Monday, January 31, 2011

Kurt Zimmerman's Notes From Saturday's Water Rate Protest Fundraiser

(Editor: Former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman spoke about all that was wrong with the City of Sierra Madre's Prop 218 procedures, and all that is right in challenging their lack of good faith in a Court of Law. After all, and despite City Hall's fevered efforts to remove them, we do have rights, and this is still America. For those of you who were unable to attend this very successful fund raiser, here is the outline of Kurt's speech.)

I would like to begin by thanking blogger extraordinaire John Crawford for organizing this fundraiser; the gracious Melissa Thew for hosting this event; John Herrmann and Anita Delmer for having the good sense and fortitude to sign the letter challenging the water rate hike; and all of you here today, who have contributed your time or money in support of our cause.

But first a little background, because to paraphrase Mark Twain, the City has shed much darkness on the subject of the water rate hike.

Historically, the City has been the purveyor of its own water. However, it has also entered into water contracts with other municipal suppliers.

To fund infrastructure improvements, make repairs and subsidize operating costs, the City floated two bonds: one in 1998 for $6,475,000; and another in 2003, for an additional $6,750,000. More recently the City borrowed $1,500,000 from the San Gabriel Water District for water-related purposes.

According to the City, our total current debt is $18,757,563, which includes bond interest. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for these numbers as the City has a history of providing inaccurate or incomplete information regarding Sierra Madre's water system and water debt.

I will focus on the inaccurate or incomplete information that the City provided to the residents in connection with the water rate hike in a moment. If you'll indulge me for a few minutes, however, I wanted to share with you the first time I was misled on the subject of Sierra Madre's water.

At my first City Council meeting as your Council member in 2006, I was asked to cast a vote approving a proposed contract with the Metropolitan Water District. The contract memorialized the parties' agreement to connect the MWD's water line running down Grandview to our municipal water supply. The City and newly elected Council Member Mosca claimed that we lacked an adequate supply of water to extinguish a wildfire. According to Council Member Mosca, waiting to approve the contract put the City at risk. Because I had just been installed in office, I asked to continue the hearing so that I might study the proposed contract. The Council rejected my request to continue the hearing and approved the contract over my objections.

Well, in 2008 a wildfire swept through our hillsides. It was extinguished without any of the MWD's water because Sierra Madre had an adequate supply and the connection to MWD's water line had never been made. Last time I checked there still was no connection to the MWD water line!

Disinformation has also been the City's rule as far as the water rate hike is concerned.

On May 13, 2010, the City Council began the process which culminated in the water rate hike. Towards that end, the City staff sent ratepayers a written notice regarding the proposed rate increase. That notice was intended to comply -- but did not -- with California's Proposition 218. For those of you unfamiliar with Proposition 218, it was a Proposition approved through the initiative process. It was intended to enhance voter participation in the efforts of municipalities to increase their revenues.

At this point I want to note that Proposition 218 is not merely a regulation or statute, but is part of the Constitution of the State of California.

Among other things, Proposition 218 requires that at least 45 days before a hearing on a water rate increase that Sierra Madre provide the ratepayers with a notice that contains the amount of the proposed fee and the reasons for that fee. That notice contained no such information.

First, the notice did not provide each Owner with the amount of the proposed rate increase as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice required each Owner to estimate his or her increase based on such factors as the meter size and the possible applicability of a discount for "low income." Because the Notice lacked definitions or explanations for such factors, however, it was impossible for each Owner to make any estimation of meter size or determine whether he or she qualified as "low income."

How many of you, when you received this notice, knew your meter size?

How many of you, when you received this notice, knew what the City meant by low income and more importantly whether you qualified for a low income exemption?

As if these violations of Prop 218 were not bad enough already, the City continued to consider the proposed rate hike at subsequent City Council meetings without sending the residents additional written notices. Even worse, the City in October 2010, determined that the original, proposed rate increase from May 2010 should be changed. That's right, the rate hike that the City proposed to implement in October 2010 and which it finally approved in January 2011 was not the rate increase it proposed back in May of 2010.

How many of you knew that the City approved a different rate increase? How many of you received a notice, as required by Proposition 218, informing you of the revised rate increase? The answer is none, because the City never sent one!

Worst, the reasons the City provided for the rate increase were misleading at best. The City's party line has been that much of the rate increase was to fund capital improvements. To replace, for example, aging pipes. In a letter to a resident in August 2010, however, the City conceded that the rate increase was not enough to fund a pay as you go capital improvement program. "Funding a capital improvement program to begin immediate replacement of deteriorated water mains (for example) would require a rate increase significantly higher than what was proposed earlier this year."

Then, in October 2010, the City conducted a "Water 411" presentation complete with PowerPoint slides.

Not one, but two PowerPoint slides state that the rate increase "did not provide for a pay as you go capital improvement program."

Instead, the PowerPoint slides reveal the driving force behind the rate increase - the water debt. The PowerPoint continues "the proposed rate increase covered only the bond requirements and projected operational expenses."

How many of you here today would have protested the proposed rate increase had you known that none of the money was being used for repairs or improvements?

Despite our repeated demands, the City has refused to comply with the notice requirements of Prop 218, leaving only a legal challenge, which is the filing of a writ of mandate, as the instrument of our redress.

I also note that a trial court in Merced County recently heard a case involving the City of Livingston's alleged violation of Proposition 218 based on, among other things: the City's failure to provide adequate notice of the hearing on the rate increase; failure to provide separate notices for hearings on the rate increase; and failure to provide a separate notice of a revised rate increase. Does any of that sound familiar?

The Court ruled in favor of the ratepayer plaintiff based on all of these failures and against the City.

In closing, I want to thank you all again for contributing to this cause, which is nothing less than a vindication of our rights.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Data Privacy Day: Do You Know Where YOUR Data Is?

Actually Data Privacy Day was yesterday, and somehow I missed it. Well, OK, I was doing other stuff that I thought needed to be done first. So we'll call this Data Privacy Weekend instead. After all, so momentous an occasion can hardly be celebrated in a single day, right?

Now when it comes to discussions of data privacy violations, Facebook is usually at the top of the topic list. Like many social networking gins both big and small, they are notorious for gathering the information of those using their services, compiling it with other data, and then selling it off as "market research" to any corporation willing to write a fat check.

And apparently there are quite a few big companies willing to do so. After all, selling their products to you, the ever-so-happening social networking citizen of this the new millennium, is what they deeply desire to do. So knowing your deepest secrets is valuable to them.

Which makes the following passage from ("The Executive IT Management Briefing") all the more ironic.

Leading up to Data Privacy Day someone hacked into the Facebook fan page of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The company reportedly attributed the breach to a software bug and said Wednesday that it had been repaired, but in the meantime it was busy rolling out a new security initiative that will let potential hackers see photos of your "friends."

I love that story. FierceCIO also has this related article on Facebook security:

Some Facebook apps found to be collecting, selling user information - Facebook users keen to maintain some form of privacy will want to take of the following findings from the Wall Street Journal. In essence, the Journal has determined that all of the 10 most popular apps on Facebook are transmitting user IDs to outside entities. In addition, another three of these top applications have also been sending personal information pertaining to a user's friends to outside companies.

Now you'd think that Mark Zuckerberg has enough money already, and wouldn't need to be selling the private information of those using his Facebook properties to companies without the permission of the affected folks. But apparently that is not the case.

And it gets even more bizarre. Check out this little number from the on-line site of PCWorld. Apparently you do not own yourself anymore when you use Facebook.

Who Owns Your Facebook Data? On the surface this seems like a silly question. Surely you own your Facebook photos, status questions, notes, links, or anything else you've shared. Because, after all, you put them there, right?

Not necessarily. Facebook's terms of service make it clear that, while you technically "own" your own stuff, you're granting them "a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post."

In other words, you own it, but they can do whatever they want with it. Hence the "sponsored stories" Facebook has just announced: Ads that use your profile picture, based on your Likes and Facebook Places check-ins, without asking you.

All of which raises some fairly thorny questions. When you set up a Facebook account, obviously your intention is to connect with your friends and engage in social dialogue. But from what I'm seeing in articles like the ones I've quoted from above, it seems that Facebook views this as a way to lure people in so they can rip off your data and sell it to the highest bidder. Kind of has a "spider and the fly" feel to it.

At a recent City Council meeting here in Sierra Madre, Josh Moran, speaking on behalf of his G4 colleagues, pronounced that they would begin to use social media as a way of getting their viewpoints across to Sierra Madreans. Apparently a concept that piqued his fancy at some League of California Cities sponsored confab out there in the big dusty, this notion is being sold to naive city government types everywhere as a way to counter the news and information monopoly of privately managed sources such as this one.

Which, I think, requires some discussion. How deeply will these guys get into the whole Facebook thing? Will it just be used as an information board to notify the residents about events and happenings? Or will the involvement go deeper into the data rabbit hole where information retrieval and acquisition gets done?

And is it really the purview of a City Councilmember to be selling Facebook-style social media participation when the matter has become such a widespread source for concern amongst those who monitor personal privacy issues?

My advice for this Data Privacy Weekend? Be cautious. Obviously after the EVG debacle all are now aware that protecting one's information is important.

If you want to go to, say, Mayor Mosca's Facebook Page to read about all the cheery things posted there, feel free. But just remember, any message or "like" or anything else you leave there most likely goes to a lot more places than just that one page.

If you're going to the soiree today, I'll see you at 2PM! Otherwise have a great weekend.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The New Yorker Magazine Article On Aol & Patch

We're going to take a step back from our local situation today and look at things from a more national perspective. A valued reader and friend dropped a New Yorker magazine article ("Can Tim Armstrong Save Aol?") off at the Maundry compound recently, and it sheds significant light on things we have been discussing for the last few days. Apparently what we have seen from the Sierra Madre Patch this week is hardly a local problem alone.

However, before we get there, here's something from this New Yorker article that you might want to act on. Particularly if someone you know is using Aol's on-line subscription service.

The company (Aol) still gets eighty percent of its profits from subscribers, many of whom are older people who have cable or DSL service but don't realize that they need not pay an additional twenty-five dollars a month to get online and check their e-mail. "The dirty little secret," a former Aol executive says, "is that seventy-five percent of the people who subscribe to Aol's dial-up service don't need it."

Aol, the former colossus once known as America On-Line, was at one time the most commercially prominent way for people to get on the Internet. The figure given by the New Yorker is that at its peak Aol was doing business with 35 million people. Most of them wised up, however, and moved on to far better Internet services. But out of that figure 4 million subscribers still remain. And despite the fact the Aol provides unneeded services in exchange, those remaining subscribers, mostly older people unaware that they can do much better and for little or no money, still send in a separate check every month. They really don't need to do that anymore.

Patch is one of the ways Aol hopes to be able to regain some of its former glory. Its dominance as an Internet service provider long past, and with that its partnership with Time Warner. Aol badly needs to reinvent itself and Patch is their hope for the future. Tim Armstrong, the CEO of Aol, explained it to the New Yorker this way:

Local is the one area of the Internet that has not been built out in an extensive way. We believe it's an untapped market, for the most part, and one of the largest commercial opportunities online that has yet to be won.

And thus Patch was born. There are now 700 cities all across America that have their very own outpost of Tim Armstrong's dream. He truly believes that Patch is going to save Aol. Which is why he has invested $50 million dollars in the effort, with more expenditures certain to follow.

Aol's local effort is called Patch, a compendium of online newspapers that target small, affluent communities and are supported by advertising. Each paper offers a calendar of after-school activities and planning-board meetings, links to stories about breaking news, and a scrolling Twitter feed that includes information on traffic accidents, police logs, and ongoing craft sales.

All of which you can see on our local version of Aol's on-line messiah. Each Patch sports a generic cookie cutter layout that is dictated precisely from Aol's headquarters in New York City. And each Patch editor is required to adhere to a carefully market researched product and content design that you as the consumer is supposed to find infinitely appealing. Comfortable colors and cozy content being the mien.

Each Patch site is run by a journalist, who earns between forty and fifty thousand a year. There are no offices; reporters live in the area they cover. Because there are no newsprint or shipping costs, Aol publishes news, Armstrong says, at approximately four per cent of what it costs a traditional local newspaper to do so. Still, the sites are not making money yet. "We will be the largest publisher of local news in the U.S. this year," Armstrong predicts.

I suppose Aol could become a significant purveyor of local news on a national platform comprised of hundreds of Patches. Anything can happen in this world, and certainly Aol has the cash to do it. At least for a while as their parachute out of Time Warner was a golden one. But, as the New Yorker article points out, there are problems.

They might not, however, be the best. The sites aspire to break news, and occasionally they do. The Darien Patch, for example, reported that a First Selectman candidate had a criminal record. But often the sites are like digital Yellow Pages, promotional bulletin boards accompanied by news about all the fun things going on nearby. Quality varies widely, and one senses a tension between journalism, which often conveys uncomfortable news, and boosterism. Which makes everyone feel good about the home town.

"Uncomfortable news," which is a nice euphemism for government and politics, is a thing that many claim to find unpleasant, but based on our traffic success with The Tattler can't wait to read. Boosterism, on the other hand, which most will tell you is their favorite because it is so happy and pleasant, draws ratings flies. I mean, just how many stories about cute tea shacks can one person take?

The New Yorker article puts the finishing touches on its reasoned demolition of Patch with a description of the Aol news culture at large. Apparently Patch's problems stem from some unhappy issues endemic to the corporate parent as a whole.

Quality is a problem for the entire Aol media empire. The company has hired many talented journalists, and some of the niche Web sites, like Engadget, publish content that particular readers love. Much of what Aol publishes, however, is piffle. On a typical day in January, its home page included a substantive story about the recovery of Representative Gabrielle Giffords after she was wounded in an assassination attempt in Tucson. But there were many more pieces with headlines like, "Katie And Tom May Boycott Oscars," "Curled Lashes With No Mascara At All," and "Videos: Hilarious Pets."

Which I guess goes to show that when it comes to what they publish, Aol and its entities such as Patch have an unfortunate addiction to cloying content over actual news. Which to me shows a certain level of disregard for the intellect and discretion of those they hope will want to read their stuff on a regular basis.

And with articles such as "Humane Society Wants Your Kitty Pictures for 2011 Spay Day Contest," "A Short Ranch House On Sierra Madre's Lotus Lane," "A Convenient Condo Near the Village" and "All Cats Have Nine Lives, But Only Albert Has 24 Toes," it is easy to see that the Sierra Madre Patch apple has not fallen very far from the Aol corporate tree.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Sierra Madre Patch Stands By Its Man

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the folks responsible for the Sierra Madre Patch have now stated that they believe the report submitted by Justin Chapman on our water rate woes is accurate and in need of neither a retraction or correction.

Patrick Lee, an AOL/Patch employee whose responsibilities include overseeing many of the Patches in this area, posted the following on The Tattler yesterday at around 10 AM:

Hi all: This is Patrick Lee, the Regional Editor of Patch - I am John Stephens' editor. We've looked into the claims in this story, as well as some made by commenters on our original story. We stand by Justin Chapman's reporting and story.

And then, around a half hour later, John Stephens posted something very similar to the person he reports to at Aol/Patch:

We have looked into the story and stand by the reporting of Justin Chapman. We welcome any additional comments that Tim Bittle of the HJTA may wish to add regarding this issue.

No further explanations on exactly why they have chosen to defend the erroneous reporting of Mr. Chapman, or how exactly his article in any way even glanced upon the concept of reality was forthcoming throughout the day. Apparently their approach here is to pronounce that because they said it was right, therefore it must be so.

Now this is a bit perplexing to those who still believe that news reporting should at least attempt to adhere to concepts like "facts" and "accuracy." Chapman published an article claiming that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association declared that the Prop 218 process on the water rate hike here in Sierra Madre was done properly. Yet when Tim Bittle (the guy who runs the legal shop statewide for Jarvis and is an authorized spokesman for the organization) was asked about Chapman's claim, he stated it is utter nonsense. Among other things.

This is really a cut and dried matter. One so clear that there really is not a whole lot of room for maneuver. Which is probably why Lee and Stephens have not been able to come up with any reasoned defense for Chapman's (or their) editorial boners.

A post left yesterday on The Tattler summed up what has appeared to be on many peoples' minds:

Just my two cents .... The Patch reporter spoke to a legal assistant at HJTA who provided him with information that was incomplete. The legal director of the HJTA subsequently confirmed that it was still investigating Sierra Madre's compliance with the 218 process. Indeed, the legal director went further stating that the HJTA is "interested in (the rate protesters') case for possible amicus involvement." Under these circumstances, Patch should publish a correction or clarification instead of standing by a story containing information that it now knows is false.

Apparently the Patchies don't do popular reality.

So how do you gauge the reaction people here in town have had to this controversy? As is usually the case most remained blissfully unaware. But amongst those up on the matter it would appear that the anecdotal evidence is folks are not all that appreciative of reporting that is as flawed as Mr. Chapman's. Yesterday's Tattler post on the matter attracted close to 2,000 page views and 70 comments. Which is pretty good for a small town blog. Over on The Patch site there was one sole comment, which turned out to be from an employee family member.

We have no way of knowing how many page views Chapman's article received on the SM Patch, though I suspect it was higher than most due to our generous sharing of attention with them.

But here is what I think could be the reason for Chapman's woefully inadequate reporting. When he called the Jarvis people he only spoke to an assistant. You know, the person who answers the phones for those whose opinions count. And rather than insisting that he be put through to an actual decision maker, Chapman decided instead to get the assistant's opinions on the matter instead, and then report it as official Jarvis policy.

Which is fine, assistants are allowed to have opinions. It's just in this case when Mr. Chapman made this particular assistant an official policy spokesperson for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, he made a presumptuous mistake.

Besides, wouldn't a real reporter have spoken to an actual executive at the Jarvis offices before making such bold pronouncements? You know, someone who knows what they are talking about? And if Chapman gets his reportage from assistants, why would he not also get the opinion of the security guy at the front desk? Or the guy who tidies up after the long work day is done?

Understanding Mr. Chapman

Justin Chapman, who on his Blogger profile describes himself as a journalist, novelist, poet, actor, film maker and a Virgo (which makes him sound a bit like one of the characters from the classic British TV comedy "The Young Ones"), has published blogs of his own in the past. One such blog, "Solipsistic Jouralismo," published 3 articles between Nov 18 and Dec 19. An introductory piece entitled "Croxeldiphivic" spread this uncapitalized cheer our way:

hello. welcome to my new blog, which will cover local, state, and national politics and news analysis, and anything else I find interesting, including travel writing and specific topics as medical marijuana, drug reform, poverty, and education.

Justin then takes a stab at defining the word "croxeldiphivic:"

croxeldiphivic is a made up word that is supposed to represent the relationship between the writer and the reader. it's a dedication to understanding that relationship in more unconventional ways.


This could be key in understanding exactly why Justin presented his Patch piece in the way he did. That from Mr Chapman's croxeldiphicial viewpoint the things we would normally expect in a news piece do not apply. Rather everything has to be turned upside down to meet the "unconventional" criteria of this croxeldiphical reporter's approach to the news. As an example, HJTA's strong misgivings became support for the Gang of Four's Prop 218 approach.

If you can come up with a better explanation please let me know.

Bonus Coverage: We have since found another Chapman blog called "Noospheric G-Spot." It features a banner photo of someone with a flaming Molotov cocktail in the process of throwing it at the Police.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Lowers The Boom On The Sierra Madre Patch

We gave Sierra Madre Patch honcho John Stephens every opportunity to rescind his grossly inaccurate article about Sierra Madre and the Prop 218 process yesterday. We called John up and told him that the Howard Jarvis people were very upset about the bizarrely inaccurate misrepresentations said about them on The Patch yesterday. I mean, we handed him the opportunity to undo all the damage on a silver platter. I was even prepared to be gracious about it all. Or at least that was the advice I was being given.

But did Stephens issue any corrections? Make some adjustments? Admit to some sort of unfortunate misunderstanding? Nope. He just stubbornly let the big ugly mess fester right out there in plain site. All of which goes to show that some people just defy salvation, even when you actually try and give it to them.

Which is fine with me. Because now I get to tell the story in a style I'm more comfortable with.

If you haven't seen The Sierra Madre Patch article in question yet (and based on the web traffic they're attracting you probably haven't), the following statements were posted there yesterday. The article's author, Justin Chapman, made these absurdly inaccurate and quite possibly dishonest claims:

HJTA Says City (of Sierra Madre) Complied with Prop 218 Process Regarding Water Rate Increase - The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer (sic) Association, after reviewing information about the water rate increase vote, said the city completed the process properly and decided not to get involved.

The article goes on to give a long and mostly nonsensical mishmash of a history on what occurred during the water rate protest procedure. Then Chapman had this to say:

While some Sierra Madre residents are still displeased with the handling of the Prop 218 process, it appears the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer (sic) Association, a notably reputable source in such matters, is satisfied.

Kurt Zimmerman put in a call to Timothy Bittle, who is the Director of Legal Affairs at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in Sacramento, and asked him if this "notably reputable source" actually said such things about the Prop 218 mess in Sierra Madre. And after hearing what was said about the Jarvis organization on the SM Patch site, Bittle was not in the least pleased. Angry is probably a better word for it.

Here is a brief transcript of what Tim Bittle had to say on that call:

The only person in this office authorized to speak on behalf of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on such a matter is myself. I did not make that statement.

When Kurt further pressed Mr. Bittle on where the Jarvis Association did stand on this matter, this is what he said:

The investigation has not been concluded and contrary to the article on the Sierra Madre Patch there has been no determination as to whether we will file suit against the City of Sierra Madre.

Now correct me if I am wrong, but this does not sound like Mr. Bittle - or anyone at the Jarvis organization - has concluded that they are happy with how the City of Sierra Madre conducted its Prop 218 process. Quite the contrary, actually.

Later that afternoon Jarvis Director of Legal Affairs Timothy A. Bittle sent the following e-mail to Kurt Zimmerman. It is a revelation and extraordinarily good news for those who are nauseated by the falsehoods and deception that have typified the G4 City Hall's handling of the water rate situation.

I apologize for the Patch article. The reporter who wrote that article did not get the whole story ... As you know, HJTA filed an amicus brief in the Foster Farms case. Because you intend to sue Sierra Madre on similar theories, we remain interested in your case for possible amicus involvement.

So it appears that the Patchies were not only absurdly wrong in what they had to say about the Jarvis people being pleased with how the City of Sierra Madre ran its Proposition 218 process, it turns out that the HJTA folks are actually giving some thought to jumping in on our side of the struggle and helping us out in our fight to get our rights back!

Which is a tremendous victory for our cause. And yet one more sign that we are going to win this thing.

How great was Fay Angus's talk last night?

When the Patch article hit yesterday we all knew we needed to take some quick action. We've all experienced the effects of politically motivated fabrications in the past, and we've always had to act fast before the word got out and became accepted wisdom here in town. Fortunately the canards (intentional or not) were on the SM Patch, and relatively few people were reading them throughout the day.

Kurt Zimmerman got in touch with one of the top two legal guys (Bittle) at the Jarvis organization and we got the real story on where they stand on the matter. And that story turned out to be decidedly different from what The Patch was saying. We then knew that we'd caught them in the act.

But how to get the message out? A new Tattler article would help, but what else could be done? And what if this story was alluded to by Joe Mosca or John Buchanan at the City Council meeting? Could this Patch article actually be a fabrication specially rigged for their use against the water rate protest? How could we counter them?

And into all of that stepped the always gracious and stunningly articulate Fay Angus. She took the two statements we had received from Timothy Bittle and read them at public comment last night in a way that is all hers. She razzed the Sierra Madre Patch for its obvious lack of ethical reporting standards while letting the G4 water bandits know that things had just gotten decidedly worse for them.

Yesterday we won something truly important. And in the process walked away with what might very well be a powerful new ally for us.

We are going to win this thing. Sierra Madre is coming back.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is John Buchanan Running For A Third Term?

Agenda Man was fully prepared to start writing about this evening's City Council meeting. But then he took a look at the actual agenda, rolled his eyes, and flew off somewhere without even saying a word of goodbye. Just flat out fled. And having now seen it for myself I can't say that I blame him. It is mighty sparse, and about as exciting as a 6 PM freeway drive to Glendora.

But that said, there are plenty of other fine topics to talk about. Some rumor, and some just guesses. After all, this is a blog, and we get to talk about things like that. You want stories about fluffy kitties, ice cream socials and prestigious awards ceremonies honoring exalted people that you've never heard of before? Then you have obviously come to the wrong place.

But that's OK. Oftentimes magical things can happen for people who meet merely by chance.

Is John Buchanan running for a Third Term?

Rumors are flying around town about the possibility that John Buchanan might be positioning himself for yet another run at the City Council. Many here are of the mistaken belief that such a thing can't happen, and there is an ordinance somewhere preventing so crass an attempt at becoming de facto Councilman for life. But there is no such law I'm afraid, it is only a custom that every Sierra Madre Councilmember to date has had the decency to honor.

But for John Buchanan the stakes are high. The prospect of having to turn a rapidly maturing development process completely over to Joe Mosca, Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh is not a happy one for the power players that John is aligned with. The thought of all that hard work and planning falling into the hands of a lounge emcee, sideshow circus barker and a cha cha dancer has left them feeling concerned. You just can't take those kinds of risks when you have big money bonds, water mains, street paving, sewers and a big old DSP to bring home.

And after all, there are those investors to think about as well. Some of whom have been sitting on the same downtown property for close to 10 years now. They can only be expected to have so much patience.

There is a second part to this rumor, and that one involves none other than Bart Doyle. The word is they've been trying to clean the fellow up a bit and allow him the opportunity to take another shot at the glories of City Hall's televised rubber room.

The evidence is there, and it is intriguing. Why did the G4 attempt to hide Bart's 2003 bond debt when they asked for this year's water rate hike? You know, the $10 or so million dollar boondoggle that was used to build water tanks and other new infrastructure designed to supply the DSP with plenty of delicious Sierra Madre Mountain Spring Water? Only to have this pristine water apparatus sit barely used because the purpose it was designed for was staked in through heart by Measure V?

And wait, there's more!

In last week's Looney Views News there was an article that actually attributed water bond debt as the genesis of the water rate hike. It was a bit of a breakthrough for this city's adjudicated throwaway because until now it had been pimping the fully discredited line that this was all about fixing old pipes. But in this edition the LVN's publisher falsely claimed that ALL of our bond debt was from the 1990s. Why? Because the 2003 water bond debt, which remains the lion's share of the damage, came to be during the year when Bart Doyle was Mayor.

Yes, it does appear that they are trying to clean Bart up. Because let's face it, John and Bart are the only two dirts left with the intellect and drive to push through the big time development that has been their reason d'etre for over a decade. And the guess is they'd sooner run over their dogs than turn the dream over to such weak links as Joe, Josh and Nancy.

Pasadena is now in Jerry Brown's Redevelopment Lab for Testing

This big news in the latest edition of the Pasadena Star News is that the City of Pasadena has been singled out for some very special treatment by Jerry Brown's very own State Controller, John Chiang.

Apparently what is going down here is that Governor Brown, faced with a League of California Cities (along with other equally weaselly organizations) that is besides itself with woe over his plan to pull the plug on 450 or so Redevelopment Agencies and save a few billion dollars, has come up with a pretty good plan. He has identified 18 cities all across the Golden State to undergo CRA audits. My guess is that the purpose of these audits is to prove to these whiners that vast sums of money under the control of local redevelopment agencies is being wasted on utterly stupid things. Which, of course, it is.

Obviously Jerry knows all about using power. Here is how the PSN breaks it down for us:

State Controller John Chiang picked Pasadena Community Development Commission as one of 18 redevelopment agencies that will be audited this spring ... Redevelopment agencies have come under fire since the election of Gov. Jerry Brown, who said he plans to eliminate the tax scheme. The audit will look at whether the redevelopment agencies are fixing blight, funding schools and providing low-to moderate income- housing, or have become a vehicle for politicians to line their own pockets and the pockets of their political allies.

So here's my question. What would we have to do to convince State Controller John Chiang to audit Sierra Madre's CRA?

Build whatever you like in Sierra Madre. No one will stop you.

Yesterday a rumor swept these bloggish precincts that a certain unscrupulous Canyon developer had built a new second story on a house, and did so over the weekend without a permit in sight. Which, since there is a building moratorium in the Canyon, wouldn't have been available to Bob the Builder had he even tried to get one. And that the Building Department, informed about this crude act of defiance, even sent their fine agents up the hill to red tag the rogue structure.

Sounds good, right? Especially when this Bob the Builder fellow is one of the Fab 5 Canyon Wreckers who has been speaking smack at recent City Council meetings about his supposed victimization at the hands of the Canyon Zone Committee?

Of course, that is not how the rest of the rumor goes. These building inspectors apparently have very limited powers when it comes to enforcing planning laws. They lack the snooping powers of the SMPD and therefore cannot enter an offending property unless the unlawful development is clearly visible to them from the street. Which can mean they cannot go onto that property to examine these unfortunate happenings at all.

So how do you make sure that an unlawful construction project is kept from the view of our intrepid inspectors? You hang a big old tarp in front of the place and tell them you were doing some roof repairs. The inspectors then cannot see the project, and since they are forbidden from going on the property and pulling aside the tarp to see if you're telling the truth, have no further right to investigate. They then go back to City Hall to write reports nobody will care to read.

Maybe I should get a big tarp and put something interesting on top of my house? It would certainly improve my beautiful nighttime views into the sparkling San Gabriel Valley.

Maybe you should, too. Properly disguised nobody would apparently be able to do anything about it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Avocado Express: City asks Colantuono & Levin to investigate Colantuono & Levin

Over in La Habra Heights there is a great blog called The Avocado Express. It is linked on the "Sites of Interest" list to the right if you'd like to check it out. And as longtime readers of The Tattler are aware, La Habra Heights and Sierra Madre have shared the same City Attorney, Sandra "Gray Areas" Levin.

Sandi, as she is known here in the Gem of the Foothills, is a partner in the mighty legal firm Colantuono & Levin, celebrated for its skill in crushing the aspirations of citizenry whose taxes are used to pay their fees. Particularly when it comes to representing the interests of corporate developers, regional councils, statewide "leagues" and all too complicit elected city officials in the use of resident tax money. No matter what the opinions of those actually paying the bills might be.

It really is quite a cozy little arrangement. We get to pay for our own hangmen. Or, as it is in our case here, hangwoman.

But what is going on in La Habra Heights is even more special than that. It would seem there is a problem there with a Colantuono & Levin attorney assigned to that City, and things were deemed to be so bad by the City Manager that an investigation was required. So who did they decide to bring in to do the investigating? We'll let the Avocado Express tell the story.

Concern over misconduct by a City Attorney and contracted hearing officer has City Manager Shauna Clark asking for an independent investigation of an administrative hearing.

An administrative review hearing involved La Habra Heights resident Phil Lough and his wife Aida was held on December 27, 2010. Mr. Lough is a candidate in the upcoming City Council election. There are two seats open in the March 2011 City Council election, one of which is held by embattled councilman Howard Vipperman, who is seeking re-election.

The hearing, conducted by contracted Hearing Officer John Van Doren and Attorney Yana Welinder with the City's law firm Colantuono & Levin, sought to determine whether the Loughs have one too many animals. In addition, the hearing addressed if neighboring rubber tree droppings, mistaken by the City staff for manure, were the Lough's responsibility.

The Loughs had petitioned for an open hearing in the City's MPR room. Instead Ms. Clark forced the proceedings into a backroom known as "The Cave," posting a guard by way of a Sheriff Department deputy, effectively keeping it closed to the public and assembled news media ...

The hearing appeared to conclude at approximately 11:30 a.m. when the door opened and the Loughs exited the conference room. However, hearing officer John Van Doren and City Attorney Weliner remained in the room and continued talking. Aida Lough told the La Habra Heights City Council at their January 13th meeting that the hearing ceased to be to be impartial and fair when discussions between the hearing officer and City Attorney continued in their absence. Mrs. Lough also disclosed that a recording of what transpired in the room existed. In reviewing the recording you can clearly identify John Van Doren and Attorney Yana Welinder discussing the case for several minutes after the Loughs had exited "The Cave."

Phil Lough, who had left the MPR room, returned when reporters had not emerged to interview him as they had requested. He was informed that the hearing officer and City Attorney were still in the room with the door closed. Mr. Lough knocked on the door, which was then answered by John Van Doren. Lough asked if they were discussing the case. John Van Doren replied, "No."

Now this is obviously an ethically sticky matter, one that gives the appearance of certain improprieties, to say the least. La Habra Heights City Manager Shauna Clark stepped in to remedy the problem.

As a result City Manager Shauna Clark is seeking an "independent investigation" of the events that transpired by the City's own attorney Ms. Sandra Levin. Ms. Levin is a partner with the firm of Colantuono & Levin, the same firm the City employed to represent them at the hearing. In an email obtained by this reporter Ms. Clark writes, "The fact that discussions were held during recess or after the meeting has caught the attention of the City Attorney (Sandra Levin)."

And it gets even better!

Clark also asks in her email that the recordings be turned over to Sandra Levin for review. However, the Loughs are not in possession of the original recording nor has it been released to the general public.

I guess for a quarter of a million dollars a year a City gets both an attorney plus some really droll comedy. Apparently Colantuono & Levin is a full service legal firm that not only screws up the works, but also handles the resulting investigations as well.

It does remind me of the situation we have here in Sierra Madre with the Prop 218 water rate increase controversy. Sandi Levin was, of course, the legal figure responsible for seeing to the proper and lawful conduct of the "water rate increase process." And when people come to ask City Hall whether or not that "process" was conducted properly, it is Sandi Levin who quite naturally informs them that everything is just hunky dory.

What else is Ms. Levin going to say, that she screwed it all up to the point where irate residents are now about to sue the City?

Apparently both La Habra Heights and Sierra Madre are living in the same Colantuono & Levin legal echo chamber. It does get a little rough on the ears sometimes.

Bonus coverage: jo-el is back with another great report. Is Sierra Madre destined for developer funded public art? Click here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Update: Water Rate Protest Fundraising Gathering January 29th

(Sunday Update: We have received quite a few RSVP's for next Saturday's 2PM meeting. It is very gratifying and thank you to all. I'd also like to extend a thank you to those who have been calling their neighbors and friends about both the meeting and what is involved here. I doubt that anyone leaving this get-together Saturday will have any doubt about just how serious the issues really are.

While this is about our water rates and our right to contest them in a legitimately conducted process, there is something else that is equally important. If it is proven in a Court of Law that the G4 City Council was not honest about the reasons why the water rate hike had to take place - and I am pretty confident that will be one of the outcomes - then we will have quite a story to take to the people of Sierra Madre. If you haven't RSVP'd yet, please do. And tell your friends as well. I have no doubt that anyone concerned about good and honest government will want to be there.)

Many have asked how they can contribute money for the effort to reclaim our stolen right to challenge the water rate increase. We've been kicking around exactly how to do this, and decided that one big party would be the best idea. So here is your chance.

On Saturday, January 29, from 2 to 4 PM, Sierra Madreans Against Repressive Taxation (SMART) will be holding its inaugural event. The purpose of this gathering will be to raise funds for a potential legal challenge to the City of Sierra Madre's illegal water rate increase procedures. The water rate hike was approved by the City Council on January 11 by a 4 to 1 vote.

Former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman is the guest speaker and will be there to answer any of your questions.

The suggested donation is $50. As this is a fund raising event, all those wishing to attend will be expected to donate. And yes, that is both the single and family rate. If you wish to give more, we'll be honored to receive it.

Food and light refreshments will be served. The same team that provided the food and beverages at the General Plan Update Town Hall Forum will be catering this event. As anyone who attended the Town Hall Forum can tell you, the dishes they create are delicious.

The details: Please RSVP to (very necessary as we need to get a head count in advance for the cooks.) We will send you an email confirming your admittance along with the address of the event plus a phone number for any questions you may have.

Sorry, no press can be accommodated. This will be a private event.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mountain Views News Publisher Susan Henderson Continues To Claim Academic Credentials She Apparently Never Received

Susan Henderson
    Susan Henderson
    (Harriet Susan

    Education and Work

    Grad School


    It remains one of the bigger
    mysteries about the
    Publisher of our adjudicated
    newspaper here in town,
    The Mountain Views News.

    Why does Susan Henderson
    continue to claim education
    credentials she apparently
    doesn't possess?

    As you can see cut and
    pasted here, on Susan's
    Facebook page
    she once again lays claim
    to having studied law at
    UC Berkeley, etc. But is
    this actually the case?

    When Susan was forced
    to resign her position as
    the #2 ranking staffer of
    the California State
    Democratic Party in 1995,
    one of the charges leveled
    against her was "resume
    pumping." That is, she
    claimed to have obtained
    academic honors she
    hadn't actually earned.

    Here is how it was described
    in the
    San Francisco

    State Democratic Party's
    Top Paid Staff Quits
    Amid Charges / Questions
    asked on used funds,
    ... Late last week state
    party secretary Jim Clarke
    said officials were
    scrutinizing Henderson's
    background and were
    unable to verify a
    a number of academic
    degrees listed on her
    resume, including a
    bachelor's degree from
    Ohio State University and
    an MBA and law degree
    from the University of
    California.State bar
    officials say she is
    not a California lawyer.

    Then there was this from
    the San Francisco

    Demo leader resigns
    under fire / Questions
    over state party officials
    resume, credit card
    expenditures .
    .. State
    party chair Bill Press
    announced Henderson's

    departure Wednesday,
    the same day The Examiner

    reported she had registered
    as a Republican barely two
    years before taking a
    Democratic Party post.
    The Examiner also reported
    that the University of
    California had no record
    of awarding Henderson a
    law degree and an MBA, as
    she had also claimed on
    her resume, and that
    a Sunnyvale business
    executive said Henderson
    had failed to repay a
    $2,000 loan.

    Here is my question. If
    Susan is not being on the
    level about something as
    frankly irrelevant as her
    education background,
    how are we to believe
    anything else she has
    to say?

    Susan's Facebook page
    can be accessed by
    clicking here.

    Have a nice weekend.