Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sierra Madre Canyon Zoning Committee Knocks One Out Of The Park

I had the honor of taking a walk around the Canyon with about 30 other folks Saturday, and came away with some new appreciation for this unique and beautiful place. And the folks from the Sierra Madre Canyon Zoning Committee put together what was a very interesting handout describing what it was we were looking at. That some interesting historical anecdotes and local color were thrown in only improved the experience.

Here's how the prologue to the handout described the event and its purpose:

The history of Sierra Madre Canyon from the Gabriellano Indians through the heyday of the Carter's Camp era is well documented through the efforts of a number of local authors and organizations. Today's walkabout will deal with what has occurred in the inner canyon and the eastern outer canyon as a result of benign neglect by the City of Sierra Madre, from the City's incorporation through the 1960s, the escalation of property values beginning in the 1970s continuing throughout the 2000s, and declining values as a result of the bursting real estate bubble ... Since 1982 the City has been attempting to put in place a Canyon Zoning ordinance to the General Plan. Why is a Canyon Zoning ordinance necessary you may ask? We'll attempt to answer that question as we walk the paths and streets of the inner canyon and the western outer canyon.

Then our hosts took us on a tour of an area they so obviously love. I don't think very many who made the hike did not come away with a sense of the cultural and historic importance of this place, or how preserving and keeping it safe from predatory development is not an important consideration.

After the tour most of those attending made it over to City Hall for a meeting to discuss what they had just seen, and exactly how to accomplish the goal of saving The Canyon. And, as is usually the case, everyone expected this task to be difficult. After all, isn't that usually the case when matters of this kind come up?

But then Don Watts came up with a solution that set the entire room buzzing. Apparently there is a strong precedent for declaring an area like The Canyon an historical district, one that empowers residents and gives them control over exactly what kind of development will go on in their neighborhood. In a group e-mail that went out Sunday, here is how Don described it:

The idea of an historical/cultural district can be used as a tool for a variety of possibilities. The primary functions of such entities puts local control of development in the hands of the neighborhood, maintaining neighborhood fabric, cultural identity, historic identity, etc. They do not necessarily need to have any specific architectural component, but can be considered based upon the totality of the neighborhood's "personality and/or history."

Pasadena and Arcadia have officially designated neighborhood committees that must sign off or approve all development changes for the areas under their purview. And before the City will accept a plan, the Building department must receive an approval granted by a designated neighborhood committee. Such approvals can include, and are not limited to: Material choices, parking availability, scale, volume, neighborhood character, and fabric.

Once a neighborhood organization signs off on a project as being acceptable, it is given a green light to go to Planning & Zoning, and Building and Safety. This system has been in effect for over 10 years, and seems to work well.

Though for an Architect like me it can be something of a major hassle, it has drastically cut down on McMansions and the break up of neighborhoods. It has turned out to be a tool that can be used to control overzealous and insensitive clients wishing to ignore the needs and standards of the neighbors.

You have to understand, architects walk a fine line between a client and the local regulations, and can be easily fired from a project for not cooperating with the client's wishes. Well written zoning and development laws are critical. developers are smart and look hard and long for any wiggle room in the rules. Which means that neighborhood guidelines must be made clear and defensible.

The Canyon is at a tipping point, and in in danger of losing what character it has left. Here is a chance to make things work.

Isn't it great when a community comes together and arrives at a positive solution, one that empowers residents and preserves the sense of place that makes Sierra Madre such a unique place?

Congratulations to all.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Planning Out Of Sync With Reality

There is a great piece currently up on the City Watch site from David Coffin. David, you might recall from a post we did about him a few weeks back, is a candidate for the 51st Assembly Seat, which is down somewhere in the South Bay area of L.A. His views on issues such as the hyper-development nightmares being pushed by centralized planning organizations like SCAG fly in the face of the current orthodoxies coming out of Sacramento. Which makes his truth telling all the more refreshing. Here is what he has to say:

Planning is Out of Sync with Reality by David Coffin

While the state struggles to cope with water shortages, power brown outs, traffic congestion, and jobs, state leaders have chosen to ignore our infrastructure realities and create unsustainable and burdensome conditions on today's residents. Today's water shortage illustrates perfectly the disconnect between planning and sustainability.

Despite the water rationing that is occurring all over the Southland, the Southern California Association of Governments ("SCAG") continues to press cities in Los Angeles County and the five surrounding counties to build almost 700,000 new housing units for an estimated 2 million new residents by 2014.

Each member county is assigned a portion of these housing targets and each city within them are assigned targets.

The unprecedented development we are seeing today within the County of Los Angeles is driven by the 283,927 housing units that SCAG has assigned us.

Because there is little available property in most urban areas, the type of housing production we are having to bear is mostly "dense and vertical."

When these housing allocations are published by the state, a copy of them is forwarded to local water agencies such as the West Basin Water District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, along with other water districts, and they are quietly told to make the numbers work so that water assessments will accommodate the planners' desire to meet SCAG projections.

This is why we see absolutely astounding claims from West Basin and LADWP that they will continue to show surpluses over the next twenty years.

I urge people to take a look at their own water district's UWMP (Ed: Urban Water Management Plan) and see just how realistic their projections are.

It's not just water, either. The push to meet state housing targets also creates the traffic nightmares, power outages, crowded schools as well as the state's fiscal condition.

Now why we can't have an Assemblyman like this guy instead of Anthony "SB 375" Adams is beyond me. Anyway, enjoy your weekend. We'll have one more article up on Monday, and then we're shutting the site down for vacation.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Has The SMPOA Gone On A Charm Offensive?

I'm telling you, everybody is reading The Tattler these days. As an example, recently we have been discussing the untenable political situation the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association finds itself in these days. Their once unquestioned support in this community has dissipated, and should they have the need to enlist the support of the voters like they did during their last round of salary negotiations, they could very well find themselves barking at the moon.

And wouldn't you know it? Now they're running around town trying to convince everyone they're just the nicest guys that ever filed a lawsuit (or 10) against their employers. Which, by the way, happens to be the taxpayers of this town. The very people who voted themselves a 100% tax hike so the police could have their raise.

But are these lads actually capable of pulling this charm offensive off? I personally don't believe it really is a tactic they are suited for. But if you consider the deep hole they've dug for themselves here in Sierra Madre, perhaps they don't really have a choice? Can POA postcards with pictures of teddy bears dressed up like policemen be far behind?

Now you have to hand it to the Sierra Madre Weekly, they do try hard. And for a bunch of guys who don't live in this town and have very little real understanding of what is going on here, they do have an uncanny ability to fill 20 or so pages of a paper that has this town's name on top of its front page. Of course, what they fill these pages with is another matter entirely. And sometimes they are just so out of touch with what is going on in Sierra Madre all you can do is shake your head and laugh.

This week's edition has an item that is a good example. The article in question, Sierra Madre PD Committed to Serve Community, is an obvious puff piece designed to make you believe that everything is fine and you really shouldn't be worrying your pretty little head over things so much. Which is fine. Not everything has to be hard-hitting social criticism, and there is a place for happy-face journalism. After all, that is what 98% of all so-called news reporting really is. Obviously it is a far more popular medium than what the economically strapped hard news venues produce.

But then something like the following unchallenged baloney comes along, and even that low threshold proves to be a bridge too far for The Weekly.

According to John Ellins, president of the Sierra Madre Police officers Association, the lawsuits are issues between administration and the association, a regular thing that occurs in law enforcement. "We have some issues to address with management," he said. "A lot of these issues we would love to resolve out of court."

Hmm. Now if Ellins would love to resolve these issues outside of court, why did the POA bring them to court in the first place? And why did the POA bring so many to court? After all, most are regarded by Sierra Madreans as being little more than nuisance suits. And if these POA lawsuits against Sierra Madre are really just regular business, a formality that constitutes just another day at the office for our busy Police Department, why is it costing us so much of our money? I'm sorry, but initiating processes that lead to the squandering of our precious tax dollars does not constitute "a regular thing thing that occurs in law enforcement." It is an assault on a town unfortunate to have a wart like the POA attached to it.

And it isn't just the impression that the POA is attempting to sue this city into bankruptcy we're talking about. There are also the collateral effects of their actions as well. An example would be their lawsuit against this City over not producing documents they demanded quickly enough. Each and every time the POA sues Sierra Madre, the people who work at City Hall have to spend thousands of unproductive work hours researching the issues involved and gathering the paperwork necessary to mount a defense. Each lawsuit takes up a lot of staff time that could be put to far better use than reacting to the POA's nuisance suits. And with the compounding of these lawsuits, the demand on staff time becomes even greater. And when the staff fell behind on producing documents the POA had demanded City Hall cough up, the POA sued us over that as well.

Is that also a "regular thing that occurs in law enforcement?"

And what about the hours of work the City Council has to put in dealing with the POA and its problems? There are very important issues facing this City right now, issues that require the close attention of our elected officials. Is it fair to the people of Sierra Madre that our representatives have to spend so much invaluable time on such sad little topics like the police officer who didn't want his work shift changed?

Now contrast the statement John Ellins made to the Sierra Madre Weekly regarding these lawsuits with this passage from an article entitled "Sierra Madre's tiny Police Department leads many others in pending lawsuits," which ran in the 8/23 edition of the Pasadena Star News:

"It's not normal," said Michael McGill of Lackie & Dammeier, which represents the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association and several other police unions throughout Los Angeles County. "They're the smallest department and one of the smaller groups we represent but probably have the most amount of litigation.

So what is it? Business as usual, or something considered "not normal?" So much for consistency. It has become obvious the POA is a breed of donkey that can't tell its jack from its ass.

Now our Chief of Police, Marilyn Diaz, the subject of so many of these POA suits, has also noted the growing animosity in this City to her litigious Police Department. And apparently she too is now on board with the charm offensive.

"One of the important points overlooked in the recent articles about litigation is that we have a growing number of employees who are dedicated, compassionate and have achieved remarkable accomplishments," she said. "I am proud of them and all the members of this department."

So I guess that we can assume from this statement that the taxpaying citizens of this town are not the only victim of the POA's tactics. There are good and honest cops who could also end up becoming victims of the POA's assault on the taxpayers of Sierra Madre as well. It is a shame that the compassion of these officers has not caused them to leave the organization that has done so much damage to the community they claim to care about so much.

Nancy Shollenberger gave a statement for the Sierra Madre Weekly article that seems to have confused some people. Particularly those who invested a lot of their bile in opposing her re-election campaign last year. Here is how what she said was represented in the paper:

Shollenberger also said that the litigation had little chance of affecting whether or not the city decides to contract out services. "I think the contract services may be based on price only," she said.

Remember yesterday's article about the POA's war on the City Council of Rialto? And the poor City Administrator who made a statement about lawsuits being a reason for getting rid of their Police Department? And how that became the grounds for one of the 7 lawsuits the POA launched against that City?

As I am sure has been carefully explained to all the elected officials involved in our struggle with the POA, the only thing that can be cited as being a reason for changing our law enforcement arrangements here is the fiscal issue. Why?

Because it is the one issue that the POA can't use to sue Sierra Madre.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How The Police Officers' Association (POA) Beat Rialto's City Council & Kept Out The Sheriffs

A small city ridding itself of a police department it no longer wants is hardly a unique situation. The economics alone have caused more than a few cities in Los Angeles County to rethink their current law enforcement situation and bring in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. And apparently these cities have felt the move they made was the right one. After all, when is the last time you've heard of a town that canned the L.A. County Sheriffs and brought back their Police Department? In this situation it appears that the street is strictly one way.

Now in 2005 the City of Rialto in San Bernardino County went through the process of shedding its Police Department, mostly as a money saving exercise. Their department was apparently nothing out of the ordinary, any possible consequences in making the change were deemed to be negligible, so why not do the economically prudent thing and make the change? And in September of 2005 the Rialto City Council voted 4 to 1 to get rid of their cops. And within 24 hours the Sheriffs were in town and taking inventory of Rialto's law enforcement gear. Done deal, right?

Turns out that was not the case. In an article on the Lackie, Dammier & McGill site, they describe how the Rialto POA fought back and rescued a department that was for all intents and purposes already booted out the door. And what we'll discuss here are the kinds of tactics Sierra Madre might face should we decide to go down this road.

Much of the discussion in the first part of the article describes legal shenanigans the POA engaged in to stall the department's demise. The police union was helped by a City Attorney who made some atrocious calls, various Court restraining orders and injunctions, plus the POA engaged liberally in the practice they're most famous for, which is filing lawsuits. And when the City Administrator made the mistake of saying that the filing of so many lawsuits was one of the reasons for the City Council wanting to shed their litigious boys in blue, the POA went to Court and sued over that as well. Claiming that P.D. lawsuits were a reason for disbanding the department was interpreted there as being a form of "retaliation against officers protecting their rights and filing litigation." And as a result the accusation of "union busting" was hung on the Rialto City Council as well.

But all that was intended for one purpose, to buy some time. Because the real fight in the Battle of Rialto was the political one. The Police Department needed to line up support from the people of Rialto to overcome the decision made by their City Council. And the thing they relied upon most was the sympathy most citizens have for Police. In this article 3 different political tactics used by the POA are described, all of which involved the use of petitions. As in Sierra Madre, the POA felt confident that should their wishes be brought before the public, they would gain a place on the ballot and win any vote.

"... Lackie, Dammeier & McGill drafted a ballot initiative to place the issue on the next ballot of whether the City Council should have the sole authority to contract out police services without voter approval. Rialto's citizens assisted in gathering signatures for the initiative and it was submitted to the City Clerk."


"Recall petitions of two city council members were drafted and served."

Now attempting to go over the head of the City Council and in the process take away their ability to make these kinds of decisions is a pretty gutsy move. As is threatening 2 City Council members with recall. Basically the POA was engaging in some very serious challenges to the very authority of Rialto's municipal government. But in order for this to work the POA needed to have strong support from the citizens. Our Police Department had that kind of support when they initiated the petition drive to win themselves a raise. It was widely felt in Sierra Madre that the cops were vastly underpaid and deserved a pay hike. But would that same level of support and sympathy be there today should the City Council decide to get rid of them? Given the unfortunate events of the last year or so, I wouldn't automatically go to that particular assumption.

This next one is rather diabolical, though.

The City in 2003, with the assistance of the RPOA, passed a utility user's tax which passed by only 5 votes of the residents. Since the public was sold on the idea that the tax would be for public safety, and given the City's pursuit of disbanding the police department, the RPOA felt the citizens should not have to continue paying this tax. Accordingly, Lackie, Dammeier & McGill drafted a ballot initiative repealing the utility user's tax should the police department be disbanded. Since this tax amounted to over 25% of the City's general fund, this elimination, which would have easily been approved by the voters, would have been financially devastating to the City.

Now that is quite an ingenious ploy. As we have seen by the inertia displayed by our City Council on the matter of rectifying by means of a revote the botched math used in dunning Sierra Madre into voting itself a 100% UUT hike, giving up tax revenue is not something such folks do easily. And this had to have been taking by the Rialto City Hall bunch as being quite a serious threat.

But here's a thought. What if this was interpreted differently? What if the voters were told that by approving the disbanding of the SMPD they would also qualify for a tax cut? Since our police account for 52% of our General Fund expenditures (before law suit expenses, of course), there certainly would be some considerable savings here. I can imagine that some might even see this as being a kind of win-win situation.

Anyway, less than a year later, and after 7 lawsuits, 2 recall efforts, a referendum and two ballot initiatives, plus all that yapping from the deluded residents, the Rialto City Council surrendered. And not only that, they had to shell out $118,000 to pay all the RPOA's legal costs. Quite a humiliation for those guys.

Here is the lesson as I see it. In order for any POA to win, it needs a lot of support from the residents. And we saw that kind of support when this City voted itself a 100% tax hike to give our police a raise. (I didn't vote for Measure U, and to this day I regard it as having been an instance of municipal insanity to have been put it on the ballot without first doing the audits, but that's just me.) Now the public has a lot of sympathy for police. It seems to be an instinctual thing for many, and therefore a challenge to overcome. But the SMPOA has been to that well once already. And many people supported that effort because they thought it would solve all the problems and our cops would become an okey dokey local police department that everyone can like.

But is that what our fiscal sacrifices have gotten us? Or has the Sierra Madre Police Department, through its massive ticket issuing, constant and often petty law suits, surly demeanors, and those other events, squandered the support it once enjoyed here?

That this question can even be considered now is a sign of just how far they've fallen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Smell Of Burning Mountains

For an 8/27 Update from KPCC, click here.
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Pretty unmistakable smell in the air this morning. This time it is the Morris Fire, so-called due to its proximity to the Morris Reservoir, which is located alongside Route 39 in the Angeles National Forest.

The Morris Reservoir area is five miles to the north of Azusa, 10.3 miles due east of Sierra Madre.

Here is the latest Associated Press report:

A wildfire in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles has burned 750 acres of brush and firefighters say they're in for a rough day, battling flames in steep terrain and 100-degree heat.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag alert for low humidity and extreme fire danger.

Chris Rush, an Angeles National Forest dispatcher, says the blaze was less than 10 percent contained early Wednesday.

About 1,000 firefighters were battling the so-called Morris Fire, which erupted Tuesday afternoon above the San Gabriel Valley community of Azusa. Picknickers, campers and 18 Boy Scouts were evacuated. Rush says there's also a voluntary evacuation in effect for a small community on East Fork Road near the San Gabriel River.

As the AP report says, the National Weather Service has issued a Severe Weather Alert for low humidity and high temperatures today. The alert continues through to the end of the week.

Consider this an open thread.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cities That Don't Defend Themselves Get Sued Anyway

The Pasadena Star News's best reporter has been focused on the Sierra Madre Police Department situation lately. And Alfred Lee's article in yesterday's edition, Sierra Madre's tiny Police department leads many others in pending lawsuits, certainly brings a lot of information to the discussion.

Now there is something in this article that hits particularly hard. It seems obvious that the lawsuits being brought against this City by our Police Department are not exactly helping their cause. Many of them are petty to the point of absurdity, and honestly I've never had much sympathy for people who whine about their bosses. And when that whining leads to the spending of my tax money, well, the perception certainly doesn't get any better. I don't think I am alone in this, either. People are just getting sick of it.

Here are the paragraphs describing the legal predicament Sierra Madre finds itself in thanks to the POA and its pliable charges:

A storm of lawsuits swirling around the city's 20-member Police Department reveal sharp disagreements between top brass, rank-and-file officers and residents of this quiet town of 11,000 ... At the City Council's last meeting, members went into closed session to discuss a total of 10 legal cases involving the department: four lawsuits and two claims filed by the police officer's union against the city, and another three suits and one claim filed by residents alleging misbehavior by officers ... Another three lawsuits could soon be filed by the union, after the city denied three grievances earlier this month, union attorneys said.

Our Police Department has filed so many lawsuits and related actions that you have to wonder how they find the time to do their jobs. Obviously kittens stuck in trees have even more to worry about these days.

Now the lawsuit situation is just one aspect in the growing consensus here that perhaps we should replace these litigious losers with uniformed guardians of the peace who won't bite the hand that feeds them quite so much. After all, didn't we vote ourselves a 100% tax hike just to give these ingrates a raise? That these guys now devour a full 52% of our General Fund (before litigation) isn't working for very many people here, either.

Now Mr. Lee, hoping to provide some insight into how this City's elected officials are going to deal with these many pressures, quoted City Councilman Joe Mosca this way:

"The cost of litigation is a factor in considering whether or not to contract out services."

Now let me see if I have this correctly. Sierra Madre is now subject to an incredible amount of lawsuits initiated by both our Police Department and the POA. Yet according to Joe we should concern ourselves about the possibility of lawsuits should we decide to sever relations with the people who are already suing us multiple times?

Of course, Joe's statement here is a bit Delphic, and can also be interpreted as saying that the litigation initiated by the POA is a consideration in whether or not to sever relations with the officers whose interests they are clearly not helping. At least in the eyes of many taxpayers. But given Joe's previous statements expressing his love for the cozy communality of a more mythic SMPD, I'm going with the former interpretation.

Now many here can remember when Mayor Stockley and three like-minded members of the City Council claimed that it was the prospect of lawsuits that drove them to settle the One Carter fiasco with Dorn Platz. Who, once given the keys to the hillside, went on to sue us over and over again. And certainly we can remember Enid Joffe's "historic" settlement with the POA, an abject surrender that was at least supposed stop them from suing us so much. After which the POA has sued us something like 10 times. And counting

Now we are in the process of negotiating a tactical surrender to the folks currently in possession of One Carter and Stonehouse in the hopes that it will end some remaining law suits and won't lead to any more in the future. Something that smacks of wishful thinking.

It certainly seems obvious to me cities that don't go on the legal offensive as a way of protecting the interests of its citizens out of a fear of lawsuits end up getting sued anyway. Certainly has been the pattern in Sierra Madre. So why don't we do something radical and just sue the bastards back? Who knows, something crazy might happen.

Like we'd actually win something for a change.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Berkeley Puts A "Measure V" Style Referendum On The Ballot

Now I don't know what your opinions of Berkeley are, but I am pretty sure that a close connection to Sierra Madre is not something that would occur to most. Unless, of course, we're talking about somebody's very bright kid going to school there. It certainly is a place where the expression of strong opinion is a long-standing tradition. And now Berkeley has become the first true center of resistance to SB 375. Just like here in Sierra Madre, people of many different kinds of political persuasions and beliefs have chosen to put aside any differences and fight to save their city.

Now the immediate assumption would have it that the blandishments of SB 375 could appeal to a place like Berkeley. That a superficial larding of "Greenwash" cliches' onto what are basically attempts at constructing massive downtown developments (albeit it with low-flow toilets and an occasional solar panel on the roof) would easily fly right through that town, and before you know it the place would start looking a lot like Pasadena. But you do know what they say about assumptions, right?

At 4:30 p.m. today (Aug. 20), the Alliance for a Green and Livable Downtown will turn in 9,200 signatures in support of a Referendum on the Downtown Area Plan passed on July 14th by the Berkeley City Council. In attendance will be Councilmembers Jesse Arrguin and Kriss Worthington, both of whom were in the minority on the 7-2 Council vote to approve the Downtown Area Plan, and both of whom backed the Referendum.

So what exactly is this all about? I think the best way to cover this would be to discuss an article by a fellow who is quite upset with citizens exercising their democratic right to review the actions of their elected officials, and his show of disdain here is actually pretty amusing. The clearly exercised writer, Robert Gammon, strikes a tone reminiscent of the hysteria we saw on Downtown a while back. Check it out:

Anti-Growth Group Wraps Itself in Green - Opponents of Berkeley's groundbreaking plan for a dense urban center are attempting to fool voters into putting the issue on the ballot ... The group, led by councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, is attempting to overturn a plan adopted last month by a majority of the Berkeley City Council that could lead to dense urban growth. The plan itself is groundbreaking. It would require that all new buildings in downtown Berkeley meet strict environmental standards and it pushed the envelope on what is possible for downtown development. The plan also could help Berkeley meet its aggressive greenhouse-emissions goals by increasing urban density, and thereby slowing the need for long commutes ... In truth, however, the group is advocating for a downtown that will be neither green nor livable because if its demands are met, it likely will result in a revised plan that will stifle downtown development, prohibit the city from doing more to fight global warming and help spur suburban sprawl at the same time.

Straight out of the SB 375/Sacramento party line, this one. The idea that you can build your way out of Global Warming being one of the most Orwellian concepts to come along in years. As has been clearly pointed out in carefully cited articles on this and other sites, dense urban centers give off as much in the way of greenhouse gases as automobiles, if not more. And the notion that if you build a swath of huge apartment buildings downtown people will somehow want to give up their automobiles is magical thinking at its most bizarre. As is obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense all you will accomplish by building high-density developments in a downtown area is bring in a lot more people, as well as their automobiles. There are no guarantees that anyone will not use a car to get to work, and to destroy a town with that assumption in mind is daft. In the end you will end up with the worst of all possible worlds, more density, more people, plus a whole lot more cars and traffic.

What is becoming obvious to many in this state is that the interests who stand to make a ton of money from such things as this Berkeley development project, backed by the Sacramento lobby-driven nonsense contained in SB 375, have attempted to hijack the language and culture of the Green movement and use it to justify the building of things most people do not want to see in their cities. Their claims that they're doing it in order to save the world is just laughable. It is, as always, all about money.

And now it looks like they've met their match in Berkeley.

On the East Bay Express website there are some choice comments that blow Greenwash Gammon's nonsense out of the water.

RR2 - The "Livable Berkeley" development greenwashing machine was in high gear on Shattuck the day before yesterday. They sent a young woman out to dog and disrupt an elderly Berkeley resident who was trying to gather petition signatures. Just following her down the street, interrupting whomever the resident was trying to speak to. This shadow girl reminded me a lot of LaRouchie's and their mindless methods of disruption ... I asked Shadow Girl why she was doing this and she said, "Because I have to." She spouted a few greeny platitudes, was completely immune to criticisms of centralized development, waved this Express article in everybody's face, and had never read any of the criticisms of the current development proposal.

Marye - It is truly depressing to see the usually great Robert Gammon drinking this Kool-Aid ... Back in the mid 2oth century, when the urban planning fad du jour was to bulldoze and landfill everything in sight, including the Bay, the ladies of the Berkeley Hillside Club rose up and launched the movement that kept the Bay Area from being turned into Los Angeles. Now that we're facing the peril of moneyed forces wrapping themselves in green to turn it into Manhattan instead, we need a lot more people willing to stand up for the things we live here for in the first place ... Stand up, citizens of Berkeley. And hooray for elected officials who recognize that they work for the citizens of Berkeley, not the developers, the County, ABAG (Ed: the Bay Area's version of SCAG), the state, or the feds ...

Tizzielish - This piece reads like an Opinion piece, not a news story. Mr. Gammon has grossly misrepresented the situation regarding Downtown Berkeley's long range development plan ... The story quotes Erin Rhoades, who, as this article notes, is married to a for-profit developer who will, not coincidentally, make many millions of dollars if Green Downtown Berkeley fails to put Berkeley's Downtown Long-Range Plan on the 2010 ballot. Why has Mr. Gammon cited this woman, who will be enriched by the plan she supports, as some kind of objective authority?

And if all this doesn't sound enough like our own struggle to put a measure on the ballot to stop unwanted hyper-development, or what we could very well be facing again in the future, here is a passage from the AGLD site that should bring it all home for you:

In addition to the high number of signatures required for the Referendum to succeed, for the first time in Berkeley history there was a heavily organized effort mobilized to discourage and often to physically prevent the signature gatherers from engaging voters, with the Chamber of Commerce contributing money to fund pamphlets attacking the referendum, and with blockers assigned to closely follow the signature-gatherers at popular commercial locations, including the Berkeley Bowl and Berkeley's Farmers' Markets. Some of the counter-petitioners were so physically aggressive that the police had to restore calm.

Pro-developer goons using physical intimidation to try and stop those opposed to their plans? Naw, that just never happens.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Poll Shows Our Mountain Areas Enjoy Profound SGV Support

One of the things that has always typified Sierra Madre for me is the great sense of place many here enjoy. There aren't many cities in this country that generate as much pride and the feeling of belonging to something special as what we have. And one of the reasons for this is very easy to find, all you have to do is step outside of your house and look up. We are surrounded by some of the most beautiful foothills and mountains to be found anywhere.

Which is why, in my opinion, there is such a deep and heartfelt response in our town to what has happened to One Carter, and could soon happen to Stonehouse. It isn't just that these are merely properties to be thrown to the marketplace, or lots awaiting a suitable developer. No, these wilderness hillsides are part of what defines us. Much of Sierra Madre's heritage is in its mountain setting, and is the metaphor symbolizing who and what we are. And when the Gang of Four enabled Dorn Platz to fecklessly destroy One Carter, or when the two faux Green phonies on our City Council do everything they can to assure a similar fate for Stonehouse, it isn't just an annoyance or something to be shrugged off as unfortunate. It is a tearing at the very soul of this place. And to my mind it must take a certain learned heartlessness not to be able to see or understand that.

An organization called San Gabriel Mountains Forever has now posted some data that gives statistical muscle to my anecdotal observations above. As part of their campaign to gain Wild and Scenic River designation for "46 miles of the clear and free-flowing rivers and creeks of the Angeles National Forest," they are publicizing the results of the new Public Opinion Strategies Poll of our area to highlight the reverence most here hold for our mountains. The polling was done in early July of this year. Here is how they view the results of this promising poll:

A recent poll of residents in California's 26th Congressional District living near the San Gabriel Mountains shows that three-quarters of voters want to see more protection for the wild lands and rivers in this range. The poll also reveals that these voters clearly favor more protection for wild lands and rivers across Southern California in general. This data is an unmistakable sign of how local residents who live near these mountains care about them.

Public Opinion Strategies conducted this survey for San Gabriel Mountains Forever in California's U.S. Congressional District (Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas). The survey took place July 6-8 and had a sample size of 400 voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Here are some of the results:

- Generically speaking, voters in the 26th District are very much in favor of protecting more lands in Southern California as wilderness (67% favor and 26% oppose with 45% strongly in favor). Even more Republicans at fifty-two percent (52%) favor and forty-three percent (43%) oppose in favor of protecting more local lands.

- Speaking generically again, protecting more streams and rivers in Southern California is even more popular than protecting wilderness lands (72% favor and 18% oppose). Forty-eight percent (48%) strongly favor is a very big number that is hard to argue with. Republicans are also more in favor or protecting the streams and rivers at fifty-seven percent (57%) favor and thirty-three percent (33%) oppose.

- Voters in the 26th District are extremely supportive of the specific proposal to protect additional public lands in the San Gabriel Mountains as wilderness and rivers and streams as wild and scenic rivers (75% favor and 15% oppose). Anytime more than 50% of voters say they strongly favor anything (55% on this proposal), it means the argument against would be difficult.

So based on the strong majorities shown for maintaining our mountain wildernesses here in the San Gabriel Valley, where does this leave our local despoilers? I'd say in quite a precarious political position.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Want To Add 30,000 Cars & Trucks Daily To The I-210? Then Build The 710 Tunnel

As you know if you've been reading this blog lately, Glendale's City Council recently voted 4 to 1 to oppose the building of the 710 Tunnel. They join La Canada Flintridge and South Pasadena in opposing the digging of this hole into the heart of the San Gabriel Valley.

The Glendale Staff Report to the City Council that led to this opposition to the 710 Tunnel can be linked to here. And basically what it says is that an additional 30,000 vehicles will pour into our little neck of the woods should this thing ever be finished. Much of it truck traffic out of the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro.

Here is how the Glendale staff report broke it all down:

SR-710 Missing Link Truck Study - Draft Traffic Study

In May 2009, the Southern California Association of Governments ("SCAG") released "Preliminary Draft Final report: I-710 gap Closure ('Draft Traffic Study')" conducted by the transportation consultant Iteris, Inc. The Draft Traffic Study currently is being circulated to various stakeholders for review and comment prior to finalization.

The purpose of the "Draft Traffic Study" is to analyze the impacts of the I-710 Gap Closure Project on major freeways and arterials, including, among others, I-210, I-5, SR-134, SR-2, San Fernando Road, Foothill Boulevard, and Glenoaks Boulevard. Within the "Draft Traffic Study" the following information assuming the gap closure is completed is presented for the key freeways and arterials in/near Glendale:

I-210 North of SR-134
- Average Daily Traffic ("ADT") will increase by over 30,000 vehicles
- Peak hour truck volumes will increase by over 850
I-210 East of SR-134
- No major change in ADT
- Peak-hour truck volumes will increase by over 350
SR-2 Between I-5 and I-210
- ADT will decrease by 16,000
- Peak-hour trucks volumes will decrease by 450
I-5 North of SR-2
- ADT will decrease by 5,000
- Peak hour trucks volume will decrease by 180
Freeway Truck Volumes
- Daily Truck Volume on I-210 between SR 134 and SR-2 will increase by about 2,500
- Daily Truck Volume I-210 between SR-2 and I-5 will increase by about 2,500
Foothill Boulevard Between SR-134 and SR-118
- ADT increase of 1,000
Colorado Street, Glenoaks Boulevard, and Linda Vista Avenue
- Slight increase in ADT

The above information regarding the I-710 Gap Closure Project indicates a significant increase in traffic volumes on I-210 north of SR-134 will occur, i.e, over 30,000 ADT, including over 2,500 trucks daily.

According to a list kept by the Federal Highway Administration, currently the I-210 is the 15th most travelled urban highway in the U.S, with an ADT rate of just under 300,000. The opening of the I-710 Tunnel would move the I-210 into the Top 5 of that list.

Now the three towns opposed to the 710 Tunnel might be about to get some company. This from an article Tuesday on the Curbed Los Angeles blog entitled Northeast LA Denizens Not Digging 710 Tunnel Study Soil Testing:

The perennial debate surrounding the expansion of the 710 has now spilled over into more Northeast LA neighborhoods, including Glassell Park, Mt. Washington, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, and a large swath of El Sereno. As soil testing concluded last week for the 710 Tunnel Technical Study, a "route-neutral" study commissioned by Metro and Caltrans to find the best way to connect the 710 and 210 freeways by means of a tunnel, neighborhood residents were mobilizing and vocalizing, getting ready for the good fight.

Interesting. On the one hand Metro has a large media campaign touting the Green aspects of bus and trolly travel, yet on the other they're working on a project that will increase San Gabriel Valley car and truck traffic by 30,000 vehicles a day.

The Mt. Washington Association released a statement on their website that highlights just how bad this tunnel would be for their town:

One of the two favorites is the original route through South Pasadena (Route #3). The other currently favored route (Route #2) cuts through Northeast Los Angles to connect to the SR-2 near Interstate 5. These latter two routes would have devastating effects on Mt. Washington ... Route #1 would affect the western part of Mount Washington. The freeway would come out of the mountain in the vicinity of Isabel Drive to lead through the already congested LA River valley and destroy all the efforts that have been made in the past to make this stretch of the river a part of the recreational potential for residents again ... Route #2 would cut through the northern flank of Mount Washington and terminate in a new freeway interchange in Glassell Park (where Fresh & Easy is now, with freeway extending along the surface until the grade drops low enough to go into a tunnel - roughly at the corner of Cleland and El Paso ... In either of these two scenarios, a significant part of our community will be wiped off the map and truck traffic on the freeway will dramatically lower property values, raise levels of pollution, and increase traffic noise in our community.

Expect the list of communities officially opposing the I-710 Tunnel to increase soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Joe Mosca Sees A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

In this morning's Pasadena Star News, Joe Mosca, a man who can always find the bright side to any situation where a developer is about to get their way in Sierra Madre, made the following statement regarding possible settlements in the case of One Carter and Stonehouse:

"These new owners have given us a lot of hope to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

He then went on to add the following:

"We don't want to be able to look up and see big mansions on the side of the hill. The values of our community are encapsulated in the Hillside Management Zone."

I thought that the real values of the community would have been in keeping One Carter as it had always been, one of the most beautiful wooded places to be found in Sierra Madre. Apparently in Mr. Mosca's mind a barren tract of scraped dirt in one of the most visible parts of our landscape is more to what we're all about. That even a pro-development party such as Judy Webb-Martin would refer to what has happened there as "the raping of our founding father's property" gives you an idea of how unfortunate and inappropriate the comments Joe made for this article really are.

Now here is where the math doesn't quite add up. The 27 lots at One Carter are currently up for sale at around $800,000 to $1 million a pop. Is this the kind of price a prospective home builder is going to pay for a lot to construct what they will likely regard as being small house? While these lots are not, as one realtor confided to me under an oath of blood secrecy, selling very well, nor are they going to move briskly for the huge prices being asked, the point is that they are not designed for the "values of our community" no matter what kind of happy face is put on the situation. These are McMansion lots going at McMansion prices, plain and simple. And if they can't be sold to buyers desirous of building large monuments to the great role they play in life, how are they going to sell when these folks are informed that they cannot build what they want?

And that, of course, is the catch. While some of the lawsuits have been settled, and to our favor, the most important questions still remain. And the biggest one of all for One Carter is the HMZ question. While Sierra Madre wants potential builders to adhere to our new HMZ, that property was originally chopped up after the original One Carter Map had already been approved. So, in the minds of the interested parties, their deal (albeit once removed ) was made under the law as it was understood then. What they would appear to believe is that we are now trying to change the rules after the game is over. And what the current One Carter people are holding out for now is that their needs be recognized by the City as an exception, which would allow for the building of those "big mansions on the side of the hill."

And how can One Carter not push for this? To agree to adhere to the new HMZ would mean accepting that they have property that will not sell. What kind of business people would accept something like that?

And while there is a momentary truce in the war, the threat of a resumption of lawsuits is the catalyst One Carter hopes will drive us towards making the concessions they want.

In other words, the situation may have been tactically altered a bit, but nothing has really changed from the Dorn Platz strategy.

Now it has been reported that the City is currently in the process of possibly purchasing Lot 3 for the price of $1,080,000. Something which would keep that site from being the home to any highly visible structure that would fly in the face of "our values." But if there is really any confidence that structures like that will not be built up there, why would we need to spend all that money for a lot?

So anyway, what does all this have to do with Joe Mosca's sunny statements in today's Pasadena Star News? What is the real agenda here? In my opinion, he's just setting us up for the fall. We've lost the war, so let's just declare victory and run away as fast as we can. After all, hasn't the fear of lawsuits been the message for settling all along?

Better to just say that we've won and hope the consequences don't become apparent until after next April's elections.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mr. Acronym Is Here To Help YOU!

Believe me, I know how intimidating this can all be. You see, I wasn't always Mr. Acronym. No, there was a time when I was just like everybody else, standing outside the City Hall meeting room door, looking around the corner and wondering what in the world those people were talking about in there. It sounded to me like another language, or even the words of beings not native to this planet. All I could do was listen with awe, and fear.

Then one day I was invited to speak from a citizen's perspective at a very important City meeting. Needless to say I was quite anxious. But I sat there in one of those comfortable seats and waited for my turn. But just before I was to go to the podium a very imposing gentleman from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments stood up to speak! You could tell he was important because he was wearing a suit that looked like it came from a really good store, like Macy's. And then he spoke the language of power. "The HMST needs a UGB intercession, preferably from a SAM, SOP, RDO, RAMP, SAVP or SHMO. I've contacted a RDMH for the SFM and an immediate SLA. Now who do I give my TEC? The PIO or the RA?"

After hearing that I knew I would never be able to share my opinions on dog walking maintenance (DWM) in front of all of those people. And not only that, I suddenly felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I had to leave really badly. I jumped to my feet, gave out what SMTV3 would later reveal was a series of high-pitched shrieks, and ran from the Council Chambers as fast as my feet would take me. And I didn't stop running until I got all the way home.

But you know what? That is the last time I ran from anything. Because from that day on I studied my acronyms morning, noon, and night. And through hard work and diligence I mastered what has become the second language of governance, Acronymic. The Language Of Power (TLOP). But just because I am Mr. Acronym now doesn't mean I've forgotten where I come from. And that's why I'm here, to help you, the acronymically challenged. So let's get it cracking!

The first group of acronyms we'll study today comes from our very own City of Sierra Madre website. These are basic terms, and mastering them should not be too difficult.

BMP = Best Management Practice. Of course, there is no such thing as WMP, or Worst Management Practice, because government acronyms never ever have negative connotations.
CEQA = California Environmental Quality Act. This allowed towns to test things for possible health risks. Recently gutted by SB 375 because redevelopers found it inconvenient.
CEHD = Community, Economic and Human Development Committee. A SCAG confab that makes sure their own houses are not subject to eminent domain.
CNDDB = California Natural Diversity Database. They know if you are an IT (Interstellar Traveler), JOAT (Jack Of All Trades), GH (Goat Head), or live in an AR (Alternate Reality).
CNEL = Community Noise Equivalent Level. Pronounced "senile," this acronym will be used when you go to City Hall demanding your neighbor stop practicing his drums at 4AM.
CNPS = California Native Plant Society. Its members are unlikely to move to another state.
CPUC = California Public Utilities Commission. Utility employees who hawk solar panels at public meetings.
DEIR = Draft Environmental Impact Report. An unfinished consultant created document. When completed the cost will automatically increase tenfold.
DOF = (California) Department of Finance. Where your property taxes ended up.
DFO = Disaster Field Office. That trailer at One Carter.
EDR = Environmental Data Resources. Environmental dysfunction, only more so.
FAR = Floor-to-area ratio. Why you can't turn your garage into a life insurance office.
FEMA = Federal Emergency Management Agency. The people who put earthquake and mudslide victims out of their misery. Or into trailers if they live.
MOU = Memorandum Of Understanding. What people who voted for the UUT hike never got.
NES = Natural Environment Study. What you see when you look out a window.
NESHAP = Natural Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. Something that applies to autos and trucks, but not to buildings or power plants.
NOC, NOI, and NOP = Notices of Intent, Preparation, and Completion. The three stages of redundant behavior. Also known as "over-sharing."
REC = Recognizable Environmental Condition. An example would be the sun coming up in the morning.
ROW = Right Of Way. Why cars will stop at a 4-way corner, and then none of them move.
SCS = Sustainable Communities Strategy. A theory put forth by individuals who believe that the world will be healed when other people take the bus.
SHMO - State Hazard Mitigation Officer. A coffee and donut absorption unit.
TTT = Train The Trainer. The program where we pay to send City employees to school so they can find work elsewhere for more money.
UBC = Uniform Building Code. Something that gets applied to your house, but not the other guy's house.
USAR = Urban Search and Rescue. A squadron of housewives on their way to Lucky Baldwin's to pick up their drunken husbands.

Metro, the fellows who run our trains, buses, and other forms of servitude, have an entire series of acronyms unique to their field of expertise. And since all City planning is now predicated on the miracle of public transportation, you really do need to know them.

APE = Area of Potential Effects. Where people go when their bus is late.
BIA = Building Industry Association. People who like to sell the same piece of property more than once.
COG = Council of Governments. Brown-nosing underachievers who desperately hope to get jobs in Sacramento.
CRA = Community Redevelopment Agency. The vehicle by which your tax money is used by the City to buy your house whether you like it or not.
EPB = Earth Pressure Balance. Also known as gravity.
HOV = High-Occupancy Vehicle Lane. Why the "diamond lane" is just as slow as the others during rush hour, and just as fast as the rest all the other times.
LEED = Leadership on Energy and Environmental Design. A series of development lobby produced pamphlets that claim 10 story buildings produce less greenhouse gases than cars.
LPA = Locally Preferred Alternative. What our City Staff never wants.
MAGLEV = Magnetic Levitation. The theory that Metro will get it right when pigs fly.
MGLEE = Metro Gold Line Extension. The Irish Gold line, without the rainbow. Or the pot.
MIS = Major Investment Study. Why lazy City Councilmen find spending money on consultants is easier.
PFM = Pressure Face Machine. A balled fist. The primal, and most effective, response to idiocy.
PPE = Personal Protection Equipment. What good Little League coaches require their players to wear.
SCAG = Southern California Association of Governments. COG members with more flexible ingratiating skills, and the desire to use them.
SL = Short line. What you'll find at any Gold Line station. That is, if there is a line at all.
SQG = Small Quantity Generators. Government employees.
TBM = Tunnel Boring Machines. The 710 Coalition. Or CALTRANS.
TIP = Transportation Improvement Program. The bribe you pay the bus driver to skip a few stops.
TOD = Transit Oriented Development. An oxymoron. Also why people refuse to spend money in certain Pasadena neighborhoods.
TPIS = Transit Passenger Information System. The guy in the back of the bus who loudly proclaims himself to be Jesus.
TVM = Ticket Vending Machine. Why bother? They never check.
TRB = Transportation Research Board. Concerned persons who publicly proclaim they like "transit villages," but return every night to single family suburban homes.
VMS = Variable Message Signs. Boards that constantly revolve messages that only a damned fool would believe.
VOC = Volatile Organic Compound. What people who get nauseous on buses emit.
ZEV = Zero Emissions Vehicle. A horse.

Well, that's it for this time. But you can believe that Mr. Acronym will be back with more in the not too distant future. And please, if you feel that what you've learned today has given you the confidence to hold your head up high, do proclaim your sense of acronymity by to creating some of your own! Remember, the acronyms that you create today could very well become the watchwords of tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If You Build It They Probably Still Won't Want To Come

Have you ever stopped to think about just how much effort is being put into getting you to take public transportation? How many thousands of people have been employed by various branches of government to bring this about, or the incredible sums in taxpayer dollars that have been invested in the cause? The people employed in marketing the effort alone is an entire industry in itself.

This truly is a staggering effort if you think about it. And that government officials would actually envision the leveling of entire low density sections of a town so that they can plan for its inclusion in the building of shiny new mass transportation corridor cities, all in the hope that maybe, just maybe, its residents might decide to walk to the nearby train station rather than drive their cars is, well, mind boggling.

And the catalyst for this in the San Gabriel Valley is the 210 Trolly? Heaven help us.

It would seem to me that creating low or no emission vehicles would be a far more agreeable solution to the greenhouse gas problem. Honda is investing billions of dollars in the creation of a hydrogen fueled engine, a proven technology that now only needs to be made affordable. Once that hits the road and the global warming issue starts to fade as an effective weapon in the war against personal transportation, what will SCAG's rationale for massive population relocation projects be then? That high density living gives people greater opportunities for social networking?

Why can't these people realize that most folks don't really want to live in a stacked box and walk to a bus, and given their druthers would choose a home with a yard and a car parked out front? Has there ever been a modern society that has gambled so heavily on a social engineering scheme with as little chance for success as this one? Or one that so obviously flies in the face of the wishes of those it hopes to involve? Southern California is now littered with failed attempts at this very sort of thing. Monrovia Commons, Rosedale, The Stuart, some place called Pasadena. Why the need to go on?

Now don't get me wrong, I honestly do not care where other people want to live or how they get to work. It is entirely their own business. What I am concerned about is those folks who are working rather hard to force feed a mandatory mass transportation lifestyle into MY town. I didn't move here because I wanted to live in a place reengineered to accommodate some state salaried planner's concept of a peoples' public transportation paradise. Complete with block after block of cookie cutter pastel flat-topped condos and minimum wage mini-marts. I moved here because I wanted to get as far away from that sort of thing as I possibly could. That might not be a fashionable lifestyle concept in some urban interior quarters, but I'm not all that concerned about it.

Believe me, 10 years of living in New York more than cured me of the romance of life as a straphanger. And that some here in L.A. County would attempt to portray such an existence as being cutting edge or a form of city-style cool is a source of great amusement here. I've done hard time in that world, and now I wish to live as a free man.

And finally, someone writing for a major publication has broken through the ubiquitous bunk and gotten it right. David Lazarus, commenting in the business section of the Los Angeles Times, identifies in a delightfully unsentimental way what it would take to turn a bucolic low density community such as ours into a sector of mandated mass transportation and stacked box living.

"It can happen," said Martin Wachs, director of transportation, space and technology for Rand Corp. in Santa Monica. "But it will only happen over a long period of time and will require a number of policy changes." ... Specifically, it won't be enough to just lay down lots of track and hope people will leap aboard trains and subways. You'll also have to discourage the use of cars -- which most Americans won't stand for -- and make our cities considerably less comfortable. Good luck with that.

Indeed. This is what David Lazurus suggests it will take to make the public transportation dream work, and convince us to abandon our current lifestyles for the brave new world:

1) Make driving highly expensive through jacked up gas taxes and road tolls.
2) Make parking costs prohibitive and spaces harder to find.
3) Redevelop our cities and suburbs to make them denser and more crowded.
4) Discourage any transportation options that are not a form of public transit.

All of which might lead you to believe that an entire generation of politicians and urban planners wants to do whatever they can to harsh your lifestyle, limit your choices, and generally make your existence as miserable as possible. Or, as Lazurus put it:

I hate to be cynical, but I simply can't imagine political leaders at the local, state or federal level telling voters that they support a big increase in gas taxes, sky-high parking fees and high-density neighborhoods.

Apparently David has never been to a SCAG or SGVCOG confab. Those boys drink that Kool Aid by the bucket.

One other article that needs to be chatted about today. It comes from Planetizen and is entitled The MTA As Stealth Development Agency. The authors, writing what is basically a positive article about L.A.'s proposed "Subway to the Sea," makes a point that to me seems like a dubious blessing.

Scarcely known to the public, or even to local urban planners, is the fact that the MTA has the power of eminent domain, in addition to its legal authorization to buy land. Indeed, not only does the MTA obtain land for subway stops, it must buy surrounding parcels for 'staging areas,' so that the heavy work of building underground can proceed.

I can't imagine the people who are losing their property for 'staging areas' are always all that excited about it, but I guess that is not to the purpose of this article. So what happens to these areas once the subway is built and they are no longer needed?

These staging areas become surplus when the subway stops are finished, creating a perfect opportunity for dense, omni-use development.

Now isn't that something? Rather than redevelopers creating high-density, transit dependent housing and businesses, it is public transportation that creates the opportunity for such redevelopment by first clearing the land through eminent domain.

You do know that there are neighborhoods within L.A. that are fighting all this, right? One of them is Windsor Park, another Park Mile. And it would appear that they are winning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is The "Gateway Coach Express" Our Ticket To SB 375?

One of the considerations in any Sierra Madre-centric discussions of SB 375 is that its worst effects are going to be felt in areas defined as "transportation corridors." And certain interested parties would lead us to believe that we are not a part of one.

The notion that building hyper-density condo complexes or so-called "smart growth" Rosedale-style transit towns in already heavily populated areas is somehow going to stop global warming does raise some questions. And that because you situate people near a Metro Station they won't want to drive their cars anymore, well, that is also problematic for anyone prone to healthy skepticism. But do consider the source. We are dealing with doctrinaire Sacramento central planning types, people convinced that things such as making the trains run on time is an ultimate in human achievement.

They certainly aren't the first government functionaries in history to believe that one.

One of the better breakdowns of SB 375 that I've read comes from the California Planning and Development Report. This site, courtesy of the always helpful Planetizen folks, is written for professionals in the planning world, and as such has a much more down-to-earth approach than say the propagandistic crap coming out of Arnold Schwarzenegger's office. And in the article called SB 375 Is Now Law -- But What Will It Do? the transportation corridor consideration, along with such things as those troubling SCAG/RHNA numbers, are aired out a bit.

Most important, however, is the fact that the RHNA allocation numbers must conform to the Sustainable Communities Strategy. This has important consequences for the RHNA process and Housing Element implementation. The regional planning agencies (Ed: read SCAG) are required to provide local governments with a housing allocation representing their "fair share" of regional growth. But the Sustainable Communities Strategy is likely to concentrate future development around transit stops. The end result of the RHNA process in the future is likely to look something like what the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has recently done in the arena - cutting a deal among the local governments to allow more housing in transit-rich areas, and rearranging the RHNA numbers to accommodate that goal.

Stripped of its greenwash SB 375 is an obvious sop to such highly financed lobbying fronts as the Building Industry Association (BIA) and California Association of Realtors (CAR). What this is designed to accomplish is open up new areas within already built-out cities for hyper-development. And large condominium complexes located near transportation corridors are just fine with them. In areas like Los Angeles County open land for building is one of the most scarce and highly desired commodities, and having the muscle of Sacramento to help overcome the resistance of small cities to unwanted growth is most certainly to their liking. Here is a particularly giddy passage from Richard Lambros, Chief Executive Officer of the BIA. The fellow can hardly contain himself.

We know that sub-regions with SCAG are being encouraged to create a local SCS (Ed: Sustainable Communities Strategy - i.e. build lots of condos next to train stations) that can be submitted to SCAG ... the Building Industries Association of Southern California has Chapters throughout SCAG's territory. BIA/SC and its Chapters have already begun coordinating with local elected officials in the pre-planning efforts taking place related to SB 375. BIA/SC is commitment (sic) to aggressively engaging at every level of SB 375.

I guess that by "coordinating with local elected officials" we should assume the BIA is already in close touch with our boys John and Joe. And as the Chairperson of SGVCOG's Energy, Environment, and Natural Resource's Committee Energy Working Group, the confab tasked with enforcing SB 375 in our neck of the woods, famed faux-preservationist Joe Mosca has apparently been doing all that he can for the effort.

But as some have said, since we are not technically living within a "transportation corridor," we have nothing to be worried about, right? Well, according to some City documents the Research Team has turned up, that might not be quite the case. We might actually be living right inside the bullseye.

Our town has commuter transportation that runs daily to the Metro Gold Line station at Sierra Madre Villa. And because this daily shuttle is in effect and on-going we could very well end up classified as being within a transportation corridor. Here is how the cheerful City document I've seen describes this shuttle:

Gateway Coach Express: Commuting to the MTA's Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station is easy and convenient. The Gold Line Shuttle's schedule accommodates peak commuter hours. The Express will take an estimated 44 minutes. Hours of services (sic) are 7-8:34 am and 5-6:34 pm. The fare is 50 cents. Seniors (65 or older), those who are disabled and youth who are 16 and younger are free.

Supplied with some figures by the Research Team, we've broken this down so that you can see just how artificial and imposed a "service" this actually is.

Gateway Coach Express - The numbers:

1) Ridership: June 2008 229 trips, June 2009 219 trips. Quantity of riders is down by 10 trips. Assuming 1 person rides both ways, that is 5 less riders for the month.

2) June 2009: Assuming 1 person equals 2 trips, that comes to 109 round trips. Assuming 22 workdays per month, that comes to fractionally less than 5 riders to and from the Gold Line per day. Meaning this shuttle is more often than not empty.

3) Youths and Seniors ride for free. Adults made 80 of the trips, so at 50 cents a throw the City of Sierra Madre took in $40.

4) Cost considerations: An average of just under 5 people are using this shuttle roundtrip daily. This works out to 3 hours of bus time plus driver salary for 5 people.

Now due to the Byzantine layout of our City Budget this next part will be hazardous. The lack of clarity in these sheets is something that has been prioritized by Mayor MacGillivray for revamping, with easy access to all being the goal. But for the moment I will soldier on and hope that I've figured this out properly.

It appears that it is General Fund expenditures beefed up with Prop A cash that keeps the Gateway Coach Express rolling. Our portion of the money comes from money raised via the Gas Tax. And this particular shuttle, among several other things including the "Gateway Round-A-Bout," comes out of the Leprechaun's pot called Fund 215. The projected amount of cash at the end of this rainbow for FY 2008-09 is $302,546. You can see that the 40 bucks a month our Gateway Coach Express is producing isn't going to make much of a dent.

The questions that I want to leave you with are these: Since the Gateway Coach Express is for all intents and purposes barely utilized, could its continued existence, funded in part by the City out of our tax money, actually be to establish that Sierra Madre is indeed part of a "transportation corridor?" With daily commuter shuttles to and from the Metro Gold Line? Making Sierra Madre subject to the potentially devastating redevelopment demands being made by Sacramento and its lobbyist patrons, through SCAG, SGVCOG, and SB 375?

Who would have thought that an empty shuttle bus could have such potentially dire consequences.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dead Blogs

Last month on Harper's Index they reported that 94% of all blogs on the internet have not been updated in 4 months. Which I assume means that of that remaining 6%, a good portion don't have anything new to say more than every month or so. An example of that would be the once mighty Foothill Cities Blog which, while it would technically fit into the 6% because a new post will show up once in a while, is still pretty much a wasteland these days.

The published an article in June of 2007 called Dead Blogs. And on our topic du jour they had this to say:

Dead blogs litter the Internet like squashed bugs on a windshield during a warm Southern evening. Since their christening in 1999,millions of people have dabbled with blogs only to abandon them after a few months ... "I think a lot of people started blogs because they got excited; the hype was there, but they really didn't have a purpose," said futurist Jim Carroll, whose clients include Walt Disney Corp., Nestle' and NBC. "There's only so much you can read about somebody else's life before you get bored with it," he said ... The blog rush has slowed down from 175,000 new blogs posted every day in July 2006 to 120,000 new blogs per day as of March, according to Technorati, a blog tracking company.

And you can see this here in the beautiful San Gabriel Valley where blogs, once numerous and lively in their opinions, have pretty much faded away. In Sierra Madre during the Measure V conflagration there were quite a few of them, most of which took the opposing view.

Something I have been wanting to do for a while is publish my Dead Blogs List. These are blogs that played an important role in controversies that are still with us today, yet somehow ran out of gas and stopped writing new articles. And a few of them can still be found on-line, like armadillos in Texas that didn't quite make it to the other side of the I-40. Let's dig in.

Sierra Madre - A View From The Canyon: The last time someone posted on this site was in December 24, 2008, and it informed us that there is a Red Alert for mudslides in effect. And anyone going to this site now looking for information might assume that Red Alert has been in effect for almost 8 months. I still have this one linked on my site because you never know when the smell of blood might cause it to rise from its box and start flapping around once again. Written by a woman who referred to herself as 91024, it took decidedly pro-dirt positions during both the Measure V and 2008 elections. What is of real interest is this site's archives because they truly are a grab bag of every canard and red herring launched during our last 2 electoral battles. Weird interviews with Enid Joffe, a long post debate where Glen Lambdin makes a hilarious error on our City budget and then tries to deny it, the big lie about Sierra Madre's so-called "Family Values" ordinance, and quotes like this: "So now it's time to discuss the budget; there has been a lot of 'talk' about the budget and audits, all talk and no facts." Of course, that was before it was revealed that the budgetary savants employed by the Gang of Four had misplaced a million bucks, and everything that 91024 decried here actually turned out to be, well, facts. The last time a new post appeared on this one was in February, and it was to inform us that a Red Flag alert had been canceled. Good news that will apparently be with us forever. On the surface this was a fluffy news exercise with pictorials on the Centennial Opening Night Gala (lot's of pics of well-fed Sierra Madre socialites in period clothing), a 4th of July Parade, the 40th Annual Mt. Wilson Trail Race, various Pancake Breakfasts, and the memorable Easter Egg Hunt of 2006. But as with 91024's digital time capsule, there are some gems to be dug out from the archives. My favorite is the two interviews with Joe Mosca where he takes decidedly different sides on the Downtown Specific Plan debate. You can actually read as our two-faced City Council fellow turns his back on everything he promised his supporters in 2006 and confirms his allegiance to the Dark Side. The flip and the flop quite neatly delineated. Worth a look.

The Foothill Cities Blog (also here): Hard to believe it now, but at one time this was the center of many a debate on important issues facing the highways and byways of our little corner of the San Gabriel Valley. And nowhere was the outrage over Sacramento's war on California's small cities more closely detailed than here. At its height the FC Blog truly was a force to be reckoned with. So what happened? There are two theories. The first one is that its anonymous publishers, Publius and The Centinel (sic) of the San Gabriel Valley, simply lacked the guts to pull it off. Wanting to be a center of vivid controversy in hopes of driving traffic, they began to take on a wider range of contributors. Some of whom did create a large amount of commentary. But once things started to turn nasty, the FC's editors began complaining that the responsibility of editing posts was onerous, at which time they initiated a form of censorship over their writers. Leading to a drastic decease in credibility, particularly among the malcontents that comprised their base readership. The other theory, which I subscribe to if only because it annoys all the right people, is that The Centinel of the San Gabriel Valley was none other than former Pasadena Star News luminary Todd Ruiz, currently teaching English somewhere in N.W. Africa. His departure for the sandy Sahara does neatly coincide with the FC Blog's collapse, plus it would explain the lack of vision and insight that typified the site during its long slide into senility.

Under The Dome: During the blog boom The Pasadena Star News, forever in the throes of its ongoing struggle for relevance, decided that it to would get into the game. And what they came up with was Under The Dome, a sometimes sardonic "institutional blog" headed up by the aforementioned Todd Ruiz. And the commentary could at times be both biting and interesting, which is perhaps why the PSN later gave Todds-o the heave-ho. Now under the aegis of the plodding Dan Abendschein, it hasn't posted anything new since June 10th. Which is probably a good thing since Dan's idea of cutting edge blog reportage leans towards water rates and fiscus trees. It also includes a list of blogs that you can link to, most of which are either dead or on life support.

The Sierra Madre Cumquat: The link to The Cumquat is actually live again, though what it takes you to is a list of the services provided by its internet host, Go Daddy. This is probably because the current owner of the Cumquat brand, former Sierra Madre Rotary Club President B.D. Howes, worked out some kind of money saving deal with them. (What one of our former Rotary Club big domes is doing owning the rights to what was once an obscene website being a whole other story.) Now we've all discussed Jim Snider and The Cumquat here many times. It was frankly obscene, it attacked good and civic-minded people in dishonest and slanderous ways, and it brought great shame to this community. This linked April 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times being a good example. And that it had the support of anti-Measure V leaders such as then Mayor John Buchanan (thus earning him the nickname "Mayor Smut"), was outrageous. But I have a new theory. This obviously DIC orchestrated attack on Measure V supporters might very well have saved this town from the condo-glut fate of places like Monrovia and Asuza. Why? Because it united a good portion of an outraged town against these people, and for Measure V. It was a tactic that backfired horribly on those who funded it. In the end it was just flat out feeble-minded, and all that remains now is the stench that clings to its enablers like skunk.

The Sierra Madre Cactus: Someday I am going to have the privilege of meeting this guy, whoever he is. And I want to invite him to write for The Tattler, because in many ways he was an inspiration for this site. SMC was one of the most hilarious assaults on the pomposity and fraudulence of the anti-Measure V "movement" ever. Only 14 posts were made, and then it went away. But could it ever deliver a punch. Check this out from the last article ever printed there, "It's Official - Beth Buck is GONE." Beth Buck, resident loony 'unbiased' journalist writes about her NO on Measure V supporters (the ones who paid her $10,000 to help fight Measure V): The only thing I know for sure is that all the people who worked on the No on V campaign - you are incredible individuals. Especially my good friend Jim Snider, who without him as my alter ego, I wouldn't get to write the stuff I really feel ... With full time jobs (except for me), with families, with illnesses, mostly nausea from reading my rants, with little League, with all the obligations and everyday details of life, you still managed to give more of yourselves than you probably thought you had to give and I really appreciate the 10 grand ... I realize the Yes crowd, despite being complete a*******, they too had volunteers in Little League, pony league, friends of the Library, Councilmembers, Ex-Mayors, Mt. Wilson race, Search and rescue team members, Fire Council members and countless other organizations, that they too gave of themselves, but they are still asses because they dare to disagree with me and my realtor friends. Visit this site and check out what they were laying down back in the day.

The Sierra Madre Q***: The full name cannot be reprinted here because Sir Eric Maundry just doesn't talk that way, but this site took The Cumquat a step further into flat-out photo-shopped pornography. Written under the alias of Morgan Price Robinson, it is fully expunged from the internet with the exception of one-off third party mentions. Many suspect that this was the darker side of The Cumquat and its enablers, and it was where material that typified their darkest instincts was let loose on Sierra Madre. The movement to defeat Measure V had a violent and psychotic side, and this is one place that it showed its face.

Downtown Faced with a community up in arms over the prospect of massive redevelopment of our downtown, plus the distinct possibility that the question would be put on the ballot (Measure V), this blog was a rather ineffectual attempt by DSP supporters to regain a modicum of message control over what was at the time a raging debate. Hosted by the same Beth Buck celebrated on the Sierra Madre Cactus site, this developer-funded mess has now almost completely disappeared from the internet. It does have a Go Daddy hosted site holder, courtesy of current brand owner B.D. Howes, which you can find some allusion to here. But there are some DDO passages to be found on Bart Doyle's page, and those who enjoy this stuff will find them quite amusing. But as a political tool Downtown Dirt has to be considered a failure. The bellicose ramblings of Buck, along with the strident comments of its equally bizarre commenting contributors, quickly turned the effort into something of a village joke.

One other thing. The site I use to track hit traffic at this blog shows us up 40% this week. Something is happening, daddy-o. And its not just the sound of bongos.

Enjoy your weekend, see you all Monday.