Saturday, October 31, 2009

So Who Exactly Is This Jim Wunderman Guy? And Why Should We Let Him Rewrite California's State Constitution?

"It seems that the only way to keep special interests out of any political activity as critical as a constitutional convention is not to hold one." - Oakland Tribune

So you have a lot of corporate power guys running around lately talking about how California's Constitution needs to be changed. And it all sounds plausible enough. After all, things haven't gone very well in Sacramento lately. The debt is growing at a frightening rate, the economy is shot, our education system is in a constant state of crisis, and our elected officials are hopelessly incapable of solving these or any other problems. So maybe some kind of rearrangement really is in order.

But if California and its voters are going to embark upon the daunting path of rewriting this state's constitution, we should probably at least take a look at the guy who is apparently the great leader in this historic effort. And that would be the expensive suit pictured emoting above, a gentleman with the rather presumptuous name of Jim Wunderman.

In a Contra Costa Times op-ed piece reprinted this week in the Pasadena Star News, columnist Steven Harmon dressed the bird this way:

Hundreds of ordinary residents would band together with a bunch of governmental experts to attempt a major revamping of California's beleaguered capital if voters agree to call for a constitutional convention ... "We will unite the values of everyday Californians with the best expertise our state has to offer," said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council and member of the ballot measure committee, Repair California. "We have the opportunity to transform California from a nearly failed state to a beacon of prosperity for all the world to see."

A little heavy on the bombast, and if properly captured I'm sure this speech could cause a hot air balloon to soar high above the landscape. But this next paragraph from Harmon's column did pique my interest a bit:

The convention would be limited to four areas of reform: the budget; the relationship between local and state government; government efficiency; and campaign finance.

Now that relationship between state and local governments bit is a theme we like to discuss on The Tattler from time to time. Particularly in light of the recent property tax confiscations, plus Sacramento's usurpation of city control over planning and development through SB 375. So would this convention move towards re-establishing the powers that have traditionally been the purview of local government? Or merely the last nail in a coffin currently being crated up and prepared for final shipment to Sacramento.

Wunderman's bio can be found on the Bay Area Council site. And it looks like he is a major dude up there.

Jim Wunderman serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization in the San Francisco-Oakland-Silicon Valley Bay Area. Led by its CEO members, the Bay Area Council is the strong, united voice of more than 275 of the largest Bay Area employers, representing more than 500,000 workers.

I'll bet they have nice offices and a large meeting room as well. The catering alone would probably make a trip worth while. Here's some more happening info from Jim's bio:

In addition to his work at the Bay Area Council, Wunderman is an active member of the community and serves on numerous boards and commissions ... He also serves on the board of Bridge Housing Corporation, the Advisory Board of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, the Advisory Board of the Partnership for America's Economic Success, the Bay Center, the Community Advisory Board for KB Home and the Policy Advisory Board of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. Wunderman serves as a member of the SB 375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee ...

Well, that pretty much clears up the mystery. Click on the Bridge Housing Corporation link and check out the kind of crap he builds. DSP all the way. Wunderman, my friends, is a redeveloper. A kind of Bay Area belongs to everything doppelganger of our good friend Bart Doyle. And being a member of the "SB 375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee" has got to be convenient for a gent in the redevelopment game. That way he gets to pick and choose what neighborhoods he wants to build in. And that he also runs the company that will do the building? Naw, no conflict of interest there. All backed up by compliant Courts and with not a CEQA review in sight.

And as you can see by hitting this link, the "SB 375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee" is proudly listed on the SCAG site. As is Jim's name.

On October 1, 2008, the most undemocratic governor in California history held a press conference. The occasion for this celebration of himself was the signing of SB 375. On the dais with Arnold Schwarzenegger were a collection of characters (referred to in planner talk as "stakeholders") who played a key role in bringing SB 375 to fruition. They were:

State Senator Darrell Steinberg: The Godfather of SB 375. The man who gave the redevelopment (BIA) and realty lobbies (CAR) their biggest payoff ever.

Mike McKeever: Mike is the executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. This would be the equivalent of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, a subset of SCAG and yet another organization that is working hard to enforce SB 375. Until recently Joe Mosca headed the committee there tasked with enforcing this ugly power grab.

Layne Marceau: Layne was representing the California Homebuilder Group. No surprise seeing him there. Layne oversees an umbrella organization of building trades lobbies that worked so hard to win this boondoggle for their, um, stakeholders.

Heather Fargo: Heather is the Mayor of Sacramento, but also serves as the President of the League of California Cities. You might recall that "The League" was instrumental in putting on the ballot last year the measure that sidetracked the passing of a real statewide law banning Eminent Domain. A law like that being the last thing SB 375 advocates would want to see on the books. How else would they get any work done? The irony being that the LCC, which purports to be a kind of union of cities, is a key player in the removal of planning and development control from cities and turning those powers over to Sacramento. Where they can be better used to payoff lobbyists for their kind patronage. BTW: John and Joe are dedicated League guys.

And then the last speaker stepped up. And since this was no ordinary figure in the SB 375 pantheon, he was introduced by the Adonis of the Alps himself.

Governor Schwarzenegger: "And our last speaker, Jim Wunderman, or Wonderman. I call it in German Wunderman. Nice to see you."

Jim Wunderman: "Just call me, Governor. Thank you. Thank you very much. Governor Schwarzenegger, I want to thank you. First of there's a bill but I want to thank you ..."

Obviously apple polishing is something The Governator has no problems with.

The authors of the Oakland Tribune op-ed piece we cited at the beginning of this post apparently has seen right through this Constitutional Convention charade, and spells out their doubts about Wunderman clearly.

Also, we are skeptical that Wunderman will be able to achieve the convention's goal of keeping special-interest groups shut out. After all, his Bay Area Council could be viewed as a special interest for business ... It seems the only way to keep special interests out of any political activity as critical as a constitutional convention is not to hold one.

To put it mildly. SB 375 represents one of the biggest and most undemocratic power grabs in California history, effectively confiscating the control cities have traditionally held over development and planning within their borders. And apparently the agenda of those responsible is now the rewriting of the California State Constitution. Something that would likely make that power grab permanent and beyond challenge.

In other words, they want it all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Huffing & Puffing

Somebody is VERY upset with The Tattler. But first, let me share this piece of encouraging news with you. This from the blog Orange Punch:

We came across this poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. It's a couple weeks old, but the news it imparts is timeless: Californians don't much like their state government. A whopping 73 percent said state government is run for the benefit of the few. That number increased to 79 percent when pollsters ask people who vote most often. It seems the closer attention paid, the lower the opinion. Only 23 percent said they could trust the government to do what's right. Now that's a number to think about. "To do what's right..." That means three fourths of us think will do the wrong thing. We're pretty sharp, eh? Hey, three out of five Californians said they think government wastes "a lot" of your tax money. Only 5 percent said there's little waste. And just about two-thirds said it'd be a good idea to put a lid on how much those folks in Sacramento can spend. What a concept.

Last Saturday we posted an article about some ethical questions being raised in the press regarding our illustrious State Senator, Bob Huff. In particular his vote that helped developer Ed Roski of Majestic Realty fame gain approval for his football stadium and shopping mall through the gratuitous waiving any possible Sacramento mandated environmental reviews. Something that also put an end to a lawsuit initiated by concerned citizens from the City of Walnut. The possible ethical concerns stemming from the deep financial ties the Huff family has with Mr. Roski. All of which can be read about here.

And at the end of this post, kind of as an afterthought, I added this observation from the blog Orange Juice:

State Legislators have spent over $3 million on luxury cars since 2007: Our state is broke, but we have spent over three million dollars over the past three years providing luxury cars to our state legislators ... Republican State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, drives a Cadillac CTS that cost the state $41,300,including $4,226 for upgraded wheels and Bluetooth, according to an L.A. Times report.

Now at the end of the 40 or so comments attached to this post there have now been 5 posts by one very upset Bob Huff fan. Or perhaps even someone very close to Bob himself, you just never know. Two of these comments had to be deleted due to obscenity, but the others are kind of amusing. You see, what is bothering this individual isn't the questions of serious ethical retardation on Bob's part, rather it's all about that Cadillac.

State paid vehicles are provided to legislatures (sic) to conduct government related business - Don't you expect to be reimbursed by your employer for expenses accrued using your personal vehicle to conduct business related matters? Its kinda like the same thing, although most people like yourself are too dumb too realize it. Those wheels were also returned and stock Cadillac wheels were put in place - he also happened to purchase an AMERICAN car, so this money is coming right by to OUR ECONOMY, or are you too dumb to understand that as well? Why don't we stop worry (sic) about a petty $44k and worry more about the $9 BILLION we give to ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS EVERY YEAR?

Obviously this guy has doubts about my intellectual abilities, but I doubt that's the reason I'm not following his line of reasoning here. While I do commend anyone who purchases American products, and I too drive an American made (albeit now defunct) brand of automobile, I'm not exactly sure that sucking up $41K in taxpayer money to purchase a Cadillac CTS constitutes any great act of patriotism on Bob's part. Nor do I quite understand the politics behind an elected official such as Senator Huff setting himself up with a state funded luxury car at a time when Sacramento was sending state employees IOUs in place of tax return checks. It seems rather insensitive. Nor am I too sure about what this has to do with illegal immigration, either. We're not supposed to worry about having to foot the bill for Bob's $41,000 Cadillac CTS because the State Legislature, which Bob is a member of, is shelling out $9 billion a year to people living in this country illegally?

And while it is comforting to know that Bob actually does conduct government related business (after all, that is what we're paying him to do), I'm not clear on why it takes a $41,000 luxury convertible for him to do the job. Judging by the quality of the work coming from our celebrated public servants in Sacramento, I'd say the vehicular equivalency would be more along the lines of a used Dodge Omni. Something that could probably be picked up from most area used car lots for around $38 grand less than that Caddy.

Anyway, after pointing some of these things out to our sorely exercised Huffster, I received the following response:

Eric, yes... we went broke because state legislatures (sic) get vehicles... nevermind all the money we waste each year on people who don't even belong here. We went broke, not ONLY because of the irresponsibility of our government, but ALSO because of dumb***** who can't do simple math and figure out that variable APR is a bad thing. maybe you should spend more time lobbying people to take a finance class rather than bit***** about a Cadillac... WOW - do you get all your news from the LA Times, and whatever isn't printed in that paper must not have happened, huh? Those wheels were returned. Now how about you go b**** about all the other state legislatures (sic) who picked up new rides, too.

Somebody has got to explain to this guy that a legislature is a body of elected officials who deliberate upon the peoples' business. Individual members of a legislature are called legislators. You'd think that someone this uncomfortable with immigrants would be a tad more conversant in the English language.

Anyway, I'm willing to make a deal with our friend here. I'll drop the Cadillac talk if he agrees to discuss Bob Huff's ethical shortcomings. Particularly in regards to the vote cast in favor of the financial interests of a fellow who is paying the salary of Senator Huff's wife.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The City Council Meeting Nobody Saw

Well, still no City Council meetin' airing yet on SMTV Channel 3. But there is a notice up on my TV screen that bespeaks of their great regret, and then blames it on the weather. And judging by the gritty clouds blowing from the One Carter Dust Bowl Tuesday night, maybe they do have an excuse. After all, this meeting was practically run by candlelight. But then again, given past occurrences of SMTV3's phantom broadcasts, is anybody going to buy it?

Now as a public service to the community, the Maundry Institute for Paranormal Studies (MIPS) has been trying to piece together what happened at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting. And maybe it was the strange weather, or the wind driven clouds of ash from the Station Fire. Or perhaps even the lack of lighting properly powered by the soothing electronic coal-fired emanations of Southern California Edison. But there was something unsettling about this meeting. Probably because almost nobody except the actual participants have actually witnessed it. So what you will be reading here is based on phone calls, personal opinions, rumors, and hunches. And until the real thing comes along, I'm afraid that is the best I can do.

It started off innocuously enough. Apparently an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy is all about abrasive toilet paper. In the metaphorical sense, of course. That being, if an item is made with recycled materials of a certain percentage, it then becomes "environmentally preferable," and that should be the reason we buy it. Now the quality might not be as high, and not unlike the toilet paper a now departed Eurasian megastate of note used to proffer, a bit abrasive. But it is kinder to the Earth, or so we've been assured. This passed by a 5 to 0 vote, which means that the next time you need to use public facilities, forgo Memorial Park and make your way on over to Starbucks.

The next item on the agenda had something to do with appointing a new person to the Library Board of Trustees. Now up until recently this was pretty much the place where those disappointed by the outcome of the last few elections went to find solace and renewed purpose in their lives. Which I suppose explains the lack of discussion on exactly who departed to create this opening. The DIC being a most secretive bunch these days. Fortunately 60% of the City Council settled on Lita Bushloper who, unlike some previous Library Board appointees, actually has library management credentials that extend beyond buying wine by the glass at fundraising socials. That plus two Masters degrees and a reputation for being tough on people who don't return books on time. Which is what you need to make a Library work in my opinion. Otherwise people will just never return those Jude Deveraux and Diana Galbaldon novels.

"The Appointment of Youth to the Community Services Commission" thing apparently got a bit heavy. Perhaps John Buchanan promised somebody that he'd give their boy a fine position on the CSC, and then felt he needed to deliver? Whatever the cause, it led to a rhubarb as some on the City Council felt that both of the available candidates were qualified to serve the great cause of Youth. This triggered a question about why one can't have the vote and the other still get to participate. Which is apparently what won out despite the mysterious motivations of Mr. Buchanan. You'd think that with all the important issues facing this City, spending that much time and energy to deny some kid the chance to experience Sierra Madre government up close would seem foolish and a bit ugly. Apparently for John that was not the case.

The Dapper Field tree removal question was approved over the objections of the Tree Commission. Ash trees have apparently been getting rowdy over there at Hal Dapper, tearing up the field and causing some of the walkways to buckle. Now as any fan of the game can tell you, wooden baseball bats are made out of ash. So perhaps after these trees are cut down they can be turned into bats and given out as momentos at the next big Little League bash? Or sold to raise money? We could call them Sierra Madre Sluggers. Or (forgive me) Dapper Whappers. Those trees being removed would be replaced per City law.

Next up was the SCAG Regional Transportation Plan insanity. SCAG, as you know from our previous insightful articles about this organization, seems to think it can predict the future. And so insidious is this mental conceit it has apparently convinced some on City Staff that they can do so as well. And we're not talking about what is going to happen in the next year. No, these enabled seers are talking about employment and population increases in Sierra Madre up through the year 2035! Like anybody 26 years from now is going to give a damn what people all the way back in 2009 thought.

But SCAG apparently is where the mad go to secure government paychecks and power, and since they are backed up by both the Feds along with those jokers in Sacramento, we have to spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out ways to bamboozle them. Because if we don't then they will tell us how many jobs will be created here over the next couple decades, and then how many new housing units we will need to plan for in order to board those people. People who won't actually be here to work jobs that only exist in the mind of some droll Soviet emigre' named Ikhrata. You see, when it comes to SCAG, it is always about demanding new development. And they never let logic or rational thinking get in the way.

Now our City Staff, who apparently seems to take this former Soviet planner and his crackpot organization seriously, went back to the year 2003 to try and deduce some sort of trend that will help them create a picture of what Sierra Madre will look like in the distant future. The old "past is prologue" shuck and jive that keeps so many planners employed. Unfortunately, if you only go back to the year 2003, what will emerge are numbers that are grossly inflated. Why? Because those were the superheated housing boom years, a time when banks apparently lost their minds and lent all their money at below cost. So why didn't City Staff go back a few years earlier than they did to get more realistic numbers? Because then you are into the Shenanigan Era, and that data doesn't exist. So absorbed were our elected officials with enabling stuff like One Carter and the DSP back then that they forgot all about keeping credible records.

The argument that apparently emerged at this City Council meeting was whether or not we should play SCAG's game. One school of thought says they're obviously off their rockers with their numbers, so why should we even entertain taking them seriously? Their outcome is predetermined and their math obviously suspect, so why not call them out on it and give them a realistic answer. Like zero. The other side stating that unless we throw them a statistical bone, they'll be mean to us and we'll end up having to plan for an additional 100 or so housing units instead of, maybe, 89. My take is that since we're talking years into the future, let's just do the right thing and tell SCAG that they're out of their minds and we have no time for their nonsense. Just weather the storm. After all, our population isn't growing, we're actually losing jobs and businesses, nobody is building anything anywhere in this town, and hardly anybody working here can afford to live in this town anyway.

Don Watts had a better solution, of course. We should tell them that we expect 150,000 new jobs here in the next decade or so. That way SCAG would immediately demand that the County of Los Angeles build us a subway. Kurt Zimmerman added that since we will then be larger than Burbank, we should also ask for an airport.

The discussion on Sierra Madre Strategic Plan Goals & Objectives was shelved for another time. Apparently the City Council's need for fantasy having been fulfilled by the previous item.

If you feel the need to check up on my improvisation, may I suggest you call City Hall at 355-7135 and inquire as to the exact time this City Council meeting will finally be broadcast? I recommend that you go straight to the source and ask for the City Manager. That way she'll be able to properly sense your concern. And when you do find out, please let the rest of us know?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Power Outage Afflicts Maundry Compound - Newly Seeded Front Yard Terrorized

Here at the mouth of the mighty Bailey Canyon the winds they a-howled, large pieces of tree flew about, and trash cans (of all three colors and functions) rolled down the hill, spilling their contents as they went. The power went out and, cut off from the modern world, we were left to nothing more than huddling around scented votary candles and talking to each other. No computers, no television, no Fall Ball Little League practice (Go Blue Bellies!), no Wi, it was all so Lincolnesque.

Thankfully we remembered each other's names.

On the Pasadena Star News website our travails were described thusly:

About 3,000 Southern California Edison customers in Arcadia, Monrovia, and South Pasadena lost electricity. Parts of Azusa, Temple City and Sierra Madre were also left in the dark due to outages but it's unknown how many residents were affected ... In Sierra Madre, Sgt. Charles Kamcharmnan said they had a transformer blow up, downed trees and power outages ... Gusts in Northern Los Angeles County hit 70 mph, the weather service said.

Additionally, large clouds of dust were reported being blown from the One Carter disaster.

So the upshot to all of this is I don't know what happened down at City Hall last night. Did the meeting even take place? Did hardier souls than I brave the elements and head on down to witness local governance in action? Did the passion and the fury contained within SCAG's 2012 Regional Transportation Plan Projections match what was going on outside?

This is an open thread. Share what you know, yo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Miss Susie's Latest News Lapses

Sometimes you just have to watch what you wish for. Last week I complained that the Loony Views News wasn't covering the important stories here in Sierra Madre. And to some extent that hasn't changed as Joe Mosca's recent removal from his SGVCOG duties has yet to grace the pages of our adjudicated paper of record. News suppression being an important priority at the Loony Views, especially when it is something that involves one of the publisher's special pets. But can you believe that there was finally a story about the City Council's recent One Carter and Stonehouse deliberations, and it didn't come with a picture of a stone wall? Yes, it looks like Mount Cliche' has at last been scaled.

There isn't much point in discussing this senseless LVN article as journalism. The paper's publisher, who doubles as the one person there entrusted with the awesome responsibility of writing about Sierra Madre's news, couldn't carry a thought to conclusion in a wheelbarrow. And if the topic heads north of Hello Kitty on the complexity scale, well, you'd better start dropping bread crumbs.

So rather than wading across this mile of muck, I thought we'd pluck out a few fine examples of LVN synaptic dysfunction, and then set the record straight. An absurd exercise, I know. But in the great search for what is truly important in life, sometimes you just have to improvise.

CSF was represented at the council meeting by Susan Hori, an attorney with the high powered law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Brian Salsner, Director of the project.

Couple of problems here. The first being that Susan Hori is not an attorney with this firm, she is a partner at the firm. There's a big difference in that. And rather than taking the LVN publisher's word, ask a real lawyer. And Brian "Salsner" actually spells his last name Sosner. And Sosner is hardly the "Director of the project," he is actually a national executive in charge of CapitalSource's financial problem children. Here is how they describe this gent's responsibilities on the CapitalSource site:

As a Portfolio manager within CapitalSource's Structured Finance Group, Mr. Sosner is primarily responsible for managing a portfolio of troubled real estate assets and implementing a special servicing asset management operation for all nonperforming classes of commercial real estate and real estate owned as well as procedures to turnaround, reposition, and/or liquidate such assets.

In other words, he's the guy who deals with the company's toxic investments. If it's a fiscal basket case, then Brian is the guy who has to handle it. And that he flew all the way out here from the company's corporate headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is saying a lot. I guess that puts One Carter into a very special category of unmitigated disaster.

And you thought this guy was nothing but the smirking fellow we all saw seated behind Lawyer Hori two weeks ago.

Since the original owners of the properties, Dorn Platz, defaulted on their loans, the properties were taken over by Capital Source Funding (CSF).

There is no firm currently owning property in Sierra Madre called "Capital Source Funding." The folks who came by our City Council meeting two weeks ago are from a company called CapitalSource. "Strength You Can Bank On," as they like to say. And with $28 billion in assets to back the claim up.

And I don't want to get too politically correct on you guys, but weren't the original owners of the properties in question Native Americans? The Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribe to be exact? I mean, we all know who Dorn Platz is, and I'm sure the Loony Views News is as enamored of them as they are any other developer. But to suggest that their ownership of One Carter extends back for thousands and thousands of years? Is the publisher claiming the existence of a Dorn Platz Tribe?

And I cannot believe that the LVN's publisher fell for this bit of chump chum:

Hori pointed out to the council that they have made several changes to the original settlement plan including decreasing the number of units on Stonehouse from 35 to 20. Said Hori, "Our desire is to arrive at a point to finalize the Settlement Agreement."

Swallowing and printing Hori's fictitious claim about having reduced the amount of home sites from 35 to 20 at Stonehouse is just terrible journalism. Whether out of ignorance or from rancor, this really is inexcusable. The count at Stonehouse has been 20 houses since November of 2007. Tracy Thomas gives a very clear explanation of this in a video available on the Neuroblastfilms Channel. And since this LVN article quotes Tracy elsewhere, you can only wonder why that particular fact went astray.

Another perplexing item. Can anybody please tell me what the following sentence means?

"However, whether or not residents will ever the developer of the projects is doubtful."

Maybe the LVN's publisher should take the sign's advice and write for free help?

Now this last item is kind of painful for me, because it involves two of my former colleagues from the old Mount Wilson Observer. Yes, we're talking about Rich Johnson and Hail Hamilton. And frankly, as outre' as either of these gentlemen can occasionally be, nobody deserves the fate they are currently suffering. Denied the "privilege" of discussing the affairs of Sierra Madre by their controlling publisher, both have been forced to cast their journalistic nets far and wide to find allowable topics to discuss. And what is it these two are currently fighting about? Something called "the tyranny of capitalism."

I'm telling you, it's like another planet over there.

Monday, October 26, 2009

San Diego Union-Tribune: Sempra Energy Ranked Near Bottom On Global Warming

"With Joe and John it's the rule of opposites. They work for huge polluters, so they're green. They are for preserving Sierra Madre, so they push big developer agendas constantly. They're all about fighting for small cities, so they belong to the big regional organizations that reinforce the power grabbing of Sacramento." - 10/24 Tattler comment.

One of the gaping holes in the logic behind SB 375 is that while it identifies the global warming culprits, it puts them in the wrong order. According to the pie chart supplied by Stuff In The, it is not cars that are the major contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions. A player to be sure, but by no means the largest. That honor would belong to power stations, those largely coal burning goliaths that help supply much of the electricity we use to light up our homes. And if you combine power stations plus "residential, commercial, and other uses" of that product, you're talking about nearly a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The basic premise behind SB 375 is that if you lay in another swath of high density development into already heavily built-out urban neighborhoods, people will willingly move there, give up their cars, and use public transportation. Thus somehow magically solving the greenhouse gas problem. However, wouldn't these uber-density neighborhoods be consuming a lot more energy in order to maintain the amenities of modern life? Including electricity, the production of which is the recognized leader in greenhouse gas production?

With a new generation of low-emission automobiles on the horizon, would the massive social disruptions and redevelopment being called for by Sacramento through its SB 375 lobby-driven high stakes gamble really be worth it? If the true intent is to cut greenhouse gas emissions, doesn't the sanctioning of vast increases in new housing construction seem just a little bit counterintuitive? Of course, we're assuming here that this is Sacramento's real intent, and they haven't just invented a cynical rationale for permitting some of their favorite (read: lucrative) lobbies to build with carefree abandon wherever they want.

Sierra Madre City Councilmember Joe Mosca is up for re-election this spring, and it is pretty clear where he stands on bringing generous amounts of unwelcome development to Sierra Madre. And that he actually heads the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments committee tasked with enabling SB 375's implementation in places like our quaint little town is of interest. Something that could mean large swaths of generic condominium and mixed-use nonsense throughout our community should this largely rubber stamp organization get its way.

Now you would think that someone engaged in an enterprise such as the one Joe Mosca is running would be as fresh as the driven snow on an issue like Global Warming, right? After all, the harsh sacrifices he is asking small cities such as ours to make are immense, so certainly he would want to live a life that could serve as an example of how it needs to be done.

If you click here you will be taken to something called the Southern California Leadership Network, "Class of 2009." Something cobbled together by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. And if you scroll down to the "M" tier you will witness the following:

Joseph Mosca, Public Affairs Manager, Southern California Gas Company: ... Mosca practiced consumer and corporate bankruptcy law from 1999 to 2008 and is now employed by Southern California Gas Company, Sempra Energy Utilities.

Now why someone would go from practicing law to being a "Public Affairs Manager" is something of a mystery. Kind of like accepting a demotion from Colonel to Lieutenant in the Army. But that is not to our point today. What is, though, is that apparently Sempra Energy Utilities was recognized three years back as one of the worst greenhouse gas producers in the country. This from the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Sempra ranked near bottom on global warming

Sempra Energy was ranked near the bottom in dealing with global warming by a national investor coalition ... A national review of how 100 companies are addressing the risks and business opportunities arising from global warming ranked San Diego-based Sempra 18th among 19 companies in the electric industry ... The report, commissioned by Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors, environmentalists and public interest groups, ranked corporate response to global warming across five areas: board oversight of the problem, management performance, public discourse, emissions accounting and strategic planning ... The highest-rated company was BP, the British petroleum company, which was also among the five foreign companies that topped nine of the industries surveyed. A spokesman for BP noted that that the oil company has also become the third-largest solar company in the world ... Many experts say there are growing costs - including crop damage and flooding - that should be attributed to climate changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Most fear there will be far greater economic damage should global warming continue at its current rate ... In the electric power industry, Sempra ranked last among major California companies with utility operations and outpointed only Constellation Energy among the 19 companies reviewed overall. Sempra is a diversified energy company and parent of both San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co. ... On the survey's 100-point scorecard, Sempra received 24 points, while Pacific Gas & Electric got 54 and Edison International 51 ... The study was conducted by the Investor Responsibility Research Center using information from public filings, company reports and direct company contact. The Center, based in Washington D.C., was founded in 1972 and specializes in corporate governance and social responsibility issues ... In contrast with companies highly rated in the assessment, Sempra doesn't have board or executive committees devoted to global warming, and its chief executives have failed to address the issue. The survey also found Sempra had no executive addressing the issue.


A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Sempra's rating for addressing global warming was appropriately low. He was particularly critical of Sempra's plans to build coal-fired plants in Idaho and Nevada ... "Sempra is out there trying to build more coal-fired plants and that is exactly the wrong thing to do," said David Hawkins, director of the climate center for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a reference to Sempra proposals in Idaho and Nevada ... "The report is cutting-edge information," Hawkins added. "The people who did this report are serious people, and they do their homework."

Anybody surprised? Another example of that "rule of opposites" thing at work, I guess.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Does State Senator Bob Huff Love Ed Roski A Little Too Much?

The celebrated new NFL stadium was signed into existence by Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger this week. So great was his excitement that he flew all the way to City of Industry for the occasion. And we certainly must acknowledge the hard work of many of our finest elected officials that helped bring it into existence. And soon not only will this great stadium rise from the wasteland that is the City of Industry, but a vast new shopping center as well.

Now there has been some discussion about how certain of our august state legislators, for various reasons, might have been just a little too close to the company behind this football mall. And that ties to Ed Roski, both owner of the stadium and the shopping emporium's developer Majestic Realty, were in some cases just a little too close for ethical comfort. And perhaps nobody was any closer to Ed Roski than our very own State Senator, Fightin' Bob Huff.

On its "Leftovers from City Hall" blog, the lays it out this way:

I spoke with State Sen. Bob Huff Wednesday, who was less than pleased over allegations he had a conflict of interest when casting a vote in the Senate last week ... The vote in question was a procedural one to help move an environmental bill to the Senate floor. Problem is, that environmental bill -- which passed -- will exempt a proposed NFL stadium in Industry from state environmental laws ... Members of the Citizens for Community Preservation Inc., which has a lawsuit filed against the stadium, said the vote was unethical because Huff and his wife's involvement in Industry and (with) the stadium's developer, Majestic Realty ... Huff called the allegations "about as bogus as the lawsuit," and said he consulted with legal counsel, who told him there was, in fact, no conflict ... Huff said he originally was not going to participate in the vote at all. But then he was asked to step in, and even the Senate President -- along with others -- told him there was no legal conflict ... He didn't vote when the bill finally hit the floor.

So how close are old Bob Huff's connections to Ed Roski and Majestic Realty? Hand in glove, apparently. An article in the SGV Tribune from last August ("Lawmaker, wife both lend support to Majestic's NFL stadium project") shared these insights:

But it wasn't a simple vote of support. Huff's wife, Mei Mei Huff, has worked for Majestic since 2001, Huff said ... As Majestic sought support for its stadium proposal, Mei Mei Huff led the charge in the San Gabriel Valley's vast Asian community.

And then there is this:

Mei Mei Huff is a senior vice president at the Pacific Palms Resort, a 650-acre resort which sits on land owned by Industry. The property and its facilities are master-leased by Majestic, its CEO Roski and the company's Vice President John Semcken under a partnership called Majestic Hills, LLC.

Care for one more?

Last year, Mei Mei Huff's two businesses reported receiving income from Roski's Majestic Realty Co. ... Mei Mei Ho and Associates, her business consulting firm based in Diamond Bar, reported income of $10,000 to $100,000 through late February, with one of the identified clients as Pacific Palms Resort/Majestic Industry Hills, LLC, according to the most recent financial disclosure reports ... The business was "disposed" in February 2008 and replaced with another business consulting firm, Mei Mei Ho Consulting, LLC. The state senator reported the company's income was over $100,000 beginning Feb. 20. Two of its identified clients are Majestic Realty and Pacific Palms Resort/Majestic Industrial Hills, LLC, records how.

My my (or should that be Mei Mei), that sure is one squeaky close tie between Big Ed's operations and the Bob Huff family. Like perhaps a direct financial tie with a stake in future profits? And we certainly can't see any conflict of interest whatsoever in the Huffster voting to further the empire of Ed Roski now, right? Naw, not one little bit. And then there is this:

During his successful senatorial campaign last November, Huff received $28,200 from Majestic Realty and its representatives, according to state campaign records.

Listen, if every state legislator who received money from Roski had recused themselves from voting on Big Ed's stadium and rather large shopping emporium, there wouldn't have been enough folks left over for a hand of bridge.

There was a great comment attached to the original cite I quoted from at the beginning of this post. Its author, James I. Flourney, pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned. Here is what he had to say:

Legally Huff may get a pass. I understand that the Citizens (for Community Preservation) have filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) ... Ethically Huff failed to live up to community standards. Huff's wife works for Pacific Palms which is owned by Majestic and Roski. California is a "Community Property State." ... Huff said he was conflicted but when faced with the choice of following the rules or suspending the rules, Huff voted to suspend the rules thus bypassing sending the bill to committees which which would have given it the hearings it deserved ... Bob Huff must resign ... "Huff said he was not going to participate in the vote at all." This was the correct choice ... "But then he was asked to step in." By whom? Steinberg? Romero? And why? Because if he had not fallen on his sword for Majestic the vote would have failed ... Senate leadership should re-examine its procedures if the allegations about Huff's vote are even remotely true ... Who's legal counsel did he consult? Majestic's? Getting political cover does not make his vote ethical ... Bob Huff must resign.

Sacramento is just so disgraceful.

Oh, and speaking of disgraceful, here's something from one of my favorite inspirational blogs, Orange Juice. Apparently when you're an elected state official in California, the gifts just keep on a-coming.

State Legislators have spent over $3 million on luxury cars since 2007: Our state is broke, but we have spent over three million dollars over the past three years providing luxury cars to our state legislators ... Republican State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, who represents Chino Hills and part of Chino on the western end of our county, drives a Cadillac CTS that cost the state $41,300, including $4,226 for upgraded wheels and Bluetooth, according to an L.A.Times report.

Sacramento issued IOUs to school teachers because there wasn't any dough to be found there, but they still managed to secure a few bucks to keep Fightin' Bob stylin' around the Valley in a top of the line convertible Cadillac with tricked out wheels and a really cool state of the art remote dial cellphone.

Here's a site you just might want to visit ...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is "Green" Something that Only Applies to the Middle Class?

"We're just a group of local citizens expressing our First Amendment freedom of speech. This is happening because someone with money came out of nowhere and paid off the politicians." - Brijid Bjerke

I'm starting to believe that in the eyes of Sacramento there are two distinct tiers of responsibility on the Green thing. That is, when the changes that are being called for are assigned, it apparently won't be those shelling out the patronage to our fine elected officials in the state capital that will be making any of the sacrifices. No, apparently the honor of saving the world is destined to fall on our sturdy shoulders alone.

Now we have talked about SB 375 a lot on this site. This being the bill, signed into law by the Great Arnold himself, that he believes will long serve has his legacy and gift to the people of California. And what this bill claims to do is reduce the amount of time people spend in their greenhouse gas emitting automobiles by rebuilding our cities in such a way that will put the jobs right there next to the places where people live. The goal would be to end suburban sprawl, move people into vast warrens of condos and town houses closer to the urban core, and get people out of their cars and into public transportation. Which, if you're into science fiction ala The Jetsons, probably seems like a wonderful solution. Because that is pretty much what the notion of building our way out of global warming really is. Science fiction.

But who would the brunt of this massive social engineering scheme fall upon? The middle class, of course. All those people currently living in their single family houses and driving their cars back and forth to work. And what SB 375 means in is massive new development in middle class neighborhoods, with much of the purpose being forcing commuters out of their automobiles and onto such things as the Gold Line or, heaven forbid, buses. That this would mean a drastic decline in the quality of life that we were long told was our right to enjoy goes without question. Life in densely packed neighborhoods with small and noisy apartments along with crowded city commuter conveyances being the kinds of things people fled to the suburbs to escape in the first place.

But apparently these kinds of sacrifices are not something everyone will be called upon to share. Because when burdensome environmental considerations come into play and your name is Ed Roski Jr. of Majestic Realty, you can just call the Adonis of the Alps, the world celebrated Mr. Green Legacy himself, and be absolved of the burden.

As you know, billionaire developer Ed Roski Jr. was facing some inconvenient opposition from the people of the City of Walnut. This small city, not that different from ours, and situated right next to the City of Industry site where Big Ed wants to build a NFL stadium, had some concerns. Environmental concerns. Because in addition to this stadium Big Ed wanted to also build a huge shopping mall along with some other "suburban sprawl" kinds of things. And as anyone living next to such Eisenhower Era meccas can tell you, this would cause a whole lot of new traffic. And with traffic comes bad air, jammed freeways, and a lot of that greenhouse gas stuff. Just like SB 375 says.

So the people of Walnut did the one thing anyone interested in defending their homes and quality of life would do, they turned to laws that our state, in apparently better times, enacted to protect them from just such a thing. In this case that law is the California Environmental Quality Act.

But you see, times have changed. Because in Sacramento Ed Roski's money speaks far louder than any laws designed to protect the environment or middle class enclaves like the City of Walnut. And once Ed started calling in favors, the very people who proposed and enacted SB 375 yanked any possibility of a CEQA environmental review away from those who dared to stand in his way.

The result being this very sad story published by the Pasadena Star News.

INDUSTRY - About 150 of Southern California's most powerful people gathered Thursday on what was once a cow pasture ... Under a bright blue sky and taking in a panoramic view of the San Gabriel mountains, they stood among the sun-dried weeds and witnessed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sign legislation paving the way for an NFL stadium ... Separated from the action by a chain-link fence and armed deputies, a group of less than a dozen protesters from nearby Walnut held up signs and decried the action ... The group, led by Walnut resident Brigid Bjerke, consists of eight citizens challenging developer Edward Roski Jr.'s plan to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles ... Earlier this month the group refused to settle its lawsuit against the project ... The State Legislature stepped in and sent a bill to Schwarzenegger exempting the project from the California Environmental Quality Act, nullifying the citizen's lawsuit.

Now I don't know how you feel about bringing the National Football League back to Los Angeles. Honestly I prefer things to stay the way they are now because we get much better games on TV when we don't have some godforsaken loser franchise here in town. And you know that the team that decides to come here will be one of the bad ones. After all, if they weren't why would they need to move? We could be facing a future of having to endlessly hear about something called the "City of Industry Lions."

But the point is a Lion of Patronage like Roski doesn't have to follow California environmental law. Rather, as someone with a lot of money and influence in Sacramento, he called his friends and got the problem fixed. Will we be able to do the same when we try to fight off the environmental damage SB 375 enabled redevelopers could do to our city? Not a chance.

Oh, and get a load of how our fine elected public servants regard those who would attempt to use California environmental law to defend the quality of life in their city.

"These people presented an $800 million wish list of demands that have little to do with the environment," Schwarzenegger said. "I'm here to terminate the frivolous lawsuit and start construction."

And then there is this from a true loudmouthed idiot:

State Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, D-Compton, who authored the legislation, went a step further. He termed the lawsuit "abuse" and "extortion." He went on to say that the state legislature doesn't take CEQA laws lightly, but added these are "extraordinary times."

One other point that needs to be made. Did you know that SB 375 states that when redevelopment is being arranged for some big time building in areas designated as a "transportation corridor," CEQA review rights can also be pulled should the developer so desire? Perhaps a developer just like Ed Roski Jr. of Majestic Realty?

Looks like a trend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jason Jensen Sues Sierra Madre and Officer Henry Amos

Pretty detailed article on the Jason Jensen lawsuit in yesterday's Pasadena Star News. We've covered this incident before, and much of what you'll read in the PSN piece is based on already familiar information. But what is new here, and is filtered through the PSN's contribution, is the attached Court documents. We've heard all the guesswork about what happened on that fateful night, but now for the first time the official documentation has been revealed, and that in my opinion dramatically narrows the field of speculation.

Here's how the PSN article ("Man shot while sleeping in SUV files suit against Sierra Madre") sums it up:

A man shot by a police officer while waking up in the back of his SUV filed a lawsuit against the city and its police department ... Jason Jensen, 46, of Monrovia alleges that Sierra Madre Police Officer Henry Amos was negligent when the officer in January fired through the car's rear hatch and hit Jensen in the back ... The city has until Nov. 5 to answer ... Jensen's lawsuit names Amos, the city and the police department as defendants, and alleges Jensen suffered from violations of his constitutional rights, assault and battery, and negligence.

Jensen's attorney is Kelly F. Ryan, a lawyer with the firm Russakow, Ryan & Johnson, PC. You can access Ryan's Attorney Profile here.

In the Court documents you can read quite a bit of information about this case, but what struck me as being the most telling passages are from the Section IV, which is referred to there as "Backround." These are the first legally worded descriptions of the event, and apparently it will be a Federal Jury that will have to decide on their worth.

On or about January 30, 2009, Plaintiff was asleep in the rear of a vehicle, he had borrowed from its owner, parked on Sierra Madre Blvd., in the City of Sierra Madre. On information and belief and thereupon alleged, at approximately 3:30 a.m. Defendant Amos had the vehicle towed to a police garage located at 200 West Sierra Madre Avenue located in the City of Sierra Madre. While in the tow yard, Plaintiff awoke and attempted to sit up when he was struck by a single bullet discharged, on information and belief and thereupon alleged, from defendant Amos' service weapon. The bullet struck Plaintiff in the rear upper torso entering his body and passing through it exiting the front near Plaintiff's hip.

By the description given here it appears that Jensen was shot somewhere in the back. Which could make any speculation that Jensen might have threatened Amos, and therefore incited the gunshot, appear moot.

At the end of the PSN article there is a passage quoting Sierra Madre Police Chief Marilyn Diaz as having said this:

"I can tell you that we provide training on a daily basis, including regular reviews of our policy procedures for search-and-seizure law, liability, use-of-force and other training topics most likely to result in litigation or other court action," Diaz said.

Now in the Court documents, and maybe not completely by coincidence, the following training related passages can be found among the listed complaints.

On information and belief and thereupon alleged, defendants, and each of them failed to follow the practices and policies of the Sierra Madre Police Department including but not limited to:

c) Failing to adequately train, supervise, and control officers in the arts and practice of law enforcement, including, without limitation, the taking into custody vehicles and persons not engaged in criminal activity, without serious injury ..

d) Failing to adequately discipline officers involved in misconduct ..

e) Condoning and encouraging officers in the belief that they can violate the rights of persons in this action with impunity, and that such conduct will not adversely affect their opportunities for promotion and other employment benefits.

Not wanting to read too much into Chief Diaz's statement, but can it be that she is acutely aware of the training issue because, judging by the legal documents we've now looked at, that will play an important role in the upcoming trial? And can it be that if inadequate and ineffective training by the SMPD is proven in Court, will it put this City in jeopardy of having to pay severe financial penalties?

Who knows, maybe that aspect of the defense has already begun.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As Goes Merced, So Goes the Nation?

Not many cities are like Sierra Madre. A few years back when banks were lending money at ruinously low rates, and the resulting garbage development was springing up everywhere like so many cow pasture toad stools, this town said no. And the reason we said no is because we didn't want our City to look like what was going down everywhere else. We live here for a reason. It's not just that this is the town we call home, it is also a refuge from so much that is wrong with life in Los Angeles County. And this sense of otherness, of living in a true community safely tucked away against the mountains, is what defines us. And that, along with an ingrained orneriness that is very much a time-honored tradition here, has somehow allowed things to remain as they have been. All while so much of the state has pretty much gone to hell in a handbasket.

But look at it this way as well. We might not have known it at the time, but when we passed Measure V we actually did a very patriotic thing. While we were busily slapping down the Downtown Specific Plan and the atrocious redevelopment designs large moneyed interests were attempting to force us to accept, most other cities were rushing to accommodate just that very thing. Mixed use condominiums with little boutique shops and other nonsense was the planning model du jour, and the very thing that we refused to accept here can now be found littering the state. And when financial writers talk about the next wave of foreclosures and bank failures, it is a result of this era of excess that they're talking about. Because that style of development, backed by banking and development concerns who'd obviously lost their minds, has been a stunning financial failure. And it is going to take a lot of taxpayer dollars to repair all the damage.

The point here being that if more cities had done like we did instead of caving in to the blandishments of the BIA and CAR, there might not be the high level of financial exposure that so much of that building boom has caused. And let's face it, if the get rich quick schemes of the DIC had been allowed to happen here, downtown Sierra Madre would now be a barren half rented wasteland, one that would have sent the banks holding the paper scurrying to Uncle Sam for relief by now.

So what is the epicenter of the next wave of the great American housing bust? According to an article printed in the New York Times recently, that city could very well be Merced, California.

Here are some telling vignettes from this article about Merced, the City that did everything they were told to do by the SCAG/COG-style regional planning organizations of this world, and ended up becoming a celebrated economic basket case because of it.

--> ... hardly anyone in Merced planned very far ahead. Not the city, which enthusiastically approved the creation of dozens of new neighborhoods without pausing to wonder if it could absorb the growth. Certainly not the developers. They built 4,397 new homes in those neighborhoods, some costing half a million dollars, without asking who in a city of only 80,000 could afford to buy them all.

--> ... obviously not the speculators turned landlords, who thought they could get San Francisco rents in a working-class agricultural city ranked by the American Lung Association as having some of the worst air in the nation. And, sadly, not the local folks who moved up and took on more debt than they could afford. They believed - because who was telling them differently? - that the good times would be endless.

--> In the three years since housing peaked (in Merced), the median sales price has fallen by 50 percent. There are thousands of foreclosures on the market. The asking prices on those properties are so low that competitive bidding, a hallmark of the boom, is back.

--> But almost no homeowner can afford to sell. If you cannot go as low as "the foreclosure price" - the cost of a comparable bank-owned house - real estate agents here say, are the elderly entering assisted-living facilities, who often have decades of appreciation built into their home's value.

--> As Merced goes, so might go much of the nation. With as many as 2.5 million homes in the United States entering foreclosure this year and, at best, sales of only five million existing homes, the foreclosure price is becoming the rule in many areas. In Los Angeles County, whose 10 million people make it the most populous county in the United States, a third of the sales are foreclosures.

--> Merced County had a record 523 foreclosures in July, quadruple the rate of a year earlier, according to DataQuick. The repossessions are accelerating as overleveraged owners see the value of their properties sink and can find no way out.

We knew the people that wanted to redevelop downtown Sierra Madre were wrong, but did we know that they were THIS wrong? The great tragedy of this country now is that these kinds of development advocates convinced so many cities that their plans were the right ones. And many were built. Hopefully it won't take too many more trillions of dollars to repair the terrible damage they have done to this country.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Our Local Papers Don't Cover The News Very Well

You really do have to feel a bit sorry for the innocent souls that pick up either the Sierra Madre Weekly or The Mountain Views News and assume the stuff they're reading is somehow connected to what most people accept as reality. Because more often than not what is being reported in either of these papers really doesn't have much to do with the factual.

Now here at The Tattler we offered up a lot of coverage on last week's City Council confab. There were some important issues dealt with at this meeting, including a regime change in regards to our representation at the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, aka SGVCOG. It was a good news story, and we had some real fun reporting it.

But apparently not everyone quite understood what was going on there. Here's how the Sierra Madre Weekly dealt with one of these key issues at last Tuesday's meeting. Their story was called Mosca Voted Out as Delegate to Council of Governments.

Councilmember Kurt Zimmerman proposed a compromise that would select Watts as a delegate due to his development experience and Mosca as the alternative ... "When you walk away from the regional voice, you're going to get state mandates, but (if replaced) I'm afraid we are taking Joe's three and a half years of work and throwing it away," Zimmerman said.

Now you'd think that the Sierra Madre Weekly, a paper that has shown occasional flashes of clarity in the past, would send somebody to this meeting who could tell the difference between Councilman Kurt Zimmerman and Councilman John Buchanan. Not just because there are some fundamental philosophical difference between these two gentleman, but also because they don't look alike, either. The quote above, as reported by SMW news hawk Sameea Kamal, was actually spoken by John Buchanan, who was desperately attempting the spare his fellow BIA water carrier the embarrassment of being fired from his SGVCOG slot. Something that could seriously damage Joe's reputation amongst people who could help further his overweening L.A. County bureaucratic career designs. Also, John Buchanan had proposed Don Watts as alternate, and not for the actual SGVCOG delegate slot for Sierra Madre.

Now Susan Henderson's Mountain Views News had a rather novel approach to reporting the biggest news story of last week. The paper said nothing. There apparently being an unspoken policy regarding the reporting of any news that might be construed as not being helpful to the political interests of Mr. Mosca. Which results in her publishing very little about Joe. There was something about the 2010 Rose Princesses, bear sightings, and possible mudslides. Oh, and yet another article where the MVN attempts to credit the Kiwanis Club for the Sierra Madre Fire Safe Council's hard work creating our new Emergency Alert AM radio station. Ms. Henderson being, of course, the president of the Kiwanis Club.

Another story that garnered considerable interest in Sierra Madre last week was the happenings regarding One Carter and whatever it is we're supposed to be calling Stonehouse these days. And while nothing was actually resolved, the three City Councilfolk who represent the interests of the people of Sierra Madre did take the opportunity to let the developer know just how adamant they are about protecting this city's rights. But obviously all of that was way beyond the understanding of the Sierra Madre Weekly's intrepid reporter, Sameea Kamal. Check this mess out:

The development group Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, LLP. stepped in to take over the litigation for prior developer, Dorn Platz, who city council members said left a big mess to be cleaned up ... Representatives from Manatt said they have scaled back on the amount of grading and build-able lots that their predecessor had originally planned, reducing the original amount of lots from 35 to the current 20 ... "It is not our intent to grade anything more than we have to," said Susan Hori, a partner in the firm.

The name of the development group is actually Capitol Source Finance, an investment corporation whose assets number in the billions of dollars. The reason that we now have to endure their presence in our little town is because someone in that corporation was stupid enough to lend Dorn Platz tens of millions of dollars to purchase and develop One Carter and Stonehouse. And now they're stuck with what is a very risky mess for them. Manatt, Phelps is actually the rather prestigious law firm Capitol Source Finance hired to help them deal with the likes of Sierra Madre. And Susan Hori is hardly a partner at Capitol Source Finance. She is the lawyer representing that company as her client.

And it looks like this is yet another very important issue the Mountain Views News took a pass on. My guess being the paper will not touch a story that might in any way put a developer's interests in an unfavorable light. Proving once again that the MVN is willing to take Sierra Madre's tax money, but not report its news.

What a mess.

Update - Neuroblast Films taking no prisoners.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Has SCAG Been Channeling Criswell All Along?

SCAG, as an organization that claims to be the planning herald of tomorrow, prides itself on being able to issue great prophecies about Southern California's future. And, once having proclaimed what that future will be, then proceeds with issuing demands to cities regarding what they need to do about it. This magic process is known as "growth visioning." And it seems that SCAG's requirements almost always involve cities having to rewrite their General Plans to allow for extremely large amounts of new housing. All to accommodate the millions of new residents that they've prophesied will somehow suddenly appear.

But, and as we saw at last week's City Council meeting with SCAG's widely ridiculed "2012 Regional Transportation Plan," a report that revealed predictions about growth in Sierra Madre based on some of the worst math this side of the 4th grade, this growth visioning thing can be dicey. And yesterday, in our post regarding Lynne Plambeck's observations about Santa Clarita, we saw how SCAG's strange assumptions were shown to be wildly inaccurate there as well.

And then there is this. In April of 2006 the Metro Investment Report, using SCAG's vaunted "Growth Visioning" methodology, made these prophetic observations about vast population growth and an accompanying job boom in Riverside County:

Southern California is growing very quickly. Sixteen million people now live in the six-county SCAG region. About six million more will join us in the next couple of decades, and that growth is dispersed all over the Southland. Riverside County will double in the next 20 years or so, and some forecast that by the year 2040 up to 4.5 million people may live there ... In just the last decade the SCAG region added about a half million jobs and almost 2 million people, and we've built about 400,000 homes to accommodate them. But we needed about 630,000 to accommodate that population to avoid severe overcrowding. If you think long-term, and long-term isn't that far away; it's just two decades - we need to add 2 million homes.

Ah yes. The mighty crystal ball of SCAG saw massive population growth that would require the building of vast quantities new homes in Riverside County and elsewhere. But as anyone who knows the fate of all those previous SCAG inspired and now derelict housing projects throughout the Inland Empire can tell you, this additional construction would have become part of the economic disaster as well, not only for those banks who would have irresponsibly invested in it, but also the taxpayers who'd be forced to bail them out. The population explosion didn't happen, the jobs boom turned out to be something quite the opposite, and a lot of the houses built in anticipation of these prophesied events now stand empty and unwanted. Monuments to SCAG's failed soothsaying abilities.

So I had been trying to recall the name of a famous seer who started out making bold predictions that at first seemed somewhat plausible, but as time went on turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Kind of like SCAG. But I couldn't think of any such prophet to save myself. But then fate intervened and, by chance, the great visionary was revealed to me.

I had stopped down at the Sierra Madre Public Library a couple of weeks back to see what they were pushing at their big book sale. There was some good stuff there, and I bought a few books. Something to add to the already immense pulp pile in my garage. But one book in particular caught my eye. "Criswell Predicts: Your future from now to the year 2000!" Published in 1968, it is filled with stunning predictions of fantastic future events, all of which would have taken place during a 31 year span ending in August 18, 1999. That being the day Criswell predicted would mark the end of the world.

So who exactly was Criswell? Apparently he was a famous 1960s futurist, one that appeared often on The Tonight Show and Jack Paar's numerous TV specials. Here is some of the information I found about him on Wikipedia:

Criswell's predictions were nationally syndicated. Additionally, the psychic appeared on the television show Criswell Predicts on then KLAC Channel 13 (now KCOP-13) in Los Angeles, as well as being recorded for syndication in other television markets ... Criswell authored several books of predictions, including 1968's "Criswell Predicts: From Now to the Year 2000." In this book, the author claimed that Denver would be struck by a ray from space that would cause all metal to adopt the qualities of rubber, leading to horrific accidents at amusement parks. He also predicted an putbreak of mass cannibalism and the end of Planet Earth.

Rubber rays from outer space, mass cannibalism, and the end of life as we've known it? All by 1999? Talk about your "growth visioning." Surely this is the man that inspired SCAG to make its decidedly similar bold predictions about the future!

In the interest of looking back across the span of years that Criswell leavened with his many notable predictions, we've decided to highlight a few. All to help further your edification and appreciation of this man's incredible visionary powers. And in many ways these predictions are as accurate and dependable as those the prophets at SCAG send our way. An organization whose methods have made them the Criswell of our time.

Here are a few tells from his 1968 opus, Criswell Predicts:

Birth Control (page 10): I predict that birth control will no longer be a major problem in the United States. Placed in the water system of the country, in every city, regardless of size, will be chemicals that will act as contraceptives for the entire populace. In addition to this, the electricity that comes into each home will have certain ionic particles that prevent conception.

Television Education (page 13): I predict education will be given children through the television screen, no personal teachers, but there will a warden on duty to see that one hundred percent interest is sustained. Later education-memory pills will help give you all the education you can possibly use.

California Earthquakes (page 16): I predict that the strongest earthquake in the history of the U.S. will virtually wipe out the city of San Francisco on April 7, 1975. A huge fault, familiar to all geologists, will give way, and the earth will split open from north of San Francisco to Los Angeles. Damage in Los Angeles will be less than in San Francisco.

Castro Assassination (page 20): I predict the assassination of Fidel Castro by a woman on August 9, 1970.

Ronald Reagan (page 35): I predict that Ronald Reagan will not seek re-election as Governor of California.

Interplanetary (page 37): Las Vegas, Nevada, March 10, 1990: The very first Interplanetary Convention will be held in the new Convention Center on the famed Strip with colony citizens of Mars, Venus, Neptune and the Moon in full representation.

Facelifting (page 42): I predict that by 1980 you will be able to lift your own face in your own home for only $5.00. A new chemical that will be developed in our Veterans Hospital for battle scar tissue will soon be available to the public. You will buy it by the jar, put it on your face, and in three days look half your age.

The End (page 95): The world as we know it will cease to exist, as I have stated previously, on August 18, 1999. A study of all the prophets - Nostradamus, St. Odile, Mother Shipton, the Bible - indicates that we will cease to exist before the year 2000! Not one of these prophets even took the trouble to predict beyond the year 2000! And if you and I meet each other on the street that fateful day, August 18, 1999, and we chat about what we will do on the morrow, we will open our mouths to speak, and no words will come out, for we have no future ... you and I will suddenly run out of time!

So there you are. A tradition of prophesy carried forth into the latter half of the 2oth century by Criswell, then brought into our time by SCAG. Now you might say that Criswell's predictions were even too nuts for the '60s, and nobody could possibly have given them much creedence. But you know what? Criswell Predicts sold over a million copies and was widely discussed in its time. And SCAG? Entire cities have been uprooted and rebuilt based on its equally suspect prophesies. Which just goes to show the need many have to believe in such things.

Criswell still has his believers, and they defend their hero by proclaiming that it isn't that he was wrong, it's just that the rest of us weren't right. Such apologia being similar to the strategies SCAG's defenders use, you know? Because the Southern California Association of Governments certainly could make their predictions of the future stick if only we the fallible would just do what they tell us to.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lynne Plambeck: One Valley, One Fantasy?

"Planners sometimes bend the truth to sustain work. They say things that sound like lies, but technically are not so because nobody could be expected to believe them." - N. O'Byrne

Some of the biggest laughs at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting were at the expense of SCAG and their ridiculous projections for Sierra Madre. The document our favorite regional planning authority prepared for us, known simply as the 2012 Regional Transportation Plan, was yet another of their patent attempts to tell us how to run our City. But with math as bad as theirs, who would be fool enough to take them seriously?

This line in particular raised a lot of eyebrows:

"According to the estimates provided by SCAG for baseline year 2020, the City's population is expected to increase by 32 residents for a total of 11,099, and the number of households is expected to increase by 140 for a total of 4,972 over the next 11 years."

As Kurt Zimmerman wryly pointed out, that would mean each one of those new residents would have to live in roughly 4 different households for SCAG's projections to be realized.

But concern over the accuracy of SCAG's projections is probably besides the point. SCAG doesn't exist to make sense, SCAG exists to help enable redevelopers to obtain land currently occupied by other people. To accomplish that they'll say or do anything. And since empty land is an almost nonexistent commodity in built-out areas such as ours, an entire industry had to be created to take it away. After all, how else will developers be able to make a living here? All the land is inconveniently in the possession of other people.

But as you can probably guess, SCAG's projections are a source of wonder wherever they are revealed. And in Santa Clarita environmental writer Lynne Plambeck had a field day with some of the numbers SCAG dropped on her town in its "One Valley One Vision" concoction. Originally appearing in The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, her article is a nifty piece of writing, and we're going to post it all here. Keep an eye out for the similarities between our plight and that of Santa Clarita.

Lynne Plambeck: One Valley, One Fantasy?

Many of the proposed General Plan updates for both the City of Santa Clarita and surrounding areas are based on a projected huge population increase - more than double our current population - in the next decade. Such a projection will require densification and subsequent zoning changes that will increase property values for developers, but could destroy the quality of life in many neighborhoods.

Such projections are nothing new. We thought it might be interesting to re-visit a portion of an editorial by Michael Kotch, a former SCOPE president, written in 1996.

"When the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the population planning section of the county's Regional Planning Department issue massive growth projections for our valley - and when county and city decision makers (or others such as school or water boards) accept these projections without scrutiny - the first question should be, 'What the heck are they smoking?'

"If SCAG or another agency or government states that there will be 500,000 people in this valley by 2010 (and not the previous 270,000 predicted in the last plan update), many land use decision makers and utility planners scurry to convert this tentative, speculative, unproven guesstimate into a goal. 'SCAG has spoken, we must follow blindly.'

"Suddenly we are considering increased urban land uses and increasing expensive infrastructure to support the goal. Even if the emperor is on parade without clothes.

"A rational and sober analysis on this new 'goal' for the Santa Clarita Valley follows:

* "We have today about 170,000 people living here in 56,700 dwellings.
* To have 270,000 of us in the next 15 years means we need to accept 100,000 more bodies, or 55,000 more dwellings. That's a little more than 2,200 new dwellings sold every year, or six new homes a day seven days a week.
* To achieve 500,000 people in this valley by 2010 requires that we, starting today, sell 20 new homes per day. A local real estate broker reported that 20 new units sold in a month is more typical. That's far short of the goal.
* Our growth rate in the booming '80s was 5 percent a year. To achieve 270,000 we have to grow about 4 percent per year. Growth in the Santa Clarita Valley was 2 percent per year over the past six years. Achieving 270,000 is plausible, but will not happen if our economy stays flat.
* Housing 500,000 requires a 13 percent growth rate - a rate nearly three times that experienced in the expansive '80s."

Now, almost 15 years after Kotch wrote that analysis, his words ring true. Even with the rapid growth that occurred before the housing downturn, we have not reached even the 270,000 predicted in the last general plan update of 1993, far less than the 500,000 SCAG began pushing in 1996.

Estimates for current population in the SCV are around 252,000. The city's web site states that the growth rate between 2000 and 2008 was just over 17 percent, or slightly over 2 percent per year. Again, not anywhere near the projected growth rate that would put us past the 500,000 people projected by our new "One Valley One Vision."

So whom does such a large projection benefit and who does it hurt?

It benefits developers, engineering firms, concrete contractors - anyone who would have to supply services to support such a large projection.

It hurts taxpayers who must pay for all that expansion even though the actual people most likely will not arrive. It will be reflected in tax increases, water and sewer charge increases and money spent to expand schools that may in fact be unnecessary.

It will hurt the environment by promoting and "visioning" expansion beyond our carrying capacity. Santa Clarita has some of the worst air pollution in the nation. More cars and more vehicle trips will add to that. Do we have enough water for all these people?

How will we manage the traffic when many roadways are already at level D and cannot be expanded?

So as we move forward in our discussion of One Valley One Vision with yet another huge population projection, the city and the county, out of common decency, must put those clothes back on the emperor and not parade such naked exaggerations. Don't make our plan "One Valley, One Fantasy."

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Great stuff. And it is nice to see that people in other places are also up on the bizarre farce that typifies so many of SCAG's efforts. As a matter of fact, I'd say there are probably quite a few cities out there that are fed up with SCAG and its nutty projections and assumptions. All we need to do now is get out there and find them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will California Become America's First Failed State?

The title of this post comes from an article that has had some real traction across the internet. Written by Paul Harris, I first noticed it on the site. But apparently it can be also be found on everything from the left-leaning Huffington Post to the strongly conservative Absurd Report. That does seem to indicate some post-ideological appeal, which means it'll fit in just fine on The Tattler. And since we find ourselves in the middle of this unfortunate and perhaps even historic mess, I thought we should check it into this blog as well.

The blog chatter about the article goes something like this. California is the state that sets nationwide trends, both cultural and political. And the United States is in the throes of a pretty severe economic crisis, one that is lasting longer than few dared to anticipate. So can it be that California is once again performing its signature role, but this time in a way that will not make very many people happy? That is, as the first American state to become economically and politically incapable of governing itself?

That plus all the usual California bashing that many who don't live here enjoy so much. So here's the best chunk of the article:

But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster - his approval ratings have sunk to levels that would make George W. Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kevin Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: "California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America."

Some pretty dire stuff. The economic and political struggles in places like Bolivia or Chile come to mind, third world locales that also seem to be in the throes of endless crises. Crises compounded by dysfunctional governments that never seem capable of rising above the narrow ideological defiles that guarantee the loyalty of their invested followers. Just like here. And our own state government reaching into our pockets to confiscate city property taxes in the name of staying solvent is a practice very familiar to your average citizen in, let's say, Santiago. It is the way things are done in troubled societies.

So how does this translate locally? The example I would use is this. The RHNA number demands that will come down in a couple of years because of SB 375 are going to make what we've struggled with so far look like child's play. Set aside the absurd propaganda put out by Sacramento regarding their paradoxical claim that forcing whole new layers of high-density development into built-out cities will somehow stop global warming and consider this. What we are looking at here is the biggest wholesale power confiscation in California history. Because what SB 375 really accomplishes for its patrons is to remove the control cities have traditionally held over development inside their borders, and then concentrates that power within the state legislature controlled central planning apparatus in Sacramento. Which then enables them to offer it up to the highest bidding corporate lobbies. In this case being those most interested in unfettered development control, the likes of the BIA and CAR.

And make no mistake about it, those who do the bidding of SCAG, COG, and the rest of these quasi-governmental regional organizations are entirely engaged in this effort to wrest development control away from California's cities. RHNA numbers are a part of it, but there are many other aspects to these efforts as well. As an example, many of those employed by cities to run their municipal governments work closely with regional planning authorities like SCAG. And because of their Sacramento empowerment, SCAG can influence the career paths many city employed planning professionals hope to take. Which means that when the time comes to decide which way to go on a development project, too often the voice heard is not that of the town's residents, but rather that of agendas serving Sacramento's needs. And in the end many city employees go with self-interest, which means heeding the high volume development demands of state and federally controlled regional planning agencies such as SCAG.

Those of us who maintain that planning control of the towns and cities we love should remain with those actually paying the taxes and casting the votes are facing challenges never really seen in this part of the world before. And while there have always been pressures to succumb to the demands of local developers and their political allies, what we're dealing with now is far beyond that. There are elected city officials who are doing whatever it takes to force the surrender of their own control to redevelopers and their allies in Sacramento. People who will then sit passively by as historic sites and wooded groves are destroyed and replaced with the kind of generic crap we see everywhere else. Because that is where the money and power is. And because we're talking about corporate interests aligned with state power, the political resources available to such people number in the millions of dollars.

I hope you enjoy fights, because what we're struggling with here could be the biggest political challenge of our lifetime. This isn't just about some local home improvement yahoos taking baseball bats to mailboxes and car windows like during the Measure V days. No, this time we're talking about the consequences of living in a state where the government is in the throes of a complete collapse. A place run by a deeply corrupt oligarchy that needs to devour and sell everything in sight just to stay afloat. Including us.