Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary PUSD by Tony and Mary Brandenburg

Pink Slips and Tight Lips
Tuesday evening's Board of Education meeting was a well attended, yearly ritual in which PUSD, like most school districts in California, paint the worst case scenario in order to try to justify the cuts they plan to make. March 1st is the date every year that the districts must notify employees that they may be out of work next September. It isn't exactly what anyone might call an exercise in team morale building.

"It is through no fault of the district," the PUSD claims. They blame the state, the Feds, declining enrollment, private schools, encroachment by special education, and the necessity for auxillary staffing as the barriers to balancing money.

"It is completely the district's fault" is the opposite claim from employees. They blame the Superintendent Jon Gundry, who is earning the typical superintendent's salary for a district the size of PUSD - and my favorite paisan John "Dr. P." Pappalardo, who is being beat down right now for getting a 2% increase for obtaining a Doctorate and the same anniversary steps that every other certificated employee gets. Apparently, it's fine when teachers earn raises, costs of living expenses, and anniversary steps, but maybe not so much when administrators do. Welcome to the PUSD.

One person no one complained about getting paid too much was Gary Carnow, the excellent IT administrator who has retired. As always, people who get things done are the ones that move on. Sorry to see him go. It already looks like the kids are going back to rock tablets and chisels.

Someone else's head is on the chopping block, my guess being David Azzcaraga, but as of 11pm Tuesday, the emergency closed session hadn't rebooted the meeting. Also no one has justified to me, anyway, why a total incompetent like Steve Miller, Director of Human Resources, should have a job when teachers, librarians, teamsters, and paraprofessionals are losing theirs. Maybe Miller can bring that great administrative pannache and style to the District Offices - you know, that special style that helped set off race riots back at Marshall Fundamental when he was the principal over there.

In any event, there are tons of things that money is wasted on that validate employees claims. In order to save redundancy, I will briefly point out they have easily spent $100,000 in legal fees covering up Honowitz and the OCR mess that went down when they went after my child. It was probably much more.

PUSD wastes literally millions of dollars bailing idiots like Comrade Honowitz out of trouble instead of just apologizing and doing the job right the first time. Then there are bundles of cash taken hand over fist by administrators on leave, and or retired, for travel and food. In my opinion the only people who should receive free food are kids who are hungry. Oh, and Honowitz. It keeps getting spilled on him before it gets to his mouth.

Sierra Madre Upper Campus Resolution 2233
Shout outs to Steve Tanner and Halcyon Koerber who outlasted me Tuesday night and saw that Resolution 2233 was moved through. Tanner hosted the Sierra Madre Upper Campus Tour yesterday for the Board hopefuls. The idea was to help establish their committment to see the project through, but only Stella Murga showed up. Just to let Ken Chawkins know what was going on most likely. In any event, it was not unlike touring a wedding party through the French Quarter post Katrina. Not unlike what a school might be if it was operated out of a series of carefully arranged large packing crates.

The Sierra Madre Upper Campus Resolution vote was 6-1, by the way. Kim Kenne being the lone wolf on this one. Anyone who pays attention to Ms. Kenne knows that she is a straight shooter and thorough to a fault, if such a thing exists. Shows a lot of backbone if you ask me. My assumption was that the numbers just didn't line up right, even on the promissory note.

Congrats to the people who worked hard to get it put through, let's hope some calamity doesn't derail it all over again. I am not holding my breath because a little bird referred to SMU as Muir Ranch East, which is funny. I hope I can look forward to pomegranate and mangos. It's a step forward I suppose, but even though this resolution isn't much more than toilet paper tight now, even toilet paper serves  a purpose.

Two minute Warning
What follows is the presentation I planned to make at last night's Board Meeting. It was heavily edited by the time I actually went up to speak, and was cut down to two minutes at which point Renatta Cooper informed me my time was up. I goofed on her for a minute about calling the police to arrest me, like last week, and issue me a citation. I told her getting arrested for exercising my first amendment rights was not such a bad thing. She took in in good humor, considering the frustration of the many people there last night. It was easily the busiest Board Meeting I've seen in a year.

A couple of twelve minute speeches by Comrade Honowitz about things that pretty much outline his bountiful new Community Schools consultant commissions in the near future, along with a whole bunch of institutional racism talk that came straight out of reports by Leonard McClaren, and from the Special Education Task Force speakers like Monica Watts and the Brandenburgs, but somehow squeegeed through the Honovision Chu-Chu-Chaboogie-filter for a Brighter Honolicious Tomorrow; one that is free from separation, segregation, and financial distinctions. A world where everyone shares, rides the train, and has a cubicle to live in. Where everything that is mine is yours; and everything that is yours is also yours. Unless you are autistic, of course. Then you can go to Hillsides and Five Acres.

Happy Anniversary!
This week is an anniversary of sorts. A year ago, on February 28, 2012, Board President Cooper issued a Board directive. When she issued this directive, she, and the Board, made our child, and our family a promise to try and rectify what was done. Ms. Cooper reported out from closed session the following:

The board voted to deny the Brandenburg request for several investigations; however, the board has directed the superintendent to work with the Brandenburgs to address specific concerns regarding their son's education at Sierra Madre Elementary School. (click here)

The Board had no question regarding what our specific concerns were: our Autistic child was targeted, petitioned and harassed out of his 2nd grade classroom by a group of Sierra Madre parent vigilantes. This group of parents had enough influence that school staff repeatedly removed our then 7 year old child and secluded him in a storage classroom for hours at a time - without ever notifying us.

This Board Directive acknowledged that the Hostile School culture at Sierra Madre exists, even with the denial of the external investigation.  We find this inconsistency most amazing of all. No answer says, "Hunh, Wha ...?" like a Definite Maybe does. Thanks for clearing all of that up.

Despite the issuance of the Board directive, a year ago this coming Thursday - not a single thing has been done to address the Hostile Environment at Sierra Madre School. There is no disability awareness curriculum, no training of parents, not even a simple apology. In fact, Mary Brandenburg was told she could go ahead and do this herself. The same parents involved in the harassment of a child continue to roam the campus, and are considered heroes - including the parent who told Comrade Honowitz that she’d use her sheriff husband, who is currently on trial for the excessive use of force, to deal with our child. Does that sound like Bullying to you?

During the same time frame that PUSD demolished Sierra Madre Upper Campus, PUSD also stood by and encouraged a group of parent vigilantes to destroy an autistic child. My child. So, three years later: in order to get things done, the people of Sierra Madre simply have to stamp their feet like five year olds, and bam, they get the Board’s ear. Unless, of course, it involves rebuilding the Upper Campus. Then it takes an Act of God.

Would you like me to have a tantrum? Shall I invite thirty of my friends here and have them take turns yelling at you? Will that get things done? How many more compliance complaints do we need to file for Special Ed to begin honoring the law? Or maybe there is no real desire on the Board's part to follow through on tonight's resolution or to help solve this problem.

At what point in time did a resolution, and there have been a couple five - take precedence over a BOARD DIRECTIVE?

When the Director of Personnel can whitewash the entire problem by saying there was no violation! Voila! He’s just saved the District from possible litigation.

Discrimination and civil rights violations against children? Not an issue when the UCP investigation is conducted internally by the director of personnel, Steve Miller, who is immune from any grievance, even if he violates board policies - as long as he finds the district “in compliance.”

Teachers are getting pay cuts or laid off while PUSD administrators, like Mr. Steve Miller, continue to rake in a fine salary with no fear of losing their jobs, or their pay - no matter how badly they fail the students.

Re: Brandenburg Request to Censure Honowitz
On March 2, 2012, as reported in the Star News (click here) and per Eddy Chu-Chu Honowitz,

“There already has been an independent investigation of the situation,” said board member Ed Honowitz, who was named in the Brandenburg’s complaint and recused himself from closed session meetings on the request. “As a result the board did not choose to commission an additional independent investigation to cover the same issues.”

Mr. Honowitz disclosed closed session deliberations to the media, closed session deliberations he stated he had recused himself from.  However, what Honowitz reported to the Star News was false.

Honowitz did not recuse himself from the closed session proceedings, and in fact was present. Honowitz influenced the outcome of closed session deliberations by withholding documents from his colleagues during these sessions, the same sessions he said he recused himself from. This included direct knowledge that Special Education and Selpa Coordinator Elizabeth Blanco, who had fully participated in the PUSD internal investigation, had full knowledge of the petition. This petition was later hidden from the OCR.

(1C) Violation of Bylaw 9321.1: Closed Session Actions & Reports. The Board shall reconvene in open session before adjourning and report closed session actions, the votes or abstentions thereon, and other disclosures required by Government Code 54957.1.

On February 28, 2012, PUSD Board of Education President Renatta Cooper reported, “The Board voted in closed session to deny the Brandenburg request for several investigations, however, the Board has directed the Superintendent to continue to work with the Brandenburgs to address their specific concerns ..."

At no time did President Cooper report the votes, nor the abstentions of closed. This is a violation of the disclosure clause of Government Code 54957.1.

On March 3, 2011, Ed Honowitz reported to the Pasadena Star News/ Mercury News that he recused himself from the vote. In so stating, Honowitz not only disclosed his vote (Recused) which is a violation of vote disclosure, but also disclosed information that was not made public by Board Member Cooper;  Ms. Cooper did not disclose any recusals, nor abstentions. Honowitz not only disclosed his vote (Recused) which is a violation of vote disclosure, but also disclosed information that was not made public. At no time was a statement released by the BOE granting Mr. Honowitz permission to disclose any information regarding the vote taken, nor any disclosures regarding the decision to deny the investigation.

(1B) Violation of Bylaw 9011: Disclosure of Confidential/Privileged Information; Confidential / privileged information which is produced for, or which comes out during, closed sessions of the Board shall not be divulged or released unless a majority of Board members agree to release the information, subject to applicable laws regarding closed sessions.

According to documents withheld by PUSD during the Office of Civil Rights investigation, and recent documents in the possession of Mr. Steve Miller, Elizabeth Blanco had met with and prepped both Mr. Edwin Diaz, former Superintendent, and Ed "Crib Daddy" Honowitz, Board Vice President.

Which means that not only did staff have full knowledge that our child had a disability, but it also matched up with OCR documents that revealed parents had met with both Diaz and Honowitz. This included the Sierra Madre PTA President along with the Sierra Madre PTA Webmaster, individuals that not only had direct knowledge of the child’s IEP - information they received from a staff member - but they also discussed consequences, i.e. punishment, as well as placement options. All of which was done in direct violation of FERPA.

By the way, the Item regarding us that day is the following one, for you sleuths, naysayers, and general busybodies. There are about two or three codes that indicate the Brandenburgs. The one from the previous year was Conference with Legal Counsel - Anticipated Litigation (GC §54956.9(c).  Significant Exposure to Litigation: One Case.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Get the Feeling You Watched the Wrong Meeting?

So it was one of the dullest and most pointless City Council meetings I have ever watched. Or at least watched recently. I found myself wishing that the August vacation the City Council approved for itself had already started. The Buxton question, perhaps the only truly red meat issue on the platter, was punted for reasons that I am not certain I understood. Perhaps the City Council wanted to wait until we knew for certain whether the State is going to pick up that $30,000 in Buxton buckage out of CRA moneys, or if we will need to cover it out of Sierra Madre's General Fund. A moment that, should it arrive, will be one of delicious embarrassment for two City Councilmembers in particular.

I found myself agreeing for once with John Harabedian. This on the question of grandfathering in the current status of Sierra Madre's long time massage therapists. Can a city that does not take care of its own ever really be considered to be much of a community? And for a town that claims to value the idiosyncratic over the generic meaninglessness of most everywhere else, that would seem to be an important consideration. You can't have a quaint city without accounting for its quaint people. Besides, does everything we do have to bend to the will of Sacramento, even when they left us a way out of it?

This matter ended up getting punted as well. And as it should have been. This might have been a rather quirky topic, but there was much more to it than I think anyone on the Council was prepared to deal with last night.

Speaking of defending our City's idiosyncratic tendencies, there was also a discussion about using disincentives to curb the building of massive "Arcadia houses" on little tiny lots. "Incentivize smaller units, de-incentivize McMansions" as someone wiser than I noted here last night.

An important consideration now that the venerable One Carter debacle is threatening to hatch its first castle-sized monuments to the gauche fantasies of some aesthetically very tiny people. If there was anything unexpected in the discussion it was that even Nancy Walsh agreed such a thing needs to be considered. It is, of course, quite a late awakening for a few of these folks. Some of us have been going on about this for years.

That was about it for the City Council meeting. The "I Love My Library" awards were a nice thing. I wonder how my kids dodged that one. State Assemblywoman Carol "Lookie" Liu's officious employee appeared to me like she would be spectacularly unhelpful if you ever actually needed something from Sacra-Weimar. I am not certain that the L.A. County one party political machine has much use for Sierra Madre. We have neither the votes, the money nor the blind ability to behave in the politically obedient manner that they prefer. The Edison fellow's "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to burying the real issues involving the 2011 windstorm was predictable. They have little imagination over there.

The Pasadena Unified School District meeting was apparently where the real action was. Those who traveled to that confab expecting that the resolution to build the Middle School would be the one exciting event of the evening had another thing coming. And boy, were they wrong. Here is how one poster described the action:

It was the annual pink slip decision meeting and the teachers, nurses, librarians, etc were all there to protect their jobs and ask that the administration folks be cut instead. The resolution was amended about 4 times and became very confusing as to what and how many were to receive pink slips that may or may not be acted upon by March 15. So the upshot is that it goes back to staff to be reconfigured to meet state standards and budget constraints and come back on March 5 for a special meeting.

One witness to the melee described it as being a near riot, with a visibly angry Ed Honowitz attempting to clear the room of all the union malcontents. An ironic sight when you consider where Mr. Ed often claims to reside on the political spectrum. But maybe that has always been just for show? A "Grant Money Radical," as it were. Lord knows the upper echelons of Pasadena's presumptuous ruling elite attract a lot of those.

Attendee Mary Brandenburg posted the following observation:

Teachers are angry because 150 of them will be pink slipped due to budget cuts. Interestingly, the purchase orders continue to show lots of senior administrators going to conferences and getting their mileage and food covered.

Certainly the PUSD has its own special people. Last night apparently being quite a victory for them.

Once the room had been cleared of this year's victims, the Board of Education passed Resolution 2233, thereby vowing in a non-binding sort of way to rebuild Sierra Madre's Middle School. The final tally was 6 to 1 with Kim Kenne casting the "No" vote because she feared it didn't take into account the possibility of overbids. I'm not certain she really understood what it was she was voting about.

It might not be a legally binding document, but the politics are alright. It will now be very hard for the PUSD to go back on its word. The departing Ramon Miramontes has left behind a farewell gift for his friends in Sierra Madre. Chances are pretty good it will stick.

This morning at 7:30 I will join the happy throng over at the Middle School. Many of the candidates from other peoples' Board of Education "subdistricts" will be on hand to witness to their undying devotion to Sierra Madre and its school kids. Testimony to the effectiveness of our community's ability to scream its bloody head off when it has been so grievously wronged.

One more thing. None of this would have happened if you'd kept silent. Do not forget that. And please, don't go back to sleep just yet. You do understand that this episode isn't really over, right?

If you disagree, ask yourself this question. Who are you voting for next Tuesday? That's right, you aren't.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How We Think This Evening's City Council Meeting Will Go

Of course, I have no real idea. But I read the same documents that members of the City Council read. Or at least some do. I know that at least one of the members gets Cliff Notes from a former Mayor and refers to them often. And then there is also the reality creation part of it. If all you knew of Sierra Madre was what you saw on live televised feed from City Council meetings, you might actually believe that people here want to pay higher taxes, would meet a terrible end if they were suddenly deprived of city services, and prefer to leave their cars at home and walk instead. Which is hardly true. Though most would have no problem if other people walked. I know I'd prefer it.

But I digress. Every two weeks we offer our take on how the evening's City Council meeting is going to shake out. We have been right, and on occasion we've missed the mark by a mile. But not so much lately. Our average has actually been pretty good over the last six months. Which means that just about anyone can figure this stuff out. All it takes is just a little concentration.

Following the various presentations, ceremonies and Council reports, some of which will warm your heart while others will have a different effect, the meeting kicks off with Item 1a, which is the CONSENT CALENDAR. Also known as RESOLUTION NO. 13-11 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS, we here at The Tattler call this the spending of the money. It always comes first because how can you be spending more when you haven't tidied up all the math from last time? Tonight $1,071,699.81 goes out the door to a couple hundred different places, with about half coming from Item 1c. There is a long list of amounts in the Staff Report, some of which are notable for their size, others for where they go. SoCal Edison pulled down a neat $37,996.23, Norman A. Traub Investigative Services got $4,642.32, the Forensic Nurse Response Team (!) $730, and various winners of the I Love My Library contest split up $535.00.

b) APPROVAL OF PURCHASES/SERVICES FOR SOLE SOURCE VENDOR DC CONNECT - This involves a $37,000 grant from the California State Library that has been titled "Sierra Madre Stories and Treasures." Somehow all this denotes that City Staff has selected a vendor to sell us a pair of "[i] Cell technology story boards," one of which is to be installed in the Library's History Room, the other at Lizzie's Trail Inn. Exactly what stories will be told on these boards is not spelled out in the Staff Report, though I can think of a couple if they're interested. I suspect there could be trail donkeys in the stories the City has in mind, some of whom now sit on the City Council. Since this is a purchase of over $25,000, the City Council has to bless the selected vendor before these purchases can proceed.

c) AWARD OF CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT TO PERRY C. THOMAS CONSTRUCTION, INC. FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CITY-OWNED PORTION OF MWD EMERGENCY CONNECTION PROJECT IN AN AMOUNT NOT TO EXCEED $569,255.00 - This is our portion of the financial pain involved in hooking up Sierra Madre's rapidly depleting water system with the Metropolitan Water District. You know, just in case there is a water emergency, like suddenly 300 or so new condos show up downtown. A very slow and deliberate emergency. Bids went out to various pipe guys, and the winner was none other than Perry C. Thomas of Monrovia. The one odd thing in the Staff Report is Perry's bid is listed as $517,505.00, not $569,255.00.

d) CANCELLATION OF BOTH AUGUST 2013 CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS - The City Council wants to take a vacation. We all want to take a vacation. They get to vote for theirs.

2. PUBLIC HEARING - ORDINANCE NO. 1335 MUNICIPAL CODE TEXT AMENDMENT 12-01: AMENDING CHAPTER 5.56 (BATHS AND MASSAGE ESTABLISHMENTS), AND CHAPTER 17.36 (COMMERCIAL ZONE) OF THE SIERRA MADRE MUNICIPAL CODE TO CONFORM TO STATE REQUIREMENTS - Contrary to the rumors we've all heard, this one was not put on the agenda by the Mayor. It was initiated by Danny Castro, who apparently is aware of something I was not. Which is the City of Sierra Madre has nine massage establishments within its borders, and that the City gets a cut of the action by charging them for business permits and licenses. Just like most everyone else who attempts to do business in town. The catch being that selling permits to the those in the massage trade is contrary to State law in certain cases. Here is how the Staff Report puts it:

Chapter 10.5 of the State's Business and professional Code ("B&P Code") requires that cities allow massage services to be provided without the need for City permits, such as conditional use permits or a license to perform massage services, as long as the massage therapists and practitioners have acquired a State certification on a voluntary basis, or that a massage business employs only State certified personnel to perform massages. It is important to note that the State's B&P Code preempts local standards regarding massage establishments.

I wonder, are other professional services, those that are State licensed as well, also absolved from enduring the City permit and licensing process? People should check.

3.  DISCUSSION - UPDATE FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON REPRESENTATIVE REGARDING 2011 WINDSTORM AND SIERRA MADRE OUTAGES - The wind blew, the trees flew, and this update took more than a year to do. Mr. Ben Wong from Southern California Edison will be in the house hoping to counter the widespread belief that his company was especially inept in its response to the 2011 windstorm. In the spirit of fair play, here is an article published by the Los Angeles Times titled "State regulators slam Southern California Edison for windstorm response" (click here). And from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune we have this: "State regulators: Edison broke rules in response to 2011 windstorm" (click here). Take it away, Mr. Wong.

4. DISCUSSION - PUBLIC FACILITIES IMPACT FEES: PLANNING COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS - This is a resumption of the City's near endless attempt to raise fees on new development. The rationale being that new buildings have an impact on public facilities, and therefore those doing the building need to pay more. It was shoved off on the Planning Commission for a while, who have now come back with their take on this matter. There will be some discussion on this by the City Council, of course. All of which leads to this:

Financial Review - The costs to prepare a new fee study involve awarding a contract to a consultant. Funds in the amount of $50,000 have been set-aside (General Fund dollars) in the FY 2011-2013 budget for a fee study consultant.

Whoot, there it is!

5. DISCUSSION – STATUS UPDATE: MARKET DEMAND STUDY - The $30,000 our previous City Council spent on the Buxton Market Demand Study has become a quite legendary example of clueless behavior by our elected officials. Apparently Nancy Walsh was conned by Buxton at a League of California Cities meeting a while back, and John Buchanan figured it could be useful as a way of showing the City that Nancy is actually capable of useful work. It didn't quite work out that way.

The Staff Report launches into a long discussion of how the Buxton Services information was received by our merchants, but little is said about what - if any - effect it had on how these Sierra Madre businesses actually used it. I suspect because the demonstrable effect of bringing more business to our downtown area was nil. But most damning of all is this conclusion in the Staff Report for this item:

The City's contract with Buxton Services expired in December 2012. The contract included a subscription to their SCOUT program, which provides increased access to market intelligence that supports efforts for business retention and recruitment within Sierra Madre. Attached is Buxton's proposal for continued services, with a cost of $15,000 for (a) 12-month subscription to SCOUT, which would permit up to three users. The attached proposal includes a complete list of data that Buxton will provide under an extended 12 month service ... However, it is staff's recommendation that this contract not be extended at this time.

Can we say failure yet?

6. DISCUSSION – ACCEPTANCE OF ROPS 13-14A AND DUE DILIGENCE REPORT FOR LOW- MODERATE HOUSING AND NON- HOUSING FUNDS FOR THE REPORTING PERIOD ENDING JUNE 2012 - This has something to do with the outcome of the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, and how a lot of CRA money is to be permanently clawed back by the State. The consequence to Sierra Madre being that perhaps some of the purchases that were (to use Josh's unfortunate word) "encumbered" a while back might not be paid for out of CRA funds after all. Something that would be ironic since the purposes of those encumbrances was to prevent our CRA money from being taken by Sacramento.

What this may mean is that such things as that $30,000 Buxton Market Demand Study, should the State choose to not pay for it out of their CRA haul, would have to come out of Sierra Madre's General Fund budget. Something that many here would regard as being a colossal failure of the G4 Council. We don't have that information yet. The Tattler eagerly awaits it.

7. DISCUSSION – STRATEGIC PLAN FROM OCTOBER 24, 2012 RETREAT PUBLIC COMMENT - Not sure there will be too many from the public left in the house when this one finally rolls around. Items such as this always get stuck at the end of the agenda, which means that they either don't get discussed because there just isn't any time left, or if they are the City Manager's presentation gets rushed through as everyone there wants to go home. And they should.

Live blog tonight's City Council meeting!

We will be here this evening to offer our insights and gentle criticisms as this meeting unfolds its many delights. Be sure to join as! We have gotten as many as 200 comments on this blog during City Council meetings. All are welcome, except Steve.

Monday, February 25, 2013

PUSD: Ramon Miramontes Comes Through for Sierra Madre's Kids

It really does pay to yell loud and long. If you've been wronged and the folks responsible look like they'll get away with it? Scream as loud as you can, and for as long as it takes. It works. It worked here in Sierra Madre.

There is some big breaking news over on the Thee Brandenburgs blog site right now, and you ought to check it out by clicking here. I'll wait until you've read it all over there, and then we can continue ... OK, you're back? Good. Just in case you need a refresher, here is some of it:

On Tuesday, February 26, The Board of Education will vote on this resolution and we hope you will see it pass. Of course, these days, who the hell knows. There are at least a couple of people on that board who don't care about Sierra Madre at all, but the people of Sierra Madre probably cheer for them the loudest. All the Board members have to do is say, "I'm sorry" and look really sincere. Jeez, I learned to do that when I was four years old. I should try using it again, it seems to speak volumes in this town.

This should be going to City Council of Sierra Madre, perhaps Tuesday as well, as it is indicated on the timeline. In any event it will probably go through. We are grateful to Ramon Miramontes who said he'd see this resolution get done, Scott Phelps for showing up to SME to discuss the upper school rather than campaigning that night, Kim Kenne, and the rest of the BOE, as well as Councilman John Capoccia and Councilman Chris Koerber for taking an active role in this by going to the Sierra Madre summit and especially trying to get a commitment from the Board members at the Joint Meeting.

As Tony points out, Resolution No. 2233 aka the "Commitment to Construct Sierra Madre Middle School," will be voted upon by Pasadena Unified's Board of Education tomorrow night. Here are its more interesting parts:

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the Governing Board of the Pasadena Unified School District commits to the construction and completion of Sierra Madre Middle School without any unnecessary delay to serve the children of Sierra Madre and surrounding communities.

Be It Further Resolved, that the Governing Board of the Pasadena Unified School District commits to completing the construction of Sierra Madre Middle School without a further redaction to the project's budget and insists the district adheres to the attached timeline, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Passed Approved And Adopted, this 26th day of February, 2013 at the regular meeting of the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education, Los Angeles County, California. 

Beneath all of that good news the resolution also has lined spaces for each of the seven current Board of Ed members to sign their names. Hopefully all of them will happily do so.

Far be it from me to be a buzzkill, but I think it needs to be pointed out that this resolution will not in any way be legally binding upon the next Board of Education when it is seated in May. These new representatives could easily go back on all of this should they decide the money might be put to better use elsewhere. Perhaps in the subdistricts that they will represent. And without any representative of our own until 2015, we will be dependent upon people who have no real reason to care about Sierra Madre. It isn't the best situation for us to be in.

However, once this resolution is passed it would be politically difficult for any future Board of Education to go back on this promise. Ramon Miramontes said that he would deliver, and it looks like he has.

On Wednesday morning, and at the interesting hour of 7:30 am, there will be an event at Sierra Madre's currently challenged Middle School. Organized by the always savvy Steve Tanner, it is being billed as an opportunity for Board of Education candidates "from across all voting districts" to share their ideas about the future of the Pasadena Unified School District with Sierra Madre's justifiably worried parents.

After all, and I will never get tired of pointing this out, we won't have our own representative anytime soon. So we really do need to know what those candidates from the other subdistricts think of our unfortunate predicament.

What makes this event at the Middle School so admirable in my opinion is that it will occur about 12 hours after Resolution No. 2233 is hopefully passed by the current Board of Education. Having the candidates there the next morning, at the school in question and with all of those parents checking them out, is a great way to reinforce the intent of the resolution.

I e-mailed Steve at around noon yesterday, and he told me that four Board Of Education candidates have already confirmed their attendance, with another three working it out on their schedules. Obviously this idea came down late.

Here is how my "press" invitation to this event reads:

Sierra Madre Middle School and PUSD Families across all voting districts invite School Board Candidates to share their vision for PUSD. Parent Coffee and Campus Tour,  February 27, 2013, 7:30 am, 160 North Canon, Sierra Madre, CA 91024

We are now hearing some of the best news from the PUSD in quite some time. That Ramon Miramontes is leaving the Board of Education is troublesome, but at least he is doing so as something of a hero. Maybe he will want to move to Sierra Madre and run for our Board of Ed seat in 2015? I'd certainly welcome that.

One matter still not addressed is the Board of Ed's troubling inability to share their "Community Schools" concept with us when they were in Sierra Madre a few weeks back. That so large and expensive an educational concept should not have been mentioned in their meeting with our City Council is, at best, odd. Especially when you consider that two weeks later they met with Pasadena's City Council and it was all they cared to talk about.

One problem is that we were kept in the dark about something that is obviously important. Another is that the PUSD fully planned to spend our tax money on this notion without bothering to tell us. Which, in my opinion, has to be somewhere south of Brown Act compliant.

In case you are not up on this yet, "Community Schools" is the darling of controversial far left Occidental College professor Peter Dreier. A man of outsized influence at the PUSD, his is a concept that focuses on student pathology rather than student fulfillment. The theory puts the blame for individual student failure on the environment of the community itself rather than on that student's personal motivation, or the abilities of the involved instructors. It is a "celebration of victimhood" philosophy that consumes precious resources and time concerning itself with the societal causes of failure, often at the expense of teaching actual math and science. With priorities often based on narcissistic navel gazing and social engineering rather than working to develop the cognitive skills necessary for success in life.

The reason why the Board of Education did not care to bring this up in Sierra Madre? Perhaps because it doesn't have very much to do with this community's real major concern, educating our kids.

The actual purpose for "Community Schools?" Despite all of the politically correct guilt-tripping, it is really about money. Districts demonstrating that they have embraced the Community School ideal become eligible for substantial Federal grants. Money that apparently will be going to Pasadena, along with its most favored "Community Schools" subcontractors and other assorted insiders. Not Sierra Madre or Altadena.

Grants that, by the way, are scheduled to run out in three short years, leaving the kids sucked into this educational void high and dry once the next fashionable taxpayer funded education trend comes along.

Good things are happening now, but a lot more needs to be explained. Such as why our 2013 BOE vote was taken away through Measure A. Obviously there is still quite a ways to go.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

No Public Allowed? Is the SGVCOG Using Your Tax Dollars To Work Against Your Interests?

Definitely not invited
Our taxes might fund them, and certainly there are those working in the place who do live quite handsomely off of the taxpayer dollar. But that hardly means your particular point of view is going to be represented at a SGVCOG meeting. And in this particular case it also means that you might not even be allowed through the door. Which does seem very COG of them. After all, they have been popped for Brown Act violations in the past, plus their previous Executive Director, Nick Conway, is about to go on trial for 4 counts of felony conflict of interest. Not exactly signs of any dedication to transparency. But hey, the Coggers would hardly let that stop them. They certainly have shown a high level of commitment when it comes to screwing the public out of their rights.

Here is how the SGVCOG invites a chosen clientele only to attend their "Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure Workshop." Which is in reality a ballot measure designed to create a new parcel tax that would allow the L.A. County Board of Supervisors access to even more of your money than they have today. Which is already considerable.

Thursday, February 28th   
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Location: Azusa Civic Center

Please join us to learn about and discuss the purpose and structure of the Los Angeles County Clean Water Clean Beaches Measure. 

Who should attend: Mayors and Council Members, Business owners.

Please register by completing the below form or by calling (626) 457-1800. All RSVPs are requested by February 25th. Due to limited seating, registration is required. 

Please call our office at 626-457-1800 for any questions regarding the Workshop.

If you do go to the COG's webpage to check up on this event (click here), you will note that applicants can e-mail in their attempts at registration. I did so and eagerly await news of whether I will be allowed to attend or not. You should attempt to register as well. Because by their potentially leaving taxpayers out in the parking lot, ironically for a meeting designed to assist in taking more taxes from those prevented from attending, we could be looking at a rather nasty Brown Act violation in action. Something that has apparently become a tradition at The COG.

And wouldn't you just love to be a witness?

So what exactly is this "Clean Water, Clean Beaches Workshop?" Like many unpleasant things that are disingenuously peddled to the public these days, it certainly is heavily greenwashed. Who could possibly be against clean beaches? Yet once you dig through all of the subterfuge what it is really all about is initiating a new parcel tax, one that the SGVCOG has been actively working to help establish. A tax that would drive up business expenses and rents. It would also increase retail costs to consumers as store owners would be forced to pass the expense of this new tax hit on to their customers.

Here is how Wayne Lusvardi describes it on the always informative Cal Watchdog site (click here):

Pollution Tax Storm heads for L.A. County -The tax climate forecast for Los Angeles County has turned gloomy. There is an $8 billion annual tax storm that is coming in 18 months. It will rain on every property owner in the county.

But the tax monies will mainly flow to a few politically connected groups and unions.  To comply with new state law, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is proposing an annual parcel tax of $8 to $83 per single-family home.

Big box retailers will get a tax bill for $15,000 per year, in addition to their existing property taxes.  And commercial properties in downtown Los Angeles on impervious clay soils will get socked with a $200,000 added tax per year for storm water capture projects.

The parcel tax is being called necessary to comply with unfunded mandates of the federal Clean Water Act to prevent the downstream pollution of flood control outlets to beaches and artificial recreation lakes along flood control channels.  However, in 2010 the California Legislature enacted its own storm water cleanup law only for Los Angeles County, Assembly Bill 2554.

The remainder of the state has no such law.  This tips off voters that the real intent of the legislature is to create green jobs in L.A. County’s distressed unincorporated areas, which overlap the watershed area zones in the county’s storm water capture program.

Los Angeles County is complying with this new state law with its “Clean Water — Clean Beaches” Measure.  However, calling it a tax “measure” is a misnomer because there are no suitable limits or control mechanisms on how much would be spent under the current law.

Here is another interesting article. This one comes from the L.A. Daily News (click here):

School districts are lining up against L.A. County's clean water fee - The county's Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure is meant to clear polluted waters, but educators say the plan will drain millions of dollars from cash-strapped schools.

Under the plan, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is proposing an annual fee for all property owners to help clean up polluted waterways and recharge groundwater supplies.

School districts across the county are opposing the plan, saying the fee could cost districts countywide about $14 million a year - resulting in the loss of up to 200 teachers. This would be a significant financial burden to schools already struggling under years of state funding cuts, district officials say.

The fees are based on the size of each property, how it's used, and the percentage of property covered in hard surfaces, which causes water runoff. The average single-family home would be charged about $54 annually, while 75 percent of commercial properties would be charged $420 or less. Typical "big box" stores or other large retailers would see a fee of about $11,000 per year.

I do have a little news tip for you here. While in a situation like this every single piece of property, be it government owned or in the hands of a private citizen, must be assessed for this new tax, there is a loophole in state law. A loophole that allows the government agency in question to not collect the assessed amount on a given property should they so choose. Something that is now being quietly offered to such agencies as school districts, done in exchange for their support of the measure.

And then there is this. At the last COG meeting, when they were talking about this measure, it was interesting to watch the usual suspects refuse to refer to it as a tax. Preferring instead to discuss it in terms of generating revenues for local cities. So will there be a little quiet deal making by the Barbara Messinas of this dark realm, with the target being certain City Councilmembers? Folks who just happen to come from cities that might announce their support for this new tax measure should the vigorish be right?

And while I am not saying it is the case here, this could very well be why attendance at this meeting is being restricted, and the general public kept out. Done so that some back room deals can be cut.

How choice would it be that once this new tax is up and running it turns out that you are just about the only chump in the bunch being forced to pay it? In part because of work that was done in private at the SGVCOG?

This is, of course, why the Brown Act came to exist in the first place. To allow the public access to meetings where things like tax deals are discussed. Which is also why it makes taxpayer funded agencies such as the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments so uncomfortable. It just gets in the way of doing business as they prefer to do it.

In private, with you outside in the cold and your nose pressed to the window.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are Sierra Madre Taxpayer Contributions Out of Line With Other Area Cities?

One of the things we hear often from certain concerned parties in town is that Sierra Madre is the worst salary paying municipality in the area. And that those employed by our City endure lower salaries and less hope for an improved life than their counterparts working elsewhere. With the reason for this being that people living here are unwilling to pay the kinds of taxes that would bring us a little more in synch with the neighboring cities.

But is this the actual truth, or merely one of those enduring myths that we have heard often over the years, and usually right around the time someone is trying to raise our taxes. Such as now. And whether this is due to the small size of our City, or the inherent stinginess of the 10,000 or so souls living within it, are we really not doing right by those who work for us and help keep our little ship afloat?

Thanks to a new website from the State Controller's Office in Sacramento, we can now easily access data that should put to rest any possible misconceptions on this issue. In an article titled "Website makes it easier to compare government payrolls," up on the Orange County Register's "OC Watchdog" blog (click here), they have this good news to share:

Comparing how your city, county or even local sewage district pays its workers just got a whole lot easier. Through a website run by the state Controller's Office, you can now check how much workers have been paid and how much of that pay came in addition to their regular salary.

The site they're so excited about is run by State Controller John Chiang and is called, "Government Compensation in California," or GCC in acronymic. You can access it by clicking here.

So how does Sierra Madre stack up? Much more richly than you might have believed. According to the State Controller's site, the average amount taken per Sierra Madre resident on total wages is $494 (click here). This includes all Sierra Madre residents, including the little newborn babes. That number compares surprisingly well with affluent cities such as Arcadia, which pays $470 per resident, and South Pasadena, where they shell out $473 per living soul.

But how do you explain Temple City, which on average takes only $85 per resident on total city employee wages? Or how about Alhambra at $381? Other area cities where the residents pay far less per person on wages include Glendora at $353, Pomona at $276, Covina at $332, Whittier at $360, Monterey Park at $425, El Monte at $265, San Dimas at $188 and Duarte at $217. Compare these examples to the per resident costs of Sierra Madre and you can see we are actually a bit on the posh side.

Where the per resident cost for city employee wages rate gets a little wacky is in San Marino where that number is $733. I guess if you got it you might as well spend it. In Pasadena however, which in my opinion is just about the worst run city in the area, that number balloons to a whopping $1,154 per resident hit. While that may be just fine and dandy for the people working for that town, it is a slug to the Pasadena taxpayers who have to fork all of that over. I think it is safe to say that our friends living just to the west are being ripped off in a pretty significant way. Particularly when you consider how inferior much of the services provided there actually are.

I think if you spend a little time with this revealing site the State Controller's office has put together for us you will find out a lot of useful information. It is nice to know that we aren't exactly the cheap SOBs some folks here have made us out to be. In comparison to many other towns we apparently are kind of generous.

Speaking of Pasadena

After attending that awful PUSD - Pasadena City Council joint meeting Tuesday evening I wrote an e-mail to Mayor Bill Bogaard. I had assumed that after I had spoken there he was as aghast as I was at the awful treatment Sierra Madre has received at the hands of the Pasadena Unified School District, and that he might wish to share a little empathy with me. This is how I reached out:

Mayor Bogaard,

I run a blog called the Sierra Madre Tattler. I was at your meeting last night in Pasadena, and I wrote about my observations and experiences there for today's post. I thought I should share some of my thoughts with you.

Perhaps you are not aware, but here in Sierra Madre we do not feel that we have been given quite the respect or care that our financial contributions to your school system warrant. There is quite a bit of anger.

The revelation that this "Community Schools" effort was being finalized, and after we had been told nothing about it, is part and parcel to the problem. The Pasadena BOE actually met with Sierra Madre's City Council a couple of weeks back, and made no mention whatsoever of "Community Schools." For so large and expensive an initiative as this one, the omission had to have been both deliberate and planned.

Couple that with the loss of our right to vote in the 2013 BOE election, along with the destruction of our Middle School by the careless functionaries of the PUSD, plus the growing belief here that we will not receive what was promised to us when the school district was asking for our Measure TT vote, and you can see there is a reason for some concern.

It is a shoddy and unfortunate situation.

Have a great day, 

John Crawford

I haven't heard back from Mayor Bogaard yet. I suspect he gets a lot of mail and just hasn't gotten to mine yet. I'll let you know when I hear something.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Rather Non-Transparent Green Process

You may recall a while back that there was a big set-to about taking the Green Committee up to a full Commission status. This was controversial not so much because people here don't like flowers, little birdies, and air as clear and crisp as a winter morn. Nothing like that. After all, why would you want to live in Sierra Madre if you didn't have your one with nature thing going on? Isn't that why most of us are here instead of, say, Burbank? Or, heavens preserve us, Los Angeles?

No, the matter of concern for those of us who espouse a slow growth philosophy on development in our quaint little city (something that is quite Green in itself), is that at the heart of the Green Action Committee's so-called "Accords" was a very distinct call for quite large scale condo-sprawl development. Something that many here found to be, well, obvious greenwashing. The notion that you can put a "transit village" with a bus stop in the middle of downtown Sierra Madre and somehow help save the world from global warming makes absolutely no sense. Despite what Arnie Schwarzenegger and Darrell "Lobby Lover" Steinberg might have had to say about the matter when they crafted their remarkably corrupt  SB 375.

Condos will not save the world, and no matter how deep the lingering effects of California's 1960's spawned "Cosmic Debris Syndrome," not everyone is going to believe that you can build your way out of climate change. No matter how green your building practices. And here in Sierra Madre the GAC's "Accords" were easily identified as a highly cynical use of the language of environmentalism to push yet one more attempt at helping the development nutty Downtown Investors Club recoup some badly invested 401K money from their DSP disaster of a few years back.

This all having, of course, Bart 'n Johnny's fingerprints all over it. Most things this absurdly cynical and weird here do.

You may also recall that as far back as last July the matter of bringing the Green Action Committee up to a full Commission status was heatedly debated by the City Council. And despite an attempt by the rational minority faction of the Council to give this matter a little more time, and instead bring it back in January, an adamant Mayor Josh Moran said that would never happen. It must be done, and done now.

Today is February 22nd, and whatever it was that Mo' Money was demanding all of those months ago still hasn't happened. Or at least not in the way anyone thought it would. Perhaps Josh's thought processes had been overwhelmed during that free range organic chicken controversy and he'd lost his focus. Or, more likely, maybe he'd instead decided on taking a more opaque approach.

Wednesday evening there was a meeting of the Sierra Madre Tree Advisory Commission. And on that agenda for the Trees was an Action Item #1. Here is how it read (click here):

Combining City Commissions, Committees, Boards; Designation of Special Event Delegates and Alternates; and Implementation of Staff Assistance Measures: The Commission will discuss and provide recommendations to the City Council regarding the possibility of combining the Tree Advisory Commission with the other City Committees or Commissions, Commission assistance with the staffing of special events; and Commissioners providing assistance to staff in the administering of Commission business.

This was an initiative originally announced by City Manager Elaine Aguilar a month or two back. The notion being that City Staff, as burdened as they are with all of their three and four day weekends, plus the time they need to put in dreaming up specious reasons for raising taxes and rates, the additional work required for intruding upon the meetings of our too many commissions and committees was driving the poor dears to a state of near distraction. Which is not a pretty sight.

A consolidation was demanded so staff time could be freed up for the more important work of further dunning the taxpayer.

Long story short, the Green Action Committee and the Tree Advisory Commission were proposed for melding, with their new combined name to be the Natural Resources Commission, or NARC. Which in effect amounts to a Green Action Committee take-over of the Tree Advisory Commission. It also jumps up the Green Action Committee up to that full Commission status they so badly wanted, and does so without any messy and unpleasant public debate on the matter. Done by bureaucratic fiat, as it were.

To their eternal credit some members of the Tree Advisory Commission pronounced themselves aghast at this cynical chicanery, and promised to fight the decision. They do deserve the support of the residents of this City.

At last night's Planning Commission meeting Bruce Inman confirmed this unfortunate arrangement, and it was presented for their review that the Tree Advisory Commission and the Green Action Committee would be combined to form this Natural Resources Commission. Members of the Tree Advisory Commission were there last night to express their opposition.

A very unfortunate way to backdoor the Green Action Committee up to a full Commission status. But given the complex and secretive nature of the people who quietly engineered this little parlor coup, not all that surprising.

When the process (so to speak) is completed this matter will still need to go before the City Council. People hopefully will then feel the need to speak out against this shoddy and deceitful mess.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Has Metro's Sockpuppet "710 Tunnel Coalition" Brought In Mountain West Research's Push Polling Operation?

Drive your car instead
Mod: The people pushing for the 710 Tunnel, faced with the pariah status that those who would destroy entire portions of our region on the behalf of hostile foreign economic interests fully deserve, continue to bring in a rogue's gallery of  associates to work with. Many that long time readers and supporters of The Tattler are quite familiar with. And today we have the pleasure of sharing what we know with some of our new friends, people who have shared so much great information and insight with us. Here is an e-mail I receive yesterday from one of the brilliant people fighting the Chu-Holden-Messina-Fasana 710 Tunnel. It looks like something that we have seen here in the recent past is now hard at work in their communities.

I've got a "hot tip"  :)

Pasadena and Glendale area residents have been receiving a lengthy telephone survey that asks where they live, their opinion about traffic in the area, their opinion about the proposed 710 Tunnel, and then provides many positive statements about the benefits of a tunnel. Those of us who oppose the tunnel have not commissioned or requested a telephone survey, nor can we afford such an effort.

We suspect that an entity that supports the tunnel has commissioned this survey; and we feel the survey is clearly biased, uses guiding questions, induces and encourages desired responses. If that is the case, the survey results are by definition biased, faulty, inaccurate, unreliable and false.

The commissioning entity could perhaps be a city like Alhambra, perhaps a construction company that plans to bind on the project, perhaps a consulting company like CH2MHill that has been engaged by Metro to do their public outreach, perhaps it is part of the effort to oust Ara Najarian from his Metro Board seat --

What we do know is the name and contact information for the company doing the survey, and most of the questions they are asking, as documented below.

Two other tidbits that can be pursued: Harry Baldwin, the guy who took over Nat Read's position as a lobbyist for the 710 Coalition, hired by the City of Alhambra. And the fact that pro-tunnel "710 coalition" is requesting membership fees, of $6000, to be paid from Measure R monies, from member city Rosemead, and presumably the same from the other member cities San Gabriel, San Marino, Monterrey Park and Alhambra.  (From Pasadena Independent article “Rosemead approves participation in pro-tunnel 710 Coalition" (click here).

Mod: This 710 push polling effort has set off alarms in the affected communities. The following was recently posted on the No 710 Action Committee website (click here):

“I just received the call from Mountain West Research:  It was very hard to write everything down.  I tried my best.  Be sure to read item #15.  There were more questions asked then I have here:

1.  Classification.  What year were you born
2.  Are you registered to vote
3.  What is the probability that you will vote, etc
4.  Generally speaking, are things in Pasadena going in the right or wrong track
5.  Rate the quality of life in Pasadena
6.  What is the biggest issue that the City Council should focus on.
7.  Thinking about traffic & congestion in my area today, am I satisfied or not
8.  For improving traffic & congestion would it be best to:
     -build new roads
     -add buses
     - add more bicycle lanes
     -710 tunnel
     -extend Gold Line
9. They asked if I was familiar with the 710 tunnel.  Do you strongly oppose, oppose, support, strongly support.
10.  They described the tunnel, 4.5 gap, aline 2 freeways, 8 lines.  Etc.

 Do you strongly oppose, oppose, support, strongly support. (use this for the rest of the questions.)
11.  Would I use the tunnel?
12.  They asked about a TOLL and what I thought about each of the following amounts,  if I was willing to pay  each amount:  $5, $10, then $15
13..The next questions focused on the Supporters of the Tunnel
Stating things like:  The Local Quality of life would improve - I lost it at this point.
14.  The next few questions focused on the Opposing side
5 miles, no exits, stuck in the tunnel if there's an accident, emergency access only on each end, cost estimates between 5.6 and 14 billion dollars, crosses 4 earthquake faults, etc.

The next 5 questions focus on the Supporters of the tunnel:
15.  They now start using the words very Convinced, Convincing, not convinced as your answer to their question. The tunnel is the key to our State's Transportation Network.  It will improve the traffic flow and make it easier for trucks to move Cargo from Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach up State and across the Country!  (I made her repeat this several times)
16.  The Tunnel will bring 25,000 jobs
17.  In Japan, they have tunnels, they have no problems, etc.
18.  Without the tunnel, traffic will get worse.
19.  The tunnel has been studied by xxxxx.  MTA and SCAG agree a tunnel will reduce congestion and pollution more than any other proposed Highway Project.

Then they asked which politician-party you support and etc.

They also asked if you lived north or south of the 210,  then east or west of Lake Avenue.”

Name of the Polling Company: If you go to you find that 1-231-224-2033 is assigned to Mountain West Research. Their site: Some folks called by them - according to 800notes - are asked questions relating to sensitive political issues. I would advise anyone taking a call from the 231 number ask specifically what company is taking the survey and the purpose for it. I would also prepare a summary of the questions asked and note the date and time of the call.

I have no doubt this is a product of the 710 Coalition.

Mod: So there you are. We here in Sierra Madre are quite familiar with Mountain West Research. Back in early 2011 they were brought in to do a push polling operation to manufacture support here for the kinds of SCAG Housing the Buchanan/Mosca/Downtown Investor's Club crowd were hoping to bring in. In March of 2011 we posted an article called "Have You Been Called By Mountain West Research Yet?" It is to date the 5th most read post we have ever posted here, linked to by people all over the country looking for info on this leader in the disreputable push polling field. Here is what the article had to say:

(Tattler, Mar 18, 2011): When you live in a City run by a government as opaque as ours, you have to look hard for those little clues that reveal where they think they're driving the bus. And one of the very best ways to get a handle on these things is by the questions being asked in a telephone survey. There have been very few of them over the years, and they do seem to come along only during those most special of times. The surveys conducted during the run up to the Measure V election being most memorable and revealing.

But when they do come around, they can be quite a tip off as to where the men behind the curtain want to take us.

And it appears that we are now living in special times because phones have been ringing in town, and the people doing the dialing are equipped with some rather pointed and informed questions. Inquiries dealing with some of the biggest issues we as a community face right now.

The name of the company conducting this phone survey is Mountain West Research Center. Located somewhere in Idaho, MWRC is a concern that is hired to contact people and get their opinions on things. In other words, they are a data collection company, and they do telephone surveys for people who want to know what a community might be thinking on important issues. Here is a passage from the Mountain West website dealing with the tender topic of why it is they might have contacted you.

"Each climber has unique experiences and there is value from learning from one another. Survey research is key to shaping everyday society because it allows people like you to share your thoughts on everything from social to political issues. Mountain West Research Center is a data collection company that is contracted to administer surveys on behalf of third party research companies. We do not sell products, solicit donations, or intentionally frustrate potential survey participants."

In other words, just answer the damn questions and get over yourself. Because if you don't how are we going to finish this project and get paid?

Now as angelic and pure as they attempt to make these efforts sound, Mountain West Research Center has not always behaved themselves like a nice data collection company should. Check this out from a site called

"Mountain West Research Centre fined $20,000 over push polling - Mountain West Research Centre has agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a dispute with new Hampshire attorney general Michael Delaney over push polling activities. The company contacted 529 households in New Hampshire between 19 and 21 July on behalf of Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes."

Push polling is legal in the state providing callers declare which political candidate they are campaigning on behalf of. According to the attorney general's office, Mountain West did not provide the disclosures required by law.

I don't know what the laws are here in the State of California in regards to polling like we're now seeing here in Sierra Madre, but according to the people I have spoken with the Mountain West phone jockeys do not identify the party that contracted with their company to make survey calls here. Which is why we'll have to make some guesses based on what it is that is being asked.

The questions Mountain West Research Center is asking Sierra Madreans are the following:

- Is housing and development in Sierra Madre a concern?

- Should the Mayor and City Council increase fees or cut services?

- Should we have affordable housing here?

- Should we make certain houses that are being sold are ecologically sustainable?

- Should we band together with neighboring communities to save money on services?

- Do you think home sales in your neighborhood will increase, decrease, or stay the same?

These are, of course, questions at the very core of what many have come to suspect is a stealth (or not so stealth) agenda of the G4 Council (Buchanan, Mosca, Walsh, Mo' Money) to move towards large scale development here. And if they are the ones who contracted for this survey, then apparently the G4 is interested in gauging how strong the opposition to their efforts within the community might be. As well as what the level of acceptance is for fluffy agenda-laden jargon such as "affordable housing" and "ecologically sustainable."

And like I said, I don't recall these kinds of survey questions being asked here since the glory days of the Downtown Specific Plan. If you have been surveyed by these people The Tattler wants to hear from you.

Mod: So could it be that the 710 Coalition is using push polling in an attempt to create some sort of consensus for building what would be an ecologically devastating tunnel into the San Gabriel Valley? Just like the DIC did here to attempt to build a consensus for SCAG Housing? There was a particularly good comment posted to this article back then on the topic of push polling. I thought I would repost it here:

(Tattler, Mar 18 & 19, 2011): Some of today's posters reflect a misunderstanding of "push polls." Push polls - like the one that took place in New Hampshire and the ongoing "push poll" of Sierra Madreans - are not intended to function as accurate surveys of residents' attitudes. Instead, push polls serve as political campaign calls to sway public opinion in the guise of unbiased surveys.

Then too, push pollsters often ask questions that are crafted to generate misleading survey results that can be used by elected officials to justify their unpopular actions. Let's use, as an example, this question asked of Sierra Madreans.

"Should we have affordable housing here?"

Most residents when asked this question will answer "yes." After all, just about everybody is in favor of affordable housing and the question sounds innocuous enough. On closer examination, however, the push pollster's intent becomes obvious. The Sierra Madre City Council recently proposed construction of a low income housing project on Highland Avenue. Thus far, the reaction of residents to the Council's proposal has been uniformly and profoundly negative.

To counter-act opposition in the future from other residents, the push pollster has substituted the inflammatory "low income" with the rosy euphemism "affordable housing."

Those residents polled have been unwittingly conditioned by the push pollster to believe that the City is proposing to construct affordable housing and not a low income project. Worse still, the City Council can cite to the residents support for "affordable housing," as reflected in the poll results, as evidence that the community overwhelmingly favors the low income housing project.

Lest you think I'm reading too much into the above push poll question, I should tell you that I've run multiple political campaigns. Accordingly, I am very very familiar with push poll techniques.

Mod: So that is pretty much what I know. I can tell you this however, Metro's sock puppets may be spending a lot of our tax money on push polling in order to manufacture a consensus for this tunnel. If so, it does raise the question of whether or not tax payer funded political advocacy, particularly the kind of advocacy that works against the interests and health of those affected, is legal. Also: here are a couple of articles and links that I thought would be of interest. 

Employees suddenly laid off from Mountain West Research (click here)

Mountain West Research Center fined $20,000 over push polling (click here)

Quotes from Elected Officials who want the SR-710 Extension (Includes Judy "Community Schools" Chu - click here)

Rosemead Request to Participate in the 710 Coalition (click here)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Couple of Meetings

It was the least attended of the three State of the City addresses so far. After the talented kids from Sierra Madre Elementary School had performed, and then along with their parents left the venue, there were about 80 or so people left in the room. A number that included both the many City Staff that were present, plus all of the members of the City Council. Fortunately for the Mayor he has a lot of loyal relatives.

And if you think about it, why would anyone want to be there? You knew Josh Moran was going to talk about raising your taxes, and that is exactly what he did. You really didn't need to go out on a rainy night to listen to what has by now become quite a predictable and tired refrain. Even if there were balloons. You'd swear it is just about the only thing Josh seems to know how to do.

Josh's speech went on for about 30 minutes, and he pretty much ran through most of the same themes we had heard last time from John Buchanan. This included the "full service city" shtick so familiar to City Council watchers. Except that we aren't. Everything from the city pool, to park lawn cutting, to plan checks and building inspections, are now contracted out. Maybe he meant we're a full lip service city? Given the source, it would certainly be the more accurate statement.

Councilmember Chris Koerber emailed his take on the UUT question prior to Josh's speech last night. I thought he pretty much nailed it and that I should reproduce it here.

Why do three of your Sierra Madre City Council Members want to raise your Utility Tax to 12%? (Link here – see pages 8 & 9.) That’s a darn good question. And, in my opinion, they don’t have a good answer. What we know now:

Less than a year ago, on April 10, 2012, 61% of voters in Sierra Madre said NO to an increase in the Utility Users Tax (UUT) to a 12% rate. The NO vote was larger than the vote received by any one candidate for City Council in the same election.

The Budget Planning Phase II report of December 11, 2012 (Link here, page 2 of 9, mid-page) states: “Without any other changes, the General Fund will require a reduction in expenditures of $288,000 to balance FY 2013-2014 and an additional $118,000 to balance FY 2014-2015.” The mid-year finance report for the six months ending 12/31/2012 (Link here, page 2, top) states: “With the second quarter projections, the General Fund has added another $166,000 for a total increase to fund balance of $272,000.”

In other words, on December 11, 2012, we were estimated to be about $288,000 short from a balanced FY 2013-2014 budget. Then, as of December 31, 2012, we had $272,000 more than we expected.

At the current trend, we are only $18,000 from balancing the FY 2013-2014 budget! With our General Fund Budget exceeding $9 million that is less than .2% of the total. The budget is essentially balanced. “Watch & Wait” worked with the current 10% UUT rate. To balance FY 2014-2015, we need the $18,000 mentioned above + $ 118,000 from paragraph 3 above, which is about $ 136,000, or $11,334 a month.

Sierra Madre doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. Revenues continue to increase slowly. UUT income is up. Property Tax income will be increasing with the higher sales prices of Sierra Madre homes. If we hold the line on spending – if we do not spend one dime more for FY 2014-2015 than we budgeted for FY 2013-2014 – there is NO reason to raise the UUT rates.

To which I would like to add this. The voters made their choice about extending the UUT last April, and the verdict was an overwhelming NO. In a democracy the vote of the people is just about as final a word as you will ever get. And what we the people said was let this thing sunset back to 6%. City Hall is just going to have to do the job they're paid to do and deal with it.

No Josh Moran UUT do-overs. One vote was enough.

Welcome to Chu-ville 

While some of you were hanging out at The State of the City address with Mayor Mo' Money, I nipped over to Pasadena City Hall for their joint City Council - PUSD gathering, and there experienced an entirely different fogbank of bromides. Most of the usual Board of Education blowhards were there, along with Judy Chu, who was in the hizzy to speak on behalf of something near and dear to her heart. On the surface the whole thing had a similar atmosphere to what had happened in our Council Chambers just a couple of weeks ago.

Except that when the BOE was in Sierra Madre they left out something kind of important. At the Pasadena City Council confab last night they were all about something called "Community Schools." A do-gooder developer boondoggle of an exercise in bureaucratic welfare excess that presumes to tell all of the PUSD families how they should eat, study, medicate, exercise, socialize, and just about every other aspect to their lives.

Or, as the almost always eloquent Tony Brandenburg put it, "The Pasadena Community School Plan of condos, condoms, computers, fresh fruit and vegetables, drugs bad and public health good is little more than a weaving together of a whole bunch of failed social programs and placed under a new happy face umbrella." All apparently done with the purpose of preparing PUSD students and their hapless families for something they apparently can't do on their own, cope with the real world.

Which is, of course, utter nonsense. I would argue that many PUSD students and their parents cope with the world quite well, and do so without the dubious help of the Pasadena Board of Education. Fortunately kids are resilient, and can survive almost anything. Even these guys.

I got up during public comment and said the following:

I am from Sierra Madre, home of a stolen 2013 Board of Education vote and a middle school that was partially demo'd and never rebuilt by your City's school district. Much of it replaced by trailers. Not exactly a 21st century learning environment.

I have a three part question:

A) Has our Middle School not been rebuilt because you wish to construct a community within our community?

B) Would Measure TT money be used to accomplish this?

C) Why was your Community Schools plan not mentioned when the Board of Education came to Sierra Madre? After all, we will be expected to help fund this vast educational bureaucracy.

Of course my questions went unanswered. That isn't quite their style over there. But look at it this way, our 2013 school vote was stolen, and we will have no Board of Ed representation during the time when these characters divvy up the remaining $240 million in Measure TT bond money. They half-demolished our Middle School and allowed it to rot like that for years, and continue to do so. And now they have initiated this "Community Schools" cradle to grave public school welfare operation without even telling us about it. Even when they were here in Sierra Madre to tell us how sorry they were about the Middle School. They will take our money to make it happen, and do so without even letting us know why.

I actually did get a kind of a response to one question, and that was an admission from the slightly off center Renatta Cooper that indeed they had not talked to anyone in Sierra Madre about any of this. Which becomes even more bizarre when you consider that Ed Honowitz has apparently been working on this plan for 6 years. Six years and he never told anyone here about it. Talk about Omerta! Maybe we should start calling him Don Honowitz.

You know what is really sad? The PUSD claims they don't have the funds to rebuild the Middle School to anywhere near what we were promised when they wanted our Measure TT vote, yet somehow they can pony up the wherewithal to fund this vast new "Community Schools" welfare education bureaucracy.

I just don't see how things can get much worse. But with these guys you just never know.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tonight's State of the City Address - Brought to You by Mayor M.C. Mo' Money!

Mo' Money
Tonight's entertainment is hosted by the City of Sierra Madre and is, of course, this year's episode of the Annual State of the City Address. Initiated a few years back by now expatriate former Mayor Joe Mosca, it has grown in importance to those who run our fair city by becoming a way for them to make a yearly pitch for, you got it, Mo' Money! Don't they always want it? Here is how this evening's event is described on the City website:

City of Sierra Madre to host State of the City Event on February 19, 2013: On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 from 6:30 – 7:30 pm the City of Sierra Madre will host its 3rd Annual State of the City address at the Community Recreation Center in the Sierra Madre Room at 611 East Sierra Madre Boulevard. This year’s theme is “Finding the Right Balance”; the event will highlight programs and services the City has provided over the past year and give residents insight to the City’s goals for the next fiscal year.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Walsh will emcee the evening. A special performance by Sierra Madre Elementary School Students will precede Mayor Josh Moran’s State of the City Address. Representatives from each City Department will be available to answer any community questions and a City booth will highlight current programs and projects.

Refreshments will be provided by local Sierra Madre restaurants. This event is made possible by the support of our sponsors: Athens Services, Southern California Edison, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, West Coast Arborists, San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, and Jan’s Towing.

While it is comforting that some of the large utility, legal and trash removal corporations who do quite well by us will be paying the bills for this event, the message being delivered will not be one of either prosperity or cheer. The City is in trouble, the money has mysteriously dried up and, as this beggar's plea will go, if you really love Sierra Madre, take real pride in this community and enjoy the many generous services brought to you by our gracious City Hall, you will dig deeply into your pockets and come up with --- Mo' Money!

Which is what "finding the right balance" is really all about. The finances of City Hall are now way out of whack, and in order to find the right balance again it is going to take Mo' Money.

Which is, of course, why the legendary M.C. Mo' Money is coming on this evening to address you about just such pressing matters. Because that is exactly what he is going to ask you for, Mo' Money. Tonight, and all the way up to election day in April of 2014. Believe me, you're going to get very sick of it.

In all seriousness, City Hall is in a panic. The attempt to extend the double digit utility tax rates we pay now, which are the highest in the State of California and twice what most cities pay, was crushed at the polls last spring by the voters of Sierra Madre. And yet despite that overwhelming vote by the taxpayers to sunset the UUT, the three characters currently in control of the City Council believe that they are somehow entitled to a do-over. Which is not only ridiculous, it is also undemocratic.

The assumption that they have the right to ask for a UUT do-over vote just because they didn't like the results the first time around is also unprecedented. And making believe it didn't really happen, or somehow thinking the voters' verdict could be ignored and that they could just continue on their merry big spending way, is just bad government. Their job was to carry out the elective will of the people of Sierra Madre, which was to cut costs to accommodate the rapidly approaching time when the UUT rate increases of a few years back would begin to sunset and there would be less revenue. They refused. And now they are going to have to ask for higher utility tax rates, all over again.

That is one of the two ways M.C. Mo' Money intends to ask you for more money this evening. There is another Mo' Money effort in the works as well, and that is to raise the water rates again. Despite an outpouring of opposition a couple of years back from this community through a Prop 218 protest, one that in the end was stolen from the ratepayers by City Hall, they're going try and raise water rates again. I guess because they didn't "get the balance right" the first time on that one, either.

This would be the second water rate hike since Mo' Money first found his way onto the City Council. And now he is asking all over again? Why not? It is a State of the City Address, after all.

Wouldn't you know it? There is a Board of Education meeting tonight as well!

It is a kind of special meeting, but then again most of their meetings are special. Even the ghastly boring ones. This one is a joint meeting taking place with the Pasadena City Council at their City Hall. The time is 6:30 tonight. Here is how this one was laid out in an e-mail to me from one of my wise friends:

Very important joint council/school board meeting this Tuesday evening (6:30, council chambers). Honowitz managed to schedule Judy Chu to make a presentation on "community schools." Then, the agenda calls for approval by council and school board of a boiler-plate 3-year city/district plan for non-profit "partners," further eroding the ability of the schools to perform.

In case you are not aware, the "community schools" concept is a cockamamie idea put together by the likes of Peter Dreier, Chris Holden and Judy Chu to build social equity housing on PUSD sites. The idea is to use Measure TT bond money and build low income small unit stacked housing to promote this social engineering project in the area covered by the Pasadena Unified School District. With the bond money used to finance much of the building of these projects coming out of our pockets. There is also Federal funding as well.

This, of course, at a time when the folks running the PUSD have attempted to convince us that there isn't quite enough money to rebuild Sierra Madre's half-demo'd Middle School like they'd originally promised. And perhaps there is not. How could the $240 million in remaining money be enough when the people running this bizarre outfit have decided to go into the social equity housing business?

This will also be a decision made by the City of Pasadena alone, with Sierra Madre and Altadena left out in the cold. This wasn't even mentioned when the Board of Education came here, Judy Chu or not.

Peter Dreier, in case you are not aware, has an interesting past. Peter was one of the founding members of the Democratic Socialist Party back in the hippy days. The idea was to tear off the left leaning fringe of the Democratic Party and use it to rebuild a long moribund Socialist movement in the United States. This effort failed, and miserably. Peter also spent nine years in Boston as the head of Redevelopment and Housing there, only to be run out on a rail after his various Utopian schemes led to predictable financial disasters costing that city millions of dollars.

Somehow Dreier landed a teaching position at Occidental College where he BS's teenagers for a living. And now he wants to do the same sorts of social equity housing experiments here that he tried and failed at in Boston. He also expects us to meekly accede to paying for much of it out of PUSD bond money that we had approved for the purpose rebuilding schools.

Now a partnership of rapidly aging '60s leftist Peter Dreier and Congresswoman Judy Chu is not as unlikely as you might think. The bromide spouting Congresswoman we know today was not always such an annoyingly generic political figure. Judy was actually quite like Peter back in her golden days, and was even affiliated with leftwing groups considered a bit "out there."

This from a writer named Trevor Loudon, writing on his New Zeal blog (click here):

So where is my evidence that Judy Chu, Congressional Representative of California’s 32nd District, is a long term affiliate of the former Communist Workers Party and its still surviving networks? The first significant evidence of Chu’s ties to the CWP comes through a long forgotten far left umbrella group, the Federation For Progress.

The Federation For Progress described itself in an undated brochure released circa late 1983 or early 1984. It was one of several attempts in the 1970s and ’80s to create a new US Marxist united front organization – this time by the Communist Workers Party.

The FFP put a half-page ad in the socialist weekly newspaper, In These Times in the July 14-27, 1982 issue, p. 8, entitled: “A natural follow-up to June 12: A national conference July 30-August 1 at Columbia Un., in New York City.”

It was a follow-up conference to the major “anti-defense lobby” march and protest in New York on June relating to the U.N. Second Special Session on Disarmament. The ad listed FFP’s “Interim Executive Committee” – the first name on the list was “Judy Chu, Professor Asian-American Studies, Los Angeles.”

Pretty fascinating stuff. If you go to Loudon's site you will find all sorts of documentation and other items that lend some strong credence to his claims about the past, and not so past, affiliations of Judy Chu.

Something that makes a "community schools" alliance of Peter Dreier and Judy Chu, along with Chris Holden, Ed Honowitz and the rest of his PUSD sideshow, not so surprising.

They want to build housing for the poor on PUSD property. The problem is it's your money they're using here, money that was supposed to go to help to rebuild our schools. Something they apparently could care less about.

Just look at our razed Middle School. Then imagine all of the low income housing they could build there instead. I am sure they have. - Graphic courtesy of Brandenburg Industrial Arts