Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pasadena Star News: No on PUSD Measure A

(Mod - 2 new articles up today. Both equally important in our modest opinion. Let's kick it off with this one first.)

We have discussed this topic on The Tattler several times. But until now we have been the only news site or paper in the area that has come out against Measure A. Or, as is usually the sad case here in Sierra Madre, even discussed it at all. After all, how could something that potentially threatens our public schools with the loss of millions of dollars in Measure TT bond money, or timely representation on the PUSD Board of Education, ever compete with Fresh & Easy applying for a CUP? I ask you.

But despite our information flow woes here behind the Michillinda Curtain, things have now changed. Today the Pasadena Star News has published an editorial that slams Measure A, in the process adding a whole new level of urgency to the need to defeat this bizarrely unfair initiative.

Here is the conclusion of the PSN editorial. For the whole thing click here.

Since the forced busing for integration of the early 1970s, three kinds of flight - white, then black, then middle-class - have changed the makeup of the schools. They are now mostly Latino, with fewer African-American students and even fewer white ones. Middle-class parents frequently band together in efforts to support their local elementary campuses, but often leave by middle school. Though private schools have been popular for almost a century in Pasadena, about 30 percent of district families opt out of the public option - an extraordinarily high number. Still, there is a certain community pride attached to the schools even for those who don't attend.

Oddly, interestingly, on the seven-member school board, there is one black member, one Latino - and five whites. Fearing a lawsuit over a lack of diversity, as happened in the '70s with the Pasadena City Council, the district proposes Measure A on the June 5 ballot. It would amend the current at-large system and instead have voters nominate and elect board members from within seven geographic sub-districts.

It sounds reasonable enough. But in our view, Measure A is a mere distraction from the district's real problems. Legally, "racially polarized voting" occurs when minority candidates win in certain neighborhoods but lose in at-large balloting. That used to happen in Pasadena City Council elections - but it's not happening in the PUSD. The way the board is elected is a non-problem that doesn't need solving.

And Measure A's passage could create problems of its own. Now, if a constituent wants a board member's ear, he's got it - as a voter. If elected by neighborhood, a trustee from Sierra Madre would not be answerable to a resident of San Rafael - or Altadena, or anywhere else. The Pasadena schools don't need to add Balkanization to their problems. They need to focus on solutions. We strongly urge a "no" vote on Measure A.

Be sure to vote next Tuesday.

Who Appointed Bart Doyle to Our Oversight Board for the Successor Agency to the CRA?

"Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" - Gomer Pyle

Yes, it really is quite a mouthful. "The Oversight Board For The Successor Agency Of The City Of Sierra Madre." It isn't the kind of Committee, Commission or Board that you see meeting everyday in the City Council Chambers down City Hall way. But whoot! There it is! Complete with none other than Bart Doyle himself. And tonight's the night they'll be kicking it all off. Doors open at 7 p.m. If you are prone to anxiety attacks, be sure and bring a paper bag. You just might need to watch yourself breathe.

Now you may recall that at the almost last meeting of the previous City Council it was decided that John Buchanan, the outgoing Mayor at the time, would continue on with his storied service to the City of Sierra Madre by running something called the Successor Agency to the CRA. But beyond bringing Karin Schnaider along because she is proficient at math and can do complex spreadsheets in various modern accounting forms on her computer, that was about it.

This was deemed necessary because our Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), along with every other CRA in the State of California, had its plug pulled by Jerry Brown. The purpose being to rake back the billions of dollars in otherwise obligated property tax money these CRAs controlled. Plus the state requires it in a legal sort of way.

CRAs, as you know, were purportedly designed to fight blight and build low income housing using property tax money that would otherwise go to Sacramento. More often than not, however, this money was frittered away by corrupt and dumb City Councils who used it to do favors for supporters and reward amenable developers.

To see what kinds of things our CRA (or RDA if you prefer) money was spent on, including a $3.5 million dollar bond from the 1990s, look for the meeting notice on the City of Sierra Madre site and follow the instructions. The Agenda Report for tonight's CRA Successor Agency Oversight Board fandango can be found there, along with many of the details on actual redevelopment spends.

And what this Oversight Board is supposed to do is not only monitor the money that the state is raking back, but to negotiate our fate favorably with the powers that be so that we can possibly even keep some of it. And we're talking millions of dollars, some of it spent in the 2011 "City Councilmembers Gone Wild" episode.

But here is the catch. Suddenly it isn't just Johnny B and Karin who are working things out with Uncle Jerry, now it is a whole Committee. Who picked these people? Who authorized all of this? It certainly wasn't done in public at a City Council meeting, and no elected official I know voted for them. Was it some outside governmental dude that picked them? Michael Antonovich maybe?

In addition to the Johnster and Karin, we now also get:

Marilyn Diaz
Bart Doyle
David Jaynes
Tom Love
Richard Van Pelt

I am sure some of these folks are fine and upstanding citizens and certainly weren't picked just because they happened to be politically aligned with John Buchanan. But here is my question, don't City Councils appoint members to such bodies as this Oversight Board? Since when does the City of Sierra Madre allow a Committee Chairman to pick his entire committee? Particularly one that is overseeing the fate of millions of dollars in our tax money? Was there some kind of a coup d'etat, and City Hall forgot to issue a Press Release about it?

And then there is Bart Doyle, a guy who hasn't won anything for anyone in years. In the mid-2000s he was the moving force behind the Downtown Specific Plan, which was ignominiously sent down in flames by the voters with Measure V. Then he moved on to manage some billion dollar bus station redevelopment project in El Monte as CEO of a company called Titan Development. Which then went belly up with some of its executives being either arrested, sued by the City of El Monte, or investigated by the FBI and HUD. Or all three. And then most recently Bart was sent to represent us at the PUSD Districting Task Force, with the result being Sierra Madre will not have a seat on the Board of Education until 2 years later than much of Pasadena and Altadena, potentially harming our ability to obtain adequate Measure TT funds for our schools.

The way things are going for Bart Doyle, we'll be lucky to even be allowed to use our City Hall after this is all over. After all, it too is CRA property, along with quite a lot of other things in town. And if you think Sacramento can't take such things away from us, consider this article from the Daily Sound (click here):

Santa Barbara's Big Parking Problem: State may force city to sell all of its downtown parking lots, killing free 75 minute parking.

In a move that could dramatically change the future of downtown parking and spell doom for free 75-minute parking, the city might have to sell all of its downtown lots, the latest fallout from the loss of its redevelopment agency.

A trailer bill released as part of the governor's May revise states that parking garages or lots owned by RDAs (CRAs) must be disposed of, as part of the dissolution of statewide redevelopment agencies. Money from the sale must then be turned over to the state.

You can see the kinds of issues that are involved here, and understand just how important to the City of Sierra Madre the work of this Oversight Board really is. After all, Sierra Madre's CRA/RDA once owned our City parking lots, and I am sure we'd love to keep them. Apparently they can now be sold and the money sent to Sacramento.

Like I said, this is important work. When applicable, it should be done by a Committee with the members appointed by all of our elected City Councilmembers. Not just a former one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Poor Metro & Caltrans - Nobody Believes Them

I went to the South Pasadena version of the Metro Caltrans tunnel talk last week, otherwise known as the "State Route 710 Study Alternative Concepts Open House." This outreach effort on the part of those people who are not just about the 710 Tunnel (or so they took some rather extreme pains to point out), instead wanting to offer the likes of myself the opportunity to help them explore "alternatives." Though relieving the whole bunch of them of their jobs and saving the State of California millions of dollars in salaries and benefits was unfortunately not listed among the available options.

What they were hoping for was that the hardy few who actually attended this little fiesta of planning fun would read the 20 or so massive boards they had stacked up around the library where this event took place, absorb a lot of very dry information about "process" (a word that got used about 150 times, it seems to have a magical or religious power for them), "scoping" (a term I'd previously always associated with prostate exams), "multi-modal" (still mulling that one over) and, of course, "alternatives." Alternatives to what they didn't seem too willing to say, though many of the attending civilians did seem eager to inform them that it had something to do with a 4.5 mile tunnel.

And that was the problem Metrotrans (my new shorthand combined term for these two government entities) was having. Few people attending this get-together really believed that Caltro (the other shorthand term, though I prefer Metrotrans for obscure reasons) was really interested in alternatives at all. Instead they suspected the obvious, that this exhibit really was about the 710 Tunnel. And this whole event was staged as a way of creating the illusion that alternatives were being seriously considered, but in the end the conclusion would be they have to build a tunnel under South Pas and turn the 210 into a corollary of the God awful and quite toxic 710 corridor.

All in the name of getting colorful Asian made plasticware from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to Wal*Mart's inland warehouses more efficiently. Apparently complaints from the far east have been heard in Sacramento and Washington. Holding a few trillion dollars in American debt does tend to get your concerns heard.

Here is how the Pasadena Sun described the difficulties Metrotrans was having with the likes of me (click here):

Metro officials meet with skeptical South Pasadena residents over 710 study - Metro officials said they will look at all alternatives in the early stages of an environmental study

Digging a 4.5 mile-long freeway tunnel may not be easy, but convincing South Pasadena residents that all ideas for easing congestion near the Long Beach (710) Freeway are getting a fair shake might be just as difficult.

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials met with the public at the South Pasadena Library Community Room on Wednesday, part of a series of open house meetings on the ongoing 710 environmental study.

Metro officials say they are looking at 12 options - including extending the 710 to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena and adding light rail and bus routes.

But South Pasadenans have years of battle scars from lawsuits, federal injunctions and more than 40 city council resolutions fighting a proposed freeway extension, which they say would increase congestion, traffic and health hazards.

South Pasadena City Councilman Richard Schneider said he doesn't believe Metro is looking at all 12 alternatives equally. "That's for public consumption," he said. "I'm sure they have their preferred routes."

Metro project manager Michelle Smith acknowledged she and her colleagues have faced skepticism.

I can only wonder why.

I actually got to meet Michelle at this get-together, and after some cheerful conviviality on the absurdity of the roles we play in life, and how we really are all just one people striving together in the dream of a far better world, I asked her why there was so little about the 710 Tunnel on all of those densely lettered 8 foot high boards looming about us.

That is when she started pulling my leg about multi-modals, "the process," scoping, alternatives, and all the rest of that rhythm. When she was finally done, I asked her how exactly would you get a semi-trailer filled with imported plasticware fresh out of the Port of Long Beach onto something like a bus or a light rail car. Put it on the roof, perhaps?

Other people walked up however, interrupting our conversation. I never did get an answer. Not that I really expected one. It was probably too early in the process for that.

It almost always is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What 'Measure A' Is Really All About

Things do seem rather puzzling when you first start to grapple with Measure A. We have been told it is for our own good, and that this ballot initiative will improve the influence of each community by giving the 7 now termed "sub-regional districts" their own exclusive PUSD Board of Education member. One who will fight for their own special district in a way that the current "at-large" representatives apparently do not.

Which becomes problematic when you consider that Sierra Madre, along with the other more suburban sub-regional districts, will not receive their representation until a full 2 years later than the more urban sub-districts. Not until 2015 will we be allowed to elect our own representative, whereas the majority of these sub-regional districts will be permitted to elect theirs in 2013. Which means that, using the argument of the proponents of Measure A, we will be forced to endure an inferior and weaker form of representation a full two years later than the others.

The argument is made by those who support Measure A that the results of the 2011 Board of Education elections must be respected, with those current members being allowed to serve out their entire terms. But none of the class of 2011 live in Sierra Madre. I have doubts that a couple of them could even find us without the aid of Map Quest. So why are we being called upon to make such a profound sacrifice so that they can continue to rule in an at-large capacity? Which is, by the PUSD Districting Task Force's calculation, not as good as the sub-regional district variety?

I have spoken to a number of knowledgeable people about this over the past few weeks, and the consensus seems to be that it is more about the $350,000,000 in Measure TT money than anything else. The period between 2013 and 2015 is when much of these vast sums in school bond money will be split up amongst the now sub-regional districts, and those with this new and proclaimed superior form of representation on the Board of Education will have the added and more potent influence needed to swing bond money to their special projects. Leaving those without sub-regional representation during this time vulnerable and unprotected.

But why is this? Why couldn't all of the sub-regional district voting take place in 2015, thus leveling the playing field? Why rush through 4 sub-districts in 2013, while leaving the other three hanging out there unrepresented until two years later? Again, follow the money.

It now appears likely that a deal was struck. Those who have controlled the hundreds of millions of dollars in Measure TT bond money over these past few years do not wish to see so lucrative a deal slip from their hands, and have made arrangements assuring this will not happen. By allowing certain sub-districts to have an advantage over the others, an understanding was reached. That being those facilitating this rather massive flow of cash would remain in their current lucrative positions, continuing to do so by having won the support of certain influential constituencies within the four privileged sub-regional districts. Along with the sympathetic at-large representatives elected in 2011, of course.

There actually is some potential for more local control over Measure TT bond money under a sub-regional districting plan. And that by having individual areas bargain with other equally motivated sub-regional district areas, those who have traditionally controlled this bond money centrally could have found themselves being eased out of the equation. Which, considering how poorly they have handled that responsibility recently, ought to happen.

By staggering these elections, and therefore privileging certain sub-regional districts over others, a divide and conquer strategy was successfully implemented. And during the crucial 2013 to 2015 period, when this vast fortune in Measure TT money will be spent, and at great profit to some, the old boy network would still be in charge when it counts.

That is, of course, if Measure A passes a week from today.

After that the money will be gone, and with it their concern. The Pasadena Unified School District, and the children whose interests it is supposed to represent, will no longer be of interest for them.

Measure A is PUSD corruption, plain and simple. And its worst effects are being aimed directly at us. Please vote no. Don't throw Sierra Madre under the school bus.

Monday, May 28, 2012

So Much Of What You Read In The Mountain Views News Just Isn't All That True

I know, that isn't the most shocking headline we have ever posted here. The sun coming up in the east would be equally electrifying news I suppose, and just as timely. It is coming up in the east right now while I am typing this article. The excitement is nearly unbearable. That and another cup of coffee could put me right over the edge.

And I've got to be straight with you, I have been trying to lay off the Susan Henderson stories. No, I really have. There are so many more important things to discuss these days that any further speculation about the poor dear is likely a waste of everyone's time. What would the point be?

But here's the thing. I have this unfortunate problem with newspapers that print things that are obviously false. And a lot of what you get in the Looney Views News is just absurd twaddle, in most cases designed to buttress the agendas of the same old tiresome people as all those other times. More often than not the troubled loudmouths of the Downtown Investors Club, along with the cheap local pols who have somehow built their dicey careers around carrying their water.

A case in point would be this weekend's giddy nonsense regarding the world's second most profitable retailer after Wal*Mart, the British food peddler Tesco aka "Fresh and Easy." If you haven't heard, they may be opening a new outlet on the DIC owned Howie's site. Whether this is good news or not is up to you, but quite obviously it has caused Susan flights of ecstasy that rival anything to be found at a late night rave at the L.A. Coliseum. And some of what she has written into her story as news is so obviously Tesco/Fresh & Easy manufactured propaganda that you have to cringe.

Fresh & Easy, says in its website, "Your groceries cost less because we design stores to save money. We install LED lighting and energy-efficient refrigerator doors that use less. And by using less, we're able to pass more savings on to you. We keep our prices simple too. In our shops, you won't find confusing sales gimmicks; just honest low prices every day for everyone.

Of course, it is only one more banana step beyond that for Ms. Henderson to take this to the next level, which is to suggest that the reason prices at Fresh & Easy are lower than elsewhere is because they are "Green." The message being that they are saving you money by saving the world.

In addition to Fresh & Easy's efforts to reduce refrigerant emissions, it also focuses on system energy efficiency, including the use of energy efficient doors on freezer and dairy cases; Triple-pane glass with an anti-fog coating on refrigerator doors, eliminating the need for door heaters for icing or fogging; night curtains on refrigerators to conserve energy while keeping product at the appropriate temperature when stores are closed; LED lighting in all chilled cases.

"On average, our stores use 30 percent less energy than a typical supermarket, which helps our customers save money while also helping the environment," said Tim Mason, CEO of Fresh & Easy a few years ago. "We've worked hard to make sure we are thoughtful in the impact we have on the environment and we're excited to continue to innovate in this area."

Now there is hardly a business in this state that hasn't claimed that they are saving the world from environmental collapse. It is a standard business practice in California. And that an international conglomerate like the British retailer Tesco should also do so is hardly surprising. Oil companies do it, so do real estate developers. As does Edison for that matter. Despite the fact that their coal-fired generating plants out in the desert are some of the most prodigious producers of greenhouse gas emissions in the western United States.

But proclaiming that the lower prices at Fresh & Easy stores are due to "green practices" is really taking it a step beyond even standard issue malarkey. The more mundane reasons for this are far more likely to be true. The sad fact is Fresh & Easy, like the Wal*Mart food retail locations it competes with, do not pay their people very much money. And woe to the employees who might attempt to organize anything approaching a union in order to obtain for themselves the benefits and better pay those employed at a Ralph's or Albertson's enjoy.

Here are several stories culled from the internet to back this one up.

Fresh & Easy Busted for Union Busting (click here): Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc., the U.S. arm of British grocery giant Tesco, itself the second most-profitable worldwide retailer behind Wal-Mart, has lost in a petition for review if a disciplinary order handed down by the National Labor Relations Board.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has upheld the ruling of the Labor Relations Board pertaining to actions taken against an employee at a store in the San Diego suburb of Spring Valley. The Board held that Fresh & Easy was guilty of three separate violations of labor law against an employee during a union organizing drive at the store in 2008.

Administrative Law Judge Finds Tesco's Fresh & Easy Violated Labor Relations Act in Ex-Store Employee, UFCW Complaint (click here): Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has been found by a Federal Administrative Law Judge to be in violation of a section of the U.S. Labor Relations Act, regarding an unfair labor practices complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) against the El Segundo, California-based food and grocery chain last year by Deana Kenton, a former employee of Fresh & Easy store number 1247 on East Lake Mead Boulevard in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).

San Franciscans Clash With U.K. Grocer Over Labor Practices, Job Creation (click here): A British-owned grocery chain with a history of unfriendly labor relations in the United States is looking to open its doors in San Francisco's Mission District. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market plans to build on a site that used to host two local grocery stores.

"In communities that they have been in the last four years, they have not kept their promises. They are blocking employees from advocating for improvements. We've been hearing horror stories," Oscar Grande told In These Times.

There are quite a few similar articles to be found in this vein. What is unfortunate here is that we have a multi-national corporation that uses environmental claims to embellish its credentials, but does so in part to cover up for their rather harsh reputation for poor labor practices. That so hugely profitable a company as Fresh & Easy parent Tesco would see fit to come to this country and work so hard to undercut the living standards of grocery employees, both their own and those of their competitors, is sad. But hardly atypical of the way things are going these days. This is hardly a golden era for workers.

But what I find to be worse is that our local adjudicated newspaper of record, the Mountain Views News, would somehow fail to cover both sides of the Fresh & Easy story. No matter how you might feel about the food retailer coming to Sierra Madre, I am sure you'll agree there is nothing "green" about nickel and diming the help. This is a community that treats its people with respect and dignity. It is a town of small independent shops and businesses where people have always worked together, and for the benefit of us all.

That is one of the things that makes Sierra Madre unique. It is also is something that begins with reporting the truth.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

MaryAnn MacGillivray Will Speak At Tomorrow's Memorial Day Services

Sierra Madre's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3208 will hold its yearly Memorial Day ceremonies tomorrow at Pioneer Cemetery. The ceremonies being at 11 a.m., though if you are hoping to get a seat at this aways well-attended event you should plan on getting there a little early.

If you have never attended this ceremony, it really is something to behold. I usually bring my kids, who are awed by the whole thing. Being young boys, they have now reached the age where curiosity about the history of such things as World War II has taken hold, and to witness this testimony to the sacrifice and honor of those who fought in our nation's great battles, some of whom are actually in attendance and participating in the ceremony, is pretty powerful for them. As it is for all who attend. People need to know, and remember.

Which really is the purpose of Memorial Day. In a world that is often filled with so much humbug and inauthenticity, here is an occasion where it is all laid out, and in the most unmistakable of terms. America's freedoms were threatened by hostile foreign powers, its citizen soldiers answered the call to defend their country, and some fell in battle doing so. Giving their lives so that we can continue to live ours as a free people in a great land. The clear honesty of what you will see tomorrow becomes both breathtaking and undeniable. Here you both honor and become a part of who we are as a people.

Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray will be delivering the keynote address, which is becoming something of a welcome tradition at the VFW's Memorial Day ceremonies. I can't think of anyone who does a better job.

Sierra Madre's historic Pioneer Cemetery is located at 553 E Sierra Madre Boulevard. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New York State Legislators Attempt To Ban Anonymous Online Commenting

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." - The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, December 15, 1791

We occasionally field some gripes here at The Tattler about anonymous commenting. Oftentimes by people posting their complaints about anonymity in our comments section anonymously. The late and apparently forgotten "Lady Elizabeth Wistar" comes to mind. A rather bizarre campaign-time attempt at opposition silencing that didn't quite work out as some folks had hoped.

And I have taken some heat over the last 4 or so years on this issue. Which is great as far as I am concerned because it has helped bring more attention to this site. Something that resulted in many becoming aware that they could post anonymously here, which apparently is quite popular in Sierra Madre. If you question that, just compare the amount of comments we receive here to those over on the Sierra Madre Patch. A site where they require you to surrender your personal information before they will allow you to express your opinions.

So whatever the rationale, this is pretty much a wasted effort as far as I am concerned. I enthusiastically support the right of anyone to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. Anonymously, pseudoanonymously, with umlauts and flourishes, or even wearing a funny hat if that is your desire. Who am I to tell you what you can and cannot do or say? Keep it clean, leave out the personal threats, and I'm cool with it. And I am hardly alone on this one. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is pretty much down with the concept, as is the United States Supreme Court.

But there are those who do disagree, and in the State of New York there is a group of legislators that would like to make it legally mandatory for the likes of me to check your ID before allowing you to post. This from (click here):

New York legislation would ban anonymous online speech - Did you hear the one about New York state lawmakers who forgot about the First Amendment in the name of combating cyberbullying and "baseless political attacks?"

Proposed legislation in both chambers would require New York-based websites, such as blogs and newspapers, to "remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post."

No votes on the measures have been taken. But unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.

Had the internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have had to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay revealed themselves.

"This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology. He added that the legislation provides a "heckler's veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn't like what an anonymous poster said."

The Daily Caller also has an article about this situation up on their website. They took their inquiries all the way out here to UCLA (click here).

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told The Daily Caller that the bill is "clearly unconstitutional."

"The Supreme Court has held for 50 years that anonymous speech is protected," explained Volokh, pointing to the 1960 case Talley v. California. "This kind of breach of anonymity on demand is just not constitutional."

"I would love to hear from these legislators ... Presumably at least one of them should be able to speak to the constitutional objections to the statute," Volokh added.

A little something to contemplate this Memorial Day weekend. The enemies of the freedoms so many fought and died to protect are not always external ones.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mosca With Brains?

(Your Tattler Moderator: Pictured to the left is Sierra Madre resident and Pasadena Unified School District dad Tony Brandenburg holding up a colorful representation of "Measure A" sub-regional redistricting at last Tuesday's Board of Education meeting in Pasadena. Some are saying the Board didn't dig this presentation very much, perhaps even deeming it not appropriate to the process.)

It is nice to get a little company on the issues once in a while. While the other news media in Sierra Madre spends most of their time regurgitating cloying feel good press releases that signify very little, we have somehow become the prime source in town for news of a harder nature. Which is fine, we're glad to fill that role. Someone has to have a little honor around here. But you always have to give credit where credit is due. Even if the other guy is about a month late.

Yesterday the Sierra Madre Patch posted an article that acknowledged the unfortunate fact that should Measure A get enough votes, this community would be forced to accept a kind of 2nd class citizenship on the PUSD Board of Education. Out of the 7 proposed so-called sub-districts within the PUSD Archipelago, Sierra Madre would be amongst the minority not allowed representation until 2015. The other "sub-districts" receiving their unfair share of representation far earlier, in 2013.

The reason for this is actually funny, in a mordant "world going to hell in a handbasket" sort of way. Here is how the Patch somewhat inadvertently reveals it all (click here):

But, the current rules set by the PUSD Charter, Section 703 on elections state that school board members must live in the appropriate geographical sub-district. Currently there are no school board members living in Sierra Madre's proposed district, leaving the city without a vote for two years.

"We have three vacant districts, including ours, and we have a couple districts with two members in them," Doyle said. "I know that people are concerned that under this framework that Sierra Madre will not be able to vote until 2015. We don't have a school board member living in this new district, therefore there is no election coming up. This is not an ideal result, but we would have the chance in two years to finally elect a school board member."

So there you have it. The purpose of kicking Sierra Madre to the back of the regional sub-districting school bus is to protect the careers of some of the good old boys currently on the Pasadena Board of Education. Some of whom have been involved in various official PUSD capacities since the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Like Bart.

In other words, in the effort to protect the PUSD establishment from too radical a change, Sierra Madre is expected to vote itself a two year representational disadvantage. Ironically sparing the less than spectacular careers of the very same people responsible for the Measure TT debacle this community is enduring right now. We apparently are about to be sacrificed for the convenience of individuals of very little lasting importance.

And it all does beg this one rather large question. Why didn't they just hold back all the regional sub-districting elections until 2015? Whatever is this big rush all about? Why did they privilege some sub-districts and punish others?

The Patch then reported this exchange between Chris Koerber and Bart Doyle:

"Why did our task force representatives sit silently at the March 13 task force meeting and allow Sierra Madre to be thrown under the bus without a representative for the next three years? That's totally unacceptable, sir," Koerber said.

Doyle responded, "We couldn't get there. We have no civic school member in this district."

"So we don't have a board member and we have a school that they're not building and they're telling us they don't have money for it?" Koerber asked.

"We will continue to be represented by at-large members. There is simply no other way to do it," Doyle replied.

Those "at-large members" being the same good old boy PUSD hangers-on responsible for the current difficulties over Measure TT. Which, to Councilman Koerber's point, is really no representation at all.

And then John Harabedian decided that the moment had arrived for him to make one of his rare contributions of the evening.

Councilmember John Harabedian thanked Doyle for his presentation, saying, "I think in the long term, this will be very good for Sierra Madre and its schools. Having direct representation is much better than having at-large representation."

As bad as our at-large representation has been, I can hardly see how that will be improved by having no representation at all. Particularly during the critical 2013 - 2015 period when the decisions will be finalized on how exactly to spend $350,000,000 in Measure TT money. I doubt being without a representative is going to help us much in that regard.

Then there is also the matter of whether John Harabedian should have recused himself during this portion of the City Council meeting. The organization that is most likely to sue the Pasadena Unified School District should "regional sub-districting" not happen is called the "Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law." The rationale for going after an already financially ruined school district being the California Voting Rights Act, which ironically appears to be at least partially helping to return the Pasadena Unified School District to its segregated roots.

Two of the leading lights in the Lawyer's Committee are John F. Walker and Amos Hartston, both of whom are senior figures at the law firm Latham and Watkins. Which is also where John Harabedian toils.

So on whose behalf was John Harabedian speaking the other night? Latham and Watkins, or the people of Sierra Madre? While it is fine to represent the positions of people of influence in the place where you earn your paycheck, it isn't too smart of an idea to do so as an elected official speaking on behalf of people whose interests might be substantially different. After all, it isn't Latham and Watkins who would be paying dearly for the costs of such a lawsuit.

And if there was even the remote appearance of a conflict of interest, shouldn't John have sat this one out?

Maybe the "Mosca with brains" meme thing is a little overstated. Maybe Harabedian is just Mosca.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Last Night's Sierra Madre School Site Council Meeting

Last evening a group of around 25 or so very concerned people packed into a rather small room for a meeting of the Sierra Madre School Site Council, or SSC. This took place at the Elementary Campus Arts Discovery Room. The SSC is where parents can become intimately involved in the running of whichever school they are concerned about. An agenda was handed out per usual and a lot of the regular business that has always taken place was covered.

However, this was not really that kind of meeting as most were there to show their outrage at the PUSD's stunning announcement that Measure TT moneys that had been promised to Sierra Madre's schools for replacing the Middle School and substantial work to the Elementary Schools, would be about 20% less than promised. A substantial cut that the PUSD blamed solely on Sacramento cuts due to the state's financial crisis.

Of course, and as was pointed out at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting by Chris Koerber, when Measure TT was sold to the voters it was to be the sole financial vessel for work that still needs to be done at PUSD campuses throughout the entire district. Nothing about matching state funding was heard at that time. Now, a 4 full years later, PUSD parents are hearing a much different story, and a lot of what had been promised is not going to be delivered. And for reasons that were not made clear, or even intimated at, when the tax payers voted themselves $350,000,000 in bond debt to fund school construction. Something many are beginning to view as a bait and switch.

However, identifying and discussing these aspects of the Measure TT hype from 2008 is only going to get us so far. A good benchmark for not trusting the PUSD in the future, but it isn't going to help us now.

A great and meticulously prepared handout at the meeting entitled "Response to PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee and Mr. Robin Brown, Facilities Bond Manager Responsible for the Master Plan Budget Reduction Concerning the Proposed Facilities Cuts to the Sierra Madre School Upper and Lower Campus facilities projects funded under Measure TT," shows that much of the data being used by the PUSD to calculate how these cuts would effect Sierra Madre's schools is called into question by parents. Here is how they rolled that out:

Background: On April 25, 2012 Mr. Robin Brown presented the PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee's response to the expected shortfall of $64,000,000 funding expected from the State of California. Without this State contribution, the Measure TT funded projects contingent on this additional State funding, must be cut to meet the projected shortfall amount. Applying a cut distributed across all of PUSD facilities projects, the proposed impact on the Sierra Madre Schools facilities amounted to $909,389 at the Lower Campus and $2,766,045 at the Upper Campus.

However, when it came to how the cuts were being made, it looks like the PUSD has been using fuzzy and outdated math. Anyone surprised?

SSC Analysis/Discussion: When Mr. Brown provided the supporting budgets used to make the proposed cuts to Sierra Madre, however, it became apparent that the figures they used were significantly outdated and did not take into account numerous updates, cuts, and additions enacted by the PUSD School Board and recorded in the PUSD School Board Minutes. The budget numbers they used appear to have been taken from the original estimates used for the Measure TT proposal rather than the numbers that were amended and approved in the ensuing years.

Much of this handout includes actual PUSD documents showing that significant cuts had already been made starting in 2009, and since those amounts had already removed from the overall equation nothing more needed to be cut.

Given these corrections, Sierra Madre School facilities will be well served within the budget numbers that Mr. Brown presented since they already reflect significant facilities budget reductions from the original 2008 Project Allocations and are sufficient to complete the full scope of the Board-Approved Facilities Projects on both Sierra Madre campuses, reinstating the field house project at the lower campus and, at the upper campus, the 4-classroom building, the work to the field, and the $600,000 in soft costs.

The recommendation that was put before the Sierra Madre School Site Council for a vote read as follows:

The Sierra Madre School Site Council Approve the Target Revised Project Budgets totaling $30,921,355 for construction projects at the Sierra Madre Upper Campus and $4,764,336 for the Sierra Madre Lower Campus but Rejects All Cuts to the Facilities Plans and, Because All Board Approved Plans Are Under Revised Projected Budget Amounts, No Facilities Cuts Be Enacted.

Rather than approve this recommendation, the Sierra Madre School Site Council chose instead to form a sub-committee and look into these things further. You need to remember that this is all very recent news, and if Sierra Madre's SSC is to present its recommendations to the Pasadena Board of Education, they need to put together some very good arguments to make certain this crude 20% hacking off of promised funding does not take place.

But some pretty valuable work has obviously already been done. Establishing that these cuts were made on outdated and faulty data is quite a coup, and will certainly provide effective ammunition when they go up against the governing parties.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bart Proclaims PUSD "Off the Rails," More Fees Please, Plus Sierra Madre Goes Into the Red!

It was yet another City Council meeting where not all the topics made the cut. Which is fine, there are some big issues that got the attention they deserve, and the amount of detail and care that went into some of the discussions was worth watching. The PUSD disaster got an airing, and for the first time in years we have a majority of City Council Members who actually expressed no concern that Sierra Madre is now slipping into debt. Not a large amount of debt mind you, but then again that first step down the slippery slope is usually a rather petite one.

I'm not going to go into the minutia of the fee schedule discussion, but I will ask you this. The City's justification for fees has always been that they are in large part for "cost recovery." And that unless the City collected those fees necessary to recover the cost of getting something done for somebody, they would then be subsidizing whatever that might be, and with what they regard as their money.

But here is where this has never made much sense, at least to me. If our tax money is being used to pay City employee salaries, then doesn't it seem proper that when you walk into City Hall for a (let's say) plan check, you shouldn't have to pay anything more than you already have, right? After all, you already paid for City Hall's time when you paid your taxes.

So when you pay a fee for so-called "cost recovery," what you are actually doing is paying for the use of City Hall's time and labor twice. Once out of your original taxes, and again to recoup the spending of money that came out of your taxes.

I do know that small city governments like ours are challenged to find revenue streams. And quite obviously they are dependent upon things like fees to keep the lights on. But if you, as a Sierra Madre resident, pay taxes here in town, then you have already paid for your right to service at City Hall. You shouldn't be expected to have to pay for that a second time. Especially as a way to recover costs that already came out of your pocket when you paid your taxes.

John Harabedian's statement on fees was humorous, and in a way I'm certain he never intended. What he said is if fees are raised too much, people will start to hide their activities from City Hall even more than they do now. All so they won't have to pay such onerous fees. Instead they will take their chances and build things like home extensions without informing City Hall. Something that actually diminishes the City's overall take, rather than bringing in more money.

The part I found sort of funny is his intimation that this has already happened. Sierra Madre does have its underground economy. And for a community expected to pay as much for permits and fees as they already do, a necessity for many.

Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh revealed their hostility to things like zoning laws. Nancy Walsh asking at one point whether or not we want everything to fit into a zoning code. Then reinforced that rather radical notion by questioning whether it matters if we enforce codes or not. Josh then piped in with some odd story about a $1,000 light post, and how wild it is that the City should have regulations governing such things. Maybe Sid and Nancy really are anarchists?

Watching Harabedian, Walsh and Moran allow $48,000 in red ink to stay on the books could end up being a moment of some historic importance. Before last night Sierra Madre was in the black. But this morning? We are officially in debt. With Mayor Moran actually stating that we should dip into General Fund reserves to pay for it. That it was all done with such insouciance was quite interesting to watch. Hopefully the City Manager isn't calling China for a loan today.

John Capoccia argued long and hard to keep the debt triplets from going down this road. But to no avail. His counter to Josh Moran's pollyanna pronouncement that the city's finances could somehow improve without doing anything was met with a very logical reply. "Yes, but they could also get worse."

Hearing our City Attorney inform the City Council that we have no legal recourse to any of SCAG's decisions on our RHNA numbers had a 1984-style totalitarian ring to it. Can't sue them, can't challenge their decisions in Court. Since when did some two-bit regional planning organization become above the law? Who exactly took away our rights for their benefit?

It was also rather fascinating hearing John Harabedian offer a kind of inverse apologia for SCAG by bringing up the Pleasanton case. His offer to help put together a packet of interesting examples of cities that dared to challenge Sacramento's central planning authority being eagerly accepted by Josh. The inference being everyone should read them and learn that resistance to the state is futile.

It seems pretty obvious that John Harabedian is now in the same trick bag that Joe Mosca fell into a few years back. Happily informed by key members of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party that he has a brilliant political future ahead, the chances of Harabedian ever offering an opinion that might be deemed politically incorrect by the keepers of his dreams and ambitions are remote at best. The "Joe Mosca with Brains" meme grows stronger all the time. Expect little unpredictable behavior from the rising young star of the political machine.

Finally Bart Doyle rolled into City Council chambers and gave a ridiculous defense of Measure A. Apparently we are expected to believe that Sierra Madre won't have any Board of Education representation until the year 2015 because otherwise we wouldn't have a district that we would control. This was done in part because it is important to save the seats of some old PUSD pols. You know, like Selinske or Big Ed. All of whom happen to be cronies of Bart Doyle. Watching Chris Koerber rake Bart over the coals on this topic was worth the cost of getting there, and more.

Of course, John Harabedian proclaimed that this would be good for Sierra Madre in the long run. Which is what any establishment politician on the make would say. But how not having a representative on the Board of Education during the two critical years when all that Measure TT money will be divvied up is good for us is certainly lost on me.

Bart got really hilarious when he admitted that Sierra Madre was screwed out of a lot of Measure Y money. And he should know, after all he was there when it happened. But the good news, according to Bart, is that this should make the Pasadena Board of Education recognize that we deserve more Measure TT money to make up for this injustice.

Expecting such mercy from the exact same people who cooked up a Measure A that would keep us off the Board of Education until 2015 seems like a stretch. And I'm not sure that we should expect people that Bart described as "being off the rails" to be really capable of such sensitivity and caring. Personally I would put little faith in them.

But apparently Bart Doyle believes in them. His solution to all of this? Another round of bonds in a couple of years. After all, just because the PUSD screwed up with both Measure Y and Measure TT is no reason not to vote for an entirely new bond measure.

One interesting piece of information did come out of this. In 2000 there was something called Measure BB. It was the first ballot initiative that would have created sub-districting in the PUSD. It failed miserably. Hopefully Measure A will follow in its footsteps.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Measure TT and the PUSD: How They'll Get Away With It

"Why did the writer not mention Mr. Honowitz's rude and disdainful behavior during school meetings? Mr. Honowitz regularly rolls his eyes, makes noises, etc., when Mr. Miramontes and I are giving our views on some subject before the board." - Pasadena Board of Education Member Scott Phelps in a March 2011 letter to the Pasadena Weekly

In response to the recent announcement regarding school construction funding cuts, the folks from Organize Sierra Madre's Schools are encouraging anyone who can get away to attend the PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee Meeting today at the Education Center's Lower Level Conference Room, located at 351 S. Hudson Avenue in Pasadena. The time is 3 p.m., which pretty much means most parents won't be able to attend. Which is probably the point.

Bill Coburn, bless his wandering soul, has written what is probably the most revealing passage of news reporting on this situation so far. It pretty much nails the PUSD's strategy for dealing with these well-meaning but obviously over-matched parents. That being to basically manipulate, and then ignore them.

At the meeting, counter-proposals to the District's 20% across the board cuts will be considered. OSMA has been attempting to prepare a counter-proposal for presentation, however, they have been unable to get numbers from PUSD that are necessary to produce a proposal that properly responds to what is currently proposed. Since it appears this may be the only opportunity for such a counter-proposal to be presented, OSMS is asking that parents and supporters to attend not only the Facilities Sub-Committee Meeting, but also, tomorrow night's PUSD Board of Education meeting, at 5:30pm, Board Room 236, also at the Education Center.

A fascinating, yet so typical, move by the PUSD. Let's lay it all out here in three part harmony.

1) Schedule a meeting where counter-proposals can be presented, but hold it during working hours. Most PUSD parents will not be able to attend because they can't leave work.
2) Limit the possibility of an appeal to just that one badly timed meeting.
3) Deny parents any of the information they need to write their counter-proposal.

Lovely, lovely people. And then, just in case you don't already have your suspicions about where all that Measure TT money has actually been going, Bill shares this nugget with us:

Also on the agenda for Tuesday's Facilities Committee is the approval of a $300,000+ salary for the consultant who is overseeing this bond-reduction project and $239,000 for the architects.

A cool $539,000 in Measure TT money that could have gone to the schools, that is if we are talking one architect. All of which will now go to the individuals who will help to administer the 20% in "across the board cuts." I wonder, what would that percentage of cuts figure be without all the consultant fees? Both these, and all the ones that have gone before?

If it was only a nightmare, then at least you could wake up.

Who would have thought that when the Pasadena Unified School District was pushing for the passage of $350 million dollar Measure TT, it would have come to this someday? This certainly wasn't what they were saying back in 2008 when they were asking for your vote.

Here is what PUSD activist and spokesperson Peter Dreier had to say in an opinion piece published on October 30 of 2008 in the Pasadena Weekly (click here):

Our young people deserve schools that enhance their learning. Forcing children (and teachers) to work in rundown schools sends the message that we don't care about them.

Measure TT is needed to meet basic safety codes, expand computers in classrooms, make energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable repairs and upgrade classrooms, science labs and athletic facilities.

Measure TT, which will beautify our neighborhoods, increase property values and invest in our children, will also have immediate and long-term payoffs in terms of improving the business climate, expanding opportunities and reducing crime and social tensions.

Our PW scribbler all but promised Measure TT would also cure male pattern baldness and hives.

Peter Dreier, in case you are not aware, has an interesting political history. If you go to his Key Wiki page (click here) you can read about his efforts to lead the Democratic Socialists of America organization to the forefront of our national political discourse back in the 1990s. Like Measure TT, it failed to achieve its stated goals. Though for very different reasons.

Peter also wrote the PUSD's "Argument In Favor Of Measure T," which can still be found on the Pasadena Unified School District's website. It is basically a lightly rewritten regurgitation of his Pasadena Weekly article.

Finally, we have obtained an e-mail sent to various concerned Sierra Madre public school parents, and written by Bart Doyle. Bart, who is described on one admiring Facebook page as an "all around SM School advocate" (which is a pretty good indication that the fox truly is in the henhouse), describes his conversation about the Measure TT cuts with none other than Pasadena Board of Education President (Emeritus) Ed Honowitz himself. Here is one of the more opaque passages from Bart's e-mail.

Ed was very specific in saying that the initial 20% across-the-board approach is probably not workable for several reasons. First, reducing the number of classrooms at the SIMS contradicts adopted BOE policy on the restructuring of MS programs and the geographic reallocation of students around the District (i.e., increased enrollment at SMMS). Second, there are a number of technical funding issues with the initial architects' proposal, such as the proposal to move forward with classroom renovations at Washington when the funds for replacing all the windows were budgeted to come from rehabilitation/renovation funding that is no longer available. Third, the BOE is committed to expanding career/tech programs at the high school level and has not had an opportunity to determine what specific facilities needs, if any, that the expansion of these programs will require to be met.

Any of that make sense? Of course not, it isn't supposed to. The real intention of this boilerplate of baloney is to baffle the innocent. Something reinforced in the next passage. Note also Bart's ineffective role in the non-retrieval of the information Organize Sierra Madre's Schools had requested for today's meeting in Pasadena.

In terms of process, this item MAY appear on the May BOE Agenda, but only as an information item. Ed thinks this analysis is going to take months and months to complete to complete and asked for suggestions on how they could establish a process to obtain effective feedback from the campuses. The communication problem is not unique to SM. I told him that you had requested basic information to permit a fully-informed discussion at the SM Site Council, forwarded him the earlier e-mails where you requested the cost information, and asked if he could make appropriate inquiries to ensure a response.

The process will take months and months, eh? Of course it will. That is what "the process" is all about. Drag things out until everyone has given up, and then do exactly what it is you intended to do all along. And just how deeply concerned is Ed Honowitz about hearing what it is Sierra Madre's parents have to say regarding the heartbreaking news that promises made to them about their children's education will not be honored?

Ed is going to South America for two weeks unfortunately and will miss the next Board meeting.

You can't make this stuff up. The broken promises of Measure TT, $350,000,000 that we'll be paying for out of our property taxes for at least the next several decades. No wonder Big Ed is heading south.

Late Update 10:20 am

An email went out from Organize Sierra Madre Schools this morning. Important new information is now available.

We need your help even more urgently today.

After nearly four weeks of requesting budget information that Robin Brown presented at the last School Site Council meeting, we received the information from him last night. After spending a little time with the numbers, which showed cuts to the Sierra Madre Middle School project totalling about $2.6 million, it became evident that there was a major flaw.

The budget that the District has been working off of for our middle school site was the original budget for the school when there was going to be a renovation project, not the new budget that should have been drafted once it was decided that the project would actually be a complete tear down and rebuild. I have sat in a lot of meetings ever since Measure TT passed in 2008, and I only ever received verbal information about the difference in costs between the renovation project and the new school project. But the difference is significant. The renovation cost was to be $38 million and the estimated costs for the new school varied between $21 - $25 million.

Organize Sierra Madre Schools desperately needs your attendance at tonight's meeting.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This Week's Sierra Madre City Council Meeting Preview

Apparently there have been some complaints about the difficulty in accessing documents on the City of Sierra Madre website. So much so that lessons are now being given at the Library in the use of these new website features, done in the hope that people will then know exactly where the documents they want to see have been squirreled away. One observer noting that with the $40,000 in tax money spent to put the city's documents on-line, ease of use should have been an important consideration. The documents themselves may be complex at times, but locating them shouldn't be just as difficult.

This post was mostly written Sunday morning, and as of that typing there was no notice of any City Council meeting on the portal page of the City website. Nothing about what's going down tomorrow night was listed among the events, though important news on such things as Friday office closures were there.

This does not create the best possible impression, nor lend any sense of transparency to what is happening downtown. City Council meetings were announced there in the past, with an agenda attached as well. You'd think that for all the money spent to gussy up the City's website, all aspects of the service being provided there would have improved. That hasn't been the case so far.

But enough about that. The City Council Agenda shows that a lot of items are up for discussion this week. Some are carryovers from the previous meeting, which got so bogged down in Sierra Madre navel gazing over the Pinney Bed & Breakfast situation that far more important matters never did get discussed. Hopefully at this meeting some heavy lifting will happen.

There is some secret stuff that will take place before the public is invited in. The Hildreth Affair continues, as it has for some time now. Perhaps the judge involved in this matter has resisted our Colantuono and Levin City Attorney's attempts to trample the rights of a property owner? If so, that must be vexing for a law firm that specializes in helping local governments pilfer legal rights from its residents.

Also on the sub rosa docket are continuing labor negotiations with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. The SMPOA being a public employee labor union that believes it can continually sue the City for the most trivial of matters, yet still get additional benefits and salary increases for its membership. The overwhelming defeat of the UUT Measures in the last election could be an indication of how voters here feel about the SMPOA and its oddly mixed message. Their negotiating position just doesn't look look very strong right now.

With that the residents will be invited to enter Council Chambers and the public portion of the shindig will begin. Order will be called, and Mayor Pro Tem Walsh will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and give either an invocation or a moment of inspiration. You just never know which one it is going to be. The Agenda and the Minutes from the previous meeting will be approved (they almost always are), upon which time Mayor and Council Reports are given. Public Comment follows, and then the 2012 Older Americans of the Year, Jerry and Nan Carlton, will be given an award by Mayor Moran.

After all that we get to the Consent Calendar. Item 1A covers the spending of money, which it almost always does. $560,000 will cover the costs of running the City for the next couple of weeks. These include the bills, payroll and $21K for the Library. There are no RDA spends this time around. Is that now a thing of the past?

The second item on the Consent Calendar (1b) deals with permitting any property designated an "historic structure" to be used as a bed and breakfast. Something that the Agenda Report declares will help with the upkeep of legacy properties. The Municipal Code will be changed to allow these owners to both rent out rooms to tourists, and serve them toast in the morning.

Which I suppose is fine, but I am not certain how this exactly ties in with the Planning Commission's decision to allow the Pinney House owners to sell their rather large home to any buyer as a bed and breakfast. Maybe it is all in the CUP. This item would seem to open up the possibility of any property designated as historic to become a bed and breakfast. Which means that if every home in Sierra Madre becomes an historic property (and they all are, in their own way), then we could all open bed and breakfasts. Which would be very special, I'd think. At my house, built in the 1950s, we would serve TV dinners.

Item 1c has to do with the issuance of a TUP (Temporary Use Permit) for the 4th of July Parade, along with its associated festivities. If a mistake is made and they issue a CUP (Conditional Use Permit) instead, then there could be a parade every day. Which would become tiresome and ordinary. Parades should always be a special event, and not something that happens all the time. I hope they will be careful here.

The next item, designated 1d, authorizes the City of Sierra Madre to join in with the mighty Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force Joint Powers, or (get ready for it) L.A. IMPACT. What this means is that in the future when somebody asks about how a crime investigation is going, they will be told that the City cannot comment on any ongoing L.A. IMPACT investigation. This seems to fall under the Law of Inverse Relationships. The less effective the government agency, the more grand and fearsome the acronym.

After the conclusion of the Consent Calendar, we launch into Item #2, which is a Public Hearing. This is where the present City Council is expected to fix all the financial disasters of the previous one. The official title of this gargantuan topic is "Consideration Of Resolution No. 12-29 Adopting The Mid-Year Budget Amendments For Fiscal Years 2011-2013 Biennial Budget And Appropriating The Amounts Budgeted; Resolution No. 12-26 Establishing A Schedule Of Fees And Charges For Fiscal Year 2012-2013; And Resolution No. 12-46 Adoption Of The Classification Plan And Salary Matrix." Quite a mouthful. See if you can commit it to memory and, with your eyes closed, repeat each and every single word, complete with semicolons. I know I can't. Semicolons always throw me.

Now when you base your blog report upon the information given in city documents, what you come up with is only going to be as good as what it provided. And honestly, the Agenda Report on this three part humdinger is about as opaque as it gets. The clarity level being only slightly past mud. Which is likely by design as the City's finances are not quite as rosy as the previous Mayor attempted to make us believe. They want more money and doubt that anyone will give it to them.

This is a continuation of whatever it was that went on at the previous meeting. Here is what I wrote the day before that meeting:

(This) will probably consume a large share of the City Council's time this evening as it deals with what is termed Biennial Budget Considerations. The baseline for these considerations include:

A) The City is broke.
B) The UUT is now in danger of sunsetting in a few years, so who knows what will happen?
C) Additional cuts will be required.
D) Despite all of that we'll still be running a deficit.

Certain City Council members are likely to burst forth with earnest talk about the value of what this City produces, the extreme sacrifices that are being made by those here to provide those services, and other meaningless chatter. The stone cold fact is there isn't any money, and the residents of this town don't appear to see any reason to dig deep and change that equation right now. Particularly in light of the City's deceptiveness in the recent past when asking people to fork over more of their hard earned dollars.

What is going down here, to get dramatic about it, is a struggle for the survival of City government in Sierra Madre as it has been conducted over the last few decades. The money isn't there anymore, and neither is the CRA. Some of the more important revenue streams that the City has depended upon, especially water payments and Utility User Taxes, are petering out. People are conserving, or just reacting to the bad economy by using less. Which will make conducting business downtown as it always has been very difficult.

This won't be solved tomorrow night. And chances are the topic will still be around a year from now. In the end it will be fiscal reality that will dictate the downsizing of City Hall. Along with some other things that also badly need it. Eventually this will all happen irregardless, though there will be a considerable amount of talking about it along the way. Probably in hopes of sustaining the illusion that there is something that can be done about it.

Item #3 will see Bart Doyle step up to the podium and discuss his somewhat faulty performance as our representative to the Pasadena Unified School Districting Task Force (so-called). Something that we discussed here at considerable length on Saturday. You can access that discussion, plus all the reader commentary, by clicking here.

Next in view is Item #4, and the question here is do we want to challenge the imperial demands of the central state planning apparatus (SCAG), or just acquiesce in the building of 55 units of highly dense group housing in Sierra Madre. Despite the fact that nobody here wants it, and there really isn't any place left to put it. But the state doesn't care about any of that, after all they have development and real estate lobbyists to pay off. Cracking desirable old-line low density towns such as ours being precisely what these lobbies shelled out all those generous campaign donations to get.

The question that Sierra Madre must ask itself is should we be participating in this obvious statewide political corruption? Do we merely knuckle under and allow it to happen? Ethical demands do outweigh any other considerations in my opinion. After all, if you go along with this stuff, aren't you just a part of the crime? Sometimes you have to tell the likes of SCAG and the rest of that ilk where to go. Which in this case is somewhere very warm and far beneath the Earth's crust.

Item #5 is on the Agenda to make good on an oversight from the last City Council meeting. Council Liaisons and Alternate Liaisons were chosen for all of the applicable committees, but somehow the General Plan Steering Committee was overlooked. So what this one is intended to do is remedy that unfortunate oversight.

Item #6 has the interesting title of "Commissioner Appointment Process." Since 2008 such appointments have been made with the participation of the entire City Council. It now takes a majority vote of the City Council to place someone on a commission. Apparently Mayor Moran has requested a review of this process, with the suspicion of many being he has done so in order to concentrate more of that appointment power upon the office of the Mayor. Which is himself. It will be interesting to see if the other members of the City Council are willing to cede some of their power to him in this regard. Outside of Walsh, I really can't see anyone doing that.

By the way, 2008 was when Kurt Zimmerman was Mayor, with MaryAnn MacGillivray and Don Watts voting to put the current procedures in place.

The last round for tomorrow evening is lucky Item #7, which is boldly entitled "Discussion - Strategic Plan From April 17, 2012 Retreat." This is also carry over from the last City Council logjam, so I am going to reiterate what I said in my preview to that meeting.

(Item Number 7) covers the Strategic Plan Retreat from April 17. It includes such deceptively worded oxymorons as "Preserve Our Small Town Character with a Vibrant Downtown" and "Make Sierra Madre an Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Community." The rotten heart of this sugary sounding stew is the elevation of the development advocating so-called "Green Committee" to full Commission status. What this move is really about is incorporating a large downtown redevelopment agenda, along with SB 375, into our town's new General Plan. It is an attempt to raise from the dead the discredited "Downtown Specific Plan" concept. There is absolutely nothing "green" about putting high density development into our downtown. Don't succumb to all the greenwashing, this is the real aim here.

That is what I said two weeks ago, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bart Doyle Will Speak @ Tuesday Evening's City Council Confab About Measure A

The Agenda Report for this one is a very slight document entitled "Update on the Pasadena Unified School Districting Task Force." Which is definitely one of those "putting lipstick on a pig" moments we see from time to time here in the Foothill Village. And that style continues in the small paragraph that follows:

At the request of the City Council, Mr. Bart Doyle, the Council's designated representative to the Pasadena Unified School Districting Task Force, will be updating the City Council on the progress of the PUSD Districting Task Force.

The document then goes on to inform the City Council Members that "staff recommends the City Council receive and file this informational report." Which is a rather dry way of saying what is done is done, and that the consequences of so unfortunate an appointment to the PUSD Districting Task Force as Mr. Doyle are now on them. They're just going to have to live with it. It's in the hands of the voters now.

Bart Doyle is being dragged before the City Council to explain a core outrage contained in "Measure A," the unfortunate initiative that will change the way Board of Education members are elected to serve on this august body. Up until now those representing the parents and students attending our public schools were elected on a district-wide basis, and therefore had to answer to everyone.

Should Measure A pass on June 5th that would all change. Exclusive representatives from 7 individual areas carved out of the PUSD's overall jurisdiction would then speak for their so-called "geographic subdistricts" alone. A somewhat misleading term as these districts have been gerrymandered to empower individual ethnicities, leading to what many are now terming a "Balkanization" of the school district.

This is how William Bibbiani, former Pasadena Board of Education member and outspoken opponent of Measure A, puts it:

Measure A supporters falsely claim that it will "bring more democracy and local control." In reality, it takes away your right to vote for all 7 school board members and gives you the right to vote for only 1 board member every four years ... Measure A drastically reduces your voting power by forcing you into a segregated political sub-district which will be drawn in large part beased on someone's perception of your ethnicity.

Which is politically correct for 2012, I suppose. Certainly portions of the 1970s notion of desegregation having now fallen by the wayside, with a current form of resegregation now back in vogue. With certain fresh nuances thrown in, of course.

Should Measure A not pass, there is also the matter of something called the "Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law," an organization that will sue the impoverished PUSD for vast sums of taxpayer gold under the edicts of the California Voting Rights Act. Two senior fellows from John Harabedian's law firm, Latham and Watkins, being amongst this organization's leadership. Hopefully Mr. Harabedian will take this opportunity to show his respect for the community by recusing himself during Mr. Doyle's time at the podium.

It was MaryAnn MacGillivray who demanded that Bart Doyle come before the City Council and do some explaining. So her good work lives on. And the reason Bart has been called upon to speak Tuesday evening is because of the second class status Measure A would slap on Sierra Madre.

As we have said, should Measure A pass individual representatives from each of the 7 new districts carved from the PUSD's overall bailiwick would be elected. What is unfortunate here for Sierra Madre, and especially the parents of kids who attend public school here, is that each of these representatives will not be elected at the same time. Most of them would be voted onto the Pasadena Board of Education next year, in 2013. However, and for whatever reason, Sierra Madre's district will not be permitted to elect its representative until 2015.

What this means is that during the critical two years when $350,000,000 in Measure TT bond money is being divvied up for new school construction and overall maintenance, Sierra Madre will not have a representative in the mix fighting for our fair share. Rather the other sub-districts, those with elected and exclusive members on the Board of Education, will have a distinct advantage when it comes to getting that money for what they want. Which I doubt will have very much to do with Sierra Madre.

We have already seen what the PUSD is capable of with the issuance of their recent announcements regarding the severe cuts in facilities upgrade money for our schools here. The lion's share of those cuts falling upon us. This despite the fact that we were promised such moneys should we vote for Measure TT. Which many obviously did since it passed. About as blatant a bait and switch as can be imagined.

So what does Bart need to explain? As our City Council appointed representative to the so-called "redistricting task force" that made the decision to stick it to Sierra Madre, how exactly is it that he did nothing to stop this injustice? From people I have spoken to who attended those meetings, Doyle apparently raised no objects to kicking us to the back of the school bus. Instead choosing to silently sit by as the other districts were given rights that we will not have when $350 million in Measure TT cash is split up. Which is an outrage as far as I am concerned.

In the current edition of the Pasadena Weekly, a publication that usually echoes whatever it is the satraps running the PUSD are demanding at the time (I suspect it is their Peter Dreier connections that compel them to inflict such degradation upon themselves), there is an article that encourages a "yes" vote on Measure A (click here). And the preeminent reason for claiming we should do so goes as follows:

Do you want to bring more democracy and local control to the Pasadena Unified School District? If so, vote "Yes" on Measure A. A diverse citizen task force has proposed a way to elect PUSD school board members that will give citizens a stronger voice in electing the board, save money on PUSD elections and strengthen local control and grassroots democracy in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre.

So how will Measure A "strengthen local control and grassroots democracy" for Sierra Madre if we don't get to have a representative on the Board of Ed until 2015, a full two years after most of the other sub-districts? What "local control" will we have? None, apparently.

The Pasadena Weekly piece was penned by the Mayor of Pasadena, Bill Bogaard. However, listed below are other interested parties, people who endorsed the happy braying of the Rose City's chief potentate. Included on that list is "former Sierra Madre Mayor Bart Doyle."

I hope Bart will be asked by the City Council to explain how he could possibly voice support for something that bestows a crippling second class status on the community he was appointed to the "redistricting task force" to represent. And quite obviously failed.