Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Tattler Takes Some R&R

We're going to shut down the blog for a few days. Through Labor Day most likely, back in action around September 6th. Not going anywhere in particular, no special plans. It's just that this is a good time to recharge the batteries and prepare for what will likely be an action packed fall.

It is vacation time, and even The Tattler needs to take one once in a while. They say it is a rejuvenating experience. I don't know about that, but I am willing to give it a try. My experience has always been that it leads to things like yard work and house painting, but I guess we'll see.

There is plenty here if you're looking to read something, however. 810 individual posts and over 40,000 or so reader comments. And this blog is getting a little time under its belt as well. You can always go way back to 2008 if you're interested in reading some ancient history.

This is probably as good a time as any for an update of the Sierra Madre Blog Stock Market Report. There have been a few minor changes, and we need to post those. Just in case you're looking to invest in the slowest growing industry in town. Outside of real estate development, of course.

Here are Sierra Madre's Top 10 rated news and public affairs blogs, as sorted by their overall dollar value. As tabulated by

#1) Sierra Madre - Total value $23,401.76. U.S. rank 196,992. 90% increase in both daily visitors and page views over this period. Even Sandi Levin reads it.

#2) City Of Sierra - Total value $17,765.58. United States rank 224,163. So far the format change and "lite" approach to this city's affairs has not boosted its audience much. Suggestions that they begin running a "Sierra Madre Singles" dating service have fallen on deaf ears.

#3) - Bulldog Bill's site is holding at $10,490.29. United States rank is 339,713. Still not attracting any reader comments to speak of, which is never a good sign. Maybe if Bill told people that the is a "gourmet blog" more people would stop on by and set a spell. And there is always the possibility that those who agree with his hard line establishment perspective on city and regional affairs don't like reading and writing very much.

#4) Sierra Madre Chamber Of - Value $7,449.67. Like most everything else they have touched lately, this site has not been a horn of plenty. No U.S. rank.

#5) Sierra Madre - Total value $6,883.94. You'd think that the editor's embarrassing run-in with Santa Anita Racetrack would have stepped up traffic over there. People do slow down for car wrecks, and there has been no bigger one this year than the Sierra Madre Weekly. Maybe Terry Miller should publish more photos from his legendary collection of firemen cheesecake photos.

#6) Joe - Value $1,385.05. With his widely rumored Assembly run just weeks from a possible big announcement, this one could vault up the charts soon. Just about as content-free and vacuous as its subject. Obviously the site's editor is convinced he is writing for the easily impressed. And he's quite right about that.

#7) Sierra Madre Patch - Value $1,155.70. Not much improvement here. If this is an indication of what Aol is betting the farm on, then I do not see how they can survive for much longer. With $150,000,000 spent on its 800 or so Patch sites nationwide this year alone, Sierra Madre's version is a good indication that the end is obviously near.

#8) Sierra Madre Rotary - Value $1,072.98. They rarely update this thing, which is as good an explanation as any of why this one has come in as low on the chart as it has.

#9) Sierra Madre Womans - Value $1,060.22. Things are slow there lately. Would you like a croissant?

#10) Mountain Views - Value $1,024.58. Yet another indication that nobody reads the Looney Views News anymore. Years of not telling the truth about the affairs of Sierra Madre has damaged this publication's reputation severely. Maybe if the paper's publisher went back to printing her wild rants things might improve. Since she stopped doing that all the laughter has left the Looney.

Check this out!

HRTV's promo spot for their upcoming television special on John Shear.

Click here.

Where are all those Green Jobs, Mayor Buchanan?

The "Green Jobs" canard has been taking it on the chin lately. Mostly because after years of pumping taxpayer dollars into the concept, nothing much has happened. In an editorial published in the Orange County Register, the following was revealed:

The New York Times rubbed salt in the wound when it reported in July that the nonpartisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for only 2 percent of jobs nationwide. "Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show," according to a Times article ...

Click here to read all of it.

I'll see you in September. Comments will remain open, and I will be moderating them as always.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The City Council Rearranges the Deck Chairs On Its CRA Titanic One More Time

Last night the City Council, after waiting a while for Nancy Walsh to show up (she never did make it despite John Buchanan's belief that she would never stand him up like that), once again put on their CRA hats and gazed into an unknowable future. And just like the rest of us, they have absolutely no certain knowledge of what is going to happen. That's the great thing about the future. Be you rich or poor, all knowing or just as dumb as dirt (so to speak), everyone is on an equal footing. Because nobody really knows.

Yesterday I made what I thought was a hilarious joke. Nobody much got it, which is usually an indication that it either wasn't all that funny, or it came up a little short in the sense department. But just in case you are into CRA humor like I am, the joke went like this:

What if the California State Supreme Court rules next January that AB1X 26 (the law abolishing CRAs) is Constitutional, but the law that allows cities to ransom back their CRAs (AB1X 27) is declared unconstitutional? The joke being that the League of California Cities, which brought about this suit to stop the Sacramento from killing CRAs, could end up actually making things worse by triggering a Court ordered execution of AB1X 27 instead? Talk about your unintended consequences.

But do you know what? That is exactly what got discussed last night at our City Council meeting. Apparently it is a very real possibility, and one that has got our CRA lovin,' League of California Cities adoring Mayor a wee bit beyond chapped.

The California Eminent Domain Report, which is where lawyers who fight the redevelopment scourge for a living go to talk shop, is also speculating about this possibility as well. Here is how the CEDR brings that point up in an article discussing the noble efforts of a gentleman named Marko Mlikotin.

According to a Capitol Alert article by Terry Van Oot ... Mlikotin has decided not to pursue overturning ABX1 27 (through a referendum), and instead focus his efforts in supporting the State in its defense of the CRA lawsuit:

"We have come to the conclusion that the state's case against the redevelopment agencies is very, very strong ... The (organization's money) can be spent much more wisely on fighting redevelopment abuse through the courts."

In other words, Mlikotin realizes that beginning the expensive signature process may not make sense given the pending litigation. After all, there is a chance AB1X 26 is upheld, while AB1X 27 is declared unconstitutional, which would render Mlikotin's referendum moot.

And that is just the eventuality Sierra Madre's CRA Board (which is also our City Council) had to get us ready for last night. Should the State Supreme Court decide that ending CRAs is constitutional, all of our redevelopment dough would then be taken away by a new agency and used to pay down our over $8 million in redevelopment debt. With paying off our multi-million dollar 1998 Bonds being the first priority. The Board/Council was making its list, and checking it twice.

The League of California Cities lawsuit to save redevelopment agencies is starting to look more and more like a Hail Mary pass. With that one (very) possible outcome making things even worse than they already are, at least from their point of view.

Something that, in my opinion, couldn't happen to a nicer group of people.

Facebook "Likes" Are Now Verboten In Germany

You may recall a discussion that the City Council had a few months back about Facebook. City Hall, desperately hoping to improve their reputation with Sierra Madre's alienated residents, tried to get a quick feel good fix through the use of social media. Just like all the other misunderstood and lonely people in this world.

MaryAnn MacGillivray put up a pretty good argument against a City of Sierra Madre Facebook page. Citing scholarly articles, MaryAnn described how such sites take advantage of trusting individuals by creating profiles of their consumption habits. Information that can then be sold to corporations interested in marketing their services and wares to slap happy Facebook users.

And with Facebook, as MaryAnn correctly pointed out, the way that is often done is through the "Like" function. Each time the user "Likes" something, it helps to create a marketing profile of that person's tastes and preferences. Bundled together with the responses of thousands of other trusting souls, it becomes highly valuable marketing information. Corporations pay out the nose for such Facebook data.

This was, of course, snickered at by Joe Mosca and Josh Moran. Two individuals who seem to fancy themselves as being true buccaneers of this city's suave social media set.

But as fortune would have it, there are those who do agree with MaryAnn. This from an article in USA Today entitled, "German privacy watchdog dislikes Facebook's Like:"

The state of Schlesweig-Holstein's data protection commissioner, Thilo Weichert, on Friday ordered state institutions to shut down the fan pages on the social networking site and remove the "Like" button from their websites, saying it leads to profiling that violates German and European law.

On Friday, Weichert issued a statement saying technical analysis by his office shows Facebook violated German and European data protection laws by passing content data to the social network's servers in the U.S.

"Whoever visits or uses a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years," Weichert said. "Facebook builds a broad individual and for members even a personalized profile."

Of course, so few people are going to the Sierra Madre Facebook page that such a threat here would appear to be moot. But who knows? Maybe you let them know that you like Memorial Park. Or rose floats. Or something.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tonight's Special Meeting of the Sierra Madre Community Redevelopment Agency

The following showed up recently on the City of Sierra Madre site as a call to the community to join with the City Council and discuss an important matter. The City Council, which had taken the rest of the month off because it is summertime and the living is easy, will briefly have to put their suits back on to ponder the meaning of the following words, carefully selected (I presume) for their opacity and lack of expository relief:

Recommendation that the CRA Agency Board adopt CRA Resolution No. 450: Approval of Community Redevelopment Agency's Enforceable Obligation Payment Schedule.
Fortunately a Staff Report followed and was also made available to the community through the auspices of the City of Sierra Madre website. Which is something new for them, so credit where credit is due. I'm certain that in itself this does serve the purpose of assuring all in the community about the nature of what is to be discussed at this evening's conclave. Or at least that portion of the community that reads the City's site.

I am also sure there will be plenty of seats available in Council chambers tonight. Arrive at your convenience.

Here is an excerpt from the document, posted here in hopes that it will shed some light on this evening's deliberations:

In June 2011, the State of California passed AB X1 26, a bill that would dissolve redevelopment agency (sic) and AB 1X 27 a bill that would allow agencies to "opt-in" to a payment made to the State so that the agency may continue operations. On July 26, 2011, the City Council adopted Urgency Ordinance 1320 and held the first reading of Ordinance 1320. On August 9, 2011, the City Council approved second reading of Ordinance 1320.
During this same time line, the CRA and League of California Cities filed a joint lawsuit asking the California Supreme Court to overturn AB 1X 26 and AB 1X 27 because they violate the Constitution. Last week, the California Supreme Court granted the CAR/League request for a stay; however, two parts of the AB 1X 26 were not granted in the stay:
1) Enforceable Obligations Payment Schedule: The provisions of AB 1x 26 that require an agency to adopt an Enforceable Obligations payment Schedule ("EOPS") within 60 days after the effective date of the bill (e.e., August 29, 2011) are not stayed. This means that all agencies should adopt an EOPS before August 29.
2) Preliminary Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule: The provisions of AB 1X 26 that require and agency to prepare a preliminary draft of the initial Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule no later that September 30, 2011, are not stayed. Agencies should also comply with this deadline.
It is my opinion that what all of the above City-speak means is that the City is required to show the State government that its CRA checkbook is properly updated and balanced. And that as soon as the State Supreme Court gives its sanction the checks will be in the mail. Or electronically transferred, which doesn't take quite as long.

Here you will also find the items and amounts of our financial obligations from one of the biggest spending sprees in City history. Conducted at a time when it was believed that if the CRA Board didn't spend it all first, then Jerry Brown would take that cash away as a way of easing Sacramento's cash flow and liquidity problems. Which are staggering.

Here is that list. We have highlighted in red those obligations that we feel are either unnecessary, exorbitant, or examples of particularly indulgent and wasteful panic spending, brought about by the "spend it or lose it" anxiety that gripped the City Council a few months back.

1) 1998 Bond -- Bank of New York -- Tax Increment Bond Debt -- Total $3,525,000 -- Payment due $390,625
2) AB 1389 PASSTHROUGH -- LA County and Pasadena School District -- Total $60,000 -- Payment due $60,000
3) PFF Subsidy -- Dr. Hani Sami -- 70% Subsidy of Public Facilities Fees -- Total $76,352.38 -- Payment due $76,352.38
4) Memorial Park Playground -- Great Western Park & Playground -- Equipment for Memorial Park Playground -- Total $73,312.46 -- Payment due $73,312.46
5) Hart Park House Renovation -- B-One Construction -- Renovation of the Senior Center -- Total $244,300 -- Payment due $244,300
6) Memorial Park Restroom -- CXT Precast Products -- Precast concrete restroom structure -- Total $96,438.63 -- Payment due $96,438.63
7) Market Demand Study -- Buxton -- Downtown Retail Market Demand Study -- Total $30,000 -- Payment due $30,000
8) Water Main Replacement -- Stephen Doreck Equipment Rentals, Inc. -- Replacement of Water Main in East Sierra Madre Blvd. -- Total $750,000 -- Payment due $750,000
9) Parking Lots -- Ben's Asphalt, Inc. -- Resurfacing of City-Owned Parking Lots -- Total $429,225 -- Payment due $429,225
10) County Administration Cost -- LA County -- LA County Administrative Cost for Processing Property Tax -- Total $50,000 -- Payment due $50,000
11) Cost Allocations for Internal Services -- City of Sierra Madre -- Cost allocations for Internal Services -- Total $271,459 -- Payment due $271,459
12) Property Tax Audit -- HDL -- Property Tax Audit and AB 1389 calculation -- Total $5,000 -- Payment due $5,000
13) Financial Statement Audit -- Beraneck, Chan, Associates -- Annual Audit 2010-2011 -- Total $15,000 -- Payment due $15,000
14) Business Improvement Loans -- City of Sierra Madre -- facade improvement grant -- Total $150,000 -- Payment due $30,000
15) Water/Sewer -- City of Sierra Madre -- watering of downtown bow outs -- Total $47,500 -- Payment due $9,500
16) Electricity -- Southern California Edison -- Downtown Street Lighting and Memorial Park Lighting -- Total $210,000 -- Payment due $42,000
17) Workforce Housing -- Heritage Housing Partners -- exclusive negotiating agreement for Moderate Income Housing -- Total $240,000 -- Payment due $240,000
18) Staffing Costs -- City of Sierra Madre -- 2.25 FTE staff and management hours and related training -- Total $1,900,000 -- Payment due $377,000
19) Pressure Washing -- Athens -- pressure washing of downtown sidewalks -- Total $300,000 -- Payment due $60,000
20) Grounds Maintenance -- Merchants Landscaping -- landscaping of City parks, facilities, bow outs in project area -- Total $240,000 -- Payment due $40,000
21) PFF Subsidy -- Cit of Sierra Madre -- set aside for project area business -- Total $224,000
Total Outstanding Debt or Obligation -- $8,937,587.47
Total Due During Fiscal Year -- $3,290,212.47

For the record, it is the hope of this site and those responsible for it that the State Supreme Court will find AB X1 26 to have been a Constitutionally appropriate action by the State Legislature and Governor Brown. Thereby ending CRAs forever.

It is also our fervent hope that the State Supreme Court will strike down AB 1X 27 as being unconstitutional under the mandates of voter approved Proposition 22. Passed by the voters just last year as a way of preventing Sacramento from raiding local tax money accounts. The $670,000 we are obliged to send north this year alone as the buy-in fee for holding onto our Community Redevelopment Agency being a clear instance of such a violation.

Enough is enough, I say. You go, League of California Cities!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sierra Madre Comes In At Near the Top In Overall Assessed Property Value Increase Percentages

You know you've all been waiting for it. The 2011 Annual Report from the Office of the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office is finally in. And I do understand, it has been a long and painful wait. The sleepless nights, days spent pacing the floor, those irritable moments when you just couldn't deal with the world because nothing else really mattered, all that is now over. The Assessor's report is in. We can live and breath again.

And do you want to know what is amazing about it? Out of all the cities in Los Angeles County, and there is an ungodly bunch of them, Sierra Madre finished at near the top for percentage gain in overall property values. That is, if you took the value of every piece of real estate in town, and then added them all up, only a small elite group of cities had a higher property value percentage gains than us.

Might not be the best news for your property taxes, but when is there ever gain without pain?

So how can this be, you ask? This backwards little refusenik of a town that would not accommodate the kinds of tweedle dee and dum development that other cities in the area fell all over themselves to invite in, is now outpacing most in overall percentage growth in property values? Bart Doyle, John Buchanan, hide your eyes!

Here are Sierra Madre's numbers:

2010 Assessed Valuation: $1,590,436,220 / 2011 Assessed Valuation $1,637,641,253 / Increase $47,205,033 / Percent Change +3.0%

Note that Sierra Madre's percentage increase is 3% in one year. Which is a pretty good increase when you consider the dire economic straits this region finds itself in.

Here are the percentage increases of many of our finest LA County neighbors:

Los Angeles + 1.3%
Long Beach + 0.8%
Torrance + 1.1%
Glendale + 1.7%
Pasadena + 2.1%
Beverly Hills + 1.2%
Santa Clarita + 0.3%
Irwindale - 2.6%
Burbank - 0.7%
Carson - 1.1%
Redondo Beach + 1.4%
Arcadia + 2.8%
Rancho Palos Verdes + 2.7%
El Segundo - 3.0%
Monrovia + 1.7%
Palmdale + 0.5%
West Covina + 1.9%
Downey + 1.8%
Lancaster - 0.5%
Irwindale - 2.6%
West Hollywood + 1.0%

This list goes on. Out of the 90 or so cities listed by the LA County Assessor, only 10 experienced a higher percentage growth in overall property value than ours. And we're talking towns like San Marino, Manhattan Beach, La Canada Flintridge and Malibu. A pretty rarified bunch, and property value powerhouses all. Take out the premiere big money towns and we pretty much rule the wasteland.

So how is it that Sierra Madre, there amongst all of our middleweight competition, has done so much better in this regard? Here is the big secret. We did nothing. That's right, nothing. And by staying exactly the way we always were, and despite all the hot air from the Downtown Investors Club and the rest of that bunch about how awful things would become if we didn't succumb to the development mania that engulfed most of our neighboring towns, our 2011 overall assessed property value percentage increase outpaced most.

And as far as all those cities that accommodated big development a few years ago? Back when money was cheap and common sense was going for pennies on the pound? Not doing quite as well it seems.

And consider this. The overall 2011 percentage increase for all of Los Angeles County is 1.49%. Which is good news when you consider that in 2009 and 2010 that percentage was a negative one. However, Sierra Madre's 2011 number shows an increase of more than double that. And even during those two years of overall Countywide decline, Sierra Madre always remained firmly in positive territory. Not too many cities can make that claim, either.

Are you surprised? I'm certainly not.

To view the entire report: click here. To view reports from previous years: click here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Development @ the Skilled Nursing Facility: Will It Lead to Our First Measure V Vote?

I don't know how we missed this one. You'd think Measure V would be a core issue for The Tattler, and that it would be the first thing we'd think of. But nobody here did, and that will take a little soul searching on my part. Fortunately we have commenters here who call us out out when such a thing is needed. And obviously in this particular case it was needed.

The topic is the Skilled Nursing Facility, or, as the Fountain Square Development folks would prefer us to think, the Senior Assisted Living Facility. And there will be a neighborhood meeting (so-called) about this very topic on September 7th at 6:30 PM, held in the fabulous Sierra Madre Room. It is there that we are to gather and learn what it's all about, and then decide whether we like their what they're putting down. Or not.

And thanks to one aware reader who posted on this site yesterday, we now have a very important question to ask. Here is that comment:

Everyone seems to be missing the elephant in the room.

Measure V = 2-30-13

2 stories
30 feet high
13 units per acre

The "Assisted Living" project being proposed for the old Skilled Nursing Facility calls for 96 units for "residents" not including additional units for employees.

The property is 1.84 acres. At 13 units per acre, that works out to 24 units under Measure V limits. The developer therefore is asking for NO LESS THAN 400% ABOVE Measure V limits.

This project MUST go before the Voters to be approved!

Now I cannot vouch for all the numbers here, though judging from the photo I've posted above, this is a pretty immense project. And I have heard a few complaints about its potential height. You won't be getting any of our famed mountain views when you stand before so mighty a structure as this one.

So if what I have reposted here today is accurate (and I am trusting in The Tattler readership to put that to the test), I'd say we could very well be heading for our very first Measure V election.

And I have to ask. Did you ever think it would take this long?

Will Riots Inflame California?

Our friend Wayne Lusvardi, who runs the Pasadena Sub Rosa blog, is also one of the featured writers at the Cal Watchdog news site. Which, for my money, is one of the better California political blogs around. And the provocative title above, which I shamelessly liberated from that site, comes from an article Wayne posted on that site yesterday. Here is what he's laying down:

... an important discussion is needed about the sustainability of public housing in Pasadena. In the London riots, the "austerity" budget of new Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been blamed, though he denies it.

Those in the Democratic Party correctly perceive that what is forthcoming is the end or unraveling of the welfare state in the United States, not due to hate, but to a lack of money. This is why there is so much psychological reversing of animosity and scapegoating on to those in the Tea Party who, welfare recipients perceive, want to take away welfare benefits.

Just this past weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, attacked the Tea Party. "This is a tough game," she said. "You can't be intimidated. You can't be frightened. And as far as I'm concerned - the Tea Party can go straight to hell."

But if the Tea Party were not there, the reality would not go away. California is stuck running annual $20 billion budget deficits and the federal government is arguably broke when balloon payments on future social entitlement programs are factored into the balance sheet.

If we're going to prevent London-style riots and property crimes aimed at capitalist businesses and increasing social class polarization, we're going to have brutally honest discussions about the viability of the welfare state. Symbolic extortion will not lead to saving the welfare state when there is no longer any money.

It is a good point. What exactly will the effects of the vast cutbacks in state and federal entitlements be once they hit? How will those most affected react? Things might get as wild here as they have in other parts of the world.

The Green Thing

(Ed: The e-mail I am posting below showed up in my mailbox yesterday. It was sent to me by a good friend, but you might have received this recently as well. It apparently has been getting around. The piece is called "The Green Thing.")

In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 watts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-downs from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. Back then, we wrote with pencils. Back then we used our brains to figure out addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even pi!

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. Back then it was a quieter kitchen. One could talk and be heard over all that stirring by hand.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn and edge it. And we used clippers to shape our bushes. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right, we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank water from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a styrofoam cup or plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing the whole razor away just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then people took a streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Please forward this to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart alec young person.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Social Equity and Sierra Madre

The question that gets asked often by those opposed to taking Sierra Madre from the low density prosperous suburban village it is now to something distinctly more urban and L.A. County in style - is why. Why would anybody want to exchange this little enclave of the good life for the very things that those who came to live here hoped to get away from? And it is a good question, and one that none of the usual suspects seems willing to answer.

Those with a more advanced awareness of what is going on also ask why it is that those whose salaries we pay through our taxes, and those that we elect to run the city, seem unwilling to acknowledge what it is that the people of Sierra Madre want? Nobody wants a homeless shelter on East Montecito, yet our city government is busily working towards making that happen. Nobody wants high density low income housing planted in various neighborhoods throughout this town, including our downtown area. Yet those working to make that happen just keep at it. No matter what any residents might say.

And during our every two year election cycles we hear from candidates who proclaim their great love for this community, and how precious and valued it is to them. Yet once they get into office, do they lift a finger to fight those things that threaten to change this place beyond all recognition? Do they stand up and proclaim how damaging it would be to this City should a portion of the San Gabriel Valley's homeless population be transplanted here? Or how government enabled and subsidized low income housing could change our City into something that many of those who worked so hard to get here did so to escape?

No, but for one very notable exception you don't hear anything like that. Which seems odd. Here we have things that nobody wants, and a City government that is doing everything it can to make happen. Without apology or even acknowledgement. It is almost like we live in two different communities. One is where the taxpayers live, people who want this town to stay as it is. And the other some alternative universe where a small salaried group of individuals, largely from out of town and fully backed up by expensive consultants and lawyers, work on an entirely different agenda. In complete accordance with the wishes of 80% of our equally remote City Council.

Why is this? To bring the elephant out into the open, these people don't appear to work for the people of Sierra Madre. In their minds they have far bigger fish to fry. As an example, when Joe Mosca informs us that he doesn't work just for Sierra Madre, but 30 other cities as well, he is talking about what he perceives to be a more advanced agenda than ours. And when Mayor John Buchanan proclaims that sometimes he will have to do unpopular things in order to "do good," he too is on a completely different wavelength from those who elected him.

So what is this agenda that so enchants our City's leadership? It is called "Social Equity." Fully embraced by Sacramento and backed up by myriad state laws, it professes (in part) that by bringing homeless and low income people into a place like Sierra Madre, you are somehow making the world a better place. One where society's less provident are given access to the very things that we had to work hard to attain. Because to do otherwise would be unfair.

A website that promotes Social Equity called Reliable Prosperity explains it this way:

Social equity is promoted by human-scale neighborhoods that provide shelter for all. Neighborhoods that offer a range of housing options, a mix of uses, and access to a variety of jobs, are often intergenerational and diverse. Such neighborhoods are encouraged by regional tax revenue sharing, which promotes an equitable distribution of tax revenues between the core city, inner suburbs, and rapidly developing outer suburbs. This prevents disinvestment in neighborhoods, improving the overall livability and safety of compact towns and cities.

In other words, a place such as Sierra Madre would no longer be a self-sustaining community that cares for itself, but rather just one player in a vast regional interdependent network of cities. Each of these cities sharing the problems and inequities of all. Which means we then become beholden to take on those things that are not necessarily our problems now, such as providing housing for the homeless, or a more pleasant and rewarding life for those improvident folks who can't afford the ticket.

What also must be pointed out is the regional disbursement of tax money. Rather than each city within the region collecting its own money and spending it upon its own needs, under a Social Equity regime we would become part of a regional system where tax money would be placed into one big pot and then doled out based on the greatest need. When Joe Mosca spoke about 31 cities working as one to "solve their problems together," he wasn't talking about sharing a lawn mower. It is something far bigger than that.

How Social Equity Will Be Enforced In Sierra Madre

We've been discussing Social Equity in an abstract way, but in case you're wondering where this is going, and how we are actually going to experience all of this joy, here is an immediate example. We have now entered a new Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) cycle. And once again we will be forced to endure Sacramento's demands that we turn our City into a haven for low cost high density housing through development. Which, if you care to witness a place where this has already been done, go check out Rancho Cucamonga. If you have never seen the place, it is astonishingly unimpressive. Though there are plenty of vacancies if case you're looking to rent something a bit smaller, and in the middle of nowhere in particular.

But, of course, Sacramento doesn't prefer to deal with the likes of us personally. They have people for that kind of work. And in this case those people are the many fine social engineers and central planners working for the Southern California Area Governments, or SCAG. These are the folks who will tell us what we need to turn our town into, and then, should we refuse to cooperate, hand us over to the mercies of the state government. Which has many interesting punishments for cities that refuse to cooperate in the building of their brave new world.

Here, from a recent SCAG handout (8/12/11) entitled "Meeting of the Regional Housing Needs Subcommittee," is how our friendly regional social engineers hope to achieve so-called Social Equity in places such as Sierra Madre.

Action Item: RHNA Social Equity Adjustment

As part of the RHNA methodology, SCAG is required to address the over concentration of income groups for communities that have a disproportionate share of certain income categories, particularly for low, and very low income. For the 2007 RHNA, SCAG applied a 110% adjustment towards the County income distribution.

SCAG is required to address the over concentration of certain income types throughout the region. SCAG proposed three percentages to address this:
1) 100% adjustment would apply to the existing county income distribution to the projected growth for the jurisdiction.
2) 110% which is what was done in the 2007 RHNA methodology. This is the figure Staff recommends.
3) 125% is another option to consider. Staff feels this might be too aggressive.

What exactly is it that SCAG is pushing here? Here it is in a nutshell. Every City in this part of the SCAG region must achieve an income average that is in line with that of Los Angeles County. If a City's overall income average is deemed by SCAG to be too high, then it must incorporate low income housing. This is done so that its average income will decline to somewhere more in line with the County. And if a City's average income is too low, then it won't have to build much low income housing at all. Why? Because some of those people will need to move to a designated higher income city in order to help lower its overall average income number.

Now Sierra Madre's average income hasn't been worked out by the apparatchiks at SCAG yet. That is coming. But you'd have to figure it will be somewhat higher than the average Los Angeles County income number, right? Which means that Sacramento, through its helpers at SCAG, will believe that a lot of poor people need to be moved into Sierra Madre so that Social Equity can be achieved.

Which will, of course, lead to development that will pretty much ruin what it is about this town that so many people love. And it will also certainly result in a lot of Sierra Madre's higher income people using their advanced mobility to go live somewhere else. I mean, if you had the choice, would you want to live in the shadow of what are basically a modern day equivalent of projects?

So there you have it. Social Equity in action. Saving the world? Or just leaving Sierra Madre a poorer, and less desirable, place to live.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Important Information for the Green Committee

We have come across a greenhouse gas related report that should be of particular interest to the Green Committee. Concerned as they are with our driving habits, the manner in which we construct our homes, controlling carbon footprint generating activities in general, along with modifying various other behaviors, I thought it was important to share the following information with them. It is indeed an edifying lesson in the possible dire consequences of lives foolishly led.

Available through the Cornell University Library (link here), a report entitled "Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis," describes the work of three renowned astrophysicists regarding the consequences of contact with civilizations not of this world. Here is an abstract of that paper:

While humanity has not yet observed any extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), contact with ETI remains possible. Contact could occur through a broad range of scenarios that have varying consequences for humanity. However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author. In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.

I am certain that this must be important work, and apparently it has been received and considered by various national defense and NASA related organizations. We should always be prepared for all kinds of eventualities, even those widely considered to be unlikely.

Unfortunately or not, this body of work has now fallen into the hands of the popular culture, and while the popularizations of its more positive themes may be beneficial, some of this has taken on an unnecessarily alarmist tone. At least in my opinion. This from the British newspaper The Guardian:

Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations, say scientists: Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report - It may not rank as the most compelling reason the curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a preemptive alien attack, scientists warn.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth's atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control - and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a NASA-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman of NASA's Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity "prepare for actual contact."

If there is a recurring theme to Dr. Domagal-Goldman's paper, it is that humanity's global warming and greenhouse gas production habits could easily appear as an alarming and degenerate practice to ETIs, something viewed as a willful disregard for the delicate nature of our precious planetary sanctuary. And therefore making us seem like a threat. This from the Guardian report:

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

"A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the earth's atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions," the report states.

"Green" aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. "These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouses gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets," the authors write.

While this danger is quite obviously remote, we think that because of the potential danger to residents, no matter how slight, it is important that Mayor John Buchanan and his Green Committee consider this material sooner rather than later. To do otherwise could result in harm to this community that would make even the nastiest schemes of the Downtown Investors Club look like child's play. So to speak.

A 24 hour surveillance of the skies from the roof of City Hall by members of the Green Committee could be a good place to start. And if these aliens are as "green" as Dr. Domagal-Goldman's paper suggests, perhaps they should be invited to a Green Committee meeting in Council chambers to address the members during public comment on the importance of following green practices.

Hopefully residents would want to attend as well.

Sunday Update: MSNBC has now jumped into the fray as this story continues to gather headway in the world media. In a piece called "What if E.T. thinks we're evil?" they examine some of the issues involved, plus NASA's attempts to distance themselves from the story.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The E. Montecito Homeless Shelter: If You Build It, They Will Come

The matter of possible homeless housing on E. Montecito was raised yesterday, and people responded on this blog with quite a few comments. And some expressed considerable disbelief. How can it be that a City with fewer than 5 officially designated homeless persons should have to build a homeless shelter being the question. But what you need to understand here is that this is the glorious era of regional government. Remember Joe Mosca telling us that he doesn't just represent Sierra Madre, but many other cities as well? This is a part of that. Cities banding together to help each other is how he put it. With homeless housing in Sierra Madre being an unfortunate consequence.

The San Gabriel Valley COG is involved (the reason being grant money, they don't do anything if there isn't any grant money), Sacramento has passed a bill (SB 2), and because of this our illustrious "Housing Element" consultant Karen Warner stood before the City Council and said that we have no choice but to plan for building what she so artfully termed "support housing." In other words, we need to throw open our doors and welcome the San Gabriel Valley's homeless troubles onto our streets.

Here is how SB 2 is explained on a state website. What it lays down for every City in the State of California is not the best news for us:

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

Diversionary euphemisms like "special needs facilities" and "transitional housing" aside, what this law states is that we have to plan for homeless housing in Sierra Madre. And because of this, anyone wanting to build such a thing in our town can, once it is in our "Housing Element" (and General Plan), do so. There would be little that could be done. Or so we are told. After all, there is plenty of Federal and State grant money out there to make such a thing rewarding to the interested developer. Why do you think the SGVCOG is involved?

So where would all these homeless people come from? Our homeless housing is going to need clients, after all. Right? But remember, we're talking regional government here, not just Sierra Madre. Cities working together with other cities to help solve all of our problems together. Just like Joe so happily said they should.

In an August 8 Pasadena Star News article entitled "Pasadena counts homeless in effort to house unsheltered," reporter Brian Charles laid it out this way:

Before the sun rose Monday, a small army of volunteers set out in Pasadena to count, record and collect data on the city's homeless population. The weeklong census, backed by the City of Pasadena's Housing Department and joined by area nonprofits will serve as both a data gathering effort and a mechanism to trigger the spending of federal dollars to help the more than 1,200 homeless in Pasadena.

The article does not specify where those federal dollars would be spent, but I do not think it is entirely inconceivable that some of that money could be used to help fund an East Montecito homeless shelter should some developer decide that would be worth his while. And since accommodations for this would have been included in our City Housing Element, it could easily be made to happen.

At the end of his article on Pasadena's homeless problems, Brian Charles supplied a breakdown of exactly what that city is facing:

Total Homeless: 1,216 - 1,148 adults (874 men, 75 percent; 274 women, 25 percent)

Ethnic Breakdown: 35 percent Black, 29 percent white non-Hispanic, 25 percent Hispanic/Latino, 5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 2 percent Native American, 4 percent other

Marital Status: 91 percent single

Sheltered/Unsheltered: 976 unsheltered (on the streets or in the Bad Weather Shelter program), 240 sheltered (in homeless programs, i.e. emergency or transitional housing)

The matter of whether Sierra Madre has a homeless problem or not is, unfortunately, moot. If we allow for the building of a homeless shelter in Sierra Madre, then we will have a homeless problem just like our very large neighbor to the west. As a matter of fact, it will become one and the same. There are plenty of homeless people in Pasadena alone to fill it, and then some. And we haven't even begun to consider all the other cities in the area.

As our homeless housing would have been built by a developer using state and federal dollars, the City of Sierra Madre would have no control over who would live there. I personally suspect Pasadena would gladly bus over as many homeless as the E. Montecito shelter could hold. Their shelters already being filled beyond capacity, and with plenty more knocking on the door.

And then there is this question. If a person is homeless, how exactly do you determine where he lives, and therefore what City he comes from? Ponder that if you have a couple of free hours.

Here is something I've been wanting to say for a while now. Too often we hear from our elected officials and City employees that in situations such as this there is nothing they can do about it. We've heard it repeatedly with RHNA numbers, and you can bet the Chevy that you will hear it just as often in regards to planning for homeless housing on E. Montecito. All they have seemed willing to do is throw up their hands and, no matter how badly the people actually paying the bills here are against it, do the state's bidding instead.

Picture this. Our downtown is a pretty great place. Home of sidewalk dining, some fine restaurants, shops and other places of interest. It is also where stroller moms go to take their babies for a walk, and where we send our children on their bikes to meet with their friends and load up on Jolly Ranchers and frozen yogurt. It is a place as timeless as it is pristine. A throwback to another time, and an imortant part of the reason why many of us live here. It is that better place we all worked to find.

Now throw into the mix homeless housing and what that would mean to Sierra Madre's downtown. Despite the myths and guilt trips, the homeless are not merely people who are down on their luck and in need of a helping hand. There are those for certain, but is that the rule? Not in the real world. Rather a very large percentage of the homeless are either subject to uncontrollable addictions and/or mental health disorders. This from an article entitled "A National Shame: The Mentally Ill Homeless" (click here).

One of our nation's greatest shames is the number of homeless people adrift in the streets and parks of our cities. And of the estimated 744,000 people who are homeless on any given night, 40 to 45 percent of them have a serious mental illness. Most of these mentally ill people go untreated, and unable to work, live a hand-to-mouth existence out on the streets.

An estimated 40 to 45 percent of homeless persons suffer from Axis I mental disorders in a given year, which include anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and severe personality disorders. Between 150,000 and 200,000 of the homeless have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Substance use is also prevalent among homeless populations. In a 1996 survey, 46 percent of the homeless respondents had an alcohol use problem during the past year, and 62 percent had an alcohol use problem at some point in their lifetime. Thirty-eight percent had a problem with drug use during their past year, and 58 percent had a drug use problem during their lifetime.

What Sierra Madre needs is something more than a City government that, having concluded that there is nothing they can do, does nothing. The people we put in office, or pay to run our City's affairs, should feel obligated from time to time to do what it is that we actually want from them. And if we don't want homeless housing just around the corner from our downtown, or on E. Montecito for that matter, then we should expect those who represent us to fight for that.

But if all we get is the usual "there is nothing we can do about it" rhythm and blues? Then these people should either be relieved of their offices or, where appropriate, fired. And then replaced with people who will find a way to fight for something that is so very integral to the needs and desires of the people of this City.

I don't see how we really have much of a choice.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Skilled Nursing Facility (aka Senior Assisted Living Facility) Neighborhood Meeting

There is this sudden outburst of niceness coming out of City Hall. Particularly when announcing meetings that cover sensitive topics. Apparently we no longer get together for all hands on deck rhubarbs over development issues these days. Instead we're going to have a "neighborhood meeting." Sort of a cumbaya vibe to that, with a misty Fabreze-like scent of civility hanging in the air. Rounded words that in no way suggest unhappy locals getting together to vent their suspicions about weaselly gummint types and their fast talking ways trying to slip something by us townies.

Nope. Instead we're going to have a neighborhood meeting. Just a bunch of us folks getting together to enjoy the company of their fellow citizens. All while City Hall explains how once again we are fortunate to have them working as hard as they do. The warm glowing heart at the center of our lives, and really, the only opinions that truly matter. Please, listen and learn. And who knows, maybe there will be pizza.

I need to level here. Nothing raises my suspicions as much as nice people. You just can't trust them. Car salesmen are nice. So are bank loan officers. The folks down at Human Resources are nice, even when they're handing you some walking papers. Aluminum siding salesmen are regular princes. So are life insurance agents. The guy that wanted to unload a time share on me a decade or so back? Very nice, actually. At least until he figured out that I wasn't going for it. The Navy recruiter who signed me up for 4 of the longest years of my life was extremely nice as well.

But the guy who drove past the recruiting station and screamed out, "Don't do it, you %#@*&$ idiot!" was not nice at all. His advice turned out to be rather sound, though. Or so I was to feel a few weeks later.

Yesterday's weekly e-mail blast from The City contained this momentous news:

Neighborhood Meeting Regarding A Proposed Senior Assisted Living Facility - A neighborhood meeting to receive public input for a proposed senior assisted living facility will be held on Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Madre Recreation Center (Sierra Madre Room) located at 611 E. Sierra Madre Blvd. The proposed project site is a 1.84 acre property located (at) 245 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., at (the) northwest corner of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Hermosa Avenue (across the street from City Hall). The new facility will include a 58,000 square foot, two-story building that can accommodate up to 96 residents.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. at which time members of the public are invited to view the proposed plans and talk with representatives of the developer and city staff. A presentation on the proposed project will begin at 7:15 p.m. when an overview and description of the project will be provided. City staff will also outline the public hearing and environmental review processes for future additional public input.

All such niceness aside, receiving public input is required by state law in such instances, so I am not certain that the use of the word "invited" is totally in tune with what is being described here. The City is doing this meeting because they have to, and not because they wish to put in a lot of extra time and effort just so they can hear residents bad mouth their months of effort on this project.

As anyone who reads this news site is aware, the Skilled Nursing Facility has been a source of great contention in this little town of ours for a long time. Bought by developers who hoped to make a quick killing building condos back when local real estate hucksters and con artists were pushing the Downtown Specific Plan, it was later allowed to sit in a state of radical disrepair when those dreams of mixed-use multi-story glory were not realized. Much finger pointing and blame assigning was done over this mess, with (rather ironically) allies of the negligent SNF developer actually claiming that the responsibility lay with those who had fought for and won a voter initiative designed to keep Sierra Madre from being turned into a kind of Rancho Cucamonga West. Rather than the bum himself.

That said, I suspect the premise behind the City's public relations approach to this project is that we are supposed to be filled with delight. That after all this time, and through so many false starts, something is finally going to happen. And who knows, maybe this really is something to be happy about, and that the infamous eyesore on Sierra Madre Boulevard is finally going to become something we can all be proud of again.

But here is a question. Where is all the information about this project? There was a City Council presentation from the developer last March, but precious little since. Can it be that the only current data the public will receive about this "Senior Assisted Living Facility (SALF?)" is to be given out just before they're supposed to deliver their "input?" Moments after they've had their nice chat with the developer and helpful city staff? With that being the only stuff they will be able to draw upon for their input?

I'm sorry, but unless something is given to the residents of this town to study and talk over before this meeting takes place, what the City is talking about here is actually public relations and marketing. An orchestrated effort to create and promote the illusion of community support. And as such a conscious attempt to circumvent any potential community opposition to what for almost everyone in town is now an entirely unknown entity.

So, and with not a whole lot to draw upon outside of some previous disappointing experiences and an innate boundless skepticism, here are some questions that I believe need to be considered for the September 7th confab:

1) There will be beautiful renderings of the building revealed at this meeting, but will they be accurate visual depictions of just how large these structures will be? Will they be shown in comparison to other buildings in town, or stand alone without any references to judge their size by?

2) Will the drawings be in full color contrasts, muted tints, or plain black & white? B&W drawings only offer an unsatisfactory two-dimensional impression of a structure's size. If these drawings are not in vibrant 3-D appearing colors, then it must be assumed that they are hiding something.

3) Where will everyone park? A facility housing 96 invalids will require a lot of staff to help them through their days. Where will they put all of their cars? And please, no talk of buses. Nobody but the most die hard public transportation advocates take the bus to Sierra Madre. You either drive or you don't come here. Life is much too short for that.

4) How will having so large a facility in town affect traffic?

5) Is this going to be a LEED certified building? Will it be sustainable? Will it be built using green materials and standards? Will it have solar panels?

6) Will the developer be asking for fee breaks? Will the developer attempt to convince us that what he is doing is an act of beneficence, and therefore the taxpayers need to pick up the tab for his licenses and fees? Kind of like with the wine tasting room?

7) Will there be deed restrictions on the property so that it can only be used as a nursing facility? So that if this business goes belly up in a couple of years, the building won't be turned into condos?

8) Have the developers received state approval for their plans? These can take as long as 15 months.

9) How affordable will this facility be? Is it for low income people, or is it something that only the wealthiest will be able to afford? Only the first 90 days of such a stay are paid for by Medicare, but after that all costs fall upon the families. How will this facility treat its indigent patients?

10) What will the impact be on Sierra Madre's tight water supply?

11) Will there be a storm water capture on this lot? I asked someone about the concept of a storm water capture and why that is important. Here is the e-mail I received in reply:

The SNF site is about 2 acres. Average rain fall is 22.04 inches per year, or around 2 feet. An acre foot of water is the amount of water needed to cover one acre in one foot of water. An acre foot of water equals 325,851 gallons. The average suburban family with a lawn uses 0.3 acre foot/year.

In an average year 2 acre feet of rain will fall on the SNF site. This equates to 651,702 gallons of water. Will the new facility have a storm water capture system to keep all of this valuable water from going straight into the storm sewers? This water should be captured and used on the property. Many cities require new developments to have systems to capture storm water? Does Sierra Madre even have such a program?

12) Will the City require a permeable covering on the parking lot?

So that is a start. Real questions rather than just bubbly niceness. Which, if you think about it, isn't really niceness at all. That is, unless you believe that subservience is a virtue.

The East Montecito Meeting

Last night the following comment was posted on this site:

Elaine Aguilar showed up at the meeting and her exact words were, "there is a very strong possibility of a homeless shelter on East Montecito." Once again it looks like the City has made up its mind.

So much for the City listening to the desires of a community, and taking its guidance. And was Elaine even supposed to be there? We will have a lot more to say about this tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Now You Can Answer Some AB 1234 Ethics Test Questions!

Believe it or not, if you are a local elected or appointed official, the State of California requires that you receive some government ethics training. Either from your friendly local City Attorney, or on-line if that is your preference. I know, this might seem to a few of the more skeptical readers of this blog as kind of like teaching chastity at a bordello, but hang in with me here. We might be unfortunate enough to live in interesting times, but at least we'll get to have some fun before the whole house of cards flutters away.

If you click here you will be taken to a page run by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. These are the guys tasked with keeping politicians and candidates on the straight and narrow in their roles as at least potential government leaders in this state. And on the CFPPC page you will note that there are options for state government ethics training, local government ethics training, and lobbyist ethics training. Which is an interesting concept if you think about it.

Here is how the CFPPC reveals their mission:

On October 7, 2005, the Governor signed Assembly Bill No. 1234. AB 1234 requires that if a local agency provides any type of compensation, salary, or stipend to, or reimburses the expenses of a member of its 'legislative body,' that local official must receive training in ethics ... The bill also provides that if an entity develops criteria for the ethics training required by AB 1234, then the Fair Practices Commission and the Attorney General shall be consulted regarding any proposed course content.

So what is offered on the California Fair Political Practices Commission website is ethics training for government officials and lobbyists. Today we'll be checking out the local government ethics test. Or at least the warm up version. What I found is very much like the ethics training that I am required to take from time to time at work. There is a lot of explanatory text followed by questions designed to gauge your progress and understanding. In researching this post I read none of the text, yet I still answered 14 of the 15 provided questions correctly.

Below are the questions that I replied to. There were even more of them further into the CFPPC training program, but it's late and I wanted to get the post done before this turns into an all-nighter. If you should for some reason wish to take the whole thing, then have at it. The link is above. Otherwise you can answer the questions I've posted here, and then check at the bottom of this post for the answer key. My guess is that you will pass the test with flying colors.

One thing that you might want to do when answering these questions is ask yourself this: "What have I seen from my local government officials that applies to the questions being asked in this exercise?" Anyone who has followed what is going down in this town should be very familiar with the most of the premises and concerns involved.

1) If a particular course of action is legal, then it is necessarily ethical. True or false.

2) A true leader is independent, and doesn't concern him or herself with the public's perception of his or her ethics. True or false.

3) It's difficult to define what constitutes an ethical course of action because ethics are so subjective. True or false.

4) Ethics laws are generally a matter of common sense. True or false.

5) Being ethical means being willing to do the right thing even when there will be a personal cost. True or false.

6) In resolving an ethical dilemma, one can take the personal costs of doing "the right thing" into account and still claim to have made an ethical decision. True or false.

7) In politics and government, worthy ends (or goals) may sometimes justify questionable means (or ways of accomplishing those goals). When this is the case, one can still claim to be ethical even if the process of getting to the worthy goal involve questionable ethics. True or false.

8) Technically, bribery only involves the exchange of an official action for money, not other items of value. True or false.

9) A public official may not make, participate in, or influence a governmental decision that will have a foreseeable and material financial effect on the official, the official's immediate family (spouse/registered domestic partner or financially dependent children), or any of the official's economic interests. True or false.

10) A vote that is clearly adverse to one's interest is not prohibited by conflict-of-interest laws. True or false. (Mod: this is the one I got wrong.)

11) Generally speaking, public officials who have input into a redevelopment project area may not acquire property in those areas. True or false.

12) There's no risk of going to jail if one violates public service ethics law. True or false.

13) If city council members and county supervisors have a disqualifying conflict of interest, they may observe the decision-making process from inside the room as long as they step down from the dais. True or false.

14) Participating in a contract in which an official has a financial interest may subject the official to particularly harsh sanctions. True or false.

15) So long as a member of a board disqualifies himself or herself from consideration of a contract, the official will be insulated from charges of conflict of interest. True or false.

So how did you do? Check your answers against the correct ones posted below.

The correct answers: 1-F, 2-F, 3-F, 4-F, 5-T, 6-F, 7-F, 8-F, 9-T, 10-F, 11-T, 12-F, 13-F, 14-T, 15-F