Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sacramento Joe Takes Credit for Most City Government Accomplishments Over the Last 4 Years

Perhaps you've met this kind of fellow in your work life. The guy who is very ambitious and wants to get ahead quickly, but just doesn't quite have the intellectual wattage to do so under his own power. But rather than allow those blessed with greater talents than he to get all the glory, this individual scoops up what he feels are the best aspects of the work of others, incorporates them into his own efforts, and then claims credit for it with the boss.

Joe Mosca has just mailed a postcard that pretty much puts him into that category. Passed over twice for Mayor, and with probably the most meagre record of achivement for any City Councilmember lately, Joe has now begun to employ a very risky tactic in his desperate bid for reelection. That being he is he's taking credit for the work of others.

In this postcard Joe claims that almost everything of consequence accomplished by the Sierra Madre City Council, volunteer committees, and City Staff over the last few years are his personal "achievements." Ironically, a lot of the things he claims for his own on the card came about within the last 2 years, a time when he was in the minority faction on the Council and had little ability to get much of anything done. And a lot of those whose work he takes credit for are starting to complain. Most people do not have an appetite for self-aggrandizement as great as the one Joe seems to have, but on the other hand nobody enjoys having somebody else take credit for their hard work.

Oddly enough, the last sitting City Councilmember who attempted this "it's all about me" strategy here in Sierra Madre was Tonja Torres. She went on to lose her bid for reelection by a greater than two to one margin.

Many here are taking this as a sign of desperation by the candidate. Dogged by accusations that he betrayed his supporters when he broke his promise on the centerpiece of his campaign in the 2006 election - a citywide vote on the huge downtown redevelopment project then in its final planning stages - Joe has now begun to portray himself as a kind of uber councilman, one who has single handedly done more than anyone ever has ever done before. The contrast with his actual record couldn't be more stark.

Here are a few of the things described on this card as "Councilmember Mosca's Achievements," and why he shouldn't be doing that.

Implemented Essential Paramedic Services and Adopted Firefighter Auxiliary Program: Joe's claim to have been responsible for creating Sierra Madre's Paramedic Service is a stretch. While it was voted into existence by the City Council in the early days of his first term in office, it took an Ad Hoc Finance Committee to assure its survival in what was at the time a cash strapped city. This Committee consisted of a group of residents, and also included then Mayor John Buchanan and City Councilmember Kurt Zimmerman. But nobody named Mosca. So while technically Joe can claim to have cast his vote as a member of the City Councilin in favor of our having paramedics, but to say that he "Implemented Paramedic Services" is a rather large embellishment. At best he was a bit player, with the heavy lifting having been done by others.

Completed the Mire Monte (sic) Reservoir Project: The fact that Joe can't seem to spell Mira Monte correctly aside (he is still new here after all), I'm not sure how one completes a nearly $6 million dollar project all by himself. The reality is this project's funding was arranged for by Congressman David Dreier, which is why he was there at the ribbon cutting. And unless Joe was doing some spade work there at the project's end, he completed nothing.

Adopted Hillside Management Zone: Joe displays a little ignorance about the nuances of the Hillside Management Ordinance here. The Hillside Management Zone is simply a definition of a boundary area within the Hillside Management Ordinance, something designed by a Committee made up of citizens from Sierra Madre. The Council didn't have anything to do with this outside of passing it once the job was completed. Here Joe is taking credit for the work of volunteers, which is kind of low if you think about it.

Balanced City Budget Without Program Cuts; $3 Million Set Aside In Budget Reserves: If Joe had balanced the budget, I guess I'd be a bit of an ingrate to knock him for it. But I am just not sure his job pays him quite that much. Much of this work was accomplished by City Manager Elaine Aguilar, and Director of Administrative Services Karen Schnieder, and City Staff. Despite Joe's assurances, things were cut. And as I think even the most casually informed resident will be able to tell you, what balanced Sierra Madre's budget are the people who pay taxes here. Folks who felt that they had to vote themselves a robust 100% Utility User Tax (UUT) hike to do it. This is something every single taxpayer in Sierra Madre did, and it was not just Joe.

Lobbied Federal Government for Funds for the City: The City of Sierra Madre employs a lobbyist firm called the Ferguson Group, whose services cost us around $65,000 a year. Something that is well worth it because they get us about $2.5 million a year in benefits from Uncle Sam. They are situated in Washington DC and work for us on a continuing basis. And unless Joe has an office on Capitol Hill, he just didn't do what he is claiming here.

Created Goldberg Park Recreation Area, Newest City Park in 30 Years: Whether Goldberg Park qualifies as being much of a park or not is debatable. It doesn't have any swings, or a baseball field, and you rarely if ever see any people in it. I've come to think of it as an empty bushy lot with a nicely painted sign on one end. There just isn't much rhyme or reason to the place. Besides, if anything this park was the creation of then Mayor Enid Joffe and some family friends. Friends who made out quite well on the deal, I might add.

There are other things here that could be discussed, but I think you get the picture. "Regime change begins at home," indeed.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Here Is A Meeting You Might Enjoy Attending

On March 6th (8:30 AM to 1:00 PM) there will be a gathering at the Sierra Madre Congregational Church (170 West Sierra Madre Boulevard) presented by the Pasadena & Foothill Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It will be a panel discussion on one of our favorite topics here in town, SB 375. An $8.00 donation for a Continental Breakfast will be appreciated, with the catering sponsor being Starbucks Coffee, Sierra Madre. Good to see that they're keeping it local.

The members of this panel seem to be the usual experts:

Julianna Delgado, M.Arch, PhD, AICP: Assoc. Professor, Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning, Cal Poly Pomona.
Martin Wachs, PhD: RAND Corporation, Director of Transportation, Space and Technology
Michael K. Woo: Dean of College of Environmental Design, Cal Poly Pomona. Member of the Air Resources Board
Paul Zimmerman: Executive Director of Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing
Huasha Liu: Director of Land use and Environmental Planning for Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)

Here is how the topic up for discussion is presented:

SB 375 (September 2008) has been referred to by a few as the "Anti-Sprawl Bill," or by others as the "Sustainable Communities Strategies Act." Either name an individual decides upon, the objective behind SB 375 is to encourage communities to develop land-use, housing and transportation strategies that work within their particular built environment objectives, while also reducing the amount of green house gas (GHG) emissions produced by cars and light trucks. A key component, within SB 375, for the public, community groups, architects, engineers, city planners, administrators, and local government officials to keep in mind, is that individual communities and sub-regions will be given specific GHG emission reduction targets - they will not be given directives on how to meet their specific target. In other words, individual communities or sub-regions have an opportunity to collaborate, and to participate in, the decision processes that relate to and ultimately determine their local or sub-regional land-use, housing, and transportation policies. Simply stated, under SB 375, and community has an opportunity to maintain its influence over its unique identity.

A question. While it is gracious of the panel to inform us that we have been granted the right to give our input on whatever it is they want to see happen here, this seems to me to be a rather miniscule sliver of freedom in what is in actuality an unfunded Sacramento dictated mandate for us to change our town into something we'd rather it not become. Our "unique identity" is what we love about this town, but will these people tell us that we'll be allowed to keep things as they are? Or merely that we will be able to choose the color of the paint on all the new development that we will be forced to accept as part of the overall SB 375 process? And isn't SB 375 just the Downtown Specific Plan in a bright new green bottle, only this time gone statewide?

So here's another question. After the California Air Resources Board (CARB - which panelist Woo belongs to) makes it recommendations to Southern California Area Governments (SCAG - which panelist Liu belongs to) on how much new housing we must accommodate, and that is then taken to the Community Economic & Human Development confab (CEHD - which Sierra Madre City Councilman Joe Mosca belongs to), and they cook up with our new (and, as most anticipate, very large) Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers, will we then be free under this plan to simply ignore them? After all, given their choice most people in this town find our current layout rather nice and wouldn't see the need for very much change.

By my reading of SB 375, that answer would be no. It is in no way as benign as the blithe description provided to us would indicate. If we do not comply with these SB 375 driven RHNA numbers, per this state law we could be sued by any developer wishing to do so, lose because of this new state law, and be forced to pay the Court costs. Not to mention the loss of our right to protect our local environment through the CEQA process. Our options are very limited here, and only by forging a coalition of cities willing resist the draconian changes this fiat demands will we be able to regain the planning rights Sacramento has confiscated from us.

Another question. If we are forced to build a large swath of condo development in what is currently our downtown area (as an example, because there are other sites such as the neighborhood by Goldberg Park that could be targeted), will the people moving into them give up their cars and start taking the Gold Line to work? The magical thinking at the heart of the SB 375 experiment has it that once people are situated in housing located near public transportation, they will no longer feel the need to drive an automobile. Rather they will desire to take a CNG shuttle bus to the 210 Trolly, take that to some place approximate to where they want to go, get in another bus, and then get off at a station 2 or 3 blocks from their destination. All of which will somehow reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and save the world from Global Warming. But again, for SB 375 to succeed, people will willingly have to give up their cars. And wouldn't it be a shame if after tearing up a good portion of Sierra Madre and replacing it with the kind of generica you can see in most other California small cities, people decide to drive their cars anyway? Which they will. Who wants to spend 2 hours on public transportation getting to some place that is a half hour drive?

There are other questions as well. Does high-density and mixed-use development give off more or less GHG emissions than the low density buildings we have now? Where will we find the additional water for all the new residents living in these so-called sustainable structures? Electricity production is an even larger producer of GHG than cars. Doesn't the building of high-density housing ramp up the need for more coal generated electricity production, theoretically heating up the atmosphere even more? And given the condo glut on the real estate market, wouldn't we just be creating yet another way for nitwit banks to go out of business, further burdening the taxpayers with more bailouts?

One other point: The timing of this event is rather choice, coming as it does just 2 days before the Candidate's Forum at Sierra Madre City Hall. Probably just a coincidence.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Engaging SCAG

One of the things that came up during the City Council's deliberations on just how we were going to handle SCAG's demands regarding their 2012 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) numbers, as required by SB 375, was how we were going to engage our favorite Regional Planning Organization.

John Buchanan and Joe Mosca took a passive approach. John intimated that if we did not do what SCAG was demanding, some unidentified terrible things might happen. He also claimed that we should just acquiesce to their demands since SCAG wouldn't listen to us on the RTP/SCS numbers question, anyway. An odd thing for him to say since he had previously opined that this was a collaborative organization that wanted to work with us. Joe claimed that if we didn't pay the dues we were holding back from SCAG, Sierra Madre wouldn't even get a seat at the table, much less have our concerns get the hearing we wanted. Then he even went on to state in The Pasadena Star News that any attempt by Sierra Madre to fight for its rights there was tantamount to reality avoidance. "You can't just say 'no' and bury your head in the sand," said Joe. Again the inference being that we'd better knuckle under or face the music.

(As an aside, the irony in Joe's statement about all this 'no' saying is that when he was the City Councilman tasked with representing our interests at SCAG, Joe didn't even bother to show up at the meetings. Click on this link to read about Mr. Mosca's AWOL status at SCAG.)

But you want to know what? John and Joe were wrong. Three members of the City of Sierra Madre City Council, backed up by some inspired work from City Staff (big props to Danny Castro), decided to play some hardball with SCAG. We withheld our dues, threatened to leave the organization, and Mayor MacGillivray and Mayor Pro Tem Don Watts began to not only attend the meetings Joe never seemed to be able to make, but began speaking out about our rights as well. And despite all the surrender monkey warnings about the consequences of such bold acting up, we won a huge negotiation victory. Which was announced at Tuesday's City Council meeting to applause.

The issue we're talking about here is a very serious one. Sacramento passed a bill called SB 375 that pretty much dictates what exactly we can and cannot do in regards to planning for our city's future. It is a usurpation of much of this planning authority by a runaway central government, powers that traditionally have been the purview of cities such as ours. The year when this happiness starts kicking in is 2012. As a run up to all that joy was a request from SCAG that we supply them with an opinion of what our "Household, Population and Employment" estimated numbers should be in the years 2020 and 2035. All a part of the process of helping to create SCAG's 2012 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS).

The recommendation from SCAG was that we just accept their numbers. Which were quite outrageous in both their size and assumptions. In their opinion Sierra Madre would need to start planning for an increase of 140 new households by the year 2020, with an employment increase of 267. But at the same time they claimed our population would only be going up by 32 souls, which makes you wonder how exactly we were expected to fill up those 140 new households. Maybe SCAG was predicting a wave of divorces among current residents? Or that our kids would not only want to stay here, but live alone as well? And I don't know where we would be coming up with 267 new jobs in 10 years. Was SCAG going to situate a Nissan assembly plant here?

The consequence of our accepting these numbers at face value is that we would be setting ourselves up for a big fall in 2012. When our SB 375 driven RHNA numbers emerge that year, they are expected to be among the biggest we have ever seen. Something that, if enforced, could lead to our having to plan for development well beyond our capacity to sustain. And how could we possibly contest them if we had already agreed to the outlandishly large numbers SCAG was expecting us to submit for the RTP and SCS two years earlier? This had all the earmarks of a set up, and the better part of Sierra Madre's elected representatives, along with key City Staff members, decided to stand up and fight.

City Staff dug in and came up with some sound rationales for supporting numbers far smaller than the ones SCAG was demanding. Rather than 140 new households, that number was pared almost in half. The employment number was cut from 267 down to 82. And that population increase number? It went down from 32 to 17 living and breathing human beings.

Despite the warnings and threats issued by the usual suspects, MaryAnn and Don took our reduced numbers to SCAG and made them stick. They basically got in SCAG's face, spoke their minds, and refused to give in. SCAG was very concerned that we would leave their organization, something we had threatened to do. They even sent their two top executives here to beg us to stay. We were not very impressed. The symbolic $1,000 dues that would have indicated our willingness to stay in the RPO were withheld. And then MaryAnn and Don Watts proceeded to fight these guys on their home turf until they threw their hands up in the air, cried uncle, and gave us everything that we wanted.

So let me leave you with a final thought. When the crunch comes down in 2012 over those SB 375 driven RHNA numbers, which many suspect will be some of the largest to date, who are you going to want representing the interests of Sierra Madre? Elected citizens who are willing to stand up for our rights, or surrender monkeys?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Meeting Nobody Has Seen Yet (Unless You Were There)

It really is late. And there is literally a ton of stuff that needs to be written about. But it was quite a meeting. Plus it is one that everyone at home probably didn't get to see much of because SMTV3 took one of its periodic trips south. So where to start? Might as well take it in chronological order.

The first thing of real importance was MaryAnn discussing our victory at SCAG. But I'm saving that for another article when I have all the numbers in front of me. In short the hardball tactics of MaryAnn, Don and Kurt paid off for all of us. Proving once again that surrender monkey strategies just don't work when you're negotiating with our favorite regional planning authority. But more on that one soon.

Next up was was public comment, the highlight being Fay Angus's reading off of Joe Mosca for the misleading campaign literature he's been handing out on his campaign walks. As you might have read here before, Joe has been claiming credit for a lot of things that really aren't his doing. Raising $3 million all by his lonesome for the efforts to fight the Santa Anita Fire being one of them. Protecting "our city from unreasonable development" being another equally absurd claim. Classic cheesy campaign tactics that you can get away with in a lot of L.A. County cities, but not in Sierra Madre. And Fay was quite clear about how she felt regarding "misrepresentation" on the candidate's part. Joe, who got that shiny uncomfortable look he gets when public comment turns against him, asked Mayor MacGillivray if he could speak. MaryAnn cast him a wary eye, but nodded her assent. Joe then proceeded to launch an attack on what he ironically called Fay's "attack" politics which, when you consider just how proper and refined a person his target is, made several people in the room gasp. It definitely was not his finest moment.

Now I've been trying to puzzle out what exactly Joe's campaign tactics are for this campaign. And I think that I have figured it out. Rather than discussing anything relating to his performance in office so far, which at best is nothing much to write home about, he has decided to run what I call a "soap opera campaign." That is, rather than allowing his opponents to dwell for too long upon some of the unfortunate incidents of his tenure here (his flip on the DSP vote being an example), Joe has decided he is going to try to make the race all about personalities. And while that might seem titillating to his fans, I am not sure how it is going to play with voters whose concerns are a bit more pragmatic. Most people would prefer a good discussion on the issues rather than all that endless drama.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars 75th Anniversary presentation went very well, and I thought that all involved did a great job. Mayor MacGillivray cited them for their generosity in raising money for some very good causes in town, including the $15,000 they raised for improvements at our Little League fields. Something they would never have talked about themselves. There is something to be said for charity given without any expectation of recompense. It was nice to see everyone in the room standing up and applauding out of respect for these guys. They remain heroes even now.

Going to reel through the next batch of stuff pretty quickly because it's late and I want to go to bed. The Emergency AM Radio Station project got a big boost from the City Council, all agreeing that it is a worthy project deserving the support of everyone. Hank Landsberg was put in charge of the project, which makes sense since he has been a guiding light for this project all along. The Wistaria Festival got its T.U.P., though it did come with some conversation about insurance.

Historic Preservation issues received a lengthy and in depth workout. The City seems to be moving towards establishing some sort of advisory committee on the topic. Sierra Madre has some truly classic homes, and they do add to the quality and viability of the community. I did like the observation Don Watts made about how a history of these homes needs to be written as well. Something to breathe real life into all the nails and wood. It would take an architect to see the romance in what for some is just a Home & Gardens kind of thing.

Streaming Public Meetings Through The Internet would apparently involve a volunteer force to maintain all of our many meetings on whatever site is chosen to host them. And since the bulk of our volunteers in town are people whose media preferences are decidedly analog, well, you get the picture. I think the preference of the City Council was that we test the concept out by having live streaming of their meetings be the test case. But the impression I got was that most if not all felt that a little more drawing board time is probably necessary.

Emergencies And Mandatory Evacuations turned out to be the night's most unpleasant administrative chore, and it fell upon Elaine Aguilar to handle it. People in places like the Canyon have become a bit weary of being asked to flee their homes every time it rains, and they've been voicing their resentment. And the word is that lately these evacuations are being generally ignored by the affected. But Elaine soldiered on, and she did bring up a couple of important points. There will come a day when people will have wished they had gotten up and out when they were asked to do so. Our beautiful mountains can turn vicious on occasion, and you wouldn't want to be in their way when they turn bad.

The League of California Cities has an answer to Sacramento's bad habit of property tax confiscation, and it is called The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety And Transportation Protection Act Of 2010. Something that it will take about a million signatures to get on the ballot. But the idea here is that small cities such as ours have a difficult time planning things out sometimes because they just don't know when Sacramento is going to show up with its siphon and suck up all of our hard earned tax money. The City Council unanimously expressed their support for the measure, and hopefully this worthy effort succeeds. There are petitions at City Hall if you want to go out and get a couple hundred thousand signatures.

OK, and after that things got a little sticky. It didn't start right away, but once the ball got rolling it was quite a sight to see.

The Dust Control Ordinance was the next item up for consideration, and this one has its roots deep in one of the most contentious issues this town has faced in its recent history. The dust we're talking about here is One Carter dust, that ill fated and seemingly endless development project that was unwisely set in motion by one of our lousier City Councils a number of years back. Stripped of most of its natural vegetation by the fine folks at Dorn Platz, it quickly turned into a dust bowl. And so the residents up there, sick of having to breath unhealthy particulate matter every time the wind blew, began lobbying for this ordinance. Something that would require the offending developers to hose down the dust or face stiff fines. Now much of this hinged upon Bruce Inman giving a presentation, and since he wasn't available for such a thing the matter wasn't completely aired out. But the City Council did decide to direct staff to put together a dust ordinance for them to look at later. And if you thought that Johnny B and Joe were kind of tentative in their support of the project, well, so did I. We'll just have to see how this one plays out.

Now my pet cause, unromantically described in the agenda as "Ordinance No. 1306 Requiring Maintenance Of Vacant Commercial Property," came up next. Personally I prefer the term Blight Law because it is just so much more sunny and cheerful. The obvious target of this is the Skilled Nursing Facility, though nobody in a position of authority seemed to want to bring that elephant out into the open last night. What makes this issue particularly delicious is that for years the forces opposed to Measure V have tried to affix responsibility for this eyesore upon those who supported keeping our town small and organic. And what this Blight Law does is wrench that issue from their hands and focuses the blame where it really belongs, on the LLC that owns the place. Changes were suggested by the City Council for the ordinance, and it was returned to staff for further polishing.

The final act was in many ways the most dramatic. Who would have ever thought that the topic of Newspaper Adjudication could be the cause of such high drama? But when you're talking about Susan Henderson, you're talking heavy attitude. And for those who enjoy that sort of thing, she did not disappoint. The contrast between the fussy little newspaper and the angry woman who runs it couldn't have been greater than it was last evening.

But you know, we've been down this route before, and I'm growing tired of running this woman down. We all know what she's about, so why should I go on about it now? The reduction of what was a simple business request into a personal confrontation, the inappropriate insults (the use of the word "liar" was particularly unfortunate), the claims of victimhood when called upon to comply with what is merely standard City procedure, none of this was really surprising. It almost seemed like a routine.

In my opinion Kurt Zimmerman was dead right in his claims that we are not getting our money's worth from the Mountain Views News. The questions he raised about poor distribution and publication gaps seem worthy of serious consideration to me. But for Susan to just hurl insults at the City Council, and then turn her back and storm out of the room will only harm her cause in the long run.

Fay Angus, as is her wont, summed up the confrontation best. If and when they finally broadcast this meeting on balky old SMTV3 you will really have to see it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Return Of Agenda Man!

Tuesday night's City Council meeting should be an entertaining one because there are several interesting and possibly contentious issues on the agenda. And three in particular could send the minority faction into fits of lawyerly obfuscation and pettifogging parsing. I mean, how do you take the side of the downtown investor who allowed the Skilled Nursing Facility to sink into a state of infamous disrepair without giving the appearance of being in favor of property blight? It should be interesting to see how they try and wiggle off that hook. But all this comes towards the end of what could be a long meeting, so be sure to have the coffee pot perking and the popcorn popper hard at work.

It all kicks off with the Consent Calendar. Approvals, comments, spending, and presentations will all take place per usual. In there is another hefty spend for our Community Redevelopment Agency, this time for $17,046.48. The CRA being the gift that just keeps on taking. The Chamber of Commerce will be looking for us to pick up some of the costs for the Wistaria Festival, something that could get interesting. But the highlight here is going to be a presentation recognizing our Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3208 for 75 years of service to Sierra Madre. Our VFW is one of the most monetarily generous organizations in town, and modest about it as well. And isn't that the true heart of charity, giving without any podium grandstanding? Since we won't be hearing from them about how much they've done, that duty now falls upon us. Is it too early to start campaigning for their selection as Grand Marshall at this year's Fourth of July parade? These guys are heroes on many levels, and deserve our accolades.

Did you know that when the VFW was passed over for this honor in 2009 it cost us Congressman David Dreier's offer to assist in getting parade performances from bands representing the four branches of our Armed Forces? I still can't figure how those in charge of picking last year's Grand Marshall screwed that one up as badly as they did. What a great patriotic sight it could have been!

Next up are a series of discussions on nine different items. Funding for the Emergency AM Radio Station begins the action, and certainly this is a worthy effort that we should all support. Sierra Madre is subject to the big four of floods, fires, landslides, and earthquakes, and getting information to the residents as quickly as possible should disaster strike seems imperative to me.

This is followed by discussions about streaming public meetings on the Internet (a good thing in my opinion, particularly for those who travel on business), emergency and mandatory evacuations, and "The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010." Which on the surface seems like a good thing, but its League of California Cities affiliation makes the skeptic in me wonder what the small print might be all about. This is something that is sorely needed though, and it will be interesting to hear what at least some have to say. I expect the council will support it unanimously.

And then, with the preliminary bouts out of the way, the heavyweight topics step up for their moment of SMTV3 glory. You'll want to get your popcorn ready now.

During the "shenanigan era" developers and real estate investors were given a pass on the quality of life effects their projects might cause here in town. One thing these parties got a free ride on was with construction generated dust. Ask anyone who lives near One Carter and you will find out just how serious an issue this is. And after much consideration and discussion by City Staff and concerned volunteer committees, the City Council will be talking about a Dust Control Ordinance. Something that many other cities in California already have in place. Here is some wording on what Fugitive Dust is, per the Coachella Valley Model Dust Control Ordinance:

Fugitive Dust is any solid particulate matter that becomes airborne, other than that emitted from an exhaust stack, directly or indirectly as a result of human activities. PM10 is a subset of fugitive dust and is defined as particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 microns or less.

I don't know exactly how you measure a dust particle to see if it qualifies, but with another hot summer of seemingly endless work at One Carter ahead, with a similar grim and noisy process possible soon at Stonehouse, something needs to be put in place to protect young children and seniors from the debilitating effects of particulate dust inhalation. It is a serious health matter and needs to be treated that way.

Now the next item, Consideration Of Ordinance NO. 1306 Requiring Maintenance Of Vacant Commerical Property, is near and dear to my heart because it began all the way back in May of 2009 with an article on this blog. Kurt Zimmerman picked up on it and had the matter agendized. And now, a mere nine months later, it is coming up for discussion. Not the quickest process in city history, but I have to admit the timing isn't too bad. Here's how the original Tattler article opened it up:

Glendale Deals With A Major Cause Of Blight: Real Estate Speculators - One of the major causes of blight is real estate speculation. Banks and investors buy up foreclosed homes and buildings and then allow them to sit. Their hope being that when the market eventually improves the value of their holdings will increase as well and they can make some dough. But until that time comes they allow these properties to fall into disrepair. Why bother fixing them up until the time comes to sell them? It's just cheaper that way.

The classic example of this phenomenon here is the Skilled Nursing Facility, that boarded up eyesore on Sierra Madre Boulevard. This all came about because the City of Glendale, seeing similar problems in their community, initiated a Blight Law to combat what was becoming an all too common practice. And we're just following their lead. As I said at the beginning of this post, it could be a contentious issue. Watch closely as Johnny B and Joe wrestle with the possible political fallout for siding with blight versus their loyalty to the LLC that owns the decrepit Nursing Facility.

The last item is entitled Discussion - Newspaper Adjudication. This involves the City's contract with the Mountain Views News, which entitles this publication to carry our legal advertising. There are several important issues involved here, the most obvious being the paper's seeming refusal to supply that most necessary element in maintaining an adjudicated status, proof of circulation. An adjudicated paper is required to be distributed to a large swath of residents within the City it has contracted with. And despite requests from the City Manager to supply subscription lists and other proof of adequate dispersal, the paper's publisher, H. Susan Henderson, has yet to find it in herself to provide that information. With the matter now becoming something of a test of wills between the contending parties.

What takes this particular situation to an even higher level is that Ms. Henderson was expected to make an appearance before the City Council 2 weeks ago to discuss this issue. A discussion that didn't take place because she apparently blew it off. So the City is taking yet another pass at it tomorrow night. And outside of a handful of rusting racks downtown (most now minus their signage due to sketchy upkeep), nobody really knows what kind of distribution our tax dollars are getting for us with the MVN. City Council patience is wearing thin. I have a couple of bets out on this one, with my money on Henderson not showing up this time as well.

Bonus Coverage: In the new issue of the Mountain Views News there is a front page article about the upcoming City Council election. The idea behind this piece was to name all the candidates, and then identify an issue date when each would hopefully answer the two high school style essay questions the MVN is asking. The article begins with this sentence:

On April 13, 2010, voters in Sierra Madre will go to the polls and select three people from a field of six to sit on the City Council.

The article then goes on to name these six candidates the author believes make up the roster. Don Watts, Joe Mosca, myself, Nancy Walsh, with Josh Moran and Bill Tice bringing up the rear.

There is only one problem here. The field of candidates is actually seven, not six. Susan Henderson somehow managed to leave out Pat Alcorn.

Then Henderson, who is both publisher and editor of this paper, declared that the MVN will "do whatever we can to help you make an informed decision." You can only wonder how since she doesn't seem to know who is actually running.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Do They Hate Our Downtown So Much?

One of the truly wonderful things about Sierra Madre is its downtown. An area as unique and homegrown as the rest of the City. In an era of cookie cutter "could be anywhere" development, strip malls, sprawling car dealerships and large big box convenience stores, somehow our town has maintained its sanity and realized that the benefits of such things are fleeting, and that the loss of our small town charm would be an irreplaceable tragedy.

Michelle Zack, in her gorgeous book, Southern California Story, Seeking The Better Life In Sierra Madre, describes this sense of uniqueness:

As the first decade of the new century draws to a close, the evening scene along Sierra Madre Boulevard or North Baldwin is one of small town charm set against an awesome mountain backdrop. Over time, people by the millions have come to Southern California seeking health, beauty, and personal redemption - and a good few found it here. While challenges, imperfections, and unfinished business will always be around to annoy the human beings who insist on taking these problems on, at this moment they are drowned in foothill scents of sagebrush mingled with more domesticated rosemary and oregano. Background sounds of diners, laughter, and music create a life-filled cacophony. Neighbors out for a stroll, the cry of a baby, words hanging in the air: indeed it looks, smells and sounds like the better life in Sierra Madre tonight.

All things that you will probably not see or experience in the newly redeveloped neighborhoods that can now be found in so many of our sister cities here in the San Gabriel Valley. I personally think that this is something many recognize as being important to our community, and binds us together in that sense of pride we feel from living here.

So it was with some considerable joy that I came across the following comment left on Wednesday's post about the dangerous greenhouse gas effects of high density development:

I just received the mailer from John Crawford regarding seven story condo projects in Sierra Madre. All I can say is, "Wow." Amazing that people think there is an ounce of truth behind this ridiculous and absurd exaggerations (sic). What a waste of money it was to send these out? How dumb to think the residents of Sierra Madre are (sic)? ... It is people like this and their "no-growth under any circumstances" ideals that are to blame for the boarded up building across from city hall. If you like vacant buildings I recommend Detroit. I hear it's great this time of year.

Actually, the picture on my postcard depicts six story condos, not seven. And I for one can recall no such "seven story condo projects in Sierra Madre." However, you can find those 6 (or 7 if there is something behind the fence) story condos in places like Glendale, Pasadena, and Burbank should you wish to do so. Products of the same subprime mortgage insanity that fueled the somewhat similar Downtown Specific Plan here in Sierra Madre. Something that could have been built locally had not the citizens of Sierra Madre risen up against its duplicitous City Council and passed Measure V. But this isn't to say that such a thing couldn't happen now. After all, it looks like the same people who pushed the DSP are now back with a revitalized sense of purpose, and some exciting new historical revisionism. And backed up by the huge state mandated development requirements of SB 375, if they are elected it really could happen here. No matter what they're saying now.

So let's take a second and discuss this a bit more before we get on to the rest our critic's struggles with the English language. First of all, don't you think that comparing Downtown Sierra Madre to Detroit might be just a little over the top? Here is a passage from the Encyclopedia Britannica site that I think brings light to this darkness:

According to the Michigan Association of Realtors and Detroit Board of Realtors, the average sales price of a Detroit home fell to $11,533 in March (2009), a -43.9% decline from the $20,514 average home price during the same period last year.

The article then goes on to declare that you can purchase a home there with a $50 a month mortgage! Now perhaps I've missed something here, but I don't think that level of home price deflation has been happening in Sierra Madre. Quite the contrary, home prices here have maintained their high value quite well compared with many other places, probably because of the unique and pleasantly residential nature of our community.

And as far as the Skilled Nursing Facility and those famous boarded up windows, there is some good news here as well. The City Council will shortly vote on and pass a "blight law" that will make that sort of thing very expensive for persons who commit such atrocities in our community. No longer will real estate investors be able to buy property on speculation and then allow it to sit and rot until an economic uptick makes their investment profitable. Based on a similar law passed last year in Glendale, those who do not keep up their abandoned investment properties will be faced with considerable and repeated fines. As they should be. The lax attitude of the Joffe and Buchanan mayorships towards such blight just doesn't cut it in Sierra Madre anymore.

Our highly exercised critic continues:

Instead of blocking change and common sense ideas, we should work together to promote responsible growth and development that increases tax revenue and creates a downtown that we can be proud of while upholding our unique historical values.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm not sure there is much to be ashamed about regarding our downtown area. As a matter of fact, I take considerable pride in it, as I believe most living here do. Even in times as tough as these it remains the kind of viable downtown that I suspect many cities would trade their eyeteeth to have. Especially those who sold out to subprime era redevelopment when we did not. And doesn't all this downtown bashing sound strikingly similar to what we heard from the "No on V" people a while back? That we should be taught to hate our downtown and want to replace it with something a bit more, um, Burbankesque? A very strange tactic.

Late last year on the Huffington Post site there was a very insightful article called "Zombie Buildings: Are They The Next Economic Calamity? And its description of what has come to be in so many other parts of the country is also a cautionary tale about what almost came to pass here. Check this out and see if you don't agree:

While the overall U.S. financial system is showing signs of stability, a rapidly rising tide of troubled loans for commercial real estate threatens the survival of hundreds of the nation's small and medium-sized banks.

Financial reports this month from federal regulators and industry analysts detail a new cycle of uncertainty that they fear could cripple the economic recovery. Billions of dollars in commercial debt will have to be paid back or refinanced at a time when property values have plummeted. About $500 billion will come due in 2010 alone and an equal amount every year through at least 2012, according to the Federal reserve.

Many banks that cater to regional and community developments were largely unscathed by the residential mortgage meltdown. Bit now they are facing huge numbers of possible defaults by builders who erected thousands of office buildings, condominiums and shopping centers with the easy credit available five years ago. With few tenants, those developments are turning into what industry insiders call zombie buildings.

Ironically, the new blight that is now hitting many cities hard right now (and soon the taxpayers' pocketbooks if the banks get their way), was built only a short while ago. And the kind of economic travail caused to this country by the home mortgage crisis could return. So much for the "responsible growth and development" that was called for by Sierra Madre's DSP advocates back in 2007. And apparently now, by the exact same folks, in 2010 as well. Funny to think that they're asking to be trusted twice.

One more point. I think our commentator friend might be a little confused on the differences between an industrial city and a residential town. I'm pretty sure that there are not many people living in Sierra Madre right now because they thought they'd be able to get a job assembling aircraft or work in an automobile assembly factory here. Rather they came to live in Sierra Madre to get away from all that. They want raise their their families in a place that is secure and clean, and where their kids can grow up safe from drugs and crime. The economic growth in Sierra Madre doesn't come from what we manufacture, it comes from what highly skilled and well-paid wage earners bring back to this town from their jobs elsewhere.

And if somehow Sierra Madre is turned into just another urban core city, with cookie cutter "mixed use" development as far as the eye can see, you will drive this town's most financially reliable source of prosperity away. Its successful professional and business class. The people who came here to get away from that sort of thing, and stayed because this is a pristine enclave in a county of 11 million people. Most of whom would give everything they have to live in a place like this.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Your Money Can Influence An Election Without Anybody Knowing About It

When anyone donates to a political campaign the disclosure rules require that your generosity to the candidate or cause of your choice be made public. That way everybody knows where that campaign money came from, something that is often a better indication of where a candidate stands than anything his campaign is putting out in the way of literature or press releases.

A really good indication of how that money issue can influence an election was with the rhubarb over Measure V in 2007. Those opposed to the passing of this ordinance, while claiming they were doing it in order to save the trees and the mountains and the little baby birds, found themselves rather embarrassingly exposed when it turned out that $10s of thousands of dollars were pouring into their coffers from various concerned statewide building and real estate lobbies. And in a lot of ways the "No on V" campaign became known more by that money than anything else. Their hoped for message, meager as it was, became quite lost despite the blizzard of mail they were sending out.

However, under the new political order created by the United States Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations and their ilk can no longer be limited in the amount of dough they can contribute to any campaign or cause, such things might not be so readily apparent anymore. And were the Measure V election taking place now we might never have found out exactly where all that money from the big boys was coming from.

There is a great article about this topic on a site called TPM Muckraker, which has just been added to our "Sites of Interest" list. And what they discuss is how lobbies in Washington - and presumably Sacramento as well - are now advising their clients on the possibilities for making practically anonymous donations to their most favored candidates. (In the spirit of fairness here, the Chamber of Commerce they're discussing here is the national one, and not our local folks.) Check it out:

Lobby Firm Tells Clients How To Sway Elections While Avoiding 'Public Scrutiny' - In the wake of last month's Citizens United ruling, a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm is informing its corporate clients on how they can use middlemen like the Chamber of Commerce to pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns, while maintaining "sufficient cover" to avoid "public scrutiny" and negative media coverage.

A "Public Policy and Law Alert" on the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, prepared by two lawyers for K&L Gates and posted on the firm's site last Friday, notes that, thanks to disclosure rules, corporations could alienate their customers by spending on political campaigns -- especially because they could become the target of negative media coverage.

Being responsible for funding campaign efforts that at least some of the public is not exactly in love with can be a marketing dilemma. I mean, how would you reconcile your expensively created image of being, let's say, "the company that cares about the environment," with the shoveling of large amounts of campaign cash to a candidate who advocates mountaintop mining in Yosemite National Park for its uranium deposits? That would be a clash of images no company would willingly want to take on. And could cause certain folks to take their business elsewhere. TPM continues:

So, what's a corporation looking to advance its political goals to do? According to the alert, written by K&L lawyers Tim Peckinpaugh and Stephen Roberts:

"Groups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny."

So there you go. I suspect this could lead to the flowering of many new and wonderful sounding organizations all over America. The Coalition for Natural Splendor, which, of course, would funnel oil and power producer money to candidates that ain't exactly in love with trees. Or the Our Town Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to empowering the political needs of wrecking ball developers looking for new places to build large housing tracts that look just like the ones they're building everywhere else. How about Citizens United for Clean Energy? A group quietly supported by coal burning electricity giants wanting to fund candidates that won't say a peep about their unpopular polluting habits?

The possibilities are now endless.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Repair California" Flops

There was this group of concerned businessmen who decided that they have had just about enough of what is going on in California these days, and they were going to do something about it. They gathered beneath the banner of Repair California, and set out to put on the ballot a measure that would call for the first California Constitutional Convention in 130 years. And, if the delegates to this convention decided it was a right thing to do, they would rewrite the document that the government of this state is based upon. It was a bold move, and one done in hopes of harnessing the anger that many in California feel towards Sacramento these days.

So who was the leader of this movement demanding so drastic a reform of our broken state government? His name is Jim Wunderman. And here, in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, he published his mission statement:

California's state government is broken. This dysfunction has left our state unable to deal with the serious issues of our time in a good economy or a bad - whether it's the K-12 education system, broken budgeting, our rapidly disintegrating public higher-education system, overflowing prisons, traffic-choked regions, local governments hobbled by unfunded state mandates, or a host of other problems.

Now that is a pretty good start. A regular laundry list of easily identifiable woe. Kind of reads like your average day here on The Tattler. But how exactly did Mr. Wunderman propose to solve all of these things? Here Jim discussed what exactly he'd be going after to make things better again:

Repair California, a group of reformers and advocacy groups, has turned in ballot language to call the first California convention in more than 130 years. The measures would call a limited convention to reform four areas of the Constitution:
-- the budget process;
-- the election and initiative process;
-- the balance of power between state and local governments;
-- the effectiveness of government, and creating systems to improve it.

Again, reasonably good boilerplate, and I'm sure some of the more easily stimulated out there thought it was a good idea. But what exactly where these guys really after? Rewriting the state constitution is pretty serious business, and shouldn't be taken lightly. It just might be a pretty good idea to check out the folks that want to carry this notion out. Gauge their motives a little.

Late last October we decided to look into the man leading this charge. And in an article entitled "So Who Exactly Is This Jim Wunderman Guy?" we made a rather shocking discovery. It turns out that Jim was one of the big Sacramento players responsible for the passage of SB 375, also known as the "Destroy Small Cities Act." A major redeveloper out of San Francisco who understood exactly how such a law would benefit him and his industry, and went for it.

But maybe I've understated Jim's role in this SB 375 thing. He was more than just a major player. Outside of Governer Schatzi, and maybe Darrell Steinberg, he was the most major player of all. Certainly the most influential figure who was not an elected official. So influential that on the day SB 375 was signed into law by Arnold, he was singled out and cited for his great importance in the process. Here is how the majestic moment played out:

And then the last speaker before the actual signing itself 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 there's a bill but I want to thank you ... "

When I was a kid my mom would have called that apple polishing. But my friends outside would have used a very different term.

So it turned out that our friend Jim Wunderman was actually responsible for the law that now threatens cities such as ours with massive state mandated redevelopment. Along with taking away our ability to control our local planning processes, plus the right to defend ourselves in court should we be sued by some developer looking to build things we don't want here. Which puts Wunderman's notion to reform "the balance of power between the state and local governments" into a whole new perspective. Obviously it wasn't giving us more power that he had in mind. I'm not sure Jim quite understood the difference between "repair" and doing even more damage.

So it was with happiness and a sense of considerable vindication that I read the following article in the SF Chronicle:

Cash woes hit bid to rewrite state Constitution: Backers of a campaign to overhaul California's Constitution have suspended their efforts because of a lack of money ... The campaign was working to put two measures on the November ballot to call for a constitutional convention as unrest about state government and the overall direction of California deepens among voters. However, money pledged to the campaign by businesses and others never came through, according to people backing the effort ... "I'm very sad we have to call it quits because of the financial situation," said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business consortium that started the effort ... Despite support from a wide variety of good-government organizations, political leaders and others in the state, the campaign has raised only about $1 million and gathered 100,000 signatures. More than 1 million valid signatures would be needed to put the initiatives on the ballot.

You know, just when you're about to lose faith in the ability of people to see through all the Orwellian subterfuge, something like this happens and restores your faith in humanity. Somehow people saw through the attempts by some of the ultimate Sacramento insiders to portray themselves as angry outsiders ready to lead the people in an assault against Babylon on the Sacramento River. People really do figure things out some times.

Of course, now that Repair California has gone down in flames, the gentlemen behind this failed effort need to find something to blame for their debacle. After all, they have some very prestigious fannies badly in need of cover. So who is it that gets assigned the role of reform wrecker here? Would you believe Haiti?

Campaign officials said they would need at least $3.5 million for a successful signature-gathering effort, plus millions more for the actual campaign. They blamed the tough economy and people focusing charitable efforts on Haiti for the lack of donations to their effort.

But as far as the real villain, Repair California has now fingered a truly insidious bunch. You got it, petition signature gatherers. Here is how the Sacramento Business Journal describes it:

California constitutional convention backers allege blacklist attempts: California reform backers are planning to sue over alleged attempts by professional signature-gathering firms to blacklist them ... Repair California wants signature-gathering firms to "immediately cease the improper, unethical, and illegal boycott of the Constitutional Convention movement, and stop the threats, intimidation, and other dirty tricks that are interfering with California citizens' rights to collect signatures for the Convention campaign."

Now isn't that something? People weren't interested in signing their petitions, so now they want to sue the people who stood in front of places like Wal*Mart attempting to gather those signatures. How pouty of them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

High Density Development Actually Increases Global Warming?

One of the supreme reasons Sacramento wants to push high density development into places like Sierra Madre is that doing so will somehow help bring an end to Global Warming. The notion being that if you somehow get people out of their single family homes and into stacked boxes they will somehow magically give up their automobiles and fall in love with riding Metro buses.

This grand idea is at the heart of SB 375. In an October 1, 2008 notice on his Office of the Governor website, Arnold Schwarzenegger (described there as "The People's Governor") supplied the following rationale for his signing this rather controversial piece of legislation into law:

Senate Bill 375 by incoming Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be the nation's first law to control greenhouse gas emissions by curbing sprawl. SB 375 provides emissions-reducing goals for which regions can plan, integrates disjointed planning activities, and provides incentives for local governments and developers to follow new conscientiously-planned growth patterns. SB 375 enhances the Air Resources Board's (ARB) ability to reach AB 32 goals ... Just as the railroad transformed California, and decades later our freeway system did the same, SB 375 will be responsible for reshaping the face of California's communities into more sustainable, walkable communities, with alternative transportation options and increased quality of life.

The comfort level of many for massive social engineering schemes aside, what this single bill seeks to accomplish is a draconian reworking of how people in California live, get to work, and spend their leisure time. The purpose is to force the abandonment of what has been described for the last 60 or so years as the "California lifestyle." No longer will you be encouraged to pursue your private home in the sun, rather the state's insistence will be that you head back into the urban core and start walking. It's good for you.

Now what this would mean for Sierra Madre is state enforced mandates proclaiming that we accommodate a lot more housing development because we actually are a lot closer to the urban core than say, the sprawling Inland Empire. Plus our proximity to such futuristic and exciting transportation modes as the Gold Line means that our development denouement will be in the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) style, which is strikingly similar to what we voted down when we passed Measure V here back in 2007. Something that SB 375 could easily overrule should we not get our backs up and fight for it.

Arnold's explanations continue:

It will also mean a higher quality of life. SB 375 provides incentives for creating attractive, walkable, sustainable communities and revitalizing existing ones. It will also encourage the development of more attractive transportation options. By doing so, this law will promote healthy lifestyles and reduce traffic congestion so Californians can spend less time on the road.

Now I'm not sure that the fellow who ran for governor riding around in Hummers smoking cigars is quite the guy to be lecturing us on how we need to walk to work because it is healthy for us. But that was a couple of image changes ago for Arnold, and perhaps it would be churlish of us to bring that sort of thing back up?

The acceptance of this concept that high density "transportation corridor" development will somehow reduce greenhouse gases and save the world from Global Warming has attracted quite a few devotees in this state. Particularly amongst the developers, planners and construction outfits that will make mad money leveling existing low density communities such as ours and replacing them with condominium complexes as far as the eye can see. Which some of the more skeptical among us insist was really the point all along. But will this actually achieve its goal? After tearing down half of the western end of the San Gabriel Valley will we actually find ourselves walking on sunshine in the new green utopia? Or merely living in cramped quarters.

On the Green advocacy website there is an interesting new piece entitled "Resisting Dickensian Gloom." This article cites several new Australian studies that refute the whole notion that we can build our way out of Global Warming. Australia, which bought into the high density dream early on and now has vast swaths of the stuff, apparently now has cause for a little bit of buyer's remorse. Here is a part of what this article has to say:

Greenhouse gas emissions: Advocates of high-density policies (often termed "Smart Growth" but also under other descriptions and euphemisms such as "urban consolidation," "compact development," "growth management," and "urban renewal") maintain these policies save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A comprehensive study of per capita emissions in Australia based on household consumption of all products and services appears in the Australian Conservation Foundation's Consumption Atlas. Unexpectedly, this analysis shows that greenhouse gas emissions of those living in high-density areas are greater than for those living in low-density areas. An analysis of the data shows that the average carbon dioxide equivalent emission of the high-density core areas of Australian cities is 27.9 tons per person whereas that for the low-density outer areas is 17.5 tons per person. As mentioned in the Demographia Survey introduction, food and goods purchase account for most of the emissions and this amounts to more for wealthier inner-city dwellers.

Surprisingly, transport emissions amount to very little (only 10.5%), household electricity and heating fuel being about twice as much at 20.0%. It should also be noted that the emissions from household dwelling construction and renovations at 11.8% are greater than emissions for transport. It is clear that transport, so heavily emphasized by Smart Growth advocates, is responsible for only a small fraction of household emissions.

The article goes on to cite a few more studies, all of which come to the conclusion that packing people into urban core development might not be as "green" a thing as advocates such as noted ecologist Arnold Schwarzenegger have claimed. Which means that low density communities such as Sierra Madre might very well be the greenest possible solution after all. And that Sacramento, along with SCAG and 40% of our current City Council here (they're the ones that talk a lot), should really go find some other way to save the world.

Hopefully one that might actually work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Joe Mosca Continues To Take Credit For Things He Didn't Do

"I've been there, I'm doing this stuff, I know how to do it and I'm engaged in the process." - Joe Mosca in yesterday's Pasadena Star News, reassuring everyone that he really has done some work.

It was interesting to see some of the rather random assertions coming from the Three Moscateers in yesterday's Pasadena Star News article on our upcoming election. I guess I will have to eventually discuss the claims of those other two candidates, that is if there is enough time. But for now we'll just have to deal with Joe Mosca since his presumptions of relevance were truly the most outrageous of all.

Apparently the concept of cities maintaining control over their own interests and affairs as discussed by Pat Alcorn in this article was so upsetting to Sacramento Joe that he went off on a bit of a tirade. Here is how the article portrayed his towering vexation:

"You cannot preserve the community, you cannot be 'local' without engaging the regional process," Mosca said. "You can't just say 'no' and bury your head in the sand."

Now as anyone who follows the affairs of California knows, the encroachment of Sacramento upon the concerns of independent cities such as ours has been fairly relentless. From wholesale tax confiscations, to the removal of local planning control, to the threatened demise of CEQA, this assault on the rights of cities to chart their own destinies has outraged millions in this state. Something that Joe, as aligned as he is with the policies of Sacramento through the "regional process," apparently seems to think is just hunky dory.

As I am sure everyone is aware, it is by this "regional process" that Sacramento enforces its will. Particularly on the matter of the confiscation of city planning rights, which is done mostly through SB 375. So Joe's assertion actually is true, though not quite in the way he claims. You can no more defend your community "without engaging the regional process" than you can fight off burglars without getting a guard dog. Which is what Sierra Madre has been doing lately. This city's engagement in the regional process (which is basically done through the Southern California Association of Governments, or SCAG) has never been stronger than it is now. But that has precious little to do with the inappropriate credit glomming of Joe.

You see, the striking irony here is that when Joe Mosca was Sierra Madre's sole representative at SCAG, he didn't bother to go to the meetings. He basically blew them off and left us, well, unengaged in the process. We discussed this matter in two Tattler articles last year. The first, "No Show Joe," showed that Mr. Mosca had only attended one solitary SCAG/CEHD meeting in all of 2008. Then in August of 2009 we followed up with "Joe Mosca's Dismal SCAG/CEHD Attendance Record Has Not Improved," which reexamined Joe's attendance at the meetings of this organization he claims to hold in such high esteem. And what we found is that he STILL wasn't going to the meetings! As a matter of fact, if you look through the SCAG minutes cited in these two articles you will see that from February 7 of 2008 through July 2nd of 2009 Joe Mosca attended only 1 solitary meeting out of the total 17 that were held!

After the shocking discovery that Joe Mosca had been playing serial hooky from these important functions, Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray and Mayor Pro Tem Don Watts began covering these meetings on Sierra Madre's behalf. And because of this AWOL Joe has actually begun to show up as well. But for him to be attempting to take credit for the progress we have been making at SCAG, particularly on future RHNA considerations, is just plain nuts. The lazy knucklehead never even bothered to show up for almost two years, now he's trying to convince us that he's the guy who is doing it all?

One other thought on this matter. If you "cannot preserve the community, you cannot be 'local' with out engaging the regional process," then, if Joe is right, the community was put into some danger by his not going to these meetings. He was obligated to attend, and he had made a commitment to this city and others to do just that. But for whatever reason he just never even bothered to show up. He let Sierra Madre down badly here, just as he has in so many other ways. And Joe can't be allowed to just paper over his lack of good faith by taking credit for things he did not do.

Bonus Coverage - In today's Pasadena Star News there is an article where Joe Mosca makes the following statement: "Certainly now that the federal government has got a pot of money out there, we're trying ... to get money from that pot." Is it just me, or does Joe sound here a little bit like the leprechaun from the Lucky Charms ads on TV? Maybe that explains all the kelly green on his campaign kick off invitation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

We've All Heard Rumors About Tap Dancing Politicians, and Apparently They're True!

Of course we've all heard about tap dancing politicians. Somewhat less than credible folks who prance up a storm in order to duck accusations of some troublesome malfeasance that they are suspected of having committed. John Buchanan's rather Fred Astaire-esque attempt last Tuesday evening to hoof his way around the inability of the City to properly get its audits done during his watch being a fine example of this phenomenon in action. That it had only cost Sierra Madre $25,000 in Sacramento levied fines being no sweat off the brow of this swift footed politician. As far as he knew, all he ever really needed to do was dance.

But can it be that Johnny B has grown tired of dancing with Joe Mosca only, and has now recruited to the well-trod boards of Sierra Madre City Hall someone of a more Ginger Rogers flair? Are we about to go from that terribly overexposed "Two Top Hats, Two Tails" routine for something in a more Tallulah Bankhead vein? Someone who will attempt to literally dance her way into the hearts of Sierra Madre? Or at least the cold and small versions of that vital organ possessed by our highly self-esteemed downtown socialite set?

But first, let's dig into that politician/tap dancing connection. Because it is a traditional one, and certainly we here at The Tattler respect all the finest political traditions. Or at least the ones we don't find hilarious. Which are pretty much in the distinct minority now that I think about it.

Probably the most enlightening stuff I could find to illustrate where we're going with this comes from a Los Angeles Times article dated March 27th, 1993. Apparently a politician of less than the hoped for dose of honor had gotten himself into a world of legal woe. Which, when you consider that we'd vectored in from the lowest possible standards already, made his predicament all the worse.

Tap Dancing on an Ethics Tightrope: Politicians should steer clear of close calls - The yearlong ethics investigation of Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth came to a fitting close with his guilty plea to seven misdemeanor counts and agreement to pay $50,000 in fines. While it forgoes the drama of a public trial, the plea bargain is an appropriate end to one of the sorrier episodes in Orange County's checkered political history.

Of course, that was a number of years ago, and the players today are distinctively different. But the tap dancing metaphor remains with us even now. And this Times article concludes with a humorous observation on tap dancing political history:

The late state Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh, an irreverent man who operated under the old rules of political ethics, was fond of saying that if a politician couldn't take lobbyists' money, drink their booze, love their women and still vote against them, then they didn't belong in politics. The new ethical sensibility holds that politicians should no longer have the choice of trying to walk that line.

I'm not sure Sacramento is living up to Jesse's standards these days. And not to suggest that John and Joe have anything in common with that Roth dude, because they don't. But have we here in California gone from the Unruh Era to the Tap Dancing Era? Was it always that way? I'm not sure that I can answer that question right now. But I can tell you there is one party that is definitely not amused. And that is the actual tap dancers themselves. This from the February 5th edition of The Beach Reporter, out of Manhattan Beach:

It is ironic that "tap dancing" is often used as a derogatory term for obfuscation of the truth. Politicians are said to be "tap dancing" around a subject when they talk without saying anything ... In my brief experience, tap dancing is an exacting activity that is tough to fake. Sure, when you first put on the shoes you can shuffle and stomp about, but it's all sound and fury signifying nothing. When you actually learn a step and try to replicate it, it quickly becomes apparent if you do it incorrectly ...

Which all brings us to our current dilemma. While we all know of politicians who became nothing more than tap dancers, has there ever been a case where a tap dancer became a politician? Before they became a tap dancer again? Can this be considered special career training, or even an unfair advantage? Particularly when that tap dancer politician came with a nominating petition that featured the signatures of our veritable Fred and Ginger of Sierra Madre politics, Joe Mosca and John Buchanan?

The mind whirls and swirls beneath such heady burdens.

Now we have received here at Tattler HQ, thanks to the vast network of merry informants who funnel such things to us, the invitation to the "Campaign Kick-off" for John and Joe's hoped for new dancing partner, Nancy Walsh. And this shindig will feature, you got it, tap dancing! And not just any tap dancers, but Nancy's very own dance troupe, the Tap Chicks! Here is how this invitation reads:

Nancy Walsh "Leadership for our Future" ... Please join us at her "Campaign Kick-off For Sierra Madre City Council" ... Sunday, February 21, 2010 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. ... Sierra Madre Playhouse at 87 West Sierra Madre Blvd. Sierra Madre, CA ... Entertainment: The Tap Chicks.

Just what our City Council needs, another mega-development tap dancer. The last time we had that many tap dancers the audits didn't get done, the city nearly went broke, Joe Mosca suddenly decided he didn't have to deliver on his promises, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were flushed down a black hole called the Downtown Specific Plan. All of which caused the city to go through four of the most contentious years in its entire history.

So please. A Conga, or a Soft Shoe. The Cha Cha Cha, Freddy, or a sedate Madison. Jig, Twist, Waltz, Watusi, Bunny Hop? Yes indeed. The Robot, Para Para, Morris, Frug, Metropolitan, or even the Peewee Herman Big Shoe Dance. Yes! Anything but another tap dance. We've had much too much of that sort of thing already.

Bonus Coverage: The Tap Chicks!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Carter Clews Take On Ed Roski

We've added to our "Sites of Interest" roster today Get Liberty.Org, a Libertarian-leaning site that has a incisive take on the goings on up in Sacramento. More proof that we here at The Tattler don't give a damn about ideology, it is all just about whether we're hearing the truth or not. Because that is something that always leads us to the same place no matter what the political wrapper. And the Executive Editor of the site, Carter Clews, is just spot on with his observations. The article we are reposting here covers a couple of issues that have been popular on this site. All that and it just happens to be a very good read.

Have a great weekend!

Ed Roski Jr and the World's Oldest Profession by Carter Clews

Earl K. Long - "the fine governor of the great state of Louisiana " - once denounced those who accused him of buying politicians in the strongest possible terms. "That's a G-D lie," Earl bellowed, "I never bought a congressman in my life! I rent 'em. It's cheaper."

California money mogul Ed Roski, Jr., doesn't disagree with Earl in principle, politicians being the notorious practitioners of the world's oldest profession that they are. But, he does strongly disagree in practice. Ed would be more than happy to buy every politician his procurers can dredge up. But, he'll be doggone if he's going to keep renting them.

Which is why he is a prime mover and proud financier behind the latest campaign to rob the Golden State of its highly popular term limits law. Never mind that the good people of this state have voted on three different occasions now to put - and keep - term limits intact. To Ed Roski, renting politicians every six to eight years has become a very expensive proposition. And he's looking for life-long paybacks.

Make no mistake about it, Ed is a past master at getting his money's worth from those whose path he has helped grease. Since 1999, he and his Majestic Realty Company have filled the bulging coffers of his handpicked water carriers to the princely tune of $2.6 million in campaign contributions.

And, apparently, once bought, the prositu- ... excuse me, politicians - have stayed bought. Assembly Bill 81, the measure to exempt his proposed football stadium from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides a case in point.

Now, keep in mind, California is a state for which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got a $3 million federal earmark to protect a swamp rat. That's how obsessive those tofu-eating sun worshippers are about keeping their environment pristine and intact. So, when Big Ed decided he wanted to build a new football stadium to lure in an NFL team, the CEQA automatically kicked in, requiring the usual passel of environmental impact reports.

"Not so fast," Ed bristled. "That may be all right for the common folks - but they don't hire their own politicians." So, quick as a billionaire with a bone to pick, he called in his favors. And the fawning factotums went to work.

Within days, State Senator Isadore Hall (D-Naturally) introduced AB 81 to - in the words of the bill Digest - "waive environmental review and land use planning requirements as they apply to a football stadium project in the City of Industry." So much for that.

Less than five weeks later, the bill had sailed through Assembly committees, been passed overwhelmingly and was sitting on the Governor's desk. He, of course, signed it into law as quickly as an aide could say "campaign contribution."

And oh, coincidentally, Roski just happened to have made the following contributions to the sponsors and co-authors of the bill that exempted him from everyone else's environmental laws:

$500 to Isadore Hall (D), $1,000 to Anthony Adams (R), $3,600 to Anthony Adams, $3,300 to Anthony Adams, $1,000 to Paul Cook (R), $3,600 to Paul Cook, $3,300 to Paul Cook, $1,000 to Bill Emmerson (R),$1,500 toBill Emmerson, $3,600 to Bill Emmerson, $3,300 to Bill Emmerson, $500 to Bill Emmerson, $3,600 to Curt Hagman (R), $3,600 to Curt Hagman, $57 to Edward Hernandez (D), $2,500 to Edward Hernandez, $1,000 to Jim Silva (R), $3,300 to Ronald Calderon (D), $999 to Ronald Calderon, $3,000 to Ronald Calderon, $1,000 to Rod Wright (D), $500 to Rod Wright, and $500 to Rod Wright.

Now you can see why Ed Roski, Jr., so strongly disagrees with his fellow political slickster Earl K. Long: at those kinds of prices for just one lousy bill, rentals just don't make it. You need to purchase your politicians outright and build up some serious equity.

All of which explains why Big Ed has already spent a whopping $300,000 in his latest attempt to gut California's term limit laws. Money may not buy happiness. But, Ed Roski, Jr., believes it sure as heck should be able to buy some prostitu- whoops, there I go again; excuse me, "politicians." And then, with term limits out of the way, they can make him happy as a john for the rest of his live-long life.