Monday, April 30, 2012

The Pasadena Unified School District Tells Sierra Madre's Kids and Parents to "Get Lost"

I am now the proud recipient of a very interesting e-mail from some folks calling themselves Organize Sierra Madre's Schools. For the record I am in complete support of what these folks are trying to do. It is so important now that people stand up in defense of their rights. And there obviously will not be very many willing do that for them. Including a majority of the officials we elect to represent the needs of our community, but in many instances have other agendas. Mostly dealing with money, not people.

The people behind Organize Sierra Madre's Schools are parents of children who attend public schools here in Sierra Madre, and they are outraged at the cuts that are suddenly being made to the funding for school facilities renovation and construction. Apparently money that was supposed to help Sierra Madre's Middle School kids get out of those trailers and back into real classrooms is no longer there. That is, if it ever was. Here is how they explain it in their e-mail:

It is time to get organized and advocate for our schools! I hope you will join the fight for fair treatment of our Sierra Madre schools! As many of you know, there are major cuts proposed to the PUSD Measure TT projects budget and these cuts could have a major impact on the future of our schools. We need you to get involved to change the way the PUSD Board of Education and the Facilities Sub-Committee of the Board, and to think about our schools.

In this weekend's edition of the only occasionally lucid Mountain Views News, the loss of funding is explained in this manner:

At a planned meeting of the SMS School Site Council on Wednesday, parents were surprised to learn that the Pasadena Unified School District would not receive $60 million dollars in matching funds from the State. Those dollars were to match the money generated by the bond measure passed in 2010, Measure TT, for school construction. As a result, according to PUSD Communications Director Adam Wolfson, this has forced the District to decrease it's construction budget by 20% for all District projects.

Just to put this all into its naturally absurd perspective, Measure TT raised $350,000,000 for school construction. The previous school bond money raising venture, Measure Y, brought in $220,000,000. We are talking well over half a billion dollars for school renovations. So where did all of that money go? Is there going be some sort of accounting made available to us soon?

Ask yourself these questions. Can it really be that the loss of a mere $60 million in state money will cause Sierra Madre's kids to spend an eternity in "temporary" trailers, and not in the fully equipped and modern schoolrooms voters were promised when they cast ballots in favor of both Measure TT and Measure Y? Despite the costs to property owners over the next several decades? Was this a bait and switch on the part of the PUSD? Were we dealt with in a less than honorable way, and then only to get our money?

This also brings up the matter of Measure A, which will be on the ballot this June, and the whole question of "sub-geographic districting." The representative for Sierra Madre on the Districting Task Force, which concocted Measure A, is Bart Doyle. This appointment was made at the strong insistence of the previous City Council, sans MaryAnn MacGillivray. Both John Buchanan and Josh Moran insisted that Bart be chosen to replace Joe Mosca there. It is important to note that Bart was (or perhaps still is) a member of both the PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee and the Construction Committee. Both of which are deeply involved in the school construction debacle here.

Here is how Pasadena Star News writer Brian Charles described the end product of the Districting Task Force in an April 7 piece entitled "Pick Your Poison."

Voters in the Pasadena Unified School District will again vote to decide how they will elect their school board. The current system, a quasi at-large voting mechanism, has been under attack for more than a year. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights said PUSD was "vulnerable to a lawsuit" if they don't switch to a ward system similar to the composition of the (Pasadena) City Council.

The push is for diversity. Creating voting districts around "communities of interest," jargon for black people, Latinos, rich people and poor people, would assume that everyone in the community is represented on the board. But beware of Balkanization. It's currently possible to influence all seven members on the board since they run citywide, and each voter in the district can in effect flip the board every two years.

When you can only vote for one board member, it might be hard to get the other six to return your calls. Stay tuned.

Should Measure A be approved by the voters it will allow for the election of 7 representatives to the Board of Education from sub-districts. This would replace the at-large system we have now. Each sub-district thereby having its own exclusive representative, which is fine I suppose.

But here's the catch. Most of these sub-districts would elect their representatives in 2013. Sierra Madre and the portion of Pasadena we will share our sub-district with will not elect its representative until 2015. Apparently this was done with the full approval of Sierra Madre's powers that be since all Bart Doyle did when this arrangement was shoved through at the very last minute was sit quietly and stare off into the distance.

MaryAnn MacGillivray asked that Bart Doyle come before the City Council and explain this lamentable development, and how is it that he did not include anything about the matter in his recent PowerPoint presentation. So far we've heard nary a peep on the topic from our Districting Task Force representative.

What this means is that between the years 2013 and 2015 Sierra Madre will, unlike others areas, have no local representation on the Board of Education. Rather we would be left in the pale soft hands of Ed Honowitz and Tom Selinske. Two gentleman who I do not believe would have any problem shafting Sierra Madre on the matter of school bond construction money. After all, why should they care any more about Sierra Madre now than they have in the past?

It is during this 2013 to 2015 time period that Measure TT money will be fully diced, sliced and given out to whomever these people, along with the representatives of other sub-geographical districts, deem fit. Should Measure A pass we apparently will not have real representation until after all of that money is already spent.

You really have to ask why this is. Remember, with these folks it is always about the money. Half a billion dollars is a rich pile that will always attract some very colorful flies. And the buzzing honey bunch that we have now are the same players we have always had. They never seem to go away, and are only here for that one reason. Money. School kids and their concerned parents are merely hostages to be manipulated when need be.

Another intriguing factor. One law firm whose members are causing school districts to adopt a sub-districting style of Board of Ed representation is Latham and Watkins. The same law firm that employs our new City Councilman, John Harabedian. The reason for this interest is that, in their opinion, the rights of minority students are not properly respected under regional representation. Something alluded to in the Star News article cited above. And school districts not changing to a sub-districting way of doing things (which most already have), just might get sued by attorneys from Latham & Watkins. That is the threat.

The organization pushing for this is called the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (click here). It's Board Chairman is John F. Walker, who is an emeritus partner at Latham and Watkins. Amos Hartston, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Lawyer's Committee, is a Latham and Watkins attorney who handles a lot of immigration work for the firm, much of it pro bono. He has also done work in securing the release of political prisoners in countries run by some pretty dreadful and cruel people.

Before any immediate conclusions are drawn though, I think we need to take a good look at this relationship. The involvement of Latham and Watkins attorneys here (and elsewhere) could mean better representation for communities long held hostage by the kinds of oligarchies running PUSD type organizations. Which certainly describes Sierra Madre. Having someone from our community on the PUSD Board of Education is not necessarily a bad thing, at least in my opinion.

No, the problem here is that we are being called upon by certain parties to vote in favor of this Measure A which, as currently written, would deny real representation to Sierra Madre on the PUSD Board of Education at an extremely critical time.

I would hope that our new Latham & Watkins employed City Councilman will recognize the injustice in this and do something about it before it is too late. As the matter stands, I know I could never vote for Measure A. And I would encourage everyone I know to cast a "No" vote as well.

There really is no other available option right now.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Earl Richey's Letter On the 2011 Water Rate Hike

(Mod: I received a letter from Earl Richey calling for either the rescinding of the 2011 water rate increases, or putting this matter on the November ballot. We are looking at a 7.5% second installation of the rate increases in July, eventually leading to a total 37% increase by 2015. It is a matter of great concern to Earl, and perhaps you as well. I personally believe he is on to something. Considering the deceptive way this increase was initiated under then Mayor Joe Mosca, along with the way the resulting Prop 218 protest was summarily dismissed by that administration, I think this is something owed to the residents of Sierra Madre. We now have a new City Council with three Councilmembers that were not there when this all went down. It is an opportunity for a fresh look.)

April 25, 2012

Subject: Repeal all 2011 Water Rate Increases or allow Sierra Madre registered voters the right to vote on the matter

Honorable Council Members
John P. Capoccia
John Harabedian
Chris Koerber
Josh Moran
Nancy Walsh

City Manager
Elaine Aguilar

City Attorney
Teresa Highsmith

City Clerk
Nancy Shollenberger

News Media
Sierra Madre Tattler
Mt. Views News
Sierra Madre
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

1) That the City Council repeal the adopting of all (2011) water rate increases, OR:
2) That the City Council allow all registered voters the Right to Vote - Yes or No, on the November 2012 ballot regarding the (2011) City Council Passage of the Water Rate Increase(s).
3) I further request that this letter be agendized and put up for discussion with the residents of the City of Sierra Madre at the next convenient City Council meeting.

There is an old expression that even the dumbest dog knows the difference between being accidentally tripped and being kicked ... many of us, raising a second or third generation of Sierra Madreans, feel that our City Council has believed in the past that we are dumber than the proverbial dumbest dog.

The tranquility and serenity of Sierra Madre had been disrupted by the appearance of the (2011) City Council and City Manager using a change in the water rate structure to apparently fund non-water related expenses, which lead to the disclosure that the City Council had not stated in a completely forthcoming way the purposes for the water rate increase. Using instead our water reserves as a slush fund to cover other expenses. This disregard clearly influenced the April 2012 election, leading to the overwhelming defeat of Measures 12-1 and 12-2, lawsuits and friction between neighbors and friends.

The perception that the then City Council had been less than transparent and candid on a matter related to the ratepayers' money, coupled with that City Council jury-rigging the Prop 218 opposition process, only further inflamed the anger in the community. These perceptions can only be properly addressed and alleviated by allowing the citizens of Sierra Madre the opportunity to exert their rightful influence and control via the ballot.

In addition to the $1.97 per unit water rate charge, the City Council imposed a 9% Utility Tax, a 37% Water Rate Increase, and brought in a convoluted and Byzantine Tiered Fee pricing system. Something that even today few ratepayers can truly understand.

The Supreme Court may say we can or cannot live without "ObamaCare," but we all know we cannot live long without water. That does not mean that the City Council can tax our ability to live with a disregard to our rights. Water fees, charges and reserves should be used for water related expenditures only.

Let us use this as an opportunity to resolve the discord and misconceptions, restore trust in our elected officials, and allow the voters to finally have their say on each of these changes this November.

Earl Richey

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Myth That People Somehow Prefer High Density "Stack and Pack" Urban Living

Last Saturday we reposted much of an article called "California Declares War On Suburbia" (click here). Originally published in the Wall Street Journal, the WSJ piece created a storm of controversy throughout the dystopian "stack and pack" advocacy community because it so effectively called out a lot of what is disingenuous about this state's efforts to turn low density suburban villages such as ours into much higher density so-called "transit villages." Something that is at the very heart of SCAG's "Sustainable Communities Strategy" and their rather unkind efforts to cram gouts of unwanted high-density housing into towns such as ours through their "RHNA Process." All backed up by the muscle of Sacramento, its development and real estate lobbies, SB 375, along with whatever useful idiots they can enlist locally in their efforts.

The author of the original article is Wendell Cox. Wendell writes often for a website called New Geography (click here). He is also the author of the book "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life," and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National Des Arts et Metiers in Paris, France.

Cox has written a second article on the "California War on Suburbia" theme, mostly dealing with the concern the first one caused in the usual quarters. Here is how he introduces that theme:

My April 9 Cross Country column commentary in The Wall Street Journal outlined California's determination to virtually outlaw new detached housing. The goal is clear: force most new residents into multi-family buildings at 20 and 30 or more per acre. California's overly harsh land use regulations had already driven housing affordability from fairly typical levels to twice and even three times higher than that of much of the nation. California's more recent tightening of the land use restrictions (under Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375) has been justified as necessary for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The reality, however, is that all of this is unnecessary and that sufficient GHG emission reductions can be achieved without interfering with how people live their lives. As a report by the McKinsey Company and Conference Board put it, there would need to be "no downsizing of vehicles, homes or commercial space" while "traveling the same mileage." Nor, as McKinsey and the Conference Board found, would there be a need for a "shift to denser urban housing." All of this has been lost on California's crusade against the lifestyle most California households prefer.

You can access Cox's entire article ("California Declares War On Suburbia II: The Cost Of Radical Densification") by clicking here.

As we have stated before, the move to bring "stack and pack" development to Sierra Madre in order to somehow save the world from ecological disaster does have its active adherents here in town. The Green Committee, through its somewhat awkward attempts to make related findings contained in the United Nations Environmental Accords a portion of our city's General Plan, being the most freak forward effort right now. Though I am not sure that giving Madagascar and Albania a say in Sierra Madre's planning deliberations is at the top of anybody's priority list in town.

Today on the New Geography site Wendell Cox takes on another myth being pushed by the proponents of uber-development, that being people now prefer to live on 20 to 30 unit per acre lots, and they can't wait to sell their suburban homes to get in on all the transit village excitement. Something that, as anyone with two eyes and a brain can see, has not quite taken off yet in the San Gabriel Valley. A quick trip down to The Stuart on Foothill Boulevard should provide anyone with enough evidence of that.

This article, entitled "Staying The Same: Urbanization In America," takes a scalpel to all the hype over this new urbanist joy offensive. You can access the entire thing by clicking here.

The recent release of the 2010 US census data on urban areas shows that Americans continue to prefer their lower density lifestyles, with both suburbs and exurbs growing more rapidly than the historic core municipalities. This may appear to be at odds with the recent Census Bureau 2011 metropolitan area population estimates, which were widely mischaracterized as indicating exurban (and suburban) losses and historical core municipality gains. In fact, core counties lost domestic migrants, while suburban and exurban counties gained domestic migrants.

Later ...

Urban density in 2010, remains approximately 27 percent below that of 1950, as many core municipalities lost population while suburban and exurban populations expanded. This resulted in the substantial expansion of urban land area reflecting the preference for low-density lifestyles among Americans and most people in other high-income areas of the world. Between the 1960s and 2000, nearly all of the growth in the major metropolitan regions of Western Europe and Canada has taken place in suburban areas, as these nations' urban areas have dispersed in a manner similar to that of the United States. the trend continued through 2011 in Canada and domestic migration data in Western Europe shows a continuing movement of people from the historical cores to the suburbs and exurbs.

As we saw yesterday with our discussion about SCAG's phony baloney population increase projections for our part of Southern California, there is a lot of untrue nonsense being pushed out there. All with the purpose of radically changing the way we live. But the truth is most people do not want want what Sacramento and certain elements here in Sierra Madre are attempting to shove down our throats. We prefer things just as they are, thank you.

In other words, if we build it they won't necessarily come. Judging by the experience of other towns in the area, we will end up with half-filled high-density housing blocks that will fail economically and become a financial burden on the taxpayers. Despite the hype, nobody really wants SCAG Housing.

It is time we just told these folks we aren't interested in their plans and that they should go and try elsewhere. We do still have the right to make the decisions about how our own town is to be planned and look, correct? This is still America?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

SCAG's Population Increase Projections Are Absurd Bureaucratic Nonsense

One of the big challenges cities in the so-called "SCAG Region" face is the demand being made by this Regional Planning Organization that each and every one of them make plans to introduce a lot of new housing within their borders. And what this onerous demand is predominantly based upon is SCAG's claim that we are on the verge of being inundated by massive new population growth. And after all, or so goes the claim, if we don't build all that new housing, where are all these new people going to live?

In an April 4, 2012 press release entitled "Nation's Largest Planning Agency Approves Plan in Preparation of 4 Million New Residents by 2035" (click here), SCAG lays out the wonder of it all.

The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) convened the 47th Annual Regional Conference and General Assembly and, without objection, adopted the 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS) and certified the Program Environmental Impact Report.

The 25 year plan is an investment plan for our region's economic viability that provides people with transportation and housing options that meet their professional and life style choices while supporting the business community's need to compete nationally and internationally. "Today's approval of the 2012-2035 RTP/SCS was a historic decision made by Southern California elected officials on SCAG's Regional Council. This action establishes a roadmap to welcome four million new residents and 1.7 million new jobs into our region by 2035," commented Paul O'Connor, SCAG President.

So how are we to accommodate this vast sea of new humanity yearning to experience their professional and life style choices here in Southern California? In the de-evolutionary Golden State of 2012 you have a government-run Regional Planning Organization such as SCAG cook up population and housing growth numbers and coerce each and every city within their jurisdiction into accommodating them. All backed up with the muscle of Washington and Sacramento, of course. Armed with draconian central planning legislation such as SB 375.

According to SCAG's "Final Regional Housing Need Allocation Plan" (click here), that number of new wickiups comes to just under 700,000 "units" for the region. Which, at the time this little item was cobbled together, called for 139 new housing units in little Sierra Madre. In a town that is virtually built out like ours, this would require that currently standing buildings be razed and replaced with high density condo complexes, thus radically changing the character of our community.

Oh, and just so you know. In SCAG-think, condos are more "sustainable" than single family homes. Especially when they are near a bus stop.

"This year's theme is 'Towards a Sustainable Future in Southern California.' Sustainable has many meanings; providing for a future where the population will grow but we can expect a reduction in per capita emissions, supporting the construction of new homes and businesses but with a plan to connect the dwellings with multiple transportation options, preserving the natural beauty of the California landscape for today's recreation and our future generations enjoyment, and ensuring that businesses remain in the Golden State and prosper," said Hasan Ikhrata, SCAG Executive Director.

All very carefully executed language, and inspiring in an uber-bureaucrat meets the Jetsons kind of way. Though that line about businesses remaining in California might seem somewhat ironic to some.

Again, all of these housing demands and plans are dependent upon one thing - the bold prediction that 4 million additional people are on their way and will be living right here in our portion of Southern California.

But what if SCAG is wrong? What if we raze downtown Sierra Madre as required, put in several blocks of 6 story mixed-use condos, and then nobody shows up to live in them? Do we end up like all those other towns that knuckled under to the SCAG Utopia, built that stuff, and are today the permanent home of thousands of brightly colored (though fading) "Now Showing" signs and flags?

This from Science Daily (click here):

New California Population Projection Shows Massive Slowdown - A massive slowdown in California's population growth means the state likely won't reach 50 million residents until the year 2046, a new USC analysis just released shows.

That's a far slower rate of growth that the latest projection released in 2007 by the state Department of Finance that shows the state reaching 50 million residents 14 years earlier, in the year 2032.

The population slowdown may bring reprieve to a fiscally strapped state under pressure to keep up with infrastructure needs, said report co-author Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography with the USC Price School of Public Policy.

"This is surely good news for local governments and taxpayers who are struggling to keep up with the costs of growth," Myers said. 'These projections suggest there is more time to plan a much better future for California."

Certainly we could plan for a much better future for California than SCAG's rather blunt sledgehammer approach of forcing housing into towns with a non-existent demand, or desire, for it. Especially now that those phantom millions of new residents aren't exactly rising from the ground and heading into their nearest Podley office looking to buy something.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a great article entitled, "Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus" (click here). An article so good that 3 people forwarded it to me. And what this essay reinforces for us is the idea that population increase projections such as those being flogged around our region by SCAG are a lot of cooked up and, at very best, out of date nonsense.

Now, however, the Golden State's fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape. The first thing that comes to many American minds when you mention California isn't Hollywood or tanned girls on a beach, but Greece. Many progressives in California take that as a compliment since Greeks are ostensibly happier. But as Mr. Kotkin notes, Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.

Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 19080s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 35 to 45. In other words, young families.

Honestly, the best thing we as a City can do with SCAG's so-called "Regional Housing Needs Assessment" (RHNA) demands is just ignore them. And if other towns join us in this noble endeavor, what options will these apparatchiks have? Send in the National Guard?

SCAG's numbers are based on old and faulty 2007 population projections, backed up by the failed 1930s notion that central government can predict housing market demand by merely dicing up some erroneous data from a grid and then forcing cities such as ours to adopt their conclusions. Despite what the people living in those cities actually want, or need.

America needs to cut the crap and get back to get back to being America. Let's get out of SCAG.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sid and Nancy

They threw me behind the cashier. I mean the cash register. And I didn't skim anything, then or now."
- New Mayor, Josh Moran

As one wag put it last night, MaryAnn got the praise and the flowers, and John Buchanan got Enid Joffe. But we hardly need to be reminded that life is not always fair, because while we were finally rid of someone we dearly hoped to see the last of, we also lost someone we really needed to stay. Sierra Madre came within a couple hundred votes of being run by three people who would have turned everything around, and given our City government back to the people. But instead we only got two.

And who knows, maybe I am wrong about John Harabedian. Nobody would want that more than I.

The changing of the guard was done in a very respectful and traditional Sierra Madre way. And the contrast with the last City Council Reorganization was striking. Nowhere to be seen was the ugly and vengeful mob that turned out for Joe Mosca in 2010. Hail Hamilton didn't show up to repeatedly insult any members of the City Council. Instead it was an evening as good and sweet as the town itself. Last night left us all with an awful lot to be proud about.

Despite the rumors, Nancy Walsh accepted the job of Mayor Pro Tem.
The position Josh described as "showing up where the Mayor is not, like at a 100 year old's birthday party" actually seemed to sound good to our new Mayor Pro Tem. And there was no opposition to recognizing Josh Moran as this City's next Mayor, either. For the newly seated members of the Council, it just wasn't that important an issue. As with most everything in life, to them it really is apparently about the man, not the title.

For me the better part of the evening was brought about by the unlikeliest of occasions, the privatization of Sierra Madre's City Pool. Why is that? Because it could very well have been our first look at a significant power shift on our new City Council. The three new members had a series of hard hitting and insightful questions to ask about our new relationship with Waterworks Aquatics. The two now titled carry-overs? Not so much.

Chris Koerber asked the City Attorney about our insurance arrangement regarding the pool and the folks that would be running it. Done with the purpose of both saving this cash strapped City some money while also protecting us from liability in what will now be an outside party run facility.

John Harabedian expressed some concern about the costs to the residents for using the City's now run-for-profit swimming pool. Especially to our low income and senior citizens. People who could not only be priced out of this excellent facility, but are also the most likely to use this it because they obviously don't have a pool of their own. Waterworks Aquatics said they would work on that.

And John Capoccia had a series of questions, each laid out clearly and to the point. His question about how the advisory board for the pool would be named being the one that hit home for me. Obviously John's concern here is that while our City Pool would now be run by a private company, community input must still play an important role in the running what is still an integral part of the fabric of our town.

Again, the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem did not really participate in this conversation. Instead that job was done by three people who collectively had been on the City Council for about an hour and a half.

The true highlight of the evening was saved for the very end. When Mayor Moran asked if anyone had any items they wanted to agendize for a future meeting, Chris Koerber dropped the bomb. "I'd like to call for an RFP for legal services. It has been a long time since we have had a market check. There are a lot of lawyers and law firms out there who would compete to work for us. It is a buyer's market out there."

Let the revolution begin.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tonight's City Council Reorganization

It is possible to be bigger than the City Council, you know. I doubt that statement comes as much of a surprise, at least to some of you. But I believe it is true. City Councilmembers basically live in a legal and public relations straitjacket. None of them can lawfully speak with their colleagues except in officially designated meetings, often with TV cameras on. They have to watch every word they say out of a concern that people will beat them over the head with any poorly considered statement later on. Something that does tend to curb spontaneity.

And each is obliged to entertain the conversation of anybody that might walk up to them on the street, or at some less than thrilling function they had to attend. No matter how unimpressive that person's intellectual grasp of the issues, or the eccentricity of their ideas.

Which is why this evening's swearing in of three new City Council members is such an interesting occasion. While they do assume the ultimate municipal power, which is the ability to legally spend the taxpayer's money, it doesn't come without sacrifice. And that sacrifice is the loss of some options that we take for granted. You go from being a member of the audience with unlimited rights to living with the constraints that come with being a part of the show. An experience that ennobles some, while exposing others in ways that they probably hoped no one would ever see. And there are some people who do watch.

Of course, this is still a City Council meeting, and before that changing of the guard money must be spent. And since the April 10th City Council meeting was canceled due to the election, double spending duty will be done. Between Payroll Transfers, City Warrants, PFA, the Library, and some CRA residue, the total amount comes to a cool $1,458,782.60.

Which is what being a City Councilmember is really about. At least in my opinion. That biweekly spend number is how taxpayers should be keeping score. And any Councilmember that causes that number to go up needs to be called out on it. In difficult times such as these, that is the challenge they all need to answer. And I suspect that some of them do not possess the wisdom or resolve to do that correctly.

By the way, quietly tucked inside that nearly $1.5 million dollar outlay is $309,000 that goes to pay something called the Public Finance Authority, or PFA. Although it is not identified as such in either the Meeting Agenda or staff Agenda Report, this impressive sum will be used to cover a portion of some old CRA Bond debt. Old bond debt being in my mind synonymous with government failure. Which I suspect is why it was slipped in there now when few would be paying any attention.

Just in case you wondered why it is important to elect people who actually know something beyond living financially for today.

I would encourage anyone whose knuckles don't scrape the ground to come down to City Hall and honor one of the greatest City Councilmembers this City has ever seen. Nobody has worked harder for this community, or done it with greater intelligence and wit, than MaryAnn MacGillivray. MaryAnn's accomplishments are legendary, her perseverance in the face of the grotesque dishonesty of her detractors admirable, and this community owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.

See you there!

Monday, April 23, 2012

SCAG Grants No RHNA Relief - All Towns Denied

I guess this is how they did it where SCAG premier Hasan Ikhrata came from. Back in the
Soviet Union where he got his start in the urban planning game no small cities or towns would be permitted to make demands on the central government authority, or dare to expect and then receive what they wanted. It just wasn't done. And now it isn't done here in California, either. After all, there is a new and glorious 25 Year Plan in effect, and government development quotas must be fulfilled. Kulaks be damned.

How did it come to this in the United States of America? How is it that bureaucratic central planning organizations, funded by both federal and state money, could be granted unlimited power over individual municipalities? To the point where it is not the towns themselves that have control over how their planning affairs are conducted, but government planners who most likely have never even set foot in those towns?Some of whom are not even from this country?

The Southern California Association of Governments, also known by the ugly acronym of SCAG, is currently conducting a media blitz in support of it's so-called Sustainable Communities Strategy. Here is how one of the many sock puppet websites (click here) supporting this vastly expensive boondoggle echoes SCAG's praise of its own plan:

SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata told Andrew Dalton of the Associated Press that "this plan looked at land use for the first time since we started doing planning." That's fairly amazing for the largest metro planning agency in the country, but Ikhrata and his colleagues deserve our praise and thanks for doing so. Dalton summarized the moment:

"The government group that oversees transportation for Southern California voted Wednesday to approve a $524 billion agreement that aims to make train tracks, bike lanes and clear skies as much a part of the region's image as boulevards and freeways.

"The unanimous vote from the Southern California Association for the 25-year Regional Transportation Plan provided a moment of consensus and celebration for the government officials and advocates who worked on it for four years, a feeling that could fade as it now needs to be put into play by local agencies and paid for by citizens.

"Still, the plan, a blueprint of priorities created by the group's 191 cities based on the federal, state and local funding the region expects to see, represents a huge shift in emphasis."

I guess the more than half a trillion dollars that would be needed to fund this "25 year plan" does sound impressive. Of course, where that money is going to come from now that trillions of dollars in new government debt are being piled up on a yearly basis is anyone's guess. Under the circumstances it is a lot of dough for some new trollies, bus stations and bicycle paths.

And wouldn't just waiting the 10 years or so for private industry to bring in its new generation of low and no emission personal transportation accomplish the same goals? After all, it would be 15 years shorter, half a trillion dollars cheaper, and you wouldn't have to rip up nice low density communities like Sierra Madre to build so-called "transit villages" that nobody will actually care to live in.

But that isn't how it was done in the Soviet Union that Hasan Ikhrata comes from. Instead we have 25 year plans, central planning that is completely out of touch with the needs of the communities it is designed to save from various threatened disasters, and vast sums of precious capital resources squandered on things nobody actually wants.

And then there is the implied lie in the use of the term "Sustainable Community Strategy." How can this strategy be sustainable when things such as the regional water supplies are incapable of adequately meeting any new needs that would be created? Or even that many of the transit villages built to date remain only partially filled? If you need an example, head down to Foothill Boulevard and check out the plentiful sun bleached "For Rent" flags and signs at The Stuart.

Of course, the most ridiculous claim being made here is that the 191 cities in the "SCAG Region" all happily worked together to make this happen. Because if that was true, why would so many of them be begging to opt out of their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers? After all, isn't that the coercive bureaucratic mechanism SCAG requires to cram transit village-style development into places like downtown Sierra Madre?

And that is what is happening. A number of communities, including Sierra Madre, went to a SCAG/CEHD meeting recently to discuss the ridiculous housing demands being made upon each of them. All in the name of the high density development SCAG's sustainability plans require. Sierra Madre has been ordered to present proof that we would cooperate in the planning for 55 new "housing units" in town. This on top of the 138 we were ordered to allow a couple of years back, or 193 total.

Now where in Sierra Madre would you put 193 new housing units? After all, the town is built out. There are not 193 empty lots around that I know about. Whose home would you take down to make room? Nor would we have adequate water to supply these things. But despite a most eloquently argued case for taking this awful burden off of our shoulders by MaryAnn MacGillivray (which was received with applause by the other cities in attendance at this awful meeting), SCAG shot us down.

And there were numerous other cities in the house with similar requests for SCAG's nonexistent mercy, and they were all denied as well. You see, SCAG has a new half a trillion dollar 25 year plan to fulfill, and just because the cities being forced to knuckle under to it can neither sustain nor afford it's demands, and stated their cases with the most convincing evidence, the central planning authority did not care to listen. Apparently for them it is all numbers on paper.

After all, this is how they did it in the Soviet Union that Hasan Ikhrata comes from. And today in California as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The PUSD Ballot Proposal on the June 5th Ballot: So What Exactly is Measure A?

There has been remarkably little news coverage on Measure A, which, if passed, would create so-called geographically designated voting districts for the seven seats on the Pasadena Board of Education. Sierra Madre would eventually get a seat nearly all to itself on this new Legislature of Local Learning, but not until a full 2 years after some of the other portions of the Pasadena Unified School District. Something that I find to be fairly close to inexplicable. Do our kids count less? Is our cash not as desireable as the money kicked in by the other inmate communities of the PUSD?

Additionally, the language of this controversial Measure was agreed to by our representative Bart Doyle, which quite naturally makes me a little suspicious. "El Monte Doyle," as he has become known here due to his involuntary starring role in a law suit involving that city and the collapse of a partially government funded billion dollar so-called "transit village" project, hasn't thrown anything but spitballs here for years.

So how many news organizations and articles have covered this issue? I've scoured the Internet, and discovered the answer to both questions is just one. And that one was published in the Pasadena Sun, the local outpost of The Tribune news empire, which includes the Los Angeles Times. Entitled "Former school board member says new voting districts would be 'a step backwards'" (click here), it raises what I see as being a few thorny issues.

First it must be said that all of the usual suspects are for it. Including Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, some of the characters on our current City Council including John Buchanan and Josh Moran, and, of course, Bart himself. According to this article in the Pasadena Sun, the only person to speak out against Measure A is a gentleman named Bill Bibbiani, a now retired former Pasadena Board of Education member. Here is how The Sun describes his reasons for opposing this Measure.

But former school board member Bill Bibbiani says it would pit four districts where public school enrollment is low against three majority-minority zones where the vast majority of students live.

"This is a step backward that will increase racial polarization and squabbling, with each member looking out for his or her own district," said Bibbiani, lone author of the ballot arguments against Measure A.

Bibbiani served on the school board from 2003 to 2007 after spending 31 years as an administrator at Pasadena schools, where part of his job involved drawing school attendance boundaries.

Elections by district, Bibbiani said, are "a false opportunity (for residents) to dominate one board member for four years while the other six ignore you. Right now, any organized group can have an influence on every seat."

Although a plan for Pasadena school board elections by district failed at the ballot box in 2000, officials revived the idea after several boards in Central California were hit with California Voting Rights Act lawsuits claiming their at-large systems diluted the power of minority voters.

According to this article, which carefully tiptoes through the obvious minefields here, it does appear that these districts have been constructed around the racial and ethnic identities of those living in them. Which I have always been led to believe is a bad thing. I mean, the PUSD is a fully integrated school system complete with busing and other ways of encouraging everyone to learn to live and prosper as one, so why divide our Board of Education up into racially undiverse districts? I hear no Kumbaya in that.

The map creates two Northwest Pasadena districts where Latinos outnumber other groups, and a west Altadena district that is strongly African American -- areas responsible for the majority of school district enrollment. Four mostly white districts cover east Altadena, west Pasadena, and link Sierra Madre with Pasadena's southwest side.

There is also that other matter for concern. The elections for these "by district" seats will not all occur on the same year. The first election will occur in 2013 and cover the Pasadena/west Altadena district. The second will happen in 2014 for the districts that cover central Pasadena and west Pasadena.

And our district? We will not be allowed to elect our representative until 2015. Which means that while the majority of Pasadena Board of Education districts will have their own representation, our District will still be covered by an at-large representative. That being Tom Selinske, the same fellow who ran such an extremely unsavory re-election campaign recently.

Obviously this will put Sierra Madre's schools at a distinct disadvantage for a couple of years. While other Districts will have their own representatives, we will still have "at-large" representation. You can only wonder at why our officials here in town, both elected and appointed, have supported an unfortunate condition that privileges others over us.

How do we find out more about Measure A, you ask?

On Wednesday, May 9, Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) and the Pasadena Sun will be holding a public forum on two items of local interest in the June 5th primary election. These being a discussion of Measure A by a panel of experts, and a debate between the 5 candidates running for the newly created 41st Assembly District seat. It all goes down at the elegantly designated Crawford Family Forum, which is located at 474 S. Raymond Avenue in Pasadena.

The Measure A panel of experts will include: Ken Chawkins, the guy who ran the Pasadena Unified School District Districting Task Force where Joe Mosca and Bart Doyle supposedly represented us, Stella Murga, described by The Sun as the "executive director of the Pasadena Youth Center and a Measure A supporter," and Bill Bibbiani. Bill, as we said earlier, being the sole authority of note out there opposing Measure A.

You will be able to supply written questions (only) for the folks speaking at this event. I believe you will also need to RSVP as well. To do both please visit You can also call the Pasadena Sun @ 818 495-4016.

I know I will be there. I hope you will be as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wall Street Journal: California Declares War on Suburbia (Plus Thursday's SGVCOG Uprising)

"If California were a small country somewhere, the U.S. military would invade it and restore democracy and freedom." - John Seiler

(Mod: You can pretty much see the effects of this malaise in our town. The constant pressure to pack in more and more housing into our already built-out town just never seems to let up. With even some of our elected officials seemingly hellbent on destroying the character of our town in the name of saving the world from whatever fashionable scourge is being hyped at the time. But apparently this isn't just the work of a few control freaks and their enabling real estate investors in Sierra Madre, the madness is also state-wide. This from the Wall Street Journal ...)

California Declares War on Suburbia - Planners want to herd millions into densely packed urban corridors. It won't save the planet but will make traffic even worse. By: Wendell Cox

It's no secret that California's regulatory and tax climate is driving business investment to other states. California's high cost of living also is driving people away. Since 2000 more than 1.6 million people have fled, and my own research as well as that of others points to high housing prices as the principal factor.

The exodus is likely to accelerate. California has declared war on the most popular housing choice, the single family, detached home - all in the name of saving the planet.

Metropolitan area governments are adopting plans that would require most new housing to be built at 20 or more to the acre, which is at least five times the traditional quarter acre per house. State and regional planners also seek to radially restructure urban areas, forcing much new hyperdensity development into narrowly confined corridors.

In San Francisco and San Jose, for example, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has proposed that only 3% of new housing built by 2035 would be allowed on or beyond the "urban fringe" - where current housing ends and the countryside begins. Over two-thirds of the housing for the projected two million new residents in these metro areas would be multifamily - that is, apartments and condo complexes - and concentrated along major thoroughfares such as Telegraph Avenue in the East Bay and El Camino Real on the Peninsula.

For its part, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) wants to require more than one-half of the new housing in Los Angeles County and five other Southern California counties to be concentrated in dense, so-called transit villages, with much of it at an even higher 30 or more units per acre.

To understand how dramatic a change this would be, consider that if the planners have their way, 68% of new housing in Southern California by 2035 would be condo and apartment complexes. This contrasts with Census Bureau data showing that single-family, detached homes represented more than 80% of the increase in the region's housing stock between 2000 and 2010.


California's war on suburbia is unnecessary, even considering the state's lofty climate-change goals. For example, a 2007 report by McKinsey, co-sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions could be achieved while "traveling the same mileage" and without denser urban housing. The report recommended cost-effective strategies such as improved vehicle economy, improving the carbon efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, upgrading coal-fired electricity plants, and converting more electricity production to natural gas.

Ali Modarres of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles has shown that a disproportionate share of migrating households are young. This is at least in part because it is better to raise children with backyards than on condominium balconies. A less affordable California, with less attractive housing, would disadvantage the state as much as its already destructive policies toward business.

(To read the rest of this article, click here. Not coincidentally, this week SCAG denied Sierra Madre's request to cut our RHNA numbers from the absurdly high amount they are at now. Apparently SCAG believes that in order to save Sierra Madre, it must first destroy it. And they aren't alone in this belief. Some of those who agree are actually elected and salaried officials right here in town.)

Revolt at the SGVCOG? The "Code of Silence" Goes Down to Defeat

We got some great comments and e-mail about the uprising at "The COG" Thursday evening. Thought they ought to get posted here. Apparently things are not going very well for Nick Conway and his coterie of slavish followers. Which is always good news.

"Sustainability" means a subsidized green initiative whose inception was formulated by a friend, relative or contributor to a politician.

A couple of us made it to the COG last night. Nancy had nothing to say all night.

On a bright note, King from Walnut was eloquent last night in convincing the COG dead heads to table the "Code of Silence" as a Bradbury councilmember called the proposed COG Code of Ethics. He and a few others helped torpedo the new parcel tax for the WAG districts. He pointed out the tax had a 40 percent return of money to foothill cities, whose water is clean when it leaves their communities. Sierra Madre would pay to clean up the trash thrown into the rivers by downstream cities. Can we get this councilmember to transfer to Sierra Madre?

There were also signs of the end times for "The COG" last night. Someone was video taping the meeting. Suggestions were made to let the Alameda Corridor separate from The COG, based on suggestions from Washington DC. Washington must be hearing something about this train wrecked organization. The entire COG scam may be unraveling. Conway was red in the face and obviously uncomfortable. People were asking questions for once.

One councilmember told me that his city would not be putting The COG in their budget next year.

Wouldn't it have been nice of our representative there, Nancy Walsh, to mention how unfair this new LA County parcel water tax would have been to us? It will be interesting to hear how she explains the important role played by herself at this meeting. Maybe instead of participating vocally she was using telepathy? Next comment:

During the presentations on the proposed parcel tax, the county was forced to admit that it's "$54.00" per parcel projection was nonsense. Larger properties will face a much higher fee if this proposed "rain tax" ever passes. For example, the average Home Depot sized parcel will probably pay $11,000 per year.

But the real gold in last night's meeting was the proposal made to split the Alameda Corridor Authority (ACE) off from the SGVCOG and the control of Nick Conway. Seems the powers in Washington D.C. aren't too keen on the prospect of Conway controlling the multi-million dollar ACE budget.

This from an email I received yesterday:

I'm guessing you know by now the Barbara Messina "Code of Silence" blew up in her face last night. The event started with her explaining how she was doing this s a directive from the retreat and that she worked on it a lot. The Bradbury rep acknowledged her efforts, but told her he took issue with it. She asked "what part" and he very kindly said, "the whole thing." This resulted in an outburst from others that "it looks like you are trying to silence us," with others harmoniously agreeing ...

An uprising at The COG. A bad night for Nick Conway, bad regional government and those who think they can just steamroll over the rights of individual cities.

Related Pasadena Star News article here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Should the Green Committee Become the Green Commission? Plus Planning Commission Notes

One thing that people need to be very aware of here is much of our City government is comedy. I know they act very somber, and really do wish everyone would take them seriously. Just like we all do. I mean, can they be effective public servants if a significant portion of the community is giggling at them most the time, right? Who would want to pay more taxes to people they find to be absurd? That would be bad for business. There would have to be layoffs.

Like many people who have problems they wish weren't a part of their lives, City Hall in the end is a victim of itself. In particular with its significant levity problem. They just don't seem to know when they are being ridiculous.

The latest commedia assurda took place during the Strategic Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday. Gathered there were all of the usual (and unusual) suspects, with the topic this time being the Green Committee. In particular their upcoming role in the rapidly approaching new order.

Apparently one of the goals of the larger portion of the City Council is to upgrade the Green Committee. Elaine Aguilar and the guy who just can't go away fast enough, John Buchanan, have somehow decided that it is time this committee should be permitted to sit at the same table with the big people. And in order to do that properly they would need to be transformed into a Green Commission. Commissions being so very much more important than Committees.

Along with this name change would need to come a definition of their new and greater powers as well. What the nature of those new powers might be is amongst the vital business that awaits the next City Council.

But get this. The rationale for why the Green Committee needs to be upgraded, at least in Elaine and Lingering John's opinion, is based on something called the Environmental Accords of the United Nations. I kid you not! Apparently the UN is going to be recognized by them as an important authority here in town on matters such as community planning and development. With the Green Commission being the portal through which this world-wide organization for peace and understanding will speak to the people of Sierra Madre about their role in the universal brotherhood of man.

Who knows, perhaps next week Josh Moran will be chosen as our new mayor while sporting an U Thant Bouffant. You know how trendy he can be sometimes.

At this Strategic Planning Commission confab there was quite a bit of discussion about the definition of "sustainability." With the upshot of this conversation being that both Ms. Aguilar and Johnny Stay Lately avowing that the City Council somewhere along the line adopted the UN's Environmental Accords as official city policy. Even though the UN guys have yet to actually adopt these accords themselves.

Nobody recalled such a thing happening here, however. And you would think that turning a significant portion of Sierra Madre's governmental moral and policy making authority over to the edicts of the United Nations would have been considered a serious matter, and people might remember that event having occurred.

The Green Committee's Environmental Accords were presented to us a month or two back by the GC itself. And you may recall from a previous article here that their version of the "Accords" were pretty much wholesale cut and pasted from those of the United Nations. If it was a high school report project, they might have gotten into a bit of trouble for a lack of originality.

However, as a Commission, and armed with the immense powers that will be bestowed upon them by a one vote majority of the next City Council (the Sid, Nancy and Fancy Faction), this Green Commission would then have an opportunity to help prepare the way for the enactment of these Environmental Accords.

Now don't get me wrong. I personally don't have anything much against the United Nations. They send Doctors into the worst hellholes on the planet, they supply armed peacekeepers to keep crazy people from killing each other over nothing, and they ship food and water into places where millions of people have little to eat or drink. These are good things, and they should always be commended for doing that.

But I have to ask. Why exactly is the United Nations doing butting into our business? Has California fallen so far that we are now viewed by the UN as a problem area in need of their assistance? Like Haiti?

And here's another question that needs to be asked: What is it about the UN's Environmental Accords that is so important to Buchanan, Aguilar, and soon to be Mayor Josh? And why do they want to make this proposed Green Commission the doorkeeper? Rather than, say, the General Plan Update Steering Committee? That apparently, if Josh and Elaine have their way, this Green Commission would soon replace?

If you go to the website of an organization called Green Cities California, you will be able to find the UN's Environmental Accords. You can access them by clicking here. And what you will see there are a lot of the usual topics that environmentally concerned folks care about. Which is fine. I too enjoy trees. But then, right in the middle of it all, is a topic that might sound very familiar to a lot of the people who read this site.

Urban Design: Action Item 8 - Adopt urban planning principles and practices that advance higher density, mixed use, walkable, bikeable and disabled-accessible neighborhoods which coordinate land use and transportation with open space systems for recreation and ecological restoration.

And that pretty much solves the mystery. As with everything John Buchanan and those who tag around after him, it always comes down to development. High density and mixed use development was at the very heart and soul of the Downtown Specific Plan. And at that time the justification given was that the population of California was about to explode, and people would need places to live. Something that we know now was an incorrect assumption.

And now, apparently, what we are hearing is that this exact same kind of development is necessary because it will help to solve the problem of global warming.

Which is, of course, absurd. Razing downtown Sierra Madre to make room for a few hundred condos and attached knickknack and snack shops will have no effect whatsoever on global warming. Rather it would do what it is intended to do, make money for the big utility company the current Mayor works for, and all the Realtors Josh Moran is owned by.

As is usually the case in California, if you want to sell something to the great unwashed you need to express your wishes in apocalyptic and salvational phrasing. As an example, the kinds of development these people want to put in our downtown isn't merely cheesy high-density housing, it is, per Sacramanto State Bill 375, an attempt to save the world from ecological disaster.

Of course, it actually is something quite different. That being just another in a long line of attempts to peddle awful development to a town that definitely does not want it. And honestly, I doubt this one will have a much greater chance of success than any of the others. "Green Commission" and all.

What's It All About? Last Night's Planning Commission Meet & Alfie

The Colantuono & Levin Fog Machine was in full force last night in its starring role as the Great Measure V killer. You know how things like democracy and voting just irk the corporate and governmental elites they support. Once again proving that our tax money is being used against our interests, with City Hall and the current City Council in cahoots to enable just that.

Things discussed, briefly described: Danny Castro said that the Planning Commission and the City Council must be done with Alfie before the end of July. The clock is ticking. Ballot language would be needed 90 days before the election so ballot it can be submitted in time.

City Attorney Whatsisname jumped in to claim that the Planning Commission needs to reconsider the dwelling unit versus suite thing once again. This despite the fact that the PC has already dealt with this phony issue. According to the C&L Department of Legal Obfuscation it is this matter that determines whether or not ALF is subject to Measure V or not. Which is disingenuous nonsense. They, along with those they actually work for, just don't want people getting a Measure V vote on a development project.

The golden moment arose when the handsomely compensated C&L Attorney claimed that if the ALF doesn't meet the requirements of Measure V, as he and not the people of Sierra Madre define them, then it cannot go to a vote. He then proposed that the City amend its General Plan instead of going to a Measure V vote. Which is crap and will end up embroiling Sierra Madre in a nasty lawsuit. Which, of course, would profit C&L greatly.

The ever helpful City Staff will be coming back on May 3rd with something they call a "decision tree." Meaning they plan on setting the agenda and parameters for the PC's decision making process on the matter. The Planning Commission asked for specific directions on what they need to do, and all the wrong people are plainly eager to help with that.

Not a good night.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pasadena Star News: Tax Revolt In The Foothill Village

(Mod: Today's column in the Pasadena Star News deals with the defeat of the 2 UUT Measures on April 10.)

A most remarkable thing happened recently in the sleepy foothill village of Sierra Madre. This town, which has long had a reputation for its colorful election year battles, is in reality not all that different from most other L.A. County bedroom communities. While the hyper-political Hatfields and McCoys of these leafy hillside streets shoot it out on blogs, Facebook pages, in weekly newspapers and through "phone trees" (the political equivalent of the old party line), your average Sierra Madre work-a-daddy and mommy would actually be hard-pressed to name the Mayor. Their concerns being decidedly elsewhere.

Which is why this month's election took many by surprise. Whereas most voting days in recent years have seen turnouts of less than 40%, this one attracted more voters than had been seen in, well, awhile. The modern standard for excellence in a voter turnout category had been the 43% seen in 2007's Measure V election. But that record was severely tested. The April 10, 2012 election here saw nearly 60% of all absentee voters mail in their ballots. It was unprecedented. The lines at the polling places were notable as well, spilling out through the doors and down into the streets.

What was the cause of so much excitement? Oddly enough, it was the renewal of a Utility User Tax increase that had originally been approved 4 years earlier. This 2008 ballot question, which was labeled Measure U, called for a utility tax hike from 6% on 5 categories to upwards of 12% on 9 categories. A rather massive increase designed to cover the costs of a police salary increase and the implementation of a paramedic program. This Measure was approved by a huge 63% to 37% margin.

There was a sunset clause attached to Measure U, however, and in order to keep utility tax rates from falling back into the now problematic 6% range, the City of Sierra Madre needed to put the matter back on the ballot in 2012 for a voter renewal. This time called Measure 12-1, it was pretty much a duplicate of Measure U, with a slightly longer sunset period. The result this time? It went down in flames, by a 61% to 39% spread. A nearly identical percentage, but this time turned upon its head.

Why so radical a taxpayer mood swing in a mere 4 years? It would seem to have something to do with a water rate hike gone wrong. In 2010, under the auspices of then Mayor Joe Mosca, it was decreed that water rates needed to increase. This was presented as necessary due to the aging of much of the City's water infrastructure. An antiquated system made up of ancient equipment and pipes, some of which predated World War I.

This explanation was made plausible by numerous water main leaks, many of which coincidentally occurred right around the time the problem became a topic for discussion. Residents were resigned to paying more.

However, one resident was not convinced. And using the connections in Sacramento she had developed over the years in her work as a bond broker, discovered that the actual reason the City was calling for higher water rates was quite different from the version originally put out.

Apparently there were millions of dollars in old water bonds that had slipped out of covenant, and unless the City built up its cash reserves municipal bond ratings would plummet. Backed up with this irrefutable state information, she took the story to my blog. It quickly became a topic of public concern. City Hall had no choice but to change its story.

A city that is no longer trusted will always have trouble getting additional money from its residents. And once lied to, the taxpayers will not be forgiving. The City of Sierra Madre will be paying dearly for its water rate shenanigans for many years to come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bay Area Cities Are In Open Revolt Against SB 375

I read a lot, and it is mostly because of this blog. I remember back when I started all this I had a fear that after about 20 or so posts I would have said everything that needed to be said, and The Tattler would then end up like so many other blogs, finished before it even began. So I started reading everything I could find on the Internet dealing with things like overdevelopment, mediocre or even dishonest local government, and the huge corporations and special interests that want to turn Southern California into one endless generic development project. And I just kept discovering more and more information. 1,020 posts later and I have to tell you, it has been quite an education.

This evening I came across three recent news articles that align almost perfectly. They talk about SCAG, SB 375, the daft notion that California can somehow build itself out its share of global warming, and that the real saviors of humanity are to be found in the central planning departments of Sacramento. Or so they are likely tell you. Personally I have my doubts.

The article that kicks this one into gear is an op-ed written by a gent named Rick Cole, the current City Manager of Ventura. Printed in the L.A. Times and entitled "Southern California hailed as a model of sustainability" (click here), it details this guy's fantasy that because this part of the world has become about as densely packed as any area in the country, it has somehow become a showcase for all that is ecologically wonderful about current regional urban planning trends. And then there is this vision for the future:

The plan includes expansion of housing near public transportation by 60% ... and projections of more than 4 million new jobs - with public transit within half a mile of most of them. Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources Defense Council praised it as "the strongest transportation plan" in the history of "car-loving Southern California."

SCAG's new plan is born of the realization that as a region, we have to grow up, not out. That doesn't mean Hong Kong skyscrapers in Whittier and Redlands. It does mean more apartments near light-rail stations and more vibrant mixed-use areas like the ones in downtown Pasadena, Ventura and Brea. It doesn't mean wresting the car keys from suburban commuters. It does mean making jobs and housing accessible via foot, bike, bus and rail.

This is an interesting take on Southern California's problems. Rather than overcoming what are some of the endemic shortcomings of the area, you just declare the same old thing to be good, and then proclaim victory. Couple that with unrealistic visions of a future world where everyone lives in stack and pack development and happily rides the bus, and there you are. In this our post-CRA world perhaps that is all folks like Rick Cole will be capable of doing. They no longer have the money for much else.

Within hours of this editorial a blog run by Mother Jones Magazine posted an observation about Rick Cole's op-ed. The author, a guy named Kevin Drum, pretty much nails it. His post is titled "SCAG Wants to Make Southern California More Urban," which you can access in its entirety by clicking here.

In theory, a plan like this should have almost unanimous support. Developers like it because they can put up denser buildings. Environmentalists like it because it's more sustainable. Urbanists like it because it creates more walkable communities. City governments like it because it creates a stronger tax base.

There's really only one constituency that doesn't like it much: every single person who already lives in these communities and hates the idea of dense, high-rise construction near their homes. So there's going to be fireworks. It will be interesting to see how the NIMBY bloc gets bought off.

And it looks like the fireworks have already begun. In the Bay Area the central planning authority is the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG. An acronym almost as lovely as our own SCAG. And the attempts of ABAG to enforce Sacramento's draconian planning edicts are not being met with much joy. Here is a portion of a CalWatchdog article called "Bay Area rebellion attacks housing mandate" (click here for the whole thing).

But a lot of cities are feeling like they're being dictated to. Last Month, Palo Alto sent a 20-page complaint letter to ABAG, arguing that the jobs and housing requirements are unrealistic, not accounting for market constraints, high costs and the impacts of intensive development. City officials also believe that the plan will have a negligible impact on greenhouse gas emissions in any case.

It's those emissions that are the driving force behind the discontent. ABAG and the Metropolitan Commission are implementing the One Bay Area Plan, which is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7 percent by 2020 and by 15 percent by 2035. It's authorized by SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, and AB 32, the Global Warning Solutions Act of 2006.

The goal is to supposedly save the planet. But many local officials and residents fear it's actually a case of politicians and bureaucrats destroying their villages to save them.

"For us this is about local control," said Ravasio. "We are a small town. We want to remain a small town, which is why people moved here in the first place. We should be allowed to do that and control growth and grow in a way that makes sense for us. And not have it mandated to us by a state or regional authority like ABAG. Which is what's been happening. Which is why we took this step."

It remains to be seen whether the roar from this mouse echoes throughout the Bay Area and eventually the rest of the state. If it does, it could be the first rebel yell in a new Civil War. Or perhaps it should be called the War of Sacramento Aggression.

The article goes on to detail how many of the communities there are up in arms about things like huge housing allocations, and as a result have actually had their numbers significantly reduced by a panicked ABAG. Something caused by the large numbers of outraged people showing up at meetings, with some cities actually leaving the RPO over insane RHNA numbers. And many more cities thinking about it.

L.A. County City Attorney Costs

There is now some interesting research available from the L.A. Times that shows Sierra Madre's per capita City Attorney costs are higher than most. Out of the 88 cities surveyed, only 19 are higher on this per capita costs basis than we are. Click here.

Happy Birthday MaryJane!

We'd like to wish one of our favorite Tattler readers a very Happy 98th Birthday today! MaryJane has been a supporter of a lot of things that we here on the blog believe in, and a big shout out is definitely in order here. Thank you for all that you do, MaryJane.