Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cities That Can't Supply Their Audits To Sacramento Are Usually Not Very Good Places To Live

Sierra Madre finally got the City Council majority it needed in 2008, and in a remarkably short period of time our financial house was put in order. But that certainly wasn't the case in previous years as the City of Sierra Madre was forced to pay large fines to Sacramento for its inability to complete the financial audits that needed to be supplied to Sacramento per State law mandates.

If you go to the California State Controller's site you can see an indication of exactly what we're talking about here. To find a good example click on the above, then scroll down to Roman Numeral xxxiii, and look for the words "Cities That Failed to File." When you get there you will be able to find the following paragraph:

For the 2004-05 fiscal year, eight cities (Dorris, Imperial, McFarland, Pacifica, Richmond, Sierra Madre, Tulelake and Williams) failed to file financial transactions reports. Six cities (Dorris, Imperial, Loyalton, Richmond, Sierra Madre, and Tulelake) failed to file financial transactions reports for the 2003-04 fiscal year. The cities of Dorris and Sierra Madre failed to file their financial transactions report for the third consecutive year.

You can read a similar paragraph in the section dealing with 2005-06 as well. And each time Sierra Madre failed to file its audit numbers, big chunks of our tax dollars had to be sent off to Sacramento to cover the fine. Not exactly the best kind of investment for our money. Think of all the trees that could have been trimmed, or streets repaired, had City Hall done the work hundreds of other California cities seem to have little trouble completing. So exactly what kinds of cities can't get this most basic of local government functions done? We went to a site called IDcide to take a look.

According to this very useful site, Sierra Madre had a median income of $65,900 in the years 2001 to 2006, making it a far more prosperous City than most. The violent crime rate was almost nonexistent, with only 1 murder in 6 years.

So what about our fellow recidivists, repeat financial filing scofflaws like Richmond, Tulelake, Dorris, Imperial, and Loyalton? What kinds of cities are these? Comfortably middle class and prosperous like us, or perhaps something a little bit different? Here is a quick survey:

Richmond: A Contra Costa County City of over 100,000 located 10 miles from Oakland, the median income here was $44,210 annually in the time surveyed, quite a bit lower than what we saw in Sierra Madre. Where Richmond falls right off the chart, however, is with its murder and manslaughter rate. 202 people lost their lives to violent crime in the 6 year period covered here by

Dorris: A remote outpost in Siskiyou County with a population of under 900, and a median income of a mere $21,801 a year, which obviously puts it among the very poorest in California. But it is also a peaceful place with no deaths attributable to violent crime for the period 2001 to 2006.

Tulelake: Another tiny Siskiyou County enclave (population, 1,020), Tulelake is only slightly less impoverished than Dorris with a yearly annual median income figure of $23,750. But again, no deaths due to violent crime in the period covered.

Imperial: Located in the County it shares its name with, Imperial has seen a stunning population increase of over 100% since the early 1990s. The average age of a resident living in Imperial is under 30 years. The median income is $49,451, or $16,000 a year less than Sierra Madre. There were no murders during the 6 years surveyed.

Loyalton: This town is located 5,000 feet above sea level in Sierra County, about 25 miles from Reno, Nevada. 862 people live there. Median income is again way below the California average at $34,063 per annum. Many employed there are in the logging industry. Violent crime figures were not available.

So you can see by this very quick survey that 3 of the cities that did not file their financial data to Sacramento for 2 or more years in a row are among the poorest in California. And one of them, Richmond, ranks per capita among the most violent in the state. So how did Sierra Madre, as prosperous and peaceful as it is, fall into a category populated by some of the most destitute and desperate locales in the entire Golden State?

Lousy government, of course. People were elected to office who somehow couldn't (or wouldn't for reasons currently known only to them) get the job done. What other explanations can there be? Whatever the reason, thankfully those years are now behind us as Sierra Madre has completed all of its delinquent in-house audits and posted its first budgetary surplus in years. And if we're careful and keep electing the right people, the shenanigan years won't come back.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Joe Mosca Loses Again

Ten things that I took away from last night's City Council meeting:

1) Despite the claims being made for him by some of his supporters, it appears that Joe Mosca cannot walk on water after all. Not to say that he didn't try, because he certainly did. But what was supposed to be a liquid freeway to the Mayor's seat turned out to be nothing more than another bath in the same dunk tank he was dropped into last year. The final results? MaryAnn MacGillivray is our new Mayor, Don Watts our new Mayor Pro Tem.

2) Watching John Buchanan attempt to spin water wings out of chicken feathers was kind of a guilty pleasure. You could tell that the guy knew his client didn't stand a ghost of a chance, but he soldiered on anyway. The sonorous Lawyer John did his usual chin stroking, made a few significant pauses in order to indicate the depth of his thought, slid his glasses down his nose a couple times, and even sighed once or twice at the weight of the mighty task life had handed him. In the end, though, it all went for naught. As I suspect he knew it would. Even the mighty Rosenberg Rules couldn't save this one.

3) There is something about the way his supporters spoke out in favor of Joe that just didn't make sense to me. None of them cited anything in the way of accomplishments, nothing about any achievements of importance, just a total absence of the kind of stuff you usually hear when folks are claiming someone has distinguished himself enough to merit higher office. Instead they trooped to the podium and said basically the same thing, which was it's Joe's turn. And that's generally it. Now wouldn't you be just a little offended if all people could find to say about you is you've sat there for a long time, so now you should become Mayor? Not exactly high praise. But I guess you can look at the bright side. At least none of them attempted to claim Joe was being being denied the job because he is gay.

4) Pete Siberall's speech reminded me of a saying heard around the warehouse I worked when I was a kid. "All freight, no weight." A term meaning that the order we were about to ship to a client was basically sold at cost, and the only really significant thing about it was the box it was being sent in. Pete went through all the motions of attempting to bring one home for Joe, and his speech was delivered with his signature solemnity and gravity. But in the end it was a vanity package of little value.

5) I was trying to figure out the real significance of Don Watts's "lucky nickel" story. But then I remembered something very important. Don's nickel is lucky because both sides are heads. His speech about the negative effects of statewide party politics being imposed upon a small city such as Sierra Madre was spot on.

6) Representatives from the offices of State Assemblyman Anthony Adams, State Senator Bob Huff, and Congressman Davis Dreier were on hand to congratulate Mayor Zimmerman and Mayor Pro Tem MaryAnn MacGillivray for their distinguished service. All the legislators so represented being members of the minority party, the Republicans. So how are we supposed to get any grant money if all that we have representing us at the State and Federal money troughs are Republicans? In Sierra Madre we live within a GOP enclave in what has essentially become a one party state. No wonder the Democrats sent us Joe.

7) Joe took a pretty significant beating from some of the speakers opposed to him being made Mayor. One in particular let him have it right between the ears with a speech wrapped around the term "Traitor Joe." And you can tell he's affected by such things. His eyes get wide, his face droops like a puppy who's been naughty, and his Adam's apple begins to bob up and down in his neck. Joe worked hard to remain under control, but his body language was off the dial.

8) Who was the lady that said her support for Joe was based on his being for 2-20-13? The woman needs a news intervention. Did she actually think that MaryAnn, Don and Kurt were denying Joe the Mayor gig because he was a Measure V supporter?

9) Kurt Zimmerman took pleasure in pointing out that those who predicted great financial hardship for Sierra Madre should Measure V pass turned out to be flat-out wrong. Instead it turns out that we're running a surplus, the first in many years. And how many small cities can make that claim in these financially troubled times? It was interesting to see that this and other good news about the achievements of the current City Council alignment seemed to depress Joe's supporters. Which goes to show that there are people who miss what MaryAnn calls the "shenanigan years," a time when the prospect of personal profit rode roughshod over the needs of the community. I can't help but think it is their overweening sense of entitlement that is the true cause of the divisiveness some of them complained about.

10) Of course, the most important news of the evening was the appointment of Sir Eric Maundry to the Utility Users Tax Oversight Committee. Or U2-TOC for short. Sir Eric was pleased to note that Joe's pick for the conclave is a veteran of the Ad Hoc Finance Committee with a background in accountancy, and he can't wait to find out how this guy feels now about having recommended a UUT hike for Sierra Madre based on bogus numbers that turned out to be over a million bucks shy. Hopefully Sir Eric will be able to help him avoid making the same kinds of mistakes twice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Has Joe Become A Christ-Like Figure To His Followers?

An anonymous one page letter was sent out to a very select group of Sierra Madre recipients. The print was spare and precise. It had no return address, was postmarked somewhere in The City Of Industry (which I guess we must now refer to as "The New Jerusalem"), and rather than a handwritten address its eventual destination was indicated only by a very officious looking printed label. It was obviously intended to be mysterious and all, and maybe somewhat threatening as well. Like you might be struck by thunderbolts and the occasional volley of brimstone if you didn't take it seriously enough.

A copy of this letter was given to me, and I've posted a copy here for your examination. If you click on it you will get to see it in nearly its original size.

Now the theological implications are not all that readily apparent to me. While it is true, as Matthew has said, that one should always be kind to God's weakest creatures for those are the ones He loves best, I'm not sure that category includes City Councilmen, Rotary Club Members, RHNA number establishers, members of the California State Bar Association, or guys who belong to 7 or so organizations with the word "Governance" in their names. No, that all seems rather "Mighty Whitey" to me. And that anyone that deeply enmeshed in the local power structure should be seen as an oppressed and piteous creature of God just doesn't strike me as being very authentic or believable.

But the line that has really thrown me is the one where it says, "When you wrong Joe, you wrong Jesus." Now that seems to be a bit of a stretch to this errant sinner. I honestly never would have picked THAT guy as the Second Coming. Not even as a long shot.

So will we be witnessing Joe's martyrdom this evening? Will being passed over for the Mayor's job for the second time be his own personal Gethsemane? And will we, the non-believers, face an awakening too terrible to contemplate, and from which there is no succor or escape? You know, like being at a Community Redevelopment Agency meeting that goes on for all eternity, and you just never seem to be able to leave?

Anyway, I'll see you at City Hall tonight. Should be quite a party. And stick around for the Utility Users Tax Oversight Committee appointments. There might be a surprise or two in there somewhere. You just never know what's going to happen in this town.
-------------- -- - -
Click here for Joe's infamous (and not very Jesus-like) "Get a life" video.

Monday, April 27, 2009

City Councilman Don Watts Replies To A Presumptuous Demand From Janice Nelson Hayes Regarding His Vote For Mayor (plus more!)

As you probably already know, a considerable amount of pressure is being put upon certain City Council initiates to cast their vote Tuesday evening to make Joe Mosca our next Mayor. And for one member of Sierra Madre's City Council it has apparently gotten to be a bit too much. Here is a brief e-mail exchange that pretty much spells it out.

From: Janice Nelson 
To: Donald Watts
Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2009 2:59:10 PM
Subject: Vote for Mayor
"Hi Don,
I would like to speak to you about why you should support Joe Mosca for mayor next Tuesday. For the sake of fairness as well as tradition, Joe should be allowed his turn. Plus, there are no reasons not to support him as Mayor.

This is a great opportunity for you to absolutely do the right thing and right the wrong that took place last year.

I am at the Democratic Party convention in Sacro (sic) this weekend but do plan to contact you when I return.

Best wishes and thanks,
Janice Nelson MD
(Janice Nelson Hayes)"

From: Don Watts
To: Janice Nelson
Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:39:22 PM
Subject: Re: Vote for Mayor

"I'm more interested in protecting the town than advancing the career of a bunch of political hacks and the unholy alliance of BIA officials in league with corrupt state and local officials who seem to want to drag the state down into bankruptcy in order to make a fast buck ..."

(I don't know, Janice, but that sounds to me an awful lot like a "no.")

~ ------------------------ ----- -- -- -  --    --     --      -  -     -

I suppose I should talk a little bit about the latest lunacy from the Mountain Views "News." A bad habit around here, I know. In her article, "New Sierra Madre Mayor To Be Selected Tuesday," Susan Henderson engages in her usual lowbrow and content-free nonsense. And wouldn't you know, much of it is almost exactly the same stuff that we've seen from Dr. Janice Nelson and Kathy Childs. "Tradition," "fairness," and "it's Joe's turn." Nothing about any achievements, not a peep about Joe having actually accomplished something for Sierra Madre, just the same guilt trip about a nebulous tradition that has absolutely no legal basis. 

And why is there no legal basis for this "tradition?" Because those who originally set this place up never wanted to legally force future City Councils to have to make Mayors out of featherweights like Joe Mosca. The intention was for there to always be an escape hatch, and what better time to use it than now?

Just for laughs, check out the similarity in the language being used:

Janice Nelson: "For the sake of fairness, as well as tradition, Joe should be allowed his turn."
Kathy Childs: "Regardless of how you feel, please join me at the City Council to support fairness and tradition."
Susan Henderson: "...nor has any explanation why the tradition of rotating the position should not be followed."
Janice Nelson: "Plus, there are no reasons not to support (Joe) as Mayor."
Susan Henderson: "There is no legal reason that Joe Mosca should not be selected as Mayor."
Kathy Childs: "Joe Mosca has earned every right to be Mayor. He attends City events, reports on happenings around town; he cares about each and every citizen ..."

Maybe there really are pod people in this town.

In the article Susan resorts to her usual fear tactics, making this rather ugly accusation: "One of the biggest concerns is that some residents feel they will be retaliated against if they speak up. 'Those people (referring to the opponents of Joe Mosca) are crazy. They are worse than the dirts' (a group that opposed Measure V.)"

I'd like to invite Ms. Henderson to cite one instance where a Mosca supporter has had their mailbox blown up, car damaged, trash thrown on their lawn, been depicted in a pornographic photo-shop'd picture, or had a dead animal left on their doorstep. Those were the methods used by Measure V's opponents. To accuse the people concerned about good government in this town of using such tactics is a cheap lie that needs to be condemned. And it also begs the question, why does Susan Henderson feel she has to resort to such a strategy to support this particular candidate? And why would she project such things upon the very people who defended her during the Measure V campaign when she was the target of just these sorts of tactics? Defenders that included most of the contributors to this blog?

Of course, you can always depend upon Susan Henderson to put her foot in it. And she certainly does it with this classic political gaffe:

"In recent years, politics similar to what prevails in the city today prevented the seating of then council woman Kris Miller Fisher as Mayor. The reason? As one long time resident put said, 'They did it just because they could.'"

So who is the "they" that Hapless Harriet is referring to here? The ones who refused to use the "rotation method," as Kathy Childs so memorably put it? Well, for starters, former Mayor of Sierra Madre and Mountain Views "News" columnist Glenn Lambdin. And then there's Doug Hayes, husband of the presumptuous Dr. Janice Nelson Hayes. And Bart Doyle, dirt puppet master supreme. And could we ever forgot Rob Stockley? Well, maybe.

One other thing that needs to be commented upon. Henderson published voting figures from two very different elections in this article with the intention of somehow showing that Joe Mosca is a popular politician here. In 2006 passions were running high because of the discovery that a cabal of redevelopers had basically hijacked our City Council, resulting in a record turnout that swept three new council members into power. In 2008 no such tidal wave of resentment was in effect, however, and voting levels returned to the level of previous elections. Though a sitting Mayor was unseated, despite strong support from the then Mountain Views "Observer."

I've given some thought to Joe Mosca's 2006 vote total. Joe received a grand total of 1,920 votes, topping second place finisher Kurt Zimmerman by an even 100 ballots. So since both of them ran in opposition to the DSP, and supported a go-slow approach to development, why that 100 vote difference? The answer, I believe, is this. Joe and Kurt got basically the same "stop the DSP" vote. But Joe also got a little extra from those people who were in on the big joke. The Janice Nelsons and Bart Doyles of this town, people who knew all along that San Fernando Valley Young Democrats alumnus Joe Mosca was little more than their specially imported Manchurian Candidate.

Unfortunately for Joe, that 100 votes could be just about all he has left.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Driving Miss Kathy

There is a widely circulated e-mail going around town these last few days from a certain
Kathy Childs. In it Kathy expresses her strong support for Joe Mosca and his rather quixotic quest to get this City Council to vote him our next Mayor. Kathy, if you are not aware, became well known here in Sierra Madre during the Measure V election, and her staunch and rather pointed opposition to it is something many remember to this day.

And I've noticed that Kathy's well-circulated communique on the suitability of Joe Mosca to serve as the Mayor of this town has now been reprinted on the front page of Bill Coburn's finely crafted Sierra Madre website. So since it has reached that level of exposure, perhaps it is time to see what this is really all about.

In case you haven't read it yet, I am going to reprint Kathy's entire e-mail here.

"Allow me to put on my "Citizen-Childs" hat for a moment. Next week at the Sierra Madre City Council Meeting a new mayor will be determined by decision of the collective council.

I am a firm believer in the tradition of the rotation method (sic) of assignment to the position of mayor. It has worked for years however, if you will recall, the last time this event took place, our newly elected officials took it upon themselves to change the rotation and appoint a mayor out of order. I was so irritated that I threw my hands up and quit watching the meetings or attending the meetings; it was so mean.

Well, it is time for me to follow the ~ if you don't like it ... do something about it or shut up ~ philosophy. I'm asking for your help.

Regardless of how you may feel, please join me at the City Council Meeting to support fairness and tradition. Joe Mosca has earned the right to be mayor. He attends City events, reports on the happenings around town; he cares about each and every citizen and is not afraid to voice his opinion. Let's put politics aside and remember our town is so sweet and so good, we don't need the City Council playing politics and being so divisive that it is making decisions that go against the wonderful tradition of our town and the fairness to our elected officials.

I have blind copied you so there is not a published list of e-mail addresses but my friends, don't be surprised if you get requests from others as well and phone calls (sic). This is important. Please join me in supporting our elected Councilman Joe Mosca by letting the Council know that tradition is important to a lot of us and we want Joe to be our Mayor!"

Now there are lots of traditions in this country that, while widely accepted at one time, were eventually passed over in favor of far better things. Slavery, polygamy and rooster fighting being three that come immediately to mind. Fortunately times change. And are we to believe Joe's only real qualification to be Mayor is that it's his turn? I don't see anything in Karen's e-mail about any record of accomplishment, or list of achievements, and not a single cited example of the kind of exceptional leadership qualities it will take to lead this City through the challenging times ahead. Rather all we've been given here is that it would be "so sweet and so good" to make Joe our Mayor.
This is a very weak argument on Mr. Mosca's behalf. Can it really be that after three years of serving on our City Council, the only argument one of his most notable supporters can make on his behalf is that it's his turn to be Mayor? Or that it would be "mean" to pass him over? Or that he supposedly cares about everybody? I'm sorry, but these are not the kind of credentials I look for in the person I would want to lead this City. In times as economically demanding as these the last thing we need is a Winnie the Pooh equivalent running Sierra Madre. Any so-called tradition that would put so undistinguished an individual into the Mayor's seat needs to go away.

But I have to level with you, I don't think that is what Kathy's real agenda is here. I believe that her stake in Joe Mosca becoming our next Mayor is far more economic than it is emotional.

In the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element Community Workshop handout the properties being targeted for high-density development are listed. And these are places that Karen Warner Associates has determined to be suitable for multi-family low income condominiums. And on a page all to itself in this report (the only property so honored), is the structure currently standing @ 41 E. Montecito Avenue. It is on a 30,894 square foot lot, was built in 1947, and is now apparently a rental property. And who owns this joint? If you scroll back to the top of this article, you will see a "Multiple Building Card Property Summary" has been reproduced. If you click on this inset it will enlarge and you will be able to examine it more closely. And you will discover that the owner of this property is, you got it, Kathy Childs.

This kind of information is obtainable from any title company. It is public information, and anyone is entitled to see it.

Much of what I'm about to say is speculation on my part, but this is my take on what Kathy would expect from a Mayor Joe Mosca. Kathy is looking to develop her property at 41 E. Montecito in a high density manner. She wants her property to be identified by the City for an upgrade that would permit her to build multi-family high density structures on that property. It is in that part of town covered by Measure V, so anything built there now can only be up to 13 units per acre. And Kathy doesn't quite have an acre. But if her property is upgraded she could then build as many as 20 units. Something that would have to be approved by the people of this town through a vote.

Now here is what I have come to believe is at the very heart of the current redevelopment subterfuge being run on this town. The pitch will be that if the citizens of Sierra Madre should vote to allow Ms. Childs to build 20 so-called low income units on her property, therefore overriding Measure V, it would reduce the pressure to seize homes through eminent domain. These 20 units would pretty much take care of our SCAG imposed RHNA low income number. And that is the way this special election would be sold to the voters. By voting for an immense 3 story 20 unit building at 41 E. Montecito, you'd be saving others from having the City take their homes away from them.

Pretty much a variation on the old "you either give me what I want or I'll kill this puppy" routine.

But without Joe Mosca in the Mayor's seat, none of this could even come close to happening. Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray, a supporter of Measure V, would hardly allow such a scheme to go forward. There would be no upgrade for 41 E. Montecito, no threats about bringing back the eminent domain statute, no RHNA blackmail, and none of the other coercive and deceptive elements necessary to bring this project to completion.

One other thing. You do know that there is no City or State law that requires high density low income housing to actually be just for low income people, right? And should something like this 41 E. Montecito boondoggle be built, there is nothing forcing those condos to be sold at a low price. They could actually be put on sale for whatever price the market will bear. Despite the claims we heard back on March 31st.

So much for "the wonderful tradition of our town" and "fairness."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Karen Warner Associates: A Shocking Lack Of Professionalism?

As you might recall from previous articles on the topic, our industrious city planning dudes held a little get together on March 31st to reveal their latest cockamamie scheme to oust families from their homes in order to make room for so-called low income multi-family high-density development. Which is a lot of words for some apartment buildings.

The two main Tattler articles on the subject can be accessed here and here. If you're new to the topic please take a moment to check these over first.

At this March 31st confab of the unclean, Karen Warner, principle (as they say) of Karen Warner Associates, spoke about her vision of how Sierra Madre could meet the Sacramento mandated demand that we build low income housing in Sierra Madre. Of course, the "low income" part of this mandate could mean anything since there are no laws currently on the books that would enforce any kind of price structure doing honor to the term. All of which is moot anyway, especially when you consider that this is merely a scheme to free up valuable real estate for some very familiar area redevelopers. If you believe otherwise please drop me an e-mail so that I can sell you a bridge.

Anyway, Karen, who is being paid $50,000 by this City for her wisdom on the matter, handed out a hefty sheaf of paper entitled "Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element." And in this mini-tome is listed the properties at risk for possible Eminent Domain seizure should Karen's vision be adopted by our City Government. Which under the current City Council it won't. Please remember that when you vote next April. The house you save might be your own.

If you want to see if your home is listed, you can find this Orwellian document on the City of Sierra Madre website. Click on the blue link I've provided, look for "Featured City Documents" in the right hand column, and then scroll down to "Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element Community Workshop (slides.)"

At the March 31st meeting, Karen Warner, during her presentation on how to remove people from their homes while at the same time feeling really positive about yourself, pointed out the houses she had listed as potential targets. And then she made the following statement: "All the owners of these properties have already been contacted and made aware." You see, it is important to contact people before you begin publicly discussing removing them from their houses. It's polite. And professional.

Myself and the Sierra Madre owner of a film company called Neuroblast Films (click here to check out the small piece he did recently on this topic), decided that we should go out and meet some of the people living in what we're calling "Sierra Madre's At Risk Homes." These are the residences listed in Karen Warner's handout. And Tuesday night we set out to do just that. We visited 2 homes on Mariposa, but the owners were not at home. Then we knocked on the door of a home on Auburn.

The people who live at this house are a family with three children. They have owned their home for 11 years, and love living in Sierra Madre. Their house has both a view to the mountains and easy access to our quaint Downtown shopping neighborhood. They are highly informed about many issues facing our City, and completely versed on the topic of Eminent Domain. Heck, they even knew about some guy who refers to himself as Sir Eric Maundry.

But there was one thing they did not know. They did not know that their home is on Karen Warner's list. And until we knocked on their door and showed them the address of their home listed in this City of Sierra Madre produced document, they had no idea that they had been targeted. They were shocked and angered.

Stop and think about this a minute. Two guys you've never met before walk up to your door, hand you a book produced by the government of the City you've called home for 11 years, and point out that your house might be taken away from you. By your own City. How would you feel?

When Karen Warner told Sierra Madre (the City that is paying her $50,000 to do this kind of work) that all the home owners had been contacted, she wasn't telling the truth. Maybe one of her "Associates" screwed up, or maybe she doesn't give a damn. And who knows, maybe it was the responsibility of our very own Mr. Castro? Doesn't matter. This is an extraordinary lapse in professionalism on somebody's part, and it needs to be discussed. And if the responsibility does lie with Ms. Warner then maybe her contract needs to be re-examined as well.

As for the family living in that home on Auburn? They'll be at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. I would be honored to introduce you to them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Joe Mosca's 4 Minutes Of Flip Flop Infamy

(To view video click here.)

As I am sure you remember, one of the things that made Joe Mosca so eminently electable in 2006 was he promised the voters of Sierra Madre that they alone would be the ones who would decide whether or not to move forward with a Downtown Specific Plan. Something that was of great interest to everyone here because this would pretty much determine how Downtown Sierra Madre would look going into the future. Would it stay the eclectic mix of interesting organically evolved buildings that it is now, or become just another immense parti-colored concrete condo monstrosity, ala The Commons in Monrovia.

As you can see by viewing this video, somehow the vote on the DSP that Joe Mosca promised the voters when he was running for office became something decidedly different after he was elected. Suddenly what was to be the citizens of Sierra Madre's final and binding decision had become a poll or a survey, a beauty contest with no real legal authority. Something that the City Council, should it so decide, could easily ignore. Which given its redevelopment obedient composition at the time it most assuredly would have done.

The irony is that, while Joe admits here that this vote he speaks of would be non-binding, he also says that he would do whatever the community wanted. But didn't the community already say that it wanted a binding vote on the DSP when it elected him, the candidate who promised them that very thing? He ran on a platform of letting the voters decide, but once in office he chose to take that power away from the citizens of Sierra Madre and give it solely to the likes of himself.

Then again, it was obvious that no matter what the final form of the DSP that would be put on the ballot, the mood of the electorate at that time would have guaranteed its defeat. And that was what Joe Mosca's real concern was. Those people having his real loyalty, his patrons in the building trades and realty organizations (not to mention the compromised politicians who slavishly cater to them in organizations such as SCAG), would not have liked that.

And to think that this man believes he deserves to be our Mayor ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Have Our Downtown Restaurants Replaced Smokers With ... Dog Food?

Proving once again that capitalism truly is the most versatile and spontaneous of all the great world economic systems, the Downtown area of Sierra Madre looks to be coming to grips with a tough new business environment. Deprived of the highly profitable trade afforded them by the legions of smokers who up until recently occupied every available sidewalk seat and bench in the neighborhood, our doughty dining establishments have been forced to look elsewhere for business. But with all the smokers now lounging in their signature artistic dishabille over in Monrovia, where oh where will our local restauranteurs turn?

Well it now appears that Chef Eric May (formerly of Aspen via the San Francisco Culinary Academy), and currently at Sierra Madre's most forward thinking fine dining establishment, Charcuterie, has come up with a truly Sierra Madre correct solution. And what is that, you ask? This restaurant has now created a menu for the second largest species population in town, dogs. I kid you not.

Now when you stop by Charcuterie for your Caprese sandwich with the fresh basil pesto, you will also be able to please your hungry pooch with some equally delicious fare. Be it freshly broiled chicken breast, lightly brazed chopped sirloin, or perhaps something amusing made with eggs, hot dogs and grated cheese, you can be assured that your culinary cur will thoroughly enjoy a quality dining experience. And in the process eat better than most of the human residents in Tulare County!

And apparently this new menu is a resounding success with Sierra Madreanos. Outdoor seats, where both dogs and their owners are accommodated, are now nearly impossible to get. Lines of pet owners can be seen in the parking lot, anxiously awaiting those rare billets where Trim, Barky and Foufou can be afforded the opportunity to wolf down a fine veal cutlet smothered in rich gravies and sauces. Credit cards always accepted.

So where does this leave all the other restaurants, bars and places in-between who are desperately looking for something approaching that level of trade? Well certainly their very own dog menus cannot be all that far behind.  And seeing how this city's Chamber of Commerce is so creatively challenged these days, that hard working and good-hearted volunteer, Sir Eric, currently living the good life here far above the redevelopment zone of Sierra Madre, will certainly be able to offer some recommendations to those eateries seeking to enter the lucrative canine dining trade. Here are our establishment specific recommendations:

The Buccaneer Lounge: Famous for its cheap drinks, laid back clientele, and most unpretentious vibe, The Buccaneer is obviously no place for poodles or those other breeds whose genetic lineage is shorter than their snouts. So you won't be seeing briskly seared capons smothered in anything sounding French there soon. Here we would recommend a menu that would include bone with gristle, Alpo served in the can (think of the freshness factor), and trash barrels of sun baked mystery treats. All washed down with copious quantities of freshly piped Sierra Madre foothill water straight from the john. Lid up, of course.

Lucky Baldwins: Now Sir Eric has not frequented this place in quite some time. And sharing his canine culinary expertise with this establishment will not come easy to him. However, there is little Sir Eric won't do to help save our downtown business district. Here we recall our carefree college days, and one of the things we enjoyed most during our academic years was drinking beer until we passed out. Only to wake up later in places we did not quite recognize. So here is my challenge to Lucky Baldwins. How many six dollar beers more must you serve a night to make up for the loss of your smoking trade? Fifty? One hundred? Why not do so by serving your fine handcrafted Belgian beers to dogs? When I was in college our pups were always invited to drink with us, and many was the time we laughed heartily as our canine pals staggered to a nearby grassy patch and passed out, their four little legs sticking straight up into the air. So why deprive Sierra Madre's dogs of a similar yeasty joy? We recommend the purchasing of steel drinking bowls from Wal*Mart and placing them discreetly next to your outdoor dining tables. It won't be long before some happy little guy looks up into your eyes in a way that can only mean, fill 'er up again, please!

The Four Seasons Tea Room: Obviously the dog trade is going to be problematic here, so we would recommend that those bringing their canines to this fine establishment only do so if they are carefully diapered. The dogs, I mean. But that said, there are some real possibilities for increased business here. Many dogs in town suffer the kinds of obesity problems brought on from too rich a diet. So how about treating man's best friend to tea sandwiches, egg salad with a tart olive spread, or even trimmed finger scones with cucumbers? Remember, if you love your friend, treat him to a healthy diet. The increased longevity your pal will enjoy can only bring years of happiness to you as well.

Cafe 322: Obviously most dogs do not get to hear enough jazz. I know I don't, and I'm not a dog! So why not enrich your pal's Great American Artistic Tradition with a full dinner at Cafe 322? Obviously this place would profit greatly by establishing the world's first open air Dog Lounge. I would recommend they be served a hearty beef steak with baked potato and a nice saucer of watered red chianti. Or maybe a full bowl of those delicious oversized meatballs. This Friday The Bennett Brandies Trio is playing, and if you haven't heard them yet you just have not experienced what we call living, daddy-o. Bring the mutt, man. He'll be howling and yowling like he's been taken on the first Coltrane to dog jazz heaven.

KFC: You know, I hate to have to admit this, but out of all the places where the mongrel trade might be welcomed soon, I suspect a dog's choice would be KFC. The first priority for our four legged friends is comfort food. Nothing fancy, or particularly over-imagined, what dogs want the most is a quick gulp, a nice nap, and then a nature walk. And where else have human and canine dietary needs come together more perfectly than with KFC's Famous Bowls? People and dogs, both getting their daily nutrition from a plastic bowl. Side by side. Just order two, one for you, and one for your buddy. Then sit out on the sidewalk and gobble 'em down together. You give 'em what they want, and they'll just keep coming back for more.

Well, I hope this has helped. I also do consulting on the topic, so if you need more information, please send a note to The Tattler e-mail address. Be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and a day time phone number.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Order of the Fly

I've decided that from now on I will refer to the cabal of individuals who participated in Sunday's meeting at Joe Mosca's house as The Order of the Fly. Because not only does that sound real Baroque and all, but apparently it really is an "Order" of sorts. As I think you will see by the end of this little story. With "Fly" being what the name Mosca means in the original Italian.

I received a phone call late Sunday afternoon from someone who did attempt to attend Joe's meeting. This person received the invitation I discussed Saturday, and had been very much a supporter of Joe Mosca when he first ran for City Council in 2006. And while the individual calling me was not exactly angry, she was somewhat bemused. And more than a little unhappy. Why? Because she was turned away at the door by Joe himself.

Now as you read on Saturday's post, I was surreptitiously forwarded an invitation to a get together at Joe Mosca's house. In it Joe claimed that this was a call to his supporters to rally around the flag because he was about to undertake a very difficult run at securing the office of Mayor of Sierra Madre. And since the 3 persons who now control our City Council already refused him the job once (and when he was the Mayor Pro Tem at that), the odds of him getting the gig on the second try are far slimmer, that is if they even exist at all.

And for a politically ambitious fellow like Joe Mosca, such a black mark on his resume' is a bad thing. Something that will be duly noted in Los Angeles and Sacramento when he attempts to move on in his career. A Mayor Pro Tem being refused a promotion to the Office of Mayor being no small event.

Now you might have gotten the impression, as I did, that this was a meeting for all of Joe's supporters. Kind of like a coffee during a City Council campaign, with the purpose of gathering together a group of like-minded folks and getting them behind Joe's run at the Mayoralty. The assumed intent being to get a large amount of them to City Hall on April 28 to show their support.

But apparently this was not the case. When the individual in question showed up at Joe's door, the look that she got from the would-be Mayor was not one of warm appreciation at her presence. Rather it was, well, I guess surprise would be the nicer word for it. Now Joe did recover, and became very apologetic to his unwanted guest. He explained that this was to be a meeting of his "supporter group," those who had been with him "from the very beginning." Obviously in Joe's mind a very select group of people.

And the woman who was turned away did get a brief glimpse at the folks Joe considered to be his "supporter group from the very beginning." Tim "Big House" Hayden, the somewhat controversial Canyon contractor, was there. As was Karma Bell and her oddly coifed husband. And Lisa Spigai Perez was also in the house, though her opera singing old man apparently stayed home. Perhaps to preserve his voice for an upcoming Sierra Madre Library appearance? And a few other folks were there as well, though none appeared to be of Sierra Madre origin.

Now here's a couple of things that occur to me. Is Joe, by referring to the above individuals as "his supporter group" that had "been with him from the beginning," admitting that he was always a big development guy, and that all that stuff he spewed about "preserving Sierra Madre" during the 2006 election was just a bunch of crap? Because there are quite a few people in this town who used to believe that they were with Joe "from the beginning." Such as the woman Joe escorted from his property.

And look, weren't the above named attendees at this gathering actually supporters of Tonya Torres and Ron Brandley in 2006? And didn't they consider Joe to be a threat to their dreams of turning our downtown into a condo ghetto? Seems odd to think of it that way now, but there was a time when Joe Mosca was actually considered to be a friend of Sierra Madre.

Another thing that occurs to me is that the invitation you saw reproduced here on Saturday must have been meant for a select few people only. And while there might have been a few slip ups in his e-mailing protocol (such as with the woman Joe felt he needed to chase off his property), this was apparently a meeting intended for High Dirts only. Which means that the person who did forward that invitation to me must have been from among the chosen.

All of which makes me wonder if Joe's support among even that group has started to unravel. After all, isn't it considered a sign that someone is losing the respect of the community when nobody keeps his secrets anymore? Which I guess means that The Order of the Fly has become a bit more like Beany and Cecil's Leaking Lena.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Joe Mosca Announces He's Running For Mayor

The following e-mail was forwarded to me by an anonymous reader. I'm posting it here verbatim.
Subject: I Need Your Support!
Date: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:14 PM

I hope all is well for you.

At the Sierra Madre City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 28th, the City Council will decide who will be the next Mayor of our community. I will make a bid to be our next Mayor.

I need your help and support to become the next Mayor. Please come by my home this Sunday (April 19) to find out more about how you can support this effort.

The meeting will start at 4 PM and I will keep the meeting brief.

I live at 533 Key Vista Drive.

Thank you and I hope to see you on Sunday.

So? What is Joe going to tell his supporters to do? Show up and pack the City Council room? Get them all to go to the podium and declare their undying love for the guy who sold us out to the redevelopers? Sob loudly? I can't figure it out. He has absolutely no chance of becoming Mayor.

So what gives?

(Note: The Italian word for fly is "mosca.")

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is It Time For A UUT Party?

Don't know if you caught it during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, but somewhere around the 11 o'clock hour a rather interesting debate broke out between Joe Mosca and Kurt Zimmerman over the UUT question. A debate that could very well turn out to be the opening salvo in a struggle for the ethical soul of this City.

The issue goes back to the recent astonishing discovery of a million dollars in Sierra Madre's bank account that City Hall knew nothing about. As The Pasadena Star News put it in their article on the matter, "Audit finds $1 million in Sierra Madre," there was a whole lot of cash here that apparently our slumbering fiscal guardians didn't even know existed.

"An audit of the fiscal year 2006-07 found an increase in the general fund balance of $1,036,795 attributed in part to higher-than-expected revenue from property taxes and a correction in accounting records."

"Correction in accounting records" being a rather delicate way of saying that the folks we paid to keep the City's affairs in order back during the shenanigan years didn't really know what they were doing, and it took a vigorous audit to straighten things out. Years of badly neglected bookkeeping, stiff fines from Sacramento, and a lost million dollars being among the symptoms of this malaise.

So here's the situation. The citizens of Sierra Madre were called upon to raise their Utility User Tax rate during our most recent elections. They were told that Sierra Madre was going broke, and that unless they voted themselves as much as a 100% utility tax hike (with additional categories added that actually made the hike potentially far greater than 100% ), fiscal disaster would strike our City. And through some rather (in my opinion) annoying procedures such as the enlistment of an "ad hoc finance committee," followed by aggressive and repetitious
mailings, numbers were provided to back those contentions up.

Only there was a problem. Because those numbers did not include the Mystery Million, and were not backed up by anything approaching a real audit, what the voters were told was inaccurate. The numbers were garbage, and because they were people had cast their votes based on things that simply were not true. They had faith that our City government was telling them the truth, and like good citizens they voted accordingly. But because the Old Regime was incompetent and careless, they might as well have been placing their faith in lottery numbers.

Kurt Zimmerman began this exchange by saying the following, "At some point this City Council and the community needs to consider either a repeal of the UUT, or a moratorium. I've said it before, and irrespective of the budget reality, I still feel we need to keep faith with the public which I'm sure cast quite a few votes in favor of the hike based on erroneous information."

Joe Mosca was not at all pleased to hear this, and began to reel off a long list of City services that would be adversely affected should the UUT hike be taken away. All of which sounded strikingly similar to the appeal put to the public to push this tax increase in the first place.

Kurt responded, "What do you tell people, Joe, when they tell you look, I voted on this UUT hike because I thought we were in financial condition X, when we were really in financial condition Y." Joe refused to deal with that, and instead recited the same laundry list of City services that might suffer if this money was no longer there to be collected. 

So here's the situation. A tax hike was voted in by the voters on fiscal information that turned out to be false. Do you go to the people and tell them that because the City feels it needs to spend that money, the injustice that was committed cannot be undone? Or do you do the ethical thing and put the UUT increase question back on the ballot, but this time with information based on a realistic accounting of the City's finances?

To me the answer is clear, put the question back on the ballot. It might very well be true that the City does need this additional revenue, and that the loss of it could cause some valuable services to suffer. But if that is so, shouldn't the voters be allowed to make the right decision? After all, didn't the voters trust the City to provide them with good information the first time they were asked to vote on this? Certainly the City now owes it to the voters to return that trust. For our City government to keep money raised through a procedure as badly compromised as the one we've described here would be unethical. Plain and simple.

And besides, wouldn't it be better for the City to conduct this new election on its own terms? Rather than risking a possible UUT Party? I certainly know a lot of people who understand the use petitions and getting things on a ballot. If you leave it to them they could very well ask this question in a way Joe Mosca would not like. To say nothing about how he might feel about the answer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Update: Mountain Views "Observer" Contempt Of Court Hearing Postponed Until May

The Judge granted a continuance until some time next month. The unconfirmed report is that there has been a death in Susan Henderson's family.

"I am not buying into your explanations or excuses." - California Superior Court Judge Edward Simpson to Mountain Views "Observer" Publisher H. Susan Henderson on March 12, 2009.

Court Order to MVO/N publisher H. Susan Henderson: "You are hereby ordered to appear on April 15 at 8:30 AM to show cause, if you have any, why you should not be adjudged in Contempt of Court and punished accordingly, for willfully disobeying the Judgement of this Court made on December 30, 2008, in the above action."

The issue for the Honorable Edward Simpson was the continued usage of the word "Observer" despite the Judge's order to remove it from all manifestations of the publication. And we're assuming here that would include such things as newspaper racks.

New information will be posted here on the Sierra Madre Tattler site just as soon as word arrives from the Courthouse.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And The Answer Is ... $49,170!

So what is this the answer to, you ask? The question was how much did we pay Karen Warner Associates to come up with the suspect guidance she gave us for our Sierra Madre's 2008-2014 Housing Element report? In particular, the one regarding how to handle our RHNA number and get the jerks from SCAG off our backs? Yeah, it was a cool $49,170.

Now I really don't know what is worse, giving all that money to someone who has done absolutely nothing to help this City deal with the real SCAG problems, or that we paid Karen Warner and her fabulous Associates more than what other cities shelled out for the exact same thing.

Agoura Hills, in their agreement with Karen Warner Associates to perform similar tasks, paid $48,230. At least according to the Report to the City Council submitted by Greg Ramirez, Agoura Hills City Manager, on March 28, 2007. But the City of Walnut somehow got the same thing for $45,800, or a full $3,370 LESS than what we paid! This according to Walnut's very own Daniel Fox in his statement to their Housing Authority, dated June 27, 2007.

Maybe ours included a box of colored pencils and books with pictures of large zoo animals.

So what did we get for this mighty sum of money? Money coming from a City supposedly hard pressed for the stuff? As far as I can tell, not a whole hell of a lot. We have a RHNA number that we're trying to whittle down, and the City came up with an inexpensive strategy to deal with it. One that involved existing housing and little disruption in peoples' lives. Only our $50,000 Friend, Karen Warner, told us that we can't do it that way. Instead we need to either initiate the seizing of other peoples' homes in order to turn the property over to developers like so much ransom, or scrap Measure V and turn our downtown into something truly special, like Monrovia Commons. Or the newly concocted Yuppie Condo Ghettoes in Pasadena.

Of course, when a City is contemplating the spending of $50,000 to get advice from a special someone who supposedly knows something, um, special, you'd figure it would look into the past of the person they're hiring. You know, like maybe to deduce what exactly this person's thinking might be? A person's past being a good indication of what their point of view might be today, and what it is they are likely to tell us after we've forked over all that cash.

So I decided that I would do it for them. A little late perhaps, but then again I wasn't asked about this before the decisions were made. Come to think of it, I wasn't really even asked now. But I am a volunteer, you know.

In October of 2006 something called the American Planning Association - California Chapters, held its happening CCAPA Conference somewhere south of the Orange Curtain. It was a conference dedicated to "Reinventing Suburbia." Karen Warner was there to speak, which means that in the handout I'm cribbing from her story was included in the Speaker Biographies section. Here is what was said:

"Ms. Warner is a consultant offering over 20 years of experience in providing housing policy studies to municipal clients. She has extensive experience in preparing a variety of housing-related studies, including housing elements, redevelopment housing strategies, inclusionary housing studies and various affordable housing incentive ordinances. Ms. Warner has authored nearly 100 housing elements in jurisdictions throughout the state, and has worked extensively with built-out communities in identifying sites for development."

Hmm. So Ms. Warner specializes in finding development sites in cities that have no room for development. And how do you do that when all of the available spaces now have buildings on them? Why you separate a few residents from their homes, seize the property, and then tear the down the houses. And what did Karen recommend in the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element report that she helped author, and delivered to the public at the so-called Community Workshop on March 31, 2009? Just that very thing. She even published the addresses of the potential victims.

Was anybody surprised? If they'd done $50,000 worth of homework, they shouldn't have been. And perhaps those who pushed for her hiring got the desired result. Of course, there was another big fat clue to be found in reviewing the material from the 2006 CCAPA Conference. Here is the description of the panel Karen Warner was a part of. Notice how quaint and dated some of this information seems today.

"The Affordable Housing Crisis: Is the 20 Year Plan the Solution? With California's housing prices and rents continuing to soar (sic), employers relocating to lower cost areas, and Statewide housing production falling well short of demand, can any strategy really address the affordable housing crisis? This panel will look at several major proposals aimed at facilitating production of housing, and affordable housing in particular. Representatives from SCAG and the BIA will discuss the merits of requiring jurisdictions to plan for a 20-year residential sites inventory etc ..."

Uh oh. So representatives from SCAG and the BIA spoke on this panel? The dark heart at the very core of the Invasion of the Home Snatchers? So who exactly were these panel pals?

Karen Warner, AICP, Principal, Karen Warner Associates
Lynn Harris, Manager, Community Development Division, SCAG
Bart Doyle, Esq. (BIA, SCAG, SGVCOG)
Bill Higgins, Staff Attorney, League of California Cities
Bill Trimble, AICP, Senior Planner, City of Pasadena

Now then, is it really any cause for wonder that Karen Warner recommended the kinds of things she did a few weeks back? And did we really need to spend $50,000 to get some warmed over nonsense that reads like something you might have seen on Downtown Dirt a couple of years ago? If only the City had looked a little before it leapt. And here I thought we'd moved past this sort of thing.

So who recommended that we hire this person? And why is it that after all these years Bart Doyle still has this kind of juice at City Hall? The influence to get us to pay a small fortune and hire someone guaranteed to advocate his destructive development schemes?

And, even more important, why is it that no matter how many times the voters of this town make their opinions known, the same people stay in power here?

One other thing of interest. At this CCAPA Conference dedicated to "Reinventing Suburbia," the City of Sierra Madre was celebrated for a singular achievement. Check this out:

"The City of Sierra Madre recognized the importance of education before planning, and set an example of how to organize and deliver an objective and educational series of courses at the front-end of a downtown planning process."

As this conference was held in late 2006, they can only be talking about the dog and pony shows designed to sell Sierra Madre on the scheme to gut our Downtown and turn it into the kind of condo ghetto we see in so many other cities now. The ones that today stand unsold and for the most part empty, with the banks holding the paper on these boondoggles begging the Federal Government for our tax money.

" The 'City of Sierra Madre Educational Series - Understanding Downtowns' was designed as an 8-course and 1-tour program offered publicly through the City's Community Service Department and endorsed by the California Downtown Association. Two weeks after the educational component, the entire Sierra Madre community participated in an intense week of community involvement known as Downtown Immersion Week. During this week, the project team organized over 15 events - ranging from focused discussion groups to walking tours to a hands-on design workshop - to allow a variety of ways for the community to get involved in the process and employ ideas learned during the educational series." 

Well sure, the community did get involved. Given that this particular little circus was part of the series of events that led up to the passing of Measure V by the citizens of Sierra Madre, I'd say their self-congratulatory celebration was just a little premature.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Greensward Civitas On SCAG (& Related Matters)

Amongst my e-mail this weekend was a 3 word message that simply read, "A green blog." Along with this short sentence came an accompanying web address. Now I have to admit that I have developed a little bit of an allergy to anything using the word "green" lately. Not that I don't think this planet could use some cleaning up, there is no doubt that there are many things that need some urgent attention. And I don't believe for a minute that there aren't people calling themselves "green" who are genuinely concerned and working towards repairing this troubled old world.

But unfortunately, and this seems to be the rule lately, each time you hear words like "green" and "sustainability" here, they are invariably attached to a scam linked to things such as redevelopment and high-density construction in places where it is neither needed or wanted. Such as Sierra Madre. The height of this destructive hypocrisy being the re-election campaign of John Buchanan, where the father of the worst ecological disaster this town has ever seen, One Carter Estates, campaigned for re-election on what he termed "green issues." Which apparently in his mind means any excuse to tear down existing homes or clear hillside groves in order to replace them with vast highly profitable structures clad in solar panels and really cool advanced insulation technology.

The Greensward Civitas is a blog out of Pasadena that deals with urban planning, public policy, infrastructure, and regenerative "green strategies." It's publisher, Laurie Barlow, is an architect that heads a consulting company dealing with many of these same issues. You can tell from reading her blog that these are things she cares about deeply. And while The Greensward Civitas does cover a lot of material, the one thing that leapt out at me was a section entitled "SCAG Forces Overdevelopment." And wouldn't you know it, among the sources cited there she links to that most populist of blogs, The Tattler. To get a better idea of what we'll be talking about here, you should first go to Laurie's site and check out some of the material under the SCAG rubric first.

I e-mailed Laurie, and she kindly replied with some very insightful observations. I am going to reprint this exchange pretty much verbatim. Even though it wasn't a formal sit down conversation, it almost does come off a bit like an interview.

The Tattler: Curious. Why is it those interested in "urban planning" have such a burning desire to destroy quaint little suburban towns like Sierra Madre? Recently we had the extreme dishonor (as a town, not my decision) of paying absurd amounts of money to Karen Warner to receive the benefits of her wisdom regarding our RHNA numbers. She came to speak, and her sunny recommendation was that we work towards the evicting of 20 or so families so that their (then) former properties can be turned into multi-family residences. The irony being, of course, is that these mostly poor people would be chased out of town in order to make way for low income housing. Either that or gut our downtown and turn it into vast rows of parti-colored condos. So I was very pleased to see on your site that you appear to be less than approving of SCAG.

Greensward Civitas: There's many many layers to these issues as you know, and as an architect in commercial work who has dealt with the State on many levels, as well as cities, I'm pretty familiar with cross-purpose policy implementation as well as "greenwashing" that AIA folk are so vehemently against.

SCAG is an attempt at regional cooperation, with some success, that has become irrational over the growth issue. Their fundamental presupposition that this region must accommodate all growth is simply out the window, and an examination of the USC-Brookings document is clear on the limitation of resources that were readily apparent over a decade ago. But the sell-out to development interests is clear in the case of SCAG, they do not seem to represent any constituency of residents. Even the cities, reliant on growth to pay the bills now, cannot cope with the numbers being pushed at them on the basis of accommodating every person theoretically living in the area based on some hypothetically astronomical growth curve.

The interpretation of many of these cities, in compromise mode, is to "develop" older (read: less income-generating) areas into higher densities. The income generated this way makes up for what Sacramento has been steadily withholding over the decades, as well as complying with these RHNA numbers. Cities like Pasadena are being very careful to preserve their R-1 areas, however, even as it experiences condo glut.

(By the way, where does it say in State Law that the General Plans throughout the State must comply with these numbers from SCAG? I think this is only a multi-county agreement and therefore easily subject to challenge, it's not grounded in law.)

I think the only way to fix this situation is to basically limit Prop 13 to R-1 only, and begin to recoup the taxes from all those income-producing properties held in trust since 1978 so that they don't actually record a sale, and force Sacramento to trim the fat (numerous appointed positions to "committees" for former officials that pay $150K+ or so) and return monies to the cities and school districts. The residents of this state are being ripped off, bottom line. They are now called "consumers," and viewed as marketing targets only. This whole system needs a shift in values.

The unfortunate style and massing issues that result from these policies is just poor planning and design review, bad scale juxtapositions. A good citizen-input General Plan and decent set of design guidelines enforced by a review board will trump zoning regs, as San Marino has established in a State Supreme Court decision.

Tattler: My passion as of late is trying to come to grips with such Soviet-style (sorry, that does sound reactionary, but it fits) central planning organizations that hold such sway in these parts. Of course, at the behest of the BIA, various Sacramento lobbying firms, and the corrupt elected officials who dine at their expense.

Greensward Civitas: Actually, the socialist countries like France and Spain do a pretty good job at planning top-down efficient systems for regional infrastructure (transit, power, telecommunications, etc) but at the loss of individual and democratic thrashing out of local policy interpretations that turn US regional projects into a mish-mash, with solutions driven by special interests. I'm not sure there's a winner in that.

Tattler: I'm not certain that even SCAG believes the message they put out. I've come to think that maybe their claims to somehow "making things better" (sustainability being a word often used), is just a sales pitch. There is no room left to build in LA County, doing so is extremely profitable, so everything done in this regard is to clear some space for the redevelopers who are actually calling the shots there. Former Sierra Madre Mayor Bart Doyle is a leading voice at SCAG, SGVCOG (President - even though he isn't an elected official), the BIA (ex-President), and runs a redevelopment concern called Titan. Doyle ministers to two of our City Councilmen (John Buchanan and Joe Mosca), and also seems to have unlimited influence at our local pathetic excuse for a newspaper, The Mountain Views "News." Which weekly assaults our City Council members who stand in Bart's way. In other words, I'm not sure there really are issues. This is just power attempting to take what it wants.

Greensward Civitas: The same power structures exist in San Marino (the Tribune is the worst I've seen), Temple City, Alhambra, San Gabriel, etc. etc. to support the bigger structures that operate at County and State levels. I've been educating folks around here, there's not a lot of sheep left.

(We hope to have more from Laurie Barlow in the weeks ahead.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Some Guy Calling Himself Centinel Is Paying Money For Posts Over At The Foothills Blog

OK, now this is getting way past the frontier of what most people would agree is acceptable internet behavior. Some guy calling himself  "Centinel," (we'll be referring to him from now on as Faux Centinel), is not only leaving posts on the Foothills Cities Blog under Todd Ruiz's old handle, but he's also offering to pay people for comments!

This is unheard of in the world of blogging my friends, and it is a precedent that is causing many in the field to shake their heads in despair. Can this mean that yet another once pristine bastion of free speech and unfettered dialog has now fallen prey to the accursed "pay to play" syndrome that so typifies the more corporate medias? Will the blogs of the San Gabriel Valley become just another venue for hack work?

Of course, there is always the possibility that Todd has been consuming a certain celebrated national product of Morocco over there in the sandy fez and hookah belt. Only to later return to his lonely tent and laptop to post the kinds of madly hallucinatory things that such consumption can lead to. But I'm not sure that is really the case here. 

No, I have come to believe this runs far deeper. It would appear that Faux Centinel, painfully aware that his talents fall far short of the person he is attempting to impersonate, is trying to make up for his lack of native ability by paying the old hands over there cash money to keep posting and not leave in disgust. Read this passage and tell me that I'm not on to something here.

"I talked to a couple of people who were interested in the blog's revival and were also willing to chip in some shekels so that I could renew hosting ... Everyone willing to hand over money said the thing they loved about the blog the most was the comments."

OK, so Faux Centinel not only managed to round up some suspect outside financing, he also put himself in the unfortunate position of having to guarantee a return to the level of commenting found there in the past. And God only knows what the consequences will be to him should he fail to deliver on big money's expectations. But you see, without the original Centinel there to drive the conversation into the heights it once soared, there will be little incentive for anyone to post. So out of desperation FC of the FC Blog is handing out bribes that consist of other peoples' money. Quite possibly dirty money.

"To encourage this I'm offering a bounty: you write the best summary of your city, and I'll give you money. Best summary of the whole FC area dating back to January, gets $100. Best summary of an individual city (Categories: Pasadena, Claremont, Pomona, Arcadia/Monrovia, Sierra Madre, and Everything Else) gets $30. So, there's potentially hundreds of dollars at stake here, as well as some cloak and dagger action when I try to find some way to deliver the cash without revealing that I'm Todd Ruiz."

Is your soul worth a mere $30? No, and neither is mine. Faux Centinel, you are not Todd Ruiz. As Virginia Hoge pointed out on her Pasadena New Progressive blog, Todd Ruiz would never stoop so low as to hand out bribes in exchange for posts. He might have lacked for some of the more basic forms of integrity, but at least he maintained that one scrap of pride.

I've been keeping something that I call the Dead Blogs List. It is a compendium of all those many blogs that flourished not that long ago, but have disappeared within the last year or so. I will be posting it soon along with commentary. And until the real Centinel returns from his self-imposed desert exile in North Africa, The Foothill Cities blog will stay on that list.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Friday. Do You Know Where YOUR E-Mail Is?

I'm getting all kinds of e-mail lately. Some of it funny, some informative, some rather odd and making no sense whatsoever. Not that I mind, I've always admired chaos in others. It's certainly a luxury that I cannot afford. And sometimes it is stuff relayed to me that its authors would probably wish I did not see. Why some writers let their secrets run loose on the internet is beyond me. This is a time when information, any kind of information, could fall into the wrong hands, compromising your interests in surprising ways. And there is always the distinct possibility that what you've had to say will not be perceived in its proper context. Never has the security of your stuff been more important. After all, something bad could happen to it. Like maybe seeing it reprinted on a blog. You know, like this one?

Thought I'd copy you all on what I submitted to THE Magazine this morning! I've nominated Susan as one of the area's Fifty Fabulous Women Over 50. My nomination is below. If you would like to nominate someone (including Susan), just follow the directions below!

From: Chris Bertrand
Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 9:o9 AM
To: Steve Tobia
Subject: Nomination for "Fifty Fabulous Women Over 50": Susan Henderson

Susan Henderson decided to undertake starting a community newspaper, now called the Mountain Views Observer, amid the financial struggles and disappearances and of large and small papers across the country. Regularly, we hear of the demise or reconfiguration of major newspapers nearly every month whether filing bankruptcy, ceasing publication or switching to online only distribution. Amidst this daunting financial model, Susan felt compelled to bring true local news, particularly Pasadena USD (sic) school news, not just press releases, back to
Sierra Madre, Pasadena and its surrounding communities. The financial, time and personal commitment required of this attorney, mother, Kiwanis volunteer and now publisher regularly draws on but never depletes the amazing reserves of this remarkable woman. So many thought starting a newspaper here just couldn't be done. You've done it, Susan. Persevere, live strong and publish on!

Chris Bertrand
Marketing Services
Read "One of a Kind" every week at

(**end of e-mail**)

The childish innocence of the writing style aside, there are a few problems with this nomination for a coveted THE Magazine "Fifty Fabulous Women Over 50" designation. First of all, Susan Henderson is not an attorney. As was clearly revealed during the pre-trial discovery phase of the now legendary Deuxamis Trial, Susan Henderson cannot even lay claim to being a college graduate, much less a licensed legal practitioner. And, as a result of this trial, Susan's paper is no longer to be referred to as "The Mountain-Views Observer." It is now known as "The Mountain Views News." Which was the name of a paper the publisher of THE Magazine, Steve Tobia, started some time back. As a matter of fact, he actually sold that very paper to Susan Henderson! So does anybody really think that Mr. Tobia is likely to believe that a paper bearing the name of something that he himself created was actually started solely by Ms. Henderson? I personally have my doubts.

No, this poorly thought-out mess clearly is not going to do. But does that mean the nomination of Susan Henderson should not prevail here?

A quote attributed to a personal hero of mine, Ambrose Bierce, goes something like this: "Awards are often given by the wrong people, to the wrong people, and usually for the worst possible reasons." And in that spirit I second this nomination of Susan Henderson for a THE Magazine "Fifty Fabulous Women Over 50" designation. It would be a very fitting recognition.

We can only hope that she'll have to buy an ad there to get it.