Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The 12% UUT Pt. 3: Scare Tactics and Astroturfing

-
There is a neat term for political reality creation, one that gets used a lot in government circles. It is called "astroturfing," and this word uniquely describes a tactic that is used quite often, especially by some of the more suspect species of politicians. Here's the Wikipedia definition (link).

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s).

Last night we heard the City Council advocates for what would be a state leading 12% UUT proclaim that there was a tremendous outpouring of support for their utility tax position. Evidenced by a gathering of residents held last June at the Sierra Madre Fire Station. With many there in attendance apparently confessing their previous anti-tax sins to Father Gene Goss, and swearing that they would never ever do it again.

And somehow this strange comedy we're describing here is supposed to not only invalidate the results of two official UUT elections, but now also justify a third.

Which is nonsense. I was at this event and it was the same old pro-tax Civility Party crowd that always shows up when asked to do so. With Brother John Buchanan himself there to shake each and every hand. All 75 of them.

Here is a picture of that gathering. As you can see, it wasn't a very well-attended event.


Yet this rather modest confab, held in a garage and heavily populated with city employees, is now somehow supposed to overturn the results of two legitimate elections where many hundreds of people cast ballots against utility tax increases. Twice. No matter what scary scenarios had been created by the usual suspects.

Like I said, the tactic is called astroturfing. A contrived and carefully controlled scenario meant to convince the gullible there is actual popular support for something that, in reality, is mostly backed by 3 City Councilmembers, City Staff, and the municipal employee unions.

Especially the cop union, which heavily supported John Harabedian's campaign for City Council. To the point of even breaking applicable California election laws by appearing on a political postcard in uniform.

In a democracy elections count. The people of Sierra Madre twice voted to lower their utility taxes to 6%. Compared to that an event bum rushed by several dozen folks from the big tax crowd, happy they could yet again push for UUT rate increases, is utterly irrelevant.

The three people on the City Council peddling this absurd nonsense should be ashamed of themselves.

Comedy of Errors: How Sierra Madre Failed to Hit its Latest State Mandated Water Conservation Number 

Here is an interesting succession of emails (etc.) that eventually led to the truth about why Sierra Madre failed to hit its water conservation goal earlier this summer. First off here is the current notice on the City of Sierra Madre website. It blames you, of course. City Hall is never wrong, except when it is. Which is often, though they never admit to it.


Well, OK. And maybe City Hall could do better as well. Maybe a whole lot better, as you will soon see. Here is an email from a resident that asked what I thought was a pretty insightful question.

"On the city's website they state that we did not meet our water saving requirement. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page (Mod: see below), Sierra Madre is listed as one of the cities that didn't file a report. So how does the city know this?"

Very good point. Here is what City Hall's inability to file its water reduction mandate numbers on time looks like on the state water report (link).  


If you follow the link above you can see how all of those other cities are doing. Apparently much better than that conservation number Sierra Madre failed to turn in on time.

Wild, right? So the City of Sierra Madre failed to submit its water use state mandate number when it was supposed to do so. Could that be because they knew it would cause trouble them a lot of trouble with Sacramento? I asked one Councilmember that question, who then assured me that while City Hall did do the report, somehow someone failed to send it in on time. And yes, the city did come up short with its water conservation goal.

However, our perceptive and Solomonic Sierra Madre resident wasn't about to stop there. Keenly aware of that large rash of recent water main and pipe leaks in town, she then fired off the following email to Public Works Director Bruce Inman.

Mr. InmanDo all of those water leaks count against us in our conservation numbers with the state?

Here is Bruce Inman's answer:


So there you have it. The failure to meet the state's water use conservation mandate number might not be your fault after all. Despite all of the gratuitous finger pointing on the City of Sierra Madre website.

So here is my question. When should the city start fining itself? 

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

62 comments:

  1. astroturfing is used only when something finally sees the light of day. Otherwise the City Staff and Council believe that the citizens should all be treated like mushrooms. You know, kept in the dark and fed crap.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They never believed we would say no.

      Delete
    2. We need to penalize them by voting no on any UUT tax at all.

      Delete
    3. We need to say no again.

      Delete
    4. I wonder if it ever occurred to city hall to just tell people the truth. A big part of the reason why UUT increases fall on their face is because people don't believe what the city is telling them. For good reason.

      Delete
    5. I think it will be harder to get people to vote NO, Remember they have the civic organizations in their hip pocket and they vote. Those groups are the ones that got Welsch, Bucanan, Moran, and Mosca elected.

      Delete
    6. UUT has lost two elections in a row. Seems they are not quite as invincible as you think.

      Delete
    7. 11:16, sad but true.

      Delete
    8. Recent election returns indicate otherwise. Besides, the civic organizations are dying off.

      Delete
    9. 9:14 - this entire UUT started with a lie from day one and then they city manager under the leadership of John Buchanan and Joe Mosca sent out misinformation and distortions of the facts

      so I assume if Elaine is talking, she's lying or hiding something

      sorry but it's how I and allot of others feel about the City Manager

      Delete
  2. Has the city detailed exactly how they would spend this additional UUT money? I hope they'll be specific.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the police, paramedic program, and library. Instead of cutting those things.

      Delete
  3. Is it just me, or did Mayor Capoccia get a little heavy-handed with Denise and Rachelle last night?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Did Sierra Mdre vote to 'lower' the tax to 6% or really to restore to where it originally was after a temporary and intentionally 'sunsetting' increase?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, the promised sunset. Hah.

      Delete
    2. Ah, right, 7:56. At first, the UUT was 100% temporary, then renewed but with a sunset. Does this mean all the previous councils were liars?

      Delete
    3. Taxes never sunset. The government grows to meet the new funding and then if you try to take it away, the sky will come falling down. No tax is ever temporary. Salaries get increased, benefits increase and then the pro-tax people say that if you allow the "temporary" tax to sunset, we will lose vital city services. When do we ever learn? The unions actually get together and figure this stuff out. That's why you will find the same arguments and the same problems in every city. Look at the municipalities that have gone bankrupt. The 1,000 pound elephant in the room in every case are the unfunded pension liabilities. Sierra Madre needs to move to a defined contribution pension plan rather than a defined benefit pension plan which will force politicians to budget each year for the promises they make to the public employees rather than have the consequences of their promises manifest themselves long after the politicians who made the promises are out of office. The unions don't want defined contribution pension plans for the simply reason that pension will then have to be grounded in reality and budgeted for rather than the size of pensions be based on how much the unions contributed to the politicians' elections.

      Delete
    4. They said whatever they thought would get them the money. Pretty much what this City Council is trying to figure out now.

      Delete
  5. Of course all that flushing and burping (techinical term I picked up from a city worker at a hydrant last summer) of water to clear the crud had to count against the city. Shame on you first tier water users for not ratting out the city to the state on a drive by of observing water in on the asphalt in the morning.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What happend to the elderly gentleman whose water bill ended up in the 5th tier (there is such a thing?) and a huge a fine? I channel surfed onto TV3 last night in time to catch the end of it. How much was the bill? I got the gist of it...there was a leak and the city is trying to make nice somehow with a 6 month payment period. Someone will have more to say on how the city billing is so inept.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bill was around $3,000 and the Council is going to consider at a future council meeting some sort of a waiver or something like that for fines due to leaks, but I got the impression one would have to pay for the water.

      Delete
  7. No sunsetting means the residents will be asked to give up the right to review their utility taxes forever. How is this good?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard Ms. Alcorn and Mr. Orozco (sp) get up and speak in favor of the UUT increase. I understand Ms. Alcorn's feelings of keeping services, but at what price? I know she's active in the city and uses all of the services offerred but is she on reduced income? Do both of these people realize that an increase in the UUT will only last a year or so until it needs to be increased? Do they fully realize that it maxes out at 12%? Do they realize Harabedian wants a parcel tax of at least $400.00? That money will not be earmarked for infrastructure but to keep the services they want? No cutting of salaries or personnel? Leaks in the pipes daily, pitiful water with no end in sight? We get fined because of these leaky pipes, so we have to cut back more? I'm sorry, but something has to go. Whether we cut back employees, earmark all UUT funds to fix the pipes. What is more important to these people?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doesn't Pat Alcorn realize that you could give the city a billion dollars in new taxes and nothing would change. Everything would expand to meet the new revenues particularly the salaries, benefits and pension for the city employees and in a few years we would be back in the same position of needing higher taxes. Its never enough until people like Pat wake up to what really busting the budget in every city in every state. Pat should go and read why these various cities found themselves insolvent. It was the public employees in every case.

      Delete
    2. Dear Tattlers, I did not fall for anything. . . I have spent a good deal of time studying and learning about the city budget. It is apparent that the only way to keep our city solvent is to have a form of steady income. It seems that some tattlers have swallowed the kooI-aid and fell for the idea that they can live in Sierra Madre for free. As De says, “there ain’t no free lunch - with our infrastructure crumbling and prices raising, there has to be a way to pay for what we get.” One way is a City tax, another is a UUT, and the third is a property assessment. If you look at the income of the city, the property tax coming back to us from the State essentially pays for our safety (police, fire, paramedics). Currently the other services need to be paid for out of the UUT and miscellaneous fees. Take your pick, if not from the UUT, then some other way. It appears that some tattlers have their minds made up that no matter what the facts, they don’t want to pay for services. To those who say the City should live within their means, it depends on what means you are talking about. If someone is at poverty level and you want to cut their budget 4%, they would not be able to survive. The same goes for the city. I not only want the City to survive, but want to keep our city government as is: good, bad, and ugly.
      Also to correct some erroneous thoughts: We are not on a low income budget and do pay our full share of taxes. As an aside, we have not even faked our address to get out of paying cell phone UUT. In addition, De and I have saved the City thousands of dollars through our volunteer efforts, both through services and fund-raising. Who else who posts on the Tattler can say that. For the past 50 years (minus 8 while we were overseas, although we still paid property taxes), we have participated in a multitude of civic activities that would have fallen to the city staff to perform and the city budget to fund, not to mention the hundreds of dollars we have personally contributed.
      As I said late last night on the blog, where were you at the Council meeting last night? There were three (3) of us citizens there. Where were you to refute Harabedian and Goss who said the majority of people want a 12% UUT? Rachelle defended you, but why should she have to do that? You should have been there yourselves. What I said last night at the Council meeting was, “anything on the ballot that said 12% would not fly”. What I said last night was it is obvious there needs to be a UUT. What I said was probably an 8-10 percent would fly. If all of you have a different opinion, show up at the next council and tell them what you think. But, before you get up and talk, do your homework so you won’t embarrass yourselves.
      Cordially, Pat Alcorn

      Delete
    3. Thanks so much Pat. Great post.
      The one sticking point for me is the inflated public pensions.

      Delete
    4. It is all about unfunded public pensions. All those other things Pat mentions are the victims.

      Delete
    5. Still voting NO and will every time. The PD budget is bloated - they rake in overtime. The city charges the Mt Wilson Trail Race for 700 staff hours for pre-event planning of the race so it's obvious that they can't be trusted to tell us the truth.

      We should consider speaking with the Pasadena system and annexing our library into it - fund it as a branch - not as a "city" perk. Our top two staff hit us with payroll and benefits of almost 200K and then there is the pensions that will hit us for years and years.

      I just can't in good faith vote yes on the UUT - until we have a new city manager, plan and trust I'll keep voting NO

      Delete
    6. Pat here: unfunded pensions are a sticking point. But they are here and until we get to a point where they can be corrected, we have to live with them. We can't shut down the city because of the pensions. The City still needs to be funded no matter what. P

      Delete
  9. Sorry, I believe the man's name was Oronoz. My bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If Oronoz was serious about quality law enforcement he would have brought up the Sheriffs.

      Delete
    2. Its always the usual scare tactics if residents in cities don't keep increasing taxes to pay for ever-more generous salaries, pensions and benefits for the new elites - the public employees. The unions and the candidates they support always follow the same playbook. If you don't increase the UUT tax or any tax then all these vital city services will be cut. And they will always point to cutting those services that will scare the residents the most like emergency response times increasing or cutting those services that will inconvenience the maximum number of residents possible whether its closing down the parks or the library. The reason for bankruptcies in cities like Vallejo, San Bernadino or Detroit is always due to the unfunded pension liabilities that result paying public employees ever higher salaries and ever-higher pensions and allow the city employees to "retire" at age most of us would only dream about. Yet nobody talks about cutting back on public employees because they are the ones that use all their wealth to help their candidates get elected. I hope Pat Alcorn will wake up to the fact that there are alternatives to just taxing the residents more. Don't fall for the scare tactics Pat.

      Delete
    3. Pat fell for the scare tactics hook, line and sinker. The unions and the candidates in their pocket always make the same arguments in every city and in every state. Its called the "fireman first rule". You don't cut back on the bloated salaries, the high pensions and the early retirement age, they scare you by saying you can only cut the fireman. They always and I mean always say that when you get in a car accident, it will take the fireman and paramedics twice as long to reach you. Pretty scary stuff so we better vote to increase our taxes once again. And by the way, its never enough. First it will be the higher UUT Tax. But after increasing the salaries of all the public employees, we will then need Harabedian's parcel tax. For obvious reasons the public employees (who usually don't live in the community) support higher taxes at every turn. The politicians like Harabedian who support higher taxes are paying back the unions for their political support so even though they live in the community and are subject to the same higher taxes, they don't mind because their political ambitions are more important.

      Delete
  10. This is about employee pensions. Yet Gene Goss only wanted to talk about sidewalks and tree trimming. How can people be expected to vote themselves a tax hike when their city government won't tell the obvious truth?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. got remember Gene teaches political science at Long Beach City College. this is just an experiment for him.

      Delete
  11. Should the city start fining itself? No it would be counter productive as are many of the comments here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In all seriousness, 7:40. If the city fined itself for wasting water, where would the money go?

      Delete
    2. Hmm trick question. Unfunded pension liabilities?

      Delete
    3. Into the General Fund, where nobody knows where it will go.

      Delete
  12. The elephant in the room are the Sierra Madre politicians who can't handle the word "NO more 12% UUT" the voting public has voted twice and shut city hall's money laundering scheme, since politicians rarely speak the truth I wonder why they need all this money to keep flowing into their pockets?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We need to vote no on any increase and even consider repealing the UUT all together to force the city to live within its means.

      Delete
  13. The city is flushing the hydrant out front they are just starting the third water truck full of the foul liquid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every time they flush, their foul water gets diverted into my house. I feel like we are receiving the cities toilet water. The flushing loosens everything and it's worse.

      Delete
    2. Seems like the city could use this to water lawns. The water isn't bad for vegetation. And then the residents would use less water. Win - win. Hell, maybe pay a lower rate for the water for the lawn.

      Delete
    3. The City uses some of that water to preserve the trees in Memorial Park and elsewhere.

      Delete
  14. Please forgive my comment based on a lifetime in the REAL world of business.
    If a management team is incompetent,corrupt,ineffective and lacks honest motivation, you fire them. The last thing you would do is give them more money to waste.
    Why does this not apply to Aguilar/Inman ?
    Why does the CC not show some backbone and fire them for cause.
    In the real world of small business, if the bad Managers are not fired the whole company goes bankrupt.
    That is the ultimate fate that awaits Sierra Madre. But the agony of decline could take years if CC does not act.
    The longer the CC dither the more painful this will be for all - including the over-compensated City employees.
    Meanwhile property values will suffer,services will decline,infrastructure crumbles.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Chicago is trying to avoid bankruptcy - guess why it's heading towards it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfunded pensions.

      Delete
    2. Tattler readers are smart cookies.

      Delete
  16. The additional property tax will be to pay off the Lawsuits. One Carter is for 33 million alone. The Hildreths who know how much that will cost us. The City has all ready spent 3 million so far just on those two. Heads need to roll starting with the City Manager.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I hope all of you take Capoccia up on his suggestion. Let all of the CC know how you feel. Keep proof that you wrote each and every one so Goss can't say he only received approvals. Look who he appointed to the revenue committe. And Harabedian,too. I guy who didn't show up for 2 meetings. Talk about stacking a committe and giving it no power. More of the same. We have an election next year, MAKE IT COUNT. Remember Goss will be mayor. Get rid of the 2 you can.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wise Guys Say: Soak the Citizen Dummies!September 23, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Quick. Name three police officers besides the beloved officer Ford and the despised officer Berry. . . Time's up. You lose.

    This little test is designed to demonstrate the myth that the local constabulary is somehow part of our community. They are not. They don't live here. They don't shop here. And, while they certainly work to buy our politicians, they don't give a rip about the residents.

    We have no need for any UUT (much less an increased UUT) so long as we outsource to the Sherrif's Department which will reduce our police cost by approx. $1M annually. That's $1,000,000,000 saved over a single milleneum!

    This single police services line item consumes a WHOPPING 50% of the general fund. And yet the counsel - including the member who posed with a uniformed police officer in his campaign ad and who is sponsoring this 50% tax hike - refuses to tackle it. Shocking!

    ReplyDelete
  19. You mean Harabedian? Stop his political agenda by not electing him again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would a vote like that actually count? Does he get do overs like the UUT?

      Delete
  20. I just wrote all the CC members. I most probably will get few answers but I will keep doing it daily as much as I can.

    ReplyDelete
  21. For all of you who are talking parcel tax, unless it's a DEDICATED parcel tax (which requires 2/3 YES votes, nearly impossible), the City can spend the $$ any way they damn well please. Platinum CalPERS Pensions come to mind.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I would like to see the water report Inman failed to send to the state in a timely manner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget the financials they didn't give the water bond guys. Non reporting seems to be their MO.

      Delete