Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where Nancy Walsh's "Federal Pass-Through" Money Will Come From

High density development in Dublin CA
You may recall that a few City Council meetings back our very own Mayor Nancy Walsh was strangely a-bubble over the rich possibilities we would all realize from the merging of the Green Committee with the Tree Commission. To some this melding of a venerable but rather niche commission with a committee whose accomplishments can be counted on less than one finger did not seem like it held all that much promise. And people wondered why it was that the City Council even bothered. What could possibly be the point?

But Nancy Walsh saw this all quite differently. To her way of thinking this was the beginning of a new day for Sierra Madre, one where millions upon millions of dollars would flood into our town, the result of something she mysteriously referred to as "Federal Pass-Throughs." And who would be the ones that would bring us this largess? The newly merged Green Committee and Tree Commission thing now known as EENER. The theory being that towns everywhere were forming similar commissions, and the more truncated and lifeless the acronym, the more seriously the Feds would take them.

Once we've set aside Elaine Aguilar's tales about City Staff being too busy to deal with the Green Committee and Tree Commission separately, it becomes obvious that this is where our EENER Commission really got its inspiration. Because nothing says "give me a lots and lots of Federal money" like EENER. Right?

Unfortunately, and as is the case with most too good to be true Federal and State cash giveaways, there are some rather major strings attached. And in this case those strings are directly attached to a demand that we allow for the kinds of high density development that have always been anathema to the citizens of Sierra Madre. And that free lunch Nancy Walsh was salivating over would mean serving this town up with some major stack and pack misery, and all of the urban ills and toxic congestion that would naturally follow.

A new article written by Stanley Kurtz spells out exactly where that money Nancy Walsh so reverently spoke about will come from, and what exactly it would need to be used for. For anyone who loves this town for its quaint old school ambience and naturally green low density design, this will come as something of a shock.

Regionalism: Obama’s Quiet Anti-Suburban Revolution
The consensus response to President Obama’s Knox College speech on the economy is that the administration has been reduced to pushing a menu of stale and timid policies that, in any case, won’t be enacted. But what if the administration isn’t actually out of ideas? What if Obama’s boldest policy initiative is merely something he’d rather not discuss? And what if that initiative is being enacted right now?

A year ago, I published Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities. There I described the president’s second-term plan to press a transformative “regionalist” agenda on the country. Early but unmistakable signs indicate that Obama’s regionalist push is well underway. Yet the president doesn’t discuss his regionalist moves and the press does not report them.

The most obvious new element of the president’s regionalist policy initiative is the July 19 publication of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation broadening the obligation of recipients of federal aid to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The apparent purpose of this rule change is to force suburban neighborhoods with no record of housing discrimination to build more public housing targeted to ethnic and racial minorities. Several administration critics noticed the change and challenged it, while the mainstream press has simply declined to cover the story.

Yet even critics have missed the real thrust of HUD’s revolutionary rule change. That’s understandable, since the Obama administration is at pains to downplay the regionalist philosophy behind its new directive. The truth is, HUD’s new rule is about a great deal more than forcing racial and ethnic diversity on the suburbs. (Regionalism, by the way, is actually highly controversial among minority groups. There are many ways in which both middle-class minorities in suburbs, and less well-off minorities in cities, can be hurt by regionalist policies–another reason those plans are seldom discussed.)

The new HUD rule is really about changing the way Americans live. It is part of a broader suite of initiatives designed to block suburban development, press Americans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars. Government-mandated ethnic and racial diversification plays a role in this scheme, yet the broader goal is forced “economic integration.” The ultimate vision is to make all neighborhoods more or less alike, turning traditional cities into ultra-dense Manhattans, while making suburbs look more like cities do now. In this centrally-planned utopia, steadily increasing numbers will live cheek-by-jowl in “stack and pack” high-rises close to public transportation, while automobiles fall into relative disuse. To understand how HUD’s new rule will help enact this vision, we need to turn to a less-well-known example of the Obama administration’s regionalist interventionism.

In the face of heated public protest, on July 18, two local agencies in metropolitan San Francisco approved “Plan Bay Area,” a region-wide blueprint designed to control development in the nine-county, 101-town region around San Francisco for the next 30 years. The creation of a region-wide development plan–although it flies in the face of America’s core democratic commitment to local control–is mandated by California’s SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. The ostensible purpose of this law is to combat global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. That is supposedly why California’s legislature empowered regional planning commissions to override local governments and press development away from suburbs into densely-packed urban areas. In fact, the reduction of greenhouse gases (which Plan Bay Area does little to secure) largely serves as a pretext for undercutting the political and economic independence of California suburbs.

You can read the rest of Kurtz's article by clicking here.

So here are my questions. What good would Nancy's dreamed of Federal money do us if all it did was turn Sierra Madre into the very thing we moved here to get away from in the first place? A densely packed and overcrowded urban mess? While at the same time confiscating our local control over planning and development here and passing it on to Sacramento, or even Washington?

The Feds are not likely to be people who could care less about the things that we think are important. Our way of life not being a part of their grand plans for the new de-evolutionary America.

To me it is beyond disheartening that anyone would even consider selling Sierra Madre out like this. That the effort here is being led here by elected officials like Mayor Walsh is even more disturbing.

Taking money from the Feds in order to for all intents and purposes destroy all that is great about this town, and for the economic benefit of people who do not in any way respect our way of life, is not leadership.

It is betrayal.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nostalgia Week Continues: Today We Revisit 2012's Measure U

At 10% our UUT rates are highest in California
Mod: Yesterday we reviewed some of the rather sneaky and untrue assertions made by certain elected officials as they foisted the previous round of water rate hikes on the City several years back. This was hardly an anomaly for our town. In April of 2012 we were faced with two disingenuous ballot measures that would have extended the Utility User Tax (UUT) at some of the highest rates in California. That is, had they not been overwhelmingly defeated at the polls ... We are reposting here today portions of a Cassandra Morris article that appeared on the Sierra Madre Patch site in December 2011. While these matters may belong to our recent past, they can also be seen as a preview of what will certainly be another attempt by certain individuals here to renew the UUT at its current exorbitant levels. A do-over vote as it were, and run by the sore losers. Pay particular attention to MaryAnn MacGillivray's point about the UUT being a General Fund tax, and not the public safety specific levy that John Buchanan had claimed here.

Controversy Surrounds UUT Ballot Measure (link)
In a 3-1 decision, the City Council moved to put the Utility Users Tax Increase Extension before voters in April, but some say the accompanying advisory measure is misleading and sounds like a PR stunt.

The proposed Utility Users Tax Increase Extension has been the subject of debate and tension at City Council meetings for weeks now. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Council moved 3-1 to include the UUT increase extension and an accompanying advisory measure on the April ballot.

Mayor John Buchanan has said that the UUT increase extension will be needed to fund the rising cost of public safety in Sierra Madre.

Councilmember Mary Ann MacGillivray was the sole opposing vote, taking issue with the UUT increase extension having a continued cap of 12% (she has pushed for a 10% cap) and with the advisory measure sounding too much like “PR.”

“It’s misleading to say [the UUT] goes to public safety,” said MacGillivray. “The money from the UUT goes into the same bucket as the general fund… [the advisory measure] leads people to believe it’s being tracked separately in a separate fund.”

Money from the UUT goes into the city’s general fund, which provides money for “all non-restricted fund activities of the city,” including public safety.

The ballot measure will read as follows:

Utility Users’ Tax Increase:
Shall an ordinance be adopted to amending the City’s existing Utility Users’ Tax to continue the existing 10% tax, subject to a potential increase to 12% on July 1, 2013, in order to maintain general City services such as public safety services, including paramedic programs, and to reflect technological advances in communications, continue existing exemptions to low and very low income households, establish new sunset dates and continue a citizen’s oversight committee?

Utility Users’ Tax Advisory Measure: If Measure ___, to continue the existing Utility Users’ Tax of 10%, subject to a potential increase to 12% on July 1, 2013 and establishing new sunset dates, is approved by the voters, should the additional revenue generated by the tax be used to fund public safety services including paramedic programs?

The UUT has steadily increased since 2008, when voters approved a gradual increase from 6% to 12% from 2008 through 2014. MacGillivray lamented that many voters thought they were approving a tax that could only be used for public safety.

Mayor John Buchanan shot back, saying that the Council has only used UUT money explicitly for public safety, and that future Councils will continue to do so.

“When the UUT came in at a rate higher than we were expecting thanks largely to the increase in telephone service and the application of the UUT to cell phones, we, for at least one year, had a substantially greater revenue than we expected,” said Buchanan. “The response was not to take that money and spend it somewhere else… it was rolled over to the next year for public safety.”

Councilmember Nancy Walsh conceded that the measure could be seen as PR, but that it’s still useful to voters.

“Maybe it is just PR but I think it really does tell people that this was the intent… this is what we voted for,” said Walsh.

Mod: At last week's City Council meeting members of the UUT Oversight Committee complained that it was impossible to track UUT funds as they are inextricably mixed in with the General Fund. I wonder how John Buchanan was able to figure out which funds were UUT, and which were not?

Maybe he was just making that part up.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Whatever Did Happen To Those 2010 Water Rate Increase Federal Matching Funds?

What, me worry?
I was doing a little research last evening and turned up something fairly interesting. You may recall that in 2010, when the previous two water rate increases were being spawned, our then Mayor Joe Mosca couldn't talk enough about Federal matching funds and how they would help us repair our decayed infrastructure. The word being put out by His Honor was that if residents agreed to the water rate hike as presented in 2010, the Federal government would magically match it and all would be made good.

Now I personally don't think that most Feds are all that brilliant. To paraphrase the Ronald Reagan quote somewhere on the lower righthand side of this page, if they were they'd be in private industry making the real dough. But I do believe they were smart enough to know that the reason Sierra Madre needed their money was to help handle its bad bond debts. And despite what was being spoon fed to the residents here, this had precious little to do with repairing pipes and fixing water wells. As such, we were never going to see a dime.

But that didn't stop Mayor Joe Mosca from walking this little doggy around the park. In a Pasadena Star News article titled "Sierra Madre residents face possible water hike," dated July 9, 2010 (link), Mosca made this specious claim:

Mayor Joe Mosca said the time is now to invest in the city's water system. A rate increase would allow the city to match local dollars with federal funds to improve Sierra Madre's water system so that citizens will not have to shoulder as much of a burden, he said.

"To those who think this is too expensive, it will be more expensive in the future if we do nothing now," he said.

But that was hardly all of it. In a City of Sierra Madre agenda report titled "ORDINANCE 1312 ADJUSTING WATER RATES FOR FISCAL YEARS 2010-2015," dated July 13, 2010 and bearing Mayor Joe Mosca's name, the following is listed as #3 among four reasons why water rates had to be increased:

The current water rates do not generate sufficient funding to meet the ‘local match’ requirements for federal funds that have been authorized for the City for use in the design and construction of water infrastructure repairs and replacements.

The City of Sierra Madre did raise its water rates of course, so whatever happened to those "authorized" federal matching funds? Did we ever receive any? Of course we didn't. The truth is there never were any federal matching funds because the water rate increase was not about repairing infrastructure. It was really about bond debt, unhonored covenants and imploded water bond ratings.

You only have to go out into our streets today and witness the blown water main du jour to know that precious little of that increased water rate capital was spent on fixing infrastructure. And how could that have been done, anyway? Close to $1 million dollars in Sierra Madre water department revenue is spent every year to cover our debts. Most of it goes to the Bank of New York for bonds, with the balance sent to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District to pay down a loan.

There just isn't that much money left for anything else.

Of course, all of this was before the issue of Sierra Madre's $19 million (with interest) in water bond debt had actually entered the discussion here. In July of 2010, when Mayor Mosca and our always pliable City Staff was flogging infrastructure repairs and Federal matching funds as the reason for the rate hike, water bond debt was not being given much shrift. But by the Fall of 2010 that cat was finally out of the bag, and people were starting to talk.

In an agenda report titled "DISCUSSION REGARDING SIERRA MADRE WATER UTILITY OPERATIONS AND WATER RATE INCREASE" (10/19/10), the beans were finally spilled:

... the City’s Water Fund currently has two bonds and one SGVMWD loan outstanding. The 1998 Refunding Bonds are refinanced debt. This is similar to an individual who refinances their mortgage and takes the equity out under a new 30 year mortgage. The terms are principal and interest (5%) until 2019. In 2003, when it became apparent that the City had Federal Funds available to do Capital Improvements to the water infrastructure, the City issued new debt; because for each dollar provided by a Federal Grant, the City had a dollar match requirement. The terms of the debt are interest only (5%) until 2019 and principal and interest (5%) 2020-2034. To receive the interest only terms, the bank required a revenue covenant of 120% operational income. The covenant is security to the “second mortgage” that the Water Fund would remain financially healthy throughout the terms of the debt and that the City Water Fund would meets its obligations.

This was the actual reason why water rates were increased back then. Just as it will be the reason in 2013. There were never any Federal matching funds in 2010, that was just a story Mosca pulled out of his bonnet because he thought people would swallow it and then quietly submit to the water rate increase.

Like so many of the things Joe Mosca told us, this just did not have a whole lot of truth to it.

Here are a couple of questions to bring this all up to date. The senior City Staff that helped enable the "Federal matching funds" canard remains basically unchanged. The same people are still running City Hall today. Should we trust them to be more truthful this time around?

The other question is this. Mayor Nancy Walsh and Mayor Pro Tem* John Harabedian will apparently be jetting off to Washington DC in the near future in search of cash to help us with our water woes. But since the actual reason for our troubles is more about bad bond debt, and not so much infrastructure issues, will this also become an attempt to promote the myth that this latest water rate increase can somehow be tied to Federal matching funds?

And are they symbolically doing just that by going to Washington in the first place? After all, Mosca also made that trip.

I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sierra Madre Tattler Sunday News: Here For You

(Mod: Too often people feel alone in life. Sure, we have friends, and we certainly do appreciate them. But should someday everything go wrong for you, would they really be able to help? Pick you up, dust you off and put you back on your shelf just as good as new? Of course not. You might get a chai tea latte' and a sympathetic ear out of it, but that is about all. However, there is one thing upon which you can truly depend, and you are reading it. The Tattler Sunday News. We will always be there for you, right up until we stop doing it. That is something you can rely on.)

On rooftops, a rival for utilities (New York Times - link) For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation's rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 per cent of the nation's power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities' ability to maintain the nation's grid.

"We did not get in front of this disruption," Clark Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of the industry, said during a panel discussion at the annual utility convention last month. "It may be too late."

(Mod: It's nice to be able to start out with some good news.)

La Canada Flintridge Council sets aside $500,000 for possible 710 freeway fight (Pasadena Star News - link) The City Council set aside $500,000 of the city's general fund reserve this week in a preemptive effort to fight construction of a possible tunnel connecting the 710 Freeway to the 210 Freeway.

Councilman Donald Voss said he requested the issue be brought up to the council because the city needs to prepare in case the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority selects an option for the 710 freeway extension that could cause harm to the city.

"We want to make sure all the alternatives are equally and fairly considered. The (non-tunnel alternatives) are not fanciful, they are not alternatives just to check a box, they are real, genuine alternatives that in my view are 21st century," Voss said. "There have been things that have happened in the study that would suggest perhaps they are not getting the same level of scrutiny."

Metro is about halfway through a three-year environmental study of five possible options to fill the "gap" between Alhambra and Pasadena; "No build," traffic management solutions, bus rapid transit, light rail and a tunnel. The draft environmental report is scheduled for release in 2014, with a final decision to be made in 2015.

La Canada Flintridge City Manager Mark Alexander said the money could be used for a number of different things, from litigation to commissioning further environmental work if the city doubts the results of Metro's study.

"The council is very concerned about the potential impacts of a tunnel project or an alternative project that may increase traffic and congestion along the 210 freeway if the 710 is connected," Alexander said. "Because of the concerns of those impacts the council felt it important that we have monies available should the need arise to further study what those impacts are and to protect the interest of the city if it comes to that."

(Mod: Can you imagine living in a city that actually fights for the rights of its residents?)

Students sign petition to legalize abortion after childbirth (Campus Reform - link) Several students at George Mason University (GMU) signed a petition on Wednesday demanding lawmakers legalize “fourth trimester” abortions.

The petition, which was circulated on GMU’s flagship campus in Fairfax, VA., just outside Washington D.C., by Media Research Center reporter Dan Joseph said it was aimed at sending “a message to our lawmakers that women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and babies” even “after their pregnancies.”

“If you don’t know what fourth trimester is, it’s after the baby is already born,” Joseph added in a video showing him collect the signatures.

“Currently fourth trimester abortions are illegal in all 50 states,” he told students before asking them to sign his petition. Most student responses varied from “okay” to “cool.”

One concerned student asked if the procedure would “cause harm to the child.” “Well the child wouldn’t be there anymore,” responded Joseph. “It’s abortion.” That student then signed the petition.

(Mod: In case you are interested, student tuition at George Mason University is $28,500 per year.)

Man, Clad Only In Boxers, Allegedly Goes On Rampage Inside Pricey Beverly Hills Eatery (CBS News Los Angeles - link) Beverly Hills Police said a man — clad only in his boxers — went on a vandalism rampage Thursday evening inside a fancy restaurant in the 400 block of N. Canon Drive.

Authorities said they received a call at 9:52 p.m. saying the man was destroying property and throwing glasses around the Enoteca Drago restaurant. Officials arrived on scene about a minute later and got into a foot pursuit with the man.

The suspect reportedly ran south on N. Canon Drive where he ran into traffic. He allegedly slammed into a car and damaged the windshield. Police said they needed a Taser to bring the man down to handcuff him. At least half a dozen officers had to subdue the man.

The suspect was later identified as 29-year-old Kishane Karim Almendarez of Los Angeles. Almendarez was arrested for felony vandalism after being taken to a local hospital for treatment of injuries. Officials told CBS2′s Cristy Fajardo they believed Almendarez was likely under the influence of drugs.

A witness said Almendarez threw glasses at patrons, knocked over wine bottles and shattered a TV screen inside the restaurant. Prior to the rampage inside the restaurant, witnesses said the suspect went up and down the street creating chaos.

“No one could make sense of what was going on,” said Beth Braun, another witness. “He was half undressed, bottoms gone.”

Fajardo spoke to the restaurant’s managing partner, Steven Piano. “I’m guessing at least 50 bottles of wine were destroyed,” said Piano. “There was two inches of wine on the wood floor.”

Piano added, “It’s like he was just quietly, calmly, destroying property.”

(Mod: Well, what would you do if your sustainable fish sorbet was served poncey?)

Man Attempts To Rob Gun Store With Baseball Bat (CBS Seattle - link) The Washington County sheriff’s office says a man who attempted to rob a Beaverton gun store with a baseball bat and a knife was thwarted when the manager drew his own gun.

The sheriff’s office says the suspect walked into Discount Gun Sales Thursday afternoon, smashed a display case with the bat and removed a handgun.

Moments later the manager armed himself and ordered the suspect to drop the gun, the bat and a knife he also was carrying.

The manger detained him until deputies arrived and arrested the 22-year-old Beaverton man on robbery and other charges.

(Mod: I am not certain that was as carefully thought out as it might have been.)

Landmark California regulations under federal fire (Los Angeles Times - click here) California has a reputation for having some of the nation's most aggressive rules on workplace safety, consumer protection and environmental quality — regulations that force companies to make costly adjustments to the way they do business worldwide.

Now some of those companies, banking on congressional gridlock and sympathetic Republican leaders in the House, are fighting back. And officials in Sacramento worry that some of the state's landmark laws may be in danger.

At the top of their worry list is a measure with bipartisan support that would strengthen federal environmental laws on dangerous chemicals, but at the price of rolling back a pioneering California law that tries to protect consumers from the most toxic materials. State leaders are scrambling to fend off the bill, which they say is written so broadly that it also could undermine California's clean water laws and its effort to combat global warming.

The California Environmental Protection Agency has "identified dozens of California laws and regulations that may be at risk of preemption" under the chemicals bill, Secretary Matt Rodriquez wrote in a letter to senators. He warned that it "could jeopardize California's ability to control greenhouse gases and thereby meet the state's targets under AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006."

(Mod: No word yet if this will in any way threaten the EENER Commission.)

What if Americans Only Had as Much Water as Families in Africa? (National Geographic - link) The average family in Africa gets by on only five gallons of water a day, according to this thought-provoking PSA video from, a project of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The average American family (directly) uses 552 gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Clearly, that is an inequality, and it may give U.S. consumers pause when it comes to wasting water. My colleague Jeff Yeager recently wrote about the 10 things he learned while living without running water at home for a spell (hint: hot water is very special).

Here in the Washington, D.C. region, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, are battling a water shortage thanks to a main problem, in the throes of the summer’s first heat wave in the area.

Although 552 gallons a day sounds like a big figure, it actually pales to our total water footprint, which includes the “embedded” water in the food we eat, the fuel and electricity we use, the clothes we wear, the products we use, and so on (see interactive). Water gets embedded in those things when it is needed to grow the crops we (or our livestock) consume, when it is needed to process industrial materials that go into our products, or when it is shot down fracking wells, to name a few.

In total, each American is responsible for roughly 2,000 gallons of water use each day. So for a family of four, that would be 8,000 gallons a day.

(Mod: It would take the daily water allotment of 150,000 African families to complete dust abatement at the Kensington. Ironically, much of that water will now be supplied by the Metropolitan Water District.)

OK, I'll stop now.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Did Elaine Aguilar Cancel A Newspaper Interview This Week Over A Tape Recorder?

The City Hall media blitz to sell the latest water rate increase to reluctant residents here did not get off to the greatest of starts this week. And, if the story I'm hearing is true, and I believe that it is, the apparent cause of the City Manager's confusion was the possible presence of a tape recorder.

Earlier this week it had become known to us that City Hall had scheduled a series of interviews about the water situation here in town, and with three news outlets. Those being the Pasadena Star News, the Beacon Media family of newspapers (which includes the Sierra Madre Weekly), and the Patch. The Mountain Views News was not on the list I saw, though perhaps that was because they are content to work from press releases alone.

I was keenly aware of these scheduled interviews because I'd planned to write about them. One of the advantages of being a blogger is that a lot of what gets discussed are the actual published news reports themselves. The Tattler is a traditional weblog by design and choice, and this is our meat and potatoes. Unfortunately none have yet to appear.

So apparently our friend and colleague, Terry Miller of the Beacon Media newspaper group, had scheduled a sit down with Elaine Aguilar. The topic was to be Sierra Madre's water crisis, and from the perspective of what Terry had been hearing about the situation from residents. Apparently Beacon Media's phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from Sierra Madre folks clearly panicked about the water crisis. Tellingly, many were also fearful about leaving their names.

Karin Schnaider and Bruce Inman were also scheduled to attend this meeting as well.

The story we're hearing goes on to state that Terry called Elaine Aguilar early on Wednesday morning (7/24/2013) to give her a heads up that he was leaving for their meeting soon, would be accompanied by some other news reporters, and that they'd also be bringing a tape recorder to record the conversation in full.

And again, this was shortly before the meeting was set to begin. Terry's team having already gathered at Beacon Media's Monrovia offices.

Despite earlier arrangements, Elaine then stated that she was leaving for her vacation shortly, would only have 5 minutes to give them, and then stated that Terry and his colleagues would not be permitted to bring any tape recorders to the meeting. Elaine then suggested that perhaps it would be much better if Terry scheduled a new meeting for 2 weeks later.

A reporter's tape recorder is a fairly standard piece of equipment. You might as well ask that pencils and pads be left at home, too. Along with the fedora with a press pass. The impression we need to take away here being that Terry and his people believe this is a very important story, are understandably concerned by what they have been hearing from residents here, and had prepared for a very substantive conversation with Elaine.

A tape recording would also be an irrefutable permanent record, and that could prove inconvenient to City Hall should their story need to be changed later on. Something that had happened during the previous water rate "process."

But whatever the reasons may be, Elaine balked. And at the last possible moment.

The vacation claim is confusing. This all came down on Wednesday, yet as you can see by clicking here, Elaine issued the latest version of her City Manger's report on July 25th, a full day and change after she was supposed to have left for her accrued time off.

Also, why would she have scheduled a meeting with Terry Miller, only to later tell him that she was heading out the door for a vacation?

Here is my take. I believe that Elaine hoped this would have been a light chat with the Sierra Madre Weekly, with her telling Terry what this water stuff is all about. The expectation being that he would write it all down and then dutifully repeat her thoughts verbatim in his paper.

What Terry's courtesy call tipped her off to was this was not going to be that kind of a meeting at all. Rather he was interested in getting her reaction to some very specific resident water concerns, and that he and those accompanying him would be expecting to hear some real answers.

I think City Hall is very fearful over possibly losing control of the message. Sierra Madre's water crisis is real, the possible consequences frankly dangerous, both politically and otherwise, and there are certain things that the city would prefer not be discussed.

I also believe that this loss of control is already happening. They are in serious trouble, and Elaine's erratic actions as described above shows that she clearly understands that.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The UUT Oversight Committee's Disturbing Conclusion

"Oh my goodness. MPT* just stated that the UUT review group can't audit invoices as the money is in the general fund, so it is a "rubber stamp" process. But he's glad we're doing it because it is a good exercise in transparency. Huh???" - a reader comment made Tuesday evening

I don't think it will come as any surprise to those people in town who are actually aware of what goes on around here that important news stories do get underreported. Or not reported upon at all. Our adjudicated paper of record, The Mountain Views News, which is supposed to be bringing the people of Sierra Madre the information they need to make informed decisions, somehow decided years ago to function as little more than a public relations vehicle for the folks downtown who cut their checks. Making this paper one of the cheapest sellouts of the public interest ever.

So that job has largely fallen upon this blog. And while we're glad to take this on, and with no checks whatsoever from City Hall mind you, it is quite a lot to cover. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that so small a town could have this much going on. All happening while a majority of the people here are content to just look the other way.

You really have to face it, not only do most people not care, paradoxically they don't even know what it is they don't care about. The affairs of City Hall having absolutely no relevance in their lives whatsoever. For many any realistic discussion of the politics and somewhat complex governmental affairs of this town is considered inappropriate and rude behavior. Mostly because they are incapable of understanding much of it, and being reminded of that makes them feel bad about themselves.

Anyway, enough social criticism. Here is what I really meant to talk about.

When the City Council moved to double our utility user taxes a few years back, one of the guarantees offered to the overly trusting residents of Sierra Madre was that every year five individuals chosen from amongst them would form up into a special committee and review just how these increased utility tax revenues had been spent. The idea being that this group of resolute citizens would serve as the guardians of the public interest in this matter, the people would be in charge, and they would expose any malfeasance in the use of these increased utility taxes.

Malfeasance in this particular case being the use of these increased utility tax revenues for anything but public safety. Which was the reason given for doubling our utility taxes in the first place. That was the deal the City made with the taxpayers, and it became law when the voters approved the raising of their utility taxes to some of the highest levels in the State of California.

All of which makes the conclusion to this year's version of the UUT Oversight Committee's report to the City Council (link) all the more disturbing. Here is what they had to say:

UUT revenues are General Fund revenues. A predominant portion of public safety department expenses are paid from the General Fund. The nature of this accounting means there is no direct path or accountability of the UUT revenues being spent on public safety. All the UUT revenue derived from Measure U is put into the same general account that funds public safety and, indeed funds all non-restricted fund activities of the city. Thus tracing the use of General Fund revenues to any specific purpose cannot be done. 

It sounds to me like the deal has been broken.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The High Density Developer @ 215 N. Baldwin Has a Colorful and Intriguing Past

Note the date change ...
City Hall is going to try this one again. The matter was under discussion at the last Planning Commission meeting back on July 18, but some unhappy downtown office worker screwed up the paperwork and the matter had to be punted to the next PC confab on August 1st.

So how exactly did this City's Development Services gang gum this one up? Since the matter involved an actual zone change to a more densely packed multi-family style of housing, and therefore not merely a CUP, they were supposed to notice a larger radius around this proposed project. You know, just in case anyone in the area didn't dig the vibe and would want to kvetch about it. And who wouldn't?

I guess that is why they put erasers on pencils. Oh, and make white-out for repairs to improperly noticed Development Services signs.

The Staff Report has a concise Executive Summery for this momentous little project, and it is a fine place to start. Of course, if you want to read the whole thing in its original setting, click here and have at it. But since I am undoubtedly executive material, I am going to go with this brief synopsis:

The applicants, Parker and Barbara Williams, are proposing a General Plan Amendment to change the land use designation of the property at 215 N. Baldwin Avenue from RM (Residential Medium Density) to RH (Residential High Density) to match the existing R-3 zone. The applicants are also proposing construction of 2 (two) 900-square-foot one-story multi-family dwelling units and a 530-square-foot garage. The proposed construction would be added to the existing 2,145-square-foot-residence and 740-square-foot garage. Pursuant to Sierra Madre Municipal Code Section 17.76.030, all R-3 developments require approval of a Conditional Use Permit.

As an aside, if you are the kind of local politics minded person I am, you will recall that this "existing residence," though quite empty in 2010, was the happy home to a number of Josh Moran for City Council campaign signs.

Anyway, as kind fate would decree, it just so happens that a member of the legendary Tattler Research Team is familiar with some of the past affairs of Parker Williams, and was able to supply us with three rather fascinating documents. The first article comes to us from the Pasadena Star News (link), and it is dated June 16, 2007. Here is what this piece reveals for us:

Housing project to proceed: 2 developers pleaded guilty to bribe offer 

ALHAMBRA - The city plans to move ahead with a senior housing complex despite the fact two of its developers pleaded guilty to trying to bribe a councilman for his support on the project.

City officials say the proposed building stands on its own merits, and that the backgrounds of the developers, former Mayor John Parker Williams and his partner Frank Liu, are irrelevant.

The two pleaded guilty June 8 to attempting to bribe then-Councilman Dan Arguello with an envelope stuffed with $25,000 in cash to support the project. The Planning Commission voted 7-3 in May to approve the complex as attorneys were preparing to go to trial.

"The Planning Commission had specific instructions that the status of Parker Williams was not to be a factor," said Mayor Gary Yamauchi. "We're allowing the project because we felt the project was good for the city."

The 51-unit housing development is slated for the corner of Woodward Avenue and Monterey Road. Developers typically submit building plans to the city six to nine months after Planning Commission approval, said Director of Development Services Mike Martin. From there, it takes another three to four months for construction to begin.

Some in the community have expressed reservations about proceeding with a project that will possibly enrich convicted felons.

"How's the city going to look when a former councilman gets approval on a project while being investigated, and then he pleads guilty?" said Efren Moreno, a former councilman and Arguello ally. "Shame on Alhambra."

Council watcher and resident Mike Lawrence said he found it disturbing that the project went through with eight variances despite "the cloud that was hanging over it."

"The city needs to be much more open and transparent with all the development that goes on," he said. "This one was exposed but one wonders how many are coming to light."

Williams was arrested in September 2004 on charges that he offered a bribe to Arguello outside Charlie's Trio on Main Street. Arguello had contacted the District Attorney's Office and cooperated in a sting operation. Liu, believed by authorities to be the source of the money, was arrested the following March.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office released a couple of interesting press releases about this matter, and I thought we should post each in its entirety. The first is dated March 9, 2005 (link), and it reads this way:

Business Partner of Former Alhambra Council Member Charged in Bribery Case 

The business partner of a former Alhambra council member was arrested today on charges he was part of a conspiracy to bribe the city’s vice mayor in connection with a proposed senior housing construction project in the West San Gabriel Valley city, the District Attorney’s office announced.

Frank Liu, 71, (dob 10-2-1933), was arrested at his business in Los Angeles by investigators with the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation. Liu is a business partner with John Parker Williams, 67 (dob 7-20-1937), who was arrested in September following a month-long undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigation.

Liu and Parker, who is also a former Alhambra school board member, are charged in case No. BA 270669 with one count each of conspiracy and one count each of bribery. If convicted, they could be sentenced to a maximum of four years each in state prison.

Alhambra Vice Mayor Daniel Arguello, alleged victim in the felony criminal complaint, cooperated with District Attorney’s investigators during the probe.

When investigators arrested Parker, they recovered $25,000 in cash that allegedly was to be used for a favorable council vote on the proposed project. The money was recovered following an Aug. 18 meeting between Parker and the alleged victim at an Alhambra restaurant.

Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colannino of the Public Integrity Division filed an amended complaint and will prosecute the case.

Liu is being held on $25,000 bail. And arraignment date has not been set.

Parker returns to court March 22 in Division 38, Foltz Criminal Justice Center, to set a date for the preliminary hearing.

The other love letter from the District Attorney's office to Parker Williams is dated June 8, 2007 (link). Here's the news it shared with us all back then:

Former Alhambra Council Member, Business Partner Plead Guilty in Bribery Case

A former Alhambra councilman and his business partner both pleaded guilty today to one felony count of trying to bribe a councilman three years ago in exchange for his support on a senior housing project, the District Attorney’s office announced.

John Parker Williams, the 69-year-old former councilman, and his business partner Frank Liu, 73, both pleaded guilty to Alhambra Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench, said Deputy District Attorney Sandi Roth with the Public Integrity Division. 

Judge Lench sentenced Williams to three years state prison, suspended, and placed him on three formal probation and ordered him to serve one year in the county jail. He also was fined $1,000. Williams was ordered to surrender for his jail sentence on July 9, Roth said.

Liu also was sentenced to three years state prison, suspended, and placed on three years formal probation. He was fined $10,000.

On Aug. 18, 2004, Williams met Alhambra’s Vice Mayor Daniel Arguello at a Main Street restaurant and asked for his help in getting $600,000 in city money for a senior housing project that Williams and Liu wanted to build. He also asked Arguello to help waive about $80,000 in permit fees for the proposed project. Williams then handed $25,000 in cash in a manila envelope to Arguello, who was cooperating with the D.A.’s Bureau of Investigation.

Small world, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Big Surprise: The City Council Is Going To Raise Water Rates Again

"Why are we asking the higher rates to pay for other people to conserve? How hard is it to plant drought tolerant plants?" - a reader

I don't know what the Guinness Book of World Records can tell us about this, but I would think that a City that raises its water rates three times within a 5 year period would stand a good chance of getting a listing there. I can't imagine there can be too many others. Besides us, of course. We apparently are just a water rate raising machine. And wouldn't you know it, City Hall is at it again.

The way this is all being rolled out is just so tired and familiar. Perhaps you remember the last time the City raised our water rates. They concocted this rather specious story about how we needed to raise water rates so that we would qualify for Federal matching funds needed to repair our badly decayed water infrastructure. Millions of dollars would flow our way if only we were willing to pay more. They even sent poor Bruce Inman out onto the streets with a length of rusty pipe to better reinforce the message.

Of course, not much later that same year it was discovered by residents that there was actually a much different reason for the water rate increase. That being water bond covenants. The City of Sierra Madre, hard pressed to meet its obligations to the holders of our water bonds (which besides paying them regularly meant maintaining adequate levels of cash reserves in relation to the size of the debt itself), had seen its ratings plummet. Making any future refinancing of that $19 million in bond debt (interest factored in) too expensive to even contemplate. And that the true reason for raising water rates had precious little to do with Bruce's rusty pipes, and everything to do with water bond debt.

That story was broken on this blog, and shortly after then Mayor Joe Mosca finally began to talk about our out-sized water bond debt as a reason for the rate hike. The message changed, but the damage was done. City Hall's credibility was badly damaged, and resident opposition to a water rate increase grew like Topsy.

Tellingly, we have now had our water rates increased twice since then, and the pipes are still bursting and water continues to spill into the streets. Sadly, our Standard and Poore's water bond ratings continue to be far less than satisfactory as well. And should we attempt to refinance our bond debt, those ratings would prevent us from getting a better rate of interest. The result being the water department is smothering in debt, and there is precious little that can be done about it.

The reason why our infrastructure is so old and decrepit is that there has been little money available to do the necessary maintenance. Because the water department's debt load is as heavy as it is just under $1 million in precious revenue has to be sent off to banks and debt holders yearly in order to stay out of receivership. This is money that would have otherwise gone to repairing Bruce's rusty pipes and the many other things badly needing our attention.

Drive down any given Sierra Madre street and you can see the results of these years of neglect. Precious water gushing from broken pipes and crews feverishly working to do emergency repairs can be seen almost daily. There are literally hundreds of pipes in this town that could go at any time, and many often do. Our water department has been run into the ground, and what once was this City's cash cow is today on life support.

All of which brings us to last night's City Council meeting. For the third time in five years the City Council will try and raise water rates here in town. A consultant has been brought in, of course, and because of that there is a new story being developed to tell the residents. Consultants, as you must be aware, are not hired just to help with the nuts and bolts. They are also brought in to help deal with the sometimes troublesome people who will be asked to take a hit to their pocketbooks. In this case Sierra Madre's water ratepayers.

And what appeared to be rolled out last night had a certain social equity feel to it. The City needs to practice fairness when billing their customers. Fairness must abound and, no matter what your lot size or needs, that must be taken into account when the decisions are made as to how much each household must pay. A community of shared responsibility, with all paying more for the privilege. All backed up by new state laws that, according to the consultant, will help us achieve a newer and better tomorrow.

There certainly is a lot of caring here.

A possible allotment of 55 gallons per day per person was discussed as a possibility. Which would mean that each household would be required to register their personal business with the City in exchange for a billable daily allotment. Something that made one commenter last night wonder what you would need to do if the in-laws were to come to town for a couple of weeks. Would you have to go to City Hall and register them so they'd be able to take baths? They'd be even less pleasant to have around if they didn't.

Look, I am not particularly eager to go through the Prop 218 rigmarole again. It is expensive, time consuming and flat out hard work. And, as we saw the last time, no matter how large the outpouring of opposition to a water rate increase may be (and last time it was huge), there is nothing City Hall won't do to stop it. All they want is our money, and as much of it as they can get as possible.

So here is my unsolicited advice to the City Council. Please cut the crap. People are on to what you are trying to do, and this consultant concocted social equity scheme is about as transparently phony as any of the previous PR strategies. People don't want "fairness," they just want good service, a properly functioning water company, and rates that don't get raised over and over again.

You don't need a consultant to tell the truth. Veracity is free. The message shouldn't be kumbaya, it should be about the terrible shape the Sierra Madre Water Enterprise is in. And that needs to be backed up with the reasons why it is in the disastrous financial shape it is. The crushing bond debt, the years of neglect, previous irresponsible City Councils, and the reasons for the inability of the department to deliver water when the weather turns dry.

This isn't about flower power, it is about the chickens coming home to roost. Level with the people. They can handle it.

As Karin Schnaider explained last night, our Water Department has about 4 years left before it goes out of business. Public relations campaigns and consultant marketing schemes are not going to save it. Water Wise Owl will not be enough.

This has to be done. Otherwise people will hit the Prop 218 trail again, and I will join them. Remember, it isn't the crime that gets you, it is the cover up. The City needs to level with the people whose water rates they want to raise.

To do otherwise would be just too offensive for many to deal with.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This Evening's City Council Meeting Has A Tattler Preview. Don't They All?

The meeting man
"It will take about 5 million of Josh's lattes to bail out the water department." - A reader comment 

As Sierra Madre endures some of the most difficult times in its storied history, the City Council will now take a month leave after this evening's confab and not re-emerge again until sometime in September. Which makes perfect sense to me. After all, they have tried a lot of different strategies to get us through our water, financial and other crises. Perhaps their complete absence for six or so weeks will do the trick. One thing is for certain, it will be a lot easier on the ears.

There will be some legal issues discussed in private by the City Council, City Attorney and a few salaried employees. These really haven't changed much from the last few times I've written about them, so I am going to gloss over things a little. The City of Sierra Madre is suing somebody, but we do not know who yet. Or at least they are slowly getting to that point. There is also another law suit against the City, most likely the work of the SMPOA. Plus one of City Hall's several labor organizations seems to have a bee in their boxers about something. I suspect this has to do with retirement funding issues. It will be a true "blood out of a stone" moment for them I'll bet.

Once these three items grind to an inevitable halt the City Council will emerge from their smoke-free back room to face the ravening hordes. Which is usually me, a couple of other equally restless souls, a few persons with specific business to conduct with the City Council, and those who toil daily for us downtown. City employees generally outnumber the public about 2 to 1 at these affairs, but then they have to be there. You don't.

From there we get to some even more real stuff.

a) ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13- 56 OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS: This is the part of the meeting where the consequences of previous decisions to spend money become painfully apparent. This week's number is one of the biggest ever. Once the smoke clears a total of $1,877,560.86 in specie and checks will leave the building and head elsewhere. Why so immense a figure you ask? Tonight Sierra Madre pays its J.P.I.A. insurance payment, which totals a whopping $1,049,156. This includes "All Risk Property Insurance," "Pollution Liability Insurance," plus our annual contribution to some state insurance pool. All quite necessary since no for profit private insurance company in its right mind would ever insure small cities such as ours. It's shark infested waters out there. Another thing that became apparent to me as I studied these fascinating figures is that we the people shelled out almost $800,000 in staff salary this month. You'd think that in exchange for such generosity somebody downtown would adequately explain why the water department is carrying $19 million (with interest) in bond debt.

b) QUARTERLY FINANCIAL STATEMENTS, FOURTH QUARTER AS OF JUNE 20, 2013 (UNAUDITED): Our Administrative Services Director will take a few moments to explain the City's current finances. My guess is that after going through a lot of numbers, funds, strategies and tax resources, Karin Schnaider will conclude that while things are OK for now, the City's financial future is cloudy and gray. In this way City Hall is really no different than the rest of us. Except that when you or I get into money trouble we can't run around town demanding that people fork over an ever increasing amount of their income or face arrest.

c) APPROVAL OF FINAL PARCEL MAP No. 09-02 (PM71125), 2219-2225 SANTA ANITA AVENUE: Property seems to be getting smaller all the time, while the buildings being put on them get bigger, and with more apartments and people living in them. This is called densification, and some interested people think that this is a good thing. Most of whom don't live here. However, in this case the division of these properties will not result in any of the stacking and packing we are now seeing elsewhere. Or so they say.

d) ORDINANCE No. 1342 AMENDING CHAPTER 13.24 TO CHANGE THE BASE PERIOD FOR CALCULATION OF CUSTOMER WATER CONSERVATION AND TO REMOVE THE FLOW RESTRICTOR PENALTY: While development projects such as The Kensington and Stone Crater seem to have received a carte blanche right to consume as much of our drinking water as they like (and for things such as dust abatement no less), you and I are looking at stiff fines for not cutting our usage back by as much as 20%. Go figure.

e) ELECTRICITY USAGE AND COST TRENDS: The City Council recently requested a report on how much is being spent on electricity by the city, and now they have it. The good news is that some City departments have cut down their usage over the last few months. This has helped hold any overall increase down to a bare minimum. The bad news is Third World Edison is now raising some of our rates, and in the instance of our beleaguered water department by as much as 22%. So much for our answering their call for energy conservation.

f) REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS FOR 2014-2021 HOUSING ELEMENT UPDATE: This is one of those instances where Sacramento forces us to hire a consultant to do reports that everyone despises and nobody would ever willingly read. All so that the State of California can make believe that cities such as Sierra Madre listen to them. In this instance the Housing Commissars are demanding that we plan for 55 units of new RHNA housing, much of which is to be built for poor folks. Has anyone built you a house lately? And let you live in it at a cost far lower than what everyone else in town is paying? I didn't think so. This wretched mess will cost the taxpayers here $50,000. And what will they receive in exchange? A worse off city. But look, that's what you get for electing the likes of Chris Holden and Judy Chu.

g) SECOND READING AND ADOPTION OF ORDINANCE No. 1341 CREATING THE ENERGY , ENVIRONMENT, AND NATURAL RESOURCES (EENR) COMMISSION AND APPROVAL OF RESOLUTION No. 13-55 REGARDING THE ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMISSION (EENR): Maybe this time the City Council will finally figure out what these poor souls will be doing with their evenings downtown. Have you ever heard of a commission being formed before anyone knew what they are supposed to do? Usually the reason for forming such a thing is to take care of an obvious need. Not so much in this case. Of course, this could be because nobody in authority wants to discuss the actual purpose of the EENER. Which in my opinion is to act as propagandists and enforcers for such draconian and unfunded Sacramento hyper-development mandates such as SB 375. But this hardly matters, I guess. There are probably less than 50 people in town who actually understand what that means. It's enough to make you want to throw up.

2. PUBLIC HEARING – ORDINANCE No. 1343 – ADDING CHAPTER 17.18 TO TITLE 17 OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE TO INCORPORATE THE CIVIC ZONE (CIV), AND REVISE ZONING MAP TO CHANGE THE ZONING FOR 440 W. SIERRA MADRE BOULEVARD (CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY) AND 449 MARIPOSA AVENUE PROPERTIES FROM “R-P” AND “R-3” TO “CIV” ZONE: A "Civ Zone," in case you don't already know, is property owned by the City and, to borrow from the Staff Report, used to "support civic operations, and cultural and educational facilities." In this particular case we are talking about a piece of property out in back of the Library. This is actually a good thing. Hopefully the concept of the Civ Zone will soon be enlarged to include 1 Carter and the site where they plan to build the Kensington someday.

3. DISCUSSION – UUT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE FINAL REPORT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2011-2012: "Dogs and ponies, gather 'round. The oversight boys have come to town. They've read the numbers, ciphered them well, and now will tell us all is swell." - Burma Shave.

4. DISCUSSION – ATHENS SERVICES CONTRACT AMENDMENT PROPOSAL: I suspect that this one will sound a bit gruff to some, but it is actually rather benign. What Athens is asking is for their deal with Sierra Madre to be changed to a "Rolling Term" contract. At this moment it is a fixed deal for the industry standard 15 years. And why would they wish to do such a thing you may ask? It makes it easier for them to borrow money. Under the iron pinkie of the CPCFA (for the non-acronymic, the California Pollution Control Finance Authority), trash haulers such as Athens are forced to get their loan approvals via Sacramento. And given various bizarre state mandates they need a lot of dough to buy the required highly expensive equipment. But trash haulers still need a letter from a private bank to play. What a "rolling term contract" does is extend out a trash hauler's deal with a city, but also makes it something done on a year to year basis. This means we get to review their work performance every year, but they can go to the banks and say they have contracts that extend out beyond 15 years. There is no rate increase being asked for here. Sorry to not be snarky, but a lot of businesses are getting screwed in California, just as we are. Imagine being a trash guy in a state run by characters so self-involved and delusional that they think they're saving the world from an environmental Armageddon.

5. DISCUSSION – PROPOSED WATER AND SEWER RATE STRUCTURES: The City is getting ready to raise water and sewer rates again. This item would be a part of that "process." It is structured in such a way that the City Council will not be forced to explain things like who is responsible for $19 million dollars in bond debt (interest included), or the real reasons why water pipes are exploding all over town. However, I can tell you this. As the commenter said, it will take about 5 million of Josh's lattes to pay off the Water Enterprise's bond debts. They expect you to drink deep.

6. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ORDINANCE No. 1344: LOW IMPACT DEVELOPMENT (LID) PLAN AND UPDATE TO GREEN STREETS POLICY: Streets by nature are not green. What is now under them was at one time green, but after they laid down about 10 inches of petroleum based paving materials these streets then became something else. "Green streets" is an obvious oxymoron, but then so many things are these days. That said, this one deals with topics such as storm water runoff and impervious paved surface areas. Impervious meaning rain water just runs down storm drains and straight into the Pacific Ocean. Which is a bad thing. As annoying as all of this sounds, it does beat some of the cash intensive plans the County has tried to snooker us into lately. By the way, the Staff Report for this lulu runs 233 pages. If you lead a bad life and go to the hot place when you die, this will be your required reading for all eternity.

7. DISCUSSION – PARKING ENFORCEMENT CONTRACT: This has to do with the possibility of replacing the risible Inter-Con with part time police cadets. Inter-Con, in case you were privileged not to know, is a kind of security guard outfit, except that they ride around town in little funny vehicles pounding out parking tickets. Kind of like malevolent blue Shriners. All done in a for-profit kind of way, with the City getting a handsome cut of the action. Which, I suspect, was a major factor in Inter-Con's hiring. However, there are some in town who don't think residents here should be exploited in this way. Thus the cadets. I personally think both ideas are bad, and the SMPD should be required to go back to writing parking tickets instead. Why should we be paying someone else to do their job for them? It's not like we're made of money.

8. DISCUSSION – STATUS UPDATE: MARKET DEMAND STUDY AND CITY MARKETING PLAN: This will likely be about 15 minutes of City Council happy talk designed to make Mayor Walsh feel good about herself. And she will need the ego boost as this program of hers is probably one of the bigger failures in recent Sierra Madre history. $30,000 down the tubes, and still City Hall has yet to explain how they actually paid for this nonsense. Here are my two questions: Can anyone name one instance where Buxton's Market Demand Study actually paid off for a real business here in town? And how exactly was the $30,000 paid? That is, if it has been paid. This was originally supposed to come out of our now confiscated CRA funds. Did the state actually allow that to happen? I personally have some doubts.

9. DISCUSSION – STRATEGIC PLAN UPDATE FROM APRIL 4, 2013: This sort of item is always stuck at the end of the agenda where it is assured of being pushed off to a future meeting. It really should be.

Monday, July 22, 2013

1 Carter: Suddenly the Stakes Are Much Higher

The rather lush "Stonegate" waterworks 
I know we're supposed to be calling 1 Carter by the name of Stonegate. However, I'm just not feeling it. Stonegate has that certain kind of inauthentic ersatz developer marketing patina to it, so instead I am going to stick with the local tradition.

Of course, they can call their patch of ongoing woe whatever they want, but its been 1 Carter for far longer than the current developer has been hanging around here. And it will likely be called that long after they've packed up their wobbly story poles and "for sale" signage and left. Which, if things go the way they are supposed to, shouldn't be too far in the future.

As I am certain you will recall, the 1 Carter developer currently taking a stab at building something there was recently shot down by the Planning Commission. CETT Investment Corporation, from Rosemead of all places, had attempted to build 3 rather immense McMansions on the site, complete with 5 bedrooms and, more tellingly, 5.5 bathrooms. Such uni-block Hummer Houses being not only out of character with most of our community, but also in direct conflict with such Sierra Madre ordinances as the Hillside Management Zone.

Plus there is also the matter of water and our lack of it. In a time when residents run the risk of incurring significant fines for usage deemed excessive by City Hall, approving the building of such water hogs here would have been quite difficult to justify. A double standard, as it were.

But the CETT Investment Corporation was not about to let our Planning Commission get in the way of their cashing in on Sierra Madre's birthright. According to the July 3rd City Manager Report, they have now decided to take their case before the City Council itself. Here is how Elaine Aguilar reports it:

Appeals Filed On Stonegate Projects: The applicant (CETT) for the three Stonegate projects, denied by the Planning Commission last month, has timely filed appeal applications early this week. The earliest that the appeal hearings can be scheduled for the City Council will be September (August is dark), depending on the schedule of items that are already planned for those meetings. The applicant bases their appeals "on grounds that the denial is contrary to the goals of the Stonegate Design Guidelines, the goals of the Sierra Madre Hillside Management Zone and the intent of the Settlement Agreement," and that "the Planning Commission's decision was not supported by substantial evidence."

All pretty much standard boilerplate for a developer that recently discovered you cannot just waltz into Sierra Madre and build whatever is going to make you the most money. This is a community of residents who have some pretty well-defined opinions about how they want things to look. And the generic cookie cutter McMansionized row-housing CETT is trying to jam into 1 Carter just won't make it here.

Which is where things have stood up until now. But according to this weekend's Mountain Views News, apparently the situation is far worse than even we had thought. And to be honest with you I am not certain that Susan Henderson didn't reveal more than was intended by whomever it was she's been talking with. Most likely the developer. Here is the interesting part of what she had to say:

CETT Investment Corporation owns 23 of the 28 lots in the development. Five are owned by individuals. To date, the most progress that has been made are the completion of access roads, utilities and for the three (houses) before the council, some basic layout ...

Certainly THAT is some news, and it is obvious the stakes have now been raised. CETT Investment might have the three original projects going before the City Council on appeal, but there are potentially 20 additional 5.5 bathroom water hogs in the pipeline as well? Oh my.

Obviously if the City Council overrules the Planning Commission on these original three Hummer Houses, there will be little that can be done to prevent the rest from getting built as well. The proverbial Pandora's Box would have then been thrown wide open.

You might also want to look at it this way. In a week when the City Council is about to finally confirm stiff financial penalties for an overly liberal use of water by some residents, should they then decide to overrule the Planning Commission and approve so much unsustainable development here in town, it would truly be an incredible act of hypocrisy on their part.

It would also confirm the widely held suspicion that when it comes to the requirements and priorities of developers, water conservation is actually a second class issue.

The Unicorn Extortionist gets an additional 2 years in prison 

Regular readers of The Tattler are familiar with the Unicorn Extortionist. During the last City Council election cycle here in town certain local individuals decided to enlist the on-line support of this unstable individual in order to somehow curtail our blog's coverage of that election. An absurd attempt at intimidation that failed miserably. If you are not up to date with this story, you can catch up on all of the excitement by clicking here.

Last week the Unicorn Extortionist, who I am certain prefers to be known as Cyrus A. Sullivan, was sentenced to an additional two years in jail. This after a plea bargain he'd hoped would get him sprung from the pen. The website (link) has some interesting coverage of Cy's sentencing, and I thought I should repost some of it here. It is quite a story.

Portland man who ran controversial website sentenced to two years for threats against womanSitting in court, Cyrus A. Sullivan muttered under his breath, warned a federal judge that he would not forgive his lack of "good judgment," and flipped off the woman whom he had been convicted of threatening. 

Then, as U.S. Marshals came to lead the 30-year-old Portland man off to jail, he angrily swatted a cup of water across the table before being handcuffed and warned that he could be tased.

Sullivan, his attorney had told the judge just a few minutes prior, "has a way of expressing himself that gets him in trouble."

It also has landed him behind bars. U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez sentenced Sullivan to two years in prison for threatening a woman in a running dispute over his controversial website. The site allows people to post names of people who allegedly have a sexually transmitted disease, and the woman's name had been falsely added by an ex-boyfriend who had previously been convicted of telephonically harassing her.

Hernandez also ordered three years of supervised release after Sullivan completes his prison term. As part of that release, Hernandez said Sullivan may not use computers or similar devices without the written approval of his probation officer in hopes of ensuring that Sullivan doesn't revive the site, which has gained national notoriety, and was featured on CNN.

"I am taking it away," Hernandez said, of the website. Sullivan, however, maintained that "I will run it till the day I die."

The sentencing comes almost two years after the victim learned that her name had been added to the site in September 2011. She sought to have Sullivan remove it, but he did not for several months, according to his court-appointed attorney, Per Olson. Sullivan's policy was to remove postings only if people submitted medical records to him showing they did not have a sexually transmitted disease or if they paid him fees of up to $1,000, Olson wrote in court filings.

Sullivan's refusal to take down her name prompted the victim to fight back, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Hoar said.

She also took to the Internet in the escalating conflict, said Sullivan's attorney. The victim anonymously posted Sullivan's personal information including mental health diagnoses, which are believed to have been taken from court documents, he said.

She also anonymously put up taunting videos on YouTube that targeted Sullivan and anonymously sent him an email that included profanity, predictions that he would be abused by convicts in prison and a threat that "we can find you. We can find your family too."

The victim also contacted the state's consumer protection division, which had received numerous complaints about the website, for help in dealing with Sullivan.

But last June, Sullivan sent a series of threatening emails to the victim, Hoar said, including some on June 4 that triggered an arrest by police a few days later.

In one e-mail sent that day, Sullivan said "You just don't learn your lessons do you? Now I have no choice but to come to your house armed and put an end to you once and for all. The only way you can stop this is by removing your stalker site and paying me $10,000. You don't have a choice."

He also left a message on the consumer protection investigator's voicemail the next morning saying that he had "put in motions that will kill" the victim, whom he characterized as a "stalker," within 24 hours. He also warned him not to include the police or he too would be targeted.

It is still hard to believe that there are people here in town who actually got involved with this dangerous individual because they thought it would help them achieve certain political goals.

Yet they did.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Interesting Mid-Week Tax Topic

From Fox and Hounds: "A just released survey by Probolsky Research shows that most California voters now oppose new or increased local taxes. A majority, 55.5%, would vote 'no' on a local measure that would increase taxes in order to maintain service levels, while on 34.8% would vote 'yes'..."

Note to City Hall: Good luck with that UUT do-over vote you're working on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

City Manager: "A Great Deal Of Water"

Kind of an interesting juxtaposition of statements in the current City Manager Report. This one is dated July 11, and can be found on the City of Sierra Madre website:

"Water Conservation: Met this week with the SGVMWD for continued discussion on the water conservation campaign. The next projects we will be working on include: the H2O Hero Award Program; as well as the landscaping project at City Hall. The District is very interested in helping the City turn the landscaping project into a teaching opportunity. In late summer, the District will be producing a DYI Water Audit for the City."

And then we move on to this:

"Kensington Permit Sought: The developer's civil engineer has completed the project's grading plan and is requesting a grading permit of staff. At this time staff is deferring issuance of that permit pending completion of retaining wall plan review and issuance of the building permit under which the retaining walls will be built. There remain a number of conditions of approval on the project that must be met before the grading permit is issued ... As a reminder, once the grading operations begin, there will not only be significant truck traffic on Sierra Madre Blvd., but there will be a great deal of water utilized on the site to meet AQMD dust control standards."

I am not sure that you can actually make this stuff up. Obviously somebody isn't going to get an H2O Hero Award.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Tattler Takes A Couple Days Off

I know. You've heard it before, but I am shutting the blog down for the week. I try and do this once a year, usually with little success. Then something happens and I end up posting anyway. Summer vacations only rarely go as planned here.

But this year I have quite a honey-do list that I am honor bound to complete, and some of those items involve actual physical labor. I am as stunned by this as you are. Personally, I am not certain I even understand the meaning of the term. Though it is never too late to learn. Or so I have heard.

The Tattler will be back on-line with a catch up article on Monday, July 22nd, and a City Council meeting preview is scheduled for July 23rd. The last such meeting until September. Feel the water crisis.

After that it's business as usual. It is going to have to be as the gravitational tug of the next City Council election will begin to be felt. And that is why this blog still exists. We need to save this city from the chronic institutional incompetence that is now dragging it down. There is a lot of work to do.

See you next week.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Carter Avenue Very Special Tour Bus

Carter Avenue fun cruise
I received an e-mail from an inquisitive resident up the hill a little from me about an odd instance on Carter Avenue a couple of evenings ago. I figured I had better share it here. We try not to hold back on this kind of information.

An open top, double deck, sightseeing tour bus, complete with announcer on a PA, was making its way around Carter Avenue this evening. Called the police to find out how they got a permit to do that. Dispatcher Wood said they didn't need a permit. I said they were conducting business in the city and they did. After going back and forth with her and several calls she finally said it was an architectural firm from Pasadena that was touring architects.

Now I can understand why Sierra Madre would be a destination point for happy tourists. But a Star Line double decker bus filled with architects? That is enough to make you wonder.

And here are several other questions that I would ask if I knew anyone had the answers. Well, OK, I'd ask them anyway. Why would SMPD Dispatcher Wood not only know this event was going on, and without a permit mind you, but also that it was a tour bus filled with architects from Pasadena? Obviously somebody with some real juice in this town had previously informed the Police Department, probably so this double decker tour bus wasn't pulled over and its passengers put in cuffs and forced to sit on the curb for a while. Which is another way out-of-towners sometimes get to see our town.

Here is the applicable ordinance on the permit thing:

5.08.220 - Services and businesses not otherwise specifiedFor every person engaged in any professional or semi-professional occupation, trade or craft, and for every person primarily engaged in selling, performing, or furnishing services other than commodities, including trades or crafts, and all other persons engaged in business, unless in this chapter expressly provided, the annual license tax shall be set by city council resolution. This shall include the business of rental, lease, or use, of a nonowner occupied building, office, suite or structure on the same site or at a different location.

So who in City Hall pulled the strings necessary for this to happen? And why a bunch of architects want to take a bus tour of Sierra Madre?

More: As always the readers know best. Somebody just posted this link to the bus tour. $45 and it started at The Buc. (Mod: This link is no longer up on the Pasadena Now site. Odd, that.)

While previous Get on the Bus events toured Pasadena, Glendale, and San Marino, this year’s extravaganza will explore the architectural gems of Sierra Madre, including private residences, churches, and more.

The launching point is Buccaneer in Sierra Madre, an older sixties bar that took on a new identity when a customer painted pirates inside. Tourees will enjoy free cocktails before embarking on the educational and exhilarating adventure.

And here I thought it was a younger sixties bar.

More interesting Carter information from the same person

I received an additional e-mail from the same person. And it does share the widely held belief in this town that City Hall has an odd tendency to tell tall tales, even when the reasons for doing so are obviously unnecessary.

Did you ever hear about the street lights above Carter? They have been out for almost 2 years. Reason from the city (LIE) is they have to order parts and are having trouble getting them. This was stated in a letter from the city.

Truth: Someone was redoing a driveway apron and snagged the wire/conduit. It seems that when these were installed in the 40's they only used one hot wire buried about 2 to 3 inches below the street surface behind the curb.  So if you pulled out the curb you only have a couple of inches to go to hit it. The common or ground leg was in fact the ground or steel pipe that housed the wire. No, no, no! Can't do that in this day and age with all those nasty codes and regulations. So why the lie? Guess that's how to handle everything. Now the only way to fix them is to dig up the streets and install new conduit. I say fix the break. Hell it worked fine for 70 years.

I can't for the life of me figure how this little city can piss away soooooooo much money.

Nick Conway skates, at least for now

This from the Pasadena Star News today (link):

A judge on Friday tossed out of court the Los Angeles County District Attorney's case against former San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Nick Conway, declaring him innocent -- as Conway and his attorney had maintained all along. The District Attorney had alleged Conway obtained contracts that benefitted him financially.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norm Shapiro ruled Conway did nothing wrong and dismissed all four felony conflict-of-interest charges leveled against the former head of the 31-member planning agency. "The court feels there is no crime here, period," said the judge.

Deputy District Attorney Dana Aratani declined to say if he would appeal the ruling. "We are going to be considering our options," he said Friday afternoon.

A relieved Conway, 61, of Pasadena, left the court smiling but declined to comment by order of his attorney, Kenneth White. White is a former U.S. Attorney who once prosecuted government officials for fraud. Conway also received help from a second attorney, former state Attorney General and Pasadena resident John Van de Kamp, who appeared in court on his behalf Friday.

The word I have received is that the District Attorney's office believes this particular judge made an especially clueless decision, and that an appeal to a higher (and hopefully more legally versed) court is a distinct possibility.

Which would mean that this one has only just begun.