Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Couple Of Talking Points On The Sierra Madre Water Rate Hike

It certainly isn't the popularity of the water rate increase City Hall is pushing that will be the undoing of the growing effort to stop it. I've talked to a lot of people now, and this is probably about as unpopular a City Initiative as I have ever seen. Practically nobody wants it, sees the need for it, or can believe just how big an increase it really is. "Greedy" is a word I have heard often.

The only thing that will prevent the move to stop this rate hike is logistics. There is no doubt that the necessary petition signers are out there. People do not want this thing. It is now just a question of will enough of them be reached by the July 13 deadline. Apparently that is what the City is counting on.

If you go to Appendix B-1 of the study done by some consultants the City of Sierra Madre hired to concoct an argument for raising our costs for water, you'll discover that we are already paying among the highest water rates in the area.

Sierra Madre is a member of the San Gabriel Water District, along with Monterey Park, Azusa, and Alhambra. The chart supplied by the thoughtful consultant breaks down current water rates per billing period for each of these cities this way:

Sierra Madre ...... $104.00
Azusa .................. $80.49
Alhambra ........... $86.39
Monterey Park ... $81.82

With the proposed rate hike here, should it somehow survive the protest period ending July 13, your cost per billing period will increase to $128. Or to as much as $150 depending on your meter size. And possibly even more should you run afoul of the City assigned Tier Scale.

Which means that Sierra Madre residents will be paying approximately 80% more for water than other member cities in the San Gabriel Metropolitan Water District. And that is only at the beginning of a scheduled 5 year graduated increase to approximately 40%.

Now the question of Sierra Madre's bold leadership in the water billing category did come up at a recent City Council meeting. And perhaps as a way of putting a damper on any such embarrassing speculation, John Buchanan asked City water meister Bruce Inman to explain this lamentable situation. Bruce then made the rather logic challenged claim that since these other cities have a lot more people, they can spread the costs out. Thus the already higher rate here.

Which to me seems as if other important factors were not considered. Wouldn't having more people also mean requiring a higher level of water service? More costly infrastructure? An enterprise involving more employees, more electricity, more infrastructure and well maintenance, more equipment, more department vehicles and the fuel to run them, and, naturally, more water? And wouldn't all this more than compensate for Bruce's claim that other cities get a lower rate due to their population?

Sometimes I am offended by the simplistic and dismissive explanations we are given from those attempting to push this water rate increase through. Do they actually believe that carefully thought out and logical explanations are wasted on us?

Here is a very simple mathematical equation that will help even the most numerically challenged individuals appreciate just how much money they will be expected to cough up in the five years. And beyond.

Take your current water bill and multiply it by 140%. That is what you will be paying for water in 2015 should this rate hike be allowed to survive.

As you can see, all the talk about this being a small amount of money is just that, talk. And when this new rate becomes a permanent part of your bimonthly water expenses, something that will never go down and you will be paying for the rest of your life, it really does come to a lot of money. Multiply your personal rate hike by 5, 10, 20 and 30 years. There goes that new car you've been wanting.

Another point. Let's say we don't hit the mark, and we cannot turn in enough signatures to trigger Prop 218 and put Dracula back into its box. The fact will remain that hundreds and hundreds of people will still have protested the water rate hike. And those people, upon discovering that their will has been thwarted and that because of a lack of a few hundred signatures they will be forced to pay more for water, will not be happy.

The City, if it succeeds, will not have done so without a significant political cost.

But nobody here is planning on losing. At the top of this post is a copy of the water protest form. Click on it and that form will increase to its full size on your computer screen. If you haven't done so yet, print it out, sign it, and mail it in to the City Clerk at the address provided.

You only have until July 13, so do not delay.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water Scams Are Just About Everywhere These Days

Politics in California isn't really about Republican or Democrat. It is much more about money and power. Quaint notions such as political parties being part of an overall pitch designed to make people feel good about their government. There are some variations, of course. That's how you tell the difference. If you belong to the team, you are expected to be happy when your side wins, unhappy when it loses. Sad to say, rooting for Jackass or Jumbo seems to be enough for more people than you might expect.

Well, OK. So that's my jaundiced opinion these days. Maybe you disagree. It wasn't so long ago that I'd have been right in there with you.

But in that distant world where the real games are played, what passes for politics on the street is little more than toys for tots. True power in America these days is concentrated in the working partnership between large corporate interests and government. If the parties compete for anything, it is to be the beneficiary of the kinds of largess we see doled out in Sacramento to pay-to-play legislators willing to get into the game. Our fine elected officials finding the attentions of lobbyists and those who employ them to be far more rewarding than anything we might have to offer.

In the grand scheme of things voters have become little more than a cyclical marketing challenge. And if you've some political products to sell you're going to have to come up with the proper marketing to move it. The $100s of millions of corporate dollars spent by the major parties every election has precious little to do with any desire to communicate real issues or down home truths. Rather it is to create images that resonate with consumers. People who will then pay with their votes to feel a part of the products that best reflect their closely held illusions of how the world works.

A very interesting editorial entitled "Tell The Truth About The Drought" graced the pages of the SGV Tribune this Sunday. The usual gatekeepers must have been off at an art show with Larry or something. Nibbling cheese and sipping a favored vintage.

The piece begins quietly enough. Apparently the three year drought that has beset California is over. Or at least that is what the science and numbers show. Rainfall during the now concluding wet season was actually above average. Things are better than they have been for a while. Pretty good news that you might not have been aware of. I don't recall having heard about it myself.

Yet Sacramento hasn't said anything about this return to water normalcy. Instead the steady drumbeat of drought, devastation, and water conservation continues to be heard. Not that there is anything wrong with water conservation, mind you. We shouldn't be wasting our precious natural resources. But could it be there is an ulterior motive here as well? One that has more to do with the political marketing we've been talking about than the truth? Here's is how The Tribune put it:

Could all these (state) agencies be keeping quiet about the abundance of rain, the healthy snowpack and the rising levels of water in the state's reservoirs because they're trying to sell the public the $11.1 billion water bond that's before the voters in November? Having a drought makes it more saleable.

Of course, that would be playing politics with the facts, though it would hardly be shocking, coming from state politicians who also use the poor and indigent as pawns during budget time.

Perhaps it's too harsh to say they're lying. It's more as if they're treating the public like children, believing, as Jack Nicholson's stout movie Marine colonel would say, they "can't handle the truth." With all due respect to Jack, that's the wrong approach.

One of the things I've noticed lately is just how closely the policies of our new City Council are aligned not only to state political marketing themes, but those of Washington as well. What begins as a national initiative for "Transit Oriented Development," revealed as SB 375 here in California, filters down to our local level as various regional so-called sustainable green initiatives. Most of which are paradoxically linked to high-density infill redevelopment as favored by our beloved Downtown Investors Club.

And, of course, President Obama has employed the word "civility" for as long as Joe Mosca has.

So would it be too much to say that much of the water panic coming out of City Hall in support of their unpopular water rate hike is just an echo of the similar message being put out by Sacramento to prop up their $11.1 billion water initiative?

Something else

There are a lot of inspired people who write in on an almost daily basis with ideas for this blog. Here is an e-mail that I received yesterday:

This is the clue you need to show that the City is not serious about its compliance with the RHNA figures. How can you set up low-income housing when your water bill is sky high? What low-income family is going to voluntarily move into a place with a water bill that is nearly half the value of their rent?

Food for thought.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Did the Gang Of Four Violate the Brown Act?

As you can see by the remarkable amount of commenting to our post on Friday, there is some considerable community outrage regarding last Thursday evening's performance by what have become widely known as the "Gang Of Four." And one of the many themes developed there is the growing conviction that what Sierra Madre witnessed were politicians collaborating during a City Council meeting. Done in order to pay off some political debts owed to cronies wishing seats on the already up and running General Plan Steering Committee.

In other words, this is being widely seen as an obvious violation of the Brown Act by Mayor Pro Tem John Buchanan, Mayor Joe Mosca, and Councilmembers Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran.

Rather than repeat my opinions on the matter (which I shared on this blog at the end of Friday's post), I thought the issue would be better served by listing some of what I thought were the better reader posts on the matter. The Tattler is blessed with a very astute and highly informed readership, and they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.

June 25 - 9:00 AM: It was a planned ambush of the General Plan Committee. Joe, John, Josh, and Nancy all knew what was going to happen. A clear Brown Act violation if there ever was one. This also was not on the published agenda.

June 25 - 9:31 AM: How do we request a Brown Act investigation into the probable collusion of the 4 City Council members who wanted to do in the GPSC?

June 25 - 9:31 AM: It was obvious to us watching the meeting on TV that the 4 Barts were in violation of the Brown Act....Bart Mosca didn't pick it up, but Buchanan did, and that is why they backed off....The 4 Barts will be VERY, VERY closely watched, any violation of the Brown Act....the public can sue....The two new Barts were so inept last night it was pathetic, it was painfully obvious that Buchanan had "schooled them" on exactly what to say. Bart Nancy doesn't even use those words in her limited vocabulary, and Bart Josh, well, he totally messed it up - (how could his mother have allowed him to run for Council?)....Continued congratulations to the apathetic public who voted (or didn't bother to vote) allowing these morons to be on our Council....At least Mayor MacGillivray is still on the Council to fight for the people of Sierra Madre! Thank you Mayor MacGillivray. You are truly a gift, a gifted gift!

June 25 - 9:42 AM: 9:31, contact the California the California Fair Political Practices Commission and file a complaint. You can call 800-561-1861. 9 am to noon and 1 pm to 4 pm. It is their toll free tip line. How about all readers and attendees of last night's sham of a meeting call in?

June 25 - 10:23 AM: I caught the constant whispering between the "3 Minute Mayor" and Councilman Buchanan also. The one that stood out in my mind was when Joe seemed intent on making his motion to expand the Planning Committee, with tensions running high in the chamber Buchanan must have whispered, "you're about to step on a land mine ... back off!

June 25 - 10:35 AM: 9:31 My thoughts exactly. Obviously a lot of behind the scenes strategy had taken place. The silly parroting of 3 Minute Joe and Pontificating John by Waltzing Walsh and Josh Realtor-Spawn made it obvious that the Brown Act was being assaulted.

June 25 - 1:19 PM: The Brown Act requires under section 54954.2, subdivision (a), the legislative body must post an agenda containing a "brief general description of each item at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session," and no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda.... Shapiro v. San Diego City Council, supra, 96 Cal. App. 4th 904, 923.... The Brown Act requires under section 54954-3. (a) Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.... This discussion should never have happened or ever been voted on.... Please everyone take the time to report this to the above phone number. It is Friday so they may not answer. If no answer, call Monday. Their behavior must be stopped. They think they are above the law.

June 25 - 2:23 PM: gilman said ... Just wondering, what is the specific claim that a violation of the FPPC's rules were broken? And what is the specific violation of the Brown Act?

June 25 - 2:47 PM: gilman, my take on the Brown Act violation was a serial violation - so 4 out of the 5 council members were prepared to argue for the same idea, and it was an idea that seemed to come out of the blue ... I don't think any of this can be proven, so at this point I personally will not be lodging a complaint. But if you had seen the dovetailing that took place after our "Mayor" clumsily introduced his suggestion to increase an active committee from 5 to 9, your suspicions would have been aroused, too.

June 25 - 2:55 PM: The discussion about increasing the number of members on the General Plan committee was not an agendized item. According to the law it could not be discussed, a motion made or voted on without public notice. Also Joe Mosca did not open up the illegal hearing for public comment. Another violation.

June 25 - 3:11 PM: gilman said...anonymous @ 2:47 - Based on what I have been reading, I would agree that members of the Council are deliberating on issues outside the mandates set forth under the Brown Act. Your contention that serial meetings are taking place makes perfect sense ... Unfortunately, as you suggest, without specific proof it will be tough to do anything about it. This type of behavior is all too prevalent in many local cities and often runs unchecked. The good news is that you now understand how this Council is prepared to operate which gives you an opportunity to try and collect the evidence needed to prove a violation. It would be interesting to know what records exist showing that Council members are meeting with staff under a serial format, also would be interesting to view phone records (if they exist and/or would be provided) for the Council ... On a side note, it would be interesting to know why public comment rules were changed and when a mute button was installed at at who's request. The Mayor does not have the unilateral authority to direct staff to make such changes...such changes should have been on the Agenda and voted on by the entire Council?

June 25 - 3:18 PM: Gilman, are you suggesting that Joe's "I Can't Hear You! La! La! La!" button might be illegal?

June 25 - 3:27 PM: gilman said ... Not every outcome or action must be listed on an agenda. As a "study session" a discussion related to the overall issue is fine as well as possible actions to take. The Tattler article indicates that members of the public, such as Fay Angus, were allowed to comment, so I am not sure about the claim no public comment was allowed. Do not get me wrong, Mosca and his cohorts are the worst kind of politicians and seem fully prepared to rule vs. represent the citizens. However, if you are going to take action to stop him, make sure you have a dead bang winner of a case. If you start filing Brown Act complaints with the DA and can not provide full and complete evidence of a violation, the DA may ignore valid complaints you may have in the future.

June 25 - 3:42 PM: Is our City Attorney guilty as an accessory to Brown Act violations? Is the remote cut off of public comment a violation of the brown Act? Is the resulting "rubber stamp" of the two new Council Members a violation of the Brown Act? After all, Mosca publicly said the two new members were "being trained" on Council issues. Is that a violation of the Brown Act? Is the flagrant whispering and obvious collusion prior to and after Council meetings a violation of the Brown Act? Are the many omissions of information about non-agendized and agendized items and posting requirements, flagrant violations of the Brown Act?

June 26 - 9:54 AM: Is whispering (off mike communications) legal during a public meeting? Is that some sort of violation?

June 26 - 8:52 AM: I'm not a lawyer, here's the link to the Brown Act, it's long. The penalty for violating this section is described near the end, which is a misdemeanor conviction that can result in up to a year in jail, or fines, or both.

June 26 - 10:37 PM: Many people got up and reported that there was an ulterior motive. The audience was well aware from the get go that this was not in accord with the Brown Act plus it was not agendized. Josh and Nancy just went along with Joe. It was all too obvious. They had NOTHING to offer for the TOWN ... The one thing John will never be able to get the other 3 new members to do is to speak well. The 4 of them talk in circles and are an overwhelming embarrassment. They are a horrible representation of SM residents.

There are many additional comments that I could add here, but I think it's time to bring this one to a close. It seems fairly obvious to me that a lot of people believe that what they saw last Thursday evening was the unlawful and open collaboration of four elected officials on the Sierra Madre City Council. I count myself among them. This, of course, in violation of the state law designed to prevent government from behaving that way.

So will there be an investigation? Can we expect some kind of official recognition that what so many witnessed actually did occur, and that is was wrong? I'm not holding my breath. Our money, not justice, is what they are really concerned about right now. Anything beyond that is a distraction.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Victory For The People's General Plan

"I saw it in your yards." - Councilmember Josh Moran

It was quite a showdown last night in the City of Sierra Madre Council Chambers. On the one hand you had the embattled locals as they fought to maintain citizen control over the committee charged with updating Sierra Madre's General Plan. On the other you had the 4 members of the Sierra Madre City Council who represent both regional government and corporate interests here, all of whom apparently hoped to be able to seize control of a process that could prove rewarding to the largely out of town interests they care about. The notion of this being a "study session" apparently having flown out the window.

There were two contending camps in what turned out to be quite a debate. On the one side was former Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray, who voiced the opinion that the General Plan reflects the peoples' will, and it must be the feedback of the community that shapes it. After all, it is a living document that helps to give structure to the wishes of those who have chosen to spend their lives here. On the other side of the divide stood current Mayor Joe Mosca, who seemed to view this meeting as some sort of personal test. As is usually the case with Joe, his references were mostly in regards to how all of this reflected upon him personally. His message was that he would make the decisions, and that he was in charge. And Joe backed that sad and obvious measure of personal insecurity up with an unfair and snide aspersion on the effectiveness of the good hearted volunteers serving on the General Plan Steering Committee.

Mayor Mosca, who probably should never plan on a career in professional poker, was called out by Fay Angus over this unfortunate slight. After having heard an hour and a half of Joe proclaiming that he should both make the decisions and be in charge, she'd had enough. Fay stood up at the podium and informed Joe that she found his style to be both abrasive and uncivil. She told him it was the people of Sierra Madre who should decide what goes into this document, not him. Her remarks were greeted with vigorous applause.

After much foot dragging by an obviously reluctant Mosca, the Committee was finally introduced, and all delivered public comments that were positive, upbeat, and showed how the promise of this process was being delivered. All they needed now was the time and support of City Staff, plus regular (and frequent!) meeting times.

Mayor Mosca, his pique obviously still intact, then proposed a shocking change to the Committee that had the room groaning with disbelief and anger. He, along with the other City Councilmembers he is ideologically aligned with, wanted to expand the Committee by 4 members. Which, if the bizarre and uncomfortably personal outbursts of Josh Moran are to be believed, would apparently be chosen for having supported Joe and his running mates in the last election. Josh informing all that he had "seen the signs."

What would be the purpose of taking the unprecedented step of adding members to a Committee that was already on its way to doing the job it was selected to do? In my opinion it was to monkey wrench the process. By bringing in four new members most likely opposed to the concept of citizen control in Sierra Madre, things would quickly bog down as the two factions struggled to make their opinions heard. In time this would be marketed as the failure of this Committee process to work, something which would then require the City Council to step in and take over. A consultant compliant with Sacramento and regional planning mandates would logically follow.

In the end it was the dogged determination of MaryAnn MacGillivray, the numerous speakers at the podium, plus a frankly angry crowd in the City Council Chambers, that kept Mayor Mosca from making the motion that would have sanctioned the placing of 4 of his political cronies on the General Plan Steering Committee. The politically astute John Buchanan, sensing that this meeting was not a particularly glorious moment for his colleagues, agreed to a compromise that involved the inclusion of subcommittees into the mix, while also maintaining the General Plan Steering Committee with its original five members intact.

An interesting highlight of the evening was when a 27 year Sierra Madre resident named John (didn't catch his last name) called out Josh Moran for his resentful and politically motivated attack on some of the volunteers on the General Plan Steering Committee. John delivered a world class and much deserved dressing down to the Councilmember.

Lately there have been some new people showing up at City Council meetings who have been eloquently expressing some very negative opinions of the Mosca City Council. I've never met any of them, so I have no idea who they are or what their motivations might be. But if this is a sign of how Sierra Madreans are reacting to the new regime, then the early reviews cannot be considered good.

One other thing. The two new members of the City Council aligned with the current Mayor seemed remarkably in synch and scripted on the question of expanding the General Plan Steering Committee. It was almost as if they had been discussing the notion earlier. The Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem might want to consider (should they ever actually decide to go down that road) whether the new members have the sophistication necessary to disguise their involvement in such activity.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yes Virginia, There Is A Button ... And It Speaks Volumes About The Person Who Uses It

The secret button that Joe Mosca used Tuesday night to shut down the microphone at the public comments podium has now been shown to exist. The only question remaining is how long it has been there. I discussed this matter with both Mayor MacGillivray and Mayor Zimmerman yesterday, and neither had any knowledge of such a button, even though each had occupied the Seat Of Authority (SOA) for a year. Nor does anyone have any recollection of either Enid or Johnny B using such a thing despite their occasionally acrimonious episodes with the citizens when they served as Mayor. All of which now becomes a part of an anecdotal body of evidence supporting the theory that this button was recently installed at the request of Mayor Mosca himself.

(As an aside, can you imagine the howls of rage that would have come from Rooster Coburn and Pitbull Poole had MaryAnn MacGillivray used such a button to silence Joe during any of his longwinded tirades earlier this year?)

This really is quite a reflection not only on Joe's opinions of the people of Sierra Madre, but also his philosophy on how to govern this City. Something that, in my opinion, shows a lack of any real understanding or appreciation for the duties of a small town Mayor.

The job of an elected official is to govern. The heart of governing is to craft and create policy, and that is something that can only come from truly listening to the residents. Public servants are required to hear what it is the community wants and, once having come to an understanding of what that is, turn those wishes into the ordinances and rules that give legal structure to the popular will.

Policy does not come from 5 people who think they know more than everybody else and can dictate whatever suits them. The Sierra Madre City Council is not a Politburo, rather it is the embodiment of the will of those they were elected to serve.

What Joe Mosca has shown so far as Mayor is a lack of any concern for what it is that people want. He seems far more interested in monitoring his 3 minute clock than he does listening to the people who made the trip to City Hall to share their opinions with him. Only to then hear the Mayor of Sierra Madre interrupt them in the middle of a thought with an impatient "you have 15 seconds."

Real governing authority can only come with an understanding of how to do the job. An example of this lack of understanding would be when Joe asks his fellow Councilmembers if they wish to "abstain" on a vote. The fact that Councilmembers are required to be decision makers aside, someone only abstains from voting by asking to be recused. And if someone has been recused they shouldn't even be in the Council Chamber. Joe has even been heard to ask if "there are any further abstentions" when there were no abstentions in the first place.

Another example of this decline in the quality of governance during Joe's early tenure as Mayor is how the "Mayor and City Council Reports" are conducted. This has always been the time when Councilmembers report on meetings they attended having relevance to the community. Or to comment on the actions of the committees they serve as liaisons if it reflects upon an agendized item. Tuesday evening we heard Nancy Walsh talk about her Rumba, Samba, and Cha Cha success at a dance contest in San Diego. But nothing about the SCAG or SGVCOG meetings where she is supposed to be representing us. Nor anything about the General Plan Committee. Just some meaningless chatter about a dance contest. Why does she believe that has relevance to the business of the City Council?

Josh Moran's report was equally sad. It seems that he believes self-deprecation will somehow absolve him from the responsibility of having to actually do or know anything about the serious business of running this community. An act that is as tired now as it was the first time we saw it some weeks back.

But enough of that.

Minute Maid's Report On Tuesday Evening's City Council Meeting Is Now Available Exclusively To Tattler Readers!

(Ed: I thought I would engage the considerable reporting talents of Minute Maid and have her present the City Council meeting report for this week. Variety can be a good thing, and certainly we can all use some new perspective from time to time. So here with her report on Tuesday evening's august City Council deliberations, allow me present to you, Minute Maid.)

Thank you, Sir Eric. And thank you Tattlers for your kind attention. Here is my report.

Public Comment: The public should be aware that the time for public comment has been changed to whenever the Mayor thinks it best serves his purposes. Comment will be limited to three minutes, at which time the microphone will be disabled. A list of commentators who run past three minutes will be maintained, and after the third offense they will be notified that they are no longer welcome at Public Comment.

Call To Order/Roll Call: Council Member/Board Members of the Community Redevelopment Agency. All Council Members present.

Pledge Of Allegiance & Invocation/Inspiration: Councilmember Nancy Walsh. CM Walsh led the Council and attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and then inspired those present with a vignette of her childhood. Which is presumably what she remembers best.

Approval Of Agenda: Mayor Mosca made two changes to the Agenda moving Item 3 to July 27th and item 10 to July 13th. Council voted to approve the Agenda as amended.

Approval of Minutes: Council unanimously approved the minutes from the regular City Council meeting of June 8, 2010, which of course they all had read. Even those who can't.

Mayor And City Council Reports: Nancy Walsh went dancing blah blah blah. Josh Moran did nothing but he's still a baby blah blah blah blah. The one piece of good news here came from MaryAnn MacGillivray who reported on the demise of the Farmers' Market. Long live Taylor's!

Public Comment: Heather Allen took to the podium to encourage residents to attend the General Plan Study Session of Thursday, June 24th. Even though the General Plan Committee would not be allowed to participate as a Committee, but only at Public Comment where they will be limited to three minutes each. The Mayor announced that the meeting will be televised should people opt to observe from home. You could sense that he hoped most would. Linus Pakulsky urged the Council to postpone the decision on the proposed water rate increase to allow rate payers more time to understand the need to increase water rates. He also mentioned that he had tried to follow up with a city employee regarding cell phone service, as he had been instructed to do at his last appearance at Public Comment, but was unsuccessful in getting his questions answered. The indifferent City employee told him to call AT&T, which he didn't find helpful. The City Manager and the Mayor both offered to address his questions away from Public Comment.

Presentation: Marilyn Diaz introduced a new Sierra Madre Police Sergeant, who was accompanied by a retinue of family and friends. The Chief praised the new Sergeant, and we can hope that he has what it takes to not shoot anybody during his probationary period. Or if he does, then at least not in the back while they are sleeping.

1. a) Adoption Of Resolution No. 10-48 Of The City Council Of Sierra Madre Approving Certain Demands: The Council voted to pay a significant portion of the City's treasure for a whole bunch of bills that had already been paid, none of which were explained in detail. Mosca and Buchanan abstained on two items because we pay their employers.

1.b) Authorization Of Payment On Behalf Of The CRA: Let's see, the CRA, which we control, owns City Hall and a bunch of other buildings. So here we paid ourselves to use them. $4,320 shot to hell.

1.c) Resolution No. 10-01 Establishing One Hour Parking Restrictions On A Portion Of The Canyon Parking Lot: Those in the know realize this was an attempt on the part of CM Moran to placate the owners of Mary's Market who have stated that they will be run out of business by the residents who store vehicles in the parking lot if they can't have dedicated parking spaces. CM MacGillivray noted that three one hour parking spaces hardly seem enough and generously recommended five two hour parking spaces. Cautiously noting, however, that none of it mattered if there were no enforcement by the City's Finest. The City Manager indicated that the time limits would only be enforced if someone called the SMPD and complained. The only entity to whom the five two hour spaces matter is the market, so if you get ticketed for over-the-limit parking, remember Carolyn Dapper called the cops. The Council unanimously approved the most generous parking changes.

1.d) Cancellation Of The 2nd Regular City Council Meeting For The Month Of August 2010: This was unanimously passed by the Council as they twittered tweets to their spouses about booking a Cancun vacation.

2. Public Hearing Ordinance No. 1311-Municipal Code Text Amendment (MCTA): City Building Official Richard "Topper" Temple briefed the Council on the meaning of Red, Yellow, and Green documents posted on buildings in a time of disaster. CM Walsh jumped right in here on this one claiming she could get behind primary colors. City Attorney Levin reminded the Council that before they could vote the Ordinance must actually be read; then it was unanimously voted upon as a "good thing."

3. Public Hearing - Public Facilities Fees Rate Adjustment - Public Hearing Postponement: The Mayor announced that this item was to be continued until July 27th, 2010.

4. Discussion - Consideration Of Appointments To The Green Advisory Committee: Briefly, four applicants were approved for the newly consecrated Green Committee: Kim Klymer-Kelly, Paul Alba, Cole Something-Other, and Lisa Matheson. It should be noted that Ms. Matheson is not a resident of Sierra Madre. CM MacGillivray pointed this out, but it didn't seem to faze the Mayor. Another member will be added if and when anyone else shows the least bit of interest.

5. Discussion - Reappointment Of Applicants To The Vacant Commissioners' Seats: Six commission vacancies are eligible for reappointment; only three commissioners indicated the remotest interest in being reappointed. The Mayor dithered about trying to make much of thanking the volunteers who have served as commissioners - which is as it should be - and then finally appointed the three returning commissioners. I think the Council was investigating the creation of a new Commission to analyze why residents are so reluctant to serve on Commissions and Committees, but no one was interested. There is also the theory that many eschew such honors because they fear getting slobbered on by the Publisher of the Looney Views News.

6. Discussion - First Reading Of Ordinance No. 1310 Amending Chapter 2.34 Of The Sierra Madre Municipal Code Regulating The Community Arts Commission Composition And Powers And Duties: The Mayor announced that this item was to be continued until July 13th, 2010. It is thought that the inability of the current Community Arts Commission to tell their backsides from art has handicapped the Commission in recruiting new members to their ranks. Perhaps if they served more wine that would change.

7. Discussion Of An Absurd Amount Of Resolutions On Money Issues: Section Two of Fund Accounting 101 as presented by Karen Schnaider. Director Schnaider is a most competent and knowledgeable financial guru and the City is lucky to have found someone as able as she. It is still smoke and mirrors in the manipulation of funds. Which employee spends FY 2010-2011 in what fund often being what it takes to finance SMFD donut runs to Pasadena while still staying out of the red.

Also 7. The FY 2010-2011 GANN Appropriation Limits: Chief Diaz, fueled by an insatiable need to get her hands on as much of our budget surplus as humanly possible, was granted the first of three wishes in that she will be able to hire additional lieutenants, cadets, and some other part time personnel to provide the quality of service Sierra Madre expects. Yes, it will cost a bunch but not as much as paying overtime to existing PD personnel. So my guess is that the City can expect another whopper of a lawsuit from the Police Officers Union because OT was curtailed. The Council unanimously approved something - but they lost track of the pea under the walnut. With the exception of CM MacGillivray who brought up the fact that even though the budget was balanced this FY, in coming years there is no way the level of funding for Fire-Life-Safety expenditures can be maintained. Of course by that time Mosca will have become State Stop Sign Director in Sacramento, Buchanan will have timed out, and the Bobbleheads will have tipped over.

8. Discussion - Proposition 218 Process And Proposed Water Rate Increase: Allow me to refer you to Sir Eric Maundry's incisive report from yesterday.

9. Discussion - Approval Of Phase 2 Of FY 2009-2010 Street Resurfacing Project: Yes indeed, Director Inman did a great job during Phase 1 of the FY 2009-2010 Street Resurfacing Project. So good in fact that his cautious and frugal approach to further resurfacing projects should be scrapped. This according to the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. We should also immediately go for the $7 million estimated grand slam approach to take advantage of the great deals available because contractors are hungry. Well, let's see, how will we pay for it? I know, we'll do it like Sacramento and rush through some bonds. It certainly has paid off for them, right?

10. Discussion - Award Of Contract For Video Production And Cable Services: Did anyone catch the fact that the City Manager wants to hold SMTV3's cables to the fire and cause them to divulge their rebroadcast scheme as part of contract negotiations? Well, that's essentially what she said, which makes me think the contract that's currently under discussion may not have been much more than Sierra Madre giving them a sack of cash for lousy service. Maybe they're somebody's relative or something. Anyway, further discussion has been rescheduled to another Agenda in order to have more to report.

Adjournment: Despite limiting public comments to three minutes, this meeting ran very late. Maybe they need to rewire the secret button to include both the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem's mics? With various members of the attending public getting the opportunity to push it when the winds start to howl? I'd certainly like to take a crack at it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Statement Joe Mosca Wouldn't Let Jim Engle Finish

You might recall that under the steady hand of Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray people were allowed to address the City Council from the podium until they had pretty much spoken their minds. And under the previous Mayor, Kurt Zimmerman, that was the case as well. The opinions of all Sierra Madre residents were respected, even those coming from folks a little light in the coherence department.

All of which serves as quite a contrast to the edgy and heavy-handed behavior we saw last evening from the current Mayor of Sierra Madre, Joe Mosca.

The occasion was a discussion on the impending water rate hike currently being marketed by City Hall. The City Council and staff spoke in their usual abstract and legalistic fashion about why they believe they need more money to get business done. We heard this kind of thing in the run up to the doubling of the UUT rate, and also when the time came to defend that tax increase when that "misfiled" million dollars was found in a shoebox under somebody's desk. What we were treated to last night has now become an old familiar refrain. Unless we agree to allow the city to collect even more of our money, the sky will fall. We're in Chicken Little country now. Expect more appeals like this in the future as well. It is pretty much what they do these days.

In private industry when things go south, you have a fire sale. In City government when the bad times come around you apparently agendize the topic, speak in hushed tones of the horrors to come, and then delve deeply into the Big Golden Book of Acronyms.

Which brought us to public comment. Now you'd think our new Mayor, that outspoken advocate of the "New Civility," would have at least allowed those he expects to come up with that extra money the City supposedly needs to speak their minds a little. It is a courtesy you might want to extend to those paying the bills. But when Jim Engle stood up to deliver his thoughtful and obviously heartfelt statement on what this water rate hike means to a retired person living on a fixed income, he was abruptly cut off before he could finish. And when Heather Allen stood up to Joe for this rather heavy handed way of dealing with unhappy rate payers such as herself, he shut off the microphone. And within a minute or two the Police arrived.

It was an astonishing performance. Apparently in a Joe Mosca run City Hall those who go beyond the 3 minutes allotted during public comment now face possible arrest.

Here is Jim Engle's statement:

Background: The State of California's unemployment rate is over 12%. It's economy is now being compared to that of Greece and Uzbekistan. The County of Los Angeles is laying off many employees and eliminating services. The County Sheriff isn't immune, either. The City of Los Angeles is facing huge deficits and is eliminating hundreds of jobs and getting rid of overtime. School boards all over Los Angeles are cutting back on teachers and services. Libraries are facing severe employee and service cuts. You get the "Big Picture."

What About Sierra Madre? The three new members of the City Council that were just elected, were not elected by a majority of Sierra Madre residents, but by a majority of residents who came out to vote. Voter apathy has created a pool of non-voting residents, a fact that has been pounced upon by the creators of Prop 218. And now Sierra Madre is on that bandwagon.

Rate Increase & Information: For purposes of comparison in a letter to our City Manager I attached a copy of the notification and information process most recently used by San Diego to inform and solicit water customer attendance at a hearing. Attached was an easily understood protest form in case the customer was not happy with the proposed rate increase. None of the "No response means Yes," and the unclear projection of a water rate increase for as much as 40% or perhaps more in the next five years. Then Sierra Madre added insult to injury by calling for a resident hearing on the rate hearing at the same time as the protest forms must be completed and filed with the City Clerk. A rate (tax) increase of this size should require a monitored legal vote of the City residents.

What Now & What For: I have read and reread the justification for a 10% increase escalating to a 40% or perhaps 75% or more in the coming 5 years, and I can find no logic or reason to put such a burden on our residents. The explanations wander over technical terms, fears of tainted wells, polluted aquifers, rusting infrastructure, and the monetary needs of our city in justifying this tax increase. I just don't buy that. Perhaps a half or one percent to fix rusting pipes. But a 10% to 40% hike? No way.

Could there be other reasons in the wings? We have 1 Carter underway. There is Stonehouse waiting for water. And the resurrection of downtown projects will certainly need new utilities. Of course, there is Alverno and the Monastery, both of which could become development projects. Would these needs be the reason for more money to fund new infrastructure?

However, if the reason for this additional tax on our utilities is to attract and fund developing the above projects, I strongly object. Those costs should be borne by the individual projects and not by the residents of Sierra Madre. This should be agendized and become a fixed policy. The developer should pay.

I am a senior citizen on a fixed income. I suspect many in Sierra Madre would have similar stories. I will not get a cost of living adjustment on my Social Security this year, and I will certainly not get a 10% increase this year or a 40% increase over the next 5 years. The water rate should be restricted to no more than 1%. No more, perhaps less. They're using Prop 218 as just another way to skin Sierra Madre residents.

The time allotted by the city for ratepayers to protest this very large water rate hike is the bare minimum permitted under the law. And the public hearing on this matter is on the very last day of this 45 day period. Since this will be the only full public airing of these matters, how exactly does the city expect ratepayers to make an informed decision on this hit to their pocketbooks? While I am certain this is all quite legal, it is not a very thoughtful or caring way of dealing with those who are expected to dig deep and shell out even more for their water. It leaves the impression that the ratepayers of Sierra Madre are being given a kind of bum's rush.

Like speakers at the podium in a Joe Mosca run City Council meeting.

The City Council voted 4 to 1 to keep to the July 13 decision date. Rather than taking the time to adequately make their case to the residents of Sierra Madre, they're gambling it all on the cynical notion that enough people won't catch on in time.

Let's make sure that this is a gamble they won't win.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Sierra Madre Water Rate Hike: Why Would the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Want to Give Us All That Money?

There are two ways that government attempts to bamboozle the citizenry. The first is to hide away all the pertinent information on a controversial matter, and hope that nobody finds out. This, of course, isn't always the most effective method because residents are a naturally suspicious bunch, and more often than not will figure things out for themselves. And when you compound that with the fact that secretive government only breeds mistrust and contempt for those responsible, you can see that strategy just isn't very effective.

It also leads to the proliferation of such unfortunate things as blogs, which is where many then go to try and figure things out when those who are supposed to represent their interests go south.

The other method is a little bit more effective. And that is to put out vast quantities of information. It might not always be accurate information, or contain everything that it should, but properly presented it can give at least an appearance of transparency. Roiling dense packs of facts and figures that on the surface seem to possess great meaning, mostly because there is just so much of it. That is, until you try and decipher exactly what it all means. Then that information often turns out to be sadly deficient.

Currently on our closely designed City of Sierra Madre site is something called the 2010 Proposed Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet. There are numerous things cited on this fact sheet as reasons why we must go through with this increase, most notably aging infrastructure (those darned old pipes) plus the need for a new well. And there among the many reasons why we need to raise our water rates nearly 40% over a 5 year period (which also comes with a complimentary 15% backdoor UUT rate hike), is this rather opaque little beauty:

Improvements to recharge facilities - Sierra Madre plans to work with its East Basin partners, Los Angeles County Public Works and the City of Arcadia, to make extensive improvements to the existing groundwater recharge facilities in Arcadia and Sierra Madre. This funding will not come entirely from Sierra Madre rate payers. The three agencies will be assisted in the East Raymond Basin program by a $20 million Federal authorization from the USEPA. These Federal funds must be matched by similar amounts of local funding, or they cannot be used by local agencies. However, under Sierra Madre's current rate structure, the City cannot provide the match funding for its $10 million to qualify for the federal funds.

To interpret here, "recharge facilities" in Citizen English means the place where these two cities get and distribute water. And if Sierra Madre comes up with an additional $5 or so million (along with existing water dept. funds), we qualify for $10 million dollars in Federal Environmental Protection Agency money as well. Which could be the one clue revealing the actual agenda driving City Hall's sudden mad rush to radically raise our water rates.

When an agency of the Federal Government turns over large sums of money to small cities such as ours, that offer doesn't come without at least some strings attached. And the best way of finding out what exactly the Feds have in mind for their $10 million in EPA funds is to examine the actual documents involved in applying for and receiving that grant. However, that is information the City has yet to provide the "rate payers," forcing us to go with alternative sources.

If you've been following this stuff as closely as we have here at The Tattler, you'll know that one of the Obama Administration's big priorities these days is "Smart Growth." Which has goals very similar to California's "Anti-Sprawl" law, SB 375. Both of which call for tremendous amounts of infill redevelopment, as we will show later in this post. Here is an item from the President's "Organizing for America" blog entitled "Obama on Smart Growth." It points out his strong commitment to the concept:

Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spend commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the goals of Smart Growth is to redevelop traditional downtown neighborhoods that are located near transportation corridors. This is done in order to encourage people to move out of their single family homes and into high density transit oriented housing units, in the process abandoning their greenhouse gas producing cars as well. All based on the magical notion that if you convince people to live in newly constructed condominiums located near bus or train stations, they'll decide to give up driving their automobiles. Thereby saving the world.

Now it might make sense that the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama would reflect his policies when allocating funding, right? After all, he is the boss. And here on the EPA site that assumption is confirmed. In an article entitled Making the Connection: Smart Growth and Water Resource Protection, we can read the following:

Solutions - It Is Possible To Do Better - Smart growth efforts have taken different forms around the country, but the 10 guiding principles address a variety of goals. In the context of a watershed approach, smart growth offers great potential for achieving water resource management and water quality goals.
- Water quality standards are better met using smart growth methods.
- Conservation of open space and clustered development patterns protect water quality.
- Taking a long term-term approach to zoning helps avoid sprawl through better planning.

Sprawl, of course, being suburban communities like ours. Which you somehow make eco-correct by turning them into densely settled cities.

All of which indicates to me that when Sierra Madre receives its $10 million dollars in EPA money, it will not be just a gift with no strings attached. Rather its use will come with the requirement that our city use it in order to help project the Smart Growth goals currently holding such sway in Washington DC. It's just the way these things work.

Here it is, plain and simple. Let's say we raise the $5 or so million through a 40% water rate hike, along with the 15% backdoor UUT increase, plus we get $10 million of the EPA money. That is in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. Our contribution to the shared new well is $1 million, which would leave us with a $14 million dollar balance. Add to that whatever unidentified existing water funds are available (another mystery), and we're talking about a lot of money. Which in my mind is a heck of a lot more than what is required for replacing those funky old pipes we hear so much about.

If the goal of our current City Council is to comply with CARB/SCAG's upcoming SB 375 required new high-density infill redevelopment in the downtown area of Sierra Madre (and I for one have never heard anything credible from them indicating otherwise), the first step that would have to be taken is to upgrade our water infrastructure. Obviously it will take a lot more water to make this happen. What we currently have is barely adequate for today's requirements, much less supplying the needs of new condo racks downtown.

Since Arcadia has already embarked on this path in their new General Plan, both cities will need significantly more water. Which means having to drill that shared new well. And here in Sierra Madre our aging water infrastructure will need to be upgraded to meet the new demands of all that projected redevelopment. What better source for the cash necessary to do so than an administration and a federal agency committed to marketing just that kind of "smart growth" development?

If City Hall gets this money, based on what we've seen here it will most likely come with an obligation to the federal government that our City use it as an integral part of their plans for high-density infill development in Sierra Madre. Smart Growth, SB 375, call it whatever you like, the result will be the same. Obviously this is a turning point in any effort to control development in Sierra Madre.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Did Karen Warner Attempt To Airbrush SB 2 From Last Night's Housing Element Meeting At City Hall?

Now you'd think that having to include housing for the homeless here in Sierra Madre would've been a bigger deal. Yet our generously compensated consultant on these matters, Karen Warner, didn't cover this issue in any kind of depth during the presentation portion of her talks on our Housing Element requirements at last night's special City Council/Planning Commission confab.

And while in the handout provided to the meeting attendees a discussion on this matter does occupy a couple of pages, none of that came to light during Karen's edifying PowerPoint presentation. Which, given the possible impact such news might have on a community that values its quality of life and the safety of its streets, seems as if it was almost by design.

When you consider that Sierra Madre doesn't have a homeless problem, or much of a "homeless community" as it were, would that mean we should be required to plan for the building of homeless accommodations for people who would then migrate here to live in them? I mean, if someone is homeless, how exactly do you establish that the person asking for "transitional housing" actually is from Sierra Madre? The last known location of their shopping cart? Since one of the big themes of the evening was "preserving the character of our community," it seems like a rather odd thing to try and wallpaper over.

The law created by Sacramento that is having this unfortunate effect here in Sierra Madre is known as SB 2. An appropriate government website describes the bill thusly:

This bill requires cities and counties to identify specific sites with by-right zoning to accommodate the community's need for homeless shelters, requires cities and counties to identify zones where special needs facilities and transitional housing are permitted either by right or with a conditional use permit, and prohibits a city or county from disapproving applications for shelters and special needs facilities unless specified findings are made.

Now Karen, in her apparent attempt to elide consideration of this matter from her presentation, did use some of this obfuscational state terminology ("support housing") to describe the SB 2 effect on our Housing Element problems. And it was only after her spiel was over and the assembled officials were allowed to ask questions was the elephant actually brought out into the open. Which is what happened when Councilmember MaryAnn MacGillivray starting using the term "homeless" to describe those who would seek relief in "transitional housing."

And it got even weirder. Once having been forced to use plain English to describe what this housing actually is, Karen then fell back to discussing how only five or so people in Sierra Madre have been identified as being homeless. Which she claimed meant that any neighborhood we might zone for homeless housing would never actually see any of it. There just being no need for such a thing in a town with such a minuscule number of homeless people.

To which Kevin Paschall, in one of the few moments of clarity to make its way into this discussion, said: "If we allow for homeless facilities, they will come."

It must be remembered this demand that we accommodate planning for housing homeless people is state imposed. Just like SB 375, just like AB 32. But that said, I do not sense any burning commitment to stand up to this troublesome imposition from our current City Council, no matter how potentially detrimental to the citizens of Sierra Madre. One of the new City Councilmembers had absolutely nothing to say on this matter, while the other was busy keeping all abreast of developments in the Lakers game. And Mayor Mosca, of course, couldn't seem to talk about "following the law" enough. It seems that in his mind our City government is nothing more than a paper processing operation for Sacramento.

We all know that if we zone for such housing on East Montecito (the neighborhood designated for the homeless, by the way) and no such things are built, there are plenty of litigious homeless advocacy groups in Los Angeles County who will happily inquire as to why that is. Just as low income housing advocates use state law to sue us if we don't accommodate for their needs, advocates for the homeless will do the same. And if you then throw in a couple of government dollars for the happy "stakeholders" there willing to take in homeless people? Well, those 5 lonely persons would suddenly find their numbers in Sierra Madre growing exponentially.

Of course, this would increase foot traffic downtown. Which would hopefully please the Chamber of Commerce. Certainly attendance at their Kersting Court musical presentations would improve.

Some talk was had about the building of a 16 unit low/very low income structure on City owned property on Highland Avenue. Kevin Paschall expressed his misgivings about building such a thing right next door to a public elementary school. Hopefully this will resonate with the other members of the Planning Commission as well. Once again SCAG's imposed RHNA numbers could be putting Sierra Madre's residents at some risk. In this particular case the most vulnerable among us. As if public education in this town isn't under enough stress already.

There was also a long convoluted discussion about granny flats, which made me feel both nostalgic and a little sad. 26 units are all that is left out of the RHNA numbers SCAG stuck us with years ago. Numbers based on their slap happy predictions of a California population boom that never quite materialized. Yet here we are fighting to pare our old RHNA number down by six through granting a kind of amnesty to secondary houses.

The point here being that when you compare what we're dealing with now to what is coming once CARB dictates its RHNA demands to SCAG, these really are the good old days. Those SB 375 driven numbers will far surpass anything we're working on today. And the 80% of the City Council that doesn't give a damn about Sierra Madre remaining a sustainable low-density community knows this.

Which is why they were as decorous and accommodating as they were on the granny flats question. This is all some very small potatoes, and they know that in a couple of years Sacramento will deliver everything they've ever wanted, and then some. Sky high housing mandates brought right to their doors like pizza. Could the renaissance of the Downtown Specific Plan be far behind?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are You Ready for the AB 32 Wars?

It really is going to be a war, you know. AB 32 is on the ballot, and could be going down to defeat this November. And those heavily invested in it are in something of a panic.

On the one hand you will have those entrenched Sacramento big money interests trying to prop up a collapsing California economy through state mandated development on a scale never seen before. Backed up by the Orwellian notion that by rapidly incorporating dense urban development into areas such as ours, along with vastly expanding mass transit, we will somehow save the world from global warming. However, since dense urban neighborhoods are major greenhouse gas producers, nobody seems to know exactly how this magic will occur.

On the other side you will have those who support and love the suburban California lifestyle, one that involves single family homes, small low density communities, personal transportation, and the freedom to get up and go whenever and wherever you want. An individuality and spirit that has been a part of life here for as long as there has been a California. Something that apparently now has quite a few very active and powerful enemies not only amongst the newly empowered Sacramento central planning elite, but also those ambitious local politicians who dream of becoming one of them. In Sierra Madre we'll see a few of those at work this evening.

Of course, that is not how it will be seen by many of those going to the polls in November. They will see AB 32 just as it is advertised on the label, that it is a "Green" law that will help save the world. Rather than what it really is, which is an undemocratic and authoritarian centralization of power within Sacramento, and at a level unprecedented in the history of any American state. All painted green and with a decorously civil feel good message that rivals the intellectual depth of your average Hallmark greeting card.

As a dedicated reader of just about anything on the topic, I have noticed a distinct rise in the number of articles challenging the AB 32 myth. I've collected what I feel are some of the better passages on the topic I've seen lately, and I'll share a couple here.

The first quote comes from an article that appeared on recently called Goodbye, Trains and Windmills. Here political writer Adam Lind describes the ideological origins of those who would happily turn low density towns such as ours into something approximating the worst aspects of the dense new mixed-use condo zones in Pasadena and Glendale:

The answer is the fusion, in the last decade, of two previously distinct post-'60s activist movements on the left: urbanists, who despise suburbs, and Greens, who despise automobiles and airplanes. Many liberals have unthinkingly treated the goals of these single-issue movements as their own. But one can be a liberal in good standing -- by, for example, supporting a living wage, universal social insurance, and government-backed manufacturing policy -- and still reject the infrastructure agendas of urbanists and greens.

Often we have heard the laughably dogmatic John Buchanan talk with dewy-eyed reverence about "Green Jobs" during City Council meetings here. This being, of course, the promised panacea for so many of California's ills currently being peddled by the dysfunctional Sacramento elite. But is this really the case? On a blog called PROPZERO, which is run by NBC News Los Angeles, that notion is treated with some considerable skepticism.

Hey Jerry, Have You Heard About the Green Job Myth? - - Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, believes green jobs are the way out of the recession. According to an interesting study by a Spanish economics professor, though, he might be off the mark.

The study found that for every green job created by the Spanish government, 2.2 jobs were destroyed, and that only 1 in 10 jobs were permanent. According to the study, most of the jobs were temporary -- only 10% were permanent jobs in operations and maintenance of renewable power systems.

Apparently the "green economy" in Spain has been something of a disaster. This is a country rapidly approaching the kind of economic denouement faced by Greece and other bankrupt European nations. The Spanish government staked much of its credibility on building an economy based on all things green, and the results have been skyrocketing energy prices, massive job losses, and near economic collapse. Nice to see we now have people calling the shots in Sierra Madre who want to duplicate that level of success here.

The good folks at the California Jobs Initiative have been alerting people to what exactly the California Air Resources Board has in mind for us. CARB (as the acronymically inclined would have it) is apparently moving purposefully into its new enforcer role as Sacramento's "Green" shock troops. Not only will they be the ones to decide what kind of RHNA numbers we'll be SCAG'd with in 2012, they are also active on many other fronts as well. Here are a couple of them:

Taxes on vehicles CARB does not approve of: CARB plans to institute "feebates" (taxes) on vehicles they deem to cause global warming. Trucks, minvans, SUV's, and sports cars are likely to be targeted.

Imprisonment for not inflating your tires: CARB proposed regulations that your car tire pressure be checked to make sure they are at a state-mandated pressure. Before this proposal was withdrawn, CARB's proposed punishment for noncompliance was a $1,000 fine and 6 months imprisonment.

And these are the guys who will be instrumental in establishing our new AB 32 compliant RHNA numbers in 2012. Want to bet that they'll be through the roof? CARB, by the way, has 1,176 employees, with an average salary of over $85,000 a year. And while teachers and other government employees who actually do some true good in the world are being laid off all over the state, CARB is actually adding hundreds of new highly compensated employees this year. All of whom are anxious to start telling you how to live your life.

One last item. In an article on AB 32 that ran yesterday in The Sacramento Bee, Ben Boychuk, managing editor of the Heartland Institute's School Reform News, gave these reasons for why it simply has to go.

California's Global Warming Solutions Act was unsound public policy when the state unemployment rate was 5 percent and a recession was still 18 months off. But at a time of sustained unemployment and sluggish economic growth, AB 32 isn't just unsound; it's practically suicidal.

AB 32 requires the California Air Resources Board to regulate carbon emissions "in a manner that minimizes costs and maximizes benefits for California's economy," "minimize costs and maximize the total benefits to California" and "minimize the administrative burden of implementing and complying with these regulations." In a word: impossible. But, as always, don't take my word for it.

"California's economy at large will likely be adversely affected in the near term by implementing climate-related policies that are not adopted elsewhere," the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office reported in May. "This is in large part because such policies will tend to raise the state's relative prices for energy, such as electricity."

AB 32's adverse effects on California's economy would occur mostly through "economic leakage, as certain economic activity locates or relocates outside of California where regulatory-related costs are lower." The law encourages businesses that cannot bear the burden of higher regulatory fees and costs to drain away to more business-friendly climes.

And to think of it, the fun is only just getting started.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beacon Media: Why Do They Need Your Personal Information?

If you are not familiar with the term, let me tell you about it. "Phishing" has precious little to do with catching catfish down at the local canal. Rather it is the capturing of personal and financial information from the unwary for the aggrandizement of the person or organization doing that phishing. Here is how the term is defined on the site

Phishing is an email fraud method in which the perpetrator sends out legitimate-looking email in an attempt to gather personal and financial information from recipients ... A phishing expedition, like the fishing expedition it's named for, is a speculative venture: the phisher puts out the lure hoping to fool at least a few of the prey that encounter the bait.

If you have a Yahoo or Google email account, go into the file they reserve for spam and the chances are pretty good you'll come up with some passing fair examples of phishing. Below are a couple that I found this morning. Grammatical and spelling errors are from the phishers themselves, and are left intact here to preserve the flavor.

From the Desk of Mr. Isdore Ben
External Review Committee in Debt
Skye Bank Nigeria PLC.
Date 1st Day of June, 2010
Attention Beneficiary,

We wish to inform you that you have been scheduled to be paid $10,000,000 through our Automated teller machine card (ATM Card) which you will only be required to proceed to any ATM Cash Point to withdraw the sum of $2000 per day till the payment is completed. You are advised to contact me ASAP via my email address so that I can deposit your ATM/mastercard fo FedEx for them to deliver your ATM/Master Card to your given address in your Home Country less than THREE WORING Days (3 DAYS).

Kindly confirm your information where to send your ATM/MASTERCARD
1) Full Name
2) Full Address
3) City
4) States
5) zip code
6) Valid Phone Number
7) Sex
8) Current Occupation
This information will be used to process your billing card address where you would be receiving your monthly statement on card transactions made.
Best Regards,
Mr. Isdador Ben
External Review Committe On Debt.
Skye Bank Nigeria PLC.

The next example is quite brief and to the point. The author apparently seeing no point in attempting to weave a tale around the request. He just wants your information.

From: felisazambranomayo
Date: Saturday, May 29, 2010, 11:11 AM
You have been awarded a donation funds of $1,350,000 usd. Contact Mr Simons Regiado with the following information.
Name, Address, Age, Occupation, Tel, Counry

Beacon Media, home to many local free distribution throwaway publications including the Sierra Madre Weekly, are not technically participating in phishing because they have not made their personal information request by email. Rather they do it on their website.

Beacon Media is currently conducting their "Reader's Choice 2010 Survey." This is where they aim to determine your favorite restaurants, clothes stores, and other sundry consumer shops and stops. And you, as one of their readers, are invited to give your opinions on these important matters. To check it all out click on this link. Once you arrive at the Sierra Madre Weekly webpage, go to the upper right hand corner and click on the VOTE ONLINE box. Which, rather than taking you to the survey you might have expected, links to a questionnaire where you'll be asked to volunteer some very personal information. Only after you have forked over that material will you be permitted the privilege of taking a survey about your local consumption preferences.

Here are the questions you are expected to answer before being allowed to participate in the Beacon Media Readers Choice 2010 Survey.

Your Name _____________________ (required)
Email _________________________ (valid email required)
Address _______________________
Phone # _________________________ (required)
Age Range: (required)
(45 or older)
Occupation ____________________
Are you a homeowner? ____________ (required)
Avg. Houshold (sic) Income (required)
($10,000 - $15,000)
($15,000 - $30,000)
($30,000 - $45,000)
($45,000 - $100,000)
($100,000 or more)

They then go on to ask some questions about your news and media preferences, if you read their fine publications, and do you leave them around your home so the other inmates can look at them. Including, I suppose, the house budgie. All required, of course. Only after you have divulged what seems like some very proprietary information are you given the privilege of telling them about where you enjoy going for yogurt, or if you prefer Supercuts over Tress Excess. Or whatever that place is called.

But this does beg a very simple question. Why does Beacon Media need to know about stuff you probably wouldn't even tell people you know? Questions that are very similar in scope to those being asked by the phishers from Nigeria? In exchange for an opportunity to tell all about your favorite nail salon in Monrovia? Pretty lousy deal if you ask me.

Of course, the overseas phishers are trying to get into your bank account. And, once they obtain the keys to your financial kingdom, will proceed to suck every dime they can out of it. But what is Beacon Media's angle? What exactly are they after?

There are two things some companies do with information like that. They can either sell it to marketers interested in targeting certain demographics, or they might use it as an inducement to attract advertising. Local businesses being quite interested in getting their hands on the email addresses, locations, and phone numbers of "housholds" having six figure incomes. Think of the fun dinner time calls you could be getting!

Personally, I believe you'd have to be nuts to hand over information like that to people you don't even know, and therefore should not trust. No matter how many stories about dog washes and baby parades they run in their papers.

But there is a sucker born every minute, I guess.