You need to learn about perspectives if you want to get things right. Put yourself in other peoples' shoes and look at it all through their eyes. To mix up the metaphors a bit. And at a packed Hart Park House last night, that is what this was all about. Water and perspectives.
There were a lot of people there who were quite upset about how much they have to pay for water. And when you consider that they have been paying upwards of $1,600.00 for that irreplaceable wet stuff, they do have a pretty good point. These are very real, and obviously quite unfortunate, events in their lives. Intolerable events. But that isn't quite how I see this. Sympathetic though I may be.
From my perspective what they were talking about are the consequences of some pretty bad decision making from a long time ago. Likely way before many of them even hit town, so why would they care? They just want these water problems solved so they can then move on. Pipes, crazy billing and everything else. That is what most of the folks there last night were looking for.
That is what the city hopes to do as well. Plenty of agreement on that. There are now new people running City Hall, and they really do want to get past all of this. They have to. It is expected that they do so, and after all it is their job.
I want that to happen, too. It's just that there is a little business that I'd like to see taken care of first. I want to solve the mystery of how things got to be quite this bad. There is a deep and rich history here. What is going on today is the direct result of events that happened when I first got involved in the political and governmental affairs of Sierra Madre, and still am today.
It's why I started this blog. Think of it as crime solving. Detective work. And since it is my blog, that is how it will have to be. If you don't like it, well, go and read something else. No hard feelings.
Here's the deal. Back around 2006/2007 there was something called the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). Certain politically connected individuals, some of them the actual politicians themselves, plus more than a few suckers I must add, were going to turn downtown Sierra Madre into this big, and quite atrocious in my opinion, development project. Blocks of that funky downtown area we have all grown to love were going to be torn down and replaced with a kind of generic three story mixed-use okey dokey kitsch that typifies places like, say, Rancho Cucamonga. Or a million other equally indistinguishable California towns. Take a ride on the 210 Freeway and check it out.
Millions of dollars were invested by people who believed they were going to make a lot of dough off of this development scheme. Plans were made and all that remained to be done was get everything approved by the city, and then built.
Except there was a problem. The majority of those living in Sierra Madre didn't want it. They liked things just the way they were. And to stop this Downtown Specific Plan they put something on the ballot called Measure V. An initiative that, once passed, would make building the DSP legally impossible. And despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by Sacramento based organizations such as the BIA and CAR (look them up) to defeat it, Measure V passed. It remains the law in downtown Sierra Madre today.
So where does this leave the water bonds that are such a financial disaster for Sierra Madre now? Here is where some of that mystery comes in. In 2002/2003 the City Council decided to issue a $6.75 million dollar water bond. The theory being that this was necessary for what would soon become known as the Downtown Specific Plan. The water infrastructure at that time not being adequate for the kind of bumping big development project they were planning for downtown.
They didn't really have the capital needed to float this water bond, but it didn't matter. Once the DSP was built there would be enough tax money flowing into the city's coffers to deal with it. They linked their water bond to a Federal grant and built some fine water tanks that are still in use today. They even have water in them.
However, when Measure V passed, the Downtown Specific Plan died an unhappy death. And since there would be no mighty tax bounty raised from the now defunct DSP, the City Council at that time had no money to pay for their $6.75 million dollar water bond. Meaning the interest only payment arrangement they put into place on what was hoped to be a temporary basis had to be left as it was. All the way to the year 2019. Which at the time must have seemed like a long ways away, but now no longer is.
Because of this large amount of unnecessary debt there is today far less money to replace the rusted out and leaky pipes that were discussed at length at last night's water forum. Or anything else for that matter. The hands of the city have been financially tied for a long while, and the consequences are obviously still with us today.
From 2020 to 2034 the City of Sierra Madre will be forced to pay off in excess of $640,000 in bond debt every year. More than double what the city has been paying in interest-only payments up until now. And because Sierra Madre's water bonds are rated junk by Moody's (how could that be otherwise?), no matter how the deckchairs on the Water Titanic are rearranged that bill will still need to be paid pretty much as is.
That is where your water use penalty money is going. And other money, too. No new pipes for you, cowboy. Prepare to cough up.
We'll have more on all of this in a few days. Including how the SGVMWD charges Sierra Madre much more for its water than some of the other area burghs. There will also be an intriguing conspiracy theory about how certain City Councilmembers back in the day were not only responsible for the 2002/2003 water bonds, they were also DSP investors.
Which, if ever proven true, would be quite a story.