Friday, December 31, 2010

Is Sierra Madre "Crime City?"

Just back from vacation and I must say that this EVG Gas Station credit rip off situation is very interesting. What an audacious crime! Checked my credit cards with the companies that issued them and all seems OK here. But who knows?

As usual the coverage of this story is sadly lacking in my opinion. We all got the press release on this and I can't see much that hasn't been said in the press and on-line not toeing the official line. So since this is The Tattler, I thought I'd stick with our established standards and ask some of the inconvenient questions that need to be asked, yet never will unless we do it here. I hope nobody finds it to be too indecorous.

Here are my thoughts:

The gentleman who owned the station was selling gas far below what was being charged elsewhere. $3.08 cash price versus $3.27 cash price at the Valero station up the block. The claim being is that he wanted to make a nice impression with his new clientele. Even though he has owned the place since February. It was also impossible to pay cash for gas because the office was boarded up for "renovations." So you were forced to use a credit or debit card.

Oh, and no renovations were ever done.

The owner of the EVG station, a Mr. Yakimenko, must have filled out an application to do business in this town, and Lord knows he had to have paid the fees. Yet this guy hasn't even been brought in for questioning yet. They can't find him. Was the information given to the City real? Do they even know where he lives?

Why was no background check done? This guy was authorized by the City to take credit information from residents here, did anyone look to see who he really was? Can it be that with business fees all that can be expected is properly filled out paperwork?

Chief Diaz is her usual non-revealing self. Yet what City employee or elected official has said anything about this crime except her? Chief Diaz: "All I can say is that the investigation is ongoing and that no arrests have been made." 80 people have had their identity ripped off and you haven't hauled in the EVG station's owner? At least for questioning?

Two reasons why that hasn't happened. The SMPD has been out partying all week, or, most likely, this guy is long gone and they have no idea where he is.

The scenario as I see it: A person or persons of ill-repute and criminal intent took over a defunct gas station. This City, apparently a soft touch, authorized these person(s) to do business here. Yet nobody bothered to check and see who he (or they) are. Or where they lived, which is standard business application information. The home address supplied must have been false.

The question that nobody has asked: Was this EVG station ever a legitimate business? Or was it a set up designed to capture credit and personal information from those who did business there? Was the intent criminal from the beginning?

It looks like this credit card fraud has been going on for a while, and not just the couple days as originally reported. Did the owner(s) conduct their criminal enterprise right under the noses of City Hall and nobody even noticed?

And our friend Mr. Yakimenko. Was it his real name? Was the gas station always part of some identity theft scheme? Did he later fall in with people of bad intent? Chances are pretty good we might never know. Because I suspect he and his laptop filled with Sierra Madre resident credit information is long gone.

One more question: Where is Mayor Mosca? This could very well turn out to be one of the larger crimes in Sierra Madre's history. And if this was an organized crime effort, the damage has probably not played itself out by a long shot. There are many numbers that probably haven't even been touched yet. Which is where the real criminal value lies.

Yet we haven't heard a peep from His Honor. People here are upset and concerned. Can this really be that low of a priority?

(Tattler Best Of 2010 - #2) The Happy Hunting Ground

(Ed: Originally posted on October 22, this article detailed the robbery at my home last fall. In light of the incredibly audacious crime that has been committed at the EVG station it is very possible that criminals know this town truly is the "Happy Hunting Ground.")

So we have now joined many of our fellow Sierra Madreans in a very important statistic here in town. Yesterday at work, at around 3 o'clock, I received a call from my wife. When she called she seemed more incredulous than upset, which to me indicated the kids must have done something interesting. Like knocked over a can of paint or "lost" the guinea pig again. But nothing that fortunate had occurred. Rather we had been robbed. We lost a computer of the more traditional kind, two laptops including the one I usually type this blog on, a faux flat screen TV, a kid's cello (the maestro seemed strangely unmoved by its loss), the stereo including a turntable, some jewelry and, oddly enough, a stack of my shirts.

Now the shirt thing is kind of flattering. I enjoy the fine retro look of the Arrow Shirts collection, exclusive to Sears Roebuck. Which is, I am sure you are aware, where America shops. So if any of you happen to notice a van full of otherwise destitute young men wearing some very proper buttoned down and professionally pressed shirts, do stop by and say hello. They can keep the shirts, it's more the Mac Book Pro I'm concerned about.

The one thing they did not get, however, is my iPad. The reason being I had taken it to work with me for some reason. Tonight I am having the interesting experience of typing this article on it. Interesting in that it is married to AT&T through their legendary "3G" system. Something that gives me lots of time to rest while I'm waiting for those famously fickle bars to return. Bars in the AT&T world having the lifespan of gnats. At least here in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

So Dr. Maundry called the gendarmes, who appeared in fairly good time. Though they could have parked in our driveway, they instead chose to park their cruisers down the hill a bit. Perhaps to save us the embarrassment of unwanted attention from the casual and nosy. Or maybe they thought the culprits were still afoot and they didn't want them to know that the law was at hand.

My wife, who had been checking around place for a while, was asked to step out of the house because the criminals might still be in there. She was also told not to touch anything lest important evidence be disturbed, but it was a clearly too late for that. The officers, having seen to the safety of the victim, then charged in prepared to face down whatever dangers might come their way. But all was peaceful as the crime wave had crested hours earlier and returned to wherever it is such people go. Which could be anywhere.

Standard police work then ensued. Serial numbers were requested so that should the purloined items turn up in a commercial setting, they could be identified, the suspects apprehended, and those dishonestly acquired items returned to their rightful owners. A list of anything that might be noticed missing later was also requested, since that apparently is something that happens often. Only when the combined value of our lost items is tallied up can a dollar value be put to the crime. Which is an important ingredient in any police blotter report. It is also where this episode seems likely to end. There realistically being little more that can be done.

Tonight we've been taking a lot of calls from friends and neighbors, a surprising amount of them having been robbed themselves at one time or another. It seems that we are really in very good company, and it pretty much happens to almost everyone in town at one time or another. And that once you have your house broken into and your possessions taken, you become a member of a fraternity. One that has a lot more people in it than you might first suspect.

Which includes, one caller assured me, Sierra Madre's Chief of Police. Her house having been broken into the night she was at City Hall first being introduced to the City Council a number of years back. An auspicious start to a career in Sierra Madre law enforcement.

Like I said, we're in the best company.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

(Tattler Best Of 2010 - #3) Josh Moran and the Conspiracy of Grapes

"Please do not insult my intelligence." - an obviously insulted Josh Moran

City Council meeting agenda item #9 was moved up to #3 last night, which was also mixed in with public comments on both the water rate hike and whatever else came into peoples' minds. That an issue having the importance of water expense would have been casually tossed in with Tuesday Open Mic Night seemed odd. But then perhaps Mayor Mosca doesn't see much importance in public comment anyway, and just figured what the hell.

But that is neither here nor there. Because as far as this blog is concerned, it was Councilmember Josh Moran that saved the evening. Thank God he wasn't in his car, because that boy was driving angry.

The topic of contention was the possibility of bringing back the Prop 218 process. MaryAnn MacGillivray, in favor of a water rate increase herself despite the unruly crowd she hangs with, thought it would be inappropriate to ask people for more of their money without also allowing them the ability to review the financial sacrifices they would be required to make. And by denying the rate payers their Constitutionally guaranteed rights under Prop 218, they would be without a truly meaningful review. Something Americans are not supposed to be endure, even if they are uncivil. Or live in Sierra Madre.

This seemed to touch off something sore and festering within the obstreperous being of Mr. Moran, because he went off on a bit of a tirade. Apparently he was deeply displeased that people should have questioned the judgement of a City Council that he so kindly graces, or actually gone out into the streets and attempt to overrule one of its august pronouncements.

In the mind of Mr. Moran it seems that those who protested the original water rate hike last May (you know, back when it was all about fixing old water pipes and had nothing to do with servicing bond debt) were engaged in sour grapes, playing games, passing misinformation (but not by telling people it was about fixing pipes as Mr. Moran did), or bitterly practicing some sort of grudge politics.

Now being one of those grudgeful guys myself, I did get to speak with many of the people who gladly signed the water rate protest forms I had to offer. Business owners and landlords signed them because times aren't so good and they feared that such additional expense would put them into a financial bind. And some of these folks do use a lot of water in their businesses, own large pipes and meters, and felt that Bruce Inman's occult tier scheme was an unfair burden aimed squarely at their taxpaying selves.

Then there are the retired people on fixed incomes. People who, despite the scoffing of Mr. Moran about the supposedly small amounts of money involved, would find the additional demands to be onerous. Among our most vulnerable citizens in this gentrifying city, most gladly signed the protest forms I offered to them as well.

And then there is also the Sierra Madre that Mr. Moran apparently does not care to acknowledge. Families that are barely making ends meet and really can't afford any additional expenses. People who live in a world where the relentless nickel and diming of small additional costs and taxes has accumulated over the years to the point where life's basic necessities become a daily struggle to attain.

In the choleric mind of Mr. Moran it would appear that those described above are nothing more than malcontents and troublemakers, bitter because they do not share in the kinds of glories attained by himself. And rather than people duly exercising the Constitutional right to redress their grievances with an obviously out of touch government, they are instead individuals consumed by a sour grapes resentment of Mr. Moran. Who I assume must believe that he occupies a special place on an altar at the center of their lives.

Another highlight of the evening came about when MaryAnn MacGillivray questioned the City Council's preference for water rate increase Option 3, further leavened by Mr. Moran's 4 years of 7.5% additions. City Attorney Levin, while not troubled by the notion in itself, did caution that such increases would exceed what she referred to as a "cap." Something that, should the additional amount of water money collected go beyond that limit, would trigger an automatic return of the dreaded Prop 218. Which, after the vast outpouring of public protest last spring, quite obviously scares the crap out of the G4. Sandi advised "tweaking" the take in the latter two years to keep them all safe from so horrifying a prospect.

MaryAnn then asked if the tweaking of these third and fourth year increased rates was actually to be done with the express purpose of avoiding another run-in with Prop 218.

And when none of the G4 dared to gainsay the obvious truths in her question, another chapter in the water rate saga was written. We have now gone from pipe repair canards, to water bond servicing, to City of Sierra Madre bond rating maintenance, to a soon to be created ordinance where rates will be set in order to attempt to deny people the right of challenging a decision this City Council so badly wants to put into place.

Has there ever been a municipal rate increase created with suppressing the right to protest taxes as one of its fundamental rationales?

Additional stuff happened, but I'll leave it to others to write about. Though I do have to admit, that the Obama Administration is actually pushing the notion that a way to cure childhood obesity is to build mixed-use development had me laughing loud and long. And here I thought mixed-use development was supposed to save the world from global warming.

The magical powers of condominium construction seem to be endless. And the G4 eagerly embraced yet another example of the strange madness currently gripping this nation.

I got an email from a friend this evening ...

... and she had an interesting story to tell. It seems that the Sierra Madre Nursery School was holding its annual crafts fair in the park yesterday. They also were conducting a "Mrs. Nelson's Book Fair" as well. Both happening as a way to help raise funds for their renowned parent supported school. Stuff they have been doing for years.

Sadly for both the moms and their kids, someone from City Hall sent over Code Enforcement Officer Lisa Volpe to shut all this down. The parents apparently were operating without a business permit. Something they had never been required to get before.

Lisa was nice about it all agreed. I mean, who wouldn't be embarrassed by having to chase a bunch of nice families out of a park? Lisa was just doing what she was told to do. So the parents packed up their kids, books and crafts and went home.

Only in Sierra Madre.

(Ed: This post originally appeared on Nov 10, 2010.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

(Tattler Best Of 2010 - #4) We Answer the AOL/Sierra Madre Patch Questionnaire So YOU Won't Have To!

In order to better serve the consumers of Sierra Madre, AOL/Patch has come up with a reader survey for you to take. You can find it on the Sierra Madre Patch site, one of the hundreds of blogs - excuse me, websites - thus named and located all across America. All owned by AOL.

This survey attempts to get in touch with your many hopes and desires as you contemplate the activities you will engage in this weekend. All hopefully conducive to the fabulous foothill cities lifestyle to which we all aspire. Fashionable Sierra Madreanos please take note, the survey is long. And with your busy consumer schedules I doubt you will have the time to complete much of it today. So we here at The Tattler are going to take this survey for you. It is the least that we can do.

Oh, one other thing. We found many of the multiple choice answers available within this survey to be unsatisfactory. They just didn't reflect what it is that we, as actual residents of this town, truly feel about ourselves and our way of life. Probably because the people who wrote it are from somewhere in Virginia. So we have, in places, substituted what we feel are more appropriate replies.

Thank you for taking the time to help Patch! We are interested in your opinions, which will help us improve the site. This survey is for research purposes only and your answers will be strictly confidential. The questionnaire should take approximately 15 minutes to answer.

AOL/Patch Question # 1: How likely are you to use a local news and information website to obtain information about your community? Extremely likely. The remnant print venues here pretty much tailor their opinions to suit those businesses and entrenched economic interests that write them checks. Though I suspect that the editorial policies of Patch will not be all that much different as its AOL parent expects its properties to produce revenue for them. Which means it will have to closely serve the political requirements of those whose advertising it needs.

AOL/Patch Question #2: If were to offer the following, how would it affect your usage of the site?
a) A daily video recapping the day's news in the community? Honestly, I think this city has seen enough of Chiefs Diaz, Hamburger and Heydorff hamming it up in order to get a larger slice of our tax money. And videos of certain City Council members telling us that what they're doing isn't really what they're doing would be an absurd redundancy. Daily exposure to that sort of thing could be detrimental to one's health.
b) Articles written by local college students? Death would be preferable.
c) Ability to buy goods or services from local merchants directly on As opposed to driving 4 or 5 blocks downtown and picking it up myself? Of course I'd rather wait the 3 days delivery time for a bag of pistachio nuts from The Bottle Shop. Who wouldn't?
d) Rewards system giving on-site icons or badges to recognize users who contribute to this site? It depresses me to think that there might be people motivated to work for because they'd get a gold star or happy face next to their name.
e) Real Estate section with information about recent transactions? A couple of years ago this could have served as a kind of local stock market. But now? Weltschmerz.

AOL/Patch Question #3: How have you ever participated in a Patch conversation? Using the function that allows readers to anonymously inform the site's editor about local breaking news, I have tried to plant false stories in hopes that they will be taken seriously and posted on the site. I thought the one about live chickens running loose behind the now defunct KFC site might have done the trick. But it didn't.

AOL/Patch Question #4: How many children do you have under the age of 18? First you'll have to explain to me about the children over the age of 18 thing.

AOL/Patch Question #5: Where do your children attend school? I have discovered that among the key attributes for success in life are a ruthless drive to take whatever it is you want unencumbered by what most would regard as refinement or civilized sensibilities. Therefore my children do not attend school. Rather they roam the woods looking for small animals to eat. It is my belief that this kind of upbringing will prepare them for a highly successful career in California government.

AOL/Patch Question #6: What is your annual household income? How little income would I have to claim for you to lose all interest in me?

AOL/Patch Question #7: What best describes your employment status? I work on the top floor of an office building that used to accommodate around a 100 people. Through an attrition process that seems to have been going on for a lifetime, all but about 10 grizzled veterans have been laid off. The place might seem empty to those who visit, but since the few remaining have absorbed the work of the many who departed, our days are filled with many challenging activities. Mostly involving upper echelon phone calls from New York executives undergoing extreme panic attacks.

AOL/Patch Question #8: How important is it for you to be involved in the following community activities?
a) Local politics? Very important. Many people do not understand just how amusing local politics can be. Watching certain City Council members attempt to convince a room filled with highly skeptical people that they are not who they obviously are is comedy of the highest order. It's like pickpockets claiming to be philanthropists. Or jackasses saying they're racehorses..
b) Local school fundraisers? Despite what I said above, my children actually attend a private school. Which makes my entire life pretty much a school fundraiser.
c) Neighborhood Watch? Knowing that we have one of the highest resident to police officer ratios in the Western Hemisphere, I rest easy knowing that I don't have to worry about the safety of this community. I also believe in Santa Claus.
d) Community organizations (e.g. Rotary, Breakfast Club, etc.)? Though I do work for a living, I understand that there are those who need to join with other well-leisured individuals to celebrate their value to the community. As long as they mind their own business I'm fine with it.
e) Using local businesses (shops, restaurants, services)? I always try to support independent businesses. Which are what most here are. McBlogs, on the other hand, are not.

AOL/Patch Question #9: If you have never contributed content to the website, please indicate why you haven't commented on an article? In order to comment on your site a person has to register their name and e-mail address with an AOL controlled entity. One that does not own up to (at least on the site) the coercive nature of that proprietorship. And God only knows what they do with that information.

AOL/Patch Question #10: Are you single or married/partnered? Why? What do you have in mind?

AOL/Patch Question #11: Thinking about the site you visit most frequently, how familiar are you with the local editor? Quite familiar, actually. And considering that during his tenure at The Sierra Madre Weekly he published the most absurdly untrue fabrications about both this town and some of the people living here, I would think that working for a highly demanding east coast corporation for relatively little money is an apt karmic reward. Plus his having to wander nowhere but the streets of Sierra Madre in order to produce the 3 to 4 features required daily by his employers only adds to my sense of satisfaction. I suspect he'll be talking to the squirrels before long.

AOL/Patch Question #12: How did you learn about Like most people in town, I read about it on The Tattler.

Thank you for participating in our survey. We will use your input to help improve (your community name here) Patch. You may now close this page and resume your regularly scheduled activities. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
(Ed: This post originally appeared on 10/16/10.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Parading This Monday? Don't Forget To Sign Your Water Play Release Waiver!

(Ed: Originally appearing on July 2, 2010, this post has become the most viewed ever on The Tattler. In a City where "double dip fees" have become the norm, is it no wonder kids now have forms they need to fill out as well?)

We've all heard about how pesky kids squirting water pistols at the Sierra Madre Fire Department at our 4th (or is that our 5th) of July Parade is a tradition that has now been left behind. No longer will kids and firemen duke it out along the parade route. And the throwing of candy? Oh dear no, that simply will not do, either. It is a control freak world we're living in nowadays, and Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Nuisance need to have their way. They are important people, and know that you can only properly appreciate the magnitude of their influence here in town when they're killing your joy.

The parade water pistol ban seems to be particularly unpopular, especially among those having young kids. Allowances for proper behavior aside, you should always try to encourage a free and spontaneous spirit in the little guys. And the last thing any parent enjoys seeing is their kids subjected to the same tedious and politically correct over regulation of everything fun that we as adults face. Childhood, and certainly during as festive an occasion as a parade celebrating the birth of our American freedoms, should be a refuge from such petty tyranny. But alas, that no longer seems to be the case with our 4th (or 5th) of July Parade. It is quite an unfortunate lesson for children, if you think about it.

On the Sierra Madre website, where somber enthusiasm for Sierra Madre's new wave of behavior codes is sometimes elevated to near religious levels, the rules for "water play" are carefully spelled out. Here is how Rooster Coburn explains all the non-excitement:

New Water Rules For Fourth (sic) Of July ... Traditionally, water has been squirted back and forth amongst viewers and participants during the parade. However, this year the City has established a new set of Water Play Zone Guidelines. Sierra Vista Park is now the only designated water play zone (west side of the park on the grass lawn). The Sierra Madre Fire Department will be spraying water into Sierra Vista Park for children and families to play in. Only water/squirt guns will be permitted at the water play zone. Absolutely no water balloons or use of water hoses will be tolerated at the water play zone or anywhere along the parade route. Absolutely NO water will be allowed along the parade route. Parking signage will exhibit a "No Water Zone" notice along Sierra Madre Blvd.

Apparently there is even a Release Form that must be signed before you can participate in the carefully controlled joys of the Water Play Zone. Click on the inset above for instructions and a place to sign. I'm not sure whether you'll need to bring your lawyer or not.

Now all of this has not escaped the notice of some Sierra Madreans. Here is a note sent to this site recently by the parents of young kids. They have decided not to sign the release form.

I have long wondered how our super sensitive Chief of Police could have arrested that poor Sierra Madre dad for shooting her with a water gun during a parade where the highlight is shooting water at local officials (the Fire Department) and being shot with water by local officials (the Fire Department). I guess he should be thankful the Chief only arrested him. After all, SMPD could have 'tazed him, which might have resulted in electrocution. Alternatively, SMPD could have shot him like the poor slumbering guy in the back of the Murano.

In any event, it is now clear that he was arrested for violating the official parade waiver, which requires one to promise, on apparent penalty of arrest, not to "engage in water play with any individual who does not similarly indicate an intent, and willing participation in water play." How one determines a person's "intent and willing participation in water play" must be like pornography - you know it when you see it.

Thank God we live in a small town where 8 year olds have to sign a water play waiver to walk in the Fourth of July parade! And a small town where the local constabulary threaten you with arrest for participating in water play so prevalent that it is included in the parade waiver. And where they arrest you for washing poop off the sidewalk. And, of course, where they shoot you for sleeping off your Buc buzz in the back of a car.

It is nice to see that the spirit of freedom still lives on in Sierra Madre. Too bad it has now been restricted to the sidelines during a parade honoring the birth of American democracy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

(Tattler Best of 2010 - #6) The Unfortunate Case of H. Susan Henderson

"It was like the plot of a B rated movie." - H. Susan Henderson

This is the story of a rather unfortunate case. Someone who at one time occupied the 2nd highest ranking position in the California State Democratic Party, yet fell to an ignominy so final and devastating that she would never return to anything approaching her former glory. Hers was a position of trust that brought with it considerable prestige and influence. A job that involved helping to plan such heady things as the 1996 re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton, as well as those of Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.

She had the ear of the powerful and elite, yet when disgrace came her way, she found herself alone. Her sins were both damning and revealing, and when she was cast out none of her well-connected acquaintances even lifted a finger to help. This apparently was a woman who had made few real friends.

So what caused the demise of H. Susan Henderson's once meteoric political career? Here is how a May of 1995 San Francisco Examiner report (click here) described what happened:

Demo Leader Resigns Under Fire: H. Susan Henderson, onetime Republican turned executive director of the California Democratic Party, has resigned her $78,000-per-year post amid controversy over alleged resume-pumping and questionable expenditures on a party credit card. State party chair Bill Press announced Henderson's departure Wednesday, the same day The Examiner reported that she had registered to vote as a Republican barely two years before taking the $78,000-per-year Democratic Party post.

The article then described one of the more damning allegations that had been made against Ms. Henderson. The Examiner verified that she had indeed engaged in the rather ignominious practice of "resume pumping." Which basically means fibbing about your education and work credentials to get a job.

Henderson states that she holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio State University, but a spokesman said Ohio State had never granted a degree to Harriet Susan Henderson or Harriet Poole, Henderson's maiden name. Henderson's resume also says that she holds an "M.B.A/J.D." from the University of California, without specifying a campus.

Spokesmen at UC-Berkeley, UCLA and UC-Davis, the three campuses that have both law and business schools, said no such degrees had been issued to H. Susan Henderson or Harriet Poole.

Of course, it was the next juicy little item that attracted the greatest amount of attention.

Party credit-card records show that in a three-month period in 1995 she ran up $12,000 in charges, including $74 at a Victoria's Secret lingerie shop in Washington D.C., $220 at a golf course in Palm Springs, $137 at a Los Angeles beauty-supply outlet and $26 at a laundry.

Almost more than we need to know.

After having been unceremoniously thrown out of her high Democratic Party office for the offenses described above, H. Susan Henderson apparently wandered forgotten though the political wilderness of California. And while we have no records of her activities during the decade that followed, we are vividly aware of one very melancholy fact. She eventually ended up here in Sierra Madre.

At the very depths of the political barrel are those operatives who eke out a marginal living serving the needs of whatever interests are willing to pay their way. Persons with no real loyalties or ideals, these bottom feeders trick their services out to whoever it is that will punch their meal ticket that month. And today, as the publisher of a fiscally dubious weekly called the Mountain Views News, that kind of activity appears to be what occupies the time and energy of H. Susan Henderson.

Apparently engaged by local real estate hustlers intent on breaking down a long standing resistance to unwanted high-density development in Sierra Madre, California, Ms. Henderson serves up a nearly weekly diet of distortion and innuendo against those who would stand in the way of the interests she currently represents.

A case in point can be found in the August 7, 2010 edition of Henderson's paper. Sierra Madre City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger, a long time supporter of the preservationist cause so hated by Ms. Henderson and her interested enablers, was subjected to a front page excoriation over what was termed "excessive compensation." Here is a passage from her article that actually invokes the Bell Scandal to make its overheated and politically motivated point:

The Sierra Madre City Manager's salary was not the concern for those who had viewed the salaries on the Sierra Madre website. What seemed to concern some residents (Ed: none are named) was that all elected officials except one receive a stipend of $3,000 per year. The exception is Sierra Madre City Clerk, Nancy Shollenberger, who receives annual compensation of $10,800 ...

Now the ludicrousness of this comparison should be obvious to all. As we know, certain officials in the City of Bell were being paid ridiculously high salaries. As an example, the City Manager there received an annual salary of $800,000. To claim that Sierra Madre's City Clerk, by making under $11,000 dollars a year after 25 years of uninterrupted service to the community, is somehow connected to this scandal is just about as absurdly dishonest as it gets. You almost have to wonder if Ms. Henderson hadn't been hit on the head with a golf ball during one of her numerous visits to the links.

Another example of Ms. Henderson's manic devotion to the development cause is her attacks on the mostly retired and fixed income residents of Sierra Madre who recently organized opposition to a nearly 40% water rate hike. Sprung on the City's residents right after the April election (after it could have had any influence on the vote), this hike would have gone into effect almost immediately, irregardless of the fact that the country is currently in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Few doubted that the massive water infrastructure program ($18 million dollars!) mandating this large increase was - and remains - development driven.

Henderson's attack piece, which appears on the Op-Ed page of the same edition we discussed above, spares no effort in vilifying the hard working and caring volunteers who successfully backed down a City Council hellbent on unfairly taking their money. Bear witness here to some of Ms. Henderson's disturbing and harsh language:

"Using the tried and tested dirty tactics method of instilling fear by suggesting that people would be paying unconscionable water rates for water, signatures were collected very often, unscrupulously."

"We were suddenly covered by a dark cloud that we didn't see coming and by the time we recognized it, many were shocked and disappointed. It was like the plot of a B rated (sic) movie."

"However, if we aren't careful, at the very next opportunity, there will be another such disingenuous, dishonest and deceptive attempt to gain the public's support."

You'd think Henderson was describing nazi skinheads rather than retired fixed income Sierra Madreans engaging in the very American and Democratic process of redressing a grievance with their local government.

The sad irony here is that many of the residents who protested the water rate hike, some of whom have lived in town for over 60 years, are being subjected to these ugly and patently dishonest attacks in a paper that is essentially supported by their tax dollars.

Does H. Susan Henderson Speak for Mayor Joe Mosca and City Manager Elaine Aguilar?

Because Henderson's "Mountain Views News" is dependent for its survival on the tax money it receives for running Sierra Madre's legal advertising, the City should be able to exert some influence over its crude excesses. The kind of language that is used by this paper to vilify the residents these officials claim to be working for is unheard of in the United States. Look anywhere in this country and you will not see the kinds of nasty printed attacks on taxpayers we see in Henderson's paper. Yet City Hall has chosen to not only remain silent, but in many ways offer support for her efforts. Besides paying for her services, H. Susan Henderson apparently has unlimited access to City Hall, along with the City Manager and staff.

I believe we now must assume that when H. Susan Henderson publishes her attacks on the residents of Sierra Madre, she is doing so with the interests of Mayor Joe Mosca and City Manager Elaine Aguilar in mind. We apparently live in a City where government is at war with its own citizens. People who are being repeatedly terrorized by City Hall's chosen adjudicated newspaper, the one they give our money to.

And to me that looks very much like official sanction.

(Ed: This article was originally posted on 8/10/2010)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

(Tattler Best of 2010 - #7) Mosca: "Our Long Sierra Madre Nightmare of Balanced Budgets and Slow Growth Is Finally Over."

(Ed: Today begins our New Year's countdown of what we think were the Best 7 Tattler posts of 2010. You might disagree. Here is #7, which originally appeared on April 29. The original 58 comments are included.)

What if yesterday's post on Sierra Madre's City Council Reorganization had been written by The Onion instead of The Tattler? If you're not familiar with The Onion it is, in my humble opinion, just about the finest satirical publication in America right now. Click on the link above for an example of what I'm talking about.

So in the spirit of lofty goals, we are going to attempt just such an experiment. And trust me, no flying monkeys were harmed in the creation of this product.

SIERRA MADRE, CA - Mere moments from assuming the mayoralty and closing the door on the MacGillivray-Zimmerman-Watts era, mayor-elect Joe Mosca assured the city in a televised SMTV3 address Tuesday evening that "our long Sierra Madre nightmare of balanced budgets, completed audits, and controlled slow growth is finally over."

"My fellow Sierra Madreans," Mosca said, "at long last we have reached the end of the dark period that will become known as the MacGillivray/Zimmerman Regime, two long years characterized by unprecedented balanced budgets, on time audits, fiscal surpluses, and a respect for the wishes of the people of this town to keep it small and livable. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Mosca swore to do "everything in my power" to undo the damage wrought by "their" two years in office, including making available any remaining undeveloped hillsides, accepting new debt in order to further expensive and untenable development planning schemes, and passing multi-million dollar "infrastructure" bonds that will put the town deep into hock for decades to come.

During the 40 minute speech, Mosca also promised to bring an end to the city's reckless addiction to independent governance, assuring assembled residents that Sierra Madre will be folded into the closest Washington and Sacramento financed Metropolitan Planning Organization apparatus "in a heartbeat."

"You better believe we're going to jump into bed with SCAG, and pronto. No longer will we endlessly bicker over rightfully mandated RHNA numbers or compliance with planning edicts handed down by Sacramento. From now on when Sacramento says jump, the only question we'll be asking is: 'How high, sir?' Those folks who think living in a city that doesn't knuckle under to the big boys is really special are in for some disappointment. You can bet your granny flats on that one."

On the economic side, Mosca vowed to bring business to a grinding halt by pushing for the immediate removal of all those "pseudo-quaint downtown knick-knack shops and family-style eateries," instead advocating for the immediate construction of block after block of mixed use development and condos similar to those that remain unsold and unoccupied in so many of our sister cities. "The Downtown Specific Plan lives!" crowed the triumphant mayor-elect. "And if you don't think we'll be selling off that parking lot at Howie's, well, I have a nice new parcel up on One Carter you might want to buy."

Consultancies throughout the SCAG Region responded positively to Mosca's message, noting with satisfaction that all those "damn General Plan and Canyon Zone Committee volunteers" were finally going to get the bum's rush they so richly deserve. "That city is running at least a $1 million dollar surplus," confided one consultant who wished to remain anonymous. "There aren't many around with that kind of free money anymore. We're gonna swoop in on that sweet little nest egg in about 3 seconds flat."

Residents have been equally blunt. "After 2 years of the fiscal policies under Mayors MacGillivray and Zimmerman, we had finally reached a point where, just a few weeks ago, one of them actually said that our city's budgetary needs could be funded with a UUT tax less than what we voted for," said stay-at-home father of three Bud Frankel. "That's not the kind of Sierra Madre I want my children to grow up in!"

Another resident put it this way. "I am so tired of Don Watts and all his talk about falling water tables. All I know is that he didn't show up for a single gathering of the Ladies Wine Tasting and Floral Society during his entire 4 years in office. I mean, what exactly were his priorities? They certainly didn't have anything to do with decorum!"

Mosca concluded his speech on a comforting note of healing and unity.

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to divide this town into two," Mosca said. "Much work lies ahead of us: the gap between the Downtown Investors Club and the local slow growth crowd may be wide, but we've much more widening left to do. We must spend our city's hard won budget surplus on state mandates and consultants that will enable policies that favor over-development and the exploitation of our limited remaining natural resources. And if any of my critics ever have the nerve to stand up during public comments and talk about things like water supplies or Measure V, well, we have newspapers that are more than willing to fix their wagons."

"Those days are over," Mosca said. "After a long dark night of fiscal solvency and slow growth, the sun is finally rising once again over Sierra Madre. We look forward to a bright new dawn of debt and unfettered development not seen since the glory days of Mayor John Buchanan."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Time For A Few Days Off

12/25 update ---> The Tattler got a nice plug in the Pasadena Star News from Frank Girardot yesterday. You can link to the article by clicking here.

(Back to our regularly scheduled program ...)

So I'm going to take the rest of the year off. Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and the joys of friends and family are upon us here at the Maundry Compound. Many places to go, credit lines to extend, and the seasonal rhythm we love and await through all of the long months that lack for such occasions. This time of year is just a lot of fun. And the kids won't stay kids forever.

We've hit this blog stuff pretty hard since it was kicked it off in December of 2008. Hard to believe that the Sierra Madre Tattler is now going into its third full year. We've had many exciting adventures, posted 604 articles that have generated nearly 28,000 comments, and gotten more hits than I can accurately account for. I know it's been around 150,000 since June, but before that the numbers aren't quite as clear.

The good news is this blog has become one of the most widely viewed information sources in town. What is said here gets read, talked about and commented upon. No longer is Sierra Madre the captive of pulp pay-to-play prevaricators who only present the tired viewpoint of one certain segment of this community at the expense of everything else. There is now an outlet for the rest of us. We have successfully turned the tables, and what once was a cause for anxiety and concern is now the stuff of comedy. We sing, they dance. And not half as well as they think.

Starting this Sunday we'll be reposting what I believe are the Top 7 Tattler articles of 2010. Comments and all. Our run up to New Year's Day. A look back at where we've been, and a step forward into 2011. A year that I think will be a very important one for this City. What we have been forced to endure since last April cannot last much longer. Nothing that ineffectual and intellectually dishonest can. There is a reckoning coming. Get ready to win.

One more thing. Since I started this blog I have made some of the best friendships I have ever known. I've gotten to know many wise and strong people who have enriched my life in ways I didn't know existed.

Not sure any of us have the right to ask for more than that. It is quite a Christmas present. Thank you.

Back live on January 3, 2011.

All My Best! John Crawford

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Do Bell And Pasadena Have In Common?

Would you believe that they share the same outside auditor?

First this from yesterday's Los Angeles Times:

Bell's auditors should have spotted most of the alleged corruption, state controller finds - The state controller's office Tuesday issued a scathing review of the work performed by Bell's outside auditor, saying that most of the alleged corruption in the Los Angeles County city would have been identifies earlier had the firm done its job ... The long-awaited audit said Mayer Hoffman McCann repeatedly failed to follow basic fieldwork practices when it audited the city's books.

Mayer Hoffman McCann "appears to have been a rubber stamp rather than a responsible auditor committed to providing the public with transparency and accountability that could have prevented the mismanagement of the city's finances by Bell officials," State Controller John Chiang said in a news release.

Now if you were some bigshot Los Angeles accounting firm hired to travel on over to Bell and audit the books, and you couldn't find any improprieties in the way they were doing business, well, I suspect in light of all that came after you should probably be looking ashamed right now.

After all, haven't we heard in our particular precincts that once everything has been audited there can be no doubts about the veracity of a City's financial numbers? We were certainly informed of that in Sierra Madre when the water rate hike "process" was underway.

And apparently Mayer Hoffman McCann isn't the only group of folks that need to look ashamed right now. This from a letter that the Office of Pasadena City Manager sent to the Mayor and City Councilmembers there when this news first began leaking out a month or so ago:

A recent article dated November12, 2010 in the LA Times mentioned that the auditing firm for the City of Bell was Mayer, Hoffman McCann (MHM). This firm also audits the City of Pasadena. Andy Green, Director of Finance discussed this fact with the firm a number of weeks ago to complete necessary due diligence. MHM informed staff that they were working with the State Controller's office and had provided responses to the various inquiries made. MHM was informed by the State Controller's Office that a final report would include the responses received from MHM and would be available in the coming months. The finance department will review the State Controller's report when it is released and provide recommendations to Council as to any action(s) that may be required.

Well, the State Controller's report came out yesterday, and it certainly cannot be described as being in any way circumspect or unclear. John Chiang just basically lowered the barrel and let Mayer et cetera have it. Something that can have only embarrassed some folks over there in the Rose City.

While auditing has been a hit or miss thing over the last decade here in Sierra Madre, there is currently no indication that our City Hall employed Mayer Hoffman McCann in any capacity.

Though I suspect that there are plenty of other auditing firms out there who would be just as eager to not find things as well. I mean, who would want to hire one that wouldn't be?

Bonus Coverage - Mother Nature Cancels Green Advisory Committee Meeting!

Apparently a fickle Mother Nature put on her yellow tutu and forced the cancellation of last night's Green Advisory Committee meeting here in soggy Sierra Madre.

But we implore that you do not despair because we have the actual list of topics that were to be discussed. And in lieu of a more official meeting setting we will be holding forth on these issues (or a few of them, anyway) here on The Tattler. It is what we do. Or at least it is when we feel like it.

Energy: Adopt a citywide greenhouse gas reduction plan that reduces the jurisdiction's emissions by 25% by 2030, and which includes a system for accounting and auditing greenhouse gas emissions.

That 25% figure seems to be a closely defined amount. Nothing at all arbitrary about it. The only problem here is that this would be a 25% reduction from ... what? Apparently nobody quite knows the answer to that one. This observation from the GAC agenda paperwork:

GHG baselines are currently being researched. AB32 uses 1996 for its requirements, however there are many jurisdictions that are finding data unavailable or unreliable to attempt the 1996 year. Cities in SGV are contemplating a 2004 year.

So let me get this straight. AB32 is going into effect in 2012, yet nobody has scientifically verifiable numbers to set the greenhouse gas reduction baseline on? How very Sacramento!

Waste Diversion: Adopt a Municipal Code Ordinance that reduces the use of a disposable, toxic, or non-renewable product category by at least 50% by 2015 (or seven years).

I might be confused once in a while, but wouldn't 2015 be 4 years and a week or so away? When did that increase to 7 years? Is this change something Joe Mosca agendized?

The obvious target of this MCO (acronym alert) is plastic shopping bags. That would be the easiest non-renewable product category to get rid of since only a few businesses in town use them. None of which can afford a lawyer. But since every other city in California is doing this now, can't we be just a little more creative? I'd say get rid of glass beer bottles and have people return to the century old tradition of bringing tin buckets to the Buc or Lucky Baldwin's and filling them with their favorite brews. The Sierra Madre Sustainable Suds Scupper could be a tipping point in the fight for a better world.

Urban Design: Adopt a policy that mandates a green building rating system standard that applies to all new developments ... The newly adopted GBO (Gabbo) includes provisions for 2 optional tiers. The Committee could select among there tiers to create a rating system or possibly incorporate aspects of LEED or other programs for this.

Hmm. Since the whole LEED thing has been discredited pretty much anywhere people walk up on two legs, Sierra Madre would, as stated above, have to "create a rating system." But what would this rating system be called? Since this would be applied to new developments only, at least at the outset, we would need a name with some curb appeal.

My idea is that we hold a kind of Keno game. The person whose name is selected from all those paying cash money to enter gets the Sierra Madre green residential rating system named after him. Or her. Let's say your last name is Wackerdackle. If you're the winner in this lottery we're running, your name would be used by every real estate agent in the city when they sell a newly built home. Example:

"This home is has a Top Tier Wackerdackle Rating, assuring you and your guests it is a home that leaves behind the most minimal carbon footprint possible." Or if a home is built using especially stringent green practices, it could be described as being "Wackerdackalian."

Which means the house will cost an additional $100K. Of course. But who would actually enforce the standards necessary to guarantee that a home's Wackerdackle is sustainable? What if the owner has taken up smoking cigars or parking an 8 cylinder Dodge Ram pickup truck in the driveway?

Tough issues, my friends, will take a tough Committee.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sorry Mayor Pro Tem Buchanan, Development Is Not Green

There seem to be two distinct opinions on the question of what it means to be "green" in Sierra Madre. There is the example of those several hundred folks who gathered in Arcadia last week, people wishing to preserve a priceless natural wooded resource from being turned into a mud pit for excavated silt.

You might consider these people to be the kinds of environmentalists responsible for creating the original concept of what it means to be green. That being preserving nature by inhibiting the relentless encroachments of civilization and taking into account the need to save such things as the Arcadia Woodlands for future generations to appreciate and love.

And then there are those who have adopted the Sacramento viewpoint of what it means to be green. The notion being that we can somehow build our way out of Global Warming, and that by taking towns like Sierra Madre and filling them with high density condominium and mixed use development, along with the adoption of social engineering edicts that enforce the use of public transportation over cars, we will somehow save the world. Laws such as SB 375 now have the full power of the state government behind them in order to make just these kinds of things happen. And there are so many eager to help.

You can sense this struggle to define what it means to be "green" in the differences between the two camps involved in the fate of the Arcadia Woodlands. Which side do you think the County of Los Angeles officials present at last week's meeting would side with? The viewpoints being expressed by the nature preservationists who attended that meeting, or the Sacramento version of what it means to be "green?" After all, it will take a whole lot more water to supply all that new development under consideration. Will the County let a few trees stand in the way?

Trying to build your way out of global warming is like trying to eat your way out of obesity. The cause of the problem can never be its solution.

This evening Sierra Madre's Green Advisory Committee meets for its second time. And while they are still attempting to define which way they are going to go with all this, the early indications are that they are far more on the Sacramento side of things than something like the Arcadia Woodlands.

As an example we should take a look at Agenda Item # 2 for tonight's meeting, which is called "Legislative Updates." This is how the item reads:

The Committee will review and discuss updates on recent or anticipated legislation that may affect sustainability or green programs and policies.

This raises a question. Should Sierra Madre being taking its green direction from Sacramento? Our legislature has helped to create record deficits, debt, schools that are broke and losing a generation of kids, and an economy that is hemorrhaging jobs and industries to other states at rates never seen here before. Are these the kinds of people anyone should be looking to for guidance?

And apparently our State Legislature is no longer the voice of the people, but rather where well paid lobbyists go to get their business done. And would you believe that a majority of the bills signed into law during the 2009-10 session were not only those of Sacramento favored interests, but were actually written by the lobbyists themselves? This lamentable happenstance is termed "Sponsored Bills," and what it basically means is Sacramento has turned its legislative responsibilities over to private interests in exchange for good old fashioned bribes.

An article in last Sunday's San Jose Mercury News entitled "Sponsored Bills Update: Outside Interests Reign During Dismal Session" further exposed these corrupt practices. Here is part of what this article has to say:

By most measures, California's Legislature performed dismally this past session. It passed a budget a record 100 days late, and grossly underestimated the fiscal crisis - a situation so severe that lawmakers returned to the Capitol earlier this month for a special session to grapple with a $6.1 billion deficit.

But the dire situation did not inhibit legislators from carrying bills crafted by outside interests who showered them with campaign contributions, a continuing Mercury News investigation of the California legislative process shows. While larger problems festered, lawmakers in the two-year session just ended pushed lobbyist-driven "sponsored bills" -- bills that are not simply backed by interest groups but often actually written by them -- at the same furious pace of the previous session.

Sponsored bills accounted for almost 40 percent of all legislation introduced and 50 percent of bills that became law ... Members of the Assembly and Senate introduced 1,596 bills - 37 percent of the total for the 2009-10 session - on behalf of outside interests including employee groups, government agencies and nonprofits; of those, 455 bills were sponsored by private industry and corporations. The percentage was down only slightly from the number of sponsored bills introduced in the previous session, when California's crisis was far less severe.

So when the Green Advisory Committee reviews the vast amounts of state legislation on "green" issues, will they be taking into account who or what created these bills? Were they crafted with our concerns first, or will they turn out to have been something cooked up by involved industries and lobbyists who only have their own interests in mind? And should the Green Advisory Committee begin to advocate for these (very) possibly lobbyist authored bills, will their efforts really be in the interest of the people of Sierra Madre? Or with the outside interests that actually authored this legislation.

Certainly Sacramento legislation such as SB 375 (aka the "Anti-Sprawl Bill" - something that heavily favors the development and realty interests in California over anything even remotely environmental) has a lot more in common with the concerns of the Builders Industry Association and California Association of Realtors than it does, as an example, the people trying to rescue the Arcadia Woodlands.

The notion that high density development is green has got to be one of the larger frauds of our times. This is at best a marketing ploy designed to make people believe that the for-profit driven needs of the corporate development and realty industries are actually based on concerns for the environment. And that by gutting and redeveloping low density communities such as ours and turning them into densely packed urban style cities we will somehow slow down global warming. Something that would be laughable if so many credulous people hadn't bought into it.

We will be following the Green Advisory Committee's actions quite closely on The Tattler in 2011. Let's hope they realize that the real interests of Sierra Madre are not with John Buchanan's big development agendas, but rather in sticking with something we always have been, which is green.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Are Edison "Smart Meters" Smart?

There was a pretty extensive and rather thoughtful article about Southern California Edison "Smart Meters" on the site yesterday morning. And since chances are pretty good that you are going to get one whether you like it or not (and pay for it as well), I thought it might be worth a little bit of discussion here on this rainy Sunday morning.

The way language is being used these days does deserve a bit of comment first. "Green" has now become synonymous with boutique development, "sprawl" is how nice little communities such as ours are being described, and "smart" has come to be the description du jour for anything involving large corporate or governmental solutions to the inconveniences caused by those vast lumbering herds of beings known as consumers.

In other words, people like us. We're sloppy, in this instance we need lots of energy to run all of those convenience items we've been sold, and apparently those who supply it would prefer that we do it their way, and on their schedule.

The notions behind "smart meters" are fairly cut and dried. Energy corporations need to get past their manually run power grids and get fully computerized. This would be far more efficient for them, enable cost savings (they could lay off all those meter readers), and allow them the flexibility to make nimble decisions during times of peak electricity usage.

It is supposed to work for the end consumers of their products as well. Apparently "smart meters" will enable folks such as us to carefully monitor our electricity use, and understand that if we run our household machinery during "off peak" hours we would be able to save a few bucks. I certainly know I will be glued to my computer screen ready to shut off the dryer the second I see my rates fluctuate upwards as the Maundry Compound approaches a more expensive peak power usage event. Something that'll make me a veritable Power King in my little realm.

The key to this for the big power boys is to smooth out and control demand. During times of peak electricity usage, particularly during summer heat waves, companies like Edison are forced to make purchases on the open or "spot" market. And since they have to make these buys from other companies (mostly - for some reason - from Texas) eager to make a profit off of Edison's woes they have to pay premium prices, which cuts deeply into their bottom line. Something that makes Edison stockholders and the Board of Directors very grumpy.

The way this is being marketed to us is that it will enable us to save money on electricity costs. Because that is all we really need to know about here. Lord knows Edison has enough people griping about stuff already. But is this really the case? Will we be saving money because of "smart meters?" The article raises some questions.

Robert Strong, 37, of Rialto said his monthly electric bill rose sharply after a smart meter was installed at his home about two months ago. "Our summer bills were $200 to $300 and we thought, 'OK, that's pretty high but reasonable,'" he said. "But after the smart meter was installed it went up to $400." Strong said his bill rose despite that (sic) fact he installed an energy-efficient pump for his swimming pool. He also noted that his family was home much less over the past couple months because of his son's football practice and his daughter's softball activities. "They also overcharged my mother-in-law, but they paid her back," he said.

And then there is this complaint:

Mark Rzonca, 53, of Walnut said his electric bill has likewise risen 5 to 8 percent since his smart meter was installed. "It's just average usage," he said. "I don't have an air conditioner ... and it's a smaller 1,800-square-foot home.

Up north where Pacific Gas & Electric rules their realm with an iron hand "smart meters" have been the source of much discontent. And the discrepancy between the "lower costs" claim for "smart meters" and what people have been seeing on their PG&E bills has been so great a class action lawsuit has been initiated and is gaining some real traction in the courts.

The action, handled by attorney Michael Luis Kelly of Kirtland & Packard LLP in San Francisco doesn't allege the meters are faulty. But it does say residents have complained of being overbilled. "Shortly after PG&E began to install SmartMeters, many of its customers began to complain that the bills they were receiving for their electricity had risen dramatically immediately after a SmartMeter was installed at their premises, with no change in usage to explain the dramatic increase," the lawsuit said. "There are people who have documented what they paid in the past and in the present," Kelly said. "And they have demonstrated to our satisfaction that there were billing errors."

Certainly not what your average consumer is looking for in these parlous economic times.

One other thing. Apparently if you are an Edison customer (and do you really have a choice?) you are already paying the costs for your "smart meter." Even though you don't actually have one yet.

Edison is fronting the money for its $1.6 billion smart meter program. The cost will be paid back through a 1.6 percent customer rate increase, which began last year and runs through 2012.

Correct me if I am wrong here, but I do not recall being asked if I wished to purchase one of these items. That is, if I am actually purchasing it and not just defraying the costs of Edison's investment. Were you asked?

Stay dry, guy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Case of Joseph Diliberti

It looks like we're now getting into that very exciting time of the year where our friends upside the mountain are forced into evacuating from their homes due to "isolated debris and mudflows." And in order to encourage their cooperation the powers that be will - if they feel they need to do so - turn off the electricity of those not leaving quickly enough.

Now I have friends on both sides of this equation, and I'm not going to take any sides here. Though I do believe in the popular wisdom that those homes that are most likely to be saved are the ones with people in them. Of course, that has more to do with fires than mudslides. And compared to some of those in the harrowing tale I'm telling today, our local sometimes overly zealous protectors seem rather quaint and cuddly.

Joseph Diliberti is a former United States Marine Corps member who served in some of the toughest theaters of action during the Vietnam War. Upon his return home from the war he began a career in his first love, which is art. He developed an independent and simple style of expression that has led to his creations being celebrated throughout the world.

There are a couple of video features that have been put together about Joseph Diliberti, and the best way to understand his perspective on life is to view them here before going on to the rest of this post. It will make what comes after all the more heartbreaking and infuriating for you. If that is what you like.

The first item comes from The Los Angeles Times. It is what they call an "audio slide show," which is a series of photographs of Joseph and his art as explained in the artist's own voice. The piece is entitled "A Former Marine Does It His Way," and you can access it here. The acclaimed documentary film maker Gustavo Vasquez made a film about Joseph called "Free From Babylon." You can access that one here. The organization that has taken up Joseph's cause is the California Chaparral Institute. They have posted a video on their site called "A Conversation with Joseph Diliberti." You can access this video by clicking here.

And if you want to see what it is that Diliberti creates, click here for an amazing magazine article on his handmade ceramic homes. Works that would be destroyed by the County of San Diego should they make good on their threat to seize and sell off his property.

So what happened to Joseph? Government agencies in San Diego County took it upon themselves to contract with a company to clear cut vegetation from the 3.7 acres he lives on in the name of fire safety. They did it without either his permission or knowledge as he was away from his property on an extended vacation when it occurred. No legally binding notice was given to him that this action would take place. And despite all of what is listed above San Diego County is now claiming Diliberti owes over $65,000 in "weed abatement" costs. And the County government is threatening to seize his land, homes and works and sell them at auction in order to get it.

The California Chaparral Institute has taken up Joseph's cause and has engaged the ACLU and others in the effort to stop the government from destroying Diliberti's life. Here is an account of just how badly this guy's rights have been abused.

County to seize property of US Marine over improper chaparral clearing - excessive weed abatement policy threatens fire safety, nature, civil liberties, and private property rights:

Joseph Diliberti, a Vietnam veteran (US Marine Corps) and an iconic artist admired around the world, will be losing his home because a local fire district abused its power under a questionable "weed abatement" ordinance.

According to the San Diego Tax Collector, sometime in March, 2011 the county will force Joseph out of his home of nearly 30 years by selling his property during a public auction in order to obtain payment on a $27,552 weed abatement charge (plus $30,000 in penalties and interest) for vegetation "clearance" work conducted in 2004. The area cleared was less than a half acre.

State law (PRC 4291) allows for such liens to compel property owners to pay for reasonable vegetation clearance work performed under an "abatement" order. However, the law is supposed to be applied in a fair and just manner. In Joseph's case, it wasn't. He neither knew about the ordered abatement (issued 2/19/04) nor was he present when the work occurred (3/4/04). He was away for several weeks visiting a friend when the contractor, Fire Prevention Services (FPS), entered his property without permission or adequate notice and unnecessarily hacked down the natural landscape around his home. His was one of the few in the area that survived the 2003 Cedar Fire ...

Nearly everyone we have dealt with, from the San Diego Rural Fire District fire chief, to the tax collector, to the public, have all labeled what has happened to Joseph as outrageous. However, because of the way the bureaucracy rolls along, just because an injustice is recognized doesn't mean it will be corrected. To date, no one in a position of authority has come forward and recognized the need to solve the problem despite the fact that Joseph, and dozens of private citizens, have had their lives turned upside down by the abuse of power through the unfair enforcement of "weed abatement" regulations.

The complete article from the California Chaparral Institute can be read here.

The American Civil Liberties Union has become involved in the Diliberti case. Here is what they had to say about this situation in a letter to the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District:

I am writing on behalf of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties to express our strong concerns about the impending auction of Joseph Diliberti's home to satisfy the $63,000 lien on his property. The ACLU believes the lien and auction would unfairly deprive Mr. Diliberti of his home. We urge you to seek an alternative solution that does not leave Mr. Diliberti homeless.

The ACLU goes on to list the many reasons why this action against Joseph Diliberti may be both unjust and illegal.

Government involvement in seeing to the safety of citizens is one thing. But when those actions go on to destroy peoples' lives you have to wonder what exactly the real purpose can be. And apparently the contractor the county used in the Diliberti case, Fire Prevention Services, has been involved in other highly contentious - and suspect - cases as well. This from the CCI website:

Joseph's situation is not an isolated case. Dozens of similar abuses have been brought to our attention since we started looking into what happened to Joseph. For example, a couple in El Cajon were charged $5,340 by FPS to remove vegetation they had done in previous years for $300. They received the abatement notice just before going on vacation and didn't have time to take care of the problem. They left on their trip, figuring they would just pay for the abatement when they returned. The couple nearly lost their home before they decided they could no longer afford to fight the matter in court and ended up paying $41,000 because of fines and penalties to resolve the matter.

When nanny government seeks to exercise its will upon people in the name of safety without taking into regard due process or the rights of those they claim to be helping, then we have a system that has obviously gone off the tracks.

And yes, it can happen here.