Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tattler Exclusive: The Marquez Letter

There's been talk about a supposed "written authorization" that has become known as The Marquez Letter. The author, Matt Marquez, as you probably know if you're a regular visitor to The Tattler, is a former Planning Manager for the City of Sierra Madre. But his sudden fame here is apparently related to things certain people are claiming he did more than anything else. And is Matt getting a fair shake from the town he used to work for? Has he now been set up to be a fall guy? Let's dig in.

(I've posted the letter here. If you click on it the size increases, making it much easier for you to examine.)

In last week's Mountain Views "Observer" a veiled reference is made to The Marquez Letter: "According to Mr. Pete Zimmermann, Chairman of the Trustee's (sic) of (the) SMCC, 'We have done everything that the city has required us to do. We submitted our application for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) in 2007. We were given written authorization to proceed with the construction once the application for the GPA was submitted ... We were advised, in writing, that we could proceed without the "prior" approval of the amendment.'"

What is being referenced here is a possible amendment to Sierra Madre's General Plan. One that would be required before the Sierra Madre Congregational Church could legally proceed with their building plans. And only the City Council could authorize such an amendment. The downtown property in question was zoned commercial, whereas the building they wished to construct (read: school) would need to be built on land zoned institutional. But rather than actually ask the City Council for an approval on this matter (which they never did in spite of the Planning Commission's admonition that such a thing was necessary), the SMCC tried to backdoor their way through the process. And they have now claimed that they were given a letter by the City that allowed them to circumvent the legally recognized authority in such matters and merrily proceed with their building plans.

So who actually signed the letter supposedly authorizing the Congregational Church of Sierra Madre to build this project without first getting the necessary City Council authorization for an amendment to the General Plan?

In comments to yesterday's column on these weighty matters, Marie Rose answered this very question with her usual grace and aplomb. "Mr. Zimmermann (two n's) said, when he handed the documents to the City Clerk at the City Council meeting of March 24th, that Matt Marquez signed the letter giving the SMCC the go-ahead to build prior to the zoning change. Review your recording. It's there for everyone to hear."

And then she added this observation: "... Mr. Marquez left the City a couple of years ago and was replaced by Danny Castro. I don't believe we can compel Mr. Marquez to come back and explain himself any more than we can compel Kurt Christianson, Tommy Gates, John Gillison, or any of the others who regularly rotated through our town looting and pillaging to stand up to scrutiny."

Well, perhaps we can't compel Mr. Marquez "to come back and explain himself," Marie Rose. But we can do the next best thing! Which is to help clear his name in this matter. Thanks to the kind assistance of concerned invisible hands, we here at The Tattler have obtained a copy of The Marquez Letter. It is the only letter City Hall has on file from Mr. Marquez that would fit the situation described by Mr. Zimmermann (with to n's). If there is any other such letter, the City of Sierra Madre doesn't know about it.

Here is what Mr. Marquez had to say in his now famous letter:

July 24, 2007

Kenneth L. Cromeenes
170 West Sierra Madre Boulevard
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Re: General Plan Amendment 07-01

Dear Mr. Cromeenes

"On June 25, 2007, the City of Sierra Madre received additional materials related to your application for General Plan Amendment 07-01. Staff has reviewed the submittal and determined that the information provided is sufficient. In the upcoming weeks, City staff will contact you and discuss the procedures and timeline for processing this application."

(Now there is more to this letter, dealing mostly with news involving Mr. Marquez's job change. You can read all about it by clicking on the letter posted at the top of this article.)

So this letter, the one that Mr Zimmermann (two n's) apparently cited as being the authorization to "proceed without the 'prior' approval of the amendment," in no way indicates that the Congregational Church could now go ahead and build their "Kids Port" (read: school). All it says is that they could now proceed with their quest of getting a General Plan Amendment out of the City Council. Something that is very difficult to do. Which is why, I suspect, they never even bothered to try.

If this letter is all that the Congregational Church has to hang their hat on, then we might as well start firing up the wrecking ball right now. Or at least give them the opportunity to turn the building into low income housing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Mountain Views "Observer" Skews The News Once Again

Now the more conspiratorially minded among us have claimed that the "Observer's" Susan Henderson is being somehow encouraged by certain concerned parties to skew her so-called news reporting to fit their personal agendas. Be it promises of political influence, ego stroking, or other considerations, there must be something there.

And I can understand this belief. It certainly does defy reason why Ms. Henderson would consistently publish material that is so obviously slanted towards the interests of a very small and well-heeled portion of the community. Unless, that is, she was being somehow rewarded. But there is one large gaping hole in this argument. One so big that you could drive a truck through it. Why would anybody give up anything in exchange for the consistently poor quality and patently ridiculous nonsense we read in the Mountain Views "Observer?"

As an example, in the latest issue of the "Observer" (03/28/09) there is an article entitled "No Resolution Yet For Congregational Church." It discusses something that has become a matter of some interest in town, the Congregational Church's construction of a "Kid Port" (read: school) without first obtaining the proper City of Sierra Madre approvals. And contained within the article is obviously skewed material such as this:

"According to the minutes adopted by the council, on March 10th Mayor Zimmerman states, 'We are told the property is not to be used as a school but you have desks.' Mayor Pro Tem MacGillivray stated, according to the minutes, 'most churches don't have classes, gyms, etc.' And yet, almost every Church in Sierra Madre has classrooms for Sunday School and other educational purposes. SMCC Church (sic) representatives have denied any plans to build a school."

Now if by "almost every Church" the "Observer" is talking about Bethany, St. Rita's, and the Church of the Ascension, yes, they all do control classrooms and other such educational facilities common to schools. Why? Because they actually do run schools. Real full time day in day and day out schools. So what makes them different than what the Congregational Church is up to? Their schools were built on land legally zoned institutional in the City of Sierra Madre's General Plan, whereas the SMCC merely has an illegally constructed and out-of-zone building that looks like a school.

Here's another shady statement from our so-called paper of record.

According to Mr. Pete Zimmerman (no relation to the Mayor), Chairman of the Trustee's of SMCC, 'We have done everything that the city has required us to do. We submitted our application for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) in 2007. We were given written authorization to proceed with the construction once the application for the GPA was submitted. We submitted it within the 60 day timeline. We were advised, in writing, that we could proceed without the "prior" approval of the amendment.'"

Now this transparent fallacy is, of course, designed to shift blame for their activities back upon the City. The SMCC was clearly informed by the Planning Commission that their approval to build was dependent upon them first getting a General Plan Amendment from the only place you can get one, the City Council. And did the SMCC go to the City Council to get this done? Apparently not. Rather the SMCC went behind the City Council's back, only later claiming that they were the innocent victims of City Hall confusion. If I was a member of the Planning Commission I would be highly offended by Mr. Zimmermann's attempt to shift the blame to them and those they work with when it is so obvious that the instructions they gave were clear and undeniable. And let's face it, Mr. Zimmermann is basically inferring here that both the Planning Commission and the City is staffed by incompetents, or worse.

By not getting proper City Council approval for an amendment change to the General Plan (from commercial to institutional), the Congregational Church did the following. They built an
illegal structure in the Downtown area, and they apparently did so without caring to get the approval of the duly elected officials of Sierra Madre. No matter how much the "Observer" attempts to fudge the evidence, the case here is ironclad and irrefutable.

Besides, doesn't all of this nonsense about "written authorizations" obviously beg a question we have yet to hear an answer to? That being, who exactly is it that signed this mysterious written authorization? If it wasn't the City Council, and it wasn't the Planning Commission or anyone associated with it, who then put their signature to this specious document? Somehow the SMCC's Mr. Zimmermann, nor anybody else for that matter, ever seems to want to identify that person. All they will say is that it was signed. And where exactly is this "written authorization" anyway? Has Mr. Zimmermann or any of the other SMCC people ever actually produced it?

Another place where the "Observer" goes off the deep end is here:

"... an extraordinary amount of concern has been expressed by MacGillivray, K. Zimmerman and Don Watts regarding the Church's Master Plan. Master Plans are documents which assist with 'the orderly development of your community' said Peter Zimmermann on Friday. They are a work in progress. That statement echoes similar Master Plan descriptions made by the City Manager and Development Director regarding other plans."

This statement is obviously a laughably weak attempt to sweep the matters at the very core of this lamentable situation under the rug. The SMCC submitted an original Master Plan on its "Kid Port" (read: school) building design in 2007. Along with other buildings such as a gymnasium capable of seating 450 people. A Master Plan that clearly identified that what they were building was a lot more than a Sunday School. It was filed and forgotten about after Measure V was passed and the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) staked. It contained plans that are in strict violation of the 2-13-30 parameters of the measure, which made this 2007 Master Plan out of code.

And if I was either of the individuals cited here I might resent having the words "echoes similar Master Plan descriptions made by the City Manager and Development Director" put into my mouth in quite that way. The City Manager and Development Director were not talking about this specific case, and to breezily imply that their words apply here is rather disingenuous.

Now the thing that the "Observer" howls about the loudest is the fact that the City Council is reconsidering the General Plan amendment first passed on this matter on February 24th. As the paper put it:

"What happened next has left many in the church and the community perplexed. At the March 10th meeting of the council, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Ann (sic) MacGillivray asked for a reconsideration of the February vote. Mayor Kurt Zimmerman, responding to inquiries from other council members as to why a reconsideration was necessary, indicated that he had "new information." One of the items that was of particular interest to the Mayor was the church's use of the term 'Jr. High Building' in their draft Master Plan."

Again, by the use of the term "draft Master Plan," we see the same evasion in action. The Master Plan being referred to here was the original Master Plan as submitted by the Congregational Church. It wasn't a draft, or a work in progress, or the passing fancy of some whimsical architect, it was the SMCC's Master Plan as submitted to the City of Sierra Madre in regard to their plans to build what they specifically identified as being a school. Designs committed to paper and filed by the City in 2007 as an officially received document. It even contains staff comment.

This, of course, is the new evidence Kurt Zimmerman spoke of. The rediscovery of the SMCC's original Master Plan has revealed crucial information that directly contradicts what spokespersons for the Congregational Church had only recently told our City Council in regard to their illegal construction project.

It is our opinion that a City Council must defend the integrity of the General Plan. This isn't the backwoods, and no matter how influential or connected the concerned party may be, nobody can just build things without first getting the full authorization of those responsible for maintaining the integrity of our town. And if the City Council did not pull this one back for reconsideration, they would be neglecting one of their most important duties.

It really is a shame that the only newspaper actually headquartered in Sierra Madre seems to despise our City government and many of the people working there. It is becoming obvious that the increasingly divisive Mountain Views "Observer" has serious problems with Sierra Madre. How nice it would be to have a paper in town that doesn't feel obliged to repeatedly trash people elected by the citizens of the very town it claims to serve ... but we don't have that.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Is Affirmation Day @ The Tattler, And We Now Salute The Remarkable Josh Strike!

We're all about affirmation and caring here at the good old SMT, and in that spirit we have decided to make a very special effort to note the remarkable achievement of one very special individual. His name is Josh Strike

After last Tuesday's City Council meeting, an event that included the widely celebrated denouement of the hopes and dreams of those wishing to continue consuming tobacco products on the sidewalks of our fashionable downtown dining areas, I posted something here entitled "Smoking Ordinance Passes Unanimously." A piece that has also been printed on the front cover of this week's edition of the Sierra Madre Weekly. Above the fold, I might add.

What has truly amazed us here is that this post has now attracted 156 comments! By far the largest total for anything we've ever put up on this site. And out of that lofty number a full 30 were contributed by Mr. Strike personally, with another 70 or so in direct response to his comments. Obviously we could never have achieved this remarkable new record without his selfless contributions. 

We extend our gratitude to Mr. Strike for his hard work and concern, and hope to continue hearing from him in the future. Obviously a blog requires passionate contributors to succeed, and Josh brings all that to the table, and then some.

We have come to refer to his observations as "Josh Thought," or "Strikes." Josh Thought being typified by a willingness to grapple with the big issues facing us, and in a most comprehensive way. Here he links the outdoor dining smoking restrictions just passed here in Sierra Madre to a possible decline and collapse of the United States of America.

"You know, I guess if I'd been thinking of it that way, I should have called Philip Morris. But I thought this was something citizens could compromise on amongst themselves. Awww ... what's the use. Your country's gonna crumble, fade and disappear in the next generation, if the world isn't wiped out anyway. This little blip, the hysteria at the end of the empire, we live in interesting times. If my grandfather were alive now to see this he'd have left this country, and will I to (sic). It's not just this smoking thing, it's your whole way of living and what you eat and what you watch and what you read or don't read and all the pointless junk you buy and all the debt your (sic) in to China and, ultimately, the limited way in which you think; and nothing I say is gonna really get that across because you just don't have a broad enough view of what the world is really like to comprehend it. Blind yourself, stay in the bubble, and when it all comes crashing down on you, don't say I didn't warn ya."

Now I was going to summarize Josh Strike's philosophy here, with his passion for the smoking cause and all of its ramifications being the most salient in his quiver of thought. But then I noticed a post by someone contributing under the rubric "Can You Help Us." Turns out this was written by a Sierra Madre resident named Johnny, with whom I have since exchanged e-mails. And what he had to say was, in my opinion, as gracious and compelling as anything I could ever hope to write on the topic. So we are reprinting it here in its entirety. 
Dear Sierra Madre Tattler,
I am new in my awareness of your blog. So far what I see I really like. It seems like a wonderful arena for some of us to express our thoughts, even our deepest feelings. What I have noticed, however, is that there is no advice column. I grew up receiving much enjoyment from reading the words of Dear Abby, Ann Landers, etc. I am curious as to whether you might consider bringing someone in to do just such a thing. If you would I have an important psychological issue that has developed in my young infant. Let me tell you about this issue as though this was your first submission to say, "Dear Eric?" Or maybe you could get that very pleasant young lady from that other news source in town, Alison to do it. Anyway, here is what I got:

Our son was born a couple of years back. We don't want to use his real name and risk the possibility of causing him harm later in life, so let's just from here on out refer to him as "Josh." Josh had something unfortunate that started shortly after his birth. The doctor told my wife and I that he is colicky. We had not previously been familiar with this condition, and perhaps you are not either. The malady cause paroxysmal pain in the abdomen or bowels. Of course, in the first year of his life we may never have known there was a problem due to the lack of language skills prior to their development. The only way we were able to tell that there was a problem was that he would never stop crying. 

As you can imagine, this was very difficult for my wife, myself and usually anyone else near us who had to listen to this consistent crying. We dealt with it as best that we could. However, at some point this made it difficult for us to even find friends for him to play with. The other stroller moms didn't want him around and none of the other children seemed to have any respect for him.

Fortunately at some point the condition improved, and as is usual he developed the ability to speak and was able to to tell us what was bothering him. Unfortunately, by this time our little Joshie had become conditioned to cry whenever he didn't get his way. This was even the case when a majority of the neighborhood children were happy with the way things were. His language skills did develop and in time Joshie was able to tell us of the many things that were troubling him. I won't burden you with all the details, but what follows is something we call:

A Short (and most likely very incomplete) List Of Things That Anger Baby Joshie -

1)  Lousy boot-licking totalitarians
2)  A weak country populated with stroller moms
3)  The idiotic Oprah Book Club
4)  Jim Cramer conversations
5)  Criminally spoiled, screaming kids
6)  Conversations struck up at the pub (that) revolve around someone's dog
7)  Sociopaths who think that with a little more rigid law enforcement, they'll somehow stop being miserable about everything.
8) People who lack critical reasoning skills
9) Failure of the education system
10) Human tendency toward thoughtless, high-handed persecution
11) An anonymous face in the crowd
12) The rule of the mob, the tyranny of the masses
13) Why we aren't more like Europe
14) The playroom at McDonald's
15) Large pharmaceutical company paychecks
16) Protectors of the population
17) Power of police to prevent people from doing something you dislike
18) Puritanical SOB(s)
19) Power in this country out of our (his) hands
20) Crying children
21) Moralizing
22) Members of the local Taliban
23) Anonymous posters
24) Being too addicted to a healthy lifestyle
25) Mayor Zimmerman

These are just some of our Joshie's gripes from a less than 12 hour period yesterday. Today with the beginning of a new day he just picks up where he left off and continues with an endless list of complaints and grievances. He was become almost UNBEARABLE!

So I guess the advice I am looking for ... my question is: Is there any way to stop our little baby Joshie from crying without completely caving in and giving him his way? It gets to the point where we wish someone would put a pillow over his mouth and hold it there until he stops breathing. Anything you can tell us would be helpful. Thank you, call us "Losing Our Minds In Sierra Madre"

Hopefully this is not the end of the dialog, and we will continue to use this exhilarating debate to grow both philosophically and as human beings.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Making Some (Small) Peace With "New Urbanists"

Sometimes in the grand struggle against all that is bad and annoying, you do need to make a little peace with folks that you instinctually do not trust. But because they dislike some of the things that you dislike, therefore causing you to find agreement with them on at least a limited amount of topics, you can begin to develop a kind of appreciation. And that is how I've come to feel about "New Urbanists." 

Now generally New Urbanists are a troubled bunch. They worship public transportation like it is the steel wheeled salvation of the world. They use hideous Orwellian terms like "Smart Growth" to describe the creeping soulless devastation that is high density development. They believe that people can find happiness living on small shelves in densely packed and overly planned deep urban neighborhoods. 

And, what is even worse, they want everyone to believe that cars are intrinsically evil. And I love cars. The faster and bigger the better. Suburban Assault Vehicles, sedans, sports cars, give me the keys and I'll drive 'em. Trust me, it will take some monumental global financial disaster to make me give up my automobile and ride the damned Metro. 

And  apparently New Urbanists not only ride public transportation, they even claim to love it. It is an almost fetishistic attachment to trains and buses that I find to be quite disturbing. But it is their life style choice, and as such it shouldn't be criticized too much I guess. 

So if you happen to be taking the Metro downtown, and you notice some guy grinning vacantly in the back of that light rail car, do not immediately assume he is an addict of some sort. No, he might actually be a New Urbanist blissed out on the virtue of earnest sacrifice. You see, to him it isn't that he's merely riding the 210 Trolly. No, he's both saving us all and moving briskly forward into a brave new world. A heady experience I'm sure.

So, you might ask, what is it that you find redeeming in these fellows? You just spent five entire paragraphs trashing them, where's the part where you say some good things?

I was reading an article entitleded Suburbia R.I.P. on a blog called Fast Company. It was basically the same old rubbish rehashed for the consumption of people who lap this stuff up like it's their addictive drug of choice.  You know, suburbs are sprawl, sprawl is bad, the price of gas will skyrocket, private transportation will become unaffordable, and everything outside of the city core will whither, die, and blow away. It is a form of invective that makes these guys feel all warm and fuzzy inside as they sit in their cramped, sunless slots reading this stuff.

And check out this example of logic in defiance of reason:

Cul-de-sac neighborhoods once filled with the sound of backyard barbecues and playing children are falling silent. Communities like Elk Grove, Calif., and Windy Ridge, N.C., are slowly turning into ghost towns with over grown lawns, vacant strip malls and squatters camping in empty homes. In Cleveland alone, one of every 13 houses is now vacant, according to an article published Sunday in The New York Times magazine."

Now having been to Cleveland, I would hardly categorize it as either a "cul-de-sac neighborhood" or a suburb. Quite the opposite, actually.

But then I came across a paragraph that made me feel a whole lot better about about things.

"So what's to become of all those leafy subdivisions with their Palladian detailing and tasteful signage? Already low or middle-income families priced out of cities and better neighborhoods are moving into McMansions divided for multi-family use. Alison Arieff, who blogs for the New York Times, visited one such tract mansion that was split into four units, or "quartets," each with its own entrance, which is not unlike what happened to many stately homes in the 1930s.  

Interesting. So let's think about this. What development of McMansions is currently being constructed here in our leafy little town? One Carter Estates, correct? The place where developers go to die, at least in the financial sense. And aren't the descriptions in the above paragraph an accurate portrayal of what is being built upside our hills? 

In the current economy houses that go for a million or two dollars are not moving very quickly. As a matter of fact the realty landscape is literally awash with expensive unsold properties that sit in near abandonment like so many beached whales. And will the fate of those oversize structures being built at One Carter be much different? I personally doubt it.

So wouldn't it be the height of irony that, should the One Carter McMansions prove to be commercially untenable, they will then be divided up into apartments? Inexpensive and affordable apartments? The kind of thing so sorely missing from Sierra Madre's housing mix?

Who knows, maybe once chopped up in that way they could be considered to be low income housing? And therefore helping to satisfy our state mandated quota for such things? Certainly not how Dorn Platz might have originally envisioned things turning out, which I guess would make this a good thing.

So is this part of town properly zoned for multiple family residences? If not, that process should start now. It's impossible to get too far ahead of this curve!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Put The Utility User Tax Hike Back On The Ballot

The Pasadena Star News, in their March 24th editorial entitled "Our View: No Treasure in Sierra Madre," made a great point:

"Take a look at what's going on in the small city of Sierra Madre, for example. Last year, with dire notice of a police department woefully underpaid and a city budget hemorrhaging red ink, voters in the Foothill Village were convinced that the city needed more money. So they raised their utility users tax by doubling it - from 6 percent to 12 percent ... Guess what? Now city auditors say there is an extra million dollars in the coffers. A budget year predicted to end on June 30 with a $315,000 deficit will now have a $46,000 surplus. For a small city such as this one, a million dollars is a lot of cash."

And then the Star News went on to ask the one million dollar question: "Was the tax plea done under false pretenses?"

Now there's a debate we could all enjoy taking part in.

How can it be that the City of Sierra Madre asked the people here to vote for a tax hike when proper audits hadn't been done in 4 years? Meaning that we didn't have ironclad information on what exactly our financial condition was? Here's how we put it earlier this month:

"At the time the Ad Hoc Finance Committee was deliberating about city finances, this town was in serious default on a very important Sacramento obligation. In the years 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2006-07, the City of Sierra Madre, despite very clearly worded State of California laws, had not supplied the financial audits of its budgets to the State Comptroller's Office. For each of the first three years Sierra Madre was fined $5,000 a pop for this lapse, with $10,000 being the damage for the year 2006-07. In other words, and I think this safe to assume, Sierra Madre did not have its books in order, and anything that the trusting souls on the Ad Hoc Finance Committee was being fed by City Hall was based on guess work, or worse. From the administration of Mayor Enid Joffe back to whatever was running the place in 2002, Sierra Madre's finances were being handled at a hillbilly level of competence."

(Note: The entire article can be found in this week's Sierra Madre Weekly. Newspaper and on-line.)

So if we accept what the Pasadena Star News is saying here, and I see no reason why we shouldn't, what exactly do we do about it? Do we, as Mayor Zimmerman has suggested, scrap the UUT hike because the numbers supplied to the voters were woefully inaccurate?

I called the Mayor to inquire about this, and the answer he gave me was rather surprising. He said that while he would like nothing better than to get rid of what is an embarrassing relic of the incompetent Old Regime, it's not all up to him. And while the City Council has the ability to repeal or rescind the taxes according to the wording of the UUT, it cannot completely undo the tax hike either. Why? Because only the voters could have approved this tax hike. And because of that the only way it can be completely and safely gotten rid of is to put it back on the ballot and have the voters erase it completely. After all, who knows what will happen in the next two or so years?

So that is where we're at. No matter how bad the information given to us when this matter was up for a vote the first time, the unhappy baby is still ours. But that also means that we can correct the problem the same way, by voting this tax hike out of existence.

Now some have argued that even with the surprise million factored in, our finances are still strained. And that if we gut the UUT hike, we'll be putting the city into possible financial peril. And I have seen numbers that give at least some credence to the claim.

Here's The Tattler Proviso on the UUT hike. The first election on this matter was fraudulent. The numbers supplied were bogus, with the small matter of finding an extra million dollars later on being proof of just how bad the lapses were. So let's put the tax increase on the ballot one more time, but this time back it up with honest and reliable figures. And then ask the voters whether we should keep the tax hike, or scrap it.

It's our money, and our City. This the only truly fair way of dealing with what has become a very embarrassing chapter in Sierra Madre's history.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stroller Moms On The Trail Of J. Sydney Sullivan

I'm telling you, they're not taking this lightly!

As you may recall, a certain J. Sidney Sullivan wrote a letter to the Sierra Madre News.Net site that inferred a tactical similarity between Stroller Moms and the machinations of "... the German National Socialist Party against Jews in the 1930s."

A hideously ugly and utterly unfair comparison that defies the rules of what most people would regard as being decency.

For the record, the publisher of the Sierra Madre News Net site, Bill Coburn, in conversations with people at City Hall and other places, defends Ms. Sullivan and claims this was meant to be taken as a slap at the California Tobacco Control Program, not Sierra Madre's Stroller Moms.

However, this is a leap of faith that many who have read this letter are not willing to take. Including this writer. And besides, is comparing any other California group or organization combatting the consumption of something as dangerous as tobacco to "National Socialists" any better? The letter in question is still featured on the front page of the SMNN site.

Here is what I was sent today. If you go to the LA Mesa Community Services Commission Minutes Of Meeting you will notice that among those listed among the guests at a session on the question of proposed "public smoke free zones" is none other than J. Sidney Sullivan. And this is how her contribution was noted in the minutes:

"Fourth speaker, Joan Sullivan stated businesses currently have the right to decide whether or not to have smoke free outdoor zones and should not let government take this right away."

The La Mesa smoking ban failed to pass by a 3 to 2 vote.

So who is J. Sidney Sullivan? Click here and you will be taken to as site called PLoS Medicine, which published an article discussing the topic of lung cancer in people who never smoked. And if you scroll down and click on the comment entitled "A Lung Cancer Virus?" you will see the following:

Sidney Sullivan
Aerospace Engineer, Retired
Competing Interests: Pro-Tobacco Activist

There is also an e-mail address that goes to J. Sidney Sullivan.

Now is J. Sidney Sullivan actually suggesting that lung cancer might be the result of a virus and not cigarette smoking? Hard to say, J. Sidney's comment here is not that clearly written.

But what is revealed is that J. Sidney Sullivan is a pro-tobacco activist and, as we see in the letter published on Mr. Coburn's site, one not afraid to use extremist language to describe those she opposes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Smoking Ordinance Passes Unanimously!

Ten things from the City Council meeting that stood out for me:

1) I lost a $20 bet. I said Joe Mosca would vote against smoking restrictions. Turns out he was among the most eager to pass them.
2) A six foot 4 inch guy weighing about 230 pounds wearing military fatigues and Army boots revealed that his feelings have been hurt by people making coughing sounds at him when he smokes downtown.
3) The printed survey detailing the opinions of Chamber of Commerce members was not received with quite the same level of veneration shown for medical studies on the effects of tobacco use.
4) The art director from the Mountain-Views "Observer" shouted something about "Comrades!" at the City Council members as she left the room. Proving yet again that cigarette smokers are running dog lackeys of insidious reactionary corporatism.
5) The apparently black clothes only dress code of the "Stop The Smoking Ban" people made them look a little bit like Siouxsie and the Banshees devotees on band fanfest day.
6) The people who talked at the podium about people being angry over the smoking issue were by far the angriest looking folks in the room.
7) So now it appears that Sierra Madre will not become the Tobacco Sin City for the San Gabriel Valley. Watch out, Monrovia. They are many, they have limitless leisure, and you are their last hope!
8) Several of the younger gentlemen from the Congregational Church have hair styles that hearken back to the salad days of Bobby Sherman. Verily He anointeth them with Breck.
9) A lot of people stayed all the way to the vote on the smoking ordinance. Meaning, I guess, that nobody felt confident about how the vote would go. That it ended up a 5 to 0 tally being a surprise to a lot of people. Including me.
10) The gentleman who made the remark, "You hear complaints about obese people being unhealthy, but you never hear about anybody getting cancer from second hand food," is an argument for the City Council giving out medals for well delivered one-liners. Rewarding humor in those speaking from the podium would be a definite way to encourage people to take a lighter approach when preparing their remarks.

What a town. Good night, Gracie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's Pasadena Star News Editorial On Sierra Madre's Million Dollar Rainbow Audit

Rushing off to work, so I can't write about it now. But maybe you will? It looks to me to be a pretty positive spin on the situation.

And we still scooped them by 12 days ...

10 Reasons Why People Who Smoke Could Be Classified As Being Out Of Their Minds

Now there are those who would try to convince you that their tobacco habit is a sign of a free and artistic temperament. Or that by smoking they are showing a special kinship with America's military heroes of the past and those who sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms. Or even that cigarette consumption helps you to perceive in this world a literary complexity that most cannot even begin to comprehend. Or that they're cowboys.

And if you've never faced the inconvenience of having to eventually grow up, you could probably still believe that such things apply to you as well.

But for the rest of us, I would like to present 10 Reasons Why People Who Smoke Could Be Classified As Being Out Of Their Minds.

1) Tobacco use kills 5.4 million people a year - an average of one person every six seconds - and accounts for one in ten deaths worldwide.
2) Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, with 90 percent of lung cancer deaths among men and approximately 80 percent of lung cancer deaths among women attributed to smoking.  
3) Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit, is one of the hundreds of additives used in manufactured cigarettes.
4) Hydrogen cyanide, a toxic byproduct present in cigarette smoke, was used as a genocidal chemical agent during World War II.
5) Radioactive lead and polonium are both present in cigarette smoke.
6) Smoking also increases the risk of many other types of cancer, including cancers of the throat, mouth, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix.
7) Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds, 11 of which are known to be Group 1 carcinogens..
8) Worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute, 15 billion are sold each day, and upwards of five trillion are produced and used on an annual basis. So much for smoking being a sign of one's individuality.
9) Five trillion cigarette filters weigh approximately 2 billion pounds. And it is estimated that trillions of filters, filled with toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke, make their way into our environment as discarded waste each year.
10) 100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 2oth century. And if certain trends hold, tobacco use is expected to claim one billion lives this century.

See you at the City Council meeting tonight!

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Congregational Church Controversy: The Astonishing Case Of Ron Brandley

I'd like to thank Virginia Hoge over at the often provocative and always interesting Pasadena New Progressive blog for uncovering something rather amazing. A kind of "hidden in plain sight" type of revelation. And you might recall the conversations we've had recently about the near demise of The Foothill Cities blog (which really ought to change its name to The Monrovia City blog), in the process outing its secretive and apparently expatriate former publisher, Centinel aka Todd Ruiz. 

Anyway, as you are probably aware, that site suffered a catastrophic crash several months back, and everything on it was lost forever. Including all of the columns I wrote for it. But Virginia, as part of her extensive research into the blog shenanigans of some rather elite Pasadena interests, dug up, you got it, The Foothill Cities blog! Only this version is an earlier incarnation of the FCB, the one that existed before they migrated over to the system that eventually blew up. And all this time a remarkable array of information has just been sitting there. Agenda driven? Sure. And biased? Given their connections why wouldn't their coverage of Sierra Madre's preservationist tendencies be biased? They were hardly unique in that respect.

But that said, this earlier version of The Foothill Cities Blog is a true informational time capsule covering all the excitement here up until May of 2007. There are 47 articles on Sierra Madre alone! You really need to get over there and check it all out. Who knows, you might even find yourself mentioned. I personally plan to dig around there like the gold mine it is.

And there is a story on the site that really jumped out at me because of its timely Congregational Church connection. We have been diligently investigating all aspects of this maverick bunch, and here is one more instance that could reinforce the impression that this is an organization comfortable with believing it enjoys extralegal privileges. Here is how the FC Blog put it to its readers:

"Erica Blodgett also has an article about how 'just two and a half months short of the end of his second term, Ron Brandley resigned from the Sierra Madre Planning Commission effective this week after an anonymous phone call to City Hall led to his being questioned concerning his business relationship with (the) Sierra Madre Congregational Church and his role on the Commission.'"

Wow! An anonymous phone call brought down a Planning Commissioner, and it involved a business relationship with the Congregational Church as well? Talk about deja vu. Aren't these two topics we could be talking about at Tuesday's City Council meeting? Different individual players, but the same organizations. My, these roots do run deep!

Hoping to learn more, I turned to my news service provider (NewsLibrary), and eagerly dug into Erica Blodgett's Sierra Madre Weekly expose on this matter.

"According to Interim City Manager Don Hopper, a person who refused to identify themselves (sic) called City Hall before the last Planning Commission meeting on April 15 and questioned whether Brandley was using his position to influence decisions in favor of the church's current building and zoning applications since Brandley's wife's business, Leonora Moss, has sold flowers to the church.

Hmm, seems like a reasonable question to me. A family business relationship with an organization whose building plans you are ruling upon does seem like a tangled skein of economic relationships. So why did Brandley resign? The article continues, and the reason for his departure is somewhat surprising.

"Hopper said an investigation by the city attorney's office revealed that there was no conflict, no merit to the claims, but that it is standard practice to investigate all questions and concerns, even those that are anonymous ... For Brandley it was this caveat that was the breaking point and led to his resignation. Brandley said he didn't think it was proper to be questioned over an anonymous phone call. 'Where do you draw the line?' Brandley asked. He said that he has been glad to answer questions from identified members of the community at previous times in his eight years on the Commission."

Now given the wave of terror unleashed upon this community by "No on V" thugs during the run up to the Special Election that year (blown up mailboxes, trashed cars, dead animals left on doorsteps, a pornographic website dedicated to smearing Measure V proponents, and with the apparent support of the sitting Mayor at the time I might add, along with personal threats and intimidation), wanting to remain anonymous makes perfectly good sense to me.

But didn't Brandley, by resigning in high dudgeon over a couple of questions asked by a concerned citizen, give that person far more than they could possibly have hoped for? The ultimate recusal that is resigning from office? It's just a little hard to buy into this line of reasoning, and Hopper's explanations strike me as being a bit too predetermined and pat.

Seeking clarity, I turned to Bill Coburn's report ("Brandley Resigns From Sierra Madre Planning Commission") on the matter. 

"When contacted Brandley stated that an anonymous phone caller had left a message at City Hall wondering if the revenue that Brandley's wife's flower shop, Leonora Moss, received from (the) Congregational Church didn't represent a conflict of interest for which Brandley should recuse himself from participating in the review and vote upon the Congregational Church's Conditional Use Permit to redo some building on its property on the North side of Sierra Madre Blvd."

Very similar to Blodgett's observation. But why the resignation? Coburn's report continued:

"Brandley said that this was a matter of principle for him, that he didn't feel he should have to respond to questions raised by an anonymous caller."

Bill's report concludes with our highly compensated (and equally skilled) City Attorney Sandi Levin stating that such an investigation is standard legal practice, no matter what the origin of the complaint.

So how does one come to a conclusion here? Can it be that Brandley was actually under the impression that he enjoyed some form of special legal status, and rather than submit to what any other person involved in governance would be expected to comply with, chose to quit instead? Or was this an attempt to end any further inquiries into the matter, something that, had they continued, might have turned up things some would prefer nobody see?

Maybe we'll never know the answer to that one. And who knows, maybe we will ...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tattler Scoops Pasadena Star News On Surprise Sierra Madre Budget Surplus Story By ... 12 Days?

Yesterday morning Pasadena Star News subscribers were stunned to read the following shocking news out of Sierra Madre:

"An independent audit of the city's finances  has found more than $1 million more in the city's reserves than had previously been thought - but not everyone in town is celebrating a windfall."

Astonishing stuff indeed. But Sierra Madre Tattler readers were hipped to all of this crazy action on, um, March 9? 12 days before the Star News got around to mentioning it?

"At tomorrow night's City Council meeting a rather shocking announcement will be made. Despite years of dire warnings about the parlous state of our fiscal affairs, it turns out that the truth is actually something quite different. Through 2007 Sierra Madre's finances are $1,036,000 to the good. In other words, we had a nice little surplus that year."

Of course, we do need to give the PSN at least a little credit. They are, albeit 12 days late, the first print news source to even mention this story. Neither the Sierra Madre Weekly, or our so-called paper of record, the Mountain-Views "Observer," have yet to touch it.

(Note: The MVO - still calling itself "Observer" btw - does have an article on this topic in the edition distributed today, 3/22. So let's put them in third place.)

The PSN article does go on to allude to the notion that the UUT Tax could have been presented by the City of Sierra Madre to the voters in an unfair and deceptive manner. Then under the stewardship of the lamentable Mayor Enid Joffe, we were told that Sierra Madre was going broke and that the UUT Tax increase had to be passed or we would face dire consequences. 

The City couldn't have been in worse hands at that time, and Mayor Joffe's proclamation of fiscal doom were based on accounting practices that would put most private business organizations into receivership. 

As it turns out, and despite the baseless nonsense on the matter by then Mayor Joffe and her predecessor, John "Never Met A Consultant He Didn't Love" Buchanan, Sierra Madre could be on track to run as much as a $46,000 budget surplus for Fiscal Year 2008-2009.

The article does go on to quote current Sierra Madre Mayor Kurt Zimmerman on his call for a repeal or at least a moratorium on the UUT tax increase. And again, while this isn't exactly breaking news here, it is nice to see that at least some news organization out there has picked up the story.

Just why did it take so long?  

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Smoker Kids Equate Themselves With WWII Military Heroes. Plus "Stop The Sierra Madre Smoking Ban" Founder Is Art Director For Mtn. Views "Observer"

Just a big wallop of wackiness from the "Stop The Smoking Ban" kids today. Bringing it to a whole new level of absurdity, the Slack Pack has now taken to equating their so-called struggle with the sacrifices made by those who served this country in the military during some of the bloodiest and most harrowing struggles of the 20th Century. Using the image of a WWII Army soldier, here's how they put it on the poster reproduced here:

"Protect the rights of smokers, the rights of businesses and the rights granted by a free America that SMOKERS died to protect."

Somehow I just can't imagine that members of the Greatest Generation sacrificed their lives on the battlefield so that studded and tattooed kids in 2009 can wile away the hours out in front of Beantown blowing smoke at passers by. To trivialize the service and sacrifice of our military heroes in this manner is just about as outrageous as it gets. 

And honestly, could their politics just be any worse? It's like they've now shot themselves in the collective foot with a howitzer.

And wouldn't you know it, when something bad happens in this community, a Mountain-Views "Observer" connection is not very far behind. This from the article "Smokers band against proposed ban," printed in the March 2nd, 2009, edition of the SGV Tribune:

"We feel we're being demonized. We feel cigarettes are being demonized. We're being made second-class citizens," said Allison Kirkham, a co-founder of 'Stop the Sierra Madre Smoking Ban.' 'It's only a little further down the line that we'll be told to smoke in alleys or out in 
back.' ... Kirkham, who works as an art director for local newspaper the Mountain-Views Observer, founded 'Stop The Sierra Madre Smoking Ban' with three other smokers."

Once again the Mountain-Views "Observer" finds itself on the dirty side of an issue. Anybody surprised?

The Sierra Madre Tattler Celebrates Its 100th Post!

Seems like only yesterday that we kicked this thing off. December 13, 2008, to be exact. And now, a little more than 3 months later, we have hit the century mark. 100 posts. And well over a thousand comments from you, the amazing people who come to this blog on a daily basis to share your thoughts and observations with the rest of us.

Of course, at the beginning it was very quiet here. Nobody had ever heard of the Sierra Madre Tattler, and there wasn't much in the way of a marketing budget to get the word out. Besides blogging, for a variety of reasons that I ought to dig into some day, had kind of worn out its welcome in Sierra Madre. And this wasn't exactly what people were looking for.

But hard work solves most problems, and we just kept plugging away. Day after day we posted new articles, convinced that if The Tattler kept at it long enough, people would start to show up. And then, somehow, things began to slowly change.

And so, to celebrate this momentous milestone, we are going to repost the very first article ever written for The Tattler. Along with the 3 comments it attracted. It remains in many ways the mission statement of this place. And I can promise you this one thing, we are just getting started. Whether you were here at the beginning, or joined up somewhere along the way, thank you for your participation and support. Because in the end it's all about you. People can still make a big difference in this town, and you are doing that everyday. Thank you!

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's 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 the "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 you 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 reflections 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 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 last month. 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 information venues here, you know, like cookie store openings in Arcadia, or the dyspeptic opinions of realty owners), and hopefully provoke the kinds of colorful conversations 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 of our local politics is certainly one of the reasons we love it so.


Anonymous said...
Welcome to the intellectual air and with that, a musical postcard to kick off the event...
December 13, 2008 7:18 AM

Your Host said...
Thank you for posting this. I often enjoy yodeling myself and just don't get much encouragement to do so. It might be interesting if the patrons at Lucky Baldwins were offered free beers in exchange for yodeling. Couldn't be much worse than what you hear in there on any other given night.
December 13, 2008 9:54 PM

Anonymous said...
@ Lisa can you throw a halfer at aspiring yodelers? It may be add some ambience to the joint or at least make people laugh a bit, which we all need, my Dear, what do you say?
December 16, 2008 6:49 PM 

Friday, March 20, 2009

YOU Could Be The New Sierra Madre Chamber Of Commerce Executive Director!

Yes, it's true! You could be a very important person in town, and have the job title to back it up! And probably get a business card as well. Of course, it is a small town so the mileage payments won't be all that great, but you will be able to eat lunch at home. They're taking applications right now, so follow the directions below and prepare to move up the ladder to success. Don't delay!

Sierra Madre Chamber Seeks Applicants for Executive Director Position

The Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce is seeking an Executive Director to manage its office, implement the direction of the Board of Directors, manage staff (one part time assistant ongoing, occasionally a second part-time staffer to assist with specific events), and manage the Chamber's events (including but not limited to Chamber Mixers, The Wistaria Festival, Dickens Village, and a Health and Home Based Business Expo/Taste of Sierra Madre).

As the face of the Chamber and all Sierra Madre Commerce, the qualified candidate will be effective at networking, a relationship builder, and an organizer. Duties will include event and revenue development, as well as evaluation, organization and management of the Chamber office and staff, including record keeping and regularly scheduled reporting to the Board.

The candidate will excel at membership development and retention strategies.

The Chamber's Executive Director will be a pro-active, Pro-Business Advocate, in general and within the Chamber's membership, the local business district, and serve as liaison between the business community and governments and other organizations.

The Executive Director will direct all Marketing and Public Relations and be responsible for all Chamber communication to members, the public, governmental representatives, media, other chambers & numerous business and economic development organizations.

The position requires a person able to work a flexible schedule, available beyond standard business hours, including some evenings and weekends. Weekly hours will range from thirty to fifty hours per week. Applicants can mail their resumes to 37 N. Auburn, Ste. 1, Sierra Madre, CA 91024, or e-mail them to info@sierramadrechamber.com.

Looks like they're seeking motivated and qualified self-starters with a real go-get-em attitude. Nothing in the notice about forming liaisons with dissident youth groups dedicated to the struggle for smoking liberty, however.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Susan Henderson Characterizes Sierra Madre As "Mississippi In 1959"

We'll be discussing a rather touchy topic today because, well, we're supposed to. The Tattler mission statement demands that we confront every issue no matter how messy or politically incorrect. And since the publisher of the city's adjudicated newspaper of record has, by implication, linked this fair city to one of the worst moments of racial animosity in this country's history, we thought we should examine the issue a little bit. After all, if we don't, who will?

As a point of reference to the approach being taken here, I'd like to run a passage or two from the Wikipedia synopsis of one of my favorite reads, Tom Wolfe's "Radical Chic & Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers." With the emphasis on the description of the essay "Radical Chic."

"Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers" was a 1970 book by Tom Wolfe ... (that) looked at the conflict between black rage and white guilt. The first piece is set in the composer Leonard Bernstein's duplex on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Bernstein assembled many of his wealthy socialite friends to meet with representatives of the controversial Black Panthers and discuss ways to help their cause. The party was a typical affair for Bernstein, a longtime Democrat, who was known for hosting civil rights leaders at such parties ... The Bernsteins could not be seen with their usual black butler and maid, so they hired white South Americans to serve the party. Bernstein's elite friends and guests are labeled the 'radical chic,' as Wolfe characterizes them as pursuing radical ends for social reasons ... Wolfe's criticism is implicitly of the general phenomena of white guilt and armchair agitation becoming facets of high fashion ... When Time magazine interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein's party, the official said of Wolfe: 'You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York Magazine?'"

Literary criticism can be cruel. Especially when it is linked to politics.

A couple of days back our local Kiwanis Club hosted a gathering designed to enlighten and delight the regulars with an edifying presentation on the mysteries of newspaper production. And as their guest speaker they brought in the publisher of our local adjudicated newspaper of record, Susan Henderson. Despite the paltry attendance at the function (with two elderly gentlemen actually succumbing to slumber during the talk), Ms. Henderson soldiered on, discussing whatever happened to be on her mind at that particular moment. A rather disjointed presentation as one attendee described it. And then, in what was almost a non sequitur, Susan dropped the following bomb:

"What is this, Sierra Madre or Mississippi in 1959?"

Now that is quite a remark. By citing "Mississippi in 1959," Susan was making a reference to a time when the Civil Rights movement first began to make its presence felt in the distant reaches of the old Confederacy. With racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan initiating a reign of terror and murder against both African Americans and the Civil Rights workers who were attempting to bring an end to racial discrimination there. A particularly ugly and unfortunate time in this country's history. With an African American in the White House, that time seems almost unimaginable today.

So why this unfortunate reference? And why now?

Apparently at the meeting Susan was asked about some of the difficulties she has been facing as of late. And perhaps hoping to anticipate any questions on the topic, she even made a reference to the State Superior Court decision that determined she had absconded with the "Observer" in a most illegal manner. The Court settlement dictated heavy financial penalties plus the loss of the right to use the word "Observer" on the masthead of her paper. And then, after months of refusing to comply with the decision of this Court, being cited for possible contempt charges with the very real possibility of severe penalties being levied next month.

But there was also the feeling in the room that this wasn't really her crowd. Many of the livelier people in attendance were not there to learn about the newspaper business, but because they wanted to hear what she was going to say about issues that have made her a figure of some controversy in town. The nasty and untrue attacks on Nancy Shollenberger that the "Observer" printed during last year's election cycle would be an example. Or the insinuations printed there about now Mayor Pro Tem MaryAnn MacGillivray that proved to be so utterly baseless being another. Or the Hispanic house cleaner that Susan preferred to belittle and mock rather than pay her what she was owed.

And now there is a growing suspicion among many people that the attempt to set up City Council members by having someone secretly tape them at a meeting in hopes that violations of the Brown Act might be discovered was done with "Observer" involvement.

And the reviews were not very kind. One reader posted this observation:

"Susan Henderson, a bitter woman who was defensive and not enthusiastic. No cheerleading, just a 'poor me' in every paragraph she spoke. Susan 'the victim.'"

Another had this to say:

Susan Henderson's post-luncheon monologue -- 'keeping a community newspaper alive, never lose your focus' -- for the Kiwanis outfit was an anti-climax. Just as the questions were getting good the moderator shut the whole thing down."

I guess it's easier to just label the town racist than answer questions on topics you'd prefer to neither acknowledge or discuss.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How To Use Smokers To Help Pay Some Of The City's Bills

There are lots of folks out there who are using the Sierra Madre "Sin City" argument to defend smoking on the sidewalks of our quaint downtown shopping areas. The idea being that fine folks from around the San Gabriel Valley are coming here to lounge in front of some of our most sophisticated eateries because they are allowed to smoke while doing so. Something that they are not permitted to do in their own towns. And while it is sad to think that this might be the only reason they would come here to spend their money, I guess you have to take what you can get. Like it or not, we have become the willing refuge of choice for nicotine addicts.

Now it has been suggested by certain interested parties that if public outdoor smoking is a protected vice here because it is good for business, wouldn't allowing other equally interesting vices also improve the business climate in Sierra Madre? Outdoor drinking, slot machines, and soft drug use being some examples of the sorts of things that would bring lots of people and their business to our town. So why stop at cigarettes? If getting loaded in the beautiful outdoors is, as some would attempt to convince us, a form of liberty, then why not make Sierra Madre the greatest bastion of freedom in the entire Valley? I'm sure we would move a lot of merchandise if we did. If there is merit to the "sin city" argument, then business should boom, right?

However, that idea has yet to make it to any City Council agendas.

Now apparently some entrepreneurs here have become accustomed to the purported increased business smokers bring, and fear that restricting the enjoyment of tobacco products in our town would send them to the poorhouse. Their belief is that should we enact ordinances restricting the use of cigarettes downtown, there wouldn't be any reason for many of these people to come here. Which is a bit of a sad commentary on the marketing abilities of our Chamber of Commerce if you think about it.

Anyway, chances are pretty good that when the City Council meets on the 24th smoking restrictions will be voted into reality. And judging by some of the powerhouse medical testimony the pro-restriction people have lined up for that special evening, the heated arguments of Peter and his droogs are going to sound rather insignificant. Somehow I don't think that calling people "fascists" or "pompous stroller moms" is going to be quite nearly as impressive.

But in case the City Council does go south on this issue, there is a fallback position. And one that would help the City financially. Restaurants have long known that, if they put tables out front on the sidewalks, they increase the amount of people they can seat. And that some customers prefer the outdoor ambience. But did you know that they use our sidewalks for the very nominal fee of $334 per year? That's right, our taxes maintain them, but they reap the profits pretty much unscathed. And where exactly is all that annoying cigarette smoking taking place? That's right, at tables that sit on OUR property! Where's the justice in that I ask you.

So here's the idea. We ask the City to levy a much higher fee on any restaurants using the public right of way. An increased cost that they will incur should they choose to put tables out on the sidewalks in front of their cafes. If smoking at these tables is so important to their economic survival, and if it is driving business as some have claimed, then surely they should be expected to pay for it. After all, we have fees for almost everything else in this town. Sierra Madre truly is a small residential city, and as such we are forced to nickel and dime our way to solvency. And with state grant money disappearing almost completely, where else are we to turn?

But here's the tax relief part of the argument. Let's waive the entire fee for any businesses that ban the use of tobacco from in front of their establishments. In other words, if you don't allow smoking in front of your place, you can use the sidewalks for free. But if smoking is what drives business to your establishment, then you're going to have to give City Hall a bigger cut.

Hopefully a healthy one.

One more thing - interesting information out of Stanford regarding secondhand outdoor smoke. The big lie from the smoker clique is that there is no scientific proof that outdoor cigarette smoke is harmful. Time to rethink that one.
-------------------- ---- -- -- --- -- - - -
(Note: This article has been edited to reflect the nominal yearly $334 fee businesses pay for having sidewalk dining access. The Tattler apologizes for any inconvenience.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Is The Secret Squirrel?

Recently we discussed Glenn Lambdin's idiosyncratic performance at the March 10th City Council meeting. His contention that a secretly recorded tape of City Council members discussing Sierra Madre's rich historical heritage at a publicly announced and attended social event is proof of a cabal of renegade elected officials out to make secret laws designed to defraud the citizens of this community has been received with laughter and hoots of derision here. And for many these latest antics only further confirmed what they've always felt about the colorful individual being discussed here.

Of course, there is that one rather nagging question. Why would he be going after his ideological allies on this City Council, John Buchanan and Joe Mosca? This remains a mystery to everyone I have spoken to. What is it he expects to gain here by embarking on a path that, at least on a fantasy level, could possibly deprive these two gents of not only their positions on the City Council, but also their right to practice law in the State of California as well? Obviously his actions make no sense whatsoever. What did they do, forget his birthday? Run over his dog?

Of course, it could be that the fault lies with us. Perhaps the attempt to apply reason and logic to a situation where none exists is a cultural conceit on our part. One that seeks to deny the target of our concern the right to exist in a primitive parallel universe where City Council types are dragged off screaming in the middle of the night for discussing old blacksmith shops and carriage turnabouts. And then sentenced to a gulag of perpetual agony.

But that is a question I am not prepared to answer today. If you are, then have at it. I can only admit to genuine confusion on the matter.

What I would like to discuss this perfect California day is the search for the Secret Squirrel. A "squirrel," for those new to the parlance, is an individual who carries a small recording device upon his person in hopes of secretly capturing on tape conversations that will cause great embarrassment and misfortune to those he resents. The origin of the term being the animated cartoon character Secret Squirrel, pictured at the top of this page.

And apparently there was a squirrel at this now controversial meeting of local heritage buffs, which was also attended by City Council members. A squirrel that unobtrusively stood by and got much of what was said down on the tape that so over-heated the imagination of Glenn Lambdin. And nobody there seemed to know they were being taped. The squirrel did its work well.

Now the only proof as to the identity of this squirrel that I can offer here today is of the anecdotal variety. There is some guesswork here. And it must be clearly stated that I am merely offering deductions based on conversations I have had with some of the people who did attend this gathering. One that led to the discounting of the squirrel potential of most of those in attendance. And after we whittled that list down, there was only one logical candidate. And my opinion, which is shared by the several other people I have spoken to before writing this piece, is that our Secret Squirrel is none other than that doughty newshound in servitude to the paper that is still - and quite illegally - calling itself "Observer," Dean Lee.

Why Dean? A couple of reasons. The first being that he is almost never without his small hand held recorder. I've included a picture of something similar here. Dean can often be seen at City Council meetings with a device like this in his hand. It saves him the bother of having to write things down like most newsies would. Secondly, as a reporter covering a local story, wouldn't he be expected to attend an event like this? It is very much the kind of soft news item that the "Observer" favors these days. His rather innocuous
presence being in no way notable or out of place at a gathering like this. Such an individual can always count on anonymity at such occasions, the mark of a true squirrel.

Can you name one other person in this town who carries a small recorder of this type? And would be at a public gathering such as the one we're discussing here? And would actually want to tape John Buchanan and Joe Mosca as they expounded mightily upon horseshoe manufacture during the time of Lucky Baldwin.
These planets do align.

And didn't former Mayor Lambdin, during his brief yet energetic speech last week, contend that this taping was actually not all that secret? Perhaps because it would be something to be expected of a reporter? Particularly one widely known to use such a thing?

Now I don't want to be too harsh on our suspected Secret Squirrel. I honestly do not believe that he actually intended to be there with his device taping things with the purpose of inciting such bizarre interest in persons much larger than him. Dean was just covering an event. And I suspect that it was only after the tape was later heard by certain concerned individuals that its supposed potential was deduced. But isn't that always the fate of squirrels? After they deliver the fruits of their labors, those in charge get to interpret the meaning, and for their own purposes.

But we're getting into a matter that will covered in our next chapter on this saga. The one that will deal with our local versions of the cartoon super-spies, Boris and Natasha.

Monday, March 16, 2009

So What's Up With SMTV3? (part 2)

As you might recall from Saturday's column, apparently we are looking at a rather odd series of events in the re-airing of last Tuesday's (3/10) City Council meeting on our very own SMTV3. First, the regularly scheduled Wednesday replay did not happen. Given SMTV3's checkered past, this is not all that surprising. At least not in itself. We've all come to expect such annoyances.

But something highly puzzling did happen during Thursday's rebroadcast. First of all, it started and hour and a half late. Again, not completely surprising based on previous glitches at SMTV3. But after the re-airing finally began things became, well, highly irregular. After the 9:20 pm break, announced by the Mayor, and with the requisite interlude of edifying high classical music, a meeting did resume. But it wasn't the March 10th meeting that we'd been watching. Rather it was a segment from the November 12, 2008, meeting. And it continued for a full 10 minutes.

What made this particularly surreal was that Joe Mosca, who was in Washington DC for some meeting (God knows we'll eventually have to hear all about it), suddenly appeared on our TV screens as if he had somehow been transported electronically from 3,000 miles away. And people who had spoken at the podium earlier in the broadcast now showed up wearing completely different clothing. And the topic being discussed had absolutely nothing to do with what is going on during the previous 2 or so hours of the meeting.

Now some began to wonder what it was from the March 10th meeting that was replaced by a 10 minute segment from the November of 2008 confab. Was it anything important? Was there an overlap? Was there something somebody somewhere would prefer that we not look at too much?

Thanks to the skilled forensic work of two of The Tattler's most valued researchers, it now turns out that something of substantial importance actually was left out. That being the entire speech by Mayor Zimmerman announcing to the community that the long overdue audits from Sierra Madre's rather chaotic past finances were now finally complete. And that we had $1,000,000 more than we knew we had! Which in the minds of many here is a powerful indication of just how badly this City had been run by previous Mayors and City Councils.

Since SMTV3 had not been able to replay this important speech in a timely and professional manner, we here at The Tattler have decided that it is in the community's interest that we reprint the speech in its entirety. If you take a moment to consider that we're talking about years of blown audits and financial mismanagement by Sierra Madre's thankfully departed Old Regime, I think you'll agree that this was a rather important speech, and one that deserves to be as widely circulated as possible.

"The next agenda item concerns our 2007 audit. And because I anticipate that it's going to be a controversial item, I'm going to depart from tradition and discuss it first. Of course, allowing my fellow Council members and members of the public to weigh in. The results of this 2007 audit can be summarized really in one sentence, and that is a sentence that appears in the agenda report. And it reads, quote, "The General Fund has an increase in fund balance of 1 million, 36 thousand and 795 dollars. That's right, in 2007 we had 1 million more in the General Fund than anticipated.

Now the Mayors of most other cities upon hearing that news would be celebrating. Popping open a bottle of champagne and presumably toasting the auditors.

But not this Mayor. Not this Mayor because first much of that extra million dollars has either been spent or will almost certainly will be spent to defray necessary expenses and unanticipated expenses. Fire suppression costs for example, and mudslide abatement.

But there's another reason why I didn't celebrate, and that other reason was, like so many of you, I relied on incomplete and inaccurate information in determining that I should vote for the new UUT tax increase. And I guess as your Mayor, although I was at the time a City Council member, I need to accept some of the responsibility for accepting that inaccurate and incomplete information.

But I do think the lion's share of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of previous City Councils and City staff that determined that the preparation of complete and accurate audits was not a priority. And I want to make it clear that I do not believe we would even be discussing the completion of the 2007 audit tonight if it was not for our new City Manager, Elaine Aguilar, and Finance Director Karen Schnaider, and this Council.

So we have made some progress. That being said, this revelation makes me feel uncomfortable. A million dollars is not a rounding off error. And although I have seen no evidence of malfeasance, and again we're talking about discovering that we had more money than we thought and not less, my strong recommendation would be to have an outside council take a second look at our past accounting practices. Take a very hard look at our accounting practices.

And I know this is going to upset a number of people, including some City employees, but I need to say this, I think it would be fair if we brought this issue back to the City Council to discuss either a repeal or moratorium on the User Utility Tax. Because after all I voted for the UUT because I thought the City was in dire financial straits. And it turns out we're not in dire financial straits. We're not rolling in the money, but as you will hear later this evening, this City Council has actually balanced the budget this year.

Ironically, I also took some solace after hearing this news because I was reminded of the many arguments that were advanced against Measure V. I think we all can recall the biggest argument, the largest lie, which was if Measure V passes the economy of Sierra Madre will be irreparably broken. Well, I take great pleasure in telling you in 2007, the end of 2007, that was not the case. And nearly 2 years after its passage, it is not the case now.

Before I invite the presentation by our Finance Director I want to close with something that somebody told me when I first decided to run for this City Council, a very wise man who will appreciate me not identifying him this evening. He said that Sierra Madre politics is characterized by two things. The first is grudges, and the second is secrets. Now I'm not sure the City Council can do a whole lot about the grudges, they run deep in this town. But I'd like to think that this discussion and what I'm telling you tonight is proof positive that the second characteristic, secrecy, is no more ..."

Now I'm not claiming that this speech was deliberately excised from an SMTV3 rebroadcast of the March 10 meeting. Though I can think of at least several folks who'd certainly prefer that the topics covered not be too widely discussed. But the fact that this speech lasted a full 10 minutes, and that is exactly what was missing from the 3/12 rebroadcast, is a troubling coincidence.