Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter in the San Gabriels

You might recall that back in the earlier days of this blog we did an article about some of the good works being accomplished by a group of folks calling themselves San Gabriel Mountains Forever. They had financed a poll regarding how people truly feel about our mountains, and the results showed that preserving the wilderness areas surrounding us is among the highest priorities for those who live in our little slice of the world. The results of this poll were sent on to Congressman David Dreier in hopes of enlisting his support in helping to preserve our mountains and wilderness areas. If you would care to read the article, it has been kindly reproduced on the San Gabriel Mountains Forever website. You can access it by clicking here.

Yesterday I received a press release from this great organization, and I thought that I should just reproduce the whole thing here on The Tattler. There are many ways to celebrate Easter this weekend, but few more charming or beneficial than the one they have put together for us all.

People of Faith Gather for Easter in the San Gabriel Mountains in Support of Wilderness Protection. Local Partnership Working to Preserve Water, Open Space, Recreational Benefits and Spiritual Values of Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests

Los Angeles, March 30, 2010 - Several churches from the San Gabriel Valley will meet in the San Gabriel Mountains this Saturday - the day before Easter - to express their support for more protection of the mountain range.

The San Gabriel Mountains serve as a spiritual sanctuary for people of many faiths, with baptisms every weekend, pilgrimages up Mount Baldy, meditation retreats at church camps, and prayer services by the river.

On Saturday, April 3rd, at 9:30 a.m., an early Easter service will be held at the East Fork of the San Gabriel River (Heaton Flat). By breaking bread together, praying in community, worshipping in the midst of creation, and singing for God, participants hope to raise greater awareness about the need for further protection of these mountains and rivers.

The morning will include an Easter worship service, a hike to view proposed Wilderness designations, a light lunch, and a letter-writing campaign to Rep. David Dreier, the congressman whose district includes the mountain range.

Easter worshippers are asking for two federal protections to further protect our public lands: Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations. They seek to add 30,000 acres to three existing federal Wilderness areas: Sheep Mountain, Cucamonga, and San Gabriel. In addition, they would like to see 46 miles of the San Gabriel River, San Antonio Creek, and Middle Fork Lytle Creek preserved with Wild and Scenic River protection. Currently, no rivers in the Angeles forest have this protection.

"The mountains bring incredible peace to people of faith, providing quiet and solitude that allows them to experience the closeness of God, pray, meditate, and find renewal," said Casey Crosbie of Progressive Christians Uniting. "The San Gabriels are a precious spiritual resource that we must protect."

Beyond its rich spiritual value, the Angeles National Forest is an irreplaceable natural resource that gives Los Angeles County 70% percent of its open space and more than one-third of the county's drinking water. The forest also serves as critical habitat for many endangered and sensitive plant and animal species including the mountain yellow-legged frog, Nelson's Bighorn sheep, California condor, mountain lion and the spotted owl. Without further protection, the mountains and rivers may face future damaging development including roads and power lines.

The Easter in the San Gabriels event is being organized by San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a diverse partnership of local business owners, residents, faith and community leaders, recreation groups, health and social service organizations, and conservation groups who have united to preserve this mountain range in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests.

Interested participants can attend the Easter in the San Gabriel service by meeting at the Rivers and Mountain Conservancy at 9 a.m. (100 N. Old San Gabriel Canyon Rd., Azusa CA 91702) to carpool. Visitors can also go directly to the place of worship at Heaton Flat parking area. National Forest Adventure Passes will be provided for all parking at the East Fork of the San Gabriel River (Heaton Flat).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Guess That's Why They Call It The Gold Line

Now I know a lot of wild claims have been made for the world saving powers of the 210 Gold Line. It is going to get people out of their cars, save the world from global warming, and be the very lifeblood of the newly regionalized California supercity of the future called San Gabrielania. Or something. But did you ever think it would also be the pot of gold at the end of Sacramento's somewhat anemic rainbow? Apparently that is the case, according to the Pasadena Star News.

I personally would never have thought that our little 210 Trolly would someday produce enough revenue to effectively end California's debt crisis all by itself. A claim like that would certainly have made me more than a little skeptical. But according to an editorial in yesterday's Pasadena Star News, the fabulous revenue producing powers of a newly extended Gold Line will be the envy of the world, and an event of truly historic importance. Check this out:

Our View: Continue Gold Line's formula for success - It's not all that often we get accused of reporting too much good news on our front pages, but good things do happen. Friday's bulletin that the regional MTA Board voted to fully fund the Gold Line Foothill extension from east Pasadena through Azusa is just that - a highly positive step for the San Gabriel Valley ... But we're not sure everyone fully grasps the importance of this mass transit line's growth on our economy and our communities. There will be more than just a train reaching the last station of Phase 2a near Citrus Avenue come early 2014. First there's the economic. This phase will generate 7,000 jobs, $1 billion in business revenues and $40 billion in tax revenues ...

Now 40 billion big ones is whole a lot of bananas where I come from. And you can get all of that by merely extending the 210 Gold Line from Sierra Madre Villa Station to Azusa? Wow! Can you imagine what we'd get if we extended it all the way to, let's say, Glendora? Or Rancho Cucamonga? By calculating the tax money to be raised by multiplying the rough mileage times the relatively modest length of the current extension, we're talking about $250 billion dollars! With that kind of dough we could rescue the public school system, fix all the roads in California, pay for the retirement of everybody, and still have enough left over to buy anybody who asks a nice cup of vanilla yogurt.

So why stop there? I say we extend The Trolly all the way to the Nevada border and divide the take equally between every taxpayer in the San Gabriel Valley. We'll all be millionaires and live happily ever after.

As exciting as that all might be, there was more in yesterday's Star News that piqued my wandering interest. And this time the topic to be discussed was of a more sober nature.

Pasadena may use eminent domain to seize historical building - The city is considering using eminent domain to seize a historical building near City Hall that has been fenced up and abandoned for more than a decade ... The building, 78 N. Marengo Ave., was designed by Julia Morgan, California's first prominent female architect. It was built in 1921, making it one of the earliest historical structures in the city ... At a public hearing next month, the council will consider authorizing city officials to use eminent domain.

Now the story goes on to very carefully explain that the reason for using eminent domain to seize this property would be for benign purposes. That is, the City of Pasadena might use this controversial procedure to save a valuable historic property from the neglect of the current private owner, someone who has thoughtlessly allowed the building to fall into disrepair.

But this does beg the question: What will Pasadena do with this property once it is wrested from the hands of the current ownership? Will the City turn it into a museum? A hospice for wayfaring youth? A really challenging skate park? Apparently the final result could be something far more mundane.

Sue Mossman of the Pasadena Heritage historical preservationist group said local preservationists would prefer to see a more low-impact use for the building, such as office space ... "In general, Pasadena Historical is not in favor of eminent domain," said Mossman. "But there are times when it is the only solution. It just isn't good for a building to sit there boarded up."

Hmm. So could we have declared the boarded up and blighted Skilled Nursing Facility a building great historical importance to the City of Sierra Madre, and then used eminent domain to save it from the callous and careless LLC currently owning the place? Just kidding.

Bonus Coverage: As was discussed yesterday in the place that has caused Bill Coburn to recoil in horror, the Tattler reader comments section, it was revealed that listed among Josh "Why I Love This City" Moran's Facebook "friends" is one Chip Ahlswede. Something that brings back memories. Chip, as a savvy reader pointed out, is a fellow closely associated with the infamous Schubert Flint Public Affairs, the politically oriented ad agency that organized the public relations effort to defeat Measure V in 2007. In the process taking most of the $170,000 somebody had raised to defeat this citizen initiative. Chip, as we know, worked on behalf of the interests of a concerned Schubert client, in this particular case the Arcadia Association of Realtors.

But according to the blog Queers United, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, along with former colleagues of Mr. Ahlswede (Chip, having left in 2007, was not involved) went on to do far bigger things than just screwing up the 'No on V' campaign in Sierra Madre. Here is what that blog has to say:

Schubert Flint Public Affairs is an advertising agency that created many of the ads that helped Proposition 8 pass in California, leading to same-sex marriage rights being taken away in the state ... The "National Organization for Marriage," an anti-gay think tank, is continuing their relationship with the ad agency in an attempt to further erode marriage rights for same sex couples.

That Sierra Madre is one of the few cities anywhere to stand up to these guys and win is quite a testimony to our ability to see through all the garbage that was thrown our way. We have a lot to be proud of.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Report From The Streets Of Sierra Madre

I have been out meeting with the people of Sierra Madre, one house or apartment at a time. And I have to tell you, what at first seemed to me would be a rather strenuous chore, has actually turned out to be an awful lot of fun. I'm taking my time, with my kids in tow (they are now busy lawn sign installation engineers), and if people want to talk I am more than glad to take a seat and have a conversation about what is going on here in town. Oftentimes I walk away with as much new information as whatever it is I'm leaving behind. Sierra Madre is a City blessed with some of the best informed and politically savvy people anywhere. It is the real reason we've managed to keep our unique little town the way it is.

Now considering the vast clots of very strange press that I have been on the receiving end of lately from the widely ignored free rags that litter the downtown streets of our fair City, you would think that at least some of this would get to the folks I have been visiting. And that perhaps some of the ugly and untrue things being said about me might work their way into at least a couple of conversations. But I have to tell you something, there hasn't been a single instance where any of that stuff has been brought up. Not one single time. And I've now been out walking 5 weekends in a row. I have often been greeted quite graciously, occasionally with enthusiasm, and the slow growth preservationist message that I'm offering is exactly what people want to hear. This has been a very gratifying experience, and I am now convinced that myself, along with those candidates I respect and support, are going to win.

While the Moscateers do have their supporters, there is very little general opposition presence out there. Even households displaying their signs have agreed with me about the important issues. It's like those candidates have no real message at all, so how can anyone agree with them? It appears that all they want to do is complain about me.

Not that this will come as a surprise, but Sierra Madre does not want high density development, nor does this town have a lot of love for those whose explanations on this important issue seem too clever, contrived, parsed, or complicated. They've heard that kind of talk before. Most want to know that you represent their side, the one that will keep Sierra Madre as it is. And once you've convinced them of that you have won their vote. After several weeks of visiting with people and exchanging views, I can only conclude that as far as my campaign for City Council goes, things are very much on course.

Another issue that comes up quite often is the sad state of the Skilled Nursing Facility. In a lot of ways this has become a source of anxiety for many who love this town, and they are concerned. But when I explain the new Blight Law this City just passed, and my role in its creation, they are happy. The concept that the SNF's owner is the true responsible party for this eyesore, and that the City isn't going to allow the miscreant to get away with it any more, is recognized as the realistic way to view this. Most are relieved to know they won't have to worry about that anymore.

The Eminent Domain Ballot Initiative seems to be confusing for many, and I'm wondering if maybe we should send out some sort of postcard breaking it all down. Everyone believes the taking of private property by government for the monetary benefit of private interests is an unspeakable evil, and all find the whole concept appalling. But the issue here is they want make a correct vote, and people ask if they should cast a 'yes' vote, or a 'no.' I think this could be in part a hangover from the massively funded disinformation campaign that was unleashed during the Measure V election. There are quite a few people in this town who were wrongly convinced that a 'no' vote was actually the preservationist vote, and that is what they did when they went to their polling station. Nobody wants to make that kind of mistake again, and they want to make certain they have that right.

And that is pretty much it. Alverno has come up a few times. Street paving is a concern in some neighborhoods, but almost nobody wants to incur the massive debt that would come with the multi-million dollar "live for today" bond Joe Mosca is pushing. A "take it as we go" approach seems to be favored. Surprisingly, at least for me, are the several mentions of The Stuart, that Transportation Oriented Development project down on Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena. Apparently for some that has become a symbol as well, in this case as the kind of thing people would hate seeing here in our town.

Now I was prepared to write about some of the weird stuff said in the current issue of the Mountain Views "News." The things claimed by its Publisher are not just bizarrely untrue, but are so laughably unbelievable that they are more of a confession of desperation on their author's part than anything else. There is just an unmistakable panic in all that. But do you know what? Having spent a beautiful weekend talking to people about our City government and what I hope to see in the very promising future of this town, I just don't feel like lowering myself into that kind of muck right now. Why bother? If they can't handle the kind of down home truth that was laid out at last Tuesday evening's City Council meeting, well, that is hardly my problem.

Besides, and as my far wiser wife likes to put it, sometimes you just have to let the crazy train go by.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The California Eminent Domain Report Writes About Sierra Madre's Eminent Domain Initiative ... and The Tattler?

So it looks like The Tattler got matched up against the Mountain Views "News" in the California Eminent Domain Report, and wouldn't you know it? We were declared the winner. Of course, I don't think that will come as much of a surprise to many as we generally concern ourselves with the facts, whereas Susan Henderson apparently allows her resentments and personal grudges to sometimes cloud her judgement, skewing what she claims is news reporting. But still it was a gratifying victory, and it also gives me something fun to write about for the weekend.

So who or what is the California Eminent Domain Report? Here is how they describe themselves on their site:

Nossaman's Eminent Domain and Valuation Group consists of leading California eminent domain lawyers. Our attorneys are experienced practitioners in all aspects of eminent domain and other valuation disputes, representing public agencies, landowners, and business owners.

Sounds impressive. And would you believe that they have now written about Sierra Madre on two different occasions? It looks like our Eminent Domain Initiative (identified by CEDR as "Ordinance 1304") is now getting some serious attention out there beyond the Michillinda Curtain. Here is how their first article (12/10/09) about our initiative reads:

Sierra Madre Lets Voters Decide Breadth of Eminent Domain Power - Sierra Madre will allow its citizens to decide whether the city can use the power of eminent domain for private purposes. According to a Pasadena Star News article, "Sierra Madre resident(s) will vote on eminent domain," the city council agreed to put a proposed measure on the April 2010 ballot which would prevent the city from (1) condemning property and turning it over to a private developer, and (2) funding or cooperating with any other city agency using eminent domain (such as the Redevelopment Agency.)

Wondering why the city does not simply pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private purposes if the board members are against such use? The answer, apparently, is that the board considered doing so in reaction to Kelo, but ultimately determined such an ordinance could be overturned by future city councils. If the measure is passed by the voters, it would be much harder to overturn.

The California Eminent Domain Report stayed on this case, and returned on March 2nd to the always exciting political battlegrounds of our little foothill village for a follow up report. And in what they describe as "some colorful debate," they analyzed the MVN's take on the issue, and then compared it with the reporting of yours truly.

On February 27, Susan Henderson offered a Mountain Views News article "Eminent Domain Measure -- Yes or No?" She purports to analyze the measure in the broader context of recent eminent-domain-reform efforts, including California's Proposition 99, passed in 2008 in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's much maligned 2005 Kelo decision. She ultimately concludes that the measure is irrelevant, and amounts to mere political "grandstanding" by Sierra Madre's Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray.

Now you might recall that we here at The Tattler took exception to Susan's politically motivated slap at our Eminent Domain Initiative, and the CEDR took note.

On March 1, "Eric Maundry," aka City Council candidate John Crawford, responded in a Sierra Madre Tattler piece called "Has The Mountain Views News Come Down On The Side Of Eminent Domain?" ... Mr. "Maundry" contends that the measure has real teeth, prohibiting the City from all eminent domain for redevelopment purposes --- i.e., eminent domain where the goal is to turn the condemned property over to another private owner for redevelopment.

So having compared the general thrust contained in each of these two Sierra Madre articles on the matter, how did this fine legal firm comprised of experts in the field of eminent domain law decide which argument had the greater merit?

As to eminent domain and the impact of Ordinance 1304, I have to side with Mr. "Maundry." The ordinance goes well beyond the limited restrictions Proposition 99 offers state-wide, and should, if approved, create a real barrier against eminent domain for redevelopment purposes. Especially with respect to businesses, no current federal or state prohibition exists on condemning property for redevelopment purposes, as long as the condemning agency makes proper blight findings. Ordinance 1304 would change that, at least in Sierra Madre.

I have given some further thought as to whether or not Susan Henderson actually is in favor of government seizure of peoples' homes so that somebody can make some money. And while some might find my new conclusion overly generous, I am of the opinion that she is not. Rather I now believe that when she wrote her report on this topic, she didn't really understand what she was talking about. Which is why the conclusions contained in her article are so absurdly wrong.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pasadena's General Plan Debacle

On the City of Pasadena site dealing with their new General Plan process, the following paragraph can be found:

To date, community feedback has been clear: Pasadena's strong community character - its diversity, neighborhoods and small town feel - should be maintained; its history and heritage preserved; new development projects well-designed; traffic reduced; alternative modes of transportation encouraged; and economic vitality in commercial areas to be supported.

Now if you read between the lines of that happy talk you will discover that there is a lot more going on there than might first meet the eye. Pasadena is in the planning stages for their new General Plan, and the residents of the Rose City were invited to public meetings to share their perspectives and cares on the topic. However, what they told their solicitous City officials was apparently not really what they wanted to hear. Quite the contrary, those attending were quite unhappy over what has become of their City, and didn't want to see anymore of the kind of change they'd experienced since the now lamented previous General Plan came into being.

This from a November 27, 2009 Pasadena Star News article:

Planning process reveals Pasadena resident's distaste for high-density building - In the midst of a city planning process that will determine what Pasadena's future growth will look like, one thing certain has emerged: Residents are decidedly against high-density construction ... For the past 15 years, since the 1994 General Plan update, the city's development policies have focused on encouraging new growth in central Pasadena, along Colorado Boulevard, while keeping it away from neighborhoods ... But at recent community meetings on the General Plan update, some concerns have surfaced over density in Central Pasadena ... "It was a good idea to develop that area, but the way it has turned out has been overkill," said Berlinda Brown, a member of the city's General Plan Update Advisory Committee ...

It seems that what many people living in Pasadena are suffering from is a case of buyer's remorse. When the previous General Plan went down much of the development proposed was met with some enthusiasm. Particularly that involving the newly conceived "Transit Oriented Development" model. The Gold Line to Pasadena was nearing completion, and many saw this kind of accompanying development as being a progressive way to grasp this bold future. But now, 15 years later, and with the afflicted neighborhoods the home to large new structures and accompanying traffic congestion, the thrill was most definitely gone. And the prospect of even more of the same was bringing folks out to these public General Plan meetings and straight up to the speakers' podium where they spoke of their displeasure in unmistakable terms.

The West Pasadena Residents' Association News, which is not exactly what you would call a radical publication, recently published an editorial on the topic of building design. And in a very genteel kind of way the author of this opinion piece, Mic Hansen, shared her views on the matter. We're going to post some of them here to give you an idea of just how deeply this unhappiness with large scale development has permeated Pasadena's culture.

In some of the developments that we have seen since the mid-nineties, there has been a tendency to allow isolated rectilinear stone/stucco/glass boxes to rise, devoid of sensitivity to their surroundings, to quality, to style, and the aesthetics of their neighboring buildings, thus ignoring the importance of knitting the building into its context. We have repeated this gaffe over and over (to wit, Trio apartments between Colorado and Union at El Molino, Westgate at Del Mar and De Lacey, mixed use building on the southeast corner of Los Robles and Orange Grove, etc.). Understandably cost is a valid and constant consideration, but eschewing Pasadena's illustrious architectural history and sense of place, as well as denying context and neighborhood coherence cannot help but ill serve all involved interests.

The more of these (in the words of HRH Prince Charles) "carbuncles" get built, the more they erode the ineffable place that is Pasadena. Quality. Beauty. Beauty. Timelessness. These attributes seem often lost in our current practices. The intent is NOT to keep Pasadena in the past, but build for the present and the future in a manner that respects what has come before: genuine beauty, high quality materials and decoration, harmony with its environment, respectful of the culture and fabric of the community, visual and mass compatibility with the neighborhood, an effort to continue a "sense of place" and durability that are all hallmarks of excellent projects ...

Carbuncles indeed. So back to the public General Plan meetings. Certainly after hearing how the public felt about what had become of their community, and what was expected from those creating the new documents, the obvious remedy would be to incorporate their concerns. After all, public opinion had been solicited, and what was said seems to have been fairly loud and clear. But apparently that is not to be the case. This from the same Pasadena Star News article we quoted from above:

While some residents want tougher rules to check the city's population growth by discouraging new housing development, state laws make such restrictions very difficult to implement, said Stephanie DeWolf, deputy director of planning and development ... The state requires cities to plan ahead for certain amount of population growth per year. Each city receives a state-recommended number of new homes and apartments it must build in the future in order to accommodate that growth, De Wolf said ... As a result, De Wold added, Pasadena's General Plan update likely will not be a document that mandates slow-growth policies.

In other words the fix is in, and what DeWolf is telling us here is a bit of a very familiar cop out. Blaming state law for a lack of desire to contest RHNA numbers being pretty much the oldest trick in that book. We heard similar arguments put out here in Sierra Madre during the run up to the DSP/Measure V election, and somehow the world didn't end when it passed. Plus we have successfully contested RHNA numbers since, and quite successfully. And as far as I know nobody has sent in the National Guard.

Just because something is the legislated will of Sacramento doesn't mean abject surrender is the only recourse. Such things can be fought and, as we have seen in our town, with success.

Which is what City governments that represent those paying their salaries should be expected to do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Joe Mosca Bickers During Public Comments

Maybe the pressures of the election are starting to get to Joe Mosca. Those long lonely trudges through town do weigh on the soul at times, and rumors are that the reception he's received at some of the doors he's knocked on haven't been quite what he was looking for. His shortcomings have become part of the culture here in town, and even those only remotely clued into Sierra Madre's governmental affairs have strong opinions about Joe, often negative. And as one who has never shown much talent for self-criticism or awareness, the need to blame others for his woes must be strong for him.

And it must have looked to Joe like some of his most eloquent tormentors had shown up to make his Tuesday evening less enjoyable than he'd hoped. And that all of them were residents who had strongly supported him in 2006 must have made it even more harsh. Nothing worse than the loss of old friends. The consequences of his poor faith were arrayed like vengeful angels seeking recompense for messing with their wings.

Now the forum where these remarks criticizing Joe were delivered was the "Public Comments" portion of last night's City Council meeting. This is the time when the residents get to speak freely about their concerns as long as the topic is not an agendized item. This is freedom of speech at its very best, and City Councilmembers are required to listen thoughtfully and keep their observations to themselves. It is the peoples' time. Besides, they get to talk all they want for the rest of the evening.

Now several speakers honed in on Joe, and his many failures to deliver upon promises made were carefully detailed for all the town to see live on SMTV3. It was a veritable Joe Mosca roster of wrongs. The first to speak at length on Joe's shortcomings was Teryl Willis, and her topic was Joe's betrayal on his 2006 promise to his supporters for a public vote on the Downtown Specific Plan:

In the spring of 2007, I came to a council meeting to address you, Mr. Mosca. You were not at the meeting that night. I think you were on a trip to Sacramento. I wanted to tell you that I voted for you, because when you were asked if you were in favor of a public vote on the Downtown Specific Plan, you said "Yes." The candidates who said "Yes" won that election. The candidates who said "No" lost that election.

After your election, you voted "No" on the resolution for the citizens' right to vote on the Downtown Specific Plan. Previously you had said "Yes" and at the June 13th meeting you voted "No."It was then I knew that I had made an error in supporting your campaign and in voting for you.

Here we are years later and you have never owned up to your destructive and costly reversal. You could have said,"I changed my mind,"or "I am unsure about the DSP," or "I don't know what to think," or many other statements that would have explained your decision to vote "No"on the resolution for the citizens' right to vote. Instead you have chosen the path of evasion and denial.

During your campaign, you never said anything about an "advisory" vote rather than a "binding" vote. You never said anything about "other ways to take the pulse of the people," as if there were any better way to take the pulse of the people than a public vote. You said you would vote "Yes" and then you voted "No."

We have your words on record, and thanks to a Sierra Madre film company called Neuroblast, we have the ability to look at many clips from Council meetings on YouTube. Also, any Council meetings discs that a resident may be interested in researching are helpfully available in the library.

I realize Mr. Mosca that you have not been in Sierra Madre for very long, so you might think it is normal for so many different residents to stand here through the years and tell you how you failed to keep your promise, and how deeply you have disappointed them. It is not normal in this town. You might think it is OK to say one thing during a campaign, and the opposite after the campaign. It is not OK in this town.

How can we ever believe what you say?

I trust the voters of Sierra Madre will study your remarks, examine your voting record, and understand where your allegiances lie. You went back on your word, and you have never apologized.

Joe was visibly upset by what he heard here, and in the first of his outbursts during Public Comments began to rail at Ms. Willis and how untrue all the things she had said were. Blanket denial seeming to be his only recourse as any conversation on specifics would have only dug the pit deeper. He then proclaimed that it was all politics, and not appropriate to Public Comments. Which is kind of like saying hot dogs are inappropriate at a baseball game. And then, as Ms. Willis was returning to her seat, he told her that the place where such things should be said was during his private meeting time. Which many found to be more than a little patronizing.

Joe's outbursts kind of reminded me of George W. Bush's famous statement about there being "too much freedom on the internets."

Fay Angus delivered a staunch defense of the long standing Sierra Madre tradition of nonpartisanship during Sierra Madre municipal elections. She gave many reasons for this, and if I had the transcript of her speech I would publish it here. But Joe having accepted the endorsement of the Los Angeles Democratic Party Central Committee is an obvious affront to long standing Sierra Madre political principles. It was intimated that the embattled City Councilman did it because of the many dubious benefits it could to his bring campaign. Political machine muscle, phone banks, robo-calling, out of town canvassers, and, of course, money had to have figured strongly in this risky political gamble. Advantages that were severely diminished by these public revelations regarding his abandonment of the century old Sierra Madre tradition of nonpartisanship in our City elections. Here issues pertaining to our government come first, and there is little place for the strong arm politics and irrelevant concerns of the Los Angeles County political machines. We would prefer our elected officials to be beholden to us alone.

But the speaker that caused Joe to lose it in a truly unseemly way was Shirley Moore. In a town with many impressive speakers, Shirley stands head and shoulders above most in my opinion. She couples impressive speaking abilities with concise and forcefully written language, and the combined effect can be deadly. Joe's later reaction being eloquent testimony to that.

I'd like to say a few words about City Councilperson Joe Mosca and his current campaign for reelection.

Please don't let this candidate fool you. He lied shamelessly to his supporters, including me, four years ago to secure his Council seat. The very foundation of his political career has been built entirely on falsehoods and his current campaign material bears further witness to his unforgivable penchant for continuing to try and hoodwink the electorate. He has taken full credit for achievements during his term as Councilperson in which he was, if anything at all, only tangentially involved. Mr. Mosca has done nothing to protect or fight for the rights and interests of Sierra Madre residents (except for a very small profit - and development - centered group of investors) against the wolves of overdevelopment huffing maniacally at our doors. He has instead joined their ranks in his efforts to sacrifice what precious little we have left of our small town ambience to the great moneyed gods of development.

He supported the excessive development potential represented by the Downtown Specific Plan four years ago, after pledging to bring the DSP to a citywide vote and then betraying that pledge almost immediately upon taking his seat.

Mr. Mosca was inexplicably absent for nearly four years from the SCAG meetings to which he has been designated to represent the city's interests, and yet he insisted on the city's compliance with SCAG over new RHNA numbers, when abject compliance would have been overly detrimental to the City's best interests. It was only through the attendance and efforts of Councilmembers MaryAnn MacGillivray and Don Watts at SCAG meetings for the last few months that Sierra Madre was spared adherence to unreasonable development numbers imposed by this organization.

He supports SB 375, a recently passed, wholly ignominious, development industry backed measure which strips small towns of their decision making power over what kind and quantity of development that can occur within their city limits. Many California cities are filing lawsuits against the State of California in response to the passage of this bill.

His most recent offense is his pursuit and capture of a Democratic Party campaign reelection endorsement for his upcoming Sierra Madre City Council competition, an event every two years that has been traditionally and intentionally NONPARTISAN. In seeking this endorsement, he was required to apply to, and subsequently interviewed by and pay fees to the Democratic Party for the privilege of its support. He has now also employed out-of-town party members to canvas door-to-door for his re-election. Something he also did four years ago. I can only hope that in-town Democrats would find this kind of strategy repugnant since local politics revolve around what would be in the best interests of the city's residents, not around what would be best for a political party or candidate of that party.

Mr. Mosca has proven by his actions over the past four years that he does not treasure the best interests of Sierra Madre as much as the grossly self-inflated interests of his self-proclaimed political star on the rise. For Joe Mosca, political integrity is an oxymoron; in fact, any association of integrity with Joe Mosca is a ludicrous stretch of the imagination.

If you have been misled into casting your ballot for this master of mendacity, please reconsider, unless the destruction of Sierra Madre for private gain is high on your agenda as well.

All of this seems to have struck deeply at the core of Joe's being, because he basically lost control. Again the blanket "none of this is true!" and "it's all rubbish!" denials were heard. Because the statements deemed offensive by Joe were delivered during Public Comments, and because a City Councilman loudly berating a resident for exercising their Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech is entirely inappropriate, the Mayor began to attempt to gavel the irate fellow back into line with recognized meeting decorum. But Joe seemed to be having none of that. His displeasure was evident, and he was going to let his anger flag fly. Mayor MacGillivray then began to openly threaten Joe with removal from the Council Chambers if he couldn't get himself under control. And, punctuated by the repeated rap rap rap of the Mayor's gavel, he continued to vent.

Now something that was not visible to anyone watching on TV were the actions of Chief Diaz. Her role at City Council meetings is to make sure that order and a proper business atmosphere are maintained at all times. And, as Joe's outbursts and the gavelling continued, she rose from her seat at the back of the room and cautiously backed out into the lobby, all the while keeping a wary eye on the disruptive behavior coming from the visibly agitated Councilmember. There other members of the SMPD, dressed in street clothes, quickly huddled with her. Joe's forcible removal from this City Council meeting seemed, at that moment, a very distinct possibility.

I believe it was the sight of this possible SMPD intervention that finally caused Joe to reel himself in. As embarrassing as this must all have been for him, I think he must have realized that being dragged out of a City Council meeting kicking and screaming would not have been his finest moment.

One other note. During one of his outbursts Joe said something about being "the only candidate going door to door" in this election. This is not true. I can't speak for any of the other candidates so unceremoniously thrown under that bus, but I personally have been through quite a bit of this City, and will hopefully be able to finish the job during the remaining few weeks of this campaign.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Novel Plan To Deal With Abandoned Properties

For quite a while now this City has discussed the rather sad condition of the Skilled Nursing Facility. And as unpleasant as this blighted property has been for this town, you really do need to step back and ask yourself a question. What if instead of being the exception, it was the rule? What if instead of one blighted property, half of the buildings in downtown Sierra Madre were in that condition? With a significant portion of the residential properties as well? Because there are places that are like that, and some of them aren't really all that far away.

Of course, with the SNF all we need to do is wait for another 60 or so days when our Blight Ordinance kicks in and the responsible party (the property's owner) begins to realize that there are consequences to allowing so visible a commercial property to sit and rot. And even he must be realizing that hell will freeze over before this City will ever again elect a government that will cut him that measure of slack. The Shenanigan Era is over, and with it the freedom to turn investment properties into eyesores.

But not every place is as fortunate as the one we live in. The solutions to their problems are nowhere near as simple. And the website Mint Life nicely details some of the worst casualties of the real estate market collapse. In an article there entitled Modern Day Ghost Towns of Abandoned Real Estate, some of the worst cases are described. I've picked out a few of the more regional ones.

Riverside County, California - It is ... important to note that this area was a known hub for building up Southern California's rapid suburban sprawl - not only was this one of the state's regions with the most expansion, but it was also an area that furnished many of the construction companies with cheap labor that made surrounding communities' growth possible. By August of 2008, the median price of a home in Riverside County dropped to $220k, the first time it had dipped under $300k since the 1990s. In some Riverside County neighborhoods, as many as 20% of all homes have been foreclosed and now sit vacant.

Stockton, California - Currently, 90% of all sales in the greater Stockton region are either foreclosures or short sales. The median house price dropped to $237k by December '08, the lowest it has been since February 2003. It is estimated that housing prices in former boom markets are more than 40% off what they had been leading up to 2007.

Las Vegas - Just over a year ago, the Greater Las Vegas Board of Realtors calculated that 45% of the 22,000 single family houses for sale at the time were actually vacant. Most of all these were houses abandoned by new area residents, or investment properties by the area's thousands of speculators who were drawn to the region because of its recent track record of housing price increases. Squatters are increasingly seen occupying the abandoned properties.

North Los Angeles County, California - With the vision of urban sprawl connecting Los Angeles to Bakersfield and the plans for a train connecting the two, builders began winding through the hills to the north from LA. Today, in Antelope Valley, for example, it is not unusual for long-term rental property owners to have to deal with tenants who recently lost their home to foreclosure and are having difficulty getting back on their feet. In some cases, tenants do everything from the typical stripping of copper wire to be sold to the more bizarre use of cabinets for firewood. Abandoned investment properties are on the rise.

So all that said, where is that novel plan to deal with abandoned properties you ask? Well, for that we will need to turn to the BBC News website to get the lowdown.

Fake shops 'revive' high street - With 140 empty shops in the borough, council bosses think they have come up with a unique way of ensuring shopping areas remain as vibrant as ever. The first empty shop unit to be given a makeover with a "flat pack" shop front is in Whitley Bay. North Tyneside Council said the move was cost-effective and would help to attract new investment. The council said the fake shop in Whitley bay - which alone has 49 empty units - has been welcomed by traders and shoppers.

The government-funded project involves colorful graphic designs featuring a range of different shop types, which are either taped inside the windows or screwed to the fascia so they can be removed and reused as required. Karen Goldfinch, chair of Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade, said: "It's an excellent way of promoting how a unit can be used, perhaps inspiring new businesses to come into town."

A very interesting solution. Rather than just allowing shops to sit empty and forlorn in the middle of a shopping area, these folks have begun taping colorful pictures of bustling business up on the empty store front windows in order to at least give the impression that prosperity is being practiced there.

Somebody has got to get this outfit's phone number over to whoever it is that owns the Skilled Nursing Facility. Faced with substantial fines in around 60 days, perhaps the owner'd be interested in purchasing a full set of window pictures to paste on the boards up where the real ones used to be. Personally I'd suggest he get the ones with the pictures of flowerpots included.

Of course, the best solution would be for the LLC owning the SNF to just sell the property and let market values determine which businesses will and will not be able to set up shop there. The artificially high price these people have been asking for the place these last few years has pretty much discouraged any serious interest in the place. You can only wonder what it is they think they're holding out for. Hopefully the blight fines will help motivate them.

Bonus Coverage: Is this the first time the Pasadena Star News has made its Sierra Madre candidate endorsements without actually speaking to all the candidates? That the PSN's editorial posse would actually choose those candidates favored by the decidedly big development forward San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership (AT&T, Majestic Realty, Edison, The Gas Company - aka Joe Mosca's employer) should be no surprise given they are employed by one of that organization's chief sponsors. And just like all of their favored "slow growth" candidates, the Star News was against Measure V as well. Just the way it goes. But to not even make a phone call with a question or two? Just for appearances sake? Seems both elite and rather remote of them.

Bonus Coverage Two: Spoke with Frank Girardot at the Pasadena Star News and he confirmed that they had not spoken to the candidates before making their call on the Sierra Madre election this April 13. The reason being they didn't want to "take up any of the candidates' valuable time."

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Happened to Pleasanton?

One of the most discouraging things about AB32/SB375 is the removal by Sacramento of many traditional rights of cities to control development within their own borders. Whatever the intent, these new laws remove much of the housing development authority from individual cities and concentrate them within Sacramento. Something that effectively centralizes planning in this state. General Plans are now strongly required by Sacramento to accommodate the various requirements of these conjoined laws, and run the risk of state initiated lawsuits should they refuse to play ball. These requirements are mostly in regards to transportation oriented development, and in a lot of cases this includes planning for new large scale housing, something considered onerous and destructive to what many regard as the character, to say nothing of autonomy, of their communities.

In the case of Pleasanton we can now see an actual instance where the displeasure of Sacramento in this regard led to a crushing defeat in Court, with one of the major parties in this state initiated lawsuit being led by no less an august personality than Jerry Brown, California State Attorney General. It is obvious that with the personal involvement of the top legal officer in the state, Sacramento takes this all very seriously.

Something called the Transbay Blog, which is notably unsympathetic to the wishes of communities such as Pleasanton, gives a pretty thorough description of the process that led to Jerry Brown taking this city on over its voter approved initiative limiting housing there.

Jerry Brown to Pleasanton: Housing and Climate Change Are Connected - So what happens when, despite the state's requirement, a city tries to shrug off its obligation to accommodate its fair share of housing growth? Then, the state must step in -like it did yesterday, when Attorney General Jerry Brown finally took action against the City of Pleasanton's housing cap. In 1996, Pleasanton adopted Measure GG, which instituted a housing cap - no more that 29,000 units could be built within the city. Since 2006, the City had already faced lawsuits because of this provision, and in January 2009, Jerry Brown submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) of Pleasanton's General Plan update. In his comments, Brown indicated quite unambiguously that the housing cap was problematic. Now, in just a dozen pages, Brown clarifies how the Pleasanton cap violates state housing law. It basically comes down to the numbers. ABAG's projections require the City accommodate 3,277 housing units by the year 2014. But the City is only 2,007 units short of reaching the housing cap of 29,000 units. With the cap in place, not even those 3,277 units could not be built - to say nothing of the units that ABAG projections would call for after 2014. And, in fact, the City even still has to come up with missing housing units from the last RHNA planning period, which ended in 2007.

ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) similar to our very own SCAG (Southern California Area Governments). When RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) numbers are assigned to cities such as Pleasanton (or Sierra Madre for that matter), it is these MPOs that do all the dirty work. Originally these regional organizations were designed to give voice to the needs of individual cities in regards to area planning, but lately they have come to serve as little more than enforcers for housing policies dictated by the central planning authorities in the state capitol.

Until recently RHNA demands for housing increases had been justified because the MPOs had somehow concluded that California was undergoing massive population increases that would lead to acute housing shortages should cities all over the state not plan for big housing increases. And you can see the results of that blunder locally in places such as Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale. All cities that are now experiencing large gluts of unsold condominium style development. Obviously the millions of new residents the MPO's crystal balls predicted have not materialized, with the state actually undergoing an exodus of both high paying jobs and the skilled workforce required to do them. So great has this exodus become that there is a possibility, and for the first time in California history, that this state could actually lose a seat in Congress after the current census.

But while policies that proclaimed a need for more housing due to population increases are now inoperative, the pressure on cities to accommodate large new development continues. The reason now is climate change. Apparently this theory has it that we can build our way out of Global Warming, with the agent of our salvation being high density development. Or, to put it into more salvational language, condos that will rescue the world.

Here is how Transbay Blog describes this dynamic in the Pleasanton case:

The Climate Change Connection - What continues to be interesting here is Jerry Brown's consistent emphasis on climate change. In this case, Pleasanton's General Plan just straight-up violates state housing requirements, and the City's housing cap could be invalidated on that basis alone. Indeed, in his formal challenge of the housing cap, Brown focuses on the state's Planning and Zoning Law to make the case. In supplementary materials, however, Brown has embraced a policy discussion that goes beyond simply pointing out the literal legal problem. In his Jaunuary 2009 comments on the General Plan DEIR, he criticizes the City for not adequately considering climate change impacts of the Plan. This is an environmental issue, not a housing issue. More recently, Brown explicitly tied the housing cap to its effect on travel patterns and air quality - adding his voice to the chorus chanting about how focused growth and smart land use patterns are a critical component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Different rationale, same requirement. Or, as the acronymically conversant like to put it, "You Build Or We Sue (UBOWS)." Next time somebody calls you a NIMBY, try using that one on 'em.

Bonus Coverage: Here is a copy of the letter California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. sent to Brian Dolan, Planning Director for the City of Pleasanton:

RE: Shaping Local Land Use Patterns to Meet the Requirements of AB 32

Dear Planning Director Dolan:

In response to the many questions we receive from local agencies like yours, the Attorney General's Office has compiled the attached document, "Climate Change, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and General Plan Updates: Straightforward Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions." To ensure that all local governments have access to the most up-to-date information, we are sending these materials to cities and counties that are in the process of updating their general plans and, in addition, to those jurisdictions that are due for an update.

The general planning process presents a powerful opportunity to carefully consider and shape future land use patterns and ensure that development is consistent with AB 32. As the Air Resources Board noted in its recent AB 32 Scoping Plan, "local governments are essential partners in achieving California's goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Attorney's in my office have commented on a significant number of general plan updates over the past two years. They have also met informally with planners and officials from numerous jurisdictions. It is clear to us that local agencies are attempting to address global warming in their general plan updates and accompanying CEQA documents and are taking on the the challenging scientific, technical, and policy issues presented.

The letter goes on with some of the usual boilerplate, but you can see how global warming, and not population increases, have become the rationale behind Sacramento's latest series of demands for high density housing increases throughout the state.

Which begs the question - while obviously car emissions can be a problem, wouldn't the kinds of increases in housing called for by Sacramento only exacerbate the problem rather than alleviating it? After all, electricity production is as much a contributer of greenhouse gases as cars, if not more. And areas of high density settlement also contribute significantly to the problem. Then there is the related problems regarding water supply.

It would seem to me that if the state was genuinely concerned with reducing greenhouse gas emissions solar/wind technologies, electric auto technologies, and improved energy efficiency along with conservation, would be the way to go. Rather than just building vast amounts of mediocre and generic new housing in the hopes that it will somehow cause people to take public transportation.

Besides, if you settle a lot of people by public transportation sites, is there really any guarantee that they will somehow wish to abandon their automobiles and take the bus? Seems like magical thinking to me. A lot of people, upon being given a place to live that can be described as "low income," might actually wish to take those savings and invest in something they have always wanted.

Which in the case of most Californians would be a new car.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Picture Of The Week

So what can you do when your annoying neighbor insists on placing their Joe Mosca sign right up next to your property? With the possible consequence of casual passersby thinking it has something to do with you?

Well, you'll just to have let people know that this is definitely not the case.

The homemade sign in this picture pretty much spells out one resident's surefire strategy for escaping the taint of appearing to back the San Fernando Carpetbagger.

"This household does not endorse Joe Mosca."

Very well done!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Joe Mosca Breaks the 1st Commandment of Sierra Madre Municipal Elections: No Partisan Party Politics

For as long as there has been a Sierra Madre there has also been one great unwritten commandment that all of our City Council candidates have been expected to follow: Thou Shalt Not Bring Partisan Party Politics Into Our City Elections. And it really is a great rule. Rather than people dividing along locally irrelevant state and national party lines, our nonpartisan elections assure the voters that the issues here will always be about Sierra Madre's concerns. Republicans and Democrats willingly put that kind of thing aside and stand side by side when it comes to Sierra Madre's needs. All in recognition of what is truly important here.

Under this nonpartisan philosophy the first concern has always been the affairs of our town, and not the agendas of the usual state and national political personalities and controversies. People who run for office in our town owe nothing to any big political parties, deep pockets contributors, or powerful bosses. They only serve us. Here we have always voted the candidate, and not merely a party. It has stood our City well over the years, and because of that candidates for City Council have always respected the notion that big party politics stops at the city line. This is one of the things that has made Sierra Madre unique.

However, and as was first revealed late yesterday afternoon on this site, that is now apparently not how Joe Mosca sees it. According to what we found on the Los Angeles County Democratic Party website, Joe has now accepted the endorsement of a major national political party. And by doing so has aligned himself with its specific political agendas and programs. Which is ironic when you consider that Mr. Mosca has been presenting himself this campaign season as the "candidate for all Sierra Madre." But now with the exception of Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Peace and Freedom, American Independents, and regular old "decline to state" independents.

On the Los Angeles County Democratic site there is something called the Guide To The Endorsement Recommendation Process. Here is how they describe this procedure:

The Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee, also known as the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP), has the authority to grant the endorsement of the Democratic Party in local, municipal and nonpartisan elections in Los Angeles County. A political party's endorsement is one of the principal tools used to influence the outcome of an election.

Anticipating the inevitable evasions from the Mosca Campaign, let me share with you what I know about getting a Democratic Party endorsement in Los Angeles County. It doesn't just come to you like a gift from on high, nor is it a coincidence. You have to work for it. Here is the text of an email that was sent out to those Sierra Madre City Council candidates who are registered as Democrats:

From: Ivan Light (
Subject: You are eligible for endorsement by the LA County Democratic Party
cc: Clark Lee ( Paul Scott (
Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010, 1:59PM

Dear Candidate,

As a candidate for the City Council in the City of Sierra Madre, and a registered Democrat, you are eligible for endorsement by the LA County Democratic Party. To obtain this endorsement, should you wish to do so, you will need to submit an application, pay a fee, and attend a brief endorsement meeting.

You will receive official notice and a comprehensive explanation by ordinary mail soon. This letter is strictly unofficial, and intended to advise you in a timely way that an endorsement meeting will be held on:

date: Feb 27, 2010
location: 819 Marymount Lane, Claremont CA 91711
time: starts 10 am; ends approx 11:30 am

If you think you will want an endorsement by the LACDP, please plan on attending this meeting. Should you have questions, you can reach me by reverse mail. If you know you will not seek an endorsement from the LACDP, then please so advise me by reverse mail.

Yours Truly,
Ivan Light
59 AD Chair

As you can see by Mr. Light's e-mail, this endorsement is not something that just happens. You are first required to pay a fee, do the rather onerous paperwork, and then undergo an hour and a half interview. Only after going though this process would you even be eligible to be considered for a Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee endorsement for Sierra Madre City Council.

Joe had to have really wanted it.

So what advantages will this endorsement get for Joe? Out of town volunteers is one. Already we have been hearing reports that people from other jurisdictions have been knocking on doors for him this election. Another is organizational support. Such things as phone banks (Glendale's is the one most likely to be used) and robo-calling will now be available to Mr. Mosca. All big city political techniques that could very well be unleashed upon our little town, and soon.

Sierra Madre has always been independently run. And as a part of that ideal comes the concept of nonpartisan elections. Individuals running on their own merits rather than the muscle and money of any of the big LA County political machines. By obtaining this endorsement Joe Mosca has flown into the face of a longstanding Sierra Madre convention. Another sign that he really doesn't respect the traditions of this town, nor does he feel that they should apply to him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frank Girardot Comes Close

So here is something I've puzzled over in the past, and wouldn't you know it has cropped up again. Why is it the same article appearing in the Pasadena Star News is called something completely different when it shows up on their website? Yesterday the PSN published a column by Frank Girardot entitled "Sierra Madre's identity at stake in April election." Which to my way of thinking was a very fair and reasonable appraisal of not only the situation, but also what our April 13 election is about. Yet the exact same article on their internet site was given the rather pungent "Is Sierra Madre an island of sanity or the refuge of crazies?" Odd that they would put two such distinctly different spins on the exact same word stack.

Now there are probably a couple of workable theories for this having occurred. Perhaps the guy who entered text for the print version didn't have the final copy points handy. Or maybe Frank's boss came in to work that morning, thought his Senior Metro Editor was going entirely too easy on that little backwards town stuffed up against the foothills, and wanted something a tad less laudatory for the website. Both a possibility, I suppose.

But my theory is that the Pasadena Star News occasionally uses conflicting headlines because those running the place believe the paper and its website attract two decidedly different readerships. The pulp version appeals an older and more decorous set, those who are still largely content with life in the analog age. Whereas on the internet version the paper's brain trust is attempting to show an edgier style. They're trying to appeal to a younger office worker kind crowd, people who grew up in a harder, more ironic age. Information consumers who prefer their news product with some snark and bite to it.

But I liked the article anyway. And why shouldn't I? It pretty much reiterates one of the main talking points of my campaign. That being, despite all the badmouthing it gets from the proto-development claque, downtown Sierra Madre is a remarkable place. And one of the things that makes it that way is it's home to a vast array of independently owned and unique shops. Downtown Sierra Madre is walkable, bikeable, and interesting. And in a world where almost every other downtown in the western world has basically the same uninspiring and generic chain retailers, that really makes it kind of special.

It is also something that I brought up at both the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis debates.

Now Frank rolls his portion out by contrasting Sierra Madre with a town that isn't Pasadena. Temple City to be exact. And while I'm not quite sure that I am completely in agreement with this choice, I suppose we could just roll with it.

(Sierra Madre) reminds me of Felton, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, the tiny towns along Highway 9 in the San Lorenzo Valley between Saratoga and Santa Cruz ... Even if it has a Starbucks, like everywhere else in the civilized world, for sure there's no Applebees, McDonald's, or Crate and Barrels within Sierra Madre's borders ... And one need look no further than the Adams Pack Station in Chantry Flat to understand why folks in Sierra Madre are nervous about joining county cooperatives such as the Valley COG, or bureaucracies such as SCAG.

Marvelous! The bit about our not joining SCAG might be a little off, though. Sierra Madre actually is a part of that mess, and we even got around to paying our dues once we got what we wanted from whoopin' up on them over a few things. Besides, we're only there as a way of monkey-wrenching their enforcement of some rather draconian Sacramento generated development agendas. Keep your enemies closer, as they say. But otherwise, what is there to complain about in this article? You won't hear any gripes from me. I've been saying a lot of that kind of stuff for years. Frank continues:

One can only imagine how the look and feel of tiny Sierra Madre would be altered if the town suddenly had to conform to the look and feel of the rest of the county.

Pretty much sums up the regionalist challenge. Joe Mosca gets a bit too cheerful when he describes "the collaborative process" that will bring us closer to other locales, but most see right through that stuff. I mean, why would we want to be conjoined to cities that are so unlike our own? We didn't move here to live in an Arcadia North, Pasadena Adjacent, or Glendale Once Removed. We live in Sierra Madre because it really is different, and better.

Temple City's attempt to be like every place else might have a lot to do with its decline. What was once a shining example of affordable suburbia - good schools, nice homes, civic pride - isn't too much different from La Puente or Pico Rivera anymore ... Take Las Tunas Boulevard. It's a vast wasteland compared to thriving Sierra Madre Boulevard. What was once a nice movie theater at a prime intersection has been leveled, and plans to revive the plot constantly change ... Folks in Temple City will tell you that developers are to blame. Of course there is evidence - the whole corruption probe that centers on a developer's alleged bribery of City Council members.

You can only imagine the horror that must have passed through the entire Mosca Slate when they read the word "thriving" being used to describe Sierra Madre Boulevard. After all, hasn't it been an article of faith there for years that downtown Sierra Madre is falling to pieces, and that only by bringing in 15 different chain store establishments will we ever rise to the level of, I don't know, Eagle Rock? And that we must tear down our entire downtown and build something large and stupid in order to get the Applebees and Sit 'N Sleeps of the world to come and save us?

As most of us know, there is precious little salvation in that. And those who advocate this kind of so-called development really aren't here to do us any favors. Which is why we're about to return the people pushing that brand of rubbish to the comforts of private lives they'd somehow hoped to leave behind.

Bonus Coverage: The LA County Democratic Party has endorsed Joe Mosca, but not Nancy Walsh or Josh Moran. Click here for site verification.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Condo Vultures Are Heading To Los Angeles

So there is this company in South Florida that specializes in buying distressed properties of the high density kind and then flipping them. But it is not like they buy any old upside down property. They wait until the poor bank holding the paper gets so incredibly desperate that they practically give them away. They call themselves Condo Vultures, and apparently they are very successful in making money off the misfortune and boneheaded business moves of others.

Now I heard about them on NPR last evening as I was wending my way up the 134 after a lighthearted day in the salt mines. And it really is quite a business they have going on there. Apparently so many unnecessary condominiums were built in Florida during the "Banks Gone Wild" subprime era that the landscape there is literally awash in the damn things. You just couldn't find a happier hunting ground for Condo Vultures.

Here's a bit of the Miami Herald story from Tuesday that was the source of all the excitement:

Buyer makes $200,000 profit in 20 minutes by flipping 19 Miami condos - It could be one of the quickest profits made in Miami's condo market. All it took was 20 minutes for a bulk buyer to make $200,000 by purchasing 19 units in the new Mi Primera Ilusion Villas Miami condominium and then immediately selling the same condos to another investor, according to a report from ... "Call this condo arbitrage, Miami style," said Peter Zalewski, a principal with the Bal Harbour, Fla.-based real estate consultancy Condo Vultures LLC.

NPR, which broke the story to a national audience yesterday, has also published an interesting article on the Condo Vultures group, and I thought it would be nice to share it with you here. The piece starts with the Herald piece I quoted above, and then has this to say:

Bottom Feeders, Flippers & Condo Vultures: ... That's how crazy things are in the condo market in Florida, where a weak economy and over-built market have combined to drive foreclosures up and prices down to the point where bottom-feeders are now seeing if they can swoop in and make some fast money by quickly flipping properties ... The company collects data on the condominium markets in South Florida and four other cities-- and sells condos too. "Where you want to be in this market place when the market does start to turn is on the buy side," Zalewski says. And his company aims to provide clients with the information they need about that market.

So what, you may ask, does this really have to do with anything going on around here? Just because people went crazy in South Florida and built themselves into a state of near economic collapse can't have any actual relevance to us, right?

Mmm, apparently the correct answer is yes, it does. Because according to the Condo Vultures website, they are looking to set up an operation right here in sunny Los Angeles County. As a matter of fact, they now list 5 markets as being their happy hunting grounds. In addition to the aforementioned South Florida, other real estate disaster cities such as Las Vegas, San Diego, and Phoenix are also listed. And do you know where else? You got it, Los Angeles is now included as well. Here is what you'll see when you click on the LA tab:

Condo Vultures Realty LLC is working to open a location in the Los Angeles market to capitalize on the condo crash.

Did you see that? We really are a land of opportunity after all. Just another over-built and poorly planned region where soon to be arriving immigrant condo vultures can fly in and feed off the broken dreams of a thousand foolish developers.

So do you think that maybe SCAG should be getting a couple of points on all this upcoming action? After all, they were the ones insisting that all our local cities plan for the building of these brick and mortar equivalents of roadkill not so very long ago. Your federal and state tax dollars hard at work. Maybe their forecasts about millions of God's creatures moving here weren't so inaccurate after all. Except instead of people, the immigrants are turning out to be avian real estate scavengers.

Now I don't know where Condo Vultures LLC is planning on setting up their shop, but if they were to ask me I'd suggest Pasadena. Because not only would you have immediate walkable access to all those unsold 6 story condo wickiups located there, but you'd also have Glendale, Burbank, Arcadia and Monrovia right there at your fingertips as well. There must be hundreds of distressed condo properties located in just those burghs alone. The site of hungry condo vultures lazily circling above the half-empty skylines of our San Gabriel Valley brethren might be kind of interesting in an apocalyptic sort of way. A philosophical testimony to the nature of man's folly.

Of course, since we were the only city in the region with the foresight and chutzpah to stop such condo-crazy construction within our borders, there would be no reason for any Condo Vultures to circle on over Sierra Madre's way. As a matter of fact, they might even view this to be hostile territory and try to stay away altogether. Which would be fine with me.

Then again, there is a kind of 2005 condo cargo cult in this town that still believes it would be a good business investment to build that kind of stuff here. When all they would really be doing is feeding the vultures.

Bonus Coverage: I received a kick in the pants from a reader who asked what it is I have against condos. They live in a very nice one here and felt I was being something of a knucklehead about it. I called him up and I had the pleasure of talking with a very highly informed person who is keenly interested in what is going on. Short answer: What this article is about are the 6 story heavy development kind of stuff you find in some of our neighboring cities. The well-planned and unobtrusive condos you find here in Sierra Madre are how things should be done. Sierra Madre is planned for small town ambience, and that includes condominiums. Stuff that Condo Vultures LLC will have no interest in. That is the big difference.