Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The State of California Takes Over Sierra Madre's General Plan - and the City Loves It

Dead, but not quite dead enough
Some interesting things are to be found in Planning Commission Agenda Reports. All you need to do is take a look once in a while and there they will be. Imagine, we actually live in a state where the central government has legally assumed much of the planning authority that used to belong to each individual city. And then, as is their wont up there in Sacramento, they peddled it all off to some very well-heeled lobbyists. In this case BIA developers and their pals in the Realty gangs. Which really was the aim all along. Just like they do it in Third World countries the wealthy and powerful have partnered with a one party state. The peasants be damned.

Here is how one of relevant introductory passages reads. Written in a special kind of language that only a few ever learn to speak. Which is probably the point. It's the process and you're not really supposed to know too much about it.

ADOPTION OF 2008-2014 HOUSING ELEMENT, INCLUDING GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT (GPA 13-01 A, B, AND C), MUNICIPAL CODE TEXT AMENDMENT (MCTA 13-01) AND ZONE CHANGE NO. 13-01: The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing to consider a General Plan Amendment (GPA 13-01A) to adopt the 2008-2014 Housing Element, which is a State mandated General Plan element. The Housing Element must be updated pursuant to California Government Code Section 65588 for the 2008-2014 planning period. Implementation of the new Housing Element requires two additional GPAs (13-01B) to adopt a new Land Use Category RH1 (Residential High Density, up to 20 dwelling units/acre), and GPA 13-01C to change the Land Use designation of property located at 271-293 Mariposa Avenue from RH (Residential Medium/High Density, up to 13 dwelling units/acre) to RH1 (Residential High Density, up to 20 dwelling units/acre). The final aspect of the project includes a Municipal Code Text Amendment (MCTA 13-01) to add a new zoning category R-3H (Multiple Family Residential High) and a Zone Change (ZC 13-01) to rezone 271-293 Mariposa Avenue from R-3 to R-3H. 

What this means is that our General Plan, which was supposed to be written by the people here with the purpose of preserving a Sierra Madre that is a reflection of how they want things to be, has now been peddled off as part of a much larger package to the big money developer interests that control much of the decision making in California.

Our elected state officials have become little more than an organ that turns perfectly good things like our town and tax money into absolutely nothing at all. At least for us. Think of them as being a bit like an intestine. Complete with both a Holden and Liu function. Just make certain you don't stand too close.

If you wish to go to the document itself you may do so by clicking here. It is called "Adoption of the 2008 - 2014 Housing Element Including General Plan Amendments, Municipal Code Text Amendment, and Zone Change. As written by none other than Karen Warner herself, a consultant that we pay $50,000 a pop for documents that can only assist in ruining our town.

The real process (so to speak) described in Karen's latest gold-plated opus is all about turning our town into something the state legislature of our one party state believes is agreeable to the development industry folks who bribe them to the tune of millions of dollars. And what was paid for is described in this consultant report. It isn't anything that the people of Sierra Madre want, but it is what Sacramento wants. People who only see us as being some small thing to sell off to the highest bidder so that they will have plenty of the re-election campaign cash necessary to tell us how wonderful they are.

Here are three golden moments that I pulled out of this document. Maybe you can find some special ones as well. There are really so many, and each and everyone of them exactly what the people of Sierra Madre said they did not want during the General Plan outreach meetings. But Sacramento doesn't care about that. And, for that matter, neither does 60% of our City Council.

1. pg v-29  Homeless Services Strategy (Inviting the SGV's derelict and addicted populations to live on East Montecito and mingle with our children downtown.)
The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) has undertaken a consensus building process involving the 19 valley cities, the County, and community and faith-based organizations to develop a regional Homeless Services Strategy. The Strategy, adopted by the SGVCOG Board in 2009, provides an intervention plan to address unmet housing and service needs to be implemented over a one to five year period. San Gabriel Valley communities were divided into four cluster groups, each developing its own subregional priorities, programs and production targets. Sierra Madre participated in the Strategy development, and as part of Cluster Group One, has defined the following five-year priorities:

• First Priority - Permanent Supportive Housing. Focus on creating mixed population affordable housing developments with set-asides of supportive housing for formerly homeless tenants, with a goal of developing 47 units. Also utilize scattered site rent-subsidized units leased in the private rental market, with a goal of 100 units.

• Second Priority – Transitional Housing. Increase the number of transitional housing beds for single individuals by 40 to 60. Provide scattered site, master leased short term housing for 125 families.

• Third Priority – Emergency Shelter. Increase the number of emergency shelter beds for single individuals by 60 to 90.Identify emergency shelters as a by right in the M-1 zone. The City will be developing standards for homeless shelters on East Montecito.

(Mod: Please note that when the above drug addict housing demand was pushed through the SGVCOG, Joe Mosca was our representative there. He never mentioned it to us once. Just like he never told us about his support for taking away our Board of Education vote.) 

2.  pg v-29 General Plan Update On "Sustainability" (Read: Undoing Measure V):
Transitional and supportive housing may take the form of a multi-family structure, or single-family home. Thus, if transitional or supportive housing is configured as multi-family, it would be regulated as such, whereas if it is configured as a single-family structure, it would be subject to single-family regulations.

Sierra Madre has initiated a comprehensive update to its General Plan, and in compliance with SB 375 will be addressing sustainability on a broader land use and transportation basis. In conjunction with creation of the new R-3H zone under the Housing Element rezone Program #8, a corresponding Residential High Density General Plan land use category will be established to accommodate 20 unit/acre densities. The General Plan Steering Committee and City decision-makers will evaluate additional suitable locations for designation as Residential High Density, focusing on sites within close walking distance to transit stops and Sierra Madre’s commercial area, such as the Mariposa sites currently being rezoned R-3H. In addition to individual sites, the General Plan will evaluate the suitability of designating larger blocks located adjacent to the downtown for Residential High Density. Providing expanded locations for higher density housing will help to mitigate the limitations Measure V3 places on development within the downtown core.

2008-2014 Objective: Mitigate the impacts of Measure V on creation of higher density and affordable housing through establishment of a new Residential High Density land use category in conjunction with Housing Element adoption (April 2013).

(Mod: I sincerely doubt that the General Plan Committee had anything to do with this nonsense. Measure V is the standard the people of Sierra Madre voted for when it was passed in 2007. Apparently the vote doesn't count here any more, be it the UUT, Board of Education, Prop 218 Water Ballots, or who gets to be Mayor Pro Tem.)

3. Pg. v-23 Affordable Housing Development Assistance (Using out of town poor to justify stack and pack housing here while also using our tax money to build it.)

Affordable Housing Development Assistance: The City and the Successor Agency to the Redevelopment Agency can play an important role in the provision of quality, affordable housing through land assembly and write-downs and regulatory incentives (density bonus and other development incentives). By utilizing various tools to facilitate infill development, the City can help to address the housing needs of its extremely low, very low, low and moderate income households.

One of the most significant constraints to providing housing affordable to Sierra Madre’s more modest income residents and workforce is the lack of available land for development. As a means of addressing this issue, the City’s former Redevelopment Agency has in the past acquired sites utilizing the Agency’s 20 percent housing set-aside fund and written down the cost to facilitate the development of affordable housing. For the Sierra Vista Senior Housing Project, the Redevelopment Agency assembled four separate parcels at a cost of over $1.4 million for conveyance to a non-profit developer via a ground lease.

The Successor Agency maintains ownership of the .34 acre property at 186 W. Highland, originally purchased with Redevelopment Housing Funds. Prior to the State-wide dissolution of Redevelopment, the Sierra Madre Community Redevelopment Agency entered into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Heritage Housing Partners (HHP), a local non-profit housing developer, for development of the Highland Avenue site. In the current post-Redevelopment setting, the City and its Successor Agency are re-initiating discussions with HHP for development of the site with three to four units of workforce housing affordable to moderate income households.

(Mod: Why the taxpayers of Sierra Madre are required to pay for the cost of housing people who never saw the need to carry their own load is beyond me. Nobody ever asked to pay my mortgage. Has anyone ever asked to pay yours?)

There you go, state dictated and locally enabled additions to our General Plan that are sure to horrify the residents of Sierra Madre while at the same time bringing down the value of our homes, endangering our children, and as a whole undoing just about everything that people love about Sierra Madre.

What a lovely thing our pliable elected state officials have brought to us. And how hard some of our local folks have worked to make it all happen here as well. Think about it, your tax dollars are being used for things that you wouldn't ever want in your community. How did that ever happen?

Maybe those people you voted for really weren't all that civil after all?


Monday, April 29, 2013

Sorry Susan, It Is Not About "The Process," It Is About Voter Rights

"You are Joe Mosca." -  An obviously confused John Harabedian to Chris Koerber last Tuesday evening.

After months of publishing nothing but the most content-free prattle (along with Hail Hamilton's strange misappropriations of other peoples' work), Mountain Views News publisher Susan Henderson (click here) has apparently returned to carrying water for the usual downtown political operatives and wannabes. It is a sad reflection upon all of us to think that there is a publisher of an adjudicated newspaper here in town whose journalistic integrity and honor can apparently be purchased for a few hundred dollars a month in City Hall legal notices.

In this week's edition of the Mountain Views News there is an article titled, "John Harabedian Elected Mayor Pro Tem Despite Effort To Circumvent The Process." The use of jargon such as the word "process," a meaningless bureaucratic invention designed to make the gullible believe that there is some high governmental purpose at stake when in reality it is just the usual self-interest of bumbling low echelon downtown individuals, is revealing.

Some also have doubts about whether Susan Henderson actually wrote this article. Much of the phraseology is not something we have seen from her before, and the lapses into proper usage and punctuation are not typical of many past efforts. It is also the belief of certain observers that this article was at least partially ghostwritten by John Harabedian himself, done as an attempt to defend some rather self-serving arguments justifying his naked power grab at last Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Here is an example of what I mean:

When the matter was finally called for a vote, a motion was made by Moran and seconded by Walsh that John Harabedian be elected Mayor Pro Tem. At that point Capoccia offered a second motion and nominated Chris Koerber for the position. Koerber seconded his own nomination.

Harabedian expressed his disappointment that "what should have been the council's finest hour" had become so contentious.

Another possible indication that this is actually the work of John Harabedian is the use of last names only, with the exception of his own. Susan Henderson, who prefers a more formal writing style, would likely have included first names or titles. Mr. Harabedian, reflecting a certain style of lawyerly macho, is often heard using last names only when discussing the affairs of others.

Whatever the source, it is also important to note here that the much of the contentiousness John Harabedian complains about was caused by his unwillingness to accept the verdict of the voters in last April's election. He received fewer votes than Chris Koerber, and therefore in no way merited the position he so gracelessly strove to take. Which was, of course, the exact problem that Mr. Harabedian needed to browbeat his way around. As history has shown, undermining democracy oftentimes requires inspired unpleasantness.

"The issue is not very complicated. Councilman Koerber is not eligible to become Mayor Pro Tem because he is filling the vacancy of councilman Joe Mosca who already served as mayor for this term. We have a tradition in Sierra Madre that a councilmember can only become Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem once in a term. I cannot sit idly by while others attempt to undermine and game the system for personal gain."

Not being a person given to much personal introspection, I don't suppose that Mr. Harabedian might consider that his claims about "gaming the system" could also be applied to himself, and with far more accuracy. Or that what he is actually advocating here is subverting the will of Sierra Madre's voters.

There is also an inferred claim that any candidate chosen in a special election becomes a second class member of Sierra Madre's City Council. As far as I know all City Councilmembers are on the same legal footing, and represent the interests of the voters who elected them equally. Mr. Harabedian apparently assuming here that his Council seat is somehow a superior one, and therefore entitles him to something extra.

Nothing is written anywhere in this city's election code stating that those voted onto the Sierra Madre City Council in a special election hold a position inferior to that of any other members. To say that somebody elected in this way is restricted from becoming Mayor Pro Tem, and therefore Mayor as well, not only severely disempowers that Councilmember, but also disenfranchises the voters who supported and elected that person in the first place.

Mr. Harabedian's real problem, of course, is that he received less votes than Chris Koerber last April, and according to longstanding Sierra Madre tradition was not the next in line to become Mayor Pro Tem. And if there was anyone who was "gaming the system for personal gain" last Tuesday evening, it was John Harabedian.

In case there is any doubt, here is how those numbers actually break down. There were 4,983 votes cast for the four year seat, of which Mr. Harabedian received 1,364 votes. There were 2,602 votes cast for the special election seat, and Chris received 1,403 votes. John Harabedian's claim is that because he was running for a seat that had five candidates (as if Bill Tice's microscopic turnout accounted for much), his vote total was somehow watered down. An absurd argument that becomes completely discredited when you consider that John Harabedian was running for election in a category where two seats were open and therefore nearly twice as many votes were cast. Whereas Chris Koerber was running for just a single open seat. This is very simple math, and John Harabedian should be ashamed of making so cynical and baseless a claim.

John Harabedian's inability to respect the verdict of the voters is part of an unfortunate trend in this community. From the confiscation of our Board of Education vote last March during the so-called PUSD "districting process," to the City Council majority's apparent decision to ignore the verdict of the voters on the UUT extension last spring, to the institutional theft of Proposition 218 protest ballots during the first water rate hike imbroglio, basic resident rights to freely decide the course of how we are to be governed and taxed through the use off the ballot have never been as under assault here as they are today. By usurping the Mayor Pro Tem seat John Harabedian now clearly joins that ignominious list.

Apparently Mr. Harabedian, along with Susan Henderson, believes that the ingrained democratic traditions of Sierra Madre don't apply to him, and that somehow his personal political ambitions are far more important than what it was the voters decided when they gave Chris Koerber the lion's share of the vote.

There are a couple of terms for that style of government, neither of which survived the 20th century. Or at least we can hope they didn't.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Couple of Web Traffic Milestones for The Tattler

It's all just lights on a screen
For those of you who might care about such things, our little blog hit a couple of web traffic milestones somewhere during the middle of last night. We crossed the 1.5 million hits mark, and for the first time ever we made it to the 70,000 mark for a single month. And with 3 days to go in April, that number should easily go beyond 75,000, which is a lot for a small blog that covers the quirky governmental and political affairs of a town of less than 11,000 souls.

All of which does goes to show, there are a lot of people who are not offended by the truth, and might even prefer it over the steady diet of nothing offered by some of the other news sources in town. Despite what you've heard from those who would prefer that you not dwell on such things.

A couple of explanations about the numbers contained in the photo. The 70,276 figure is month to date, or 4/1/13 to 4/28/13 at around 1 AM. 74,710 is the numbers of hits (or pageviews) over the last 30 days. The 711 "pageviews today" figure is  from 5 PM yesterday until approximately 1 AM today. The Google platform I use is called Blogger and it is tied to Greenwich Mean Time, so the blog's day starts and ends at 5PM. The 2,228 figure is the number of hits we got on Saturday. On weekdays that number can go as high as 3,000.

One sign of the traffic growth for this site is how quickly it accumulated that last 500,000 hits. On August 25, 2012 we posted an article called "1 Million Hits" (click here), which means that we have done half of a million hits over the last 8 months. The previous one million took nearly 5 years.

It's all just numbers about data generated lights on a computer screen as they say, and as such shouldn't be taken to mean too much. But we thought we'd take a moment or two to celebrate.

OK, time to get back to work.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

It is Time We Did the Right Thing

Sierra Madre's Alan Wood
There was an article in a recent issue Pasadena Star News (click here) that reminded me of something that I think we need to start talking about again. First let me show you the article.

Sierra Madre resident who supplied Iwo Jima flag dies Alan Wood, the man who claims he supplied the American flag raised on Iwo Jima by American GIs after an epic battle during World War II, has died at his home in Sierra Madre. He was 90. A scion of one the city's pioneering families, when Wood returned from the war he went on to work at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, first as a technical artist and later as a spokesman.

It wasn't until he got older that Wood began telling his story, mostly to veterans groups and Boy Scout troops. "He was like a lot of vets who downplayed their role," said his son Steven Wood. "When they came home, they wanted to go about their lives. "

According to accounts in both World War II era magazines and an internal JPL newsletter, Wood had recovered the famous Iwo Jima flag from a salvage depot at Pearl Harbor, and brought it aboard the Navy vessel LST-779, where he was a communications officer.

"I was on the ship when a young Marine came along," he explained in the newsletter. "He was dusty, dirty and battle-worn, and even though he couldn't have been more than 18 or 19, he looked like an old man. " 'Do you have a flag?' he asked me. 'Yes,' I said, 'What for?' He said something like, 'Don't worry, you won't regret it.' "

The official U.S. Marine Corps history of the flag's origin credits Second Lt. Alfred Tuttle for retrieving the large flag from LST-779, also noting that it had come from Pearl Harbor. Wood's said he needed permission from a supervising officer before handing over the flag.

During his life, Wood shared clear memories about what he saw at the battle of Iwo Jima.

"There was a feeling of death in the air that was overpowering," he wrote in a 1945 letter to a friend. "Suribachi was a few thousand yards down the beach on our left, and the front line, marked by some entrenched tanks was only a few thousand yards down the beach. Occasionally you could hear the spatter of small-arms fire, all too often a big Japanese mortar would explode with a shattering burst, and with terrible finality, right on the beach in the midst of all the men, supplies and machines. "

There was a concerted effort a couple of years back to honor our World War II veterans as Grand Marshals of our 4th of July parade. For reasons mostly having to do with some of the extremely petty politics of that time, this never happened. Which is unfortunate.

Sierra Madre's 4th of July Committee is taking nominations for this year's 2013 4th of July parade Grand Marshal. They can be e-mailed at 4thofjulysierramadre@gmail.com. Drop these folks a line or two and let them know that you think it is time we honored our surviving World War II Veterans by making them 4th of July Parade Grand Marshals.

Who knows? Maybe we could call former Congressman David Dreier and see if he can still get us that U.S. Army band he talked about.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Failed Pasadena Districting Task Force Head Ken Chawkins Thinks His Opinions Still Count

Perhaps you remember Ken Chawkins. As a card carrying member of the endlessly meddlesome Edison Mafia (which also includes John Buchanan and Duarte's 710 Tunnel loving Metroman John Fasana) Ken seems to have a lot of time to insert himself into the affairs of various government agencies. Ken's most special target has been the Pasadena Unified School District, and among other things he was Chairman of the PUSD Districting Task Force, the now failed attempt at ethnically gerrymandering the way Board of Education representation is voted into office here. Something that apparently was also the justification for stealing Sierra Madre's 2013 redistricted Board of Ed vote. Thanks to Ken, along with such eager helpers as our own Joe Mosca and Bart Doyle, we now have no Board of Education representative, and won't until 2015. Obviously Ken has been special for us.

Despite the failure at the ballot box of the PUSD Districting Task Force's attempt at ethnically profiling the Pasadena Unified School District's Board of Education last month, Ken still feels he has a lot to say about how things should be run there. Why he continues to believe so being a bit of a mystery since he has caused so much harm already. You'd think the world would have heard enough from him by now. But Ken carries on, as evidenced by this letter published yesterday in the Pasadena Star News:

To the incoming Pasadena Unified school board: Very soon after you are installed, you will be confronted with a significant decision of whom to appoint to fill the remainder of Kim Kenne's at-large seat. I understand that there is a desire to select a Latino/a for that seat given that there will not be Latino/a representation during that period. I agree with that approach, but I would have you weigh things carefully and I would advise against selecting Ramon Miramontes for that spot. Reasons?

- Ramon has been the most divisive figure on the board, bar none, in recent years. He has attacked fellow board members, threatened PUSD volunteers (including me) and is not a collaborative person. You don't need that.

- Ramon has made nothing but enemies in the rest of PUSD's community. He has angered other public officials and has not shown any interest in truly working with other entities to help the kids of this district. You don't need that.

- Ramon claims to represent the Latino community yet he has not supported one Latino person for a local election unless they had the last name Miramontes; not for council, not for school board and not for Assembly. His interests are his own, not the community. He wants to run for City Council. You don't need that.

What you need is a balanced and thoughtful person who has no political agenda (how about not selecting someone from districts 2, 4 or 6 to avoid that issue?) and who has truly spent time in the community and can make good use of the two years. That is what you need. I urge you to think carefully ... and pick what the district needs.

You know what? Ramon Miramontes, if chosen to fill Kim Kenne's at-large Board of Ed seat, would be just about the closest thing Sierra Madre will have to a representative there until 2015. He consistently opposed Ken Chawkins's redistricting schemes and the theft of our Board of Ed vote. Ramon has also been a strong advocate for the rebuilding of our Middle School. Something we've paid out the nose to have done with our Measure TT bond money, but the PUSD has somehow very consistently failed to honor. Despite its repeated promises to do so.

Here is a passage from a Brian Charles penned Pasadena Star News article ("Measure A fallout fractures PUSD" click here) that sheds a hot light on the sad pique of Ken Chawkins:

Measure A will convert the Pasadena Unified School District from its current at-large system to a subdistrict format for the future election of board members. The process has fueled a contentious argument over the adoption of subdistricts and more specifically the subdistrict boundaries. School board members accused the redistricting task force appointees Wednesday of drawing those lines to improve their own political fortunes.

"Those maps are for the benefit of Ken Chawkins and others on the task force like Chris Chahinian," PUSD board member Ramon Miramontes said. "If Ken Chawkins, Chris Chahinian or someone in the Armenian Coalition runs for school board, we'll know the maps are self-serving."

Chawkins ran for school board nearly a decade ago and lost; Chahinian launched a failed attempt to win a seat on the City Council. Redistricting task force member Roberta Martinez ran an unsuccessful campaign for school board in 2007.

That is the real rub for Chawkins. Ramon Miramontes has previously been elected by the people to serve on the Board of Education. Chawkins, on the other hand, ran and was beaten badly. Ken instead gets his authority now from intrigue riddled political pressure groups such as ACT, a reactionary clique that has proven to be no friend of Sierra Madre.

Apparently Mr. Chawkins feels that the Board of Education should do what his Districting Task Force failed to accomplish, put someone on the Board that supports his own politically inspired agendas. An ideological persuasion the voters overwhelmingly rejected when they went to the polls last month.

That is, of course, those voters who were actually permitted by Mr. Chawkins and his Task Force to cast a vote. A preferred group that did not include us.

So exactly how bad was the failure of the Chawkins chaired PUSD Districting Task Force to accomplish its ends? Wayne Lusvardi, writing for CalWatchDog (click here), a site that all dedicated Tattlers read often, has penned an excellent article that speaks in part to this matter. Here is Wayne's expose' in its entirety:

Gerrymander backfires on Dems in Pasadena - Gerrymandering is a strategy to manipulate political district boundaries to split the voting population in favor of the group in power.  But sometimes gerrymandering is subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences and results in the opposite of what was intended.

An example is Pasadena Unified School District’s Measure A, Formation of Geographic Sub-Districts Pasadena Unified School District, that passed with 54.5 percent of the vote on June 29, 2012.  As reported in the Pasadena Sun newspaper, Measure A was intended to generate greater low-income Latino representation on the Pasadena School Board.

Measure A ended at-large voting by all voters in the school district for school board members.  Nomination and election of board members would be by geographic sub-districts only.  The sub-districts would be adopted by the School Board and redrawn after each U.S. Census, based upon recommendations of a Citizen Redistricting Commission.

However, what happened in the very first election under the new law, on April 16, is that Pasadena ended up with no Latino representation on the School Board.  This was the result of an unexpected combination a Latino board member in District 5 deciding not to run for re-election; and the failure to elect a Latino in a heavily populated Latino District 3 under the new law.

Ruben Hueso, a Democratic-Party candidate, failed to get elected. Yet he enjoyed a $30,000 campaign war chest for a runoff election from donations by state Sen. Kevin DeLeon, D-Los Angeles; former Assembly Speaker Fabio Nunez; and state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, Ruben’s brother. Ruben Hueso also garnered endorsements from almost every liberal elite in town.

Possibly contributing to Hueso’s defeat was that the local teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Pasadena, pulled their endorsement of him for unexplained reasons just before the election.

Republican broad public interest politics won

In ultra-liberal Pasadena, Hueso lost to a most unexpected candidate: a Republican in the construction business who had a campaign fund of $10,000: $5,500 from his construction business and $4,500 from small contributions. His name is Tyron Hampton, Jr.

Hampton attributed his election to senior citizen turnout in his new district.  He ran on a platform of developing innovative solutions to school district budget shortfalls.  Hampton is married to Tara Gomez, PhD, an alumnus of UCLA and Cal-Tech.

The turnout for the runoff election was only 10.7 percent of all registered voters.  Hampton got 904 votes (61.5 percent) compared to 590 votes for Hueso (39.5 percent). But how did Hampton win when even Republicans initially opposed Measure A?

Republican Bill Bibbiani, a former Pasadena Unified School District administrator and School Board member, opposed Measure A on the grounds it would “result in a style of racially oriented, ward-based, ‘what’s in it for me’ politics and politicians.”

What resulted, however, was the opposite: the candidate who appealed to the broader public interest — rather than racial or ethnic politics — won. Gerrymandering gave a Republican candidate an opportunity to win that would have been unlikely in school district-wide election in a Democratic Party stronghold.

The Democratic candidate lost in part because of using gerrymandering tactics that narrowed the numbers down to fewer voters; and narrowed the election issues down to symbolic ethnic identity politics that had nothing to do with the concerns of senior citizens and property owners in the newly carved out district.

Maybe the senior citizen voting block that put Hampton in a seat on the School Board didn’t want racial identity politics, but a public school system that didn’t have to ask taxpayers for more money to meet budget shortfalls.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Does Your Vote Even Count In Sierra Madre?

Mayor Pro Tem* Aladeen
One of the consequences of Mayor Pro Tem* John Harabedian's odd arguments defending his rather undemocratic power grab at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting is to once again raise the question of whether or not your vote means as much in Sierra Madre as it once did. From the confiscation of our Board of Education vote during the so-called PUSD "redistricting process," to the City Council majority's apparent decision to ignore the verdict of the voters on the UUT extension last spring, to the institutional theft of Proposition 218 protest ballots during the first water rate imbroglio, democracy has never been under assault in Sierra Madre as it is today.

It would seem that your vote in Sierra Madre only counts now when it serves the needs of the City Hall power structure. And when it runs counter to what it is they desire, it just gets ignored.

The issue at hand is the continued validity of an unwritten tradition in Sierra Madre that a City Councilmember who received the most votes should be chosen as Mayor Pro Tem when no more senior Councilmember is available. A longstanding precedent that makes a lot of sense since it permits the voters to have a say on who should be next in line to become a Mayor. That this is a tradition at all indicates that at one time the wishes of the voters actually did mean something here.

But according to John Harabedian so democratic a tradition might not always be a good thing, and he has graciously consented to step up and fight this scourge on our behalf. In a James Figueroa piece published in today's Pasadena Star News titled "Walsh is new Sierra Madre mayor; Harabedian mayor pro tem" (click here), Harabedian decries what he refers to as a "dangerous precedent."

John Harabedian became mayor pro tem, but his appointment wound up deepening a division on the council because of different interpretations of last year's election results. "This is about upholding a tradition in Sierra Madre," Harabedian said Wednesday. "These are honorary positions, but they are leaders in the community. "

Councilman Chris Koerber opposed Harabedian's appointment, and didn't have enough support in his own bid for the mayor pro tem post, initiated by Councilman John Capoccia. Koerber, Capoccia and Harabedian were all elected for the first time in 2012, with Koerber collecting the most votes, 1,403.

That total would normally put Koerber first in the mayoral succession line, but the council majority argued that Koerber effectively took former Councilman Joe Mosca's place in the succession.

Mosca served as mayor in 2010-11 before resigning in 2011 and moving out of town. Koerber was elected to fill the remaining two years of the vacant term, and faced only one opponent instead running within a full field of five for two open seats.

Koerber didn't believe that was a fair interpretation. "I was elected as a council member just as everyone else on the council," he said. Koerber added that he would have needed to be re-elected next year before reaching the mayorship, and he has not yet decided whether he will run again.

Harabedian, who received 1,364 votes in the election, called it an unusual situation that could create a "dangerous precedent" of letting special election winners cut in line to be mayor.

The notion that a current sitting City Councilmember is somehow ineligible to become Mayor Pro Tem in Sierra Madre because of who occupied the seat previously is a novel one. Plus both Koerber and Harabedian were elected to the City Council on the exact same day last spring, so it would seem the notion that Chris has somehow "cut in line" is a specious one.

There is nothing in this city's election code stating that anyone elected in this way to the Sierra Madre City Council holds a position inferior to those of any other members of the City Council. To say that somebody elected in a special election is restricted from becoming Mayor Pro Tem, and therefore Mayor as well, not only severely disempowers that Councilmember, but also disenfranchises the voters who elected that person in the first place.

Harabedian's real problem, of course, is that he received less votes than Chris Koerber last April, and therefore according to our longstanding Sierra Madre tradition was not the next in line to become Mayor Pro Tem. And if there was anyone who "cut in line" Tuesday evening, it was John Harabedian.

Here is how the numbers break down. There were 4,983 votes cast for the four year seat. Harabedian received 1,364 votes. There were 2,602 votes cast in the special election seat. Chris received 1,403 votes. John received 27% of the possible votes, and Chris received 54% of the possible votes. Chris not only received more votes that John Harabedian, Chris also received a higher percentage of those votes.

Harabedian has made the claim that because he was running for a seat that had four contestants his vote total was somehow watered down. A claim that becomes discredited when you consider that Harabedian was running for election where two seats were open, whereas Chris Koerber was running for just that single seat. This is hardly complex math, and Harabedian should be ashamed of making so cynical a claim.

Bill Coburn turned in an excellent report yesterday on John Harabedian's pocket coup (click here), and contributed a very useful video to YouTube as well (click here). Here is how Bill recounted Harabedian's successful effort to bully his way into a position that by tradition he is not entitled to hold:

Councilman Harabedian then spoke, starting out by saying that “this is somewhat confusing to me, and it’s disappointing, and I don’t think this is the finest hour for two of my Council members, but I’m not surprised at this point to be honest with you.”  He continued, pointing out that because there were more people running in his election, it was natural that the vote was going to be split farther, leaving the top vote getter in that election with fewer votes.  He also pointed out that the seat which Koerber was filling, that of Joe Mosca, had already filled the Mayor position and that to re-seat the person in that seat would be “bucking a tradition here in Sierra Madre” of only allowing a Council member to be Mayor once during their four year term.  He pointed out that “it’s unfair to our new Mayor and our outgoing Mayor to put them in this position, it should have been a night to celebrate their service…instead we have to talk through this like we’re children.”  He went on to add that if Council members Koerber and Capoccia were not aware that Mosca had been Mayor during the term that Koerber is filling than “all’s fair” but that if they were aware then “I believe this is purely a opportune power grab, that’s all it is, and … this has severely scarred my perception of you two.”

Apparently we now live in a town where our vote takes a backseat to the requirements of privilege and power. Be it with the UUT, water rate increases, Board of Education elections, or the political ambitions and personal needs of John Harabedian, our right to choose by the use of the ballot is under assault.

The question now has to be asked, have things ever been quite this bad in Sierra Madre?


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Here's Johnny! A Meltdown for the Ages (plus) 70% More Baloney on Water Rates

Not at all entitled
"I wanna be Mayor Pro Tem! I wanna be Mayor Pro Tem! My votes were better than his!" - reader comment @ 10:06pm

I'm not going to say that the early portions of last night's meeting were dull. Believe it or not even before this one got to the City Council Reorganization part it did have some moments of interest. None of that is going to stand up in comparison with what went down later on, of course. That being a truly historic meltdown, even by Sierra Madre standards.

If there is one thing that did typify the Mayor Josh Moran administration, it was his constant pressure to raise every tax, rate and fee available. It seemed like the only solution to our City's problems that Josh was capable of comprehending was to ask for more money. And last evening was no different. The rate/tax discussion du jour was raising the cost of water, and barely two years after the previous rate increase the City had cooked up.

One of the odder moments of the water rate increase discussion came about when the City Council was discussing how it would be a good thing for the residents. A kind of tough medicine dispensed out of love by a Council that cares. Higher rates would translate to both greater water conservation and civic virtue, something that people would then take pride in.

During the City Council's celebration of itself by calling for this virtuous ratepayer sacrifice, it was pointed out that over the course of a couple decades water consumption in Sierra Madre has increased by 70%. But, and as we all know, water rates have been raised from time to time during the period discussed as well. Most recently two years ago. So if increasing water rates is a surefire cure for the overuse of our limited water supplies, then how do you account for that 70% increase in usage?

It was all nonsense, of course. The truth is this City is carrying a huge amount of water bond debt from the Bart Doyle era. Millions upon millions of dollars are owed, and the interest payments alone are killing the Water Department. We pay $995,345 in combined interest every year to cover 1998 and 2003 water bond covenants. And that is where the real problem lies.

Our water equipment is old, pipes are leaking, yet nothing much can be done about it because all the available money goes to servicing this obscenely large mountain of debt. Much of it incurred during a time when the City was surreptitiously planning to enable the kinds of downtown development nobody ever wanted here. Several hundred new DSP condos and accompanying knickknack shops required certain preparations in this City's water infrastructure.

But don't expect to hear much of that kind of talk from the majority faction on the City Council. The past insane use of water bonds just so happens to be the responsibility of people that they know and love. And you know how these folks hate ever having to admit that they were wrong.

I still have my Prop 218 clipboard. Keep telling me fairy tales like the ones we heard last night and I will happily start using it again. The City Council really should change tactics and see if the truth works. It is the one thing that the water rate increase enthusiasts on our last few City Councils never cared to try.

I guess we should now get to Johnny Harabedian's famous Pro Tem meltdown. This was the money moment of the meeting. It was also a classic and thoroughly unnecessary event, and I suspect it will soon join Nancy Walsh's "We can take you out" speech as a prime example of the so-called Civility Party at its most uncivil and boorish worst.

It all began with two members of the audience stepping up to the podium to endorse Chris Koerber for Mayor Pro Tem, followed by Councilmember Josh Moran reading the following resident letter:

Dear City Council Members,

Tonight at the City Council reorganization meeting you will be electing our new Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem.  I strongly urge everyone to follow the “unwritten tradition” when making these appointments.  If you follow this tradition Mayor Pro Tem Walsh will become our mayor and Councilmember Koerber will become the Mayor Pro Tem because he received the most votes in the 2012 election.

What the writer of this simple yet eloquent plea to the City Council also discussed was the refusal of a previous council to appoint Joe Mosca Mayor despite claims that Sierra Madre tradition made him the legitimate choice. The consequences being a lot of unnecessary animosity and noise.

Personally I believe that Mosca's later dismal performance as Mayor of this City more than justified the sound judgement shown by that particular City Council. Our water rate problems of today being just one example of Mosca's ineptitude. And would Joe Mosca have handled the massive wildfires of that year as well as Kurt Zimmerman did? I rather doubt it. Fortunately the right decision was made.

But whatever the case may be, it is with this in mind that the legitimacy of John Harabedian becoming Mayor Pro Tem can be called into doubt. The same traditions that Joe Mosca's supporters wailed about a few years back also apply here. Chris Koerber received 1,535 votes, whereas Harabedian's record setting $20,000 campaign spend garnered him only 1,482. By Sierra Madre tradition the job obviously belongs to Koerber.

It was at this point that John Harabedian launched into a bizarre and oddly paranoid rant, accusing John Capoccia and Chris Koerber of orchestrating some sort of conspiracy to make him look bad. Perhaps it is my age showing here, but the sight of so jejune a fellow scolding two far more accomplished men nearly twice his age over something such as this was both awkward and embarrassing. After all, Harabedian already had the necessary three votes to win. All he needed to do was quietly sit there and play with his tie. But he chose to go off the chain instead.

To me this appeared to be the actions of an extremely entitled and spoiled young man. Someone who, at the late age of 32, has only just moved out from under his wealthy parents' care. An individual that has always received what he wants, when he wants it, and just can't handle the thought that there could be something he cannot have. Or that it might not be delivered to him with an appropriate deference. Couple that with his obvious burning ambition to achieve some sort of career in a larger political field, and all the ingredients were in place for what became a first class tantrum.

I wonder how John Harabedian would feel in 2014 if a new Council majority decides to break with tradition on the question of him becoming Mayor? Certainly that precedent has now been set.

We are now going into what will be a very difficult year for Sierra Madre. And at the helm we will have two of the most underqualified leaders this City has ever placed in office. If last night's unfortunate display by the new Mayor Pro Tem is any indication, it is not going to be pretty.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Surprising Fate of Ira Einhorn: Co-Founder of Earth Day - Plus: City Council Meeting Blog!

Ira the Unicorn
(Mod: Yesterday was Earth Day and, while most of us went to work and didn't get to participate in any of the activities, the occasion was commemorated here in town in a variety of helpful ways. Perhaps not quite in that same spirit, NBC.com posted the following article about a man many once credited with the founding of Earth Day. For reasons you will read below, his name is now being pretty much left out of it.)

Earth Day co-founder killed, composted girlfriend (click here): Ira Einhorn was on stage hosting the first Earth Day event at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Seven years later, police raided his closet and found the "composted" body of his ex-girlfriend inside a trunk.

A self-proclaimed environmental activist, Einhorn made a name for himself among ecological groups during the 1960s and '70s by taking on the role of a tie-dye-wearing ecological guru and Philadelphia’s head hippie. With his long beard and gap-toothed smile, Einhorn — who nicknamed himself "Unicorn" because his German-Jewish last name translates to "one horn" — advocated flower power, peace and free love to his fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania. He also claimed to have helped found Earth Day.

But the charismatic spokesman who helped bring awareness to environmental issues and preached against the Vietnam War — and any violence — had a secret dark side. When his girlfriend of five years, Helen "Holly" Maddux, moved to New York and broke up with him, Einhorn threatened that he would throw her left-behind personal belongings onto the street if she didn't come back to pick them up.

And so on Sept. 9, 1977, Maddux went back to the apartment that she and Einhorn had shared in Philadelphia to collect her things, and was never seen again. When Philadelphia police questioned Einhorn about her mysterious disappearance several weeks later, he claimed that she had gone out to the neighborhood co-op to buy some tofu and sprouts and never returned.

It wasn't until 18 months later that investigators searched Einhorn's apartment after one of his neighbors complained that a reddish-brown, foul-smelling liquid was leaking from the ceiling directly below Einhorn's bedroom closet. Inside the closet, police found Maddux's beaten and partially mummified body stuffed into a trunk that had also been packed with Styrofoam, air fresheners and newspapers.

After his arrest, Einhorn jumped bail and spent decades evading authorities by hiding out in Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France. After 23 years, he was finally extradited to the United States from France and put on trial. Taking the stand in his own defense, Einhorn claimed that his ex-girlfriend had been killed by CIA agents who framed him for the crime because he knew too much about the agency's paranormal military research. He was convicted of murdering Maddux and is currently serving a life sentence.

Although Einhorn was only the master of ceremonies at the first Earth Day event, he maintains that Earth Day was his idea and that he's responsible for launching it. Understandably, Earth Day's organizers have distanced themselves from his name, citing Gaylord Nelson, an environmental activist and former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator who died in 2005, as Earth Day's official founder and organizer.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in the spring of 1970 as a way to bring national awareness to the fact that, at the time, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms in place to protect the environment. About 20 million participants at various Earth Day events across the U.S. made Earth Day a success, and in December of 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues — the EPA.


Monday, April 22, 2013

City Council Reorganization this Week: Nancy Walsh Assumes the Throne

God save the Queen - click here
Tomorrow evening we will witness the peculiarity of Sierra Madre politics in all of its troubled glory. The least capable have risen to power, and perhaps the most unlikely of them all is soon to be anointed Mayor. This at a time when the City's finances are tanking due to gross overspending, the UUT is on the bubble, the water department has run dry, the Police Department is both demanding both more benefits and money while also suing us relentlessly, and the populace of our fair city is about as skeptical of its government as it has ever been. If you are into disaster movies, then obviously you have chosen to live in the right place. From now until next April's election we will likely be witnessing the most bizarre and troublesome year in this community's history.

Needless to say, The Tattler will be with you every step of the way.

Tuesday evening's meeting kicks off with a closed session, which has two lawsuits on the docket this week. One is from the Sierra Madre Police Department, the other I can't quite figure out. The Government Code Section for the mysterious one is 54956.9(d)(4), which is a little different from what we usually see. Here is what the on-line legal authorities of the State of California say:

54956.9. (d) For purposes of this section, litigation shall be considered pending when any of the following circumstances exist: (4) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.

So what it looks like is the City Council is deciding whether or not they want to sue someone. Perhaps this would be a countersuit to the one the Hildreth's have launched against the City? The Hildreths are also suing individual members of City Hall personally, including the City Manager and the Development Service Director. So obviously this one has turned into a full-fledged war of attrition. The question all of this raises here is that if the Hildreth's case is so weak, how exactly has it gotten this far?

Of course, it could be an entirely different lawsuit the City Council is working on. We just don't know at this point. Teresa the Belle of Barstow certainly does have her attorney operation in gear. All of it being run on your dime.

After rituals rooted in the very beginnings of our civilization are conducted, plus a ceremony commemorating the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide takes place, the spending of money begins. This part of the meeting is always at the beginning of the evening's events because what could be more important than spending money? It is at the very core of what we as human beings do. We consume, and the many prosper.

The total spend this time around comes to $497,809.77. Included in this nearly half million dollars is $6,301.56 for the Library, $380.63 to the Mountain Views News for ordinance publication, $25,986.32 for John Buchanan's employer, $2,052.94 to Verizon for cell phone service, $10,951.09 to First Transit for those almost always empty buses you see roaming around town, and $30,097.95 to Liebert Cassidy and Whitmore for their hard work squeezing even more money out of the residents. Sierra Madre is a very busy place.

Item 1b on the Consent Calendar has to do with the purchase of water infrastructure software from a company called Byrd Industrial Electronics. This is required for a "SCADA System" upgrade. Our Water Department, which is stone broke because people thought they were doing the right thing by curbing their urge to consume water, needs $59,497.62 to make this essential upgrade happen. I am sure the money will be found somewhere and spent. This will bring the total spend for this week to $557,307.99.

Here is an aside. If the Water Department is broke, and if the City is running out of water in a few months as Bruce Inman has claimed, is there enough left to sell and bring it back to solvency? Just thought I'd throw that one out there.

Item 1c on the Consent Calendar comes from our estimable Administrative Services Director and it is the Third Quarter Financial Statements. The news contained there would be considered highly favorable to many of the hundreds of California cities and towns currently teetering on the precipice of financial disaster, but here it will be spoken of as a further indication of just what will happen to the City should the UUT extension do-over vote meet the same fate as last time. From now until April of 2014 every report of this kind will contain the same somewhat skewed conclusion. Needless to say, we are now starting to feel the pull of the next municipal election cycle.

Item  #2 on Tuesday evening's agenda contains one of those thick as mud ironies you find in these reports sometimes. Check this one out:

At the City Council's April 4th Strategic Planning Retreat, a task was established under the goal "Maintain financial stability and sustainability." Specifically, the task is to "present a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a water rate study and a sewer rate study to the City Council for consideration."

So in the name of financial stability the City Council is considering hiring a consultant for around $20,000 to $30,000 to study water and sewer rates. All being done to justify some of the approaching rate increases, rumored to be among the highest in this City's history. The City Hall money grab, which includes hikes to just about every kind of rate, license, fee and tax currently in existence, is in full swing. And, as in the case of the Police Survey consultant Councilman Harabedian wants to hire, you will pay for the arguments being used to defeat your interests.

If you are not disgusted, then you have probably stopped breathing.

Item #3 is near and dear to the City Manager's heart because this is where the reasons for the City Hall money grab, especially the UUT extension do-over ballot initiative, are revealed. In an opaque sort of way, of course. Here is a key passage:

Attract, Develop, and Retain Quality Staff - Three objectives were identified to address this 3-year goal. The first objective directs staff to begin the meet and confer process with non-police labor groups. This is intended to begin by April 15, 2013. Secondly the City Council can expect to receive a presentation on a Recruitment and and Retention Plan by October 1, 2013. Finally, the October 8, 2013 City Council meeting has been selected as the target for staff to recommend a prioritized list of delayed projects for consideration for the best utilization of staff.

What is not said here, and for very good reasons, is how exactly Ms. Aguilar wishes to grow her little downtown empire. To the point, how does the City plan to recruit and retain "quality staff?" Obviously the only realistic way to do that is to increase salaries, benefits and pensions.

Which, of course, is at the very heart of this effort. The idea here being to bring Sierra Madre in line with the kinds of remuneration systems employed by cities much larger than ours. Los Angeles being a good example. Pensions being one of the larger expenses involved, and the driving force behind the wave of municipal bankruptcies sweeping the state.

Sierra Madre is community of less than 11,000 people, and it is hardly within the power of its taxpayers to fund such an operation. That is unless a considerable increase in revenues is to be found. Which is why everything the City controls is now going up. Walsh, Harabedian and Moran are completely on board with committing this City to what will be a very large increase in spending on staff. All of which will come out of your hide.

The question you need to ask is - for what?

Once the City Council majority has committed itself to selling out our interests to a few Municipal Employee Unions, they will then begin to give each other some awards. Because let's face it, if they didn't give themselves awards, who in God's name would?

Then comes the reorganization of the City Council. Perhaps the least qualified individual in Sierra Madre's history, Nancy Walsh, will become our next Mayor. If it is possible for there to be a step down from Josh Moran, she is it.

The Councilmember who has proven himself to be as green as his tie, John Harabedian, will likely become the next Mayor Pro Tem. He will continue to offer us nothing beyond his complete obedience to the L.A. County political machine he so desperately longs to join.

All of which could make you wonder if this town can survive in its current form. I do not believe it has ever been quite this bad.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Press Release Sunday

(Mod: If you are an organization and you want to get your news out to a world that needs to know what you have going on, then you're going to need to do a press release. A press release should be short and informative, and if the one you produce is just that many fine local news outlets will print them. They fill space and are much easier to use than actually having to write something original. They're also a special way of looking at the world as well. Few of them get sent to The Tattler however, but that is fine. If I want I can just find them elsewhere and cut and paste them here.)

4th of July Committee Seeking Grand Marshal Nominations - The Volunteer Sierra Madre 4th of July Committee is seeking nominations for the 2013 4th of July Parade Grand Marshal. The Parade will be held as always the morning of July 4th.

Parade Grand Marshal nominees should embody the spirit of Sierra Madre, be an active volunteer in any of the local nonprofit organizations or in some way contributed to the betterment of Sierra Madre.

Nomination form should include in no more than one page how the nominee has fulfilled the above criteria and any other pertinent information. Additionally, please include name, address, phone number, and email for both the person submitting the nomination and the nominee.

Nominations must be submitted in writing by Thursday, May 2nd and should be sent to the 4th of July Committee, PO Box 1073, Sierra Madre, CA 91025 or emailed to 4thofjulysierramadre@gmail.com.

This All-American friends and family event is made possible through the generous contributions of donors and sponsors.  If you’d like to help, please contact us through the information above or follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/4thofJulyInfo.

(Mod: The one question I would have here is what exactly does it take to embody the spirit of Sierra Madre? Wouldn't you say that properly observed that spirit would not fit into any subjective categories, but rather be as original and free-spirited as the town itself? Is there a list of criteria available somewhere that would help in judging whether someone actually has it?)

Ways to Observe Earth Day In and Around Sierra Madre - Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd.  The Sierra Madre Green Advisory Committee would like you to know of a few events that will be happening in and around Sierra Madre for those who would like to observe and benefit from this year’s event.

Compost Giveaway sponsored by Athens Services
Saturday, April 27th from 9:00am to noon – Athens Services is inviting residents of Sierra Madre to pick-up compost for their landscaping and gardening needs.  The compost is made from food and green waste collected by Athens.  The compost is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) and approved to be used in agricultural operations that are certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program.  The collection event will be held at Sierra Vista Park (601 E. Sierra Madre Blvd.) and located by the tennis courts.  Please bring your own containers and please understand that this is a “self-serve” event.  There is a 30 gallon limit during the first hour, then no limit starting at 10:00am while supplies last.  No plastic bags are allowed.

County of Los Angeles Smart Gardening Workshop
Saturday, April 27th from 9:30am to noon – Smart Gardening is an easy way to get a really great looking yard while using less water, energy and wasting fewer resources. You save yourself time and money while doing something that helps keep the County a nicer place to live and work. Yard waste adds to our landfills and diminishes their capacity. However, yard trimmings are valuable resources to compost and nurture our own backyards. When you practice the techniques of Smart Gardening, you will conserve water and energy, save time and money, improve your yard and garden, recycle yard waste and kitchen scraps, reduce waste going to our landfills, and help preserve the environment. These simple practices do not take much time, and help you develop healthy and beautiful lawns and gardens to enjoy.  The workshop will be held in the western side of Sierra Vista Park (601 E. Sierra Madre Blvd-close to compost giveaway).

High Efficiency Toilet Exchange
Saturday, April 27th from 9:00am to 11:00am – Sponsored by the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District and the City of Sierra Madre.  Sierra Madre water customers are welcome to pick up a new water efficient toilet.  Please bring a copy of a current or recent water bill to the event.  Toilets will be loaded into cars by local volunteers of the Interact Club (Sierra Madre Rotary).  Residents are required to install their new toilets within two weeks, and are required to return their old toilets on Saturday, May 11, 2013 from 9:00am to 11:00am.  The event will take place at Alverno High School (200 N. Michillinda, Sierra Madre).

South Coast AQMD Electric Lawn Mower Exchange Program
While supplies last!  Trade in your old, operable gas-powered lawn mower, replace it with a high-performance electric mower, and score up to 75 percent in savings.  Choose from two brands and five models.  They’re cordless, more than 50% quieter than traditional gas-powered mowers, environmentally friendly and lighter for easier operation.  You must pre-register to cash in on this great offer.  Visit www.aqmd.gov or call 1-888-425-6247.

(Mod: There you go. Armed with a low flow toilet, an electric mower, some free compost and a smart garden, you too can be Green Committee correct. Even if you do have to flush more than once.)

Holden’s Bill to Boost California Agriculture Passes Second Committee - The Assembly Agriculture Committee today heard testimony on Assemblymember Chris Holden’s legislation to ensure that California fruit, nuts, livestock and vegetables are given priority when it comes to state purchasing.

Under Holden’s AB 199 Choose California Act, state agencies would be required to give California agriculture producers priority when purchasing food products if the price is within 5% of the lowest out-of-state competitor. School districts would have to purchase California grown products as long as they aren’t more expensive than out-of-state products.

“AB 199 uses the state’s purchasing power to bolster California’s Agri-business and that means more jobs and more revenue and that’s good for California’s bottom line,” said Assemblymember Holden. “This bill is a win-win for everyone. The public institutions get a locally-grown product, we’re helping create opportunities for our farmers and a new appreciation for local food helps stimulate the economy.”

“California Citrus Mutual is excited to support this legislation as it puts before our young people and population the wonderful bounty we produce in California. To have this focus is a win for agriculture and a win for our state.” Joel Nelsen, President, California Citrus Mutual

The Agriculture Committee voted unanimously (7 to 0) in favor of AB 199. Earlier in the session the measure was approved by the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee.  It now moves to Assembly Appropriations for fiscal consideration.

(Mod: There is no better judge of fruits and nuts than Assemblyman Holden.)

Monrovia Hillside Brush Fire at Madison and Crescent Avenues - At 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, the Monrovia Fire Department responded to a call of a brush fire in the Monrovia hillside at 322 N Madison Avenue.  As of 1:45pm, the fire covers 15 acres and is 10% contained.  So far 25 fire engines, three helicopters, and three brush crews have responded.  Several Fire agencies including the US Forest Services are cooperating to contain the fire.

Residents will be notified of evacuations through door-to-door efforts by the Monrovia Police Department.

Temporary shelter will be available at the Monrovia Community Center, 119 West Palm Avenue, Monrovia, CA.  The Community Center can be reached at (626) 256-8246.  Water, food and some activities will be available.

No reported strucutres damage or injuries have been reported.  There is some concern about wind patterns picking up around 2 pm. “As long as we don’t have the winds, we will be fine, but its not a Santa Ana day.  This is very old brush, over 55 years old, and a lot of fuel, but we have crews working very hard to contain the fire,” said Monrovia Fire Chief Chris Donovan.

The Monrovia Fire Department will give another briefing around 2:45pm. Residents can stay updated on the event on the City website, or by following @MonroviaCA on twitter or the City of Monrovia on Facebook.

(Mod: According to one article I read this fire was started with  a weed whacker. I am not sure exactly how someone would do that.)

Doo Dah Parade Next Weekend - WHAT: The twisted sister of the other Pasadena parade, takes its own brand of raucus eccentricity East. WHEN:  Saturday, April 27th, parade steps off at 11:00 am.
WHERE: The parade starts at Vinedo St. and Colorado Blvd., goes in both directions, on Colorado, between Altadena Dr. and San Gabriel Blvd. Bring your lawn chairs and grab a good spot.

OTHER INFO:Plenty of free parking in the surrounding area. Featuring All-American festival food at down home prices at the Robin’s Woodfire BBQ Booth centrally located on the parade route. Signature 2013 Doo Dah T-shirts, get one for the whole family. After parties galore!

COST: Absolutely Free

Featuring: Dozens of inventive, if zany, art cars and floats will accompany a legion of frolickers past the mom-n-pop shops along East Pasadena’s shady tree-lined streets. Led by this year’s Queen Susann Edmonds and Grand Marshal Alan Zorthian, spectators will be startled and amused by public radio personality, Sandra Tsing Loh, with her LOH Down on Science, Flying Baby Hammer, A Moveable Feast (based on a Hemingway novel), Worlds Tallest Girl Scout, Jiffy Pop! The Bearded Ladies, The Billionaires, Johnny Skunk & his Skunkmobile, The BBQ & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, L.A. Derby Dolls, Veggies of Laguna Beach, Zombie Training Camp, Champion Sign Twirlers, Dr. Steele & the Army of Toy Soldiers, and the immortal Doo Dah House Band, Snotty Scotty & the Hankies and much more! Known as the twisted sister of the conventional Rose Parade, the Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade began as a grassroots event in 1978 to gain national attention for its eccentric and, often, irreverent satire. The parade which has spawned numerous off-beat replicants across the country was named by Readers Digest as “America’s Best Parade,” and was recently featured in the book 50 Places You Must Visit Before You Die! Yes, another Doo Dah is here to help you forget your humdrum existence! Contact: To still enter the parade simply go to the website and get your entry form there, and please call us at (626) 590-1134; Public Parade Information Hotline: (626) 590-7596.

(Mod: As much as I enjoy the Doo Dah Parade, and definitely plan to go, I have yet to figure out why some find the Rose Parade to be any less funny. Especially the politicians. Perhaps we should consider having a Doo Dah 4th of July Parade Grand Marshall?)

And so we have now gotten through another Sunday post.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

CalPERS Costs Go Up - Will a 10% UUT Be Enough to Meet the City's Pension Obligations?

One of the reasons why the City is as worried  as it is about the possibility that a renewal of our utility taxes at 10% could once again fail in April of 2014 is that it would adversely effect its ability to fund pension benefits for its employees. With one of the stated goals of the City Council  Strategic Plan meeting on April 4th being to "attract and retain" quality employees, an inability to meet such a financial obligation would create certain difficulties in making that happen. With other cities apparently being eager to poach our folks should we fail in this regard, weakened pension benefits here could result in a massive employee exodus.

Or so the often heard theory goes. I personally am not aware of any massive erosion of the City's employee base, nor does it seem to me that the level of personal suffering experienced by those who work here is any greater than it is in private industry. As a matter of fact, I think most would agree that the benefits of working in government have become far better than what most in private industry are experiencing these days. With many questioning why it is that they need to pay ever increasing and onerous levels of taxation in order to finance things that are not now, or ever will be, available to them.

Sierra Madre's utility taxes, at 10%, are currently the highest in California, especially when you include in these considerations the wide range of categories being taxed. It is the price that has to be exacted when a small city of less than 11,000 attempts to fund the kinds of employee benefits its big brothers in places like Los Angeles and Pasadena are able to offer their help.

And now that bar is being set even higher. This from the Pasadena Star News (click here):

CalPERS changes to squeeze finances in many cities - Many cities will be required to pay more to the state pension system for at least a few years because of changes the system's board approved Wednesday, stretching its already-thin finances. The actuarial adjustments, designed to make the California Public Employees' Retirement System once again fully solvent within 30 years, won't go into effect until the 2015-16 fiscal year.

But it's already worrying many cities where CalPERS is a large and growing expense. "Right now, for Upland, we're having a tough time making ends meet," said Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn. "This is just more costs that we're going to have to cover, which means it's less services. "

Dunn calculated the changes will cost at least another $500,000 a year, based on information provided by the California Public Employers Labor Relations Association.

In San Bernardino, which stopped paying CalPERS since it filed for bankruptcy in August but plans to resume payments in July, the likely increase was one of several serious issues the city would need to watch out for, consultant Michael Busch of Urban Futures warned. "It's not a rumor any more. It's going to happen," Busch said of the actuarial changes. "And that's an uncertainty you need to be aware of. "

San Bernardino continues to defer payments to many other creditors as it continues in bankruptcy court, with a financial situation that's better than when it filed for bankruptcy but still precarious and dependent on bankruptcy protection, Busch said. Any increased costs hurt, including those with CalPERS, the nation's largest pension fund and the city's largest creditor.

The changes in the way rates are calculated will help avoid large increases in extreme years, but was a tough decision, CalPERS board President Rob Feckner said in a written statement.

"This was one of the most difficult, yet most important decisions we have had to make," Feckner said. "Moving our plans more swiftly toward full funding will ensure a sustainable pension system for our members, employers and ultimately taxpayers over the long term. "

CalPERS expects almost a 25 percent increase in the portion of its future obligations that are funded over a 30-year payment.

So how are cities like Sierra Madre going to be able to afford to keep paying into a state retirement system that continues to consume more and more of its financial wherewithal? That is the dilemma facing towns such as ours. And with our elected leadership appearing to be more than willing to obligate the taxpayers with the responsibility of paying for such things, there really is no other option available to them except to continue asking for more.

And what is it that we are shoveling our tax dollars into? The news site City Journal (click here) recently posted an article that does not paint a very pretty picture.

The Pension Fund That Ate California: CalPERS’s corruption, insider dealing, and politicized investments have overwhelmed taxpayers with debt - After spending years dogged by unpaid debts, California labor leader Charles Valdes filed for bankruptcy in the 1990s—twice. At the same time, he held one of the most influential positions in the American financial system: chair of the investment committee for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund for government workers. Valdes left the board in 2010 and now faces scrutiny for accepting gifts from another former board member, Alfred Villalobos—who, the state alleges, spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to influence how the fund invested its assets. Questioned by investigators about his dealings with Villalobos, Valdes invoked the Fifth Amendment 126 times.

California taxpayers help fund CalPERS’s pensions and ultimately guarantee them, so they might wonder: How could a financially troubled former union leader occupy such a powerful position at the giant retirement system, which manages roughly $230 billion in assets? The answer lies in CalPERS’s three-decade-long transformation from a prudently managed steward of workers’ pensions into a highly politicized advocate for special interests. Unlike most government pension funds, CalPERS has become an outright lobbyist for higher member benefits, including a huge pension increase that is now consuming California state and local budgets. CalPERS’s members, who elect representatives to the fund’s board of directors, ignored concerns over Valdes’s suitability because they liked how he fought for those plusher benefits.

CalPERS has also steered billions of dollars into politically connected firms. And it has ventured into “socially responsible” investment strategies, making bad bets that have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Such dubious practices have piled up a crushing amount of pension debt, which California residents—and their children—will somehow have to repay.

Get ready to dig even deeper.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Last Night's Planning Commission Meeting: The One Carter Debacle Continues

Valley Castle in utero
"These lots are horrible. We all know that." - Planning Commissioner Pendlebury

One Carter continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. The only question now being that after almost a decade since this disaster of a development was set in motion by the notoriously faithless 2004 City Council, will something actually get built up there? And if it should be the McMansions (AKA "Valley Castles") that the architect Adele Chang is attempting to peddle so that she can pocket a few bucks, wouldn't that make the debacle even worse?

By now nothing about One Carter should surprise anyone. We are now in about the fifth sequel in the longest running development disaster story in Sierra Madre history.

One quick point before I try and tackle the rest of this. For the first time ever in any of these hearings one solitary person got up to defend proposed McMansion #1. He is a new site owner who paid $750,000 for one of those awful lots up there. This guy advised us all to "don't let emotion wash away fairness." He also stated that he wants to be a part of the community, and "we don't want to cause any kind of disruption."

You should know, I have always been a believer that the buyer should beware. And if that buyer was foolish enough to spend a huge amount of money for something that in reality is worth far less than what was paid, that is no fault of anyone but the buyer. So the argument that someone who paid three quarters of a million dollars for an empty dusty lot worth nowhere near that much money should be allowed to erect some ridiculously oversized Valley Castle - McMansion in full view of our entire town because it would somehow be fair to let him do so is lost on me.

You made a bad purchase, chum. The entire town is not required to suffer the consequences of your foolishness. Nor does overspending on a lot give someone any special legal privileges. There is no "Sucker's Rights" clause in either Sierra Madre's General Plan or the HMZ.

McMansion - Valley Castle architect Adele Chang really is a piece or work. And it isn't just the bad glasses. You can't help but get the impression that there is little she wouldn't do or say to get these barns of hers built. What makes her a truly exceptional case is her obvious impatience with anyone who disagrees with her. Apparently she believes the Planning Commission is made up of people who are neither very bright or strong, and that all she needs to do is sigh loudly and occasionally roll her eyes and the PC will somehow be intimidated and knuckle under.

Adele kicked off the proceedings with this lulu: "We had a feeling that the commission and the general public had the feeling that the house was too big and bulky." Was this because everyone there had said so with every other word they uttered?

She had a feeling. So what did she do to assuage those feelings? She spent practically her entire evening before the Planning Commission pushing a strategy to defend big houses that rivals anything you'd hear on a used car lot generously stocked with lemons.

Here is an example. Adele appeared to take the Planning Commission's advice to drive around Sierra Madre and get a feel for the diversity in housing styles here. But what Adele actually did was take pictures of all the biggest houses she could find in order to say her design was smaller. Never mind that none of the houses were in the Hillside Management Zone, never mind that the great majority of them were on the south side of Carter where they sloped down the hill. Adele also didn't seem to notice that each house she cherry picked all had much bigger yards, and therefore were far more appropriate than whatever it is she wants to build at One Carter.

All that plus the great diversity in housing that is one of Sierra Madre's great strengths was completely ignored. Obviously with a purpose.

These existing big houses are scattered throughout their neighborhoods. What Adele apparently wants for One Carter is to take the biggest houses in Sierra Madre, exclude all the small and middle sized ones, and then pack them cheek to jowl on the hillside. Like packing NFL linemen into a Fiat. And then on the smallest building pads imaginable.

This is a key to understanding the core dishonesty contained in Adele's entire presentation. Adele compared this whole group of houses to her own proposed McMansion, which would be on a lot that is unbuildable. The lots that contain her cherry picked examples of large houses are appropriate to the structures built on them. On the other hand, the building pads at One Carter are awful, small things. So she'd put this big bumping house on a little pad, but then claim that the whole lot justifies it. Legally it might, but aesthetically it is atrocious and is precisely what the community has been fighting against for years.

As one knowledgable resident made very clear when she explained all of this, if the requirements were based on the actual building pad, that lot would not even be buildable. Period. We are not Arcadia or Glendale, nor do we want to be. If that is the kind of house you want, why not build there and just leave us alone?

And again, the absurd sums of money paid for these lots is hardly our problem. Just because Adele's dumb client paid a ridiculous amount of money to obtain one (or more than one) does not give that person special rights. It just means he paid too much for a lot.

Adele repeatedly claimed that her clients were "not trying to squeeze in the house like the tract development the community is so afraid of." Then in the same breathe she claimed the lot prices are so high it is unfair and unrealistic that she would be forced to build a small house.

So why did you buy the lots? Just the dumbest argument ever, and a clear sign that even they know that they do not have a very good case.

Frank Chen is listed as the developer/owner, project manager for CETT investments (Hui Ru Han, for the record, being a lady). Frank Chen must have told Adele to sacrifice 188 square feet in the redo presentation last night, flip the north and south sides, and make some other minor cosmetic improvements.

One troublesome example of this strategy in action. Adele eliminated a fifth bedroom, but then added a "library" with a full bathroom in its place. In other words, she scribbled our "bedroom number 5 with bath 5" and wrote in "library" instead. This the Chen and Change Show wanted the Planning Commission to believe was the elimination of one of the bathrooms.

Which was kind of offensive on their part if you think about it.

One commissioner talked about how much water these houses would use, how many gallons would be needed to operate a 5 bathroom building with a kitchen approaching the size of an average unit at a trailer camp. Pretty irresponsible behavior in a town that is supposed to run out of water in a few months.

Elephants do need to be brought out into the open from time to time.

Adele was not above going into threatening mode, either. Depending on what happened last night, she darkly hinted that the other two house applications could be withdrawn. An empty threat as it turned out. She also didn't explain what the downside to that would be if she'd actually carried her threat out.

It seemed like the Planning Commission was about to approve this sorry mess, then not, and then with conditions. Finally they continued it all to next month, citing the Tree Commission's required verdict on an oak tree as being the cause of the punt. They also advised the architect to try once again to make make this McMansion/Valley Castle smaller, and actually lose a bedroom and bathroom # 5. You know, rather than just calling it all a library. Along with making the fences lower.

A frustrating and difficult evening. Made worse by a developer and an architect openly, and disingenuously, at war with the core values of our community.