Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We Have A Winner!

On December 13th we launched our contest to identify a new name for the Mountain Views (Observer). A reconfigured masthead becoming a necessity for the beleaguered paper due to a court decision that stripped it of the rights to the name "Observer." For a review of the details, click here. Many fabulous entries were received, and we had to make some hard choices. Here they are:

In the Honorable Mention category, we have selected 5 possible new names for the management of the (Observer) to consider during the difficult name search process:

1) The Baldwin Blowhard
2) Mountain Views Whoopie Cushion
3) The Sierra Madre Suppressor
4) Scagtown Chameleon Chronicle
5) Foothill Follies

The First Runner Up selection was a particularly difficult choice. We considered this matter into the wee early hours of the morning, drinking and arguing and, I hate having to admit to this, fist fights were a part of the decision making process as well. It was an ugly brawl, and if you heard ambulance sirens last night, you now know why. In the end, our less-than-consensus choice was:

The Not In My Driveway News

But we do have a winner. And the person who created this wonderful new masthead name will take away the Grand Prize, a full 30 count box of some of the most outre' and unlistenable CDs it has ever been my misfortune to hear. Congratulations go to Pasta for this remarkable entry ...

Thanks to all who participated in this important contest. There will be more of this sort of thing in the weeks and months ahead, so keep checking in with the Sierra Madre Tattler, where news is inevitable and the prizes not all that good.

Have a safe and happy New Year's, and we'll see you in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

What the #$*! Does SCAG Know!?*

(Note: Discussion regarding SCAG has become important due to its ham fisted - and now failed - attempt to cram 138 high-density housing "units" into our little city. But there are important regional issues as well. In a December of 2006 article on his "From the Desert to the Sea ..." blog, journalist John Stodder (check out his new blog - Politics and Profits: The Meltdown)gleefully yanks apart SCAG's rather peevishly gloom and doom "State Of The Region" report. Though dated on the housing cost references, it is an excellent read. And because of its larger relevance to what's going in our city, we're reprinting most of it here.)

When the Southern California Association of Governments puts out its annual State of the Region report, it's usually a one-day story in the L.A.-area local media, and no story at all in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., where one could argue SCAG's findings are really aimed - at the custodians of the mythical treasure chests where money to build all the roads, commuter rail lines, housing and schools we need is supposed to come from.
SCAG's report would get even less attention if it weren't for the easy PR hook of a "report card." The report card itself is unpleasant reading as the headlines reflect: "Quality of Life is Dim," "State of Region Report is Bleak." "Traffic Negatively Affects Life in SoCal...Duh." The LA Times didn't bother with it, instead choosing to focus on how the Inland Empire used to be affordable, but not so much now ...

In other words, nothing SCAG does or says matters. If you've been around public affairs in LA long enough, you know that by now SCAG could phone in these reports from a shack in Wyoming. The numbers they crunch and package for public consumption are meant to spur action to change the region's negative trends, but they can't even stop history from repeating itself. Against "market forces and social forces," SCAG and the region-wide consensus of elected officials who all endorse its agenda are impotent.

The clue to SCAG's weakness? The report card, with all its C's and D's and F's, is a policy-wonk view that doesn't fit with what real people think. According to SCAG's own survey, more than half of Southern Californians think things are going "very well" or "somewhat well," while less than 10 percent think things are going very badly. Only about 20 percent of Southern Californians think transportation is the region's top problem - and the survey shows there is no consensus about what the top problem really is. Crime, environment, economic concerns, education and immigration are each named by about 10-15 percent of the region;s residents as the top problem.

SCAG, which is chartered as a regional planning entity, claims authority "to promote economic growth, personal well-being, and livable communities for all Southern Californians," but has few tools with which to fulfill its grandiose promise. This is why the agency is so relentless in telling us that traffic, the environment and affordable housing are bad and getting worse. Its leaders perpetually wait for a call from the people of Southern California to come to their rescue.

We've got myriad problems in Southern California, but the ones SCAG focuses on aren't especially unique. The environment is now perceived as a global issue. Where you stand on housing affordability depends on whether you are currently an owner or a renter. Most Southern California owners have an investment that appreciates faster than most other ventures.

Traffic congestion is part of living in an urban area; it improves only when the economy weakens, and no one wants that. People in Southern California figure that part of living and working includes traffic jams, crowded buses and trains, parking hassles, etc. They don't think it's much different in other cities, where you can also get stuck in traffic - and freeze your butt off in December. They don't think anyone has the answers to problems like this - least of all an obscure public agency that seems obsessed with telling them what they already know.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hangin' Out On MySpace With City Councilman Joe Mosca!

(01/04/09 note: Joe's MySpace page has been taken down. Alas. But thanks to the Google Cache system, you can now access it here!)

It is not often that you get to see a local city politico reveal himself in quite this way.  But then again Joe has never been your typical politician! And while he does identify himself here as Joseph Mosca - 36 years oldMale - Sierra Madre (the 36 being only a year or so light), we'll always know him simply as our Councilman Joe. So let's see what we can find out, shall we?

Joseph Mosca's Details:
Status: Married
Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island
Body Type: Average
Ethnicity: White / Caucasian
Zodiac Sign: Libra
Education: Grad / professional school
Occupation: Attorney / Councilman

I guess we should start with Joe's Libra thing. After all, Zodiac signs are always a great conversation starter. On the positive side, "Librans are sensitive to the needs of others and have the gift, sometimes to an almost psychic extent, of understanding the emotional needs of their companions and meeting them with their own innate optimism ... They are very social human beings. They detest conflict between people, so they do their best to compromise with everyone around them ..." However, Librans, like all of us children of the Zodiac, have a dark side as well. "The negative Libran character may show frivolity, flirtatiousness and shallowness. It can be changeable and indecisive, impatient of routine, colorlessly conventional and timid, easy going to the point of inertia, seldom angry when circumstances demand a show of annoyance at least, and yet Librans can shock everyone around them with sudden storms of rage." Oh my!

As I'm sure everyone knows, on a MySpace page you get to identify your favorite rock star, and even link to one of that artist's songs! Joe has picked the British pop sensation Howard Jones for his page, with the selected tune being "New Song." It is an effervescent and light track, and quite danceable as well. Howard first became famous as part of the MTV boom of the 1980s, right along with such pop icons as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Devo, and Sting. Using the new and exciting music video format, Howard enchanted a generation with his positive and upbeat sound. He has just released his 25th Anniversary Triple Live (!) Concert Tribute CD. And wouldn't you know it, he has a MySpace page as well! If you want to know more about Howard and what he is up to today, check him out here.

And now we've arrived at what MySpace is most famous for, and that is Friends. After all, that is what MySpace is, right? "A Place for Friends," as they like to say. On his site we can see that Joseph Mosca has 9 Friends. I'm not sure if that is a lot, but I seem to remember him having more a few years back. But a couple of them do look interesting! Icon, a gentleman seen pictured here on one very sporting motorcycle, describes himself this way: "Young at heart - slightly older in other places." And, "I can only please one person a day." Hmm. Icon is a 52 year old Capricorn who does not smoke or drink. He says his mood is "nervous," which to me means he should lighten up and have a nice glass of merlot. Another friend is the Rev. Norm. He is a straight white Caucasian Taurus who attended Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma. He describes himself as being "fast, athletic and flirtatious," and likes Elton John, Rod Stewart, Sting, and the B52s. Rev. Norm is the assistant manager of a Tulsa area golf course, and is pictured here standing bare chested on a putting green holding the pin. Fore!

For the rest you're just going to have to check out the site yourself. Have a great day and we'll see you again soon!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our favorite race track packs 'em in

A great afternoon yesterday at Santa Anita. Nice piece about the big day in the Pasadena Star News this morning:

Opening day crowds at Santa Anita hit a winner

ARCADIASanta Claus visited Santa Anita Park on Friday, bringing track management the second-largest on-track crowd on an opening day in the past nine years ... Santa Anita officials, concerned about the negative effect a struggling economy could have on its 84-day meet, were pleased when 33,112 turned out on a picturesque, brisk day for the opening of the track's 72nd season of thoroughbred racing ... The crowd was surpassed this decade only by the 34,590 who turned out on opening day in 2005. Santa Anita drew 28,295 the last time the track opened on a Friday in 2003.

The rest of the article can be found here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

In a blow to redevelopment, Sierra Madre's RHNA number is chopped from 138 to 72

In documents prepared by City Hall, and delivered to The Tattler by persons concerned about the destructive effects of unchecked development, it appears that those who advocate radically increased housing density in Sierra Madre have suffered a significant defeat. And in what looks to be a final stand for the last remnants of the old "No On V" coalition, this event could very well signal yet another battle in the struggle to save this town from the kinds of generic redevelopment that have scarred so many similar cities in the San Gabriel Valley.

This report, entitled the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element, which was prepared for the City Council by the Planning Commission and revealed during a study session held on Nov. 13, 2008, details many of the outside pressures being placed upon Sierra Madre to allow the rezoning necessary to accommodate condominium complexes and other forms of high density housing.

The main source of outside pressure is Sacramento. Apparently cities throughout California are required to come up with a "Housing Element" that would enable certain forms of high density redevelopmen
t. Towns refusing to do so would face possible loss of grants and funding, fines, and other forms of punitive coercion. 

The original reason for all of this was the creation of low income housing in towns where costs of single family homes had increased markedly. However, over the years, the building trades lobbies in Sacramento worked hard to dramatically warp this egalitarian concept. And the success of those efforts was evident in our SCAG (Southern California Area Governments) prepared 2006 RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) number. Only 58 of the 138 units would have been very low and low income. More profitable higher ticket housing "units" made up the lion's share of the quota.
Sadly, and as is the case with most attempts by big government to centrally impose what seemed like a groovy idea at the time, the impetus behind these "housing assessments" became less about the needs of low income people and a whole lot more about helping redevelopers make a lot of money. Ironically SCAG, the de facto appendage of the building trades lobbies that cooked up our 2006 RHNA ("reena') number included as past members such elected Sierra Madre officials as Bart Doyle, Enid Joffe, and John Buchanan. Current City Councilman Joe Mosca is not only an ongoing member of SCAG, but also graces the panel responsible for Sierra Madre's highly dubious 2006 RHNA number.

Another source for concern on the non-compliance front would be, of course, lawsuits. Housing Advocacy Groups and Disgruntled Developers (or, more likely, a combination of the two), being the likeliest sources for these lawsuits. Also listed among the consequences for non-compliance is the possibility of towns losing their local land use authority, along with a moratorium on building permits, and court imposed fines for undue delay.

So that is a summary of the kinds of forces we are up against. So how did the City of Sierra Madre manage to nearly halve its RHNA number? Well, apparently the regional uber-bureaucrats didn't take a couple of things into account when they did their book cooking. With the miscalculations now corrected, here's a summary of how our numbers break down by income levels today:

Very Low: 2006 RHNA # 36 , 2006-08 permits 10, new RHNA # 26
Low: 2006 RHNA # 22, 2006-08 permits 36, new RHNA # -14
Moderate: 2006 RHNA # 24, 2006-08 permits 14, new RHNA # 10
High: 2006 RHNA # 56, 2006-08 permits 20, new RHNA # 36
Totals: 2006 RHNA # 138. Now reduced to 72.

Incrementally, and very quietly, Sierra Madre has been alleviating some the Sacramento imposed pressures for new housing. Rather than seizing existing homes for the large condominiums and high density redevelopment most people here do not want, renovations and individual new home building have pared down much of that 138 number imposed by SCAG in 2006.

And what of the remaining 72 "unit" allotment? There are a couple of ways of dealing with that as well. Sierra Madre can continue to fight, hoping to reduce it even further. And I am happy to report various appeals are under way. And by readjusting the usage of existing buildings, including those owned by the city, and using "Granny housing" which would qualify as low income housing, plus other creative stratagems, this bullet can be dodged while at the same time doing some actual good for the community. 

So that's some pretty rockin' news, right? No new radical redevelopment projects will be required to satisfy our so-called housing debt to the state. Existing properties won't have to be designated for redevelopment, and will remain safe from being seized under eminent domain and razed to make room for undesirable high density housing.

But, of course, not everyone here is happy. And a rather bizarre strategy has emerged to fight these positive developments. Would you believe that it has something to do with certain as yet undesignated "historic" structures in town? More about this in a future column.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Update 12/25 7:49 AM - Red Flag Alert Canceled

The city's Red Flag Alert is canceled, with L.A. County going to a Phase 1 forecast. And from what we've been hearing at Tattler Weather Central from the Nat'l Weather Service guys, it looks like the big rain event so many predicted went north. So based on all that, we're changing our flag from a dire Red to the less ominous Yellow upgrade you see below. Looks like Santa delivered a big old Xmas present to Sierra Madre.

Click here to see what's up on the City of Sierra Madre site.

The National Weather Service has no alerts or warnings for Sierra Madre up at this time.

The NOAA - National Weather Service's very cool looking graphics and radar scans can still be found here. Check this out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

First week or so of this blog went pretty well. But there are a few things that I still need to figure out. And now I get a couple days off to do just that.

Anyway, here are 5 transportation related questions to ponder over the Christmas holiday:

1) Is it politically incorrect to refer to the Metro Gold Line as the "210 Trolly?"
2) When the illuminated signs on the freeways say "Don't text while driving Jan 1st," does that mean text messaging while driving is good to go again on January 2nd?
3) If public transportation is the wave of the future, how come I can usually get to where I want to go faster using that very personal mode of transportation, the bicycle?
4) Why are anti-driving posters targeting noxious automobile tailpipe emissions being hung on the sides of buses?
5) Will you be taking advantage of the big sale on Metro Orange Line posters for your Xmas gifting needs?

And here is a cautionary tale of how fame does not always work out for those it favors ...

Have a great holiday. Back soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

One Carter Bail Out Unlikely --- At Least From Dubai

As was noted in previous articles, the Dubai (United Arab Emirates) based ownership of John Laing Homes - the international developer known as Emaar - now finds itself saddled with a bit of financial dead wood right here in our little city. As erstwhile interest holder in the troubled One Carter Estates property, Emaar now finds itself facing the possibility of having to swallow this highly leveraged piece of muddy real estate. A holding that they couldn't even give away at auction last week. More reflections of the banking and real estate crisis here in the United States.

But if you think things are bad here, check out what is going on in Dubai. This from the Qatar based Gulf Times:

Banks that financed Dubai's six-year real estate boom now face the unprecedented challenge of foreclosing on bad mortgages as over-stretched borrowers, who had hoped to cash-in on soaring property prices, default ... Market financing has evaporated, sales have slumped, developers and brokers are cutting jobs, while prices in some areas are reported to have fallen sharply. 

You need to think of Dubai as the Switzerland of the Arab world. It is where all the most influential banks are located.

What this means for us is that we could be looking at an orphan property at One Carter. With little financial incentive to further invest in needed infrastructure construction, and with the economy in Dubai making raising the capital needed to go forward with this project difficult, what is to prevent them from just packing up and walking away?

The consequences of one of the worst blunders in Sierra Madre history continue to show no signs of abating. What we are possibly faced with here is an abandoned property, one that poses a significant threat for mud and landslide damage should severe storms hit this rainy season. Could it be that the cost of building the retaining walls and the other things needed to fend off disaster could end up falling upon the City of Sierra Madre? And is that really what the rumored bonds were for?

The Sierra Madre City Council - Class of 2004. The gift that just keeps on giving.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Mountain Views (Observer) versus --- the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association?

Word has reached us here at The Tattler that strained feelings now exist between the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association and that paragon of local journalistic integrity, The Mountain Views (Observer). It would appear there were a couple of things in a front page Dean Lee penned article (12/12 edition) that did not sit quite right with some at the SMRFA.

In the article "Tournament of Roses Officials Test SMFRA Entry - Volunteers Desperately Needed To Make Deadlines," Mr. Lee apparently attempted to stir up controversy where none was required. To start off with, the claim that the SMRFA is "desperately" in need of volunteers is just not true. In a community noted for its dedication to community and volunteerism, the SMRFA is one of the most beloved and well-supported organizations in town. And while help is always needed in the creation of something as complex and detailed as a Pasadena Tournament of Roses entry, to suggest that this organization is "desperately" in need of volunteers just isn't true, and could create an unfortunate impression that there is serious trouble within what is in fact a highly professional enterprise.

But where things truly soared beyond what is popularly regarded as reality is found in the body of the article itself. 

"There was good and bad news last Sunday morning as the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association was told by Tournament officials they would have to have a second technical inspection before the float, 'Bollywood Dreams,' would be allowed to grace Colorado Boulevard New Year's morning ... 'We had some safety concerns regarding the communication between the observer and the driver, your water slosh factor, and so many out walkers,' TOR officials said. 'We are going (to?) request an extra T2 test and we want the animation engine fixed and the water flowing because every time you hit the brakes there was water flowing all over the street.' The second inspection should be in about two weeks, but could be as late as Dec. 27, 'we want you to be fully ready,' he said."

Wow. If you didn't know much about the SMRFA and their incredible track record of creating award winning floats for this premier national event, this article could leave you with the impression that this is a group of folks that have no expertise whatsoever, and are spiraling towards disaster.

But here's the skinny. The Tournament of Roses is an organization that maintains some very high standards. And if you have watched this parade over the years you know that this is a remarkably trouble-free event. I mean, have you ever seen a float fall apart? Tip over? Belch smoke from its exhaust pipes? Of course not. This is due to stringent quality controls backed up by repeated inspections from some very thorough TOR officials. What Dean Lee quoted above as somehow being an indication of trouble is actually standard inspection language from the Tournament, with all the other cities and organizations fielding floats this year going through the exact same rigorous process. 

In my opinion what the MV(O) printed is little more than gratuitous sensationalism designed to create news where none existed. And could there be a less deserving target for this kind of fast and loose "journalism" than the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association? Not at all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mud Flap

We here at The Sierra Madre Tattler are currently having a rewarding conversation with Bill Coburn on the blog that he has attached to his Sierra Madre News Net site. Also in the mix is his informational and elegantly designed mudslide awareness site, Sierra

Now my initial observation to Bill was that the Santa Anita Fire of last April, as he points out on Mudre, is obviously a deciding factor in the mudslide problems we are now facing. Fire ravaged hillsides are the curse of many foothill cities, and we need to be concerned each and every time a storm rolls in. However, there was nothing on his site about the mudslide problems at the "development" plagued One Carter Estates being a contributing factor. Given the serious problems many homeowners in that area have suffered, I thought this was a significant oversight.

To his credit, Bill took my point under consideration. He admitted that this "... was an inadvertent omission" on his part. "I overlooked One Carter as a contributing factor." He then updated to include the following:

"Less than 3% of the expected ten year storm mud-flow (sic) is expected to come from the One Carter property, some of which was denuded by fire, and then some by the developer. So the development at One Carter was also a (minor) contributing factor to the potential mud and debris flow problems the City is facing."

Now I wasn't quite sure that what Bill had written here was in the spirit of what I was talking about. As I pointed out in my next post.

"Not to belabor the point, but do you have any convincing statistical evidence to back up the 3% claim? It has always been my observation that acts of God are more often than not capricious, and saying that storm damage can be predicted with statistical accuracy strikes me as being more than a bit counterintuitive. And besides, can you really be certain that those homeowners who have been experiencing the consequences of the One Carter mudflows would be all that comforted by their inclusion in that 3% figure? I mean, you have seen the photos, right?"

Bill grumpily replied that the 3% figure comes "from math." He then made what I considered to be a rather startling admission, especially given his reputation for being something of an expert on local hillside disasters.

"Do you have photos of mud flowing from One Carter? I haven't seen any. Nor have I seen any mud flowing from One Carter. Perhaps you can tell me when this mudflow occurred, and/or provide me with copies of the photos?"

Included in a featured Dec. 15 article printed in the Pasadena Star News ("Rain snarls traffic, raises threat of mudslides below hills burned by Santa Anita Fire"), there is a photo of the sandbag barrier just downhill from the entrance gate to One Carter. "Sandbags are stacked on Carter Avenue in Sierra Madre to direct the mud and water runoff from the first major storm to strike the southland ..." reads the description written below the picture.

In October of 2007, in what was one of the most boneheaded decisions ever made by our City Hall, Dorn Platz was given an extension of their permit to begin work on the One Carter development. Boneheaded in that what they authorized was the stripping of all the trees and undergrowth from that steep hillside location, and in the middle of the rainy season. The result, in January of 2008, which should have been obvious to the solons responsible, was mudflow damage to many of the homes in the One Carter area.

Here's a couple of pictures of that damage. There are plenty more where these came from.

Friday, December 19, 2008

One Carter - Stonehouse Auction: Can We Say White Elephant?

Just got back from the frozen front steps of the Pomona Superior Courts building, and I can report that there were NO TAKERS for the One Carter and Stonehouse properties. Not one single bid was placed. Before the bidding (or lack thereof) began, the auctioneer read off a near endless series of numbers denoting the financially interested parties flypapered to these two forlorn properties. Then he looked up, smiled, and said, "Be very careful on this one."

The initial combined asking price of $51 Million had apparently been cut just before the bidding by the representatives of Land America Default Services in attendance, with the minimum starting bid for today being Stonehouse at $7 million, $19 million for One Carter. Prices far less than what was originally paid for these properties.

After failing at auction, the two properties were apparently returned to the banks currently holding the bag. Who knows, maybe some of that $700 billion in our tax money the Feds have been using to bail out banks will be used to clean up this mess? The excesses of earlier this decade have even come home to roost here in Sierra Madre.

The auction took place outside the front doors of the Courthouse, and between the cold and the rumble of trucks going by, it was quite a hardy experience. Over 400 properties were being considered today, the vast majority being bankruptcies and foreclosures. A true sign of our troubled times.

Sierra Madre's SCAG/RHNA Numbers To Be Drastically Slashed

You might recall from last year the controversy over SCAG's  Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandated housing numbers for Sierra Madre. A Sierra Madre Weekly item (May, 10, 2007) entitled "City Stuck With Unwelcome Housing Numbers," laid out the process:

"According to state law, each municipality must meet its fair share of the need for new housing. This year SCAG prepared the assessment. From 2006-2014 Sierra Madre must create opportunity for 138 new housing units including 82 very low, low and moderate income units. The city does not have to build the houses but it does have to make sure zoning codes allow them to be built if a developer is interested."

This was not greeted as being particularly sunny news by many here, especially in light of the fact that in order to make room for the kind of development SCAG was mandating, existing housing would have to be seized and leveled to create the kind of room necessary to build 138 new "housing units."

"'SCAG not too ceremoniously turned down our request for revision of our numbers,' explained Councilman John Buchanan about his recent appearance with City Attorney Sandra Levin and city staff before the SCAG Appeals Board to request a reduction in the number of housing units allocated to the city ...  'We knew ahead of time that these arguments were probably going to fall on deaf ears,' Buchanan explained."

It should be noted here that John Buchanan did have past service time with SCAG at the time of the ruling. And that Councilman Joe Mosca, who also attended the Appeals Board meeting, had two months earlier begun training at SCAG's Leadership Academy.

So this all sounded pretty final, right? SCAG ruled, and our then city leadership apparently tucked tail and accepted this ruling as an unshakable finality.

But now it appears that, under appeals put out by our current city leadership, Sierra Madre's RHNA numbers weren't quite so final as first assumed. Word out of Sacramento has it that SCAG's RHNA #s for Sierra Madre were somehow calculated incorrectly. And that our numbers could be drastically reduced, perhaps by as much as 50%! And at 50% current "granny housing" could very well be adequate to accommodate required low income housing, obviating the necessity for the kinds of dislocations new high density housing would bring.

More on this as it develops.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One Carter Estates Auction: Update

Tomorrow is the day the semi-vertical mud flat known as 1 Carter Estates goes on the block. For anyone planning to attend, the particulars are below. 

The Sierra Madre Tattler will be making a lowball bid, so if you are not prepared to deal with strong 3 figure competition, then you might just want to stand back and watch.

Order #30154484
Instrument #052712484
Auction: 12/19 @ 11:30AM
Pomona Superior Courts Bldg (outside)
350 West Mission Blvd
Opening bid set at: $51 Million Dollars, or best offer.

One other thing: A new Washington Post - ABC News Poll shows 63% are already hurt by the economic downturn. Can anybody really believe that in an economy as bad as this one there are still people who will be willing to buy multi-million dollar McMansions, and in a fire and mudslide zone? Talk about your dead business model ..

Ex-Sierra Madre Mayor Glenn Lambdin's Mighty Struggle With The Lord

In a series of columns written for The Mountain Views (Observer), which are cached on The Sierra Madre News Net site, former Sierra Madre Councilman and Mayor Glenn Lambdin revealed himself to be a man seemingly in the throes of a searing struggle not only with religion, but perhaps even God Himself. In his Losing My Religion essays, Glenn lays out his spiritual denouement this way:

"I've recently come to the conclusion that I've lost my religion. After spending twenty years as a fundamentalist Christian, and the last six years dissecting and re-evaluating my faith, it's time for me to admit that I have lost my religion. The very institution that guaranteed me eternal bliss now guarantees me an eternity of torment, sorrow, and gnashing of teeth. I am a heretic ..."

Definitely not the kind of thing you get from most politicians.

Men of God losing their faith is an ages old theme in religious thought, and endless literature has been dedicated to the topic. And it is no surprise that as a person begins the final chapters of his existence he might begin to question things that until now had been held close. The need for rejuvenation is a constant in life, and occasionally straying from one's faith in search of greater meaning, particularly during so late a passage, is hardly uncommon.

But that said, there seems to be something very different about Glenn's struggle with his faith. This is no mere case of navel gazing, or wandering the hills looking for spiritual inspiration in the fields and flowers. No, there is a distinct layer of rage in this, as if God has somehow let this lost seeker down, and for that the shepherd cannot be forgiven by the lamb.

"Something has gone hay-wire (sic) with religion. The same pool of religious thought that brought the world Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is (the) same pool of thought that, in practice, has forced humanity to suffer millenniums of unthinkable atrocities of hate, murder, torture, bigotry, slavery, or worse."

Worse than millenniums of murder, torture, and slavery? The mind recoils.

Blaming God or His teachings for the works of man is an intellectual failing that I'm sure Glenn's religious instructors hoped he'd have gotten past by now. While there are certainly those who attempted to justify their evil deeds as being works of God, none ever really withstood the test of time. And though Glenn may have willed himself to believe that religion is responsible for the bad things he catalogs above, has he also taken into account the hospitals, the schools and great universities, the many beautiful houses of worship, or the countless millions of acts of love and charity that also found their genesis in religion? Apparently not. Would civilization have evolved to the point it has without the moral and ethical compass set for us by the great religious thinkers and philosophers?

Back in the day I had been a party to discussions such as this. But the venue was hardly the city adjudicated newspaper. Rather it was a college dorm room stocked with beer and other equally inspiring effluents. And I even turned to a few liquid varieties this rainy evening as I struggled to put my finger on what exactly it is that Glenn's bleak screeds bring to mind. And then it dawned on me. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, the tightly wrapped and troubled warrior prince of the film classic Apocalypse Now. In his famous "horror" soliloquy, Marlon Brando, who played the part of Kurtz, delivered these lines:

"It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror is. Horror. Horror has a face ... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. ... Horror ... And I remembered I cried. I wept like a grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out ..."

Great film, but with a truly bizarre hippy philosophy lesson tacked to the end. Oh, and ouch on the teeth thing.

Where Glenn's whole premise collapses into an overheated heap is when he attempts to assign the blame for his personal spiritual crisis on something other than himself. In this case the terror attacks of 9-11.

"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, saw the Western media portraying the men who hijacked the planes and killed thousands of innocent people as crazed lunatics and cowards. In fact these men were neither. What these men were was faithful. Men of faith - faithful to ancient writings and hatreds that have been passed down to them ..."

Look, it is one thing to experience a hiccup in your spiritual journey. Happens to even the best of us, and it is our lot in life to deal with it. What goes on in the hearts of most isn't always pretty, or without fear, doubt, or pain. Or free of questions about one's purpose in a world that can seem chaotic and destructive to all we hold dear. But when a person makes a decidedly provocative public assault on religion, and then turns around and blames it all on the brutal actions of a few deranged individuals, then we are talking about an entirely different set of issues.

The line between troubled man of faith and cranky village atheist can be a thin one. And with these essays our former Mayor might very well have passed a tipping point.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sierra Madre Mud Front Properties With Dramatic Foothill Fire Views: $51 Million Dollars?

(Note: This post is partially based on information that was kindly sent in by a reader. The Tattler is dedicated to printing important information as it arrives. We feel that it is our mission to keep the people of Sierra Madre as informed as possible about important events. Because if we don't do it, what other news venue will?)

Public auction is now set for December 19 for both the One Carter & Stonehouse properties. The opening bid is set at $51 million dollars, or best offer. These properties are to be sold by CapitalSource (that's how they spell it) Finance Bank of Maryland, with temporary oversight (receivership) being handled by the Douglas Wilson Co. out of San Diego. The Douglas Wilson Co. has been feng shui-ing the infrastructure work being seen as of late, with Laing Luxury Homes supervisory personnel orchestrating all the artistic mud pushing. Obviously with the purpose of making this calamity specific development project look as good as possible for the marks at Friday's auction in Pomona.

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig ...

And, as is fairly well-known, it is Laing Luxury Homes that carries the bonds. Laing Luxury Homes is still owned by Emaar, the Dubai, United Arab Emirates, real estate development conglomerate. Or at least as far as we know. Emaar, who specializes in luxury developments around the world, now finds itself in a business that is bearing the brunt of the world-wide real estate and banking collapse.

Now why would anyone want to own denuded hillside property, located in a recent fire zone, and prone to mudslides, earthquakes, and other "Acts of God" related inconveniences? Does this "best offer" caveat mean that we're looking at a fire sale auction? So to speak?

And with capital financing nearly non-existent due to the banking collapse both here and elsewhere around the world, where would the financing for a development of multi-million dollar luxury homes come from? And in this market who would be able to buy them? And wouldn't an absence of buyers for these properties signal that savvy investors realize that none of this has bottomed out yet, and that these properties could go for far less in a year or so?

I guess we're going to find out.

So perhaps nobody will bid on these properties, at least to the tune of $51 million? And that a "best offer" bid might actually be considered? If that is the case I'm putting down $20 bucks. As any lottery player can tell you, you just never know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Deuxamis? C'est La Vie! The Observer is no more.

As many of you already know, or were about to discover I'm certain, the acrimonious partnership that constituted Deuxamis Publishing recently came to a bitter end in a courtroom of the Superior Court of the State of California, N.E. Judicial District, Pasadena. 

Katina Dunn, who at one time constituted 50% of this newspaper publishing empire, sued and won her case against the current publisher of The Mountain Views Observer, her now former business partner Susan Henderson.

In Court Case # GC039149 (Katina Dunn, Plaintiff, vs. Deuxamis Publishing, a California Corporation, and Susan Henderson, an individual, Defendant), the Judge ruled in favor of the claims of the Plaintiff. In the process the Court found that Susan Henderson, who represented herself in court on this matter, owes Deuxamis Publishing the lordly sum of $41,900. And that upon payment of this considerable lump of greenbacks the partnership known as Deuxamis Publishing will be legally dissolved. Turned to vapor as it were, and cast into the brisk desert winds that so typify some of our weather here. Kind of like the current American banking system, if you think about it.

Additionally, it was also decided by this Court that Susan Henderson's publication, The Mountain Views Observer, must now and forever drop from its masthead the legendary Sierra Madre newspaper name, "The Observer." A change the Court ordered be made no later than early January, 2009.

Now we're not going to get into the nitty gritty of the actual court case today. There is a lot of speculation going around town about what exactly happened during the trial, but until we get our mitts on the as yet unissued official court documents, we will not be engaging in uninformed or idle chatter. Plenty of time for that later.

However, here at The Tattler we are intrigued with the issues raised by "The Observer" being legally hacked off from "Mountain Views." Taking the Observer brand away from Ms. Henderson's publication does present certain marketing challenges for her, and as a noted professional in the field Sir Eric feels it is his duty to step in and proffer aid. After all, and as a former columnist of that publication, it is always a gentleman's obligation to reach out and offer assistance to an old colleague.

So after much thought and some careful consideration, here are a few of our masthead recommendations for the paper's upcoming relaunch.

. The Lawn & Pool Picayune
. The John Buchanan Well-Shined Shoes Gazette
. The Skilled Newsing Home
. The Mountain Views Malarkey
. The Sunnyside Up
. Foothill Frolics

Now at The Tattler we are democratic by nature. And the kind of haughty hierarchical superciliousness that typifies the approach of some in this town is quite alien to us. We're with the people, gosh darn it. So we're going to open this discussion up to you! What would you call the paper formerly known as "The Observer?" And to spice things up a bit, we're going to offer a special prize to the person creating a name that we feel best exemplifies the spirit and mission of that publication. The prize? A full 30 count box of compact discs personally selected from Sir Eric's very own listening pile. And let me tell you, these CDs will not only be the work of artists that you have never heard of, but will hate as well. However, if you do put them on your shelf, your friends will marvel at your eclectic and surprising tastes in music. 

Just don't let anybody actually play them.

Good luck!

Sir Eric Maundry, against better advice, has decided to start a blog.

Oftentimes Sir Eric has regretted that there really are not all that many opportunities for posting news and opinion in our quaint hillside town. A gentleman known for the vigor of his opinions and his seemingly unquenchable desire to share them, Sir Eric has long felt that a venue for discussion is sorely needed here. Once a hotbed for the bloggly arts, Sierra Madre has seen the disappearance of just about anything approaching the form. Sure there is 91024's sporadically active A View From the Canyon, but beyond discussing our occasionally life-threatening weather there just isn't all that much going on. Then there is Bill Coburn's rather chipper Sierra Madre News Net. Heavy on "Lite" news, but can you find much there dealing with the more important city issues? No, not really. And besides, the only commenting Bill invites is on his attached blog, a modestly attended place where gushing about local talking head TV ladies from Eyewitless News infotainment broadcasts seems to be all the rage. Hail Hamilton has an interesting site, and we certainly do enjoy reading his cogent and sometimes idiosyncratic observations. But that is about it! Political strategies changed, and those who once so freely fomented on them packed up their blogs and went home to reconsider the rather disturbing errors of their ways.

But none of this is an adequate excuse for starting a blog, and certainly we shouldn't want to repeat any of the errors of our town's recent past.

Of course, this little burgh still has plenty of places one can go to see past mistakes in action. One look at the ecological disaster zone known as One Carter should be proof enough that common sense and civic concern are not always the first priority of our fair city or those comprising its governance. Or perhaps the bemused frippery of the most underused "recreation area" in the San Gabriel Valley, Goldberg Park, will trigger such reflection in you. And then, of course, there was that "Downtown Specific Plan" that so much of our money was squandered upon. You know, the one that Joe Mosca became so "distraught" about upon learning that it would actually be shared with us, you know, the great unwashed whose tax dollars were so needlessly spent to concoct it?

The overweening presumptions of the bureaucratic personality type always do have the power to astonish this observer.

And so, in the spirit of bad moves and things that we should have known enough to avoid, allow me to welcome you to The Sierra Madre Tattler, Sierra Madre's first new blog in the glowing new era that started a week or two ago. Or maybe last month. Or something. We plan to discuss things that others refuse to consider (i.e., anything that does not fit the pre-approved agendas of the more established communications venues here, you know, like cookie store openings in Arcadia, or the dyspeptic opinions of realty concern owners), and hopefully provoke the kinds of colorful conversation this city has long been famous for. Because that is what we do, right? There is no town quite like Sierra Madre, for so very many reasons, and free-ranging discussion our local politics is certainly one of the reasons we love it so.