Thursday, August 30, 2012

Will Lackie, Dammeier & McGill Use Intimidation Tactics In Sierra Madre?

As we discussed yesterday, labor contract negotiations with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association have been ongoing for quite some time. The City of Sierra Madre has declared that things are at something of an impasse, and lawsuits continue to be filed by the SMPOA. In other words, it is business as usual with our Lackie, Dammeier & McGill represented police union. In the opinion of many the use of lawsuits as a negotiating tool is being vigorously employed in our town.

But there are further steps that the City could very well be forced to consider in the upcoming years. Costs coupled with revenue shortfalls have caused the City of Sierra Madre to pinch pennies, with positions and programs having been eliminated. And should the residents of Sierra Madre again turn down the City's request to extend the Utility User Tax at its current California high rate of 10% (with an additional 2% increase possible at the whim of the City Council), everything will then be on the table. Including the possibility of contracting with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. A Police Department that consumes 53% of the General Fund no longer being fiscally sustainable luxury.

These are questions that exist in other cities as well, and options such as the ones we've discussed here are also under consideration elsewhere. And as we saw in yesterday's article, there is a rising suspicion in certain towns that the tactics being employed as a negotiation tool by LD&M include intimidation of elected officials. This from an article that the Orange County Register updated on their website yesterday (click here).

Officials: Police union negotiator targeted city councilmen - Officials from Costa Mesa, Irvine, Fullerton and Buena Park on Tuesday accused an Upland law firm that represents police unions of employing thug-like behavior in its efforts to win favorable contracts for city police agencies.

Lackie, Dammeier and McGill, which represents more than 120 police associations in California, until recently had featured on its website a manual for tough negotiating tactics that included targeting city officials until they cave in to union demands.

Buena Park Councilman Fred Smith said he was targeted by a police officer after leaving a party in December 2010. Smith said he was pulled over, told he smelled of alcohol, and asked to take a field breath test. Smith said that he blew "all zeroes" but was ticketed for straddling a lane.

"I was told I should never disrespect officers," Smith said.

Smith said he also received threatening text messages last week from a political consultant that worked for the police union. One text asked Smith if he knew the meaning of "GJI." A later text explained: "Grand Jury Indictment." It was followed by this message: "Say good bye Freddie."

An account given by another elected official is equally chilling.

Buena Park Mayor Jim Dow also appeared at the news conference, saying he had received word a year ago that the union was gunning for him. Dow said he then moved his adult daughters to Idaho after reading a suggestion online that police unions should target the children of city officials. He said he's in the process of selling his house and plans to move after his term ends. "I couldn't take that chance with my kids," Dow said.

Here is another:

Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker said intimidation by the Fullerton Police Association resulted in a 3-2 vote against pursuing cost estimates from the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The Council was looking into restructuring its police force, Whitaker said.

"We entrust (police) with the ability to take away our freedoms, to make arrests, to intimidate, to use discerning tactics. This clearly can cross the line and become an abuse of those powers," Whitaker said.

When the consideration becomes more about what can better the economic position of the Police Department and its officers, and less the law enforcement needs of the community, then a line has been crossed.

Patch raises an interesting Matheson question

Out of the big three questions of journalism, they got "the who" and "the what" down alright, but whatever happened to "the why?" This from a Patch article posted yesterday entitled "Find Sex Offenders In Your Area" (click here):

Though Robert Matheson, a Sierra Madre resident who pleaded guilty to possessing and smuggling thousands of images and videos of child pornography across the Canadian border last October, has not been required to register as a sex offender, Sierra Madre Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement previously said he is under investigation. Evin Daly, CEO and Co-Founder of One Child International Inc. and Child Abuse Watch, also wrote a letter to the Sierra Madre Police Department urging them to pursue placing Robert Matheson on a sex offender registry.

The "under investigation" reference is the standard boilerplate response given when either of these law enforcement organizations chooses not to discuss something. The list of undiscussed items permanently under investigation here includes the EVI gas station ripoffs and just about anyone's house that has ever been robbed.

But it is quite obvious that Patch doesn't know the answer to the why question. Does anybody? Why was Robert Matheson given a pass by the City of Sierra Madre on the question of his having to register as a sex offender? The City has never explained itself on that one. Don't you think it is about time they did?

Also, isn't it rather telling that Patch went to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to source their article? And not the Sierra Madre Police Department? For a news site that pulls its punches as much as that one, it is quite a statement.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lackie, Dammeier & McGill Fired by Costa Mesa Cops for "Hardball Tactics"

As a longtime Tattler reader and a person cognizant of the ins and outs of our local government, you are aware that our local Police union, the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association, is pretty much run by the law firm of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. All of whom are former police officers themselves, and whose negotiating tactics are considered by many to be aggressive in the extreme.

So extreme, as a matter of fact, that one of its minion unions, the Costa Mesa Police Association, has now fired the law firm for an instance detailed in the Orange County Register articles I'm citing below. Apparently an associate of Lackie Dammeier had attempted to set a Costa Mesa Councilmember they don't like up for a DUI arrest. Something that didn't quite work out as planned when it turned out that the Councilmember reported as "stumbling drunk out of a bar" had actually had nothing more than two diet Cokes. The attempted arrest having taken place in front of the Councilmember's wife and two young daughters.

Costa Mesa councilman says unions behind DUI check (Aug 24, 2012): Councilman Jim Righeimer said Friday at a news conference that political enemies set him up for an accusation of driving drunk.

Righeimer was given a sobriety test outside his home Wednesday evening after a caller told Costa Mesa police that the councilman had been driving recklessly.

"I have no doubt in my mind the labor unions fighting in this city are behind this," said Righeimer, who has been under fire by the city's unions and some residents for backing outsourcing of city services and for leading the charge for a November charter city ballot proposal. He gave no evidence as to how the incident was connected to a union.

But The Orange County Register obtained a 911 tape that identified the caller as "Chris Lanzillo." A Google search listed a "Chris Lanzillo" as a fired Riverside police officer and linked him to the Upland law firm of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. The firm had represented the Costa Mesa Police Association until late this week. The city and the police union are negotiating a contract.

On Friday, the union announced it had fired the law firm, saying it feared the firm's aggressive tactics would backfire.

More details about this incident can be found by clicking here.

Another article appeared in the OC Register two days later and highlights some of the serious blowback going down for Lackie Dammeier.

Police denounce hardball negotiating tactics (Aug. 26, 2012): Three major California police unions have denounced the hardball negotiating tactics depicted in a primer posted on the website of Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill since they were revealed by the Watchdog last week.

None of these unions are represented by the firm, which is made up of former police officers. Lackie Dammeier boasts that it represents more than 120 police associations, including 19 in Orange County. Some of the primer's suggestions for negotiating with cities and counties: cast decision-makers as anti-public safety until they fall into line; convince residents their safety is at risk; and basically hound the city or county officials until they give in. The firm also talked about work slowdowns, advising law enforcers to canvass the whole neighborhood for a burglary call.

The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs sent us a statement from its president criticizing the firm, saying that the tactics depicted in the primer are not "good faith" bargaining.

"The AOCDS board resolved to denounce Lacke Dammeier, and if asked, AOCDS informs other law enforcement associations of its serious misgivings about the firm and the unethical tactics which its associates employ," union president Tom Dominguez said in a statement.

More blowback against Lackie Dammeier is described here.

Lackie Dammeier & McGill represents the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association in its serial lawsuits against the City. Something that is setting us back a fortune in legal costs. Many here regard these frivolous lawsuits as an SMPOA negotiating tactic designed to bully the City into accepting their demands in the endless on-going negotiations for a new contract.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Tattler Sort of Takes a Day (or 2) Off

I am going to be in and out all day, and never did get a post together last night. That is pretty much how it is going to go this week. I took the week off from work, and I figure I am going to lighten the blog load a little as well. A lot of folks are off this week, and are a million miles from this stuff, so it is a good time to recharge batteries and get ready for what is going to be a wild fall season. There are a lot of big items on the Sierra Madre City Council schedule, and then there is a national election. Or at least that is what someone told me. I didn't really know too much about it.

I think I have said this before, but I have some doubts about the existence of national politics. Remember back in the day when certain people said that the United States never sent men to the moon, and instead the whole event was created on a Hollywood sound stage? That's kind of how I feel about national politics. It really could be something just done with actors. Even if it is not.

One big item in the news today is that the Los Angeles Transportation Committee voted to dump the 710 Tunnel. This is probably a precursor to the L.A. City Council doing the same. It is amazing to see what can happen when people get upset about something and go to City Council meetings and let the electeds have an earful. Article up on the Star News site here.

You can take this as an open thread opportunity to talk about anything you like. Unless, of course, you're Steve.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sierra Madre's RHNA Appeal To SCAG

(Mod: Last week we covered the results of the so-called "RHNA Appeals Process" to a completely indifferent and apparently inept SCAG. Inept in that the document they eventually produced declaring the inadequacy of our appeal was grammatically strange with half the names of our representatives ludicrously misspelled. Which is good enough for government work, I guess. We were hardly the only city to appeal the RHNA demands of this eminently undemocratic institution. Many others also declared their inability to accommodate the draconian levels of new housing development SCAG is enforcing on behalf of the state and federal governments. All fell on deaf ears. Below is the appeal put together by a Sierra Madre team headed by MaryAnn MacGillivray and John Capoccia. It is an accurate and even frightening depiction of Sierra Madre's situation in the face of SCAG's bizarre demands, particularly on the topic of water. It is doubtful SCAG even bothered to read it. Our condition not being a worthy part of their process.)

As you all know, Sierra Madre has been an active participant in both the CEHD and RHNA subcommittee meetings. We appreciate the effort of SCAG to consider input from each jurisdiction. The City of Sierra Madre cooperated in good faith and in a straightforward and honest way, however the input was collected using a template form supplied by SCAG – the same template given to each jurisdiction – which did not allow for input unique to that jurisdiction. The current RHNA allocation given to Sierra Madre is patently unfair because it does not take into consideration factors that are unique to Sierra Madre. We understand that the allocations were based on a methodology agreed upon by the RHNA subcommittee and their application of the state housing law and we have no desire to undermine either. However, we believe that our circumstance, based on location, size, and uniqueness, warrants consideration for exception. We ask that you take these factors into consideration.

In response to the 2158 factors, the City of Sierra Madre presented convincing arguments against 8 of the 13 factors – all that directly applied.

Our appeal presentation focuses on three : water supply constraints, jobs/housing balance and land use.

Water constraints: Sierra Madre is one of very few jurisdictions and possibly the only jurisdiction in the San Gabriel Valley region entirely dependent on local ground water for its water supply – which makes us entirely dependent on Mother Nature and no application or interpretation of State law can make her conform.

Consistent with Section 65584.04 of the Calif. Government Code RHNA Statutes, the City submitted new information in its revision request which responds to Section A, which we believe was not evaluated and considered by SCAG and the RHNA subcommittee with regard to the impact on the residents of the City.

The 15 page report from the San Gabriel Valley Raymond Basin Water District details the dire situation Sierra Madre is in, with regard to adequate water delivery to its current residents over the planning period. The report proves this with statistics and historical data that cannot be ignored. Our dire situation is further confirmed by a letter from Anthony Zampiello, Executive Officer of the Raymond Basin Management Board verifying that both the quantity and quality of the groundwater supplies to the City are declining due to a deficit between average annual inflow and outflow of water. This places Sierra Madre in jeopardy without recourse to deliver service to a residency already conserving beyond the average. SCAG and the subcommittee did not consider this letter as an affidavit of a situation we cannot control.

The absolute decreed right of only 1764 acre-feet of water is unreliable for servicing existing residents. Additional services and housing at increased densities change unreliable to insufficient by accelerating the rate of the City’s declining water supply. This is described in detail in the City’s appeal submission and corroborated by the report from the Raymond Basin Water District, also included.

The city has no direct connection to any other water source and certainly no guarantee to purchase or obtain water from a neighboring community in times of drought or need.

At the revision hearing, the Committee Chair stated that it was difficult to justify a RHNA reduction based on water supply constraints because the City did not have a building moratorium in place. Although the City does not currently have a building moratorium in place and does issue building permits, the permits are largely for remodels. In the last 5-10 years, the number of new water services added can be counted on one hand and each has been contentious because of water. Sierra Madre’s current zoning laws and General Plan policies are established to maintain low density development in large part to conserve the City’s water supply and the City has implemented a mandatory water conservation plan to minimize the effects of water shortage to water customers, to comply with the Calif. Water Code and to significantly reduce delivery and consumption of water.

The City has and continues to raise water rates fairly dramatically, starting in 2011 and continuing through 2014, partly in an attempt to reduce consumption. If reduction goals are not achieved, we will eventually be forced to impose a moratorium. I might add that our ever-increasing water rates offset the benefit of the low/mod income housing and, instead, negates the benefit.

Further, SCAG has made it clear that state RHNA law trumps all local ordinances and zoning laws so why would a moratorium make a difference?

Additionally, with regard to water quality, the San Gabriel Council for Watershed Health, in their recent WCF (Watershed Condition Framework), found that of the 11 watersheds, only one scored in the” functioning properly” range, seven “at risk” and three “impaired function”. Sierra Madre, because of its location, is a steward of water quality for cities below and in a study conducted by the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, it is documented and determined that water quality is dependent on the level of development and land use. And without adequate funding to counter adverse impacts on water resources, public health and safety concerns will rise. Then mitigation factors will have to be established and implemented at, of course, a cost to the taxpayer.

This cannot be just a statistical exercise and mathematical equivocation when we are talking about a life-sustaining resource.

Jobs/Housing: We have a dramatic jobs/housing imbalance. As presented in our 2158 argument, Sierra Madre already has nearly 2.4 times the recommended number of housing units per job. It makes no sense whatsoever to provide low/mod housing only to have those residents waste time and money commuting long distances to work. Sierra Madre is a city of only 3 square miles. Only 4% of the entire city is available for industrial/commercial structures and associated job creation. That 4% is vital to keep our economic base and very limited sales tax, which provides less than 3% of our general fund revenue. So how do we find jobs to even approach the optimal ratio of 1.5 jobs per housing unit? SCAG is projecting the City will gain 107 jobs by 2020 and another 61 by 2035 but we would need a total of over 7,000 jobs to get to the optimal ratio based on our existing housing units – that s more than double the jobs we currently have.

The City of Sierra Madre is not a transportation hub so people will not seek residency here if there are no jobs. If there are jobs to be added in the City they will likely be persons working out of their homes. Expecting people to reside in the City and travel to jobs without a transit system is counter to the RTP goals and increases cost and pollution. Additional housing dictated by RHNA will make matters worse.

This is another example of why this process cannot be considered as a mathematical equivocation uniformly applied to all jurisdictions.

Land Use: The population and housing stock numbers for Sierra Madre have been flat and stable for decades. The topography and seismic potential make expansion difficult and unsafe. All opportunities for infill have been explored and do not exist outside of a confiscation of personal property and eminent domain.

Of the mere 610 acres of vacant land in the city, all but one acre is located within the Hillside Management Zone because, for a number of reasons, the land is unsuitable for high-density residential housing. One-half of the undeveloped hillsides are subject to conservation easements held in trust and legally cannot be developed. Approximately 40 acres of this land are subject to flood control easements. All land in this zone is in the Very High Fire Hazard Zone and has been characterized by numerous landslides and flooding. The steep slopes in this zone would require significant grading which is costly and increases the risk of landslides and flooding with debris structures that could not contain the flow. Aside from the general impracticality of imposing low/mod housing in this zone, the extremely high cost makes it economically infeasible.

Our programs for the 4th RHNA Cycle are in implementation and that has exhausted our opportunities. We have no place to put an additional 55 units whether all at once or a few per year. Additionally, because we are required to meet the density requirement of 20 units per acre by state law, we cannot just put a unit here or there even if we could find a place to squeeze one in. The law precludes selective placement to attempt to meet the requirement.

Another example of why the process cannot be implemented as a mathematical equivocation.

Additional information is included in the City’s 2158 submission, RHNA Revision Request and RHNA Appeal Request. Our arguments are solid and substantial. If those arguments were considered in regard to the unique situation of the jurisdiction, a RHNA reduction would be completely justifiable and that would answer the question raised by a SCAG staff member at the revision request hearing as to why our City should receive a reduction when so many others are not. We have unique and extenuating circumstances and we are here presenting them and asking.

There is enough room in the contingency unit numbers or “cushion” as it has been termed to grant revisions where extenuating circumstances warrant them. We believe we are one of those situations.

At several CEHD meetings, I have asked what evaluation process is in place to determine the success of one cycle before embarking on another. One answer given by a committee member stated that not one single unit has been built as a result of the process and that this is nothing but a “feel good exercise”.

How can a process that burdens the taxpayer and creates an unworkable situation, one that is economically infeasible, especially with the recent dissolution of the RDA’s, be justifiable?

How is it that the process repeats cycle after cycle accomplishing nothing?

The conditions under which the RHNA law was established have changed dramatically. It would be prudent and pragmatic to establish a process to assist in changing the law. Sierra Madre would support and partner in such a process.

We respectfully request that the RHNA subcommittee not follow the SCAG staff recommendation and grant the City of Sierra Madre’s request to reduce the fifth cycle RHNA number to zero based on the unique situation and extenuating circumstances as presented in the 2158 arguments, Revision Request with additional information and Revision Appeal.

(Mod: Our appeal was rejected. None of this was taken into account.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hail Hamilton's Unfortunate Misappropriation In This Week's Mountain Views News

Hail Hamilton, as I am certain many regular Tattler readers are aware, gave one of the nastier speeches ever delivered in this town. Which is saying a lot. The occasion was the 2010 City Council Reorganization, and as the biggest mouth from the ugly mob attending the seating of the so-called "Civility Council" that fateful evening, Hail spun one of the most bizarre screeds ever heard in Council Chambers. If you have yet to witness Hail's walk on the wild side, you can link to it on the Neuroblast Films site by clicking here.

Hamilton was later widely condemned for this little speech, even by those whose favor he was trying so hard to obtain. Later he published an apology of sorts in the Mountain Views News, but even there he showed some confusion over all of the criticism. After all, he didn't say anything that hadn't been quietly passed around by the Civility Slate and its supporters during the election campaign. The residue of which, by the way, is our current Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. Perhaps the most inept and unqualified this City has ever seen, which is also saying a lot.

But so much for the memories. In this week's Mountain Views News, on its op-ed page to be exact, regular columnist Hamilton published something that at first pass seems pretty good. Entitled "We Didn't Have The 'Green Thing' Back Then," it details quite eloquently some of the generational biases and foibles shown in today's heated discussions over what it means to be "Green." With, in this case, the older generation coming off quite favorably. Especially when compared with some examples of the ham-handed hypocrisies evident in the youthful hubris shown by certain segments of Greenie crowd.

As a matter of fact, it appears to be one of the best columns Hail Hamilton has ever written for that paper. Which is where the problem lies. Even though he published this piece under his own name, and under the column's usual masthead, Hail did not write it. Instead he took it from somewhere else and claimed it for his own.

The first instance of "The 'Green' Thing" column that I can find was published in a New Left kind of publication out of Columbus OH called The Free Press. Their quaint motto being "Speaking Truth To Power Since 1970." The author of the Free Press piece is a Denny Roberge, and his column was committed to print on August 8, 2011. Or more than a year before Hail Hamilton laid his claim to it. You can verify this by clicking here.

Sometime after that date this word stack went viral. Many other publications picked up on the piece, and it also became the stuff of widely circulated e-mails and Facebook postings. I received a copy in an e-mail at work, which is why I recognized the misappropriation when I saw it in the MVN.

If you go to Google and type in the title of Hail's filched column, you will witness page after page of references and links to this piece of writing. It is quite obvious that Hail Hamilton did not write it.

Yet another low for our adjudicated weekly, the Mountain Views News. There have been so many.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

1 Million Hits

Sometime within the next 24 hours or so this blog will experience what Google would call its 1 millionth pageview. Which is the more internet correct way of defining a hit. A word describing what happens when somebody personally downloads a website, and should never be confused with putting out a "hit," or even hitting on someone. Those are totally different pursuits. Around 370,000 of these pageviews occurred in the last half year or so, which indicates that a significant increase in the action around here has taken place fairly recently.

What this actually means is that a lot of people have been stopping by The Tattler to check things out, and then decided to stick around. Which is a good thing in my opinion. Back when we started this project in late 2008 the general opinion around town was that if you wanted to reach a lot of people, you had to print the news on paper, and then distribute it free to every house in town. Which is, as you can imagine, a very expensive proposition.

Nowadays even Sierra Madre has embraced internet journalism, to the point where you have to wonder about the relevance of our once upon a time rival in town, the quite pulpy Mountain Views News. A weekly newspaper distributed almost exclusively downtown, and whose current addiction to reprinting press releases and current events articles that have have been seen elsewhere makes you wonder if even they get it. The sole purpose of their existence today apparently being to get paid for printing legal notices, with only a couple of hundred people actually seeing them.

It also shows that people in Sierra Madre are interested in reading real news, and that if you lay down the facts people will seek you out. The notion that in Sierra Madre everything must be kept nice and sweet, and that if you offer people here too much of the hard stuff they might become confused and sad, has now been consigned to the trash bin of local history. The insulting and condescending assumption that people here just can't handle reality hasn't stood the test.

So who actually reads this stuff? It certainly isn't everybody. While 50,000 plus hits a month is quite a lot for a town of less than 11,000 souls, it hardly means the entire population of Sierra Madre turns to this page every morning. We do get repeaters, and some out of town readers as well. I figure the portion of this town reading The Tattler is around the same percentage that votes. The 30% to 40% of people living here who care enough to actually cast a ballot during City Council elections. You have to face it, a majority of the people living here likely don't even know the name of the Mayor, or that every other week their elected officials meet in session to deliberate on such things as their taxes and real estate development. So what possible use could they have for The Tattler?

The way I look at it, politics in Sierra Madre is played out by two distinct parts of the community, each comprising about 15% of the population. The first 15% cares deeply about preserving this town as much as they can, and supports the notion of an independent City that runs its own affairs. A Sierra Madre that isn't dominated by so-called regional governments who, all too often, turn out to be corrupt pressure groups working for Sacramento lobby-driven agendas that are frankly insane. The crazy notion that packing downtown with "transit village" high-density style development will somehow help stop global warming being a good indication of the madness in this state.

The other 15% appear to believe that they have a right to exploit the birthright of all Sierra Madreans for their own personal gain. No matter how detrimental to the popular interest that might be. Or, and this is a rather sad thing, that others should be allowed to exploit what this community has to offer for their own profit. The people be damned. The seemingly endless capacity of some to believe in and work for things that are counter to their own personal interests always has to be taken into consideration. There truly is one born every minute, and even they don't give themselves an even break.

Since December of 2008 there have been 1,155 articles posted here, along with 62,387 reader comments. And now one million hits as well.

Take a deep breath. We are only getting started. There is still an awful lot of work that needs to be done.

Friday, August 24, 2012

PUSD's Golden Consultant

School's back in session, and the Pasadena Unified School District, which has to number amongst the most poorly run in the state, is back with more of the same old shenanigans. The PUSD, which controls over $300 million in Measure TT bond money designated for the building of school facilities, is famous here in Sierra Madre for threatening to cut back on its planned construction for the Middle School. The reason? A lack of necessary funding. All of that bond money somehow can't be stretched far enough to deliver on the promises that were made by the PUSD back when they were asking the voters to pass Measure TT. Which makes it look like they had been running a bait and switch operation all along. And not for the first time.

But budget shortfalls and other fiscal problems haven't stopped them from hiring a $312,000 a year consultant. Paid for out of, you got it, Measure TT money. This from the Pasadena Star News (click here):

PUSD Consultant to make more than $300,000 - A construction consultant hired by the school district to oversee the $350 million Measure TT bond program could make as much as $312,000 this year - more than the PUSD superintendent's salary. Consultant Robin Brown is being paid from the Measure TT capital improvement bond money approved by voters in 2008.

Now some Pasadena Unified School Board members are scratching their heads over why the district is doling out a six-figure consulting fee when Chief of Facilities David Azcarraga's job was created in 2009 specifically to oversee the Measure TT capital campaign.

His hiring in January came less than a year after red flags were raised in 2011 when a previous consultant, contractor SCMC Inc, billed the district for $824,860 for its work on Measure TT projects over three years.

It will be a miracle if any of this money actually reaches the schools at all. Of course, Measure TT was originally proposed because the previous school bond boondoggle, Measure Y, turned out to be less than what was needed. In part because significant chunks of it were woefully mismanaged, or even stolen. And I am sure there are those among us here in Sierra Madre who will be more than ready to tell us that another bond issue is just the thing to solve this shortfall as well.


Pasadena resident Wayne Lusvardi, who writes for the cutting edge state politics news site, is responding here to an article that was published in the L.A. Times owned Pasadena Sun. An operation that apparently does not always care to publish reader feedback. Or, perhaps with all the bear sighting news they feel the need to report, there just isn't enough room. Here is what Wayne has to say:

In "what the Numbers Really Look Like" (Pasadena Sun, Aug. 19) Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board Member Scott Phelps says an $8 million cut in state funding cannot be absorbed without "negotiating a shorter school year and associated furloughs with our employees, both of which are highly undesirable."

Phelps' credibility is an issue. Contrary to PUSD's claims of teacher layoffs in 2009, there were no core teacher layoffs in 2009, there were no core teacher layoffs even though voters defeated the proposed Measure CC School Parcel Tax.

The state has reduced school funding statewide by billions of dollars by borrowing funds for the deficit in the state's general operating fund. What the proposed tax increase propositions on the November ballot are largely about is paying those loans back. But PUSD and other school districts have survived those cuts and there is no reason to believe they can't continue to do so.

What Phelps doesn't want to tell you is that any cuts would mainly fall on ancillary staff and building maintenance costs. Maintenance costs were vastly reduced due to PUSD spending about $1 billion in facility upgrades in the last 10 years. And we haven't experienced a corresponding rise in property values for that $1 billion in school upgrades.

According to the State Dept. of Education, the most comparable school district in California to PUSD in size of enrollment and proportion of English learner students is ABC School District in Cerritos. PUSD received $1,874 more per student each year in Federal, state and local funds, reflecting about $33.3 million more than ABC Unified.

Given the lack of credibility of PUSD, I would suggest to Mr. Phelps that he submit his case for more local school funding to a panel selected by the local Republican Club for review.

Moreover, I would suggest PUSD become a "Basic Aid School District" and go without state school funding just as San Marino does. This would put home-voters, not a school board stacked with special interest education consultants as Mr. Phelps, on the PUSD Board who could provide some political legitimacy for the need for local school funding. It's wonderful that school districts are more representative of the various ethnic groups in the community. But this has led to a lack of "consent of the governed" and consent of the taxed when it comes to requests for local school funding.

What PUSD lacks is not funding but political legitimacy.

Why I am starting to like Anthony Portantino

You know, he really does look like a Sacramento politician. Kinda portly and permanently be-suited, with a smile that never seems to leave his mug. But you know what? He tells the truth a lot, and in the political dystopia that is California these days that really makes him stand out.

You may recall not too long ago that Portantino went to war with the Democratic leadership of the California Assembly he belongs to over all kinds of secretive financial shenanigans hidden from the public. And despite everything that goon squad threw at him for his inconvenient truth addiction, he stuck to his guns and won.

And now he is telling the truth about the 710 Tunnel. While the likes of Chris Holden are waffling up a storm, old Anthony just tells it like it really is. This from the Pasadena Star News (click here):

Portantino calls for end to 710 project - In a strongly worded letter to the California Department of Transportation and the California Transportation Commission, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, demanded that transportation leaders "put the brakes" on the 710 Freeway extension.

Portantino demanded that state and municipal transportation authorities "cease all activity relating to the advancement of the SR 710 extension. The SR 710 Study process has been mired in controversy since its inception. I have personally witnessed actions and activities by proponents of a tunnel option, which have been questionable, but more accurately, would be portrayed as biased and tainted," he said Wednesday.

Portantino accused Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of misrepresenting "important information while hiding the true cost and benefit of this project from the public."

Now here is where it gets really good. If Anthony Portantino ever decides to give up politics, a wonderful career in blogging could be waiting for him.

"When you have a project of this magnitude, with this many unanswered questions, manipulations and false information, one has to wonder why decision makers aren't immediately putting a halt to this insanity," Portantino said. "It's a fraud being perpetrated upon the taxpayers of California at the expense of taxpayers and the quality of life of those neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley which will be devastated by a project that is unwelcome and disastrous."

At last, an elected state official speaks the truth about Caltrans, Metro, and their Godforsaken tunnel. Be still my heart.

There is also an article today in the Star News (click here) regarding Metro's big decision yesterday to drop a number of the 710 Tunnel options, including any surface routes. Which means they can now begin their environmental studies on the 710 "Hole to Nowhere" Tunnel. Something which was their real aim all along.

A great information site on the 710 Tunnel

Our friends over at Pasadena Adjacent have created a great web page covering the latest up to date information on the "hole to nowhere." It includes information on studies linking cancer rates to traffic of the kind heading our way from the 710 Corridor should the hole ever get dug. Check it all out at

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today's Pasadena Star News Op-Ed Column: "Metrotrans Conspires on the 710"

(Mod: Several of the fine people who comment on this blog asked me to write a column for the Pasadena Star News regarding my theories about the God forsaken 710 Tunnel. So, agreeable person that I am, I did just that. The following is in today's paper edition and on their website as well. You can access this article on the PSN site by clicking here. When you are there be sure to read the Anthony Portantino interview on the 710 Tunnel. It is hard hitting and, in my opinion, he'd make one hell of a blogger.)

I want you to know just how fond I am of conspiracy theories. And not just because they are invariably more interesting than the more pedestrian forms of information available to the common man, but often they turn out to be correct as well.

I know it is the wont of local government types to proclaim that their detractors amongst the blogging and open government advocacy set are concocting conspiracy theories when they attempt to uncover what exactly is being done with such inconsequential things as the taxpayers' hard earned cash and civil rights. But isn't that just a symptom of the problem? When local government agencies are more concerned with how they are going to appear to Sacramento and L.A. County bureaucrats, along with government employee unions and large special interest lobbyists, the public that funds them becomes less the people they answer to and more a marketing problem.

A fine example of a conspiracy theory that could be far more reality-based than anything put out lately by Caltrans or Metro (or, as we have chosen to call them here, Metrotrans), is the suspected tactic being used to coerce the building of the 710 so-called connector tunnel. Something that has been about as locally popular as the various respiratory illnesses it would enable amongst those residing within the Pasadenas.

You may recall that a few months back Metrotrans began to hold various dog and pony shows throughout the area touting their openness to all sorts of possibilities for 710/210 connector routes. The happy notion they hoped to convey was that they weren't married to the 710 Tunnel, and wide open to all sorts of alternative route ideas as well. And they wanted to hear all about your thoughts on the matter.

Of course, once the alternative routes were put down on paper and circulated throughout the Pasadena Archipelago, people literally freaked out. How could anyone even dream of putting an 8 (or is that 10) lane freeway through my neighborhood? And how could you even think of bulldozing my house to build so horrible a thing? That is what people said.

And history was made. Local community organizations were formed, meetings held and, once the opportunity was presented to the people, the appropriate City Council meeting was flooded with hundreds upon hundreds of angry citizens. The result being that hero Pasadena City Councilpersons unanimously proclaimed their opposition to the 710 Extension going through whatever neighborhoods were represented at that evening's meeting.

But was this really an unintended consequence for Metrotrans? I have a few doubts. By allowing each of these neighborhoods to individually fear the 710 reaper, their original intent, putting the tunnel through South Pas and out onto the 210 Freeway, can now potentially be seen as a more acceptable possibility. To cite a quote from Anthony Portantino to the Star News, "I don't like pitting neighborhood against neighborhood." Which is exactly what was done here. And for very specific marketing purposes.

Look, I don't want the ecologically vile 710 "Cancer" Corridor connected to the 210. I don't want the air quality here in Sierra Madre reduced to that of Bell or Cudahy. And I certainly don't want this done so that cheaply made imported goods trucked out of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles can get to the shelves of big box discount retailers just a little more efficiently.

Which is actually my favorite conspiracy theory. You really have to wonder who is calling the shots here. Is it our government, or those faraway folks who are lending them all of that money?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SCAG Doesn't Even Pretend To Care

By now we are all quite familiar with the Southern California Association of Governments, or SCAG. These are the guys who bureaucratically enable the unfunded mass housing mandates demanded by a bought off legislature and their central planners in Sacramento. Basically they tell us what kind, and how much, new housing we need to plan for here in Sierra Madre. Things they claim to know a lot about even though chances are they have never even visited this place.

And whether we want it or not doesn't matter to them. They just take a big number, arbitrarily divide it up among a hundred or so cities by using some sort of rudimentary formula that is completely divorced from popular reality, and then stick us, along with everyone else in the "SCAG Region," with unfunded planning mandates that would wreck the place should they ever actually result in anything getting built.

Of course, they have all sorts of crazy rationales for this. A decade or so back SCAG claimed that California was about to experience a huge population boom, and that if we didn't build vast quantities of new housing, and quick, we'd be inundated with eager new arrivals having nowhere to live. Of course, population didn't increase, the economy tanked and headcount flat-lined instead. And if you go and visit those unfortunate towns that actually built what is now known as "SCAG Housing" (vast swaths of cookie cutter condo sprawl), you will see hundreds of these sad things, mostly sitting empty and unsold. Many now owned by the banks that were dumb enough to finance them.

Nowadays SCAG Housing is being peddled by the usual pack of professional prevaricators as, believe it or not, a solution to global warming. Sacramento's specious rationale being that if everyone lives close together, folks won't have to drive so far to see each other, thereby cutting down on the greenhouse gases produced by automobiles. Even better in their minds, people would use mass transportation, or even walk. Which is hilarious. Nobody walks in L.A. County.

SCAG's demands are contained in something called Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers, or the acronymic RHNA. Every unfortunate City living within their Southern California suzerainty is arbitrarily assigned a RHNA number, which indicates just how much new SCAG Housing it must accommodate. All backed up by draconian state laws.

Each city is allowed to challenge their RHNA number of course, but the results are predetermined and appeals are almost always rejected by SCAG. The reasons for challenging might be good, as ours were, but the satraps at SCAG just don't care. They have orders from various central government planners, and honestly they just want to get it all over so they can go home, mix some drinks, and watch TV game shows.

If you visit SCAG's website, you'll be able to find a good indication of just how vapid and meaningless the RHNA appeals process can be. And a great example of their raging bureaucratic indifference can be found by clicking here and visiting a page called "Regional Housing Needs Assessment Subcommittee." There you can read all about their bizarre take on Sierra Madre's RHNA appeal. Check this out:

4.5 Appeal from the City of Sierra Madre: Ms. MaryAnn MacGillivray, representing Sierra Madre, stated that she was accompanied by Sierra Madre's Councilman John Cappoccia (sic), City Manager Lane Aguilar (sic), Development Services Director Danny Castro, and Public Works Director Bruce Zimmerman (sic).

Ms. MacGillivray stated that the current RHNA allocation given to Sierra Madre is partially unfair because it does not take into consideration factors that are unique to Sierra Madre. Ms. MacGillivray described three factors, water supply constraints, job-housing balance, and land use constraints that were particular to the City. Ms. Liu responded that, based on information supplied by the City, no decision was made by the water supplier board indicating that the supplier would not be able to sustain any future growth. Without evidence of such, staff cannot make a recommendation for a reduction to the City's allocation.

Ms. Liu stated that out of the three factors the City pointed out, she wanted to respond to the most crucial one, the water supply issue. Staff spent a lot of time reviewing the letter from the Sierra Madre's water supplier and did observe some statements about the potential decline in water supply. However, there is no decision made by the water supplier board indicating the supplier would not be able to sustain any future growth. If there is no evidence regarding that, staff cannot make recommendation otherwise.

Having reviewed the City's appeal and staff's recommendation, the RHNA Appeals Board completed its discussion. A motion was made (Kuenzi) to approve staff recommendation to deny the appeal request for the City of Sierra Madre.

While it was good to see that City Manager Lane Aguilar and Public Works Director Bruce Zimmerman were able to make it to this meeting, there doesn't seem to have been a lot of concern shown for Sierra Madre's appeal by SCAG staff. Sierra Madre's water problems are quite real, yet rather than asking for more information or clarifications or anything approximating real work, SCAG punted. There was no recognition that Sierra Madre is actually its own water supplier, and therefore might have additional evidence to offer regarding the claims made in this appeal. Either didn't even know, or didn't care enough to ask.

And they could have asked Public Works Director "Bruce Zimmerman" his opinions on the matter since he pretty much is the "water supplier board," but they didn't care to lift a finger quite that high. Rather they read a letter supplied by the City, decided it didn't meet its largely unstated criteria, and rejected everything.

Which means that should the SCAG Housing called for in this "RHNA process" ever actually get built, there is the very real possibility that there would not be adequate water available to meet the needs of the poor souls living there. But apparently SCAG doesn't care about that. They just went through the motions and then moved on to the appeals of any number of other cities. Almost all of which they also summarily rejected.

But maybe we shouldn't care, either. SCAG has been assigning us outlandish RHNA numbers for years now, and has a single house or condo ever been built here because of this? Not really. It would appear that this "process" is really little more than a futile bureaucratic exercise. And judging by the total indifference shown by SCAG to any appeals topics at hand, or the remarkably dismal quality of the reports available on their website, even they know it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sierra Madre City Hall and a Public Records Request

(Mod: Some of the events surrounding Sierra Madre's relationship with its law firm, Colantuono & Levin, have raised questions. This isn't anything new of course, the close involvement of this firm in the affairs of our City government have been a cause for concern for many in this town over the years. Recently open government advocate Gil Aguirre has been attempting to obtain documents from City Hall regarding Colantuono & Levin through a Public Records Request. And there have been some problems, as you shall see. I am posting here a letter and e-mail exchange between Gil and Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar. Consider this a progress report. We will have follow ups as things develop further.)

August 3, 2102

Re: Request to view public records

Dear Ms. Aguilar,

Pursuant to the rights afforded me under State laws, commonly referred to as the Brown Act and California Public Records Act, I seek to view the following public records held by your agency:

1. All invoices or other form of billing statements submitted by Colantuono & Levin to the City between September 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011.

2. Any invoices submitted by Colantuono & Levin to the city for services provided, or expenses incurred, which were provided by the firm to the City between September 15, 2011 and September 30, 2011.

3. Any and all payments made by the City to Colantuono & Levin, or any other law firm or attorney, between September 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011.

Once the requested records are available, simply contact me so that we can arrange a time which is convenient for staff for me to stop into City Hall and view the records. If I can provide any additional information which would assist staff in locating the requested records, do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely, Gil Aguirre

(Mod: Ten or so days later the following was issued by the City of Sierra Madre:)

August 13, 2012

Dear Mr. Aguirre:

On August 13, 2012 the City of Sierra Madre received your request for Public Records, pursuant to the California Public records Act, Government Code Section 6250 et seq.

You requested the following records:

(Mod: these are the same three items detailed in Mr. Aguirre's request above.)

Pursuant to Government Code Section 6253(c) this letter serves as a formal response to your request and noting that I am responsible for this determination. I am including the information that can be disclosed and for which we have records.

The documents for items 1 to 3 will be available for your review on or after August 16, 2012. The invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted. Information, other than the dates, times spent and total billed, will be redacted.

You may contact the City Manager's office at (626) 355-7135 to arrange a time that is convenient for you to review the records. Copies of records can be provided at a cost of 6 cents per page.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.


Elaine Aguilar
City Manager

(Mod: Upon receipt of Elaine's letter, Gil replied ..)

August 14, 2012

Re: August 13th City response to public records request

Dear Ms. Aguilar,

Thank you for your August 13, 2012 determination regarding my original August 3rd request to view public records.

I must take exception to your determination that "the invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted." You indicate that the City intends on redacting all information other than "the dates, times spent and total billed."

I would suggest to you that courts have found that legal billings are protected by the attorney client privilege only to the extent that they contain confidential information communicated by the client or the legal opinions, theories or conclusions of the attorneys. The courts have also held that the identity of the client, the amount of the fee, the identification of payment by case file name and the general purpose of the work performed are usually not protected from disclosure by the attorney client privilege. Therefore, redaction of this type of information is unacceptable.

I would ask that you reconsider your determination in this regard and notify me of your decision. Once I hear back from you, I will make arrangements to come into the City to view the records at a time that is convenient for staff.

Sincerely, Gil Aguirre

(Several days of silence later ..)

Friday, August 17, 2012 3:45 PM

Ms Aguilar,

Please inform me if the City has reconsidered its determination and if the requested records are available for viewing.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Gil Aguirre

(35 minutes pass, and then ..)

Friday, August 17, 2012 4:20 PM

Hello Mr. Aguirre,

As previously advised, I will make redacted copies of the legal invoices you requested available. Information that is either attorney-work product or attorney-client privileged will be redacted; this means that any invoices regarding litigation matters will contain only the dates, time spent and the amount billed. For non-litigation matters, any description of the work which does not touch on attorney-work product or confidential attorney-client privileged matters will not be redacted. In addition, unredacted monthly summaries of the work performed and cost for each work category are public record documents and are available for your review without redaction.

We are in the process of reviewing the actual invoices for confidential matters and anticipate that the appropriately redacted invoices, along with the unredacted monthly summaries, will be available for your review after August 22nd.

Sincerely, Elaine Aguilar

(Mod: That is where things stand at this time. More information will be posted here as it becomes available.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Letter Sent to All 30 Remaining SGVCOG Cities

(Mod: The Star News posted an article on their site Aug 17 entitled "San Gabriel Valley COG distances itself from director charged with four felony counts" (click here). In this article they discussed a letter sent out to the remaining 30 SGVCOG cities detailing the alleged criminal behavior of the COG's former Executive Director, Nick Conway. The research behind this letter, written by Gil Aguirre and Kelly Aviles, is very thorough, and the evidence devastating. The cities contemplating leaving the COG now have all the information they need to pack up and get out should they choose. Many are giving it some very serious thought.)

Re: Membership in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments

Dear Mayor, City Council Members, City Manager, and City Attorney:

I believe that most public officials are committed to serving the best interests of the community and the public they represent. Further, most of the agencies within the San Gabriel Valley work hard to maintain a reputation for operating in an open and transparent fashion. However, your agency’s membership in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) has put those admirable goals at risk.

The SGVCOG was formed to further the collective interests of the entire region, an important mission. However, under the direction of Executive Director Nicholas Conway and his management company, Arroyo Associates, Inc., the SGVCOG has ignored its obligations to the public and disregarded numerous laws, which exist to protect the public. Mr. Conway has not only used his position as Executive Director for his own self‐enrichment but has fostered an atmosphere of cronyism and secrecy within the organization, which often seems to operate more like a secret society than a public agency.

Recently, after conducting a lengthy and thorough investigation, the District Attorney arrested Mr. Conway on four felony charges. In addition, the SGVCOG recently settled litigation that was brought against the organization for numerous violations of important public transparency laws. This settlement includes the SGVCOG admission of multiple violations and a stipulated Court Order, violation of which could lead to possible criminal prosecution, should similar Brown Act violations be committed again.

Yet, in numerous reports given by SGVCOG delegates to their respective City Councils, these facts have gone completely unmentioned. Unfortunately, it appears as if many of the City delegates are simply not paying any attention, thereby contributing to the total lack of oversight which has made these abuses possible.

As public officials, you are ultimately responsible for the agency you have created. The SGVCOG delegate from your city receives compensation for their participation in the SGVCOG and owes us, the members of the public, a duty to ensure that we are protected from those who would seek to misuse public funds to their benefit and our detriment. Further, we expect that the public’s business be conducted in an open, ethical, and transparent fashion.

A range of additional issues continue to plague the SGVCOG, just some of which include:

In contradiction to Government Code Sections 6500, et seq., the financial oversight of all SGVCOG finances has been placed in the hands of an unlicensed CPA, who was never bonded.

A budget shell game, where Mr. Conway has presented different budgets to different committees, in violation of the SGVCOG by‐laws.

The recent settlement admitting to multiple violations of the state transparency laws and requiring the SGVCOG payment of $50,000.00 for my attorney’s fees, as required under the law. This payment does not include any additional attorney fees charged by Jones & Mayer, the SGVCOG legal counsel. The funding of this settlement will either require a reduction in the SGVCOG operating budget or additional financial contributions by the member agencies.

The most recent Caltrans Audit, which again concluded that there has been mismanagement and improper billing of grant funds, conflicts of interest by Mr. Conway, and inadequate financial oversight, resulting in the repayment of much of those funds and the agency being designated as “high risk” for future funding.

The proposed split from ACE, in an apparent attempt to protect and insulate ACE from the myriad of problems facing the SGVCOG. The latest proposal calls for the SGVCOG legal counsel to spearhead this process and for ACE to fund the cost of these proposed legal fees to the estimated tune of $100,000.00‐$200,000.00.

Attempts to censor and silence delegates who have spoken out or question the SGVCOG operations under Mr. Conway. After first attempting to implement a “code of conduct” which faltered, these officials have now brought forth a proposal to alter the agency by‐laws so that two outspoken critics will be removed from their role on the Executive Committee.

As if these issues were not enough cause for concern, Mr. Conway has now submitted a letter to the SGVCOG, claiming that he is entitled to having his criminal defense costs paid for by the agency under an Errors and Omissions insurance policy ‐ a remarkable assertion considering his contractual obligation to refrain from“...any other activities that could be considered to be a real or apparent conflict of interest under any federal or state statutes or regulations.”

Further, while Mr. Conway has technically been removed as the SGVCOG Executive Director, he continues to have full and unrestricted access to all staff – after all, the staff is employed by Arroyo Associates, Inc., not the SGVCOG and the SGVCOG and Arroyo Associates, Inc., offices are one in the same. Additionally, he continues to receive payment in full under the 4 separate management contracts he holds with the SGVCOG – including those at issue in the felony charges. In June alone, Arroyo Associates, Inc. was paid some $66,000. This is especially egregious, given that the SGVCOG has had to incur the additional expense of hiring an interim Executive Director. In response to objection regarding the continued payments under these agreements, the suggested solution has been to hire the Arroyo employees as employees of the SGVCOG. Rewarding the company responsible for the SGVCOG’s mismanagement, by hiring them as employees, is an outrageous and irresponsible solution to the SGVCOG’s continued problems.

I respectfully request, on behalf of the public, that you reconsider your membership and funding of this agency with our tax dollars, unless and until there are wide‐ranging, comprehensive changes made to this organization. At a minimum, if your delegate has held their position with the SGVCOG for a prolonged period, replacement of your current City delegate is warranted, as these abuses have been allowed to occur under their watch. To do nothing is to put your agency’s reputation and the good work that your agency has tried to accomplish in jeopardy. The upcoming SGVCOG Governing Board meeting is this Thursday, August 16th. Please urge your delegate to speak up for the public and end this pattern of mismanagement.

Should the Cities and the SGVCOG fail to take action to protect our legal rights and interests, I will look at all available actions to remedy this negligence and outrageous misuse of public funds.

I am enclosing a copy of the recent litigation settlement, as well as my complaint to the District Attorney which addresses some of the issues related to the mismanagement of the SGVCOG. Supporting documentation, including the JPA agreement, By‐Laws, Conflict of Interest Code, and the contracts between the SGVCOG and Arroyo Associates, Inc., can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

If you have any further questions or would like to know more about the SGVCOG’s activities, please do not hesitate to contact me or my attorney, Kelly Aviles.

Respectfully submitted,

Gil Aguirre

Kelly Aviles, Esq.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

That Most Beloved Tattler Sunday News & Review

(People seem to like the Sunday News & Review. I think there are some good reasons for that. The first being it is Sunday, and people are more relaxed and reflective on their day of rest. Another is that it has a lot of news. In this the modern age we just can't seem to get enough information. We're awash in the stuff, and who could possible resist the urge to get even more? And I am certain there are other good reasons for this as well, but I can't think of any right now. So let's get to the news!)

Caltrans spent millions on unjustified house repairs, audit says (click here) - Caltrans spent $22.5 million since 2008 to maintain homes it owns in and near Pasadena, but couldn't show the work was necessary or cost-effective, the report finds.

California transportation officials have spent millions of dollars making overpriced, unjustified repairs to houses the state owns in and around Pasadena, according to an audit released Thursday.

Caltrans bought the houses decades ago to bulldoze for the long-planned, never built extension of the 710 Freeway. The agency has spent $22.5 million since 2008 to maintain the homes, but transportation officials are "unable to demonstrate that the repairs were necessary, reasonable or cost-effective," according to a report by the California State Auditor, which was sparked by a Times investigation.

The state is also losing $22 million per year because tenants, including 15 state employees, are paying far below market rates for rent. Other homes, some of which have been recognized as historical landmarks, have been boarded up and empty for years.

(Mod: And these are the guys we are required to entrust to design, plan for, environmentally evaluate and actually build the 710 Tunnel? They can't even function as a landlord.)

Sierra Madre City Manager's Report, 8-17-2012 (click here) - (Mod: I am not sure how many people know about this one. If you are looking to find out how the City Council meeting agendas are evolving for future meetings, this is the place to go. This report can now be found regularly on the City of Sierra Madre website.)

Bill to limit gifts to California lawmakers dies a quiet death (click here) - Legislation to restrict free tickets and other gifts to lawmakers died quietly Thursday without a public vote in an election year.

The measure targeted freebies ranging from golf outings to spa treatments given by individuals or groups that hire lobbyists.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee shelved Senate Bill 1426, so it will not reach the Assembly floor and no committee member will be on record opposing it.

SB 1426 targeted golf, skiing, hunting or fishing trips, as well as gift cards and tickets to theme parks, racetracks, and professional sporting events. The measure also would have barred tickets costing more than $25 to concert, theater, or collegiate or amateur sporting events.

(Mod: A exciting new wrinkle has emerged here in the one party state. Anonymous Assembly voting.)

710 alternatives raise concerns in local communities (click here) - Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck said the new routes have caused fear in areas that could be affected by the "new" route alternatives, like those through the San Rafael neighborhood.

"A number of these are unfortunate because they don't make sense and it puts the residents in a very difficult position ... that potentially could put them at risk when refinancing or trying to sell their property," Beck said.

Freeway advocate Nat Read of Pasadena said he was sympathetic to residents afraid their house may soon get bulldozed.

"If a line is drawn on the map and it comes through my house or my neighborhood ... I'm going to come out and protest," read said. "I think that is the inevitable result of being forced to offer a number of arbitrary alternatives."

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, raised additional concerns that with residents in cities across Metro's "710 study area" opposing and supporting different routes, the proposals have caused a divide in the San Gabriel Valley community. "I don't like pitting one neighborhood against another neighborhood," Portantino said.

And, Portantino added, he's not sure whether Metro is actually considering the new alternatives at all. "I think the folks in downtown L.A. are going to try to put on a show to justify a predetermined conclusion," Portantino said. "Fundamentally, this is a flawed process."

(Mod: Nat Read, by the way, is a consultant paid to advocate and organize support for the building of the 710 Tunnel. For him to come out and question the "divide and conquer" strategy Metro is working right now is hilarious. Who knows, maybe he even wrote it. And it looks like Portantino is getting it. Metro must be hearing footsteps by now. Their whole rotten scam is falling into pieces.)

San Gabriel Valley COG distances itself from director charged with four felony counts (click here) - The principal concern with the COG is its administrative structure. Conway acts as both the executive director of the COG and president of Arroyo Associates, which has contracts with the COG. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office alleges Arroyo Associates gained financially from contracts and grants obtained for the COG, amounting to a conflict of interest.

By obtaining and managing the extra state and county grants, the DA's Offices alleges Conway's company received an additional $143,000 in one fiscal period.

Long-time critic and open government activist Gil Aguirre of San Dimas said in a letter sent Thursday to the 30 member cities of the COG that information he obtained through public records requests indicates Arroyo & Associates was paid $66,000 in the month of June by COG.

South El Monte Councilman and COG vice president Joe Gonzales could not confirm that figure and said he thought it was closer to $35,000 a month. COG attorney Dick Jones confirmed that Aguirre was given documents as a result of public record requests.

(Mod: We will publish tomorrow, and in its entirety, Gil Aguirre's letter to the 30 remaining member cities of "The COG." It is a devastating document.)

Steven Jobs' stolen iPad unwittingly used by 'Kenny the Clown' after burglary (click here) - What would you do if you had Steve Jobs' iPad? Kenny the Clown, who had the late Apple co-founder's tablet all to himself for a few days this month, didn't play any games, surf the net or check for any top-secret corporate documents.

Instead, he loaded iTunes to play the "Pink Panther" theme song and Michael Jackson, using the magical device to entertain Bay Area kids and tourists during his clown routine.

He had no idea the device came from the fabled Jobs residence until after his friend who gave him the gadget was charged with breaking into the CEO's Palo Alto home. By then, the cops had already shown up at his door and taken it away.

"It would be like getting a football from Joe Montana that was stolen out of his house," said the 47-year-old professional clown, whose real name is Kenneth Kahn. "It's bizarre, it's really bizarre."

(Mod: It can't be easy being a clown in California these days. The distinctions between them and those in charge of the place having become somewhat blurred.)

The Tattler's Vacation (click here) - Today was supposed to be the last day we'd be working on the blog until early September. The rationale being that this would be a good time to recharge batteries and get ready for what should be a very interesting fall. That is no longer the case as we have at least two days more worth of stuff we need to cover. So maybe Wednesday. And then again, maybe not. I am apparently leisure challenged, and do not vacation well.

But wait, there's more. This is the week The Tattler will cross the One Million Hits mark. Which is a lot for a public affairs blog that largely covers the doings of a town of less than 11,000 people. You can only wonder what the next million is going to bring.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is Metro Employing a Divide and Conquer Strategy with the 710 Extension?

There are just so many good blogs around these days. Blogs taking on the powers that be in the ways these folks dislike the most, that being they tell the truth. And there is no organization that so badly needs the bright lights of an unvarnished reality shown down upon it than Metro. One blog that has been doing an especially solid job of covering the resident uprising against the 710 so-called "extension" over in Pasadena is Pasadena Adjacent (click here).

Here is a quote from a recent Pasadena Adjacent article related to today's topic that really opened my eyes to some perspectives I hadn't thought a lot about before.

"As a citizen of Garvanza/Highland Park, I'm not only against the inclusion of my neighborhood in the nefarious 710 extension, but ALL 710 extensions. I believe, after listening to today's radio broadcast, the interview in the Pasadena Weekly, the Romana Community gathering last Monday, and the questionable way this has been fast tracked ... we can only conclude that our community has been recruited into a game of ill will "Corpo Speak." A cleverly played hand in order to turn one community against the other, once race against another, rich against poor; and whatever else you can throw against the wall to divide and conquer us. My hope, through action, is to see a united front for all those communities you have placed in your cross hairs. No on the 710 Extension."

I have come to believe that Metro may very well be scaring the crap out of certain Pasadena neighborhoods with their "surface route alternatives" in order to make the 710 Tunnel seem like an acceptable compromise. The massive turnouts at various meetings, including one in particular with the Pasadena City Council, have shown that any targeted neighborhoods will react and let their opposition be known, and loudly. And, as we saw in Pasadena, elected officials will support them.

The responses from some widely quoted officials, elected or government employed, have been to oppose certain Metro proposed routes for the 710 Extension. But how many times do you hear anything from these folks about opposing the linking of the 710 Corridor with the 210 altogether? Something that would funnel massive truck and auto traffic from one of the most polluted stretches of freeway anywhere right into our portion of the San Gabriel Valley?

Here is a particularly obvious "divide and conquer" take on the situation from Chris Holden, as quoted in an August 14th article published in the Pasadena Star News (click here):

Pasadena City Councilman and State Assembly candidate Chris Holden urged Metro to divulge which routes are "simply dead on arrival."

"I'm asking Metro to cut to the chase and bring down the temperature," Holden said. "Because for all of us to have to go through this kind of anxiety unnecessarily is cruel and unusual punishment.

Holden also said Monday he was not necessarily opposed to all options for the 710 extension.

In other words, after winding up certain neighborhoods about the possibility of their being consumed by the 710, you then let them off the hook. Thereby allowing these particular neighborhoods the sense of having won their battle. Something that effectively leaves those still in the path of Metro's wave of freeway terror with fewer motivated allies left to help them fight their particular fight.

The paid consultant charged with conning people into supporting the 710 Extension, Nat Read, also seems to have bought into the "divide and conquer" strategy, and pretty much says so in an August 18th Star News article (click here).

... Nat Read, chairman of the 710 Freeway Coalition, said he thinks the anger in Pasadena will simmer down once the San Rafael routes are eliminated as possibilities for the final project.

"This has happened in neighborhood after neighborhood - everywhere alternative routes were suggested," Read said. "Once the process goes forward and that route is no longer considered, then there isn't anything to get agitated about."

The "process" in this case apparently being first threatening key influential neighborhoods with being plowed under to build a freeway, then allowing them the sense of having escaped a terrible fate. Which to me is about as coercive and cynical a strategy as any government entity has ever rolled out here. And you do have to ask exactly what these surface "alternative routes" are an alternative to. With the only answer available being the 710 Tunnel. The tunnel having been the goal of Metro (and Caltrans) from the very start, and apparently remaining so even today.

What we need to remember is that this fight is important to everyone in the area. If you think the 210 Freeway is crowded now, or the air quality isn't so hot, just wait until Metro begins dumping massive gouts of 710 "Cancer Alley" Corridor diesel truck traffic from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on us. Environmentally you will think you're now living in Bell, Paramount or Cudahy. Just because an extended 710 Freeway won't be going right next your house, or maybe even under it, doesn't mean you won't be suffering from some of the deadlier consequences.

Fortunately there are those who have seen through this. Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison sees the "no build" option as being the only acceptable one. Plus you can add to that select list the entire town of South Pasadena, whose elected officials now believe the goal of this "process" is to once again make them the target. Again, from the August 18 PSN:

City Councilman Philip Putnam said Wednesday he thinks the city should be wary that a recent opposition vote by the Pasadena City Council against some of the 710 Freeway extension alternatives could push the chosen route back into South Pasadena.

Which, if true, would mean everything is back to square one. Except this time with much of Pasadena having been conditioned to believe that the tunnel is an acceptable alternative to the 710 Extension being built in their backyard.

As Sierra Madre begins to consider how best to show our opposition, and what exactly it is that we need to be opposed to, it must be kept in mind that no matter where this thing gets built, the final result will be a 210 Freeway choked with massive truck traffic out of the ports, and environmental conditions far worse than any this town has ever seen. Our quality of life here will suffer greatly.

Accept no alternatives. The only real choice is to build no 710 Extension at all.