Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Sierra Madre the Halloween Movie Capitol of the World?

I'm not sure there is any town in America that takes Halloween more seriously than Sierra Madre. As far as I can see the only holiday that surpasses it in overall citywide participation might be Christmas. But I am not sure. Certainly more homes get decorated at Christmas, and there is a little bit extra of that "for the kids" feel to much of it. Especially the part having to do with the buying and consuming of mass amounts of stuff. But as far as people just throwing themselves into the spirit of it all? Halloween might take first prize in our little world. Just head downtown tonight and you will see what I mean.

The only place I know about in town where Halloween is not observed is Bethany Christian School. When my kids attended preschool there October 31st was known as "Storybook Character Day." All the kids used to dress up as their favorite figures from children's literature to celebrate. God bless them.

Movie makers have apparently long viewed Sierra Madre's innate quotient for the frightening to be the perfect fodder for its horror films. I was surfing about the internet and there really has been quite a few horror movies filmed here. Perhaps it is because we are not too far from Hollywood and cinema folk find it convenient to film here. Though I am also of the opinion that not appearing like so many of our more au courant California neighbors could be a contributing factor as well. Certainly there are a lot of spooky older looking homes and neighborhoods appropriate to the genre in this town.

But there may be more to it as well. Sierra Madre could very well just be a scary place. In so many different ways. While the exact reason for this might be difficult to pin down, the movie industry apparently seems to recognize it. And when it comes time to film movies of the horror genre, this is the town they often come to in order to get the job done right.

One interesting site that I came across is called "Best Movies Filmed in Sierra Madre, California." You can access it by clicking here. Out of the 8 films this site claims were made here, 6 of them are horror films. Here is that list along with the supplied short description:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): Dr. Miles Bennel returns to his small town practice to find several of his patients suffering the paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors.

Scream (1996): A masked killer is on the loose in a small town. He terrorizes local teenagers using his knowledge of horror movies and condemns them for not knowing the unspoken rules. A sleazy tabloid journalist is determined to investigate and link this killer to a crime that happened one year ago.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): This sequel has a plot that is unrelated to the earlier movies of the same name. In this horror story, a large halloween mask making company has plans to kill millions of American children with deadly masks.

Family Plot (1976): Filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, fake medium Madam Blanche (Barbara Harris) and her taxi driver boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) make a living by scamming people with her phony powers. They are hired by an aging widow Julia Rainbird, to find her nephew who was given away for adoption many years before.

Halloween II (1981): It's the same night as the original Halloween. Michael Myers is around the neighborhood, after being gunned down by Dr. Loomis six times. Now he's in a hospital where the girl Laurie Strode was taken. And there's a reason why Michael is after her ...

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991): In part six of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, dream monster Freddy Krueger has finally killed all of the children of his hometown, and seeks to escape its confines to hunt fresh prey.

That is an impressive list. Oddly, the first Halloween movie is not listed.

Another interesting site that discusses Sierra Madre's attraction for horror film makers is called Dark Destinations (click here). The dark destination in this case being our very own Pioneer Cemetery. Two films of note are discussed, the first being Alfred Hitchcock's 1976 classic, Family Plot.  This was apparently Alfred's final film. Here is how Pioneer Cemetery's role in this film is described:

In the film, Sierra Madre's Pioneer Cemetery doubles as Barlow Creek Cemetery. It appears in a sequence where Dern's character pursues a widow at her husband's funeral, hoping that she will lead him to the mysterious nephew. That pursuit comes to a stop at the fake grave of the nephew who faked his death years earlier.

The other film that starred Pioneer Cemetery is the original Halloween, filmed in 1976. Here is how that appearance is described:

Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery appears in a sequence early on in Halloween, where Myer's doctor, Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), comes to the cemetery to seek out Judith's grave. The caretaker (Arthur Malet) leads him to the grave (Row 18, Plot 20) where they discover that the headstone has been stolen. While the caretaker attributes it to a Halloween stunt performed by the local kids, it is a confirmation to Loomis that Myers has returned to Haddonfield - or as he puts it, "He came home."

However, this is not where Pioneer Cemetery's claim to cinematic fame ends. Another website called "I Am Not A Stalker " (click here) notes that our local graveyard played a cameo role in the television series Twin Peaks. In particular as the scene of this show's climatic first season finale. Here is how Not A Stalker discusses the matter:

As I mentioned in my post last month about The Old Place restaurant, thanks to fellow stalker/David-Lynch-aficionado Brad, from the Brad D Studios website, I recently discovered that fave television series Twin Peaks was shot almost in its entirety in Southern California.  Because I have long been a Twin Peaks fanatic, I was beyond eager to start stalking the many locations mentioned on Brad’s blog – the most exciting of which was Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery, the site of the funeral of Laura Palmer (aka Sheryl Lee) in the Season 1 episode titled “Rest in Pain”.  Surprisingly, even though Sierra Madre is located just a few miles east of Pasadena and even though the cemetery has been featured in several spooky productions over the years, until perusing through Brad’s site in early September, I had never before even heard of it!  So, because the place fit in perfectly with my Haunted Hollywood theme, I waited to drag the Grim Cheaper out there until this past weekend.

Back when the Sierra Madre Patch was posting more original material about this town than it is now, Tony Brandenburg contributed an article about Sierra Madre's penchant for horror films called, "Halloween: The Night He Came Home (to Sierra Madre)" (click here). Tony notes there that the Episcopal Church of the Ascension was used for filming a few sequences of the horror classic The Fog (1979).

But our favorite church on East Laurel cannot hold a stick to Alverno High School:

Alverno High School is listed as a location for and horror and suspense themed movies, including  Tim Burton’s biopic of Plan 9 from Outer Space director Ed Wood (1994), and Poison Ivy (1992). It also was used for a couple of episodes of V, the Series. Bailey Canyon was listed as a film location for Nightmare on Elm Street VI: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). My favorite discovery, hands down, was learning that Sierra Madre was listed by IBDM as the single locale for the z-grade comedy horror picture The Worm Eaters (1977) which was directed by the late Herb Robins, alumni of Dennis Steckler films The Thrill Killers, Steckler’s send-up of- what else?- Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Tony also points out that a scene from Halloween III was shot inside the Buccaneer. Something that makes a lot of sense to me, and on several levels.

One Sierra Madre movie that does not get included on any of the horror film genre sites I've seen is the nuclear terror film Testament (click here). Nuclear war may not have too many Freddy Krueger overtones, but it is nonetheless suitably frightening. If you haven't seen this film you really need to check it out. Scene after scene includes footage straight off the streets of Sierra Madre. You could very well come away from the experience believing the world really has ended, and that it all happened right here.

Have a great Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chris Holden, Bigleys, Bart Doyle and the UHC

Yes, Charlie Brown, I am the Great Pumpkin
Mod: There is some very impressive research here from Tony Brandenburg connecting State Assembly candidate Chris Holden with some rather sketchy low income housing projects. Plus many of the usual suspects are here as well, including a few controversial PUSD figures and one individual that we have come to know and love here in Sierra Madre. And, as fate would have it, a bow tying e-mail that I was not supposed to ever see somehow showed up in my mailbox yesterday. It went out to about 200 people, including 4 current members of our Planning CommissionMayor Josh Moran, John Hutt and the Green Committee's very own City Hall ghost writer, James Carlson.

Here is what this e-mail said:

Who Says Democrats and Republicans Can't Get Along? Join Former Sierra Madre Mayors Bart Doyle (R) and Enid Joffe (D) in a Bipartisan "Meet and Greet" For ... Pasadena City Council Member and California Assembly Candidate Chris Holden, Friday, November 2, 2012 7:00 P.M. At the Home Of Enid Joffe (etc.)

(As a side note, Enid's old man, Joel Shapiro, who will also be in attendance, is the current Superintendent of Schools for South Pasadena. I wonder how the good citizens of South Pas would feel about having Supe Shapiro in league with the 710 Tunnel's very own Minister of the Sinister, Chris Holden?)

Now the thought of Bart "RINODoyle getting all bipartisan because he just loves a candidate has got to be about the most hilarious thing ever committed to e-mail. As Tony Brandenburg proves below, love has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is about development to be consummated on PUSD owned property. Enabled by big government bucks, slick pols and the Hahn family-owned political machine that gets Chris Holden dressed in the morning and puts him back to bed at night.

Tony Brandenburg:

A Los Angeles Perspective

Urban Housing Solutions, LLC are a lobbying group who have a number of clients (click here), among them is Urban Housing Communities, LLC (UHC), of Santa Ana, a company owned by three siblings- Douglas, John, and David Bigley (click here). Scrolling through the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission Lobbying Firm Quarterly Report for the period ending December 31, 2008 (I know, it was a while ago) there is a bit of activity from acronym groups - and if you know what the initials stand for, and who was receiving the money (click here). CHMB Consulting Firm (Chris Holden’s property and business firm), UHC LA 29, L.P., and owned by Douglas Bigley, who seems to like to build stuff near freeways and train lines (click here). UHC LA 29, L.P. may be a separate entity from UHC, LLC, though married by bloodlines. In fact, following the search term Urban Housing Solutions, through the parent directory Los Angeles City Ethics Commission Lobbying Firm Quarterly Report will reveal a whole plethora of Bigley women, too. Try it, it’s fun, and educational, too! (click here) and what is the common thread that stitches these interests together? Land.  Los Angeles is the land of milk and honey for property lawyers, property development, and construction companies lobbying the City Council, and in the center of it all, December, 2008, was Chris Holden, and Urban Housing Communities.

A Pasadena Perspective

Chris Holden, the politically groomed Hahn Machine Pasadena superstar and PUSD alumni, is currently running for an Assembly seat. He is, according to his website endorsed by three PUSD Board of Education members- BOE President Renatta Cooper, Vice President Ed Honowitz, and Bart Doyle supported Tom Selinske (click here). You would think Holden’s people would spell his name right if they are going to name drop him, right?  There is also some political muscle, clout, and history supporting Chrissy,  including Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard.

It’s an impressive list, but it is incomplete. That’s because Mr. Holden has lots of friends.

See, there are other endorsements, too, but they are the kind you don’t brag about, because they could, possibly, constitute a conflict of interest. For those kinds of “financial endorsements” you have to be willing to dig deeper. You have to figure in the lobbying reports to get the full picture.

First to consider, Nate Holden, Chris’s pop, was an aide to Kenneth Hahn, the former Los Angeles County Supervisor. You all remember Nate, he got those menacing sneakers off of the telephone lines (click here).

Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Kenneth’s daughter, was a Los Angeles Councilwoman for ten years. I would never say nepotism, but it seems to me that if Chris can give a shout out to Janny, he could at least send one out to his dad, the sneaker tweaker, as a thank you for the $3,900 contribution last year (click here) and can always count on Bogaard, then and now, for support. Thanks pop! Thanks Bill!

Chris also got a nice chunk of cash from the Bigleys and Urban Housing Communities ($4600) for his 2012 Assembly election bid. If you look at the top contributers, that would put the Bigley interests in the top twenty, but it is spread out, so who’s the wiser, eh? That certainly isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, as was pointed out back in June, 2012, by the Star News which showed much larger contributions (click here).

Well, ya see, the Holden younger had hosted a little meeting at Pasadena City Hall - on PUSD company time - with two Pasadena Unified officers - David Azcarraga Chief of PUSD facilities, and John Pappalardo, Chief Finance Officer in a private meeting (click here) with Urban Housing Communities (click here) to discuss district assets. Which assets? Are those assets the Muir High School field that Ed Honowitz discussed at a recent Facilities Subcommittee meeting which was attended by Selinske and Azcarraga? Which board member set up this meeting, and why doesn’t he want to talk about it (click here)? What connects Councilman Holden to Urban Housing Communities? (click here). Well, let’s just say it is green (maybe a solar panel on the district’s warehouse?), and involves a grant (which grant, and where is this grant?) and hey, it could even include a new housing development. Hmmm..... who else is talking about building affordable housing in Pasadena? (click here) Is this why there was all of this redistricting a while back?

Holden’s bids for office in 2009, as well as 2004, according to campaign disclosure statements show a history of campaign support from unions, contractors, and property associations (click here and here), which should come as no surprise. Why I mention it is because there are contributions from Douglas Bigley/UHC for $500. Add that to his current assembly bid and the Bigleys/UHC have donated more than $5,000 to Chris Holden.

How about Pasadena Board Members? Well, I asked Renatta Cooper and Ed Honowitz at the last Board meeting if either of them had donated any money to Chris Holden. In all fairness, they can’t answer during public comments. However, they could have answered when comments were closed. They did not. So, have they? According to disclosure statements up to September, 2012, Renatta Cooper and Renatta Cooper for Kids have donated $350. Apparently the rest of the board doesn’t care about Mr. Holden, but Pasadena Mayor Bogaard kicked in $1000. Damned if I could find the connection with Honowitz through contributions, but I was pleased to locate a couple of nice portraits of Peter Dreier taken by Honowitz (click here).

Now I know everyone loves Chris Holden. I mean, after all, without him the vacancy created by the Charter Reform Task Force that he chaired back in 1999, you know, the one that Bart Doyle served on, could never have created the seat that now stables Mr. Ed and moving us from 5 board members to 7, presumably to make it easier for Sierra Madre parents like you and I to access our board members.

Really? You mean that seat of Mr. Ed’s wasn’t always there?

People don’t redistrict and restructure to push through political agendas, or influence future or unspoken of district assets, do they? (click here) I don’t know, but I do know that I saw most of those names on the donor lists of Pasadena politicians. I also noticed that Bart Doyle is on the Board of Directors for the Building Industry Association Los Angeles Ventura (BIASC LAV) (click here) and that the political wing (i.e. Political Action Wing) of the California Building Association (CBIA PAC) represents BIASC LAV (click here), and that they donated at least $3900 (click here type California Building) to Holden’s campaign.

Wait a minute...... backtrack! Wasn’t school board member accessibility what Bart Doyle said we were going to get in 1999 - if we redistricted back then? Well, hot damn, I get it now! If at first you don’t succeed, promise the suckers they’ll get it the second time around.

That is why we now have a voice with the PUSD ... in a few years! Thanks, Big D!

Planes, Trains, and Affordable Housing

According to an email sent by a Facilities Subcommittee Member, the developer, UHC (Urban Housing Communities), who met with Azcarraga, Pappalardo, and Holden in August, 2012, had been recommended by Honowitz at the Facilities Subcommittee meeting that I myself had attended in September 2012.

According to the email, the UHC had also met with said subcommittee member/chair, with Holden, and Edwin Diaz, “about 1 and 1/2 years ago.”

Was Holden hot for connecting this building group with some of the PUSD staff and a couple of Board members? Was someone putting pressure on then Superintendent Diaz to meet with this team? Is someone putting pressure on current superintendent Gundry to do the same? Why?


Once upon a time, there was a Pasadena City dream called Hahamogna (click here), and a playing field, and a road, and other stuff that was, thankfully, never built, and then there was a councilman’s dream to rebuild a playing field somewhere else ... maybe, just maybe, on a district asset called Muir High School (click here) because, after all,  playing fields, and joint multiple-use fields and facilities are important for the PUSD, and for the rest of us, too. This is consistent with the designs of Chris Holden.

We also have look at investing in new opportunities.  Green technology, infrastructure improvements, and transportation projects.  One of the greatest job stimulator's is public transportation projects.  The light rail is putting people back to work. (Chris Holden, May 29, 2012) (click here).

Yes, Holden likes to build new stuff. He’s like a one man erector set. While he is wishy-washy at this time on the 710 extension, he hasn’t always been (click here). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If the rest of the exciting things that his career has leaned toward come to fruition, my prediction is that he’ll eventually make a decision - in doublespeak - that results in a nice new connector. How else can we disconnect the east side from the Bradley air of the west and connect them to the Hopeful airport of the north?

PUSD loves to build cool stuff, too,  and then instead of using the stuff, they just rent facilities from the City of Pasadena for things like high school graduations. Why use the ones they already have, and have already built with taxpayer money and political favors? Just buy more favors, keep writing those grants, keep getting that fed money for going green. Take it from the Pasadena General Plan - if you want to build empty housing projects for people who don’t exist, you’re definitely going to need empty fields for them to play on. PUSD is full of empty schools for kids who don’t exist. It became necessary to work that building stuff in somewhere else, what better place than on the property of the largest land owners in Pasadena - PUSD?

Chris Holden’s relationship with the Bob Hope Burbank/Pasadena/Glendale Airport is no secret. It actually makes perfect sense for someone who has the support of builders, and parking lot companies with more than $11,000 in support for Holden’s Assembly race. (click here type parking) He has served on the Airport Authority, and is currently their president. (click here). This interest is consistent with his designs to “improve” infrastructure and transportation. A line to Burbank Airport can’t be too far away. The City of Pasadena’s General Plan is moving forward and toward thousands of stacked housing units along the train line, even though recent census information trends shows a decrease in population of some 5,000 people. No problem, we can always hope - and if that doesn’t work let’s just connect the lines to something else.

Build it, and they might come. Though everyone knows they probably won't. But does that really matter just as long as the State and Federal grant money comes in? After all, that's how Bart and the smart guys do it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Police Pay and Pod People

When I was a mere lad and therefore the unfiltered recipient of much of my father's wisdom (and this was a guy who believed he possessed quite a lot of that), he did have colorful opinions about government employees. The foremost being that they were people who, unlike himself, could not cut it in the world of business. And the reason they took such jobs was because it sheltered them from the harsh realities of the marketplace. In exchange for this sanctuary they accepted lower salaries than those who toiled out there in the jungle. In his opinion this was a fair swap and the way it should be. After all, somebody had to deliver the mail and catch stray dogs.

Of course, that was New Jersey in the 1970s. A much different time and place from California in the year 2012. Today government employment has become something more than the refuge of the unambitious. Instead it is now a place where you might consider going if you wanted to make not only more money, but retire in comfort once you hit the advanced age of, oh let's say, 50?

This from the High Desert Daily Press out there in cosmopolitan Victorville (click here):

Government employee pay soars past average Joe's: Salaries and pension benefits for California state workers grew three times as fast as the per capita personal income of all Californians, according to a new study released by the Center for Government Analysis and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation.

Estimated expenditures to state worker pension systems have increased more than 4 1/2 times, according tot he study that examined state compensation from 2005 to 2010.

"Given the importance of the topic of California's finances, the State's expenditures (and the lack of disclosure regarding them) further erodes public confidence in our State government," said Steven Frates, president of CGA.

(If) the state allowed State worker salaries and benefits to increase at the same rate as the general per capita income rate for the rest of Californians, the State could have saved more than $2.1 billion — enough to increase the number of California teachers by 8.2 percent, adding nearly 25,000 teachers. If the State had kept the State worker workforce from growing, they would have saved even more — nearly $3 billion.

"The findings in this study completely belie the excuses from Sacramento politicians that they need more money in state coffers," said Jon Coupal, Chairman of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation. "A rapidly escalating share of taxpayer dollars that is being spent in Sacramento today is going toward bloated salaries and pensions, not teachers and schools."

Now there are a number of theories as to why this may be. The one I favor is that for our de facto one party state government employees have become the political extension of a power that now controls many aspects of what goes down in California. And in order to maintain employee loyalty, and thereby completing their grip on power, these folks are rewarded with as much taxpayer money as possible. Which I believe is also how they do it in some of the third world republics we used to enjoy looking down our noses at.

In Sierra Madre, a truly mighty microcosm of the forces at play on both state and county levels, the struggle between a city government that clearly believes it is entitled to ever increasing amounts of our money, versus those who wish it would just dry up and blow away, is clearly evident. Our Police union has been quite aggressive in its belief that it is entitled to everything we can cough up, and then some. And three members of our City Council wouldn't dare dream of standing in their way.

The reason being that the party whose support a couple of them will need for their re-election efforts in 2014, which is also the one that has a complete monopoly on power in Los Angeles County, heavily favors government employee unions over the rights of taxpayers. Which means that this pair of encumbered elected officials are very unlikely to do anything but advocate for higher taxes and fees. Done in order to properly reward the SMPOA, our most obstreperous public employee union.

All of which is being done for purposes having a lot more to do with their political fortunes than anything this city needs. The result being that we as taxpayers have never paid so much to receive so very little.

How did the Chamber of Commerce miss out on this one?

I have long believed that Sierra Madre has some unused tourist appeal assets, potential attractions that far outstrip the allure of the World's Largest Flowering Plant, or even Frosty the Snowman. I've written before about Anais Nin, the celebrated 20th century author who lived a large part of her life here in town. Nin, controversial at the time for her bold depictions of female sexuality, sold tens of millions of books and is still taught at universities all over the world. A truly iconic figure in world literature.

Certainly the house where she lived here would be of great interest to those who continue to venerate her works and memory. Bring in some scholarly speakers on her birthday, put up a few downtown banners and rename the day in her honor, and you would have quite an intellectually uplifting and profitable occasion for this little town.

However, that idea was met with the sound of crickets. Perhaps because nobody at the Chamber of Commerce reads very much. Though I am certain they are all quite dedicated to our Library.

There was an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday that pointed out another potential roadside attraction, one that could bring many happy tourists to our town. Check this out:

"Saw," 'Body Snatchers,' and more: Tour L.A.'s spookiest movie locales: Los Angeles isn’t a city known to be particularly spooky. Sun, sand and movie stars, yes. Scary old castles, not as much.

Nevertheless the City of Angels has hosted plenty of demons in its time. L.A. has been the location for countless horror movies that have managed to take even the most picturesque parts of Southern California and turn them into something sinister.

Lovely downtown Sierra Madre has served as the backdrop for an alien invasion; a historic home in the West Adams district has housed a basement full of cannibals. Even a beautiful Malibu beach has welcomed a coven of witches performing an occult rite.

“Los Angeles is a unique mixture of aging buildings and bizarre natural settings,” said Harry Medved, author of “Hollywood Escapes,” a guide to film locations around Southern California. “Most people who live in Los Angeles don’t really explore Los Angeles, so there are a lot of locales unknown to most Angelenos.”

An array of creatures including the diving-helmeted “Robot Monster” and a giant creature from Venus in “It Conquered the World” have visited the cave at Bronson Canyon, a place that has “something mythical” about it, according to Medved: “Not only was it the Batcave [in the TV series starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter-ego], but it was the place where Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter hide from the pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’”

The fictional California town of Santa Mira, setting of the 1956 paranoia classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was made up of locations from throughout Los Angeles, but the town square in Sierra Madre served as the Santa Mira town center, where the alien invaders went about their business while looking like everyone else.

It is comforting to know that things have not changed all that much in Sierra Madre.

Now that Halloween is almost upon us, maybe we should consider taking a good hard look at recreating the downtown scenes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers for happy trick-or-treaters? Complete with wandering Pod People armed with coupons for Mother Moo? And a continuous all night showing of the film itself at Kersting Court, of course.

I think that, properly publicized, this could become an enormous tourist event for our little town. Perhaps the empty half of Howie's could be turned into a kind of pop-up museum for the occasion? Complete with movie memorabilia and other Sierra Madre products for the out-of-towner set to squander some discretionary income on?

Of course, City fees alone would probably kill it. And how this was not included in the now nearly forgotten Buxton study is beyond me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Your Tattler Sunday News Weekly Report

(Mod: The good thing about the Tattler Sunday News is that you will not find it on any other day of the week. It is exclusively a Sunday event, which is why we call it what we do. It's not that the stories we have posted here were originally written for Sunday, either. They were not. But they were specially culled from the vast reaches of the internet for our Sunday report. This also explains the use of the  word "weekly" in the title of this post. It is available on Sunday, but the report is weekly. That is, it shows up every 7 days, except when it does not. Which is often. And now that we have cleared these important matters up, let's get to the news.)

Scare tactics - and scary protests over Prop 30 - and some school based advocacy may be illegal (Pasadena Star News): When Elizabeth Zamora received a letter from Cal State Dominguez Hills stating that her application for the fall semester was on hold pending the outcome of Proposition 30, the prospective student said she was shocked. "It's scary to think I won't be able to get into a four-year university next year," said Zamora, who is currently attending Cerritos College. "I felt like I wanted to vote for Prop. 30, but seeing that letter made me want to vote for it even more."

From sending letters to prospective college students to using automated phone calls reminding parents to vote, education officials are pushing harder than ever for the passage of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative. With less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 elections, officials have been stressing the potentially devastating impacts on public education if the measure fails. But some critics call these methods scare tactics and in at least one case say the educators' efforts violated election laws.

This month, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax group and major opponent of Prop. 30, filed a lawsuit against Cal State Monterey Bay over an email sent by a professor urging students to support the measure.

(Mod: We reported something along these lines Thursday with the since retracted attempt by certain elements at Sierra Madre Elementary School to use 3rd graders in a Prop 30 demonstration. A post, by the way, that has now received 142 comments and just under 5,000 hits. In case you ever thought people are not concerned about the state of our public schools, or some of the shenanigans of those running them. Whoever that might be.) 

French MEP feeds foie gras furor (Lexology): French MEP Francoise Castex has reportedly condemned California’s statewide ban on the production and sale of any product that is “the result of force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging its liver beyond normal size,” calling the prohibition on foie gras “a battle for Europe.” After a recent attempt by producers to enjoin the 2004 law failed in federal court, Castex convened a news conference in European Parliament where she eviscerated the legislation as “very negative” and a violation of international trade rules. “There are five member states where foie gras is produced, not just France,” she said, referring to Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain.

According to Castex, the foie gras sector comprises 30 percent of the local economy in her own region of France, which has already hired an attorney to represent the country in a legal challenge to the United States. Her remarks also drew support from French Junior Minister for the Food Industry Guillaume Garot, who described the delicacy as “a cornerstone” of French cuisine and the generator of 35,000 jobs. “It’s a bad idea that is not going to do anything,” he was quoted as saying. “We are talking about a whole food system that is really in trouble… I am here today to defend this industry and the jobs it supports. We badly need these jobs, particularly at the current time.” 

(Mod: Whoever our next president might be, I would hope that person would steer us clear of a war with France over fattened goose livers.)

Steven Greenhut: Other feel wrath of police unions - Most council members don't have the courage or resources to stand up to their employee unions (Orange County Register): Many people were outraged this summer after a private investigator, with ties to a law firm that represents 120 police unions in California, made an apparently false police report that a Costa Mesa councilman stumbled out of a bar, appearing drunk, and was weaving all over the road as he drove home.

When police showed up at his door, Councilman Jim Righeimer was found stone cold sober. The clear goal of the phony call was to embarrass a lawmaker who had been leading the charge in his city for public employee pension reform, outsourcing services and other cost-saving measures. Subsequently, officials in other cities revealed similarly disturbing tactics from their police unions. And, despite the revelations, police unions continue to behave as before, trying to intimidate council members who refuse to go along with their demands for ever-higher pay and benefits, and protections for their members from oversight and accountability.

Two councilmen in Fullerton, Bruce Whitaker and Travis Kiger, are experiencing treatment similar to the Righeimer episode in Costa Mesa. The Fullerton police union is angry at the role those men played in demanding reform in the wake of the death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man fatally beaten by Fullerton officers in July 2011. The unions also dislike Whitaker and Kiger's call for pension reform, their consideration of a plan – common in Orange County and elsewhere – to shift police services from the city's Police Department to the more cost-efficient Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The private eye mentioned above had ties to the Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier and McGill. The Register had reported on the negotiating "playbook" the lawyers had published on their website until the bad publicity resulting from the Righeimer episode. The playbook detailed how police unions should bully elected officials into submitting to their demands.

(Mod: As all attentive Tattler readers know, Lackie, Dammeier and McGill is the same law firm that controls and runs Sierra Madre's POA. And apparently at least one of our City Council members as well. John Harabedian's demand for a so-called "Public Safety Master Plan," a boondoggle that could end up costing the taxpayers $10s of thousands of dollars in consultant fees, can be seen as a direct result of the kinds of coercive tactics being employed by the SMPOA's law firm.) 

California Greenhouse Gas Law Faces Challenge (Transportation Nation): The future of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law is being called into question. Implementation of the law was delayed earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno, who ruled that the regulations violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides of the debate last week.

At issue is the “Low Carbon Standard”—regulations that require fuel producers to meet California’s emissions standards, or pay a penalty in the state’s cap and trade system. Fuel, farm and trucking industry lawyers argue that the law violates the federal commerce clause because the law reaches across state borders, effectively favoring California-based producers over out-of-state competitors, whose fuel may not meet the state’s strict emission requirements.

The California Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for implementing the regulations, says the law is intended to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990s levels by the year 2020. Lawyers representing the state and environmental groups argue that the California law is the only way to reach these goals.

Sean Donahue, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney who presented oral arguments to the appeals court, said that at its core, the law is about regulating greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the entire life cycle of the fuel. “It’s not based on where the fuel is from, but is based on the effect on the climate,” Donahue said. Peter Keisler, a fuel industry attorney, told the court, “Even if there is no discrimination, you still have a regulatory scheme whose purpose is to penalize imports, to penalize out-of-state conduct in an effort to control in-state emissions.”

The three-judge panel asked tough questions during the appeal, including a focus on language in the law that seemed to point to favoring California employment and tax revenues. “Isn’t this unambiguous evidence that the board was motivated by protectionism?” asked 9th Circuit Court Judge Mary Murguia.

(Mod: Somebody call the Green Committee. The sky is falling.)

Editorial pages united on Prop 37, voters divided (Orange County Register): The editorial pages of the state's nine biggest daily papers run the political gamut, but there's a single ballot measure that all agree should be defeated: Proposition 37, the proposed labeling of genetically engineered food.

"This measure is an example of why some public policy – no matter how well intentioned and benign sounding – should not be decided at the ballot box," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. "Prop. 37 is fraught with vague and problematic provisions that could make it costly for consumers and a legal nightmare for those who grow, process or sell food."

That thinking seems to be growing more common among voters, whom polls show are becoming less supportive of the measure as they get more familiar with it. A new USC/ L.A. Times poll found 44 percent of voters supported it, 42 percent opposed it and 13 percent were undecided. That's a dramatic drop from a month ago, when the poll found 61 percent of voters supported it.

Support remains strong among Democrats. An OC Political Pulse survey of 80 Democrats found 69 percent favored the measure, including 32 percent who acknowledged it was flawed but said it was better than nothing. An additional 15 percent like the idea, but were voting against it because it was poorly written.

Among the 156 Republican respondents, just 7 percent favored the measure. Sixty-three percent said, flat out, it was a bad idea, and 24 percent said the idea had merits but was too poorly written to support.

(Mod: The last time we checked in on Prop 37 it was leading in the polls by about 25 points and seemed well on the way to a huge victory. That was before the big money folks began their campaign against it. Personally, I also blame the endorsement it received from the Mountain Views News.)

Young Millennials - Fiscal Conservatives? (Sacramento Bee): This generation of young Americans has been called many things, from civic-minded to "entitled." But fiscally conservative? That's a new one, and it just might have an impact on the presidential election. Listen to Caroline Winsett, a senior at DePaul University, who considers herself fairly socially liberal but says being fiscally conservative matters most right now. "Ultimately, I'm voting with my pocketbook," says Winsett, a 22-year-old political science major who's president of the DePaul student body. She recently cast an absentee ballot for Republican Mitt Romney in her home state of Tennessee.

To be clear, polls show that President Barack Obama remains the favorite among 18- to 29-year-old registered voters, as he was in 2008. No one thinks the majority of young voters will support Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, in the Nov. 6 election. But the polls also hint at a "schism" between those who weren't old enough to vote in 2008 and their older twenty-something counterparts, says John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

In one poll, for instance, he found that 42 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds identified as "conservative," compared with just over one-third who said they were "liberal." By comparison, those proportions were nearly flipped for 22- to 24-year-olds: 39 percent said they were "liberal," and a third called themselves "conservative." It was much the same for older twenty-somethings.

Tina Wells, head of Buzz Marketing, an agency that tracks the attitudes of young people, has noticed this shift to the right. Her own researchers have found that the youngest adults are much more likely to label themselves "conservative," "moderate" or "independent" than older millennials, a term for young adults who've entered adulthood in the new millennium.

(Mod: You mean to say the little ingrates are going to be unwilling to support us in our golden years? That settles it, no jobs for any of them.)

The staff here at the Sierra Madre Tattler hopes that you will enjoy the rest of your day off.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

When Public Comment Goes Wrong

One thing often pointed out is that when you actually go to a City Council meeting, the experience is far more visceral than it is if you just watch at home. A recent example would be the meeting with various commissions and boards last Monday regarding our next two year budget. Barbara Leigh and I were the only civilian attendees at this meeting, and while I maintained my usual aplomb, Barbara got under the skin of Mayor Moran a bit. After her time at the podium was up she and Josh continued to go at it, mostly over some of the issues surrounding the ALF.

Josh, finally having heard enough from his equally talkative counterpart Barbara, reddened visibly and growled, "This is not a dialogue." And while it certainly had been a dialogue, and a long one that he himself had actively participated in, the menace in Moran's voice was unmistakeable. Josh was the boss, and he was going to make certain all of the commissioners and board members knew that. Besides, I am sure Josh believed that he was the voice of reason here, and he was hardly going to allow anyone to challenge this perception. 

Public Comment at City Council meetings is, of course, something required by the law. It is not always popular with elected officials, however. Particularly when they are forced to listen to things that they would prefer not to hear. And while the at times thin-skinned Mayor Moran does occasionally show his displeasure with certain of his critics, he has not yet resorted to the extreme measures taken by the Mayor of Riverside recently. Something that went much farther than Joe Mosca's infamous three minute cutoff button. Here is how the Los Angeles Times (click here) lays it all down:

Riverside council critic arrested, cuffed for speaking too long: A 60-year-old woman who is a frequent Riverside City Council critic ended up on the floor in handcuffs this week after tussling with a police officer who then handed her a criminal charge.

Her alleged crime? Disrupting a public meeting after speaking longer than her allotted three minutes. 

Karen Wright was blasting a proposed city contract for sludge waste removal at the council meeting Tuesday when the red lights blinked, signaling her time was up. Over the next 30 seconds, Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge tried to stop her four times before a city police officer approached her at the lectern and asked her to sit down.

"No, I'm not sitting down," Wright told the officer, an exchange captured on the city's video of council proceedings. "No, I am not stepping out."

It was unclear how she ended up on the floor, but the video shows the officer pulling her arm. Loveridge said police placed handcuffs on her, but quickly took them off after wright yelled that she was disabled.

You can access a Press Enterprise video of the arrest by clicking here. Let me warn you, it is strong content. A KCAL 9 report that incorporates some of the PE video footage can be found by clicking here.

What I find striking in these videos are the impassive faces of the Mayor and Council members while this unhappy scene is taking place. And while this Mayor Loveridge fellow later tried to distance himself from what must have become a political embarrassment for him, he obviously said or did nothing during the actual incident itself. I rather doubt that the Police action shown here could have taken place without his having agreed to it in advance.

Not every city has a blog, but fortunately Riverside does. And if you want the real down and dirty, in Riverside this is where you go. It is called Thirty Miles of Corruption (click here), and here is their account of the event:

It comes as a shock to TMC to see public speaking come to this.  Others are telling me that I’m just naive, “this is Riverside”..  Karen Wright, a 60 year old disabled public speaker icon, went over the three minute mark, approximately 16.8 seconds.  Returning to her seat, she was met with one of Ronnie’s Bouncer’s.  Midway from her seat, she was pushed by the officer.  When she arrived at her seat, she was getting some of her things, the officer inadvertently came from the right side, it appeared he wasn’t finished with her, and then grabbed her arm and took her down to the floor, then handcuffed.  Not one, not two but three RPD officers surrounded her when she was on the floor.  “Officer, you are making me naked.” she stated.  You might think this is Afghanistan or Iraq, unfortunately this is Riverside, specifically, regarding these state of affairs, unfortunately, I must say, the City of  Riverside.

The first quickly came out of nowhere, as she turned after finishing her point after the three minute mark, she was met with an officer, not regularly seen, who grabbed her and threw her to the floor as seen in the images.  While the council just sat there stonefaced, as good leaders do.  While one retired police officer, later stated to TMC who saw the video from home, “there was no reason for this officer to touch this person.”  So again, why would this Mayor, this Mayor known as Mayor Ron Loveridge allow this?  Later in City Council, Mayor Loveridge stated, “this is outrageous behavior”, when Councilman Chris Mac Arthur’s Council Aide, Chuck Condur, used a derrogatory finger symbol toward public speaker Dvonne Pitruzzello during council sessions.  Why didn’t the Mayor have the gumption to say the same?  Did he enjoy this?  Did he allow this for personal reasons against Wright, being approximately his last appearance as Mayor on the dais?  If there is a story let’s hear it, this is not the normal standard behavior of a RPD officer at City Council.  Give us your side anonymously at

During this disgusting act of force, Councilwoman Nancy Hart, Councilman Steve Adams (also a former police officer), and Councilman and Mayoral Candidate William “Rusty” Bailey left their council seats and exited the dais.  It appeared they themselve could not handle or stomach the scene.  But none of these great leaders said, enough! This has to stop!  A reflection of the leadership in Riverside.  Well anyway, this is what happens if you talk a good 25 seconds after the 3 minute mark.  You may find a couple of RPD on your back.  Being disabled that’s gotta hurt. After this disruption by Ronnie’s Bouncers, she was later taken outside, released and issued a citation for “disruption of a public event.”  The witnesses who were there were stating, “she was already returning to her seat!”  RPD Officer you shouldn’t have done it, you’ve watched over the security of Council meetings before.  This is behavior unlike you, were you briefed by Council, Mayor, City Execs, City Attorney or your superiors to do this, and target this specific public speaker?   
I don't see this kind of thing happening here anytime soon. But I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at how far things can go. Just so people know.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Members of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Misbehave at Brown Act School

As you might recall from an article we posted on The Tattler a few months back, when the Governing Board of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (aka "The COG") settled its lawsuit over multiple Brown Act Violations,  a considerable amount of money was handed over to Gil Aguirre for legal expenses he incurred while bringing these miscreants back to within the paths of the righteous. After all, it was done for their own good.

But as a part of this settlement it was also agreed by all of the parties involved that the members of The COG's Governing Board would also undergo a session of Brown Act training with a paid expert in this law. Here is how all of this was described at the time (click here):

Now if there was ever a need for a Brown Act review session by a legislative body, the SGVCOG Board might qualify as the poster child for such training. Litigation was filed last year against the agency alleging what can only be described as a litany of past and ongoing violations. Lapses such as: holding unauthorized secret meetings, preventing members of the public from speaking during meetings, failing to post agendas for meetings, and discussing items of business which were not on the agendas. I'm sure you get the idea.

So how did our Coggly Scholars fare at Brown Act School? Not very well I am afraid. On October 18th video cameras were on hand to record this rather historic event, and some of the shocking footage that was taped that evening is now available. Click here to view their shameful shenanigans in all of their infamy.

Rather than taking in the wisdom of their Brown Act instructor (which they obviously are in bad need of), some of these San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments executive members instead saw fit to spend their class time texting and e-mailing with their friends. Just like the bad boys and girls might do at a high school.

The striking irony here is that they were texting and e-mailing during the time when it was being explained to them that texting and e-mailing while serving in an official capacity at a public meeting such as that one could very well be seen as a violation of the Brown Act!

There is a bright side to all of this, however. Everything they texted or e-mailed during Brown Act class belongs to the public. None of it can remain hidden should someone wish to file a Public Records Act request. Which is exactly what we intend to do. When we get our copies of these miscreant e-mails and texts we will post them here on The Tattler.

Because if there is one thing we believe in at The Tattler, it is that the works of our public officials need to be fully transparent and on view for all to see. Even if they were the result of playing hooky.

The Patch Reports on the City Council's COG Deliberations

Last Tuesday evening there was a City Council meeting, and among the pertinent topics under consideration was whether or not we should remain in The COG. And there were some very good reasons for the City of Sierra Madre to get out. Not only has its Governing Board proven to be serial violators of California's signature transparency law, the Brown Act, but also its most notable figure, SGVCOG Senior Director Nicholas "Nick" Conway, was hauled off by the District Attorney on various felony conflict of interest charges involving vast quantities of the public's hard earned tax dollars.

There is also the matter of The COG footing the bill for Nick's legal expenses, which could run as high as a million big ones. Plus should Nick sue over various perceived slights by The COG during his times of legal travail, he could walk away with millions more in our money. Plus there is also the matter of misspent tax money being clawed back by certain aggrieved public agencies. Something that could put Sierra Madre at risk for having to pay vast fortunes in public moneys that we just don't have these days.

All of which contributes mightily to my mystification over our City Council voting 5 - 0 to remain a part of this disgraced organization. Given The COG's recent legal disasters, it does not set a very good example for the children. That there were no consequences here for such ethically bereft behavior is certainly not the right signal to send to our youngsters.

However, I guess I will just have to deal with my pain as I always do, which is to drink a lot of coffee and write about it on my blog. 

Over at the now rudderless Sierra Madre Patch a new reporter has shown up on the scene. Her name is Connie K. Ho, and she is turning in some fairly workmanlike articles. They are both well written and informative. Of course, they also have that cloying "tell us your thoughts in the comments!" non-committal feel to them, but I suspect that is due to certain Aol/Patch corporate style requirements and is not Connie's fault.

This week Connie turned in an interesting news piece entitled "City Council Votes to Continue Membership in San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments." And contained within this article is the following rather priceless observation from Sierra Madre Mayor Pro-Tem Nancy Walsh:

“The year has been incredibly difficult, really tense,” said Nancy Walsh, Mayor Pro-Term who serves as an alternate liaison to SGVCOG, on the challenges following the allegations on Conway and the reorganization of the group. “Now there’s an amazing energy. If we can get through whatever legal battle, [the SGVCOG] will definitely be stronger… this little city cannot get along without it.”

I guess if by "amazing energy" you mean giving Nick Conway a quarter of a million dollar golden parachute funded in part by our tax money, then yes, The COG has indeed been quite peppy. The COG has also shown astonishing vigor in covering Nick's legal expenses, which includes a fine attorney that commands upwards of $1,000 an hour. And should Nick sue The COG and prevail, I am sure this organization of energetic men and women will virtually sprint to Sierra Madre for some cash to help defray their expenses.

This was not a particularly glorious moment for our City Council. I need some more coffee.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Sierra Madre Elementary School Parent Stands Up and Defends Her Child's Rights

This article isn't about how you should be voting on Prop 30 and Prop 32. Most people can make up their own minds without me telling them how to run their lives. And should anyone need some advice there are about a million websites that will share their opinions about these issues. On The Tattler we try and keep it about the affairs of Sierra Madre, which don't get carried in much depth anywhere else but here.

And what we have today is very much a Sierra Madre story, one that reveals the use of a public school and its students for obviously partisan political purposes. In this case Sierra Madre Elementary School. I have reprinted a series of e-mails here that will tell you quite a story. I have also added some commentary.

Here is the first e-mail that I received. It came from a parent whose name I am leaving out of this. For the record I wasn't asked to do that, I just thought I should err on the side of caution. There are wolves in this forest, as I am sure that many of you know.

Dear Mr.Crawford,

I received this attached flyer today from the classroom "mom" for my daughters 3rd grade class at SME.  I will not be voting yes on these two ballots and we will not be attending a rally for them, so how is it legal that they can give extra credit for a child that does attend, and release them from having to turn in their nightly homework for the rest of the week? My daughter is punished for my political views? Why is it ok that they prostitute the 3rd grade class to further their political agenda?

I guess I would also like to know if the children got extra credit for the torture they put the Brandenburg's child through as well.

Thank you for your time and continued tattling!

(Mod: This is the e-mail our concerned parent is referring to here:)

Sent: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 4:06 PM

Subject: Extra Credit and date change Shumei Hall

The kids are going to Shumei Hall on WEDS.

EXTRA CREDIT TOMORROW NIGHT  See the attached flyer.
 If your child attends between 4-6 they will not need to complete any of their nightly homework and receive extra credit points.

Apparently the "Extra Credit" e-mail from a "class mom" went out to quite a few Sierra Madre Elementary School parents, and offered them some time off from homework and extra points for attending a partisan political rally in favor of these two ballot initiatives. This did not work out very well for our concerned parent, and she fired off the following to the Pasadena Board of Education:

To whom it may concern,

Can somebody explain how you can exploit a 3rd grade class for your political agenda? Now we give extra credit for voting the way YOU want us to. I want to file a formal complaint, I am sure there is some bureaucratic paperwork I need to fill out and hoops I need to jump through. This is not a poly-sci class, this is the 3rd grade. Where on Monday my daughter was also asked "who she would be voting for if the election was held tomorrow", again none of your business. This has nothing to do with teaching the children about an election process or the separation of church and state. I am pretty sure the teacher would not like me asking who she was voting for in a public arena.

Forward me the paperwork for the formal complaint, or direct me to it. I wonder did they offer extra credit to the children if they bullied the Brandenberg child too? What do you allow to go on at Sierra Madre Elementary?

That didn't work out very well, as our concerned parent explains here:

Dear Mr Crawford,

After trying to send my complaint to the PUSD "contact us" email and getting error messages saying that email is not valid ( this is from their web page) I managed to get the letter sent to Scott Phelps.

I will forward that correspondence to you as well.

Please use it, SME is supposed to be teaching my daughter academics, not their political view and or opinions. I appreciate your attention to this issue. Many thanks,

Here is the e-mail from Pasadena Board of Education member Scott Phelps:

From: Scott Phelps
To: Brian McDonald
Cc: Steven Miller   
Sent: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 10:23 PM
Subject: Fwd: Extra Credit and date change Shumei Hall

Brian this is rather urgent.  Ed code prohibits the district from being involved formally and giving the kids extra credit is formal involvement.  Please let Ms. Salinas know immediately they can't do this tomorrow w the kids.  Steve please provide (concerned parent) w the appropriate complaint forms.  Thanks guys.

Sent from my iPhone

And that did the trick. Soon an e-mail from the "class mom" that had written the original rally announcement was sent out to that same list of Sierra Madre Elementary School parents, this time  announcing a distinct change of plans.

Dear Parents,

This afternoon's extra credit rally attendance has been cancelled, due to a parent complaint.  In class, we have been talking and writing about the upcoming election.  Many students have been so excited, and I truly felt that attending today's rally would be a fun and completely optional learning expereince (sic).  No personal agenda has ever been discussed or is being pushed onto students.  I would never discuss personal opinion with children, or most adults for that matter.  In fact, when students have asked me who I am voting for, I have let them know that it is "personal".  I appreciate your support, and I'm sorry that we were unable to make this work.

Thank you.

Oh, without a doubt.

If you think about it our concerned parent probably saved the Pasadena Unified School District some considerable embarrassment and even legal difficulty. Had she not stood up for her rights and the rights of her child a serious mistake would have been made. Politically exploiting elementary school children by offering them credits and a vacation from homework for attending a political rally during an election cycle (or at any time) is just about as illegal as it gets.

An investigation by the PUSD of the responsible parties at Sierra Madre Elementary School  needs to be conducted. It really was a pretty rogue effort on the part of some people. And who on that school's staff had agreed to the homework waiver and extra credit for some students, but not those whose parents wouldn't have allowed their child to attend the rally? And what does this say about the political atmosphere at Sierra Madre Elementary School? Can it really be this poisonous?

If you notice the date on the email from PUSD Board of Ed member Scott Phelps it is late Tuesday evening. Or a couple of hours after Rob Stockley's rather rambling (and long!) commentary during public comments at this week's City Council meeting regarding Prop 30.

Can it be that this was a part of the same effort? Was Rob doing a little set-up work for a rally that at the moment was still on? Done in support of the illegal children's political rally that some folks connected to that school had cooked up?

And why did Josh Moran allow Rob to go on as long as he did? Special person privileges, or was Josh in on the joke?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The City Council Meeting Quiz

So today on The Tattler is something a little bit different. I am traveling on business. I had a 3AM wake up call and a 6 o'clock flight. Normally I'm not too addicted to sleep, but staying up until midnight watching last night's meeting, and then writing about it into the wee small hours, would have left no time at all for shut eye. And I have quite a day today. Long story short, I did not see the City Council meeting last night. Which is a shame, since it has been shaping up to be one of the more momentous ones we've had lately.

So what I am doing instead is throwing today's post open to you. All done in the hope that when I get to where I'm going I will find out what happened last night by reading The Tattler. Which is a little bit of a switch for me. Usually I figure out what is going on and then tell you about it. Whether you need me to or not.

In order to make this work a little better, I have listed each of the Agenda Items with some multiple choice answers attached. These are some of the possibilities I had in mind when I wrote this, but of course had no idea which answers would end up being the correct ones. If any. Kind of like when I was in high school.

So here are your agenda topics with multiple choice answers included. Good luck and please, no looking at your neighbor's paper.

Conference With Legal Council: The Hildreth Matter. How did this one finish up once closed session ended?
A) The City Attorney said there was nothing to report.
B) The City Attorney said the case had concluded and the Hildreths are guilty as all get out.
C) The City Attorney said the case was decided and Hildreths prevailed, and now they're going to sue the bejeezus out of the City.
D) The City is organizing an angry mob in the lobby and your choice is between a torch and a pitchfork.
E) I was in the kitchen getting a beer when this happened.

1 - Consent Calendar: If you printed all 5 of the Consent Calendar items out on paper and placed them in a nice folder, what would you have?
A) A lot of paper.
B) A filled folder.
C) A reason to staple.
D) A sad end to the life of a perfectly good tree.
E) Yet one more thing not to care about.

2 - Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) Grant: Chief Giannone spoke on this matter. What did he have to say?
A) Things are going really well. The Department is better than it has ever been before, and boy oh boy is this money going to help.
B) I fear that civilization has begun to crumble about our ears. I don't know what to do about it.
C) SLESF does not stand for Supplemental Law Enforcement Service Funds, and anyone who says it does is a damn liar.
D) Thank you God, Thank you Jerry, All this money, Makes me merry.
E) I missed this part. I had to go watch some paint dry.

3 - Public Hearing On Permits: What exciting new information did you glean from this item?
A) The City will soon require you to take out a permit in order to apply for a permit.
B) You don't have enough money to even get through City Hall's front doors, much less ask them about the room you want to add to your house.
C) Just because you pay taxes doesn't mean you won't have to pay even more money when you finally do need something from these people.
D) Just don't tell the City. Chances are they won't ever figure it out anyway. They rarely leave the building.
E) I switched over to the Home Shopping Network while this item was being discussed.

4 - The City's Situation with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments: This item was agendized by Councilmember Harabedian. What became of it?
A) Nick Conway stopped by with his Buffet Bunch, ukuleles, and some Hawaiian shirts. Everybody soon forgot about the meeting and partied the night away.
B) Nancy Walsh said the distractions are over and everyone needs to recycle their batteries.
C) Josh Moran said that we get a lot of benefits from belonging to The COG, but declined to mention any specifics.
D) By a 3 to 2 vote the City Council decided to do or say nothing. Somewhere in heaven Sergeant Schultz smiled.
E) The fix was in. It always is with these guys.

5 - The City Council Vacancy Question: What would be the best practice for filling an empty City Council seat?
A) Give it to Bill Tice.
B) Buy a manikin and just sit it there.
C) Turn it into low income housing.
D) Play spin the chair.
E) Would anyone really notice the difference if you didn't?

6 - Should the Green Advisory Committee become a full Commission: What happened with this wild and crazy thing?
A) John Harabedian said he was a big believer in process.
B) A vengeful God struck down all who worship the Green Idol.
C) Josh Moran converted to the Tea Party and told a mortified Paul Alva that this wasn't a dialogue.
D) A condo is green, but your single family home is a cancer on the planet.
E) The Sierra Madre Police Department will now ticket all cars for greenhouse gas violations. You might as well start walking now.

7 - Public Safety Master Plan: What public safety initiatives were proposed?
A) Wrap everybody in bubblepack.
B) Prohibit the sale of donuts and energy drinks within the borders of Sierra Madre.
C) Don't run with scissors.
D) Only use a spoon, except when eating spaghetti.
E) Don't watch City Council meetings.

8 - Update and Report Regarding City Reorganization: How exactly can you tell if your City has been reorganized?
A) No one really knows. It has never happened before.
B) You get a call from the Police Department saying that they caught the guy who robbed your house.
C) You call City Hall looking for help and the person answering the phone doesn't tell you to go on-line and find it there.
D) An entire year goes by without someone in an official capacity informing you that taxes need to go up or the world will end.
E) You discover the point at which being forced to talk to someone you don't like becomes kidnapping.

You have 30 minutes to complete this test. Good luck, and yes. It will go into your permanent records.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Josh Announces A Two Budget System

I went to the "Special Joint Meeting of the City Council, Boards and Commissions" get together last night at City Hall. I was a full 50% of the unappointed public in attendance, which meant that I had lots of room to put my iPad, laptop, notebooks, backpack and other assorted possessions. I was also able to get a parking spot right in front of City Hall. Which was nice. Police Chief Giannoni greeted me by name, as did the Mayor. I have never felt so very much at home in that place. They even have free wifi. Maybe I'll just move in.

The front of the room, or as Mayor Moran put it more than once, the extended dais, was packed with all sorts of commissioners and board members. The City Manager going so far as to declare it the best turnout of appointed officials she'd ever seen for an event such as this. And when you consider that this meeting was competing with the final presidential debate, the seventh game of the Giants and Cardinals league playoff series, an NFL football game, plus a whole new episode of The Voice (which has some devoted fans at my house), it really was quite an achievement.

As a matter of fact, the only invited grouping that did not show up were the dudes from the Green Committee. Not a single one of them came down to mingle with their fellow volunteers. I guess a burden like saving the planet can sometimes wear a body down, and the prospect of having to attend something like last night's soiree was asking just a little too much. Hopefully they'll be back on their feet for a moment of glory at tonight's City Council get together.

The meeting mostly consisted of Karin Schnaider giving her grand tour of the City's finances. I have heard this talk so often now that I was surprised at how little I didn't already know. It was like taking an updated refresher course. The news Karin supplied was not good, of course. The City's financial picture is bleak, and the sunsetting of the UUT, along with the disappearance of the CRA, is apparently at the heart of all this darkness. Employees are not paid very well, jobs are being eliminated, and things are just going to have to change if more revenue can't be found. Change in this case not being presented as being such a good thing.

Elaine Aguilar had kicked things off with the "we're a full service city" speech. This kind of worn out little marketing spiel has now gone way past its freshness dating in my opinion. According to Elaine we are just about the only "full service" city of its kind left. Which, when you consider the many financial woes facing Sierra Madre, does make you wonder what all those other cities know that we don't. Can it really be that everyone is wrong except us?

But I also don't think this is completely true. How can we be a full service city when we contract out for aquatics, pool operations, YMCA run after school care, park maintenance, grass cutting, janitorial services in all city buildings, dog catching, the round about bus, dial a rides, jails, detective services, building inspectors, fire dispatchers, structural engineers, computer maintenance, some development services and, of course, all those darn consultants?

The answer is we are no more a "full service city" than anybody else. We're just the only one that says we are. I really think that Elaine, and Josh for that matter, should just drop it. It plainly isn't true.

After Karin got done sharing all of the dismal financial news about lost CRA and UUT moneys, and how painful all of that can be for those who have to live with such unhappy numbers, the members of the Commissions and Boards were invited to ask questions. There were a handful of inquiries, but none were quite up to Tattler standards, I'm afraid. But they were well-intentioned, and in some ways that counts for a lot, too.

After that Mayor Moran declared the proceedings open to any members of the public who might wish to comment. It was the first time in my memory that this has ever happened at the end of a meeting. Perhaps he was saving the best for last. Both members of the public in attendance were eager to speak their minds anyway, and accepted Josh's belated invitation. I went second, or last, and what I had was the following question:

Will the finished 2013-2015 budget reflect the loss of UUT funding starting with the sunset date in July of 2014, or will the City hold off on factoring that in (or out) of the budget until after the UUT has gone to a vote for a second time? And if the loss of that UUT money is factored into the budget, will it be a balanced one, and how exactly would you do that?

Since Mayor Moran is convinced that he is the only member of the City Council who is equipped to answer questions, he fielded this one. And I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised by his answer. Apparently the City will be preparing two different budgets for this upcoming two year cycle. One that will take into account the will of the voters in our April 2012 municipal elections by including the loss of much of our UUT funding, and a second budget that does not.

What this indicates to me is that the Mayor, along with whomever at City Hall agrees with him, is set to challenge the 67% of the voting Sierra Madre public that said "No" to extending the 2008 UUT rate increases last April. It also indicates that last night's meeting had a political intent in addition to a budgetary one. The purpose apparently being to line up the support of commission and board members behind restoring the UUT back up to 10 (or 12) percent.

I guess this means that after giving themselves a nice utility tax cut, two years later the voting public is going to be asked to take that all away and give itself a tax increase. All without the rates ever actually changing. Kind of surreal if you think about it.

What this looks like to me is that the first salvo of the 2014 City Council race has now been shot. Josh is going to run for re-election on a campaign of raising the UUT rate back up to 10 (or 12) percent, making it once the highest in California. And he is going to do so in order to save our not quite full service city from becoming like all of those other not quite so full service cities.

Tax me, Josh?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Week Of Too Many City Meetings

The week of too many meetings continues with the second of our three confabs, Tuesday evening's Regular Meeting of the City Council. This follows what is as of this typing tonight's Special Joint City Council and Commission Meeting (click here), and Wednesday's Strategic Planning Retreat Special City Meeting. All of which adds up to two specials and a regular. A potpourri of city palaver designed to satisfy even the most ardent City Council junkie's need for this kind of stuff. And honestly, I'm not sure there are any of those in Sierra Madre. I'm going to follow this stuff, but only because I think I am supposed to at this point. You, the more fortunate partner in this deal, can decide whether it is worth your time or not.

Here is this week's Tuesday evening City Council meeting preview:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL: Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(a) The City Council/Agency finds, based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation.
Existing Litigation: Case No. GC046442 Case Name: City of Sierra Madre v. Jeffrey M. Hildreth and Taryn N. Hildreth d/b/a The Sterling Oak; Suntrust Mortgage, Inc. a Virginia Corporation; and does 1-50 inclusive - For the first time in recent memory there is nothing to do with a Sierra Madre Police Officers Association lawsuit in the sub rosa session with a City Attorney. This is yet another episode in the City's vastly expensive effort to get Jeff Hildreth to fill in the hole he dug beneath his house. It is, of course, a secret meeting. Meaning we will continue to have no idea just how much the concerned City Attorneys are raking in on this effort, or how much longer they plan on keeping the gravy train rolling.


a) ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION NO. 12-85 OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE RATIFYING CERTAIN DEMANDS - This evening's total spend comes to $662,770, rounded off. This mighty sum includes $73,241,47 for Southern California Edison, $11,952.88 to Aqua Metric for water meters that might or might not work, $1,300 to Arcadia Body Shop for the repair of a police vehicle, $15,906.05 to Colantuono & Levin, $249.60 for Tai Chi Chuan lessons, $18,045.39 to First Transit for the Dial A Ride and Gateway Coach, $7,500 to the Pasadena YMCA, $16,300 to Rogers, Anderson, Malady & Scott LLP for a CRA audit, $5,000 to the Ferguson Group, $29,000 to Tyler Technologies for downloading staff reports on to the city website, and $27,000 to Willdan Associates for inspecting buildings.

b) MOSQUITO AND VECTOR CONTROL DISTRICT LOCAL APPOINTMENT - This is meant to reappoint Dr. Janice Nelson to the esteemed position of City Bug Hunter. Seeing how she brought The Fly here, she is intimately familiar with insects. The particular purpose of this office is to warn people that if you get bit by a mosquito you might contract West Nile Disease. Something we can never hear too much about.

c) APPROVAL OF RESOLUTION NO. 12-84 OPPOSING THE TUNNEL ALETERNATIVE (sic) TO THE SR-710 EXTENSION STUDY - Proving that good things can be done, particularly when there is no money in it for anyone with special connections, the City Council will officially sign off on Sierra Madre's opposition to the 710 Tunnel. We still do not have our answer to what or whom exactly is pushing for this thing, however. I know we're supposed to be blaming Metro or even Caltrans, but the notion that those people would ever do anything without some considerable power center forcing them to seems unrealistic to me.

d) AWARD OF JANITORIAL SERVICE CONTRACT FOR FY’S 2012-2013 THROUGH 2014-2015 TO UNITED MAINTENANCE SYSTEMS - The big winner of Sierra Madre's lucrative janitorial contract is United Maintenance Systems. They get $3,358 per month for the remainder of this year, and then $43,000 per year for the next two fiscal years. $3,358 times 12 does not equal $43,000, so there must be something I am missing here. Unless we are getting a Christmas discount for the remainder of 2012. The big loser here is Jani King. Sorry Jani King, your bid was too high. Change your name to Jani Deuce.

e) AWARD OF CONTRACT FOR CITYWIDE LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE SERVICES TO MERCHANTS LANDSCAPE SERVICES - And the winner is ... Merchants Landscape Services. They were the low bidder. Plus, when the CRA money dried up, they were considerate enough to trim back (so to speak) their costs a little to accommodate our need for less costly landscape work. For the yearly total of $118,596 our parks will remain trim and tidy and our sparkling assessment districts second to none.

2. PUBLIC HEARING – CITIZENS OPTION FOR PUBLIC SAFETY (COPS) GRANT FUNDING FY 2012-2013 - This has to do with the $100,000 in law enforcement money being sent our way by Sacramento, also known as Bedlam on the American River (BAR). As it states above, COPS is the acronym for "Citizens Option for Public Safety." To which is added SLESF, which stands for "Supplemental Law Enforcement Service Funds." Very important information. Chief Giannone will speak to the matter, in particular about how this windfall is going to be spent. There is nothing regarding any seminars on how to register a sex offender convicted of child pornography possession by Canadians. We are getting some new Handheld Ticket Writers, however. Just so you know where the City's law enforcement priorities might be.

3. PUBLIC HEARING – ORDINANCE NO. 1332 – MUNICIPAL CODE TEXT AMENDMENT NO. 11-03: ADDING CHAPTER 12.34 TO REGULATE SPECIAL EVENTS OCCURING (sic) ON PUBLIC PROPERTY, REVISING CHAPTER 17.88 RELATING TO TEMPORARY USE PERMITS, CHAPTER 12.12 RELATING TO ENCROACHMENT PERMITS, AND CHAPTER 12.16 RELATING TO EXCAVATION PERMITS - This clarifies some of the more subtle nuances in the City's permits racket. A widely reviled scam that forces you the taxpayer to pay the City for services that you have already paid a ton of money in taxes to get. Everyone is familiar with the maxim, "There is no free lunch," right? In Sierra Madre you not only pay for the lunch, but you do so a second time as well.

4. DISCUSSION – DISCUSSION REGARDING THE CITY’S MEMBERSHIP IN THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS - The City Staff report is filled with SGVCOG generated rubbish detailing all of the supposed benefits we supposedly get for belonging to this corruption-wracked organization. Something that indicates to me that the City Manager is going to dig in her heels on this one. With the arrest of its Executive Director, Nick Conway, on four counts of felony conflicts of interest by the District Attorney's office, our liaison to this den of iniquity, John Harabedian, called for an examination of our role there. Last week the COG cut loose Nick Conway, something that those among the executive leadership there hailed as proof that they're not the dirtbags everyone seems to think they are. However, they also gave him a highly lucrative golden parachute worth hundreds of thousands of our taxpayer dollars. Proving that at the COG crime pays. 

Additionally, Conway is also threatening to sue the COG to pay for his $1,000 an hour attorney, putting us at risk of having to shell out even more money. There is also a considerable danger that should Conway be convicted of any of those felony charges it could be established that money allocated to the COG by state and federal government agencies had been used for illegal purposes, and therefore must be returned. Something that would make the COG's member cities responsible for some rather extraordinary amounts of money. The City of Sierra Madre would have to be insane to remain a member of this extremely sketchy organization. Unfortunately, on this City Council insanity could very well have the votes.

5. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ORDINANCE NO. 1333 REGARDING PROCEDURES FOR FILLING CITY COUNCIL MEMBER VACANCY - This is an important matter that somehow keeps getting kicked down the road. When Joe Mosca abruptly ran away from the City Council responsibilities he had committed himself to, it became apparent that there was not in place any set and proper way of replacing him. This establishes a procedure for doing so that removes the risk of crony appointments to the City Council in place of a vote by the people.

6. DISCUSSION – GREEN ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO COMMISSION: CURRENT INVENTORY OF GREEN PRACTICES/PROGRAMS AND CONSIDERATION OF POSSIBLE ROLES AS A COMMISSION - Falsely billed as a potential commission interested in environmental issues alone, this is in actuality an expensive and unnecessary boondoggle designed to give further impetus to the needs of the downtown development and real estate interests that control certain key aspects of this City's agenda. It would also become a lobby for certain rather specious "social equity" requirements. Something that could put you the taxpayer on the spot for low income housing, transit village development, homeless shelters, and other initiatives that would degrade the lives of those who have found a livable home in this small green (in the real sense) enclave of a town. There is also a thickly laid on politically correct guilt trip included in the Green Committee's tendentiously labeled "Accords." That being if you personally don't accept your responsibilities to care for the world's unfortunate here within the borders of our little town, you would need to be held accountable for possible prejudicial behavior towards those of ethnicities and economic classifications different from your own.

City Staff has presented the City Council 10 reasons why the Green Committee should become a Green Commission. They are mostly open ended and vague, probably by design. There is also the claim made by City Staff that establishing a Green Commission would be no further "direct cost" to the City in the way of funding as it has already been assigned a staff liaison. Correct me if I am wrong, but as a commission wouldn't they need to be assigned a City funded attorney as well? The Staff Report doesn't shed any light on this question. 

7. DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN - Somebody wants to hire a consultant so we can figure out the meaning of things like "best practices," in particular regarding how they might relate to public safety. This would result in a report detailing what the public safety services the City supplies are, and how they can be made better. In reality this will cost a lot of money, and will produce a thick wad of paper that no one except maybe me and a few others would ever bother to read. There may also be an agenda at work here, one designed to alleviate some of the pressure to consider replacing the litigious and expensive SMPD.

8. DISCUSSION – UPDATE AND REPORT REGARDING CITY REORGANIZATION - Who knows if the Council will get to this one tomorrow night. This one has been pushed down the road so many times it really should apply for bonus miles. The purpose here is to give the City Manager an opportunity to once again explain just how much money she has saved the City through restructuring the responsibilities of the 60 some odd souls that work here. Obviously it has not been nearly enough.

Thank you for playing. You may pick up your coat and hat at the door.