"Steve Lopez is a California native who has been an L.A. Times columnist since 2001. He has won more than a dozen national journalism awards for his reporting and column writing at seven newspapers and four news magazines, and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist for commentary: in 2012, for his columns on elder care, and in 2016, for his columns on income inequality in California."
Our guy Steve published a locally momentous column about Sierra Madre a little more than a decade ago. It was written during a time when developers were putting some heavy pressure on The Foothill Village to accommodate a very large and unpopular downtown mixed-use development project. The big money people behind it were using some very nasty tactics as an attempt to silence the people opposed to it.
More on that in a moment.
An anonymous Arcadia reader posted a comment the other day that impressed me a lot. So much so that I reposted it last Saturday as part of the regular daily entry. The reason being it reminded me of what had gone down in Sierra Madre a while back. Here is a small portion of it.
"Everyone keeps asking where the rational people are. Why aren’t they speaking up? I’m going to tell you why…. WE ARE AFRAID! We are afraid of being bullied. We are afraid of community leaders coming after our kids. We are afraid of Kin Hui destroying our careers. We are afraid that OUR face will be the next meme shared maliciously on Facebook. We are afraid but it doesn’t mean we are not watching, listening and whispering. You might think we are cowards for not getting more involved but we have a lot on the line."
Rather contentious and unpleasant ones. Downtown Dirt.org, The Sierra Madre Cumquat, and another whose pornographic name I won't repeat here, arose from seemingly nowhere and started going after development opponents in rather unfortunate and at times salacious ways. They became the talk of the town. One even got some favorable coverage in the Pasadena Star News.
People began wondering who would be attacked next. The tactic worked, for a while.
This was when Steve Lopez showed up. Steve had been clued in on these happenings by friends from town, and in April of 2007 he published an LA Times column called "Sierra Madre Fears for its Treasure" (link). It was a fairly wide ranging effort, but he hit hard on the smear sites that many even now believe were generously enabled by developer money.
Here are a few key passages from Steve's column:
... it turns out that looks can be deceiving. Beneath its charming veneer, the town of 10,000 is in a dither over two development proposals: a 72-unit residential and commercial project and a 55-unit residential deal.
Old friends cross the street to avoid each other, the city manager fled town, bloggers are waging war with words and images that might be called homophobic and racist. Some people have reported mysteriously punctured tires. And a dead mole turned up splayed on the doorstep of a local newspaper publisher.
Measure V -- which would give citizens approval power on large developments -- is supported by, among others, Susan Henderson, a columnist for the Observer. In an apparent attempt at humor, an anonymous blogger who's adopted a pen name that can't run in a family newspaper, likened Henderson, who is black, to Aunt Jemima.
Another blogger, known as the Sierra Madre Cumquat, reported -- in one of the lamest stabs at satire I've seen in a while -- that Councilman Kurt Zimmerman had opened a bathhouse for young men, superimposing his photo over what looked like a gay orgy. The same website made up a story that pornographic images of Measure V supporter Faye Angus had been released on YouTube.
"It's so vile," said Angus, an author who has lived in Sierra Madre for nearly 50 years and speaks with a very proper Aussie accent. "I don't look at [the blogging], but there are people around town who monitor it and let me know."
When I told Angus that DowntownDirt.org didn't appear to be as satirical as other sites and instead seemed devoted to jabbing the Observer, she scoffed. DowntownDirt has a space devoted to "lively, spirited and civilized debate," on which a February entry by "Cumquat" asked "how long it's been" since Angus "had an orgasm."
It would be my contention that a similar tactic is being employed today by certain individuals with pro-development websites in Arcadia. Those sites being The Voice of Arcadia, The Angry Arcadian, whatever Mark Hong calls his ridiculous Facebook page, and, in a more nuanced way, Singpoli financed The Hub. All are now at some level performing that role.
The people of Sierra Madre did prevail. Measure V went to a vote and won, despite the $180,000 raised by various developers and Arcadia Realtors to defeat it. Plans for that highly unpopular downtown development just dried up and blew away.
But this victory didn't come without a measure of pain. Pain inflicted via the Internet by an industry that sees small city residents as the enemy, and therefore a legitimate target for their cruelty.