Friday, November 30, 2012

The Issue That Won't Go Away: Did the City of Sierra Madre Give Bob Matheson a Free Pass?

Unanswered questions remain
The City of Sierra Madre has long maintained that it could not register Bob Matheson as a sex offender because current state law did not give it the authority to do so. And this argument has convinced some people here that the reason Matheson remains legally unencumbered in our town is just that, despite his conviction in Canada for transporting hundreds of pornographic photos and sex videos of juvenile boys.

This perspective is reflected in a comment posted on this site Wednesday. The topic was Chief Giannone and Tuesday evening's City Council swearing-in ceremony, and whether the event had been shown proper veneration on this site. Here is what one commenter had to say:

Sierra Madre residents seem to feel (and have for years) that what they went (sic) should replace state law. While the residents feel that way, the law still is the law. The Police Chief has to follow and enforce the laws as written. Think what the city would be like if each resident got the rules enforced as they wish, which a lot would like. Sierra Madre is a eunique (sic) city but must still live with existing laws or get them changed. The Police Chief and his department line (sic) by those laws, much to the dislike of many residents.

Again state law is cited. However accurate that might be, and as you will see below not everyone agrees with the poster's assessment, we are talking about a crime that also had international implications as well. Usually under circumstances such as those in this case, Federal law would have been consulted. And whatever state law may have to say, the Department of Justice in Washington DC would have to be given some precedence.

Last February we discussed this topic and concluded that the City of Sierra Madre had clearly failed in its responsibilities to the people of Sierra Madre. Whether or not this was done deliberately is unknown to us right now, though we do have some to date unanswered (or even officially acknowledged) questions on the matter. And given that this issue is obviously still very much alive in this town, I thought I would repost our February piece for people to review today. The questions it raises remain as relevant now as they were 10 months ago.

Here is that article:

The Matheson Return: Did the City Make the Right Call?

(Recently) we posted an article entitled "Has Sierra Madre Prepared for the Return of Bob Matheson?" It turns out that the answer to that question is yes, it did prepare something. At least for itself. However, given the fact that Bob Matheson had been arrested and imprisoned in Canada for possession of a laptop containing 2,820 pictures of naked young boys, along with 285 videos of boys having sex with adult men, the City's conclusions might not be as restrictive or punitive as many in this community would have hoped.

Apparently what the City of Sierra Madre did was build for itself the case that it had to do nothing. And that Bob Matheson could return to his home and resume life here in whatever way he might wish. A conclusion that, given the characteristic passivity of this City's government in the face of challenges of this magnitude, is not as surprising as it should have been.

The Sierra Madre Weekly reported it this way:

The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender under California law.

The Sierra Madre Patch had heard a similar rhythm coming from the Sierra Madre Police Department:

Matheson voluntarily came to the to the police station and met with interim Police Chief Larry Giannone. Giannone said, "Mr. Matheson voluntarily came to the police station to advise us that he was back at his residence and simply stated, "There are two sides to every story." The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender based on California law.

A similar interpretation was also offered in the Sierra Madre, though their reporting was pretty much limited to posting the SMPD's press release.

But is this actually true? Is the SMPD's press release an accurate statement that should be accepted at face value? Given the City's past questionable interpretations of the law it might not be a bad idea to at least question the wisdom of their decision. You never know what answers you might come up with.

In today's Pasadena Star News such questions are asked. The article is entitled "Sierra Madre police: Man convicted of child porn charges in Canada won't be registered as sex offender" (click here). Here is what they have to say:

Sierra Madre Interim Police Chief Larry Giannone said the Los Angeles District Attorney's office told his department that California's sex-registration requirement doesn't apply to Matheson because his conviction occurred outside the United States.

But a former Orange County district attorney who specialized in sex crimes has questioned that interpretation of the law. Matheson was arrested in October after being questioned by authorities at a Canadian airport. According to prosecutors, Matheson gave vague answers to questions about his travel plans.

Matheson, a prominent Sierra Madre resident who was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and assisted with former Mayor Joe Mosca's 2010 campaign, could not be reached for comment.

This does raise some disturbing issues. What if the City's interpretation of the law in this case is faulty? The PSN did attempt to discuss this with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, but they declined to take the call. And then there is this troubling matter. What if Matheson, because of his social prominence and long-standing relationships within Sierra Madre's elite political circles, is getting the benefit of the doubt here? What if it was someone of lesser social and political stature who was in Matheson's position? Would the City's reception have been as non-judgemental?

Michael Fell, a former Orange County deputy district attorney who specialized in sex crimes, said he didn't believe the California Penal Code makes an exception for convictions outside of the country.

He pointed to Senate Bill 622, which was signed into law in September and requires the State Department of Justice to review out-of-state offenders' criminal record to determine if they should be registered as a sex offender.

The bill expanded the list of those required to register as a sex offender to anyone convicted of such a crime "in any other court, including any state, federal or military court."

Fell said as he understands it, sex-crime convictions in another state or country would require sex-offender registration as long as the law in the other state or country is substantially similar to California law.

"As long as it has the elements," Fell said, "maybe it's not a gray area."

So is Canadian law, which as a Commonwealth country is closely tied to the laws of Great Britain (he was prosecuted there by a Crown Attorney), so inferior to the laws of California in this matter that Matheson needed to be shielded from its effects here in Sierra Madre?

If someone were to show that the City made a wrong call here, and that by failing to register Matheson as a sex offender illegally endangered the safety and welfare of some of our most vulnerable residents, Sierra Madre could be at some considerable legal risk.

So Here's the Smoking Gun

Terry Miller, who runs the Beacon Media family of papers (which includes the Sierra Madre Weekly) and has done some extremely valuable reporting on the Matheson affair, wrote in yesterday with the following:

I thought you would like to see what I just received from ICE:

"In response to your inquiry regarding the status of ICE Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) probe involving Sierra Madre resident Robert Matheson, there is no new information I can provide about the case. HSI agents executed a warrant at Mr. Matheson's Sierra Madre residence late last year seeking evidence related to this investigation. The case remains pending at this time. The ultimate determination about whether federal charges will be brought in a case is made by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Also, I understand the Sierra Madre Police Department has issued a news release regarding whether Mr. Matheson will be required to register as a sex offender in the United States following his conviction in Canada. To be clear, HSI is not involved in that process. Here is a link to a document on the Department of Justice website outlining the registration guidelines for sex offenders. On page 16, there is specific information regarding the implications of foreign convictions.

This is what is found on page 16 of the Justice Department guidelines (click here). It is devastating to the City's claims regarding Matheson's status here as a sex offender.

Section 111(5)(B) of SORNA instructs that registration need not be required on the basis of a foreign conviction if the conviction "was not obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process for the accused under guidelines or regulations established by the Attorney General." The following standards are adopted pursuant to section 111(5)(B):

Sex offense convictions under the laws of Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are deemed to have been obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process, and registration must be required for such convictions on the same footing as domestic convictions.

Obviously Terry's contact at ICE feels that the City of Sierra Madre screwed up badly by not registering Matheson as a sex offender. And the evidence provided by ICE seems irrefutable.

So here are our final questions of the day. Did the City's failure to do the right thing here stem from laziness or rank incompetence? Was Matheson given a free pass due to his membership in the City's social and political elite?

Or, perhaps even worse, did certain parties in town fear what Bob Matheson might reveal about them should he be registered as a sex offender, and influenced the City's position on this matter? Was there a threat implicit in Bob's "two sides to every story" comment?

Whatever the case, it seems obvious to me that this City's government has failed us badly once again. ......... Photo credit: Bill Coburn

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tony Brandenburg: Come Back Wayne Lusvardi, the New School Needs Your Wisdom

"Just us?"
1. Out with the Old, In with the New.
When I was younger I received a handwritten letter (remember those?) from Warsaw, Poland. The young man described to me how he and his friends would find inspiration in my band’s music, how they had smuggled it into their country, and about how they copied and distributed it to their friends. He told me that it was an integral part of their resistance to the occupation. The Polish resistance and punk rock music were interwoven, and bands would smuggle their master tapes out of Poland with touring bands (most notably the legendary Canadian punk band DOA) in order to have the messages get past the censors. These tapes would  be released as records in the west by fans and supporters. To even record an album, Polish punk rock bands would need to first provide the lyrics for government inspection, and then the master tapes would be beeped (censored) if anything appeared on them that was considered offensive by the censor.

Bands from the west would travel on archaic roads to clubs to play if they could get through, often for little money, a meal or two, and gasoline which was rationed, thus it was collected and stored in jars by fans and promoters to help the bands get back. The drummer of the legendary German band The Spermbirds (yes, that is what they are called) confirmed this with me, and shared a few stories about how the Stasi (East German State Security) would infiltrate the shows in East Berlin. Although the incognito Stasi were often known and recognized by the East German punks as such, some of the Stasi were clearly being won over by the music. “It was a strange time,” he told me. “We knew change was coming.”

Until gentrification came to Berlin, and it has- continually for some 60 + odd years, I was proud to have seen a stretch of the Berlin Wall shout proudly “Who is Who?” in a splash of yellow on cyan- painted by a fan who found in one of my songs, a parallel to his (her?) world. I don’t doubt that the upgraded and improved coats of slop they threw on top of that mural may have had the blessing of the new government, but it is the message below that new coat that tells the story of the real battle for freedom and resistance that took place.

2. Just because it’s Anonymous, Doesn’t Mean it’s Without Value.
Dear Brandenburgs:
One of the best articles I've ever read on how City of Pasadena and PUSD really work was written almost three years ago but I found it to be such a good explanation that I kept the link for reference. Because you seem to be looking for a key to all of this you might find it interesting:
(click here) - Anonymous  (November 23, 2012 2:17 PM)

3. Old School Vs. New School; a Hybrid Fueled by Complementary Ideas.
On the advice of a Tattler, I entered the Sub Rosa. A thing of the past, a snapshot frozen in time, silent except for the imprint, a Trilobyte, waiting to be placed back into the dwindling water supply to be reborn. I recall reading a couple of the articles I saw as I scrolled through the archives, though , admittedly I am now armed with a rudimentary knowledge that I lacked back then.

I accept that I am a novice, an accidental activist - dragged into a battle I neither asked for, nor shied away from. It was because of the bullies, the elite - some of whom, through tireless research by Mary and I - pointed us first in the direction of the Sierra Madre PTA earth mamas, to their husbands- sheriffs, city attorneys, executives, and then, ultimately, toward a PUSD superintendent, upper cabinet, and  finally, a board member. We studied, we asked, we were called fools, we persevered, and we learned. We learned names, faces, and dates, organized timelines, outlines, and rat catching lines.

It has been an interesting trip, sprinkled with acronyms like ACT, and PEF, IIPK, and BOE. It was all thanks to a couple of persistent posters who followed us around on the internet, harassing and attempting to humiliate and belittle us - not unlike the way that their co-conspirators followed our seven-year old son around at school and harassed him, actually - and, because of their big mouths and bravado, shined the light that guided us to locate almost every document and item that we were able to find. What resulted was a conclusion that demonstrated how a group of Queen Bee Elitist Earth Mamas and Limpotent Drone Papas somehow convinced the PUSD to disregard the law and the civil rights of a child. My child.

In the various circles that I run in I am referred to as “old school” - mostly by the kids in the punk rock subculture. This is a venerable title, one that acknowledges my impact on local music and alternative cultural history, and it is used as a title of respect. The survivors of my generation are rightly known as “miracles”  and the support for bands like mine - holdovers from the late seventies and early eighties - is flattering and surreal.

I share this because, here, in this blogging arena, I am what the kids would refer to as new school. Though I am clearly on the correct path,  I am still searching for my voice, and I am still finding my footing. It doesn’t mean that I lack strong beliefs and opinions, nor does it explain my peculiar and unusual (none dare say unique and individualistic) worldview - but it certainly supports my inquisitive nature, my sardonic humor, my gaffs, and the likelihood that I will stumble, fall, and disappoint some people along the way.

4. Where to now, St. Peter?
So. On your advice, Anonymous 2:17 Tattler, I will examine a couple of Sub Rosa posts, and let me see if I can bring them into 2012, and test their validity within the context of my blurred and hyper-focused multi-faceted mindset. I want to get a grip on it, on the core, and see if I can put a new school spin on an old school post or two, and, I don’t know, maybe along the way I’ll drop a few names and determine how their faux-progressive groups intersected, and sometimes interfered, with my life. I also want to thank you for guiding me to that post.

On reading Sub Rosa, I realize that no matter how much things seem to change, things pretty much stay the same. Same players, same “ideals,” and the same money trail. I bring this up because the January, 2010 Sub Rosa blog post was smack dab in the time of Pasadena’s stepping into a brave new tomorrow, one designed for long term investments, big time money, designed and executed by the ruling oligarchy. Wayne Lusvardi, you were spot on. I won’t even attempt to paraphrase.

“In Pasadena it has historically been the Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF), a semi-public non-profit entity that is a shadow school board, through which funds from government and private grants are passed to the schools. But the monies procured by the PEF are typically first laundered through yet another layer of nonprofit consultants and agencies who are political pets of the establishment. This is oligarchy - government for the few and the well-connected with only symbolic benefit to the public.

On paper the PEF is set up as a way to augment the funding of the Pasadena Unified School District and circumvent state restrictions on local school funding. In reality, the PEF is legalized corruption. It holds closed meetings and is unaccountable to the public. It alone has the discretion to award funding for pet projects and consultants.”

Here we are, three years later, and I have unknowingly stepped over Michillinda Blvd. and stepped right into it (click here). You know what? It still smells funny. All the players from then are still here, and the world as laid out by somebody someplace still favors the elite, still promises the poor some magical kingdom at the end of the metro line, and still cuts the breaks to the rich fat cats. If any wisdom can be found in Petey’s Tale of Two Cities (Click Here) it is this: the promise of a better shake for the poor is nowhere to be seen in the Pasadena Renaissance and in fact, the housing as it stood back in 2010 seemed to benefit the well-off and the builders.

Unlike old Petey, however, I believe that the builders will continue to screw the poor while continuing to receive tax breaks and favoritism. They will continue to buy those favors through  politicians who depend on labor/union votes, and that those votes will be guaranteed through the promise of work, i.e. new construction. I agree with many others that there is nothing environmentally sound about any of it, and whether I know the code number, or the law that this farce is measured by is moot;  these so-called green laws  will continue to benefit the class that is in power, and the demographic that benefits from this are members of that specific class. In the event that these self-serving laws, protocols, and now EIGHT guiding principles, actually does result in the vertical slums they promise to promote, it won’t be for any socially progressive purpose- it will be to keep the poor locked up in Eastern Block styled housing units so that they are easier to manipulate and control.

You know, funny thing about pack and stack living? It doesn’t promise the elimination of cars. Crawford said this to me, and I have to concur.  He said the first thing folks will do with the money they save is to buy a car. (“Probably to get the hell out of here,” says I.) Every couple of years I go to Rome, and I have noticed a few things about it. I noticed that you can have old ruins, and that they still serve a purpose and look cool. Same with bombed out buildings in Berlin, and in Croatia. I noticed that there is an excellent underground train system in Rome, and buses that will take you anywhere you may need to go. I noticed that Roman cabbies pull off maneuvers that make New York City cabbies look timid. All of these transportation modes run alongside a large number of Romans living in a tight and bustling space. There are tons people, buildings, crazy Italian roads, and, yes, lots of cars- but the difference is that scores of those cars are just really, really small. They are tiny little bitty things like the clowns drive at the circus. Clown cars, if you will. they have solved the parking problem by packing them up on the sidewalks. So much for cutting down on cars (click here).

Funny thing, some of the Eastern bloc cars from before the wall are still running. I have seen critters destined for the ALF move faster, but they are still moving nonetheless. Pretty much consisting of an engine in pressed cotton and paper fiber, the Trabant (click here), is a greenster’s wet dream. You can’t get more biodegradable. You know what else? People on the other side of the wall still wanted cars, even if they were hustled around by rail with the rest of the masses. Their desire did not subside because they were packed and stacked along the U-Bahn. In fact, they wanted to dig their own ride so much they’d wait forever to get their own car, even risking the possibility that the damn thing would eventually melt.

Chew on that for a while, comrade.

As for the PEF and IIPK, it didn’t take Mary and I long to find the names of most of the Sierra Madre Elite on their donors list and involved in the formation of that 8th Guiding principle. Until the figureheads in those edu-clans make a statement to me distancing themselves from the activities that were pulled on my autistic child, then I consider them one and the same- elitist. I hold the regional PTA in that same regard.


5. If you can’t make yer Case Based on Three Principles, What Good are Eight?
So. In the elapsed time since Wayne left the building, an eighth guiding principle has arrived (click here) and it came through a quasi-grassroots non-profit group called Invest in Pasadena Kids (IiPK). Petey loves them (click here) and the IiKP parade were en masse at the Pasadena City Council Meeting I attended last month, pushing and pleading to the Pasadena Royal Court for consideration of that Eighth Guiding Principle:

"Pasadena is committed to community planning that supports vibrant educational resources responsive to the broad needs of our diverse community. Quality public schools are a shared community responsibility."

Wait, what? That is it? Are you kidding me? All those meetings and drafts, and city manager scribe support- and that is the best you could muster up? Holy Mother of Mercy, no wonder drivel slides past the voters and becomes law.

Invest in Pasadena Kids planned to be at the Monday, December 3, 2012, Pasadena City Council meeting promoting more of the same hokum (click here), that is, a mission statement that doesn’t really have substance. Apparently the council need more time to mull about on it, or maybe, just maybe,  someone figured out it doesn’t say a goddamn thing. I will say something else on principle #8: if it has the support of Petey, as does the IIPK (click here), then I am, by default, on alert, and immediately suspicious. That they are involved in the inevitable sustainability planning (click here) only adds to those suspicions. You’ll note, all the usual interests are involved.

This is the one that stitches together the goals of the Greenies, the Meanies, and the Weenies. I’ll leave it to you to assign the stakeholders, but we have been tinkering with it for a few weeks and feel that we are a hint closer to a general understanding that at least slakes our thirst for understanding, as simplistic as it may seem (click here).  If you gaze upon that fine piece of fluff that ran in the Pasadena Meekly, you will find not only a fine portrait of Petey taken by photo boy Ed Honowitz (click here) but you also get the connector that brings the Sub Rosa piece, specifically Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF) together with Invest in Pasadena Kids. One of the connectors is that spokespeople for both groups had criticized the PUSD Board of Education for interfering with efforts to develop partnerships or access grants (click here). At that same meeting in 2011, our pal Mr. Ed stated (click here)

“I think this (Resolution) is significant and symbolic ... But the challenge for us now is for us to really start looking at and adding specific into what we are going to do to build the kind of programs and interactions. One of the things I want to ask Superintendent Gundry and the city manager over the next 30 days, is to start to lay out how this partnership will move forward.”... (He added that the community wants to see PUSD and the city manager to)  “Move the pieces forward and see actual implementation.”

Of course, that little nudge came crashing down when Mr. Ed tried to squeeze the Bigley Brothers through as a possible building company, and suggested an unknown and unnamed community-education group through the discussion on his usual verbiage of “uh, duh, um.”  It was due to the interference run by a few pesky gnats who caught Big Daddy Ed “PEF “ Honowitz trying to sneak it by unnoticed that shut it down cold, at least for now. Nice try bonehead. Give me the “uh, duh, um” signature page.

I have come to the, gasp, startling conclusion that our focus needs to be in line or parallel to/with preservationist groups. They may be the last hope for stopping the madness, or at least in curbing it. (click here) I don’t support anything wholeheartedly, but in the preservationists I believe stands the key to stopping ridiculous projects from moving forward at the expense of what makes our cities unique. I have given up hope that the taxpayers won’t continue to pay for the folly, but maybe it’s time that we are given stock in our investments since we can’t seem to tell the bastards to knock it off (click here). Of course, that will require selling our souls.


6. Old Wine, New Wine ...  Just Break the Bottle.
I have also come to the conclusion that what the PUSD needs are more maverick Board of Education members - the kind that don’t scare, and that don’t care. That whole messy Baggett thing would have been cake had that outlaw approach been taken. The “Yeah, so what?” approach. The time has come for people to step up and take every lie, every smear, and and every dig- and turn it around. “Is that the best you can do? Fine, that’s me. Now what are you going to say?” Sometimes you just gotta hold up your hand and say, “Pick a finger, chump.”

As we move closer to those March elections it becomes painfully clear that to counter the absolute nothing we can expect from “the press” that we need to hear some familiar voices that still echo in our canyons to be thrown back into the mix. Voices of reason, and voices of grit.

Come back, Wayne Lusvardi, the new school needs your wisdom.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chicken Feathers & Hostage Taking

How ya like me now?
It was quite a revealing night at City Council. Nancy Walsh voted against Rosenburg's Rules of Order because they're "too concrete," Josh Moran was made to look like something of a fool over his revisionist chicken ordinance, and John Harabedian revealed his SMPD hostage strategy for saving the UUT from yet another beating at the polls in 2014. But let's not get ahead of ourselves too much. There was just so much going on, and we should really try and revel in each and every dismaying moment. If only to better appreciate the human condition. It's good for you, like liver. Or fish oil.

I have to admit John Capoccia impressed me. After years of hearing mostly dumbed down and feel good bromides presented as so-called moments of inspiration, John just stood up and led anyone who cared to join with him in a very precise and proper prayer. The contrast was impressive. I am not a particularly religious person, so it isn't like this was any kind of personal vindication for me. Though I will freely admit to finding the popularly accepted alternatives to God much less attractive now than they were when I was younger.

God then cleared out of the room, and in His place Paulie Goosebumps arose. Paulie is showing signs of becoming a regular feature during the public comment portion of our City Council meetings, and just like 2 weeks ago he came off as being agitated and random. Tonight's message had to do with good versus evil. In Paulie's mind people with money are evil, and those who have none are good. He also proclaimed that Jesus Christ was a socialist. Something I am skeptical about since I don't think that point of view existed back in Roman Empire times. Projecting modern political concepts and attitudes upon early historic times being a form of intellectual sophistry. Or at least that is what I was taught at college.

Our new Police Chief was anointed by a Judge named Geanette. And for the life of me I can't imagine where she came up with that oath the Chief was sworn on. I counted at least three times where he was asked to avow that he would not try to violently overthrow the government. I would never have taken Larry Giannone to be the anarchist type, but maybe the Judge knows something that we don't. The Chief showed particular courage in allowing Marilyn Diaz to pin some shiny new silver stars to his blue shirt. Marilyn had some difficulty getting the job done, but our new Chief bravely stuck it through. If I can use that term here.

During the Consent Calendar portion of the meeting, the matter of Rosenberg's Rules of Order came up for a final acceptance by the City Council. They were being adopted as a way of both speeding up the proceedings while also improving the quality of the work being done. And they do seem to be working for all involved. This meeting was done before 9PM, miraculously early when you consider how things were going just a short couple months back. Nancy Walsh, however, took pains to point out that she found Rosenberg's Rules to be too restrictive, and wanted to make certain that everyone is aware that she was voting NO on this matter.

The goals of Rosenberg's Rules of Order are actually quite logical and easy to understand. Rules should establish order, rules should be clear, they should be user friendly, and they should enforce the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. These rules are the evolved result of centuries of trying to make meetings effective and productive. I don't know how Nancy Walsh could be against what was really quite a wise choice by the City Council. I can only conclude that she is not very sophisticated on these matters, and had little real understanding of what she was talking about.

The matter of the chicken ordinance came up. I have no idea what Josh Moran had in mind when he cooked this one up and, as things turned out, apparently neither did he. The smack down that Josh received for this foolish piece of poorly prepared business was so complete that even the usually loyal Nancy Walsh joined in on the fun. Moran had absolutely no support whatsoever for his chicken fiasco, and was clearly and publicly disrespected over this unfortunate piece of work by his fellow Councilmembers. In the end it didn't even merit a vote.

The big moment of the evening was obviously the so-called Public Safety Master Plan that John Harabedian so fervently proclaimed we just had to have. Ostensibly this would be an $80,000 consultant prepared stack of paper that would analyze every aspect of public safety in Sierra Madre. Public safety being a government euphemism for what the Police and Fire Departments do.

This was, of course, all just for show. An artful dodge as it were. Nobody ever believed for a minute that the City Council would approve the spending of $80,000 on a consultant. Something that would get us yet another useless binder full of bull, one having about as much value as the $30,000 Buxton market study boondoggle that was supposed to tell our downtown businesses how to they should run their affairs.

Councilmember Koerber asked John Harabedian what it is he is trying to accomplish. John's answer was not really an answer at all. Just more questions.

So shall we lay out what Mr. Harabedian was really up to here? The City is scared to death that the UUT extension will be shot down again in 2014. The defeat of Measure U last April was so overwhelming and devastating for them that there is now considerable fear downtown that the days of Sierra Madre having the highest UUT rate in California are coming to an end. And once that happens the way the City of Sierra Madre is governed will have to drastically change. And in ways that most of the risk averse people working there would not enjoy.

As the conversation went on the $80K master plan idea was jettisoned and in its place a survey began to be discussed. This survey would supposedly help gauge the public's true feelings for the Sierra Madre Police Department, the job it is doing, and what it is that the residents actually want from a police department.

Harabedian, backed up by the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, was adamant that this survey be conducted by an outside party. The idea being that a hired consultant would be impartial and fair to all possible political persuasions, and on any matter. A concept that becomes quite ridiculous when you consider who would actually be hiring the consultant. I find it hard to imagine that City Hall would choose one that would return a survey not closely aligned with what they want.

You may recall that when John Harabedian ran for office he proclaimed that among the first things he would do would be to establish a citizen public safety commission. Now he apparently does not trust the public to even do something as simple as conduct a survey, he wants to hire an expensive consultant to do it instead.

What it all boils down to is an act of political hostage taking. Harabedian is politically obliged to rescue the SMPD because of their support for his election, among other things. If the UUT loses again in two years, the SMPD could very well become too expensive to keep, and have to be replaced with something less costly. By doing surveys and other expensive consultant related shenanigans Councilmember Harabedian, along with City Hall, would be able to prepare a political case for keeping the our UUT rates the highest in California.

All of which means that when the public is asked to vote on the UUT for a second time (the results from the first vote apparently not being acceptable to City Hall), they will be presented with a rather stark choice. You either vote yes for a UUT extension, or we will no longer have a police department.

It is political hostage taking, plain and simple. The City wants what it always wants, more money. Pensions, benefits, job security, all the stuff that it's good to have if you can get it. But here we will be told that we will lose the SMPD of we don't vote ourselves a UUT increase in 2014. Our cops will have been taken hostage in order to leverage excessively high utility taxes, with the vote becoming a referendum on whether or not to keep them. It is one of the oldest cons in the book.

The public portion of the meeting ended with the City Council, along with the senior paid help, going back into closed session to discuss a possible lawsuit against the City. Though this is all supposed to be a secret, I can tell you that it involves the Hildreths, and they are suing Sierra Madre in excess of $1 million dollars. Plus legal expenses.

Making the Hildreth Affair potentially the most expensive code enforcement exercise in Sierra Madre history.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is The British Home Going Full Tilt Into Elder Care Expansion Mode?

Bulldozer ready?
We have seen the future of Sierra Madre, and it is ... elder care? With the overwhelming voter approval of the ALF it seems apparent that our town is now seen as being a favorable place for large elder care facilities. Both by those who live here and the outside corporations who want to set up those kinds of operations in our little town. But what about our long established senior care facility on Manzanita Avenue, that most properly titled The British Home in California? Have they too seen the light, and are looking to expand their operations to reflect the bright new economic future that awaits all who ply this profession in Sierra Madre?

The British Home in California, which is in a part of the state called Sierra Madre, has been around since 1931. Which makes it quite a venerable institution for our village. Here is how they describe themselves on their website (click here):

The British Home is a non-profit organization well known for over eighty years of outstanding service to our senior citizens.  The Home is a unique care facility providing gracious retirement living for seniors of all nationalities, races and religions.  The Home is located in a quiet residential area of Sierra Madre in the superb climate and attractive foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Home's beautifully landscaped two and a half acres contain five separate cottages, each having its own lounge, kitchen, and individual en-suite bedrooms.  The five cottages combined provide high quality living for a total of 37 residents.  Three of the cottages are for independent living and two cottages are devoted to assisted living for current residents in need of additional attention. Nursing staff are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All well and good, and certainly this is an institution that has enjoyed both a fine reputation in Sierra Madre and a good rapport with its immediate neighbors. However, the British Home is now beginning to show very clears signs of wanting to expand their operation. That has some of the people that I have spoken to in that neighborhood expressing some reservations. And the way they are going about it has become a matter of concern as well.

There is a Public Hearing Notice on the matter in this week's Looney Views News. Here in part is what it has to say:

Subject: Conditional Use Permit 12-04 (CUP 12-04); The British Home Specific Plan - Specific Plan No. 12-01 (SP 12-01); Municipal Code Text Amendment No. 12-02 (MCTA 12-02)

Applicant: The British Home

Project Location: 647 Manzanita Avenue and 676 Ramona Avenue

The City of Sierra Madre gives notice, pursuant to State of California law, that the planning Commission will conduct a public hearing to consider a request for a Conditional Use Permit to allow 1) the addition of 754 square feet of floor area to an existing building at 647 Manzanita Avenue, and 2) demolition of an existing single-family home and construction of a new one-story, 3,591-square-foot, 8-bedroom residential building at 676 Ramona Avenue as part of the British Home site. The new building will allow an increase in the total number of residents on the site from 41 to 49.

Date and Time Of Hearing: City of Sierra Madre Planning Commission meeting, Thursday, December 6, 2012, 7 p.m.

So here is the catch. According to the residents from that neighborhood who contacted me, the Ramona Avenue location (pictured above) was purchased without any news of The British Home in California's plans for the site being shared with the City, or anyone else. They just up and did it, and with the assumption that when their efforts got underway they would receive everything they want. A process they have now begun.

It has also been noted that the Ramona home is a well-maintained and attractive residence. If this is the kind of property that is to be razed, then there are really no homes in the area that would not be considered for a similar fate by The British Home. The fear is they could march PacMan style all the way over to Michillinda should that fit their plans for business expansion. The residential ambiance of that community is apparantly not seen as being any sort of hindrance to such a move.

There is also the matter of zoning for that area. The British Home has been around for 80 some odd years, and its institutional status is likely grandfathered in. They were there before any such considerations even existed. However, the neighborhood that surrounds it is all R1, single family homes. This would likely require a zone change to account for the high density nature of their expansion plans, both on Manzanita and Ramona. No small consideration for these parts. Is that something we'd really want for that neighborhood?

Something else that also needs some discussion is this is not a Measure V neighborhood. Should the area be rezoned for high density institutional living, the sky could literally be the limit. And should aggressive elder care expansion become the rule in that area, as it now is elsewhere in Sierra Madre, there really would be nothing to prevent some extremely large structures being built in that area. Even if the rooms inside of them are suites.

Something to keep an eye on next week.

Live Blog Tonight's City Council Meeting!

We'd been kicking this idea around for the last couple of months or so. The notion being that anyone could come onto this blog and comment about what was going on during the City Council meeting as they were watching it on SMTV3. Or even from the Council Chamber itself as City Hall does share its wifi with visitors these days. And during the last City Council meeting Live Blogging really took off with over 180 comments posted by the time everything was over. This was not only highly gratifying, but I also had a lot of great leads and ideas to explore for the next day's meeting wrap up on The Tattler.

So we'll be doing it again tonight. I will be on hand, as will some of The Tattler's most experienced commenters. And, I hope, you will be as well. There will be a wide range of important topics under consideration by the City Council tonight, from budgets and city finances all the way to chickens. Here is your chance to be heard.

Drop by tonight around 6:30 p.m. and join in the conversation. We'll even let you type for more than 3 minutes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Your Tattler City Council Meeting Preview

Wear comfortable shoes
Who knows where the time goes? I certainly don't. But another City Council meeting is now upon us, and we must be prepared. This is what we here at The Tattler were able to glean from both the documents provided by the City and those available on the Internet. It is the best that we can do for now. However, only the meeting itself will reveal what is truly at stake. It is your duty as a citizen to follow these proceedings and know what is actually going down. As always, we are here to help in any way possible. We're not afraid to share, care, or even be there. Though, of course, we'd rather not.

The first moments of Tuesday evening's meeting will not be witnessed by us because this is the closed session. There are two topics to be discussed behind locked doors. The first stars our hapless Sierra Madre Police Association and their seemingly endless series of attempts to get blood out of a stone. Here is what we know:

CONFERENCE WITH LABOR NEGOTIATOR: Pursuant to California Government Code Section 54957.6 - City Negotiators: Elaine Aguilar, City Manager, Elisa Weaver, Director of Human Resources, and Karin Schnaider, Finance Director
Employee Organization: Sierra Madre Police Association.
Our Notes: California Government Code Section 54957.6 states the following: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a legislative body of a local agency may hold closed sessions with the local agency's designated representatives regarding the salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits of its represented and unrepresented employees, and, for represented employees, any other matter within the statutorily provided scope of representation.

In other words, the SMPA (formerly known as the SMPOA) is trying to get more money.

The second closed session item is as follows:

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(c) - Initiation of Litigation.
Our Notes: California Government Code Section 54956.9(c) says this: The receipt of a claim pursuant to the Tort Claims Act or some other written communication from a potential plaintiff threatening litigation, which claim or communication shall be available for public inspection pursuant to Section 54957.5.
In other words, somebody is dropping a law suit on the City of Sierra Madre.
Our Notes: Cal. Gov. Code Section 54957.5 says this: Notwithstanding Section 6255 or any other provisions of law, agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1), and shall be made available upon request without delay.  

In order to find out what all the excitement is about, somebody is going to have to go down to City Hall and ask about it. This was written on Sunday, and The Palace is shut for the Sabbath. However, if somebody can get in there tomorrow we can divulge this deep dark secret on Tuesday.

OPEN SESSION: Once the doors fly open the anxious masses will stream into Council Chambers to witness the peoples' business being accomplished. Certain rituals will be reenacted, both spiritual and of this here world. The elected officials will share intimate details about their efforts on our behalf at meetings, conferences, and social events as well. As they supply the leadership for our community, their lives and what they do are important to us all.

Superior Court Judge Geanene M. Yriarte to swear in newly appointed Sierra Madre Police Chief Giannone. The guy who told us that Robert Matheson could not be registered as a sex offender in Sierra Madre despite Federal laws that state otherwise will now be rewarded with the leadership of our Police Department. That's how things roll here.

CONSENT CALENDAR: This used to be the easy breezy part of the meeting, but thanks to the efforts of Councilmembers Capoccia and Koerber these things get looked at a lot more closely now. What a concept.

a) ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION NO. 12-89 OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS - Here is where the money gets spent. And as always there is a lot of it going out the door. When you include the sum from item (b) the total this time around comes to $1,384,703.48. Among those items being paid are the following:
- Payroll Transfer: $320,164.14
- State Water Resources Control Board Annual Vigorish: $1,512.00
- Edison: $55,078.24. I wish people would member to turn out the lights.
- Athens Street Sweeping: $7,592.45
- First Transit: $17,944.50
- The Ferguson Group: $5,000
- Pasadena Humane Society: $2,265.92
For all of the money changing action I would recommend that you go to the City of Sierra Madre website and look at the agenda report for this item. It is spelled out in detail there.

b) RATIFICATION OF PAYMENTS ON BEHALF OF PUBLIC FINANCE AUTHORITY AND SUCCESSOR AGENCY - The sum involved here, at $949,422.50, is immense. You may recall that this item was on the Consent Calendar for City Council consideration last time, but for reasons that were not made clear to the public it was pulled off live time by the City Manager. The agenda report on this matter was rather opaque last time, whereas now it is quite transparent. Perhaps that was the reason it had to be pulled last time? It didn't meet the transparency requirements? The irony is rich here as this is cash money due on water bonds from 1998 and 2003. With water mains bursting all over town lately, it is obvious this bond dough was not spent on too many pipes. The amount due was sent electronically in 4 increments to the Bank of New York on November 3rd.

c) AUTHORIZATION TO PROCEED WITH PROCESSING OF APPLICATION FOR VERIZON WIRELESS COMMUNICATION FACILITY AT 611 EAST SIERRA MADRE BOULEVARD - Verizon has filled out the city paperwork required to build a "mono-deciduous tree" here in Sierra Madre. Which is the inelegant term used to describe a 50 foot high transmission pole with 12 antenna panels up top. Verizon will attempt to disguise what this actually is by attaching some green plastic leaves to it. Done so it will not look like what it is, which it won't. It will look like a transmission pole with 12 antenna panels and some plastic leaves attached.

d) APPOINTMENTS TO THE UTILITY USERS TAX OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE - This is where perfectly earnest Sierra Madre citizens will be used in an attempt to convince people here that they made a mistake in voting down Measure U. And that it will now need to pass when it is is repackaged for the ballot in 2014. Sierra Madre now pays among the highest UUT rates in California. When you take into account the actual number of categories that are taxed, we are unsurpassed in this regard. The UUT Oversight Committee will be tasked with turning this sow's ear into a silk purse. I'm quite certain some of them will try.

e) RESOLUTION NO. 12-90, A RESOLUTION DESIGNATING THE USE OF PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES FOR THE CONDUCT OF CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS - This is the completion of an effort to keep our talkative Mayor from attempting to dominate City Council meetings through volume and low level aggression. Hopefully it will work. Though I personally have some doubts.

f) DECLARATION OF CITY OWNED EQUIPMENT TO BE SURPLUS - Surprisingly the SMPD is not on the list this year. However, items that are up for auction include:
- A 1999 Crown Victoria Police Cruiser with 97,674 miles on it. Which at my household is considered low mileage.
- A Ford Taurus. Have you driven a Ford lately?
- A 1991 GMC dump truck with 188,748 miles on it. Used by the Water Department, it is just now getting broken in.

g) RECOMMENDED APPROVAL OF ROOF REPAIR CONTRACT - A company called Protech is looking for $101,312.41 to fix the roof damage caused to City Hall by the December 1, 2011 wind storm. The good news is the City only pays a deductible of $5,000. The rest is the problem of some insurance company.

h) SECOND READING OF ORDINANCE NO. 1332 – MUNICIPAL CODE TEXT AMENDMENT NO. 11-03 ADDING CHAPTER 12.34 TO THE MUNICIPAL CODE TO REGULATE SPECIAL EVENTS OCCURING ON PUBLIC PROPERTY, REVISING CHAPTER 17.88 OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE RELATING TO TEMPORARY USE PERMITS, CHAPTER 12.12 RELATING TO ENCROACHMENT PERMITS, AND CHAPTER 12.16 RELATING TO EXCAVATION PERMITS - The purpose here is described in the Agenda Report as follows: "This chapter is intended to further the goals of the General Plan by regulating the use of public property for temporary events where a large number of people will congregate, and ensuring that the public property is utilized in an efficient, equitable, secure, and safe manner." Apparently this applies to everything from farmers markets to weddings to parades. I believe them, but I am curious about what permanent events might be.

i) RECOMMENDATION TO AWARD A CONTRACT TO GENERAL PUMP COMPANY FOR REPAIRS TO WELL 3 AT A COST NOT TO EXCEED $93,480 - Ever since Bruce Inman's electrifying announcement that the City of Sierra Madre will run out of water in a year, I have been awaiting news about what exactly is being done to prevent such a tragedy from occurring. This could be it. Then again, maybe not.

j) APPROVAL OF PURCHASES/SERVICES IN EXCESS OF $25,000 FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012-2013 - When something costs the City more than $25,000, it has to go out for bid. And once those bids are collected and put into a stylish binder, the City Council decides who the lucky winners are. There are 21 current categories for the $25K per year rule, and some of them are personal favorites. Colantuono & Levin is listed at $225,000, though this one is now out to bid. Axontech gets $200,000 for "technology consulting" and "computer licensing and equipment purchases." Liebert, Cassidy & Whitmore receives $125,000 for "City Attorney personnel and labor relations." But the grandaddy of all the Sierra Madre Money Kings is none other Edison. Their take? $700,000 big ones. Hopefully the City Council will take a minute with this item.

k) QUARTERLY FINANCIAL STATEMENTS, FIRST QUARTER AS OF SEPTEMBER 30, 2012 - This one is interesting, especially if you are concerned about where the City's money comes from, and then goes. It lays out everything. As an example, the big kahuna in the expenditure department is the Police Department at $3,634,646. It by far dwarfs anything else in the list. Coming in at a distant #2 is "General Government" at $1,342,140. Culture & Recreation - Library is #3 @ $894,936, with #4 being the Fire Department at $697,868. Today's post is a meeting preview, not a financial analysis report. If this is of concern to you (and it should be), I suggest taking a look at the documents provided on the City of Sierra Madre website.

2. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF APPOINTMENT TO THE LIBRARY BOARD OF TRUSTEES - Nancy Walsh once famously commented on how a certain candidate for this gig was suitable because he "fit in." Which is, of course, one of the more unfortunate aspects of Sierra Madre. The notion that a special few people are socially acceptable, and only they can be considered for things reserved for such individuals, is very sad. In my opinion some of the most narrowly focused and self-serving individuals in this community are people Nancy would feel "fit in." The purpose of this item is to fill an open vacancy on the Library Board created by the departure of Colin Braudrick.

3. DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN - Just when you thought that "government by consultant" was on the way out in cash-strapped Sierra Madre, this body floats to the surface. The brainstorm of Councilmember Harabedian, it is estimated that the cost of such a "plan" will come in at around $60,000 to $80,000, and will take 8 months to complete. My take here being this is payback to the SMPD by Harabedian for their support during last April's election. The likely purpose is to define the role of the SMPD in such a way that it would become difficult to replace them later on should financial pressures dictate the necessity of looking at such a move.

4. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF MODIFICATION TO SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE 6.08.010 REGARDING POULTRY - I will be so disappointed if this meeting runs long and the City Council doesn't get to this Mayor Moran agendized item. The very last one in the stack. The other day I posted a question that read, "Why did the Mayor cross the road?" I received quite a few answers, but none rang quite as true as this one:

Having a stocked chicken coop is all the rage with the hipster and foodie crowd. I have quite a few friends who now have chickens for fresh no hormone/no antibiotic eggs. It's cool but I also roll my eyes when the fun wears off and you realize chickens can be a*******. That would be my guess for the chicken topic ... the hipsters.

Then there was the following comment posted yesterday, which had me laughing out loud:

I was out of town so missed the dialog on "chickens coming to Sierra Madre". What better tag than "Sierra Madre home of the best Chicken Fricassee"? I remember when many homes in our town had coops with 100 or so hens and the mean old rooster, who was lord of the sunrise and made sure everybody knew it. Eventually chickens were banned because of the odors, flies, and chicken s--- never cleaned up. Chicken wire was never very effective. It kept chickens in most of the time, but never really worked on keeping the hawks out which was probably the reason shotguns were kept at the back door. 

My grandmother's preferred technique for the Sunday Dinner was to sneak up on the "young layer," grab it by the neck, hold by the feet, twist the neck, "step on it and yank", release it to flap in a circle causing the expression, "behaving like a chicken with its head cut off."

There is potential for Sierra Madre though. Recent arrivals to LA seem to miss the time honored sport of "Cock Fighting" Our City Council might be the first to stage these fights with their own Cocks named after themselves fighting to the death on Saturday nights. Maybe the Mayor should be picked from the winning Cock Fight. There is such potential here although rather than "green" this activity should be called "brown" because that is what you step in as a chicken keeper.

Since I grew up in a state where there are almost as many chickens as there are people, the appeal of these noisy creatures is lost on me. And I am certain that there are many residents here (like our commentator above) who are equally unimpressed. But there you go, Sierra Madre residences as organic boutique chickens farms. It certainly is a world of wide-ranging interests and concerns. I for one cannot wait to hear the public comment.

For reader bonus points, you can check out a rather large compendium of California chicken laws by clicking here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Sunday Tattler News Returns

Topical cartoon
Mod: It has been a few weeks since we attempted a Sunday Tattler News. It was never our intention to allow our focus to lapse on what had become an important responsibility for this blog, but apparently we did. And I would like to express some regrets for not having done so, but to be perfectly honest I have none. We did run other stories in place of the Sunday News, and as I recall nobody seemed too upset with the decisions that were made. All that said, here is all the news fit that's to agglomerate. Which I guess is the nicer word for it.

A big car for a big star: Arnold Schwarzenegger suffers a delayed mid-life crisis as he buys a $250k monster truck! (click here): This should be titled “A big car for a big hypocrite.” Why? Because Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hypocrisy evidently knows no bounds.

When he was the Governator (evidently he must have thought this was an acting job), he stuck the citizens of California with what is known as Assembly Bill 32: the Global Warming Solutions Act. A nefarious plan to suck money out of the bank accounts of California citizens and businesses via a cap and trade program. You can click the link above and read for yourself.

The end result will be that if you buy anything in California the price will be going up as when the price of gas and diesel rises, so does everything else as it’s all delivered by truck. You can bet CARB will be costing the refineries and trucking companies a lot of  money buying carbon credits and making them file a 50 page report, in triplicate, every time someone belches at work.

Let’s not forget this isn’t going to be good for the job market in California either. If price of goods and doing business goes up businesses will have less of those dollars to spend on hiring and expansion. This, in our humble opinion, could also drive even more business out-of-state and cause more bankruptcies.

Meanwhile, after screwing everyone in the state, what does the Hypocriteanator do? Oh, he buys a huge Mercedes Unimog! A gas hog par excellence, that should probably have its very own cap and trade program set up. A little research shows that on Unimog forums most claim to get about 15-16 miles per gallon. Certainly not in Prius territory. Not to mention they’re diesels, emitting soot, another no-no for the do-gooder greenie crowd. Let’s not forget Arnold likes to fly private jets all the time, too. Spewing out  more of that carbon he’s so ‘worried’ about.

As such, we are awarding Arnold the one-fingered CO2 Insanity salute for Hypocrite of the Month.

(Mod: I'm sorry, but we here at The Tattler really do dote on this kind of stuff. Can we please get an inventory of all the automobiles driven by the Green Committee and the Councilmembers who support them? Can we start with Councilmember Harabedian's Corvette? And Mayor Moran's La-zoon Mercedes Benz?)

Alhambra hosts 710 forum to 'get the correct information out there' (click here): Representatives from local transportation agencies attended a City Council meeting this week to answer questions and inform residents of the status of the environmental study for the 710 North Gap Closure Project.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the first phase of a three year Environmental Impact Report and is studying five final options to close the 4.5-mile gap from El Sereno and Pasadena: "No build," traffic management solutions, bus, light rail and a dual-bore underground freeway tunnel.

At the meeting, Metro's director of the highway program Doug Failing and Southern California Association of Governments Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata explained the final five options and answered questions about the movement of goods and the costs of building a tunnel.

Failing said Metro will host a series of public meetings in January to present the results of the "Alternatives Analysis" phase of the EIR, which will be completed in December. But, he said, attending local city council meetings is also an important part of Metro's public outreach process.

"We can't just sit back and deliver information on our schedule," Failing said. "All these councils also have needs for information as well and doing it at that local level it puts the city in control so the city gets to ask the questions that are really more important to them, as opposed to general questions about the corridor."

Alhambra Mayor Barbara Messina said she asked Ikhrata and Failing to come to the meeting to dispel what she says are rumors and misinformation surrounding the project.

(Mod: As Tattler readers may recall, Barbara Messina is a prominent figure at the SGVCOG. She was also one of the leading defenders there of disgraced former COG Executive Director Nick Conway after he was arrested by the D.A. on multiple felony conflict of interest charges. You may remember that before his arrest Ms. Messina had also used the term "rumors and misinformation" to describe the allegations whirling about the tousled gray noggin of Mr. Conway. Throw in SCAG's Soviet emigre' boss Hasan Ikhrata and Metro's Doug Failing and you have something that pretty much puts the bow to a fairly hellish package.)

San Francisco Approved - Minimum Allowable Size Apartment of 220 Square Feet (click here): San Francisco will soon have "micro-unit apartments" as the Board of Supervisors has approved legislation that allow for building apartments with only 220 square feet of living space. The sanctioning for such itsy-bitsy apartments is to help single adults who are unable to afford a house in populous urban area find a place to live.

Supervisor Scott Wiener hoped to have apartments rent for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, compared to the average studio rent of $2,000, by reducing the minimum-allowable size. "To confront San Francisco's rising housing affordability crisis, we must be creative and flexible," said Wiener. "Allowing the construction of these units is one tool to alleviate the pressure that is making vacancies scarce and driving rental prices out of the reach of many who wish to live here."

However, certain city lawmakers expressed their concerns about the mounting rents for bigger places caused by the allowing for tiny apartments, thereby actually worsening the lack of affordable housing in the city. "Even though they do maximize their use of the space, you are still talking about very small units being very expensive," Supervisor David Campos stated. "If these places that are 200 square feet are going for 1500, what is that going to do to the rest of housing prices in San Francisco?"

San Francisco has overcome New York and become the city with the most expensive apartment rents. Though there are increasing criticisms concerning the pint-sized apartments, the demand for affordable living in a growing city is apparently inevitable.

(Mod: Here is something that is more of a philosophical inquiry than anything to do with urban planning. At what point does a dwelling become a shelf?)

California - Vegas party train could hit tracks in 2013 (click here): As if a weekend in Las Vegas isn't wild enough for Southern Californians, a Nevada entrepreneur is about to add five more hours of party to either end.

After striking an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad last week, the Las Vegas Railway Express is one step closer to bringing to life the X Train, a luxurious "party train" complete with big screen TVs, recliners and two ultra lounges.

"The whole idea is when you get on a train, you feel like you're in Las Vegas," said Michael Barron, president and CEO of the $100 million venture that hopes to launch its maiden voyage on New Year's Eve 2013. "It's essentially a nightclub on wheels."

Tourists can't get from Southern California to Las Vegas by rail alone, and Barron's company isn't the first to try and fix that. The much-talked-about XpressWest project proposes a high-speed train connecting Sin City to the region from which it draws 25 percent of its tourists.

But it's a multi-billion-dollar proposal that would require setting new tracks, and it's often panned as a "train to nowhere" because the first phase would start in relatively obscure Victorville, about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles.

The X Train proposal calls for an Amtrak crew aboard a 576-passenger train that runs at standard speeds on traditional tracks. It would start in Fullerton, Calif. — already home to an Amtrak station and part of Southern California's Metrolink commuter train network — and end in downtown Las Vegas.

(Mod: This could be the genesis of an idea for boosting the abysmal ridership figures for the Gold Line. Rather than spending $100s of millions of dollars on train station condo projects, plow the money into party cars instead. This could also be a way of improving ridership on Sierra Madre's bus shuttle program as nobody would be in a fit condition to drive after pulling into Sierra Madre Villa Station after a 40 minute ride on the X-Trolley.)

Pasadena residents ready to recall Councilman Steve Madison for NFL vote (click here): Political retribution for support of the recently adopted Rose Bowl Environmental Impact Report came swift for Steve Madison, as residents in the Arroyo Seco began plans Friday to recall the Pasadena District 6 City Councilman.

Madison voted Monday along with six other Pasadena City Council members to certify an environmental impact report and change a city ordinance, all of which clears the way for the NFL to temporarily play at the Rose Bowl.

The City Council's move faced strong opposition from homeowners in the upscale neighborhoods surrounding the famed stadium. And now Madison could be the first political casualty of that decision.

"We intend to serve Mr. Madison with recall papers in the next 10 days," said Michael Vogler, the 12-year Pasadena resident who is spearheading the effort. A website was launched this week in support of the recall effort -

Madison's city council district encompasses much of the Arroyo Seco and Rose Bowl parking lot, along with the San Rafael and Linda Vista-Annadale neighborhoods that are home to many of those opposed to the NFL playing temporarily at the stadium.

"Mr. Madison is willing to sell our precious weekend and family time to the highest bidder," according to the website. "Mr. Madison must be replaced with a representative committed to protecting our quality of life."

(Mod: Has the NFL even agreed to move one of their franchises out here? My guess is if they do it won't be the Giants, Packers or Bears. Rather it will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Carolina Panthers. That said, we here at The Tattler have always enjoyed a spirited recall, and will be following this story closely.)

That's enough of that. Go outside and play. It really is a beautiful outside, and do you want to waste it by being shut up inside all day?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Los Alamitos Activist J.M. Ivler Sends an Ethics Complaint Against City Attorney Sandi Levin to the California State Bar

Los Alamitos City Council
(Mod: J.M. Ivler is a concerned Los Alamitos resident and good government advocate who played a significant role in the controversies there surrounding the resignation of Sandi Levin as City Attorney. Ivler is one of the two Los Al residents that initiated a lawsuit challenging an unethical trash removal contract (click here). Despite Levin's assurances that "the law was followed to a T," a Superior Court Judge demurred and found that the law had not been followed at all. As posted on the Let's Fix Los Al! blog, a complaint regarding Sandi Levin and actions taken to remedy an alleged Brown Act violation has now been sent by Mr. Ivler to the California State Bar. Below is that complaint.)

To the State Bar of California
Ethics Division
1149 South Hill Street
Los Angeles, California 90015-2299

Not being a member of the State Bar I have no idea of whom to address my concern. Normally if you are a client for an attorney, you can go to the Bar if you think there may have been a violation of professional ethics, but in this case I am not the client, but am affected by the attorney and the decisions that she makes for the client. The client is my City Council here in Los Alamitos, California. The City Attorney works for them, and through them I guess she works for us, the residents.

The issue at hand goes back over a year ago, and has been run in a way that I believe is questionable at best. Ethically challenged would be an understatement.

Let’s start in December 2011 when the City Council as a body voted/instructed the City Attorney to look into the actions of one of the City Council Members and determine if that Member had violated the State’s Brown Act (a criminal violation) through his actions, and then bring the issue back to the City Council (body) with her opinion and their options.

In January 2012 the item was on the agenda for discussion and a vote. The agenda included a nine page document completed by the City Attorney outlining her legal opinion on whether or not the Brown Act had been violated. During City Council discussion on the document and the recommendation the Mayor stated that the issue was “binary,” either these were violations or they were not. The Mayor Pro-Tem stated that if they were violations of the Brown Act and the City Council failed to take action on them, then the City Council was equally liable for the violations by their inaction.

In the end the City Council majority voted for the City Attorney to take the following actions on the charges leveled against the Member for violations of the Brown Act as per the nine page indictment that the City Attorney created.

On January 17th 2102 the City Council voted to do the following list of items as prepared by the City Attorney:

2. Establish a policy or ” code of conduct” for the handling of confidential closed session information and adopt specific rules for all future meetings.
3. Retain a City Prosecutor to seek a court order, writ of mandate, or injunction preventing further disclosure of confidential closed session information by Council Member Kusumoto and/or barring him from further closed sessions regarding the litigation at issue.
4. Direct the City Attorney to refer the matter to the District Attorney. The matter may be investigated and may or may not be prosecuted under state law.
5. Direct the City Attorney to refer the matter to the Attorney General. The matter may be investigated and may or may not be prosecuted under state or local law.
6. Direct the City Attorney to refer the matter to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury may investigate the matter and determine whether to initiate removal proceedings.
7. Direct a City Prosecutor to prosecute the matter as a misdemeanor under the Municipal Code. This option is not recommended as there is a potential bar to prosecution due to pre-emption.

I would like to direct your attention to items 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Items 4, 5 and 6 of the instructions were very clear and concise and aligned with the Mayor Pro-Tem's statement that to NOT take action was not an acceptable thing for the City Council, as a body, to do. There were clear instructions that three government agencies were to have the complaint forwarded to them so that they could choose to take action on the criminal charges as outlined in the nine page document prepared by the City Attorney.

Items 3 and 7 were clear instructions to file something with a court that would generate a writ that would order the Member to follow the Brown Act (item 3). And Item 7 is for a city paid prosecutor to also then prosecute the Member for those infractions as detailed in the nine page document.

Of these five items that the City's legal Counsel ordered performed based on a vote by the majority of the body (the client), only one seems to have been completed as of this date over 10 months later.

Per requests to City Council as of 10/01/12 there has been no action taken on Items 4, 5 and 6 of the instruction to the City Attorney. The District Attorney, the Grand Jury and the Attorney General have not had the nine page document sent to them for them to start an investigation, or a prosecution for the criminal charges of violating the Brown Act as was documented in the nine page memorandum from the City Attorney.

Since there was no other vote by the body instructing the City Attorney to cease filing the complaint to the agencies listed, and since that task takes minimal hours to complete and can be delegated to lower level staff if the City Attorney chose to do so, it appears as if the City Attorney has chosen to willfully ignore the specific instructions provided to her by the client.

Actions on Items 3 and 7 actually are a bit confusing. The City Manager hired an external law firm to handle the prosecution. The firm selected has billed the City and has been ordered by the City Council to be paid for their work. But since there is no work product for the money spent (according to the City Attorney), no action was taken outside of paying for nothing.

A look at the invoices shows that the outside legal counsel did research, which would have created a work product of notes and points of law regarding the nine page document of charges the City Attorney produced. In addition a different attorney at the firm charged for services in producing a “draft” document.

This too would be a work product produced by the counsel hired to prosecute the case. Since it is unclear by the public responses if the outside counsel was working on item 3 or item 7, a viewing of the work products produced would indicate which of the two items the outside counsel was working on, and would also provide input to the body that would allow them to know if they should continue on Item(s) 3 and or 7. When asked for the work product of outside counsel by members of the City Council body, the client, the City Attorney claimed there was none, although the invoices paid by the city clearly show that there was work product, even if it was not in final deliverable form that could be produced for the client to review.

It should be noted that work by the outside counsel has apparently been stopped even though there has never been an instruction by the body (there has never been a vote by the body) to cease work.

The concern of the City Council as a body may have been that the work product was not aligned with Item 3 of the instructions, but was in fact the City Attorney moving forward with Item 7 of the instructions. The review of the work products requested but not delivered to the body (City Counsel’s refusal as stated above) would have indicated which of the two items was being worked on by outside counsel. The reason this is important is due to the fact that Government Code Section 41803.5(a) states that any prosecution by the City Attorney must get authorization from the District Attorney.

There is no record of the City Attorney asking the District Attorney for authorization to prosecute the Member.

If Item 7 was not executed as instructed, it follows with the same insubordination as outlined in Items 4, 5 and 6.

So, from the California Rules of Professional Conduct for the California State Bar it states:

Rule 3-110. Failing to Act Competently.
(A) A member shall not intentionally, recklessly, or repeatedly fail to perform legal services with competence.
(B) For purposes of this rule, “competence” in any legal service shall mean to apply the
1) diligence,
2) learning and skill, and
3) mental, emotional, and physical ability reasonably necessary for the performance of such service.

This appears to be violated in the fact that the directive provided by the City Council to the City Attorney through a vote of that body was either willfully ignored or not followed for in excess of nine months even though the actual time it would have taken to complete the instructions of Items 4, 5 and 6 (and potentially Item 7) were minimal. At no time has the City Council provided instructions through a vote of the body to have the City Attorney NOT complete the instructions; therefore the vote of the body has been and is being willfully ignored by the City Attorney.

Additionally, requests by the body for work product items that invoices show were produced and have been paid for were denied to the body by the City Attorney.

Not to beat a dead horse, but on that last item it appears that the City Attorney may have also
violated Rule 3-500. Communication. A member shall keep a client reasonably informed about significant developments relating to the employment or representation, including promptly complying with reasonable requests for information and copies of significant documents when necessary to keep the client so informed.

While the City Attorney does NOT report to me, a citizen of the community, it is my tax dollars that pay for the City Attorney’s time and charges as billed to the City of Los Alamitos. I am deeply concerned that any willful acts of ignoring the instructions of the City Council as ordered by a vote of the majority of the body reflects not only insubordination to the employer, but also is unethical for paid legal counsel.

The lack of action against the Council Member as stipulated by the instructions voted on by the body has left the Member formally accused by the City Attorney of performing criminal acts (the nine page memo). The Member has not had a chance to have his name cleared by prosecuting agencies since the City Attorney has not completed the actions she was instructed to complete. This has left the Member in a position where he has been accused of a criminal act, yet has been unable to have his day in court in order to clear his name of anything in the City Attorney’s nine page accusation.

I believe that this may violate the spirit, if not the letter, of:

Rule 5-100. Threatening Criminal, Administrative, or Disciplinary Charges.
(A) A member shall not threaten to present criminal, administrative, or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute.
(B) As used in paragraph (A) of this rule, the term “administrative charges” means the filing or lodging of a complaint with a federal, state, or local governmental entity which may order or recommend the loss or suspension of a license, or may impose or recommend the imposition of a fine, pecuniary sanction, or other sanction of a quasi-criminal nature but does not include filing charges with an administrative entity required by law as a condition precedent to maintaining a civil action.

As the nine page memorandum details criminal charges against the Member, but since the City Attorney did not send these charges to the appropriate prosecution agencies as instructed, the Member has been accused of criminal wrongdoing by the City Attorney. The City Attorney has willfully failed to forward, as instructed, the charges to any agencies that can either prosecute the charges made by the City Attorney or clear the Member from the accusations, thus leaving the Member under threat for in excess of ten months without the ability to be cleared.

Based on the above I have a deep concern that the City Attorney has been unethical as defined by the California State Bar. The law firm in question is Colantuono & Levin of Los Angeles. The City Attorney to the City of Los Alamitos is Sandra J. Levin.

While I am not the client, as a member of the public for the public agency which the City Attorney works I have deep concerns that there have been multiple violations of California State Bar ethics, as well as potential violations by the City Attorney of Government Code Section 41803.5(a).

Additionally, as a member of the State Bar and an Officer of the Court, I have deep concerns that the City Attorney may have violated other ethics or laws in that she has created a nine page document that states that a member of the City Council for the City of Los Alamitos has performed criminal acts, and she has not, as an Officer of the Court or member of the State Bar, felt the need or the desire to report such criminal actions to the appropriate authorities, even if she was without the clear instructions from the City Counsel (her client) to do so.

I look forward to hearing from the State Bar as to my questions regarding the ethical lapses documented above, as well as addressing my concerns that the nine page indictment of the Member should have been sent, instruction not withstanding, to the appropriate agencies for prosecution of the alleged criminal acts.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.