resident volunteers do the job. Something that City Manager Aguilar scoffed at. Apparently you need specialized training to recognize that a yard is being watered too much or at the wrong times, or that the stuff running down the gutter and into a storm sewer is, you got it, water.
The City Council, on the other hand, thought this was a good idea. Apparently they are willing to put their trust in volunteer residents, whereas City Staff would prefer to continue its expensive habit of hiring out-of-towners, and for all possible jobs.
Another interesting moment came when Bruce Inman was asked by the City Council when all of this Sacramento water fine infamy was actually going to come down. His reply? "We don't really know that yet." Substitute City Attorney for the evening, Matthew T. Summers (link), somehow did have that information and supplied the correct answers for Bruce.
A surprise guest at the Outreach Meetings?
Jerry Pearson of Passionist Monastery development fame. His message being that if the city were to allow him and Cameron Thornton to build those 50 or so 3,999 square foot houses, there would be a huge financial windfall in development impact fees for everyone to enjoy. When asked where the water would come from, he claimed that this brace of biggish bungalows would be "water net neutral."
We have heard that one before from Jerry and the Camster, but neither has yet to explain how you do such a thing in a reality based way. Unless, of course, it is to be accomplished through the power of prayer.
New meme: The Sierra Madre "Silent Majority"
Of course, they are silent so nobody can hear what they are saying. Or if they are saying anything at all. You just can't tell yet. Apparently they are the ones who are responsible for all of those emails and phone calls to Councilman Goss. The exact identity of whom he has chosen to remain silent about.
Maybe it is the Sierra Madre Watchman. Or those wild and crazy guys from the Canyon. Gents who have never been celebrated for their silence in the past.
Hopefully they'll speak up soon.
Here is how we discussed this matter yesterday in our meeting preview:
The other water item on tomorrow's Special Meeting agenda deals with the apparently escalating water war with Arcadia. Always a topic that excites us here at The Tattler. This time we're talking about a draft letter to the Raymond Basin Management Board about Arcadia hogging up a lot of the water it is supposed to be sharing.
Apparently all of those 5 bathroom modern family houses they been slapping up there are having a seriously large effect on Peacockville's ballooning water needs.
It is good some stuff. You can link to that and more by clicking here.
We can't wait to hear their reply.