Saturday, June 30, 2012

SGVCOG Executive Director Nick Conway Arrested on "Multiple Felony Counts of Conflict of Interest"

So it really can happen in the San Gabriel Valley. A corrupt public official can be investigated, arrested and hauled off in chains for his crimes. Of course, it doesn't happen automatically, and more and more in this part of our world it takes the blood, sweat and tears of determined citizens to make it happen.

Here is how the Pasadena Star News broke this story yesterday on their website. The story is in today's edition. You can access the shorter on-line version by clicking here:

Nick Conway, the executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, surrendered Friday on a felony warrant alleging multiple counts of conflict of interest regarding his time with the COG, officials said.

Conway, 60, was recently placed on administrative leave in his position with the COG. His arraignment for the charges was set of July 23. He was released on $100,000 bail.

Conway is accused of having his personal business, Arroyo Associates, Inc., gain financially from contracts obtained for the COG, according to a Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office statement. Conway's company is contracted with the COG to serve as the joint powers authority's staff.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office alleges Conway's company received "more money to manage specific state and county grants, which prosecutors allege Conway obtained as executive director. As a result, the COG was charged an additional $143,000 in one fiscal period, according to the statement.

Sierra Madre is one of the member cities in the SGVCOG, and as anyone who reads this blog knows, Conway's corruption of the COG for his own personal aggrandizement was no secret. Repeated calls by residents for us to get out of this organization were met with anything from indifference to stonewalling by City Hall. With City Council liaisons Joe Mosca and Nancy Walsh repeatedly assuring us that all was just fine there, and that continued membership was vital to our interests. How wrong they were, and on so very many levels.

So now that the guy who ran the SGVCOG all of those years has been dragged off to Justice, maybe we as a City can finally take off the happy glasses and look at "The COG" for what it really is?

I received an e-mail last evening from the man whose hard work and personal sacrifice won us some justice in this case, Gil Aguirre. I had requested his take on yesterday's stunning events, and as always he has been glad to oblige. Apparently there is more work that needs to be done. Gil has been very generous to this blog, with The Tattler being the place he went when he had new information to reveal to the world. It was quite a privilege for a little blog from Sierra Madre.

The current COG representatives, and their legal counsel, have known about these conflicts for months if not years, and done nothing. And they continue to do nothing. Conway's company still has the staffing contract and Conway is getting paid anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 per month in taxpayer dollars. I think it is time the COG be dissolved, but at a minimum, each and every member city should fire their current representative and place someone new on the Governing Board. (Mod: the list of COG representatives can be found by clicking here).

Further troubling is the response received from the SGVCOG legal counsel related to the security of the current SGVCOG public records including vital financial documents. NO ONE is securing those records and Conway continues to have unfettered access to these records.

It really is shameful that our elected officials have allowed Conway to use the SGVCOG as little more than his own personal piggy bank. I believe that the current crop of SGVCOG officials are responsible and should be held accountable for the abuses they have allowed to occur. My research indicates that there are still more issues that should be addressed at the SGVCOG, including some COG representatives holding incompatible offices. We will have to see if the COG survives this fiasco, but hopefully the current batch of representatives will be replaced by their member cities.

Gil's point is a good one, and at least Nancy Walsh should be asked to vacate her position as one of our two SGVCOG liaisons. After all, it was Nancy who so famously declared that "the distractions at The COG are over" when residents last demanded we get out. Now that the COG's buffet master has been dragged off by the DA's office in cuffs, maybe even she can see the how false her words were. Maybe not.

One more point. Justice is not automatic in the San Gabriel Valley, and a parasitic criminal enterprise can apparently live off of the taxpayer dime for years without our vaunted forces for justice lifting a finger. And had not the likes of Gil Aguirre and Tom King worked so hard to bring all of this to light, Conway would still be in power at The COG, and still pocketing our tax money unhindered.

Here in Sierra Madre we have an ongoing situation, one that is going to take determined private individuals to remedy. Certainly we cannot depend on government to take care of it, because in this case government is largely responsible. Our City Hall, working on the behest of invested private interests, is engaged in an attempt to undermine Measure V, thereby stealing our right to a legitimate vote on over-sized downtown development projects. Clearly the law is on our side, and should the Mayor and his cronies attempt to steal our vote, they would be engaging in clear criminal behavior.

Yet justice will not automatically intervene here. The City Attorney, along with her firm, Colantuono and Levin, are apparently not working for us. Rather they are on the side of the private developers and Realtor corporations, along with the City Councilmembers they control, who aim to steal our vote. And in order to do this they have created an enormous bluff designed to give the appearance that Measure V somehow doesn't apply to the Kensignton project, when it so clearly, and legally, does.

It is time for Sierra Madre to follow the example set by Gil Aguirre and Walnut Mayor Pro Tem Tom King and call them out on this bluff. This is not North Korea, and the public's right to a legitimate vote is a very serious issue. Going into the 4th of July weekend we should not be sitting idly by while the very freedoms we celebrate with our parade are being stolen by some extremely shady interests. Interests that are using our tax money against us.

As we saw in the case of Nick Conway, justice can prevail. But it takes determined individuals who are willing to put it all on the line to make it happen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Josh Moran Goes on the Gene Goss Radio Show to Attack Koerber, MacGillivray

I don't know if you have listened much to Radio Fishbowl, but I spend a lot of time there. The eclectic mix of music is wide ranging and well considered, and as spoiled as I am about such things after a quarter of a century in the music business, I have to admit to being quite impressed. Obviously the folks behind this internet radio station have an encyclopedic knowledge of music that even includes classical, which I personally love. I actually tune in most evenings while I write Tattler posts. I am listening as I type right now.

There is also a comedy talk show on The Fishbowl that I have come to enjoy. The brainchild of Rich Johnson, Barry Schwam and Lisa Bowman, it's a chatty program called the "Trivia and Comedy Radio Program." It has a gentle old time radio feel that is quite enjoyable. You almost expect Charlie McCarthy or W.C. Fields to show up at the studio and sit in. And you know they are serious about this because they not only have a website that you can check out by clicking here, but they also have a flyer up in the window at Beantown.

The topic of our post today, however, is the Radio Fishbowl political talk show of former City Council candidate and big tax advocate Gene Goss. It is a highly partisan effort that reminds me a bit of the old Downtown Dirt website in that only club members are allowed in. The guests are exclusively from that corner of the political zoo, and all of them have decried the divisiveness of politics in Sierra Madre while on Gene's show. Which is kind of hilarious if you think about it.

The show is entitled "Village Intersections," a name that I would not have chosen because of its linguistic proximity to "Village Idiots." Making it an unfortunate choice in my opinion. When you give a name to something that you are going to put a lot of your time into, you do need to think about things like that. Guests have included the likes of Susan Henderson, Carol Canterbury and, much to my delight, Mayor Josh Moran. Delight because his appearance on the episode of Gene's show that I heard this evening has given me something meaty to write about.

Gene Goss has adopted a folksy "aw shucks" kind of demeanor for his show, and only pitches the softest of soft ball questions to his carefully selected guests. His voice has a flat western drawl to it that reminds me a lot of the speaking style of the late William Burroughs, author of such 1950s and '60s beatnik classics as Naked Lunch and Nova Express. Except, of course, in his radio appearances William Burroughs didn't drop references to the Little League every 10 minutes or so.

Despite the efforts of his handlers to dress him up, Josh Moran is still very much the wild child uber development pitbull he was back in 2006 when he attempted to launch a boycott against Sierra Madre businesses that dared to advertise in a newspaper that published opinions he did not favor.

His boycott statement, which was posted on the message board, is still available on the old "Sierra Madre Radicals and Assorted Characters" blog. You can check it out by clicking here. This is what Josh had to say in September of 2006:

"... most of the businesses that advertise in the Weekly, or better yet Weakly (like that one?) have no idea a boycott is afoot. Simply not using someone's services without saying anything to them will do no good. If it is to be effective, you have to get the word out, otherwise people will continue to advertise like they always have. So we've got to write letters or make phonecalls to all of the advertisers letting them know that should they continue to advertise in the Weakly, a large group of concerned citizens will not use their services."

Pretty extremist stuff. Now it is nearly 6 years later and apparently Josh's anger at those who do not share his opinion of the Green Committee (or Commission if Josh has his way) has caused him to act out on the radio in an equally radical way.

Last night, while Gene Goss sat by making agreeable noises, Josh Moran launched a 5 minute tirade against former Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray and current Councilmember Chris Koerber that is one for the record books. Never in the time that I have lived in Sierra Madre have I heard a sitting Mayor go on the attack like Josh did on the Village Intersections show. Using such uncivil terminology as "right wing extremists," Josh attempted to paint a picture of political radicals bent on taking down the Green Committee and its caring and sharing agenda for set and unreasonable ideological reasons.

What neither Josh nor his eager enabler Mr. Goss dared to mention is the real reason why so many people in this community are concerned about the motives of the Green Committee and its UN authored "Accords." That being the high-density transit village style stack and pack development that is at the core of its agenda. Rather ironically this is the exact same kind of DSP style development that Josh Moran was such a passionate advocate for back in 2006 when he was busily organizing a boycott against Sierra Madre's business community.

Here is what the Green Committee's United Nations authored "Accords" have to say about their plans for big ugly downtown redevelopment in Sierra Madre:

"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."

Sound familiar? This is exactly the same sort of advocacy that led to the kinds of high density mixed-use development you can now find only partially occupied and perpetually on the real estate market in such towns as Pasadena and Rancho Cucamonga. It is this style of generic redevelopment that the residents of Sierra Madre rejected when they voted Measure V into existence in 2007.

Apparently Josh Moran has never gotten over that loss. And today he remains the same wild child radical that tried to hurt Sierra Madre businesses because they advertised in a newspaper that dared to publish articles that opposed an over-developed and stylistically generic downtown. All so that people he is personally close to can make a lot of money.

Josh, who was on something of a roll at this point, then shared with Gene Goss his views on the upcoming City Council deliberations of the Kensignton and Measure V. In Josh's own words, Measure V was "only written for condos." He also stated that there would be a public vote on the matter, but he wasn't certain what kind of vote it would be.

Apparently our highly compensated City Attorney has not instructed the Mayor of Sierra Madre that he needs to follow the letter of the law just like the rest of us. And that if he doesn't follow the law, which in this case is voter approved Measure V, he would then clearly be engaging in criminal behavior. California is a state whose Constitution does not favor politicians who would attempt to steal the people's right to cast a legitimate vote. It is considered to be a bad thing. This isn't North Korea.

Just in case anyone is wondering who the true radical might be.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kurt Zimmerman on the Kensington Project and Measure V

(Mod: After hearing so many different and largely erroneous interpretations of Measure V from various Colantuono & Levin hirelings and City Staff personnel, it was refreshing to get the real story from our former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting. His talk did not disappoint, and the truth in what he had to say cut straight through the fog bank emanating from those we pay to efficiently take care of our business, but rarely do. Somehow there are always difficulties, diversions and time consuming complications. Especially when the topic has something to do with development. Here are Kurt's observations in their entirety.)

Good evening Mayor Moran and Council Members. I thank you for this opportunity to address the Council on this extraordinarily important agenda item.

I appear first to reaffirm my support for the Assisted Living Facility project. This project represents what I believe is our community's last, best hope to abate the blight of what was once the skilled nursing facility. And, for those of you still deciding whether to support or oppose this project, I would ask that you consider that someday your parents, your spouse or you, yourself might need the services of, and actually live in such a facility.

More importantly, I appear this evening to request that the City Council fully comply with and implement Measure V, the 2-30-13 Initiative. Specifically, I am requesting that the voters be allowed to exercise their Measure V rights to vote on whether the project can exceed the Initiative's prohibition on development exceeding thirteen dwelling units per acre in our downtown.

As someone who was actually involved with the drafting of Measure V, I can attest that it was intended to apply to a myriad of proposed developments in the downtown core including developments such as this project. And my interpretation is echoed by the Initiative's principal drafter, Chris Sutton.

Both the letter and the spirit of Measure V support my interpretation. After all, the definition of a dwelling unit is, "one or more rooms in a building designed and intended to be used as living quarters by one person or a family." Clearly the rooms in this project are dwelling units.

Lest there be any doubt, however, Measure V contains findings that require it be interpreted broadly to effectuate its twin purposes of "Preserving the small town character of downtown Sierra Madre" and including the voters in "major decisions affecting our downtown."

I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention the competing and belated interpretation if the Initiative -- namely, that Measure V does not apply because the rooms in the project are not dwelling units. Specifically, the rooms are not dwelling units because they lack a kitchen.

For the following reasons, it is my hope that this Council reject this new interpretation -- really misinterpretation -- and expeditiously proceed with a Measure V compliant vote regarding the project.

First, as I just described, the new interpretation is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of Measure V. Indeed, Measure V does not require that dwelling units have kitchens nor does it even mention the word kitchen!

Second, this new interpretation of Measure V did not exist until it materialized in agenda reports this year in 2012. I ask this Council how could the voters, let alone the drafters of the Initiative, intend such an interpretation when it didn't exist until nearly five years after Measure V became the law in Sierra Madre? The voters of Sierra Madre have been accused of many things, but never being descendants of Nostradamus or relatives of Miss Cleo.

Third, the agenda report misinterprets the impact and intent of the Planning Commission's recent vote when it states that in approving the request for a conditional use permit, the Planning Commission was tacitly determining that Measure V does not apply to the project. Immediately following the Commission's vote, Planning Commissioner Vandevelde spoke to a reporter from the Sierra Madre Weekly, and described how in reality the Planning Commissioners hadn't really made up their minds. With respect to the project he said, "we don't know if it qualifies for the 13 dwelling units per acre."

Moreover, it is important to recall that the Planning Commission voted unanimously on January 19, 2012, to reject City Staff's proposed interpretation that the project's rooms were not dwelling units.

Finally, this new interpretation should be rejected because its only purpose appears to be the circumvention of Measure V to expedite approval of the project. Such circumvention is misguided and will (ironically) only ensure that the project will be soundly defeated at the polls. Why? Because the voters will not cast votes in favor of a project -- even a project they would otherwise support -- if they are denied the right they campaigned for and voted for to approve or reject projects that exceed 2 stories 30 feet 13 dwelling units per acre. Which is what a non-Measure V compliant ballot question would do. To do otherwise would encourage City Staff or developers to create fictitious exceptions to Measure V for the next proposed project to be constructed in our downtown.

Thank you for considering my remarks. ------- Photo credit: Terry Miller

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Your City Council Calm Before the Storm Report

There was a lot of jockeying for position on some rather large upcoming issues, which resulted in very little being decided at last night's City Council meeting. It was an Act I, and with many more to go. This doesn't mean that no choice issues were discussed, because there certainly was some of that. But after each and every one was discussed there remained a lot more to go. Some very meaty stuff is on the way as you probably know, but first there had to be some dancing.

One point that has to be made is how Councilmembers Capoccia and Koerber have changed the tenor of these meetings. They are indifferent to any attempts by Elaine Aguilar to generalize or airbrush difficult financial matters. Instead they ask specific questions that require hard, detailed answers. It is fun to watch them make her work so hard. I'm not certain she quite expected this level of professionalism, or intensity. Her comfort level at City Council meetings has visibly diminished.

During the Councilmember chat portion of the meeting John Harabedian did note that the COG is in a chaotic state. He pointed out that Nick Conway was put on administrative leave due to his early morning visit from the DA and his merry men, plus one of its more lucrative holdings of The COG, a transportation construction set up called ACE, is fleeing the sinking ship. Taking their huge Federal grants with them. I seriously doubt John's two predecessors would have shared such controversial fare with us.

During the time when Councilmembers get to discuss their recent activities, Nancy Walsh proclaimed that for the first time ever she had nothing to report. By my recollection this is was the third time she has said something like that.

Josh Moran talked about how bad unemployment is in Los Angeles, and noted that here in Sierra Madre the jobless rate is only 3%. He then went on to drop this dead fish: "... as a city we attract a different sort of person." I guess all those unemployed people in Los Angeles will not find the Mayor of Sierra Madre inviting them to stop by for a latte' anytime soon. So much for social equity. Don't give us your hungry, your tired, or your poor. Josh is having none of that.

Chris Koerber questioned a check for a code enforcement issue that was cut for the law firm Dapeer & Rosenblit. And that topic segued nicely with Koerber's request for more details on other checks listed in the warrant reports. This was so it would be easier to make certain that we are not paying for the same things twice. As these reports are written now it is impossible to tell where a lot of our money is going. Something City Councilmembers are supposed to be concerned about.

During Koerber's observations on the warrants the City Attorney needed to look up the Labor Code on item 1d dealing with Volunteer Workers Comp. Because Ms. Highsmith didn't have that information with her, that item was postponed for a bit. Staff had not provided a copy of the prior ordinance on this and referenced a section of the Labor Code without actually including it in their report. Not a good moment for them.

Lawyer Depeer of the law firm Depeer & Rosenblit got up at the podium to try and justify the 20% increase he wants this City to pay for his firm's work enforcing our many fine ordinances and codes. Sadly he gave the impression that he was practically begging to hold on to the gig. John Capoccia asked Lawyer Depeer how all the other cities his firm serves are taking the news of the 20% increases he is asking. Depeer said some were down with it while others cities are in such dire financial straits that he didn't even ask them for more money. Which does beg the question of why he believes Sierra Madre is capable of paying him more. Do we look like a soft touch?

John Capoccia suggested that since there are so many hungry young lawyers out there, Dapeer's argument that his firm had to pay more for new hires was not a very good reason for a price hike. Lawyer Depeer didn't have an answer to that.

A jovial Josh got his signature chortle on about acronyms, welcoming Sierra Madre's Director of Services Development Danny Castro to the podium with a hearty "It's DC up at the P!"

The Library Board appointment went to Gene Goss, which quite obviously was an act of political cronyism. Three other candidates were up for the job, with two of them having put decades into volunteering at the Library. One of them, Bill Nelson, actually collaborated with Michelle Zack on her acclaimed history of this town. Both he and candidate Barry Ziff have years of actual volunteer work at the Library. Another candidate up for consideration, Ken Goldstein, is a senior executive at Disney with a specialty in major fund raising. Something that would be a nice asset for the library to be able to tap into. I don't think we're going to get much of that with old Gene. However, Nancy thought he would fit in with Library society nicely, which was her rather pungent way of saying that Gene is "one of us." You, dear reader, probably are not. Take it as a compliment.

Billy Shields got up and pitched the ALF for a while. Apparently business is booming in the God's waiting room business, with 90% of all available living space now occupied. And at the ALF his goal is to have the place filled at all times with 96 souls. It was revealed that Billy, and those like him, would encourage family members to visit their infirm relatives under his care, which does raise the parking question. But than again, what doesn't? He also claimed that the ALF would bring business and visitors to Sierra Madre as well.

John Capoccia started off the conversation by asking how much property tax Billy's Kensington project would bring us. The figure given was somewhere between $35,000 and $50,000. A number that, you may recall, the Planning Commission did not believe was a "best estimate."

Chris Koerber wanted to make certain that the Conditional Use Permit (or CUP for you who speak acronymic) is fully presented and vetted before they actually vote on anything. Which is smart. All the information should be fully in place and discussed first before any voting takes place. Breaking this down into separate little pieces would not serve the cause of good government well. The big picture is always the best one.

During public comment on this item Kurt Zimmerman made a speech in support of the Kensington, calling the project "our last best hope for this blighted property." Then he also noted that Measure V was made for buildings like this, and that the definition of a dwelling unit there is crystal clear and irrefutable. With the letter and the spirit of the law being the inclusion of the voters in major projects such as this one. The "suites" interpretation didn't even exist until 5 years after Measure V was voted on and passed by a public vote, and is irrelevant.

MaryAnn MacGillivray stood up to speak and made it very clear that the law states that there is no other valid definition of a dwelling unit than the one found in Measure V, and anything else would have no legal relevance in this matter. To which I would add that you can't just start making up new laws because the current one is inconvenient, no matter what various shady City Attorneys might claim. Entire jails are filled with people who thought they could.

This was followed by a long and factually suspect conversation about a so-called Kensington Specific Plan. This featured a full half of an hour of wheel spinning by the three participants. Josh Moran, Terry Highsmith and Danny Castro all seemed to be in a competition to see who could make less sense. In my opinion it was a three way tie for first. They are either deliberately muddying the waters or need to get themselves checked out for an early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The Kensington presentation was a lot of very familiar talk, and seemed like a set up for conversations to come. Everyone was quite polite and decorous. One new piece of information that was shared with us by the City Attorney is that a "specific plan" can open the door to some unintended consequences because it would be general in nature, and cannot be limited to just this project alone. It might have the Kensington's name on it, but others could come along and use it as a precedent for other facilities of this kind. Kind of a revelation for the people watching at home. Ms. Highsmith then went on to note that it would take another legal vehicle to keep things specific to this project. Like maybe Measure V?

All of which brought us to the last chapter in this meeting, which was the call for an "RFP" that could possibly result in our getting a new City Attorney. The costs for legal services being the sole consideration here. The highlight was watching Josh Moran's chops fall when he realized that John Harabedian was going to side with Chris Koerber and John Capoccia and vote to allow for a financial review of our legal services to take place. Something that makes perfect sense in a buyer's market like the one we exist in now. We do need to save money.

There was a very delicate dance performed during this conversation, with all (with maybe the exception of a grumpy Nancy Walsh), proclaiming that this had nothing to do with the quality or style of the legal services we have been receiving from Colantuono & Levin. Which was, of course, an attempt to keep a very large elephant out of the room.

Josh was visibly concerned about all of this, however, as it is clear that the loss of C&L would put a serious dent in his attempts to keep the Kensington from going to a true Measure V vote. Resident rights suppression being one of Colantuono & Levin's specialties, and a reason why City Hall is willing to pay them far more than what we would have to shell out for another firm. The water rate increase disaster being a good example. That we might hire a firm that would insist on following the law on a Measure V issue like the Kensington probably keeps many Downtown Investors Club members up at night. And Josh's phone a-ringing.

The City Manager was told to bring back some useful information on an RFP and how it could be done. The Michael Colantuono puff piece she presented to the City Council this time around apparently not being what was needed.

It should be noted that Nancy Shollenberger was on vacation this week, and in her place was the very able Assistant City Clerk, Anita Delmer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Your Tattler City Council Meeting Prophecy

There is a piece of choice gossip that has come The Tattler's way. And if there is one thing that we enjoy more than a well-constructed conspiracy theory, it is gossip. And before I share this intriguing tidbit with you let me say that for a piece of gossip to be interesting, it does have to have come from a reasonably credible source. Or perhaps even an inside one, which isn't always the same thing. Please allow me to share.

Mayor Moran apparently has a group of people who help him to prep for City Council meetings. All of them are hostile to community control over planning and development, and each shares in his goal of bringing mixed-use tightly packed SCAG housing to downtown Sierra Madre. Each prepster is assigned an "action item" that roughly coincides with their field of expertise. Or at the least something that they care about. Then all get together with Josh to share their findings.

While I am certain this helps the Mayor prepare for his meetings without having to actually work at it, this also results in a lack of spontaneity on his part. The supposed purpose of a City Council meeting is for ideas to be exchanged in open conversation, which then hopefully leads to a shared consensus reflecting the will of the community. But apparently we have a Mayor who only heeds those specially chosen in advance to tell him how he is to deal with the issues, and then regurgitates their agenda wholesale at the meetings. Which means that the only voices he hears are those of the special interests scripting him.

This evening's meeting kicks off with all the usual voodoo. There is a secret session with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. And since it is secret it's hard to tell what exactly is going on in there. But it has to be one of two things. The SMPOA is either asking for more of our money in the form of raises and benefits, or they are attempting to sue the taxpayers over some minor grievance. I'm not sure if they understand the contradiction.

Once the curtain rises on tonight's main event, the spending of the cash commences. Also known as item "1a" on the Consent Calendar. Added all together tonight's sum comes to $595,094.78. A fair amount of cash for 14 days worth of doing whatever it is they do down there. If you figure that two weeks equals 336 hours, it all comes to $1,771.12 every 60 minutes. However, if you consider that the average City Hall day is 7.5 hours per the 9 days worked every two weeks, that figure balloons to $8,816.00 an hour. Which is quite a nut if you think about it.

After the Brink's truck leaves with our tax money, the second item on the Consent Calendar will jump up to take its place. This has to do with GASB 54, an acronym that stands for Government Accounting Standards Board. (Click here if you are a glutton for abuse.) Basically what this means is funds were committed for various things in 2011, like Santa Anita Fire expenses, or Street Resurfacing. What the City Council is expected to do here is look at this list, ponder its significance, rattle and hum for a bit, and then say they're down with it. Unless they aren't. Then they will say something else. Hopefully they'll just gut the whole thing and cut our taxes.

As if that wasn't thrilling enough, next up is Item 1c, which is the GANN appropriation limit. As it says in the Staff Report, "In 1979, the voters of the State of California approved Proposition 4, better known as the Gann Initiative ... requiring the City establish an appropriation (spending) limit each year." The new limit for the year to come is $8,479.572. In the Staff Report there is no explanation of how that number was arrived at, though I am certain it was carefully considered during the recent serial budget deliberations. That is, the ones that took place in Elaine's office. And since it is now on the Consent Calendar, I guess the City Council will just have to consent. Otherwise John Harabedian will once again share a few of his many thoughts about "the process." He is a big process guy, you know.

The next item, 1d, was news to me. Apparently if you are a volunteer and you get injured in whatever duties you are performing for the City stugotz, you can still get workers' compensation insurance coverage. I should think this would be a good thing if you are a volunteer member of, let's say, the SMVFD. Of course, The Tattler also performs voluminous services for the City stugotz, especially in the form of advanced information dispersal. Often those working here suffer paper cuts and chronic sleep loss.

The excitement of the Consent Calendar peaks with the letter "e" this week, and believe it or not it has to do with paying lawyers. Something this City does as well as any. The firm in question is Dapeer & Rosenblit, and these goombahs specialize in putting the hurt to residents and businesses that don't adhere to the stringent requirements of the City's municipal code. You violate a City Ordinance and you'll find yourself standing in your doorway looking straight into the mugs of Jimmy Da Peer and Rosie "The Chin" Blits. Believe me, you don't want that. Turns out Da Peer and The Chin want more money for their muscle. Go figure. From $160 an hour now to $225 in 2013/2014. Of course the pushovers on City Staff recommend that we pay it. When do they ever not? They're very generous like that.

The Consent Calendar grinds to a halt with 1e, which recommends that we continue to fund transportation services provided to Sierra Madre's residents by First Transit, Inc. Last year it set us back $217,689. This time around the amount scheduled would be $18,140.75 a month. Which is the exact same amount of money when multiplied by 12. No, you can't make this stuff up. It has to happen all by itself.

Item #2 deals with the topic of congestion management. Which means that we get to participate as both a city and taxpayers in maintaining a prevailing fantasy (or is that a mass psychosis?) that the government has some sort of control over freeway traffic jams. This pile of pottage is specifically about the Congestion Management Program, or CMP. The paperwork was prepared by SCAG, so you know it is utterly useless. What we are required to do here is produce an LDR, or Local Development Report. Which, since we have effectively stopped uber development in this town cold, should take up about a half a page of double-spaced lettering written in thick crayon. Somehow this is supposed to help us with our transportation needs while, of course, saving the world. Everything is about saving the world these days.

I am sure that Josh's meeting preparation team spent a lot of time with him on Item #3, because this deals with the Kensington. The very last thing any of that rotten lot wants is for this project to go to a vote as a full blown Measure V ballot question. The Measure V haters never want to see the people of Sierra Madre practicing their democratic rights as voters in the approval of a development project. It positively brings out the Kim Jong Il in them. Complete with spiky fright wig. We have written about this topic 40 times now, and I am not going to do it again. I can't, it will kill me.

However, I will tell you this. The City Attorney and the Measure V hating cafones on the City Council will do anything they can to stop this vote. Including talking for weeks on end about the most inconsequential and absurd nonsense, all done in hopes of making everyone throw up their hands in despair and go home. Or just throw up. This is the tactic they used on the Planning Commission, and quite effectively I might add. You just have to remember why they're doing it. Then get ready to dig deep for the lawyer we'll need to sue the living hell out of them for attempting to steal our Constitutional rights. If they get away with this, then we have all been wasting our time, and for a long time. The law is on our side, and they must be stopped. There is no alternative.

Item #4 has to do with the Appointment and Reappointment of folks to various commissions. The big catch here is the two seats on the Planning Commission being vacated by the termed out Gina Frierman-Hunt and Russell Replogie. Don't be too surprised if Josh throws the likes of Bart Doyle and Enid Joffe's into the nomination cap.

Item #5 deals with appointments to the Library Board of Trustees.

Shoved to the end of the meeting is Item #6, which has to do with the worthy goal of hiring City Attorneys that doesn't cost us as much as the treacherous lot we have now, seems like it should be a simple process that any Councilmember who cares about the financial well-being of our City would fully embrace. But unfortunately right now that is only about 40% of the current City Council. The rest are other directed, and prejudiciously hot air propelled.

This last item was covered in depth here last Saturday, and you can read all about it by clicking here.

That concludes this day's portion of City Council meeting prophecy.

Goodnight moon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where's Bob?

With the 4th of July just around the corner, it is time once again to gear up for another parade. This is among the very best of our holidays, and in Sierra Madre we have always turned out in large numbers to honor America. Ours is an authentic small town parade, and one that all here take a lot of pride in. Even those among us that we'd wish would go live someplace else. Here is how one of those folks put it in a July 2010 edition of the Sierra Madre Weekly, nearly two years ago:

One Sierra Madre resident, Mr. Bob Matheson, wrote this to our newspaper this morning: "Sierra Madre put it's best foot and fire hose forward again this year as our townsfolk celebrated the birth of our country in grand, Sierra Madre All-American fashion. The parade, the jazz band and activities for the kids in the park, and of course the Beer Garden, are the traditional 4th of July treasures of Sierra Madre. Kudos to the always fabulous Fourth of July Committee, headed now by Matt Bosse, for pulling everything together. It's a time and place that we all keep coming back to, year after year ... a celebration that singularly embodies the "Spirit of Sierra Madre." It's why we enjoy living here! Amidst all this great fun and success is there a risk of criticism? I saw a Fire Department engine occasionally stop and, very judiciously, spray a narrow patter of water directly ahead. The kids had a thrill they'll cherish for their lifetime. I can't imagine anyone being critical of doing the right thing!"

It was about a year and a half after the above was written that Sierra Madre social fixture and 4th of July Parade devotee, Bob Matheson, was arrested at a Nova Scotia airport with a laptop computer containing 2,500 photographs and 280 video shorts of naked teenage boys. With most either posing naked for the camera, or engaged in sex acts with other boys. And, in some cases, with adult men. Bob was tried in a Canadian Court, convicted, and then sentenced to 120 days in jail. Time that he served.

Upon his return to Sierra Madre it was widely expected by residents that Bob Matheson, because he had been tried and convicted in a foreign Court viewed as legitimate by the United States Department of State, would soon be registered here as a sex offender. Something that would restrict his access to things like the community swimming pool, library and, of course, the 4th of July Parade. An occasion that, to use his words, "we all keep coming back to, year after year."

It didn't happen. There are several theories on why Bob was never registered here as a sex offender. One states that since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn't get around to searching Bob's home until nearly 3 months after being notified of his child pornography arrest in Halifax, Nova Scotia, accomplices were able to destroy evidence to be found there. Another theory has it that the Sierra Madre Police Department didn't quite know how to go about registering a sex offender, and rather than actually making an effective effort to find out how this could be done, did what they usually do when faced with a situation of local notoriety, which is tuck in for a nap.

A third theory, one that certainly has a strong whiff of conspiracy to it (and therefore appeals to this blog), is that Bob Matheson, an inveterate socialite who partied often with Sierra Madre's most special and locally well-connected people, had pictures and other information that would have put a few of this community's leading personalities into a very bad light. And should the city have gone to the trouble of registering Bob as a sex offender, he would have released such compromising information to the press.

Whatever the reason, Bob will be able to quite legally visit with his beloved Sierra Madre 4th of July Parade again this year. And to commemorate this return to his normal existence, we have devised a game for you to play called "Where's Bob?" It is similar to the popular "Where's Waldo?" game, and if you click on the picture above, it will enlarge and you will be able to begin your search.

Which, come to think of it, is something that you will be able to do when you are at this year's 4th of July Parade as well. Thanks to the indifference of both local and federal law enforcement, along with City Hall, it is quite possible that you will also be able to spot him there, too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Third Way Of Thinking About Global Warming - Plus A City Where Everything Is Contracted Out?

One of the things that I have never understood about the seemingly endless debate about global warming is why the conversation has been limited to just the two options. With neither of them being particularly correct. It's the same with political parties. There are only two of them that we're supposed to care about, and neither of them could beat a brood sow in a beauty contest. If I may show my early rural origins a little bit. As a kid I actually did have family relatives who talked that way.

The first global warming option has to do with stopping it. And is there anything new today that isn't supposed to be good for the earth while helping to end the effects of global warming? Everything from getting rid of plastic shopping bags to replacing single family homes with condos and taking the bus, there is hardly a product or marketing effort out there today that doesn't claim to have something to do with going green and saving the planet. For many living in the West this is about the closest thing to religion as they have ever experienced. And they cling to it like zealots.

Then there is the other side of the coin. The place where people are happy to inform us that mankind's so-called carbon footprint is so utterly insignificant in a world this vast that there has been no effect on the planet's climate whatsoever. Nor is there likely to be one for hundreds of years, if ever. And that all of the rubbish being pushed by the climate left has nothing to do with real science and everything to do with politics and increasing government control over every facet of our lives. In their eyes Green is an apocryphal creed, and saving the world from global warming has supplanted God in an increasingly godless world.

I have long been convinced that neither side of this debate is completely correct. Which is why when this topic invades my blog, I don't say much about it. A debate this vast and all-consuming for so many is hard to avoid, and it is better to let people just blow off some of their own personal global warmth than get in the way.

But today I thought I would share a third option with you. I find it to be both personally liberating and, in my mind at least, does have a ring of truth. The premise being that the damage has already been done, it is devastatingly severe, and it is way too late to save anything that we as humans care to think of as the planet. A viewpoint that has a lot more to do with our own precarious place upon it than the survival of life itself. Life will survive. But unfortunately for the human ego once the next 150 to 200 years have passed us by we will probably no longer be a sustainable part of it.

This is the viewpoint of James Lovelock. Who is he? An English gentleman widely revered as the father of climate science. Now in his 90s, he continues to be recognized as one of the great thinkers in his field. A 2008 article in the British paper The Guardian entitled "Enjoy Life While You Can" (click here) describes him this way:

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypotheses, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.

A gentleman scientist who is widely respected in the field of climate science, one recognized today for having developed many original ideas that today are accepted truths in his field. He was right at a time when no one accepted his ideas, and lived to see them all become an accepted part of the ecological canon. Yet his ability to create controversy remains strong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. That is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."

Now the end of the world as we know it might not be the best of news for those of us who are currently a part of it, but Lovelock does assure us that there are still 150 or so years to go. It seems obvious to me that there is no conceivable way that any of us will survive to the time when we won't be able to survive. Plus it does take a lot of the pressure of having to save the world off of our weary shoulders. If it is already too late, then there really isn't much left that we can do. Might as well just go to the movies.

Our Town Inc. - Taking the People's Business Private

That is the title of an article in today's New York Times discussing how they get city government done in Sandy Springs, GA. A town where everything, with the exception of a few essential jobs and services, is done by private companies.

If your image of a city hall involves a venerable building, some Roman pillars and lots of public employees, the version offered by this Atlanta suburb if 94,000 residents is a bit of a shocker.

The entire operation is housed in a generic, one-story industrial park, along with restaurant and a gym. And though the place has a large staff, none are on the public payroll. O.K., seven are, including the city manager. But unless you chance into one of them, the people you meet here work for private companies through a variety of contracts.

To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have. It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents.

Does the Sandy Springs approach work? It does for Sandy Springs, says the city manager, John F. McDonough, who points not only to the town's healthy balance sheet but also to high marks from residents on surveys about quality of life and quality of government services.

The Police and Fire Departments have remained on the city payroll in Sandy Springs as well. But only because the cost of insuring private services in those two fields is prohibitive. You can access the rest of this article by clicking here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Last Item On Tuesday Evening's City Council Agenda

After the quite disgraceful display of legalistic pettifogging and blatant obfuscation during the Planning Commission's considerations of the Kensington project, it became quite obvious that the junior City Attorney assigned to the topic was not exactly interested in either clarity or allowing the issue to go to a vote of the people as a true Measure V ballot question. Each meeting brought a new and ultimately rejected gambit, the most infamous being the now widely reviled "suites versus units" debate. An absurd ration of nonsense created with the sole purpose of avoiding a vote on the ALF. There was no other reason for it.

Now Colantuono & Levin's Kensignton legal circus of the absurd moves on to the City Council where we will most certainly be treated to more of the same abuse. Endless hours of debate over the most bizarre and unimportant issues is to be anticipated, with Mayor Josh at one point certain to raise his hands in the air and, with a chortle of mock despair, decry the extraordinary complexity of it all. This is, of course, all a carefully considered ploy. Moran and his handlers do not want to see this issue go to the ballot in the form of a true Measure V vote. And what should have been a simple process of putting the Kensington question on the ballot, 2-30-13 warts and all, will be treated as if it is a matter vastly beyond the comprehension of all but a select few accomplished legal minds. You, the hopelessly confused resident, need to be spared so difficult a matter. Just let the Mayor take care of it all for you, he knows what's right. Put aside your worries and go shopping instead.

Of course, this is not an easy task for our somewhat simple loan peddler of a Mayor to accomplish. There are issues here that could cause the City some future legal difficulties should things not be handled with care. If it were to be later shown in a Court of Law that the City of Sierra Madre and a majority of its elected officials willfully attempted to subvert the effects of a voter approved ordinance like Measure V, there would be problems.

The Constitution of the State of California frowns upon government entities that attempt to subvert democratic processes and protections, particularly in matters where it can be shown that personal profit motives were involved. The punishment for attempts to deny the people their legitimate and legally constituted rights can be considerable. This isn't North Korea, after all.

Which is why Josh and the downtown investors who run him need Colantuono & Levin now more than ever. As outrageously costly as this law firm is, they do "will of the people" suppression just about as well as any law firm in the country. If you need an example of how they work, go back and review the shady ways they beat down an attempt by the people of Sierra Madre to get some relief from the stiff and extremely unpopular water rate increases being shoved through back then. A truly disgraceful episode in this City's history.

You can usually figure out the standing of an item on a City Council Meeting Agenda by its placement. And dead last on this week's list is the "Consideration to Solicit Proposals for City Attorney Services." Which is basically a request that the City of Sierra Madre go out into the marketplace and see if we can't a better a deal better deal on a lawyer. The economy being what it is, it should be a buyer's market out there.

This item, requested by Councilman Koerber in hopes of getting the taxpayers of Sierra Madre a review of what exactly it is we pay Colantuono & Levin to work against our interests, along with the money saving benefits of dumping them, is a very timely one. At a time when the City is cutting back programs and eliminating positions in order to deal with steadily worsening budgetary woes, it hardly makes sense for us to be paying more than we ought to for legal services. Yet somehow we continue to do business with one of the most expensive law firms of its kind.

The Agenda Report for this matter is a fairly ridiculous document. Written by Elaine Aguilar, it is an attempt to avoid discussing the money saving aspects of this proposal altogether. Rather than even touching on the question of how much could be saved by switching our business to a less costly law firm, she instead put together a press release lauding the many accomplishments of Michael Colantuono. Compete with a list of questionable accomplishments, awards and, I kid you not, a laudatory newspaper clipping. It reads like the kinds of press packets I put together at work designed to convince rock critics to write about the company's latest teen pop stars.

The last thing Josh Moran and his handlers want right now is for Colantuono & Levin to go away. Which is why this item was pushed to the very bottom of the agenda for Tuesday night's meeting. Judging by what comes before it, chances are that we won't see this item discussed Tuesday evening, or perhaps ever.

When it comes to this Mayor, saving the taxpayers of Sierra Madre a few hundred grand in legal costs is not very high on the priority list. Josh has other fish to fry, like stopping a Measure V vote on the Kensington. And in order to accomplish that he needs Michael Colantuono.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The SGVCOG Gives Nick Conway the Boot

Two weeks after the DA's office raided Nick Conway's home and offices, the SGVCOG membership showed the world that they had finally seen enough and removed him from power. The big question now being whether or not the COG can keep it together long enough to rebuild its reputation to a point where it can survive. Getting rid of Nick Conway was definitely a necessary first step. But is this a case of too little, too late? And why did it take pressure from someone outside of their number to get the COG to at last do the right thing?

Apparently it was quite a contentious behind closed door meeting. And after a marathon of nearly 2 hours alone with the Governing Board, COG President Angel Carrillo and attorney Richard Jones scurried from the room and the long suffering public was finally allowed to come in.

COG VP Barbara Messina (a Conway die hard and a 710 tunnel main mama), attempted to get the meeting going as if nothing had happened, but several board members reminded her that they needed to report out of the closed session. Something that couldn't go down until Angel and the Attorney came back from wherever it is they had gone.

The prodigals eventually did return, at which time Angel turned it over to Lawyer Jones so he could shed some light on the matter. And apparently there was an item that needed to be reported.

Richard Jones informed all present that the Governing Board, in a nearly unanimous decision, voted to put Nick Conway on "immediate administrative leave" as the COG Executive Director. His firm's management services contract would remain intact, but he would no longer be the Executive Director. The only no vote on the Governing Board was cast by David Spence from La Canada Flintridge. Spence being the same guy that approved the secret settlement payment to Conway after the first Caltrans audit.

Additional news comes to us from the SGV Tribune this morning in an article called "San Gabriel Valley COG places Conway on administrative leave; seeks replacement" (click here).

Also, the SGVCOG board announced it had settled a lawsuit with open-government advocate Gil Aguirre, a resident of San Dimas. The COG will pay Aguirre $50,000 to cover attorney's fees, Jones explained.

Aguirre had filed a complaint to the DA's Office in January accusing Conway of using his position as the COG's executive director to award public contracts to Arroyo Associates, Inc., a management company owned by Conway. Aguirre also accusing the COG of violating the state's open-meeting laws and keeping secrets that should be made public.

Thanks to the tenacity of individuals like Gil Aguirre, things have begun to change for the better in the San Gabriel Valley. Hopefully our two City Council liaisons to the SGVCOG will find it in themselves to report on this rather amazing event at next Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The Board voted to have Daryl Parrish, City manager of Covina, handle administrative duties for the COG and to work with the City Manager Committee to locate an "interim Executive Director."

The Board also voted to pay Lawyer Jones for additional services related to the investigation by the District Attorney's office. Jones indicated that he was scheduled to meet with the DA's office to discuss the investigation. He also shared his belief that the SGVCOG was a potential "victim." Jones also mentioning that the search warrant would be unsealed shortly and he would be obtaining a copy.

Lastly, the Board voted to accept by-law changes as provided, something that in effect will throw past Presidents Tom King and Carol Herrera off the Executive Committee. Their past criticisms of Nick Conway apparently not sitting well with some. At the COG good deeds rarely go unpunished.

The Meaglia's get their McMansion

I'm pretty sure that most folks in town might say that 7 bathrooms in a single story home is a bit on the excessive side. I mean, if they all those toilets get flushed at once, our water table could drop precipitously, potentially leaving people here without water. Not to mention what such a deluge could do to our sewer system. But despite just that sort of threat facing Sierra Madre, the Meaglia's at last got what they'd been asking for.

Nine years ago, applicant Richard Meaglia built his first mansion in the Sierra Madre hillsides, a house of 5,755 square feet. Now, after a year of tussling with the Planning Commission, he will get a new 5,675 square foot one to go along with it. This in a neighborhood where the average house size is 3,375 square feet, an average including his present jumbo compound.

What was it that had changed and allowed him the Planning Commission's sanction for this project? It appears that Meaglia had converted his original plans for a two story behemoth into a less looming one story behemoth.

Commissioner Bob Spears expressed his concern that the applicant had already singlehandedly moved the average size for houses in that neighborhood, something which skewed the basis for comparison there. He also talked about a "Creeping Standard," saying the "applicant moved the goal line once already, and now he's looking to move it again." Spears went on to say that we don't want to wake up one day and find that our houses have become outhouses to far larger structures. There is a point where we need to say houses can be too big.

The commission talked about the McMansionization of Arcadia, and the prevalence of huge houses on small lots there. Spears argued that Meaglia's proposal was not in scale with the neighborhood and therefore inconsistent with the General Plan, but four other commissioners voted for approval anyway. Their notion being that the lot size was large enough to support the large house. Apparently the new standard in Sierra Madre is if it's a large lot, you build a large house. Small lot, small house.

A few conditions for approval were added, including a covenant that a covered patio will not be turned into yet more house. A lighting plan that follows Dark Sky preservation practices was also made a condition of approval.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tale of Two Meetings

There are two meetings taking place this evening. Each in their own way very much Tattler topics, yet also gatherings that are decidedly quite different. One that could result in a still rather large house being built by two very determined individuals, the other a big step towards the end of an organization that has held considerable sway at this end of the valley for quite some time. Which is also the work of a very determined individual. It only takes a few people to move things in this world. Even our smaller version of it.

It's our tale of two meetings. Here are the outlines of what is going down tonight. Tomorrow we'll let you know just how these things ended up. It's what we do. We're big on typing and staying up late.

Meaglia IV

The Meaglias, Richard and Soledad, are back for yet another round in front of the Planning Commission. Lord knows they have been there before. Hoping to build a large two story McMansion here in Sierra Madre, they have been very determined in their approach to make their big dream happen. And they have tried many different stratagems to make it all work for them. But each time the Planning Commission has informed them that they need to go back to the drawing board and come back with something that looks more like a house and less like a triumphant monument to lumber usage.

However, it now appears that after repeated rejections of their two story 6,000 square foot dream, they have reduced their plans to a single story, though still quite imposing, 5,675 square feet home. Which means the new wickiup is going to cover a lot of turf. Obviously there will be lots of walkability in this structure. Every time the phone rings somebody is going to have to sprint the distance of a couple football fields to answer it.

Here is how it is all described in the Executive Summary of the Planning Commission Staff Report:

The owners/applicants, Richard and Soledad Meaglia, are requesting that the Planning Commission consider a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow construction of a one-story, 5,675-square-foot single-family home on property located at 756 Auburn Avenue. Pursuant to Sierra Madre Municipal Code 17.20.025.C single-family residences that exceed 4,000 square feet of floor area require approval of a CUP.

Mr. Meaglia has since revised the design fro a two-story to a one-story residence, and reduced the total floor area from 5,963 to 5,675 square feet. Staff recommends that the Planning Commission approve Conditional Use Permit 11-05 (CUP 11-05) pursuant to Planning Commission Resolution 12-05, subject to conditions of approval.

The odds of this getting approved by the Planning Commission are fairly good. Or at least that is what the knowledgeable people are saying. The Meaglias having finally done something to make this structure less obtrusive than before. I guess we will have to wait and see.

SGVCOG Governing Board Meeting

This is the first COG Governing Board meeting since the D.A. raided the homes and offices of Executive Director Nick Conway. And judging by the agenda for tonight's get-together that event is on the minds of this august panel. Just the agenda items of the closed session is enough to make you believe mighty changes are about to happen.

8.0 Conference with legal counsel re: pending litigation pursuant to Government Code section 54956.9(a) - Gil Aguirre v. San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, Los Angeles Superior Court, Case Number BS 132514.

9.0 Evaluation of performance of Executive Director pursuant to Government Code section 54957.

10.0 Conference with legal counsel re: anticipated litigation pursuant to Government Code section 54956.9(b)(3)(C) - claim or other written communication threatening RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) litigation received from Gil Aguirre.

That is quite a closed session. Something tells me the regular meeting won't be getting underway on time. Certainly there is a lot that needs to be discussed first.

How this will all end up tonight is anybody's guess. One unidentified poster yesterday did venture to go out on a limb and make a prediction of how it will go down tonight. Here it is:

A prediction: I talked to an individual who is not a public official. He did talk to a COG insider. I am curious to see if this is true. The COG will place Conway on PAID leave. he will sit at home and wait to see if he gets indicted. He is the sole owner of Arroyo. His employees will go to work and he will take in his almost $800,000 income. Then the COG will hire its own attorney to help Conway's personal attorney negotiate with the DA. That way he gets paid as long as possible. Conway has an insider attorney at the COG helping his defense team. This info came from a COG Board member who is "chatting" prior to the meeting. I do not have personal knowledge.

Like I said, we will have 3rd party reports on both meetings, and they will be posted for your viewing pleasure tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We're A Little Worried, Could This Year's 4th of July Parade Be Without Any Real Controversy?

I know it's hard to believe, but here it is June 20 and our yearly free-for-all over the 4th of July Parade has yet to begin. In the recent past there was Tai the Elephant and her friends from PETA, forcing kids fill out registration forms for "water play," the "Grand Marshall" versus "Hometown Hero" controversy (which was handled horribly last year), along with whether or not our World War II veterans should be given the chance to collectively share in one of this City's greatest honors. Which, regrettably, has yet to happen. All of which has generated a lot of reader interest here at The Tattler over the last several years.

But this year it has all been decidedly quiet. The community picnic, traditional after-parade fare, has been moved from Memorial Park to Sierra Vista Park, a place famed for its vast panoramic foothill views. There you will be able to play basketball, baseball, and a lot of other things that involve spherical objects. But almost everyone is OK with that. Sierra Vista Park, which is at both the end of the parade route and the end of this town, has served that purpose in the past.

Plus there will be the by now traditional "water play area." Bring your paperwork, a pen and, preferably, a qualified legal expert. Nothing new there, however. Old outrages become accepted standard practice in time.

There will also be our famous dunk tank, where noted political and business figures from the local firmament will permit you to drop them into a large bucket of water for a small donation to charity. Always plenty of yucks to be had there, I guess.

But where is the controversy? What happened to our yearly tradition of engaging burning issues that roil the community in a most fascinating sort of way? Can't somebody at least ask about putting a rhinoceros, or perhaps even a giant sloth or tapir, in the parade?

Of course, the traditional yearly parade schedule mailer has yet to show up in our mailboxes, so I haven't completely lost hope. At least not yet. But the possibility of a Sierra Madre 4th of July Parade sans some monumental controversy or other does seem to be a distinct possibility this go around. It is eerily quiet on that front. To this observer a parade without political fireworks somehow feels, well, a little bit south of patriotic.

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Today's Star News article on the Taylor's vs. Fresh & Easy controversy

All in all a good performance from news writer James Figueroa (click here), and it pretty much captures the debate that has been going on in this community during the last few weeks. Should we stick with a business that has admirably served our community over these last 40 years, or just chuck all that in favor of the pale green shrine to processed frozen food and bulk salty snacks? One owned by a British variety of Wal*Mart, complete with the union busting?

Of course, Fresh & Easy does claim to be "green." But then again, who doesn't these days? Even British Petroleum, who almost single-handedly took out the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years back, is now touting its environmental sensitivity. Somehow I get the feeling that if Benito Mussolini were to suddenly rise feet first from the grave to lead his New Legions back onto the battlefield, he would claim to be doing so in order to reestablish the green building standards of the Roman Empire.

Danny Castro makes an appearance in this article, and look who he blames for our Fresh & Easy debacle.

"During our general plan community meetings ... there were comments that our downtown needs a neighborhood market, or a market that's local," he said. "Not specifically a Fresh and Easy, but we've had comments from the public saying we need our own market."

Out of all the things that were said at the General Plan Community Outreach shindigs, why is this the only one that has gotten any traction at City Hall?

Then there is this rather philosophically irksome statement from a resident:

"The town needs commerce, it needs people," (a customer at Taylor's) said. "This is like the town that time forgot. I'm for progress."

I don't know about you, but I'm rather in favor of living in a town that time forget. Particularly when you consider the unkind fate of all those towns that time remembered. Plus would building this kind of testament to Euro-generica really be progress? Is decline, which coincidentally does occur in the forward movement of time (along with all things), progress? Or can progress actually be the stubborn refusal to give up on a better world by resisting the encroachment of, well, a prevalent inferiority that happens to have come into existence recently and is everywhere else?

All is not without at least some hope, however. And the true spirit of Sierra Madre always does somehow manage to rise above the bilge. Here is someone that I need to talk to:

Taylor's customers have been expressing their displeasure about the plans in recent weeks, employee Melissa Guzman said, and there has even been some talk about a petition.

I don't know about you, but I own a pen. And it hasn't signed anything lately but credit card slips. Time to put it to some better use.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SGVCOG's Budget Shell Game

So here it is from the rulebook. The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) requires Executive Director Nick Conway, under its own Article IV, Item C to:

"Annually prepare and present a proposed budget for the Council to the Steering Committee of the City Manager's Technical Advisory Committee ("Steering Committee") and, after the approval of the Steering Committee, to the Governing Board and, after approval of a budget by the Governing Board, to maintain the expenditures of the Council within the approved budget, as may be amended from time to time by the Council."

This is the situation with the COG and Conway on the budgets issue. The Bylaws require the Executive Director (Conway) to prepare and present an annual budget to the City Managers Steering Committee for their approval. Once they approve that budget it is then presented to the Governing Board for its approval. The notion being that this will provide for a kind of financial oversight since the selected City Managers are experts at this sort of thing. If they approve the budget, then the Governing Board has some assurance that it has been properly done.

This year, Executive Director Nick Conway presented the SGVCOG's budget to the City Managers Steering Committee and got their approval. However, he then supplied a different budget to the Executive Committee for their approval. Presenting a budget to this particular committee, while not legally required, works to Nick's purposes since they are mostly his bobbleheads and will agree to rubber-stamp whatever he wants. It makes for a legitimate looking paper trail and enhances the process.

Finally, Nick Conway presented another budget to the Governing Board, something that was neither the budget approved by the City Managers or the one reviewed by the Executive Committee. Three different budgets, and a full two more than there ought to have been.

To be precise, Conway provided each of these three separate entities three quite different budgets. Something that sabotages the concept of sound financial oversight, and is hardly the kind of behavior expected of an organization that receives and spends public moneys. The result being that each committee believed that they had been shown the same budget, yet ended up approving something rather different from what their two counterparts had been supplied.

Listed here are some examples of the differences between these budgets. They should put you into the spirit of it all.

The budget presented to the Executive Committee is different from the one submitted to the City Managers Steering Committee in a couple of areas. First, it includes an entirely new income source which is called ACE (Alameda Corridor East Project) GANS (Govt Anticipation Notes) ROI (Return On Investment) for $50,000. This is an item that reflects Conway's attempt this year to direct interest received by ACE back to the COG. The justification being that ACE was created by the COG, and therefore deserves it. This became a problem for the director of ACE, who later pointed out that since the moneys given to his organization are for funding specifically designated construction projects, they're shouldn't be used to pay for SGVCOG nonsense.

Also, in this budget under expenses, Conway eliminated a $7,500 cost for "LARWQCB Technical Support." This is money the SGVCOG spent on a staffer for Monrovia Mayor MaryAnn Lutz, who also sits on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Among other things.

Added into expenses is $10,000 for a "grants and policy committee internship program." No one I spoke with for this article is aware of the Board even authorizing such a program, but apparently it is part of a pet project run by Gino Sund, a reliable Conway ally.

In the budget provided to the Governing Board, the $50,000 in income from ACE is removed. This budget also reduces the income from the Southern California Edison Local Government Partnership from $150,000 to $75,000. The budget also shows a reduction in the costs of legal services from $65,000 to $40,000, though it is anticipated that the true cost could actually be in the $150,000 range.

It also shows an increased amount in expenses related to media public relations, from $10,000 to $15,000. Oddly enough, in the previous year's one and only budget the total spend was $715. Apparently someone felt the need for a comfortably funded charm offensive this year.

The big difference here is in the expense for Conway's Management Services Contract # 1. (Conway has, for whatever reasons, three service contracts.) What this one shows is a reduction from $105,000 to $52,500 in money paid to Conway's privately owned company Arroyo Associates. Which is the same company that figured so prominently in the famous Caltrans audit that was the beginning of Conway's current woes.

If you read the agenda packet small print, this is not really a reduced cost. Instead Conway simply decided to only include 6 months worth of payments in this budget. The reason being it results in what appears to be a balanced budget. Had the full year amount been included the resulting budget would have been upside down.

This is also a problem since the contract is specifically for work done on three major programs, EnergyWise, CalRecycle and something called Watershed. CalRecycle and Watershed being programs that had already ended.

Last is a reduction in the cost of the Southern California Edison Local Government Partnership. This is downgraded from $20,000 to $10,000.

What we've detailed here shows that a "Let's Make A Deal" mentality was at work in the creation of COG's public agency budgets. Behind each door is something different. Unfortunately that is not how officially established systems of financial oversight are supposed to get done. The Governing Board relies on the technical expertise of the City Managers Steering Committee to ensure that the budget is properly laid out and budgeted. None of this is worth the paper these budgets are printed on if the numbers are not completely consistent.

The documents used to create this article were obtained at meetings held by the San Gabriel Valley of Governments. They are as follows:

City Managers Steering Committee: Agenda packet for May 2nd, 2012. This meeting took place at El Monte City Hall in El Monte.

Executive Committee: Meeting agenda revised for May 9, 2012. This meeting took place at Alhambra City Hall in Alhambra.

SGVCOG Governing Board: Agenda and Notice. This meeting took place on May 31, 2012 at Southern California Edison CTAC in Irwindale.