Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Sierra Madre Tattler Goes On Vacation!

Well, we're shuttin' down operations for a couple of weeks. The dog days of summer are upon us and I don't really see myself writing about dogs. It's hard enough writing about people. Or at least some of them.

After 519 posts in 21 months I've decided it's time to take a couple of weeks off. Recharge the batteries and get ready for the upcoming excitement that is sure to follow once September arrives. Plus I have a big stack of books I've been wanting to read. I used to do a lot of that kind of thing. Not so much lately.

Not to say that the blog is completely shut off. You can still comment if you choose to do so. Moderation might take a little longer than usual, but we'll be checking in from time to time.

But before I hit the hammock I'd like to share something with you. A bit of information to mull over for the next two weeks. In the latest issue of AARP Magazine the president of that estimable organization, W. Lee Hamilton, fielded a couple of questions from the membership. And a question about AARP's (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) top priorities was asked. Here is his reply:

"Our advocacy priorities include strengthening Social Security and ensuring that Social Security benefits aren't cut to reduce the deficit, protecting Americans 50 and up from utility rate increases, lowering prescription-drug costs, making sure older Americans can find doctors to treat them, expanding job opportunities for older workers, and combating age discrimination."

Did you catch that? AARP's #2 priority, according to the president of that organization, is "protecting Americans 50 and up from utility rate increases." Of course, that was one of the main arguments we made when we forced City Hall's nearly 40% water rate hike back into its spider hole. That retired Sierra Madreans on fixed incomes would be hurt by this large a rate increase seemed obvious to almost everyone but the Gang of 4. Then again, maybe it was because they just didn't care all that much.

It's nice to know that we aren't the only ones fighting that good fight.

Look for The Tattler to return on Tuesday, September 7. Until then enjoy what is left of the summer. Like everything else it sure went fast.

And as for this post, consider this one to be a 2 week long open thread.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Joe Mosca: Not Exactly Making Friends In Porter Ranch

(Ed. - We covered this topic briefly on August 11, but since it was tagged on at the end of an article dealing with what looked at the time to be the demise of the General Plan Steering Committee - the jury is still out on that one - it got very little attention. Since that time I was able to speak with Wes Rogers, the gentleman who had a memorable run-in with our Mayor, Joe Mosca, as described below. The insights Wes shares here add a lot to this story, plus he confirms some things we already knew about Joe. The picture posted here is of the Sesnon Wildfire near Porter Ranch. An event from 2008 that plays an important role in today's post.)

The following comes from a website run by the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council (click here). The document I am quoting from is called Information Concerning Sempra Energy Expansion of the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility. It can be found on the PRNC's site by clicking here. The topic is the Southern California Gas Company's (aka Sempra Energy) unfortunate reputation for starting fires in wilderness areas. Needless to say the people in Porter Ranch, living in a fire zone no less hazardous than our own, are very concerned about these guys and the potentially dangerous new project they have in mind.

Here are a few passages from the Porter Ranch article, authored by stakeholder Wes Rogers:

Sempra Energy Southern California Gas Company has filed an application to expand the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility and run a new high voltage transmission line from Newhall, over the mountain to the Aliso Canyon facility, right behind our houses, about a quarter mile up the road from the Tampa Avenue and Sesnon guard shack.

Los Angeles City and County fire investigators have determined the cause of the Sesnon Wildfire, erupting on the morning of October 13, 2008, to be a downed power line owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC) at their Aliso Canyon facility. Transmission lines that come under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are governed by brush clearance requirements and are subject to inspections by that body. However, transmission lines that belong to non-electric utilities located on private land, such as the Gas Company's line at the SCGC Aliso facility north of Sesnon, are not regulated by the CPUC, and so are not subject to the same kind of strict clearance and inspection requirements.

And then there is this:

Southern California Gas Company avoidance of safety and maintenance responsibilities at the Aliso facility demonstrates at best a complete lack of understanding of the dangerous nature of their operation, or much worse, a willingness to make trade-offs in operational expenses (brush clearance/line inspection costs) at the expense of neighboring community safety.

Now to say that some large and powerful corporations cut corners when it comes to the well-being of those unfortunate enough to share living space with them is a widely accepted notion. And certain corporations do have their share of less than scrupulous people working for them, folks who will do anything to quash community concerns and defeat any efforts that might ding company profits, no matter what the considerations. But since we are talking about wildfire danger here, you'd think that would have made a difference.

Wes Rogers, a Porter Ranch stakeholder and author of the article we quoted from above, had become a leader in the resident campaign to get the Southern California Gas Company (aka The Gas Company aka Sempra Energy) to recognize the significant fire dangers involved in this project. Among the considerations he and others were asking for is that The Gas Company budget for things such as brush clearing when constructing and operating power lines in fire danger areas. Wes, sensing SCGC's indifference to safety issues, also recognized the need to file a protest with the California Public Utilities Commission in order to get a proper hearing on this matter. Something that The Gas Company most definitely did not want to see happen. After all, they were still being sued for their role in the Sesnon Wildfires, something caused by their already existing power lines.

So who did they send in to take care of this troublesome resident? Someone very familiar to us living here in Sierra Madre.

Upon his learning of my filed protest, I was contacted by Joseph M. Mosca, Public Affairs Manager of Southern California Gas Company. He employed a disingenuous strategy to downplay and understate the nature of this new project in hopes that I could be easily placated. Upon my request to see maintenance and safety records and meet with the plant manager, my requests were denied and all communications from SCGC was ended. Is this what SGGC calls public outreach?

Yesterday I called Wes Rogers, and he shared some additional insights with me. The first is that The Gas Company (aka Sempra Energy) is fearful of a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearing on the matter of their new power lines. Power lines that they already own have been blamed for igniting the Sesnon Wild Fires of 2008, and the last thing they want to have to discuss in relationship to their new project are past safety failures. There is a pro forma Environmental Impact Review already in process, and it was The Gas Company's fervent desire to limit any discussion to just that venue. However, the Porter Ranch folks, led by Wes Rogers, contested this and prevailed. The CPUC took into account The Gas Company's past tragic incompetence in this area, denied their request for a waiver, and will be conducting the public hearing asked for by the Porter Ranch people soon. The issue not being the environment, but rather safety and basic competence. Score one for the residents.

Joe Mosca's assigned role in all of this was to talk Wes Rogers out of pursuing that California Public Utilities Commission hearing. He tried to do this by "diminishing the magnitude of the project," as Wes put it. As we have seen here in Sierra Madre, Joe's one specialty in life seems to be sweet talking residents into doing things that are not in their own best interest. And here his job was to talk Wes out of filing the CPUC protest. Joe tried to convince him that this was in no way a large or unsafe operation, but rather just "a few pieces of equipment."

Joe Mosca offered Wes a walking tour of the operation to see for himself what is going on. Wes said he would only agree to that offer if the person in charge of safety at the project was there to accompany him. A logical request since safety is the major issue here. Joe said that would not be possible. Wes then asked if the Aliso Canyon plant manager could attend the tour. Joe said he would have to get back to him on that. When Joe did call back, it was to inform Wes that the plant manager would not be available because of impending litigation issues concerning the Sesnon Wildfires.

Wes filed the protest with the California Public Utilities Commission, the Commission approved his request for a hearing, and Joe doesn't call him any more.

I asked Wes what these conversations with Joe Mosca were like. He told me that he found Joe to be "disingenuous" and his assumptions "insulting." Wes said he does a lot of mountain biking in the affected area, and he already knew exactly what was going on up there. Apparently it did not occur to Public Affairs Manager Mosca that the person who was the moving force behind the protest and now impending CPUC hearing might decide to go to the site and have a look for himself. Unaccompanied by any Gas Company public affairs managers.

We all have jobs to do, and sometimes things can happen that are problematic. But that said, wildfires are a serious consideration in California. Fatalities and property damage from such disastors are a yearly occurrence here. I cannot see how the Mayor of a city that has suffered from fire as much as ours could be so insensitive to the concerns of those living in a similarly afflicted community. No matter what the reason.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sierra Madre is a "Walker's Paradise"

Among the featured buzzwords contained within the SB 375 playbook are "sustainability" and "walkability." The idea being that densely built neighborhoods are better for both the environment and those who live in them because they encourage people to walk to where they're going rather than take their cars.

The notion behind all of this is to diminish what some deep thinkers have come to consider a major contributor to Global Warming, that being "suburban sprawl." Surburban sprawl is a sustainability no-no because it causes people to drive their greenhouse gas producing cars to the grocery store rather than walk. If stores and condo apartments are all stacked up together, people won't want or need to drive. Or so the theory goes.

Our friends at Wikipedia define "sustainability" this way:

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans it is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which in turn depends on the well being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.

Good enough, I guess. Though it kind of sounds like any garden variety consultant speaking at a SCAG meeting.

One of the ways the experts gauge a community's sustainability is through its walkability. Their thinkability on this topic having been expressed through 10's of billions of words, many of which can apparently be found on the internet. One such protean thinker is Eric Fredericks, an urban planner who is also the driving force behind the Walkable Neighborhoods blog. Here Eric expounds upon that walkability theme in an interview published on another website dedicated to this topic, the suitably named Small Failures:

A walkable neighborhood completely impacts the daily lives of most of its residents - but the same can be said for just about any neighborhood. A walkable neighborhood just makes you appreciate the impacts more. For instance, typically walkable neighborhoods have multiple destinations that are within a safe and comfortable walking distance of your residence. You wouldn't even consider driving to these places because it just seems silly to drive such a short distance. So, you end up walking to places like the grocery store, the park, the barber, local restaurants, and so on. Then, you realize that in a suburban setting things are so spread out or hostile to walking that sometimes it's difficult to go to these places on foot - and maybe even frustrating to drive to them as well.

Now once John and Joe's Green Committee gets up and rolling you're going to hear a lot of this sort of talk. Previously determined and rote recital rather than any original thinking whatsoever being deeply embedded in the mission statement of this committee I suspect. And it would certainly appear that the themes mentioned above are slated to be included in our General Plan as well. With perhaps a well-versed consultant on the topic being brought in to make sure the language is precise and relevant to our future needs. After all, bringing sustainability and walkability to communities such as ours will take a lot of planning and infill redevelopment to achieve. Saving the world can be a very complex thing, and expert assistance would naturally be required.

But what if Sierra Madre already has the "walkability" thing down? Can such a thing possibly be?

There is a website called Walk Score that gauges the actual walkability of individual communities. Their scale for judging this important matter reads as follows:

90-100 Walker's Paradise - Daily errands do not require a car.
70-89 Very Walkable - Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
50-69 Somewhat Walkable - Some amenities within walking distance.
25-49 Car Dependent - A few amenities within walking distance.
0-24 Car Dependent - Almost all errands require a car.

If you go to the Walk Score page that rates Sierra Madre's walkability (click here), I think that you will find a very pleasant surprise. Our score is an extremely high 95. Which means that we have already achieved one of the major goals for sustainability, that being walkability! Which would also mean that we could already be where SB 375 demands that we be, and that the high density development that is John and Joe's only slightly veiled goal will not be necessary. We're "Green" already! Why mess with near perfection?

Of course, just because a community is as highly walkable as this one does not guarantee people will actually want to do any walking. And judging by the small amount of foot traffic you can see downtown on any given day - including weekends - it seems obvious that people here have yet to feel the magical urge to give up their cars. Which to me is the great flaw of SB 375. You can build as many condos and Metro stations as the San Gabriel Valley can possible hold, but that doesn't necessarily mean people will somehow feel the urge to start going by foot.

Though I suppose that would be preferable to taking the bus.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Was The Proposed Water Rate Hike Actually All About Bond Debt?

The research is now starting to come in hard and heavy. And while all of the evidence has yet to be properly vetted (or in some cases even deciphered), we now have a strong indication that the request for a nearly 40% water rate hike had less to do with Bruce Inman's rusty pipes than City Hall had initially stated, and a whole lot more to do with some massive bond debt that Sierra Madre assumed in 2003.

Which, as any reader of The Tattler can tell you, is right in the heart of the Shenanigan Years. That one of the chief shenaniganians will become our Mayor next year only makes this sad mess all the more poignant.

Here's the smoking gun. If you look at the Year 2003 Report contained on the State of California Treasurer's Office site (click here) you will see something rather amazing. It details the sale of two very expensive Sierra Madre water bonds. These bonds are for 30 years at 5.543% interest, or about 2 percentage points higher than a similar bond would go for today. They are for "water supply, storage, and distribution." The amount of these bonds comes to a rather hefty $6,750,000, if it was mortgage style amortization. Which, when they are paid back in full, will amount to total payments of $13,725,699. All of it straight out of the pockets of people like ourselves.

Which explains why the Water Department has so little cash available to perform regular maintenance on all those fine vintage water pipes we have here in town. The money is all being spent to keep up with our substantial bond obligations.

What might very well have been happening here is that City Hall, awash in bond debt, needed to raise more money to keep their heads above water. So to speak. But the last thing Mayor Pro Tem John Buchanan and his compliant bobbleheads would want to let out to the public is that we owe almost $14 million in debt payments because, for whatever reason, the City back then committed us to some very large (and, at today's prices, very expensive) water bonds. The date of birth on these bonds is 08/25/03, a time when the City Council was mainly comprised of his political allies.

So instead what City Hall did this year is claim that their need for the near 40% water rate hike was based on the state of our old pipes and water infrastructure. Hoping all the while that the residents here, just off an election, would somehow be looking the other way. The City could then sneak through the new water rates and handle their bond crisis while making a great show of repairing those pipes. Which would, as any reasonable person will tell you, only take a relatively modest share of the $18 million they were hoping to get out of us and the Federal Government.

But wait! There's more!

Did you know that Sierra Madre's Community Redevelopment Agency could very well be a credit rating basket case? In January of 2006 Standard and Poor's lowered the boom on our apparently crippled CRA. Here is what the report link tells us:

New York (Standard & Poor's) Jan. 27, 2006 -- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services suspended its rating on Sierra Madre Financing Authority, Calif's tax increment refunding bonds, issued for Sierra Madre Community Redevelopment Agency, reflecting a lack of current financial information. "The lack of audited financial information for both fiscals 2003 and 2004 created uncertainty regarding the authority's financial condition and credit quality; Standard & Poor's may reinstate the ratings after public release and analysis of financial statements, which, in the opinion of an independent auditor, fairly present the financial position of the authority," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst, Hilary Sutton.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't subgenius Mayor Joe Mosca been touting bonds as a marvelous way to raise the cash necessary to repave all the roads in town?

It looks like the Shenanigan Years really are back. No wonder the thought of a forensic audit had these characters racing for an undergarment change.

The Research Team has a whole lot going on with all of this, so what you're seeing here today is merely a first pass. Expect a lot more information on The Tattler over the next few weeks. It looks to this observer like City Hall was not being initially straight with us on their given reasons for the nearly 40% water rate hike they were pimping. And we intend to hound them endlessly for what looks to me like a grave ethical lapse.

After all, it's what we do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Should We Automatically Assume The City Knows What It Is Doing?

Now this might not be the venue you'd expect to see someone asking whether a 37% water rate hike is enough. But seeing how this is not the Looney Views News, we're going to let the people decide. Because there are some very important questions that get asked by Mr. Richey, and as far as I can tell nobody has cared enough to answer them. Or at least not yet. Though the letter I am reproducing below has been sent to various elected and hired officials, so who can tell? Maybe they will get around to it.

And there just could be a bit more here than first meets the eye. I, for one, have always enjoyed a good mystery. And what could more mysterious than how this water rate increase matter has been managed? Hard questions get asked, and all that comes back are offers to visit the pump house.

You might remember Earl Richey from our last City Council meeting. He spoke to the City Council at length during Public Comments on matters which they, if I read the body language correctly, were not all that comfortable about hearing. That is, of course, the ones that actually understood what he was talking about. The questions Earl asked were tough, detailed, and not at all conducive to properly managing the public's perceptions on the water rate hike. Which is where City Hall's real priorities have always been.

So here is Earl Richey's letter to the City Council. I am reprinting it here in its entirety.

Regarding: Request for City Council To Agendize ... 37%+ Water Rate Increase & City Water Debt Concerns!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010, I spoke at the Sierra Madre City Council meeting using my 3 minutes allotted for public comments such as mine. This letter is meant to reinforce my comments which I shared that evening.

Is a 37% Water Rate Increase Enough?

I have a few questions which I requested the city council agendize for a future meeting.

1. It was my understanding that the city budgeted to purchase 4,000 new water meters for a cost of $1,200,000+/- which would include radio towers and monitoring devices to be installed to read the residents water usage more efficiently.
- What is today's cost to manually read the 4,000 water meters per billing cycle?
- What is the estimated cost to read 4,000 electronic water meters?
- What is the new radio meter reading savings for Sierra Madre?

1-a. Was the commitment to purchase these 4,000 water meters put out to bid?
- Who were the other bids received from and at what cost?
- When was this agendized and voted upon by any City Council?

2. It is my understanding that the City of Sierra Madre has 60-100 year old water pipes that must be replaced immediately, prior to the big earthquake. Therefore:

2-a. If the full 37% water rate hike goes into effect today, based on the present $3,000,000+/- water sales to city residences per year:
- Why are we only budgeting $24,000 per year for replacement of deteriorated water pipes if we have an additional $1,200,000+/- per year to spend?
- The math: $1,200,000 Water Rate Hike - Additional Increase (estimated 37%+/-) minus $24,000 yearly estimated expenditures for replacing deteriorated water pipes comes to $1,175,000.

2-b. If we budget and spend an additional $24,000 per year for the replacement of water pipes, where would the additional $1,175,000 be spent?

3. It is my understanding that the city owes $7,500,000+/- in borrowed monies in the form of loans and bonds.
- Bond #1 $3,000,000
- Bond #2 $3,000,000
- Re: Item #3-b, $1,500,000 debt service effective June 2011
- Re: item #1 - $1,200,000 proposed water meter purchase.

3-a. Based on the $6 Million Bond Debt, we are presently paying $898,773 a year for interest & principal (debt payments).
- Based upon $3,037,500 water sales, that's 30% of our gross water sales income per year! (Example: $898,773 / $3,037,500)
- Based upon Proposed Debt of $8,700,000, we could be paying in excess of $1,123,773 a year for interest & principal (debt payments).
- Based on the $3,037,500 in water sales, that's 44% of our gross water sales income!

We also owe an additional $1,500,000 to the San Gabriel Valley Water District.
- At the present time the city has no money to pay monthly interest and principle (debt payments) to the San Gabriel Valley Water District.
- I have been told that the San Gabriel Valley Water District has agreed to defer monthly debt payments. The first monthly debt payment will be effective in July of 2011 in the amount of $250,000 per year.

3-c. I would like to discuss where these monthly debt payment monies will come from in the event the city has not increased the water rates prior to July 2011?
- Bond debt = $898,773, San Gabriel Water Dist debt = $250,000, Capital Budgeted for water meters = $100,000. Total $1,348,773.

4. I would further like to request that the city provide a list for the residents to review of Engineering Company & Contractors which were awarded city work in excess of $10,000 per job, for the years 2000 to 2010.

5. At this time, based on our city's current credit:
- What is the City of Sierra Madre's Water Department Credit Limit?
- How much more can the Water Department borrow over the $7,500,000 debt which the city presently has?

6. I would like to know why the Sierra Madre City Council failed to approve these questions to be agendized for any up and coming City Council meetings?

In the event these are deemed not appropriate for Council discussion, then it would appear that water rate increases must not be the real issue.

My take is the City Council will not want to touch topics like $7,500,000 in water bond (etc) debt because that isn't what they want people thinking about. Throwing good money after bad is not what most people regard as being a sound use of their money. And then there are always those embarrassing forensic kinds of questions regarding how exactly things were allowed to get this bad in the first place.

If our little water company is this horribly in debt, wouldn't we be better off just selling it? It's not like our new water rates will be all that cheap after the hike anyway. Will the City's mismanagement of our water company improve if we just give them more of our money? And given that level of already existing debt, is it even worth the money it will take to save it?

As we've said here before, it is all about City Hall managing public opinion in order to get even more of our money. The last thing anybody there wants is inquisitive people with potentially embarrassing questions disturbing the marks. This is not the kind of conversation they're looking to have right now.

Which is why I am happy to raise it here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Correcting Looney Views Sue's Attack On Sierra Madre's City Clerk

If you're going to go after someone in print, you should at least attempt to make an effort to check and see if your facts are completely straight. Because if you don't chances are pretty good someone will show up to correct your errors, and in a way that you probably won't enjoy very much.

In its August 7th edition, the Mountain Views News made an attempt to heap some undeserved abuse on our City Clerk, Nancy Shollenberger. The bone of contention being what she, as Sierra Madre's City Clerk, earns for her many services to this community. The claim, that Nancy is supposedly making outrageous amounts of money compared to the City Clerks in other cities in the area, being clearly false.

In an article entitled "The Bell That Won't Stop Ringing ... City Clerk's Compensation Sounds Alarms," here is how that paper's publisher, Susan Henderson, attempted to weave her tale of official malfeasance. I've highlighted the distortions.

The Sierra Madre City Manager's salary was not the concern for those who had viewed the salaries on the Sierra Madre web site. What seemed to concern some residents was that all elected officials except one receive a stipend of $3,000 per year. The exception is the Sierra Madre City Clerk, Nancy Shollenberger, who receives annual compensation of $10,800 plus $7,500 for General Municipal Elections. Other city clerks in Monrovia and Arcadia, are paid the the same as council members. In Monrovia, a city that has a population almost 4 times the size of Sierra Madre, the City Clerk makes $4,800 a year. In Arcadia, whose population is over 50,000, the city clerk is paid the same as the council members, $6,000 per year.

On August 14, the SGV Tribune published an article (click here) entitled "Gate-keepers to city records, rarely talked about City Clerks often earn high salaries." In addition to talking about how local City Clerks can earn relatively robust amounts of dough, it also published a list detailing the exact amount City Clerks in each San Gabriel Valley city makes. In order to set the record straight, I am reprinting that entire list here.

A couple of things that should jump out at you. Monrovia pays a cool $59,664 a year for what Nancy does. Henderson claimed in her article that the amount is limited to $4,800 a year.
Arcadia does not only pay the $6,000 per year Henderson claims, rather it shells out $90,870 for the same work. And if you review the entire list, you will discover that Sierra Madre's City Clerk, rather than receiving outrageous amounts of money for her many efforts, actually receives the lowest pay in the entire region.

Here is the SGVT's City Clerk pay list. To quote the paper, in many cities "an assistant or deputy city clerk handles the daily functions of the department," and actually makes far more than the elected and largely figurehead City Clerk. Those cities are marked with an asterisk. No such positions exist in Sierra Madre and all functions of the job are handled by Nancy Shollenberger. Something the MVN failed to disclose. When discussing any Office of City Clerk, you need to include all the money spent.

Pasadena - $143,006
Whittier - $124,956
Industry - $122,400
Temple City - $112,400
San Gabriel - $109,440*
La Mirada - $106,987
Glendora - $106,116
Pico Rivera - $105,408
West Covina - $104,508*
Covina - $102,183*
La Puente - $96,768 to $117,636
Rosemead - $91,824
Walnut - $90,912
Arcadia - $90,870*
Alhambra - $86,940
South Pasadena - $84,372
Irwindale - $83,031*
Diamond Bar - $78,736 to $92,592
San Marino - $76,260 to $93,306
Azusa - $72,450*
Monterey Park - $72,372 to $92,592*
El Monte - $70,344*
South El Monte - $60,900
Monrovia - $59,664*
Montebello - $56,004 to $68,334
Baldwin Park - $50,992 to $68,334
Sierra Madre - $18,300 (Includes minutes preparation and elections. And since elections are every other year, that figure falls to $10,800 on off years.)

So rather than making the kind of money that demands an invocation of the Bell Scandal, it turns out that our City Clerk is making far less than what any other city is paying to get that job done in the entire region. Arcadia and Monrovia included.

Once again, the publisher of the Looney Views News has been exposed on this site as being a rather shameless falsifier. Why our city continues to shovel the kind of money it does to someone who obviously has serious problems with the truth, along with many of the residents actually living in this community, defies all reason. The only assumption that can be made is Susan Henderson prints these kinds of outrageous things with City Hall's approval.

And that's the real abuse of the taxpayer's dollar.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sierra Madre's First Corporatist City Council?

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini

At The Tattler we are fond of interesting new ideas, particularly when we're talking about politics and government. Because let's face it, there is no quicker way for an idea to get old fast than to have it put into practice. Here in California we are currently living with the consequences of many once fine ideas gone wrong, and now there are suddenly none left to fix the messes their implementation created.

Sacramento, of course, is recognized as one of the leading legislative and governmental basket cases in the nation. And hardly the kind of place we'd want telling us how to run our business. After all, look at how poorly they're doing with their own affairs.

In the past we've discussed national politics on this site, but we have tried to not make a habit of it. As Sierra Madre is an independent city, we felt that we should limit the discussion to things that reflect the need to maintain our unencumbered status. But now, and especially with our new City Council in place, we are probably going to have to move on from that quaint notion. The current cabal is in the process of taking Sierra Madre not only into a decidedly more regionalist perspective, but also aligning us with the centralized planning regimes of Washington and Sacramento. Particularly on the topic of so-called "sustainable development," which is actually just a greenwashed phrase for lots of high-density construction that mostly benefits corporate interests and their lobbyists. And as we have seen with the water rate controversy, they're even amenable to taking millions in encumbered Federal money to do it.

All of which means that important city responsibilities such as development planning will soon be aligned with national policies that run counter to our cherished notions of Sierra Madre as an independently run city in charge of its own destiny. Joe Mosca has often said that under his leadership we would be working more closely with other cities to "help solve our problems." This despite the fact that what we have here is really so much better than those whose help he'd seek. Of course, to those who follow Mosca's malarkey closely, "working with other cities" actually means aligning our little star with the policies of massive Metropolitan Planning Organizations such as SCAG, the Federally funded central planning authority tasked with enforcing unwanted development schemes designed by people who live thousands of miles away and couldn't care less about this place. That is, if they even know of its existence.

One of the more interesting and novel notions to hit the news wires lately comes from a seemingly unlikely source, the Libertarian gone Republican Congressman Ron Paul. Now you might or might not agree with what Ron Paul has had to say as a politician, but as a social critic he does have his moments. His perceptions can be astonishing at times, sometimes controversial, and he has become quite a media goldmine for notable quotes. Here are a few that I picked up from

"You don't have freedom because you are a hyphenated American; you have freedom because you are an individual, and that should be protected."

"You want to get rid of drug crime in this country? Fine, let's just get rid of all the drug laws."

"I am just absolutely convinced that the best formula for giving us peace and preserving the American way of life is freedom, limited government, and minding our own business overseas."

Hardly the kinds of statements you'd expect to hear from what many regard as a most conservative Republican. These are rather the insights of a committed Libertarian (or should I say contrarian?) who truly enjoys taking established wisdom and turning it on its head.

So in this spirit I am going to cite a portion of an opinion piece (click here) that first appeared on the Talking Points Memo website. It discusses Ron Paul's perspectives on what for many on the political right is an article of faith regarding President Barack Obama. That Paul both skewers that accepted faith and then goes on to imply something even worse could be involved is characteristic of the Texas Congressman.

Ron Paul: President Obama Is Not A Socialist - Near the end of the third day of this year's Southern Republican Leadership Conference, it was time for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to take the stage. Paul, fresh off his victory in the CPAC straw poll, gave a characteristically fired-up speech that took on the views of the Republican party establishment.

"The question has been raised about whether or not our president is a socialist," Paul said. "I am sure there are some people here who believe it. But in the technical sense, in the economic definition of what a socialist is, no, he's not a socialist."

"He's a corporatist," Paul continued. "And unfortunately we have corporatists inside the Republican party and that means you take care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country."

Paul said examples of President Obama's "corporatism" were evident in the health care reform bill he signed into law last month. He said the mandate in the bill put the power over health care in the hands of corporations rather than private citizens. But he said the bill wasn't the only place where corporatism is creeping into Washington.

"We see it in the financial institutions, we see it in the military-industrial complex," he said. "And now we see it in the medical-industrial complex."

What Paul is saying here hits home. Foreign corporations, located mostly in countries where health care is handled by the government, have a tremendous competitive advantage over U.S. corporations who must foot the bill for employee medical costs themselves. By at least partially removing that financial burden from domestic corporations they become better able to compete in a global economy. This is why you heard precious few corporations (outside of health insurance companies) complaining about Obamacare. Despite all the news coverage about how this would be a boon to the uninsured, they understood it was actually far more about their interests.

Of course, the Obama Administration would hardly be our first "corporatist" presidency. Similar accusations can be leveled at George W. Bush. After all, he took this country to war for the benefit of a few oil corporations. And I'm sure the case can be made for other recent presidencies as well.

So to the point of today's post, is the Mosca-Buchanan City Council "corporatist?" I would argue that yes, it is. Both Mosca and Buchanan are employed (or, as has been pointed out by some, underemployed) by large energy corporations that would benefit greatly should Sierra Madre succumb to the large scale redevelopment mandates of Washington and Sacramento. And both strongly advocate policies that push forward the business agendas of interests they work for. More housing in Sierra Madre meaning more cash paying consumers for these large gas and electricity companies.

This can also be shown in their embracing of "regionalism." SCAG, as we have said, is supported with Federal tax dollars. And there is no greater priority in the Obama administration these days than "sustainable development." As you know, the prime beneficiary of such massive redevelopment in cities such as ours would be big corporate organizations.

One of the major forces pushing for redevelopment regionally would be the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, an organization often aligned with the Building Industry Association of Southern California (BIA) and California Association of Realtors (CAR). Both were instrumental in lining up 10s of thousands of dollars in corporate money to fight Measure V a few years back.

Besides the BIA and CAR, the SGVEP is also affiliated with Southern California Edison, Sempra Energy, The Pasadena Star News, Samuelson and Fetter LLC, and the Pacific Palms Resort & Conference Center. An entity owned by Majestic Realty's now legendary neo-NFL stadium builder Ed Roski, Jr.

I realize that to equate the virulent fascism of 1930s Europe with the corporate Babbitry we see here in the SGV is a bit of a stretch. After all, we haven't seen any cadres of the Downtown Investors' Club goosestepping down Sierra Madre Boulevard. At least not yet. But there is something decidedly undemocratic and reactionary about this arrangement. It is as if this City Hall is now at war with our open and inclusive political traditions. Traditions that are as old as the town itself. Can it be the people of Sierra Madre no longer have a place at that table?

A corporatist City Council would not in any way be interested in the wishes of the people living in their town. Rather, and as we can see in Sierra Madre, the DSP-style development corporate interests ardently desire is now the first - and apparently only - priority of this city government. To them the taxpayers are not a partner, nor can they even be considered to be an interested party. Rather they are a potential problem. One that must be properly managed so that there is no interference with planning for the large scale development they fully expect to see here in a few years.

Which explains the absurd struggle over control of the General Plan Committee. It is also why the City found the impressive scale of the water rate protest to be so shocking. It was a direct blow to both them and the interests of parties whose needs they've tried so hard to represent.

Hopefully we'll be able to deliver a couple more of them very soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Denise Delmar Rises Above

As those of us who witnessed last Tuesday night's City Council meeting can attest, the General Plan Steering Committee and its Chair, Denise Delmar, were treated to some of the most shabby and at times frankly misogynistic treatment ever seen in an official setting here in town. That volunteers, people who selflessly give of their time and efforts for the greater good of Sierra Madre, should have been subjected to such coarseness, and by people who ran for office as so-called "civility" candidates mind you, defies reason. That it was apparently done to privilege cronies and disgruntled political supporters who somehow feel entitled to special treatment only adds to these perceived injuries against the common good.

But there is something about this town that inspires people to soldier on. Denise is now joining that long list of folks who put the greater good here above the peace and quiet to be found in life lived beyond our legendary and colorful public disputes over development.

Apparently there have also been some apologies from the guilty parties as well. Which in my opinion attests more to the political effect this shabby show has been having on public opinion in town than any heartfelt remorse. I'm not sure that if people hadn't been expressing their outrage in forums such as this one we would have heard of any penitence taking place.

So it is with great happiness that I get to share the following with you. Denise Delmar has decided not to resign as Chair of the General Plan Steering Committee. At a little past 6pm last night the following comment was left on The Tattler. To find it in its original setting scroll to the end of the 65 some odd comments attached to the post dealing with the as yet unresolved disappearance of The Rooster.

Denise Delmar said...

Good Evening Tattler Folks,
First and foremost thank you all for the kind words and encouragement. I'm not a blogger, but I was introduced to your blog a couple of days ago, and find it to be quite interesting. Although I do not foresee me participating in the "blogging Process" in the future, I will certainly check back from time to time to see what is on everyone's mind. However, because of your encouragement and support, I did want to let you all know, I have decided not to step down from the General Plan Update Committee, and hope my fellow committee members continue to serve as well.

We have a great group of folks leading the Communications Team and Outreach Team, but we need more great folks. Please contact De Alcorn if you want to participate in this exciting process. Regardless of the number of people on the Steering Committee, the process will continue as presented to City Council last Tuesday. The goal is to reach every major stakeholder in Sierra Madre, hear the voice of everyone and update the General Plan which incorporates new California regulations and Sierra Madre mandates. I do not know what the finished project will look like, but look forward to working with you all to see what it will be.

I am committed to working with everyone in this town to accomplish this goal. My short time in Sierra Madre and the people I have met gives me the confidence that we can produce an updated General Plan we can all be proud to pass down to the next generation.

PS - I'm still looking for people to get behind the "Support SF Giants" initiative portion of the General Plan. If you don't understand what this means you have to come to the next General Plan Steering Committee meeting on September 7th at 6:00pm, City Chambers to find out. Go Giants!

Well, obviously the Giants are having a better season than the Dodgers, but I'm going to have to go this meeting to find out what this means as well. Baseball analogies being an important part of my life these days.

Now there is another post I want to bring to your attention as well. Because it involves the contribution that you can make to these struggles to create a General Plan that reflects the true wishes of Sierra Madre, and not just the machinations of some highly compensated consultants and other corporatist hires. If you're not quite sure that you like the idea of Sacramento and their sweaty accomplices dictating what Sierra Madre will look like in the future, then you just might be one of those "stakeholders" Denise was talking about.

Okay everyone who professes to love our town. It's time to spring into action. Please come to the Outreach Task Force meeting at the home of De and Pat Alcorn, 741 E. Grand View on Monday at 7pm, and bring a friend/neighbor. Don't let the Gang of 4 hijack the General Plan Steering Committee, and don't let Denise and MaryAnn bear the brunt alone!

Denise is new to Sierra Madre. Please, let's show her what we're made of against huge odds. Don't let her quit because of a lack of support!

Be there or live with the consequences for the rest of your lives.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Somebody Call The Sheriffs! They've Kidnapped The Rooster!

This is a Special Friday the 13th Report from the Paranormal Bureau of the Sierra Madre Tattler. All concerned terrestrial lifeforms begin reading now ...

I am really worried about The Rooster. I think he might have been abducted by aliens or something. Or maybe unquiet spirits from the Land of Ho have swooped down off the mountain and dragged him away to play a starring role in some sort of ritual sacrifice. Could it be those pod people are back here in Sierra Madre, and an ear of corn that has taken on the guise of Rooster Coburn is running around town saying the most unexpected things? Except they somehow gave him the brain of Sir Eric Maundry? Which, believe me, is not for everyone. Especially on such a short notice.

So what is the source of my concern here? It appears that Rooster wrote an article for his website that was not only right, but actually criticizes the Gang of Four! I've read his post about four times now, and the words haven't changed. And he also said nice things about MaryAnn MacGillivray! Will Glenn and Susan ever speak to him again? Are they now stitching up a voodoo doll with his name on it over on Sunnyside?

We're just not used to that level of independence from a card carrying member of the old No On Measure V crowd. Here I'd always figured that once they were in, they were in for life. No one has ever returned from the land of shadows before. Perhaps the microchip somehow became dislodged when he was out jogging, and pure unfiltered thought suddenly flooded back into the brain pan of this long inhabited fellow? If so, it must have hurt.

I'm just not sure what to make of this. I mean, here is the guy who, during the election, accused me of wanting to outsource a volunteer fire department in order to save the city money. To have the author of so zany a statement as that suddenly go and get rational on us? I got to be straight with you, the dude is scaring me. For real. You have to wonder if something might have gone wrong.

Here is what the person I think might be The Rooster had to say:

... But man, did (the City Council) screw up on the General Plan issue. When it started out, it seemed like only one Council member, Nancy Walsh, was really leaning toward expanding the General Plan Steering Committee, yet somehow it ended up that the Council voted 4 to 1 to do just that.

Council Member MaryAnn MacGillivray, in my opinion, came on a little too strong at the beginning by asking her colleagues to repeal what had been approved as a compromise at a previous meeting, the authority to appoint technical advisory committees to assist the General Plan Steering Committee. I think she asked for too much, too soon. But she ultimately offered up an obvious solution, one that would have been an excellent compromise. Her second motion, which died for lack of a second, was to accept the Outreach Program, and leave the Technical Committee appointments on the table. In doing so, the Council could have allowed the Steering Committee to begin its outreach program and show the council just how inclusive it would be, and if the Council felt it was being inclusive enough, they could repeal them at a later date. If they didn't feel it was being inclusive enough, they could just appoint the Technical Committee.

Instead, they decided to expand the Committee to nine members. I think that was a monumental error. And they compounded it by then tasking the Committee with a job that they had just made impossible to do. How can the Committee come up with a timeline, when they have no idea how long it's going to take to find out who is on the Committee?

I hope that Committee Chair Denise Delmar doesn't become so frustrated that she quits. She and the Committee did a great job on the work program and the outreach program, and I think they were off to a good start. If Delmar leaves, the Council (except MaryAnn MacGillivray) owes an apology to all the residents in this town.

A little light on any exploration of the City Council's possible motivations perhaps, and certainly focused much too exclusively on the here and now. But when we're talking about a breakthrough as significant as this one, there isn't a whole lot you can do other than scratch your head in wonder. Did you ever think you'd live to see the day?

Remember to drive safely today. And be careful in all that you do. After all, it is Friday the 13th, and the unexpected can occur.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is Direct Democracy the Answer?

"Is eleven OK? No? Nine then? I, uh, I'm not sure." - Nancy Walsh

I was going to review the items that were covered during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, but what would be the point? There is only one thing that anybody is concerned about right now, and that is the politically driven monkey wrenching of the General Plan Steering Committee. This was a unique moment in the history of our town. The destruction of an already sitting committee merely because those serving on it had the wrong lawn signs in their yards last April is a level of political vindictiveness never before seen in Sierra Madre. It was an ugly act carried out by ugly people.

So why did this happen? The Gang of Four can't really talk about their agenda, which is heavily pro-development. To do so would make their existence as elected officials here politically untenable. Advocating development being right up there with dog napping in Sierra Madre's pantheon of undesirable behaviors. So they have to take alternative routes to their goals. Wrapping themselves in the Measure V flag would be one of them. We certainly have seen a lot of that kind of phoniness lately. Denying that things such as the water rate hike have anything to do with development would be another. Even though that particular fib becomes less and less believable as time goes on. And then there is all that frantic spending, something that could put Sierra Madre's hard won independence in jeopardy while also making us vulnerable to those whose interests this City Council really represents.

So rather than just firing the General Plan Steering Committee outright for not being development correct, they have to go through an entire series of passive aggressive charades. And why must they get their supporters on that committee? Not because it would benefit their interests, of course. But rather because that is the "collaborative thing to do." It would be done in order to make "inclusiveness" happen. That is, "bringing all possible viewpoints to the table."

These supporters, of course, as old school development hands, would have no interest in any out-reach programs designed to incorporate the views of the people of Sierra Madre in the new General Plan. And why should they? Most people in this town would never see any value in putting something like a .99c Store with condos up top on the Howie's site. Most residents like this town the way it already is. And where's the money in that? In the Orwellian world of Mosca and Buchanan, excluding the residents of Sierra Madre from participating in the creation of this most valuable of City documents is called "inclusiveness." You can almost see the pigs flying from their mouths.

One of the most important items on the development agenda is hiring consultants to write this new General Plan. By doing so the elements necessary to achieve development goals would be burned into the city's blueprint, and stay there for the next 20 years. All the while effectively keeping out any preservationist or slow growth viewpoints that could have been included had the vast majority of citizens in this town not been prevented from participating.

Which makes packing the General Plan Committee with opinionated and potentially disruptive characters so necessary. By setting up the Committee to fail in this way, the democratic out-reach process can be quickly brought to an end. Opening the door for the hiring of highly expensive pro-development consultants to do City Hall's dirty work, while excluding the people who actually live and pay taxes in this town. The irony being that it is those taxes that would be used to keep them from participating in the preservation of their own town. Paying the hangman for the use of his rope, as they say.

In other words, what we saw Tuesday evening was power politics in its nastiest form. This was a move designed to prevent the voice of the residents of Sierra Madre from being heard. Why? Because it would result in something the Gang of Four didn't want. And they disenfranchised the 10,500 residents of this town to make sure that couldn't happen.

Direct Democracy

Since the people of Sierra Madre are now being actively denied the right to participate in important matters such as the creation of the 2030 General Plan, it is incumbent upon us to force our way back in. Rioting might appeal to some, but once the exhilaration of running through the streets with a torch and pitchfork is over, there would likely be political and legal repercussions. And besides, it's tiring.

A far better way is to keep money out of the hands of those who would use it to push forward things not in our interest. Defeating the water rate hike is important not only because it helps retired fixed income residents stay solvent during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but also because it would starve City Hall into submission. Where would they be without our money to spend? They'd be powerless. If the Gang of Four didn't have the $300,000 in already budgeted funds needed to hire General Plan consultants, they'd be forced to use volunteers instead. Fiscally restrained City Halls are far more democratic.

Another way to keep City Hall sweet though creative fiscal starvation would be to take away their right to raise rates. Proposition 218 goes a long ways towards that goal, but as we saw just recently, that can be stolen from us. But if we empowered ourselves through the ballot initiative process, making rate hikes possible only if we the people first vote on them, then the City would have to answer to us. Which is how it should be. After all, it's our City and our money.

Another way to accomplish our goal of taking back control of our City Government from developers and their hires would be through the recall process. There are currently members on our City Council who lack the intellect or skill set necessary to do the job 20% of this town's registered voters elected them to do. They have become an embarrassment. How better to improve the quality of our representative government here in town than to recall and replace those individuals with people actually capable of doing the job? Officials who would be far more representative of the concerns of all the people in this town, and not just their cronies. People who think doing their job for the people doesn't mean nodding and smiling anytime the Mayor orders them to, or colluding behind the scenes in obviously scripted and illegal attempts at sneaking through unpopular agendas.

Places Where Direct Democracy Is Working

Here is a partial list of towns currently involved in City Council recalls:

San Jacinto City Council Recall - California 2010. A group calling itself SCRAM (San Jacinto Corruption Recall Active Movement) has put the recall of its very own Gang of Four on this November's ballot. The issue is corruption. Link to this story by clicking here.

Rio Vista City Council Recall - California 2010. Those who support the recall of Jack Krebs, Janith Norman and Jan Vick are upset that these Councilmembers voted to increase the city's water and sewer rates. Click here.

Brentwood City Council Recall - California 2010. "An effort to recall Mayor Bob Taylor and other members of the Brentwood City Council began in October 2009 ..." The issue is the seizure of the City's main park for use by developers. Click here.

Mission Viejo City Council Recall - California 2010. Lance MacLean allowed expenditures in the city to exceed revenues by more than $11 million. Supported a 100% pay increase for City Council members. Click here.

Montebello City Council Recall - California 2010. Kathy Salazar and Robert Urteaga were just successfully recalled. They were targeted because of a July 2008 vote to award an exclusive no-bid 15-year garbage removal contract to Athens Services. Click here.

It's certainly nice to know that we have some meaningful options.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The City Council Moves The Development Agenda Forward

I really don't think anyone should be too surprised. These are people with a set agenda and they are determined to make it happen. They want to bring large scale SB 375 style development to Sierra Madre. Try as they might to disguise it, that is why they are here. The water rate hike is part of that agenda, and last night's cynical monkey wrenching of the General Plan Steering Committee is another. The gloves came off, and the Gang of Four revealed themselves for what they really are. A Council of hired hands who want to turn Sierra Madre into something the people living here do not want. And they really don't care what you think about it, either. Just as long as you don't talk about it too much. They don't need the likes of you stirring up the marks.

Tomorrow we'll have a full review of last night's meeting. But, late as it is, I thought I would offer up a little insight into the true nature of the person currently serving as our Mayor. While maintaining an aura of concern and empathy might be important to achieving his goals here, when he is engaged in similar work at the Southern California Gas Company, his methods are decidedly more direct.

The following comes from a website run by the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Committee (click here). The document I am quoting from is called Information Concerning Sempra Energy Expansion of the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility. It can be found on the PRNC site (or click here). The topic is the Southern California Gas Company's unfortunate reputation for starting fires in wilderness areas. Needless to say people living in Porter Ranch, a hazardous fire area not unlike our own, are very concerned about these guys. Here are a few passages from an article that first appeared last April:

Sempra Energy Southern California Gas Company has filed an application to expand the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility and run a new high voltage transmission line from Newhall, over the mountain to the Aliso Canyon facility, right behind our houses, about a quarter mile up the road from the Tampa Ave and Sesnon guard shack.

Los Angeles City and County fire investigations have determined the cause of the Sesnon Wildfire, erupting on the morning of October 13, 2008, to be a downed power line owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC) at their Aliso Canyon facility. Transmission lines that come under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are governed by brush clearance requirements and are subject to inspections by that body. However, transmission lines that belong to non-electric utilities located on private land, such as the Gas Company's line at the SCGC Aliso facility north of Sesnon, are not regulated by the CPUC, and so are not subject to the same kind of strict clearance and inspection requirements.

Then there is this:

Southern California Gas Company avoidance of safety and maintenance responsibilities at the Aliso facility demonstrates at best a complete lack of understanding of the dangerous nature of their operation, or much worse, a willingness to make trade-offs in operational expenses (brush clearance/line inspection costs) at the expense of neighboring community safety.

Now to say that some large and powerful corporations cut corners when it comes to the well-being of those unfortunate enough to share living space with them is widely understood. And they do have their share of unscrupulous people working for them, folks who will do anything to quash community concerns and defeat any efforts that might get in the way of company profits, no matter what dangers are involved.

A Porter Ranch Stakeholder named Wes Rogers became involved in the campaign to get the Southern California Gas Company to recognize the fire danger they were putting his community in. Among the things he and others were asking is that the SCGC budget for things like brush clearing when constructing and operating their power lines in areas where fires are an extreme danger. So who steps into this troubled picture?

Upon his learning of my filed protest, I was contacted by Joseph M. Mosca, Public Affairs Manager of Southern California Gas Company. He employed a disingenuous strategy to downplay and understate the nature of this new project in hopes that I could be easily placated. Upon my request to see maintenance and safety records and meet with the plant manager, my requests were denied and all communication from SCGC was ended. Is this what SCGC calls public outreach?

Our illustrious Mayor at work. Did you honestly think Joe Mosca ever cared about anything but the interests of those he really works for? Or that he won't do or say anything to get his people what they want, no matter what the consequences? Then you need to talk to the people of Porter Ranch.

One more thing

Was it a coincidence that the City's first water rate postcard and Susan Henderson's op-ed attack piece on the water protest appeared within 48 hours of each other? Is City Hall turning to attack surrogates like Henderson in hopes it will help them get the rate increase done?