Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tony Brandenburg: Anarchy At The PUSD (Part I)

Shhhhh. It's a Secret ...
At the April 24 PUSD Board of Education meeting Mary and I petitioned for help with a picket and protest on Facebook. This is not foreign for us, we have done this from time to time. There are certain advantages, and disadvantages to doing this. The advantages are, naturally, that you get the word out to a large group of people.

The disadvantages, naturally,  are that the people live just about everywhere in the world. Well, except for Antarctica. This makes attending a protest impossible for our Polish and Czech friends. A second disadvantage is that it is hard to gauge who will actually attend. People tend to opt out when they believe there is already enough support. Others object to holding up signs. They said it blemishes their image and their Gypsy Chic.

There was a pretty bad accident on the 210 Freeway. Apparently a truck tire blowout on a semi caused a little havoc and sent another track smashing through the barrier and smashing up a Gold Line electricity facilitator. Don't you love how I create names for thingamabobs that I lack the technical and semantic knowledge to correctly refer to?

So we held a picket out on Del Mar and Hudson, and, not surprisingly, found many people driving by that were supporters. We were supported by friends, family, Ron Thomas, musicians, and a local Anonymous group who were streaming the event live. We then went into the board room for public comment.

All Praise Goes to the UTP and PUSD
Substitute teachers in Pasadena got a little surprise compliments of the United Teachers of Pasadena and the Pasadena Unified School District. Well, it shouldn't have been that big a surprise, really. Substitute teachers are not union members, so the union does not look out for their well being.

I recall being a substitute. I did the job of a teacher - I was hired on a 29 day on 1 day off on my third day; the following year I was hired as a long term sub by PUSD, and then hired as an Emergency Credentialed temp. I left after that because I was offered a full time position elsewhere. After the 100th day my already meager wages were garnished by STRS which, technically, I had to pay into with no hope of a return - unless I entered the field permanently.

By the time I left PUSD I had already figured out that their union didn't care about me at all. What mattered was my eligibility as a union paying member. They didn't do anything to help me at all as a struggling beginning teacher. I went to a smaller district.

Anyway. My point is substitute teachers are not union members. The union does not benefit from their dues, so they do not look out for them. When the UTP and PUSD entered an agreement earlier this year, it raised the salaries of the union members.

As for the substitute teachers, who are a necessary part of any school district, the exact opposite occurred. They were granted a pay reduction. This  generous little, uh, reward, was made possible by the UTP demands for more and the PUSD reality that its shrinking funds have to come from somewhere.

The little wage war was complicated further by the fact that Yolanda Mendoza, PUSD Chief of Human Resources, notified the substitutes of the $20 reduction by mail before the BOE had even voted on it! As reported in the Pasadena Star News (click here) Mendoza  … sent a letter to the district’s substitute teachers explaining their daily pay rate would be cut from $140 to $120 effective Aug. 12. The board did not publicly vote on the pay decrease until Aug. 27, according to PUSD records.

Resisting injustice is the duty of every citizen
Oopsie Daisy. For those of you paying attention, Ms. Mendoza appointed buffoon Steve Miller to investigate the Brandenburgs' claims against PUSD and "What Me Worry?" former Board member Ed Honowitz. Miller has, of course, left PUSD, thus avoiding an investigation and complaint by the Brandenburgs, and Ms. Mendoza has continued an interesting PUSD pattern of internal self-evaluations, internal investigations, and the investigations of superiors by subordinates.

Does anyone wonder why PUSD is never found at fault? Does anyone ever wonder why PUSD keep getting awards that no one can explain? Does anyone ever wonder exactly what these gallant feats of educational wonder actually are?

Not me.

Codes of Silence
Like it or not dear readers, I assert that my youngest child was abused at Sierra Madre School by PUSD staff; that he was held by force in storage rooms and bathrooms by PUSD staff; and that they did this for hours at a time without reporting it to my family, or to the agencies that protect children against abuse.

Furthermore, staff and PUSD attorneys lied to my family, forged, hid, and destroyed evidence of what they did, and that the teachers and administrator who had direct knowledge of these events not only failed to report this to law enforcement, but lied to the Office of Civil Rights both directly and through PUSD attorneys. That's fine. I will file another three complaints.

Don't get me started about the petition that the parents circulated. There is a reason the PUSD hid that for the parents. You know how cronyism works when your buddies are the city attorney, the sheriff, and the lady who rests comfortably in the back pocket of the union.

The rest of the cast of clowns are protected by their own parents involvements - they are children of PUSD former staff, the children of high powered special education leaders that serve on Senate Committees.

Say what you will about me, I don't care. But ask yourself one simple question: What do Tony and Mary Brandenburg gain from all of this? I will tell you. Nothing but pain, frustration, and sorrow. We will never know what our child could have been because these people stole his childhood, destroyed him emotionally, and changed the entire course of his life.

Codes of Silence are what they are. Keep this in mind, the teachers are still there, looking out for the best interests of your children.

Smoke and Mirrors
The BOE room was bustling. There were twenty or more substitute teachers sharing their plight. They were hesitant to form alliances with the people in the Guy Fawkes masks out on the picket line, but even more so once inside. The monitors for the meeting live stream were turned off. This little trick started back when the Brandenburgs held our first demonstrations.

PUSD didn't want to televise the picket signs. Like everything else they do, they started hiding the truth from the public with significant edits and camera pans. This is why, for example, you didn't see Honowitz's brother-in-law kick me last year. They protect the guilty.

So it must have come as a bit of a shock to them when people in masks walked into the Board Room, pointed cameras at them, and ran a live stream on the internet. One that doesn't censor what is going on. One that shows exactly what PUSD doesn't want you to see.

So you know- you have the right to film and stream a public meeting just like they do. PUSD, you are officially on notice. You cannot hide the truth from the public anymore.
Photo credits - Freeway of InLeague Press

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bailey Canyon Park Suicide Victim Identified - James Cummiskey Was A Sierra Madre Canyon Resident

Bailey Canyon Park
Mod: A reporter for the new Los Angeles Register newspaper by the great name of America Hernandez has been in touch with me over the last few weeks.  She was recently assigned Sierra Madre as part of her news beat, and we'd been discussing a number of topics and issues. Late yesterday America called and told me she'd cracked the Bailey Canyon Park suicide mystery despite the not atypical news embargo placed on this story by the Sierra Madre PD. The victim is a James Charles Cummiskey, and he lived in the 700 block of Idlehour Lane in the Upper Canyon. Here is America's article (link):

Sierra Madre shooting confirmed as suicide - Families with small children picnicking at Bailey Canyon Park in Sierra Madre were interrupted Sunday afternoon by the sound of a single gunshot.

The Los Angeles County Department of Coroner reported Monday that James Charles Cummiskey, 54, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound around 12:30 p.m.

Cummiskey was found with a firearm close to his body and pronounced dead at the scene, said Lt. Fred Corrall of the coroner’s office.

Neighbors and parkgoers were disturbed by the public death.

“The guy didn’t crawl off into someplace quiet. He went and did it right in the picnic area in front of other people,” said John Crawford, who lives two houses away from the park. “The park was taped off and closed for investigation up until (Monday) morning.”

Cummiskey was an airline transport-certified pilot, the highest possible certification, according to Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration’s regional office.

The administration’s records show Cummiskey, who lived in Sierra Madre, was honored in September with inclusion in the prestigious FAA Airmen Certification Database.

Mod: A press release from the Sierra Madre Police Department on Sunday, along with an accompanying update on the Sierra Madre site (link), described the tragedy this way:

Death Investigation at Bailey Canyon Park - The Sierra Police Department is currently assisting with an investigation into the death of a 53 yr. old male at Bailey Canyon Park.  Officers were dispatched to the area after several people reported a gunshot victim at the location.  Upon the officers arrival at the scene they found the victim in the picnic area being treated by a doctor who was in the area.

Paramedics arrived on scene and pronounced the victim dead.  A weapon was recovered at the scene and at this time it is being investigated as a suicide.  Police Chief Giannone said “this was an unfortunate tragedy for our community.  The park was filled with visitors and hikers, several who witnessed this tragic incident”.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office responded to the scene and took over the investigation.  The victim’s identity is being withheld pending notification to next of kin. Shortly after we received the above press release, the City tweeted: “Bailey Canyon Park will remain closed the rest of the day. The area will reopen tomorrow morning. We appreciate the Community’s cooperation as the Police Department continues their investigation.”

Mod: An article about Cummiskey's FAA designation appeared in an aviation related publication called The Primary Post (link). The date of this article is Sept 18, 2013.

FAA recognizes James Charles Cummiskey ... Sierra Madre-based pilot sets positive example - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is recognizing James Charles Cummiskey with inclusion in the prestigious FAA Airmen Certification Database.

The database, which appears on the agency's website at, names Cummiskey and other certified pilots who have met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.

Pilot certification standards have evolved over time in an attempt to reduce pilot errors that lead to fatal crashes. FAA standards, which are set in consultation with the aviation industry and the public, are among the highest in the world.

Transportation safety experts strongly recommend against flying with an uncertified pilot. FAA pilot certification can be the difference between a safe flight and one that ends in tragedy.

The FAA recently announced that is it increasing the qualification requirements for co-pilots who fly for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines. These requirements mandate additional minimum flight time and training, as well as aircraft specific training.

"Safety will be my overriding priority as Secretary, so I am especially pleased to mark my first week by announcing a rule that will help us maintain our unparalleled safety record," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. "We owe it to the traveling public to have only the most qualified and best trained pilots."

Additional - Link here for more information uncovered by today's 2nd commenter. Also here. The "James Cummiskey Biography" has a lot of additional insight. Another found article - link - may also be related.

Mod: Hopefully now that the victim's identity is out the City will share what it knows with us.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mater Dolorosa: The Monastery Empire Strikes Back

Before ...
(Mod: On April 25th I, along with a lot of other people, received the following email from the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project. It details the current unfortunate tactics being employed by the individuals attempting to develop that property. This despite the offer that has been put forward by those in our community who wish to preserve that land. While the kind of deception being employed by the developer is not atypical, it is sad when you consider who is being used to deliver it. Perhaps it is time to take the sacred out of this and just call it for what it is, a naked attempt to turn monastery property into personal profit despite the overwhelming wishes of the community. Here is the Coalition email.)

Dear Supporters:

The Coalition's efforts in preserving the open space at the Monastery was in the news again.  You will find an article in the Sierra Madre Weekly that came out on Thursday entitled "10 Million Offer Not Enough for Passionist Land".  It is available at a number of locations in Sierra Madre including the post office.  However, the on-line link can be found here.

As some of you know, three members of our Steering Committee met on two occasions with representatives from Mater Dolorosa including the Chairman of the Board of Directors Cameron Thornton who is quoted in the recent Star News article as well as the Sierra Madre Weekly article.  A proposal was made to purchase the property for 10 million dollars if the citizens of Sierra Madre would approve a parcel tax as the residents of Monrovia did recently to preserve some open space in that community.  There were also discussions about possibly raising additional monies in other ways if necessary by state or federal grants or donations.  The actual proposal made to them is attached to this email and will also be posted on our website on Monday at .

While we have a great deal of respect for Cameron Thornton, he seems to be mistaken about a certain aspect of our meeting.  We concluded that our offer was turned down because the 10-15 million was simply not enough money. However, Mr. Thornton has now repeated the assertion in the Star News as well as now in the Sierra Madre Weekly that Coalition representatives themselves concluded that it was not possible to pass a parcel tax that would generate 10 million dollars.

In other words, he states that we felt that our very own proposal was not achievable.  To the contrary, the assessment we conveyed to them was that a parcel tax of under $100 would be probable, over $200 would be improbable and anywhere between that would be challenging but certainly possible.  If Mater Dolorosa did not think a $155 to $165 parcel tax was achievable, that is certainly their prerogative, but its simply incorrect that Coalition representatives came to that same conclusion.
Despite Mater Dolorosa's decision, the Coalition intends to continue their efforts to preserve the open space that has managed to remain intact since 1926.

Steering Committee
Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project

… and after.
(Mod: We have posted here The Sierra Madre Weekly article mentioned above. The spokesperson for this land grab, Cameron Thornton, can be seen misrepresenting both the intentions and the offer made by the Coalition.)

$10 Million offer not enough for Passionist land - With a $10 million offer recently rejected by the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center to prevent the sale and development of some of the center’s open space in northern Sierra Madre, a spokesman for the passionists said it was for good reason.

Cameron Thornton, who works with the Passionists, said while the land in question is valued around at least $20 million – and as high as $40 million – he is not sure the group the Coalition to Save Mater Dolorosa could have come through with its plan.

And with the recent failure of Measure UUT – the user utility tax extension – in this month’s municipal election, Thornton said he felt Sierra Madre voters weren’t going to approve the coalition’s proposal.

“They thought they could make a $10 million parcel tax work,” Thornton said. “What they found out was $10 million would cost a minimum of $155 to $165 per parcel over a 30-year time frame. I think they understood once they projected it and did the math that it just wasn’t viable.”

Thornton said the Passionists have for years tried to save the land themselves so they wouldn’t have to sell it.

“We tried every way you can imagine to come up with the money needed,” he said. “We for seven or so years have been looking at a number of possibilities. We recognize the sacredness of that land.” He added the group even tried a grass-roots effort, but to no avail.

“We’ve reached out for 18 to 24 months to Catholic donors and other groups to raise the money and we couldn’t do it,” he said. “That leads us to where we are today.” Thornton said any developer that is chosen will need to be able to work with the neighbors and residents of Sierra Madre.

“What we’re looking for in a development partner is someone who’s sensitive to the needs of the neighbors and someone who is willing to reach out as much as possible,” he said. “We expect the developer to be a good neighbor that fits in.”

The reason land needs to be sold is to pay for the medical care of the aging Passionists, Thornton said.

“We’re taking care of our family,” he said. “The Passionists are our family. We’re doing what any other family would do. We’re making sure we have sufficient funds to take care of them.”

Matt Bryant of the coalition said he was hoping no land would be developed and the grounds of the center would remain in the status quo.

“We wanted to preserve the open space,” Bryant said. “We tried to create a win-win solution. Unfortunately, we failed. We made them a substantial proposal. We thought it was a good offer. We could have gone up to $15 million, perhaps. But they have gone in the direction of a developer.”

Bryant added now the group has to change its gears and monitor the development to make sure it doesn’t encroach on the existing community.

“The concern that we have now is you have to maximize what goes on up there, the size of the houses, the number of houses,” he said. “You’re talking about one of the largest housing projects Sierra Madre has seen in decades. We’re very concerned about it.”

(Mod: The at times unctuous Cameron Thornton appears to be a sort of "wealth management planner" with an office in Burbank. Apparently his shtick is bringing a schmaltzy perceived high mindedness to what is basically a service offered to panicky middle-agers fearful of ever being able to successfully retire. He even quotes Mahatma Gandhi on his website, a legendary historical figure not ordinarily associated with wealth management planning. You can check out Cam "in situ" by clicking here. I've also posted some of this below.)

To help people achieve what matters most in their lives, Cameron M. Thornton founded Cameron Thornton Associates in 1982 - a Registered Investment Advisory firm in California.

Cam’s aim through his professional work is to help people keep the promises that they have made to themselves.  He guides them through a process which allows them to bridge what they own, and what they believe.  He does this by combining The Wealth Development System™, his unique wealth growth and preservation solution, with the family-first planning philosophy of The Navigator Heritage Process™.

Cam’s focus on helping people’s dreams to thrive from one generation to the next was the inspiration for partnering with co-author Rod Zeeb to write the novel, What Matters.

Cam was named to Bloomberg Wealth Manager’s Top Wealth Manager List when Cameron Thornton Associates was a SEC Registered Investment Advisory firm from 2001 through 2008.

Today Cam provides heritage planning services through Navigator Legacy Partners, LLC, of which he is a founding partner.

Cam was educated at the University of Southern California, where he received a BA in Psychology in 1976.  After college he spent four years as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy.  He went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from the University of La Verne School of Business and Global Studies in 1983 as well as the Certified Financial Planner™ designation in 1986.

Cam gives of his "time, talent, and treasure" to the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, currently serving as the Chairman of the Board of Directors.  He has a history of community service including serving as Vice Chairman of the St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation, Chairman of the St. Joseph Medical Center Planned Giving Department, Chairman of the City of Burbank Police Commission, Chairman of the City of Burbank Planning Board, Chairman of the Burbank Chapter of the American Red Cross and Scoutmaster of Troop 209 of Boy Scouts of America.

(Mod: I wonder if Cam is now advising his clients to invest in a certain Sierra Madre development project. You just never know about these things. There is also the matter of what this development is going to be called. Are they considering The Holy Land?)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Sundays We Have Our Looney Views News Report

Hail's A Poppin'
Not every Sunday. Just when they've printed something particularly erroneous or odd. Which, of course, would be far more times than even I'd ever care to remember.

I call it mood swing journalism. Whatever the reason may be, the publisher of the Looney Views News, H. Susan Henderson, apparently only writes her articles when she is at the far end of an emotional arc de triomph. With the final print product from her idiosyncratic journey into that wild news yonder oftentimes so absurdly incorrect and slanted to promote whatever bogus agenda she's pushing at the time that any resemblance to what is popularly recognized as reality being at best only coincidental.

As an example of Susan's pulped palpitating, this week's Looney Views has an article about last Tuesday's reorganization of the City Council. These occasions are usually kinda schmaltzy affairs filled with bromides, honorary bric-a-brac and har-de-har har knee slapping about how great it is going to be to enjoy some time off and get all of that long postponed yard and home repair work done.

But apparently that is not what Susan saw. And in her article this week about the City Council reorganization, aptly titled "Sierra Madre City Council Reorganizes," Ms. Henderson makes the following somewhat confused observations:

Tuesday's City Council meeting was a night of 'firsts.' It was the first time the city bid farewell to three council members at one time. It was the first time the city installed three new council members at one time. (Usually there is at least one incumbent).

I am not certain Susan can remember that far back, but in 2012 John Cappocia, John Harabedian and Chris Koerber, each of them newly elected, were "installed" all at one time. Made possible in part by the blessed though mysterious departure of Joe Mosca several months earlier. Just so you are in the know.

Ms. Henderson continues:

It was also the first time that the city has had an Armenian Mayor (John Harabedian) and the first time the city had an Asian American council person (Rachelle Arizmendi).

According to his 2012 campaign biography, John Harabedian was born and raised right here in Sierra Madre. And as far as I know he has chosen to remain a citizen of the United States. Of course, if John is from a faraway land as Susan apparently believes, then this would truly be a first. Never before has a foreign national become Mayor of Sierra Madre.

However, where Susan's koo koo kettle really gets ready to boil over is with this rather remarkable observation:

It was also the first time in a very long time that the transition was done in a very dignified manner without any animosity or personal attacks from the audience.

Now we know that 2012 might not be tracking very well on Susan's way-back machine, but I do not recall anything untoward or unpleasant occurring when John Capoccia, John Harabedian and Chris Koerber were sworn into office that year. If anything, it was a very calm affair, conducted with great aplomb and bonhomie.

What Susan might believe she has remembered here could be the 2010 City Council reorganization, the night the so-called Civility Party first took its seats at the dais. A particularly unpleasant affair that had an almost lynch mob atmosphere about it. And perhaps the very lowest moment of what was truly an unfortunate evening was the speech made by Looney Views News columnist Hail Hamilton.

If you have never seen Hail's walk on the wild side before, there really is nothing quite like it. Probably the most unhinged rant ever given in Council Chambers, and that is saying a lot. You can view it by clicking here.

Of course, Hail Hamilton is hardly the only Looney Views News inmate to misbehave in Council Chambers. Susan Henderson herself has had her own moments of Decorum Deficit Disorder during a City Council meeting.

You can view a particularly bizarre Susan Henderson DDD outburst by clicking here. Apparently the loss of a law suit to her former business partner Katina Dunn was weighing heavily upon Susan's mind that evening, and she just had to let it all out.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

So Sierra Madre Will No Longer Be A Full Service City?

City Whizzle Pockets
One rather newsworthy topic coming out of the city's Strategic Planning Retreat yesterday were the revelations about the apparent demise of Sierra Madre as the proverbial "full service city." Something that, until a mere 24 hours ago, was the ongoing justification for sky-high utility taxes and other costly and unpleasant things.

So if Sierra Madre is no longer a full service city, what is it we are in the process of becoming you might ask? It could be that City Hall is about to embrace the idea of outsourcing services as a way of dealing with its now curtailed cash haul, brought about because the voters just rejected the City's attempt to raise utility taxes here for the second time in two years. Something that the City has no other choice now but to deal with. As much as they'd hoped to have had different options at this point.

As you know, City Hall is big on its memes. Bold "new think" examples of linguistic pithiness used to define their current opinions on the issues without in any way actually acknowledging the real reasons for them. Done in the hope of making it seem that whatever is going down was all their idea all along. Which for them is far preferable to having to admit that the taxpayers just yanked the financial rug out from under their feet, and with no regard to how this might play upon their feelings. Which, I assume, are hurt.

So the new message, as first revealed yesterday at this instance of our twice yearly Strategic Planning Retreat, is that "Sierra Madre will supply city services in the most cost effective ways." Which, while being pretty much what many residents have been calling for the last six years, is to now be taken as the City's idea.

What this might mean to We The Townies is anybody's guess. Should we now believe that City Hall will begin to abandon some of its most expensive practices? Is the era of the $36,000 employee health care plan really over? Or, and possibly more likely, will they now be seeking to outsource certain former "full service city" functions in order to sustain the kinds of financial excesses that benefit them personally?

And, just as important, does this actually mean that the Utility Tax Three (UTT4UUT) faction of the City Council will now be abandoning their rumored attempt to put a return to double digit utility taxes on the ballot for an unprecedented third time?

I myself rather doubt it. Just because they're becoming so-called "cost effective city service providers" does not necessarily mean they're getting out of the tax raising business. It could very well be that they are hoping to change voter perceptions of City Hall and its big spending ways in order to maintain as much of the old regime as possible. All done with the idea of making a later tax increase proposal more palatable to the residents.

But I guess we shall see. One thing is for certain, the fight is not over.

Another thing. There was a brief discussion regarding why the voters have twice rejected the City Council's expressed desire to raise utility taxes. Is it because residents here have an "aversion to taxes," or an "aversion to tax increases?"

The Utility Tax Three, which is made up of John Harabedian, John Capoccia and Gene Goss, adamantly insisted that it be declared that the former is true. To do otherwise could have been seen as an admission that they really had been trying to raise our utility taxes all along.

Funny how they just can't seem to let that one go.

Ageism Is Hate Speech

There have been a series of attempted comments (attempted because I've deleted almost all of them) made here by certain individuals demeaning seniors. I have no idea who is attempting to post these kinds of sentiments in The Tattler's comments section, but it does seem to indicate that there is some resentment of Sierra Madre's older "tax averse" citizens among the supporters of the so-called "Civility Party."

Here is an example of what I mean:

Only an elitist uses the word "classes" I assume you are an old white man … Poor old white God fearing folk. So oppressed such a hard fight against the sexist racist minorities WAH WAH! Go back to England if you don't like it. 

Sierra Madre, which has a large population of older residents, would seem to be an odd place to launch such written attacks on seniors. And, being a gracefully aging older dude myself, I can hardly be expected to tolerate this sort of garbage here on my blog.

The Pasadena Weekly this week has a series of articles about the problems older people are facing these days. And one of them is ageism. An article written by Ellen Snortland, called The Stupidest 'Ism', pretty much lays this ugly phenomenon bare.

You can check it out by clicking here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Strategic Planning Retreat: What We Get For Our Money

A Facilitator
Since the voters of Sierra Madre have now decided to sunset our 10% utility taxes twice in the last two years, you might assume that our city government will soon begin to show signs of recognizing that the will of its erstwhile bosses needs to be recognized. And while the final certified Measure UUT vote totals from our election of more than two weeks ago have yet to be posted on the City of Sierra Madre website (link), we can still hope. Just don't get too carried away with it.

At 8:30 this morning City Hall will begin enjoying something called a Strategic Planning Retreat (link). It is an exercise conducted twice a year, and we hire someone from beyond the usual circle of suspects to run this event for us. This person, who is referred to as a facilitator, is named Marilyn Snider. And her company, Snider and Associates, handles everything from keeping folks in line, to note taking, and then the final report. The purpose being to help our 5 elected City Councilmembers, along with a City Staff that theoretically answers to them, decide what exactly they would like to do with their time as our City's leaders for the next six months.

The costs associated with this process (so called) are not inconsiderable. Marilyn Snider herself gets $6,000 per retreat, or $12,000 for the year. Not bad for a few hours of work. When the costs of other services such as creating the documents that record the decisions made at this event are factored in, that yearly amount rises to $15,000. Recoup the salaries of the department heads in attendance, along with catering and other incidentals, and we are getting into some rather substantial bucks.

You'd think a city government that has often (and loudly) proclaimed that it will be losing a million dollars a year due to the defeat of Measure UUT would begin to be a little more stingy in its spends. With everything being looked over due to the budgetary constraints laid on this city by the voting taxpayers. Everything should now be on the table.

So what do we get for our $17,000 or so a year? Spent to obtain the Strategic Planning Retreat facilitating skills of Marilyn Snider and her associates? A report, of course. And since Ms. Snider performs this service for many cities throughout the state, examples of her report work can be readily found on the Internet. I have selected three reports for you to examine. I am reproducing the first page of each, with a link provided to take you to the rest of the fun.

If I can point out one thing, notice how all three look almost exactly the same.

City of Citrus Heights (link)

City of Nevada City (link)

City of Santa Clara (link)
Here are a few observations. Is it really necessary to produce reports such as these twice a year? Couldn't we get by just fine with only one? Or how about one every two years? That would certainly bring the cost down to levels commensurate with our now far lower utility tax rates.

Then there is this comment left on The Tattler yesterday by one of our many knowledgeable readers.

If we didn't have these semi-annual strategic planning meetings there would be nothing for the council to continue to table until the next meeting. The strategic plan is always at the end of the agenda and for the most part gets moved to the next meeting. So we can see how truly important it is to all concerned. 

Which is very true. Proposed discussions of these reports by the City Council always get stuck on at the very end of the agenda, and invariably get bumped as meetings usually go on for far too long. Often these discussions get pushed multiple times, and a few never happened at all.

If Strategic Planning Retreat reports are so vital to the well-being of our city, why are they treated in so dismissive a manner by the City Council?

Perhaps we could save the entire $17,000 a year by doing away with this apparent holdover from a now bygone era when City Hall had lots of excess cash to burn? If our city government is ever to reflect the will of the people in its financial dealings, this could very well be the place to start.

If the City does keep this "process" going on for much longer it could make many wonder if they ever plan to honor our vote at all.

Today's Strategic Planning Retreat is being held at the YAC starting at 8:30. It will not be televised. Usually only a few residents attend. Like many of this City's hardworking taxpayers I will be on my way to work at that hour and will not be able to go. If you are there be sure to share your experiences here so that the rest of us can better understand what went down.

My guess is that the defeat of a Utility User Tax increase for the second election in a row will be the elephant in the room today. It could very well be that the initial groundwork for putting the UUT back on the ballot for a ridiculous third time in six years (or less) will begin to be put into place today.

But who can tell for certain until it happens?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yes, There Are Two City Council Meetings On Friday

Run! They want to sell us a house!
Yes, count them up and the number comes to an even pair of Friday City Council meetings. As opposed to an odd pair, I guess. Something you can find on a regular basis standing in front of any downtown shop holding a bouquet of yellow paper flowers and talking rather loudly about the need for civility in politics.

The first of this pair of wild wickiups is known to all as the City Council Meeting Strategic Plan Retreat, and it occurs at 8:30 AM. An hour chosen because of its convenience to working residents. I have heard that hundreds are cashing in personal days at work so that they will be able to attend. Myself not included.

But there is a second meeting of the City Council that day. One that I find to be much more interesting, and kind of hilarious as well. There is no good reason for that hilarity, of course. This stuff is about as dry as the contents of a salt box. It is probably just a personal idiosyncrasy of mine, activated by an as yet unexplained personal aversion to the overly serious. Here is the agenda item for this special happy hour get together in Council Chambers.

3:00 PM
City Hall Council Chambers, 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.

1. PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION - Presentation and Discussion regarding Standardized Emergency Management Systems (SEMS), National Incident Management Systems (NIMS), Incident Command System (ICS), an Overview for City Officials.

In case you are SEMS curious, the apparent force behind this meeting is the Department of Homeland Security. You know, basically the same folks that almost sank New Orleans. Done in the hopes of marshaling the defense capabilities of the City of Sierra Madre in case of an invasion by aggressive martians, or angry realtors driving mini electric pedicabs.

This is probably wrong of me to say, but the image of Barney Fife fumbling for his bullet and gun while hundreds of Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod people descend upon innocent latte' drinkers at Starbucks, is now seared deeply into my brain. It could take hours of late night Pabst therapy to erase that. I am willing to try.

Sacramento has a website about all of this, of course (link). Billions of innocent ions were needlessly slaughtered in that effort. This particular missive of near unreadable gibberish is called Standardized Emergency Management System. Or SEMS if you prefer it in an acronymic format. Here is a passage that could have your eyes rolling backwards into your head within seconds.

The Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) is the cornerstone of California’s emergency response system and the fundamental structure for the response phase of emergency management. SEMS is required by the California Emergency Services Act (ESA) for managing multiagency and multijurisdictional responses to emergencies in California. The system unifies all elements of California’s emergency management community into a single integrated system and standardizes key elements. SEMS incorporates the use of the Incident Command System (ICS), California Disaster and Civil Defense Master Mutual Aid Agreement (MMAA), the Operational (OA) Area concept and multiagency or inter-agency coordination. State agencies are required to use SEMS and local government entities must use SEMS in order to be eligible for any reimbursement of response-related costs under the state’s disaster assistance programs.

Obviously should any kind of serious mass scale emergency ever occur we'd all be horribly doomed. Millions would be frozen into a state of paralysis and self-destructive inaction just by trying to figure out the acronyms alone.

So what is the other meeting about?

This dog in the manger is known as the Strategic Planning Retreat. These happen from time to time, though there always seems to be one right after a new City Council is seated. My suspicion is this retreat is designed to sucker any overly independent thinking new Councilmembers into buying into the veiled mysteries of City Hall think. A special sort of perception designed to lead any free thinking types into believing that it is easier to leave all the heavy lifting to them.

Something that is almost always a very costly mistake. There are also lots and lots of retreat questions. Many of which are along the lines of Noah Green's now infamous, "What would you cut?" campaign query.

Again, an unnecessary journey up the River Useless.

Here is the agenda for all of this.

1. Mayor John HarabedianWelcome, purpose of the retreat, public comment, and introduction of the Facilitator and Recorder

2. Facilitator, Marilyn Snider, Snider and AssociatesRole of the Facilitator, Recorder, group, and public; strategic planning elements; agenda

3. Introduction of the group

4. City of Sierra Madre:
- Mission/Purpose Statement
- Vision Statement
- Core Values
- Three-Year Goals (2012-2015)

5. What are the strengths and major accomplishments of the City of Sierra Madre since the October 15, 2013 Strategic Planning Retreat?

6. What are the City’s current internal weaknesses/challenges?

7. What are the external factors/trends, (e.g., demographic, economic, political, environmental, technological, attitudinal) that will/might have an impact on the City of Sierra Madre in the coming year?: 
• Positively (Opportunities)? 
• Negatively (Threats)?

8. Review and revise, if needed, the three-year goals (What the City of Sierra Madre needs to accomplish).

9. Identify six-month strategic objectives (how the goals will be addressed initially – by when, who will be accountable, for what specific, measurable results) for each of the three-year goals.

10. Oral communications, summary of the Retreat and closing remarks.

I don't know. This could be one of those occasions where you might be better off going to work instead. Or perhaps finally getting serious about origami.

Besides, weren't most of these questions answered by the voters when they deep-sixed Measure UUT?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Past Forgets and Hope Renews

"I figure staff sits around and develops certain categories then just lumps them onto one person or another. Pretty amusing that they gave Moran fiscal responsibility. Walsh's accomplishments were pure fantasy, and I understand more now about how the Civility Party kids itself." - reader comment

We would all prefer to write our own history. Certainly that version of what happened during whatever time is being discussed would be far more pleasing to us personally than what others might write. And that is pretty much what a City Council reorganization is all about. Those who are vacating their seats at the dais attempt to put the best possible spin on whatever it was they'd been doing for the last four years. Done in the hope that their intended audience will forget all the evidence to the contrary, and remember them more kindly than they might actually deserve.

But while that was the case for some departed City Councilmembers, there are those who do accomplish great things. It is still possible for an individual or two to make a difference here despite the great pressures put upon this community and its elected representatives to knuckle under to the moneyed special interests, coercive political machines and general rot that continue to drag California low.

We have had a few of those. Kurt Zimmerman would be one. Don Watts and MaryAnn MacGillivray would have to be added to that list as well. And to that sadly rather short roster of recent worthy Councilmembers we need to add Chris Koerber. His greatest accomplishment, twice defeating unfair utility taxes that were the highest in the state (and will be still for another year or so), stands tall amongst those of the conformist nonentities who served with him.

I thought I would post Chris Koerber's remarks from last night here. For someone who was only on the City Council for two years, he accomplished a lot. It needs to be remembered.

When I ran for Sierra Madre City Council in 2012 I made a promise that I would stand for Clarity, Community, and Economic Accountability.

I believe I kept my word.  I did what I said I would do.

In the area of Clarity, I proposed the following ideas which the Council adopted. 

- A formal succession policy for vacant City Council positions.

- A transparent application process for appointing new Commissioners.  All applications are put now on-line for residents to review.

In the area of Community I was blessed to work with Sierra Madre parents, PUSD Board members and staff to finally, after a nearly 3 year long delay, get construction of Sierra Madre Middle School underway.  I’d like to give former PUSD Board Member, Ramon Miramontes, a special thank you.  His introduction of a Board resolution to commit to building Sierra Madre Middle School was integral to keeping the process moving.  I’d also like to thank the members of the PUSD Board who voted 6 – 1 to approve the middle school.  I called all School Board members prior to the vote.  I really appreciate your support.

I also lobbied the PUSD Board during the vacancy appointment process for Sierra Madre to have a Board representative in 2013.  Many thanks to Gretchen Vance and Dr. Mikala Rahn, both Sierra Madre residents, who applied.  I’m happy to report that Mikala Rahn was appointed to the PUSD Board in 2013, a full two years before the scheduled redistricting election of 2015 would have done so!
Economic Accountability

I proposed a competitive review of the City Attorney.  For the first time in over 7 years we conducted a competitive bidding process that resulted in a reduction of over $1,000.00 per month for the City’s Attorney base retainer charges.

Another matter of great concern was the City’s failure to effectively collect the money it was due, especially for paramedic billings.  If a bill wasn’t paid in 60 days, no further collection effort was made.  In my opinion, it’s wrong to raise taxes and/or fees to offset poor collection efforts.

I’m proud to report that we now have a formal collections process to make sure that those who owe money will have to pay.

Lastly, I’ve made it clear that we need to watch what we spend.  Even the Mountain Views News has called me a “known fiscal conservative” (thanks, Susan!)

People don’t work to pay taxes.

We need to make sure we’re spending the taxpayers’ money in the most effective way before increasing taxes.  (I don’t think we’re quite there yet.)

I’m proud to be part of the team that worked to defeat the 2012 proposed 20% UUT tax increase and also to defeat the recent Measure UUT with its proposed 25% tax increase.  Since the 2012 tax hike defeat, we’ve saved the residents over 1 million dollars, while maintaining current staffing levels for police, fire and paramedics. We’ve also been able to keep the Library open the same numbers of hours each week. And, after all that, the City has had a small General Fund surplus left over.

Starting in 2015 through 2019, we will save the tax payers an estimated $4.5 million in Utility User Taxes. That’s money that you can keep or spend as you wish - and I’m sure some of it will be spent at our local businesses. As a matter of fact, you, the majority of the voters, also made Sierra Madre more business friendly starting in July, 2015. All the businesses in town, as well as our residents, will enjoy lower UUT costs. 

I have been both humbled and honored to serve as your council member.  Sierra Madre is a very special place with very special and very nice folks.

I’d like to close with a quote that I believe sums up my service to Sierra Madre residents. It is from T.S. Eliot:

“Keep true, never be ashamed of doing right, decide on what you think is right, and stick to it.”

May God bless America and may God bless Sierra Madre. Thank you.

Where are we going from here?

While there is always hope, an examination of the new majority faction of the City Council would indicate that we are not in the hands of the best people right now.

First and foremost we find ourselves with a Mayor whose intended audience will continue to be the county political machine that he hopes will reward him with a career in politics one day. The people he will be performing for are not from here. His dreams lay elsewhere.

Do not expect John Harabedian to put the best interests of the taxpayers of Sierra Madre first. Instead look for him to lead the charge to put the UUT back on the ballot for the third time, and sooner than you might think. For the Mayor Johnnies of this world governing is a form of fundraising, designed to enhance the welfare of those who help finance the political machines and special interests they so badly want to join.

Our new Mayor Pro Tem is an individual who got himself elected by promising to push back against regressive overtaxation such as double digit UUT rates. Once on the City Council he quickly changed sides, and with Measure UUT went on to actively campaign against everything he had advocated just two years previously. It's a wonder the fellow isn't too dizzy to stand up.

And then there is Gene Goss. The guy who saw nothing at all inappropriate about employing the campaign treasurer of the disgraced Calderon political machine (link). And even went on to make hilarious excuses for it. This from the Sierra Madre website (link):

I have a professional campaign treasurer keeping my campaign’s books because of my concern for absolute accuracy in my public campaign financial statements. She’s doing a great job and is not in any way a political consultant.

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pasadena Star News: Sierra Madre Monastery Declines $10 Million Offer for 20 Acres of Unused Land

(Mod: Good Zen Vuong article on the Mater Dolorosa development situation in today's Pasadena Star News. An informative summation for those of you who might have missed out on some of the recent events. Zen also gives a lot of ink to Matt Bryant, the Sierra Madre resident who has provided some very effective leadership in the fight to preserve one of the last open spaces in this town. Matt's contribution to this effort has been second to none here, and it is good to see him getting some recognition for his hard work in trying to save so important a part of our community. Here is a portion of that article. For the remainder click here.)

Sierra Madre monastery declines $10 million offer for 20 acres of unused land: To prevent what some residents called over-development, a citizen coalition offered to pay Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center about $10 million for about 20 acres of vacant land.

Since January the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project has communicated with the retreat center and its owner, Illinois-based Passionists of Holy Cross Province. Earlier this month, however, the owner of the 88-acre retreat center declined the Coalition’s multimillion-dollar offer.

Matthew Bryant, spokesman for the coalition, said the decision disappointed him. He was worried the property by Sunnyside Avenue and Bailey Canyon Park would morph into an enormous housing project.

“It’s not in the best interest of the neighbors or the community at large,” said Bryant, who lives along Mater Dolorosa’s western border. “It wasn’t just disappointment; it was kind of sadness. Right now so many things are changing. We thought the one thing that wouldn’t change is Mater Dolorosa.”

The Passionists of Holy Cross Province has owned Mater Dolorosa since 1924 and dedicated Mater Dolorosa Monastery in 1932. The property has provided retreats for men since 1926, according to its website. The center later opened to the larger populace.

The potential development is still in its nascent stages; eight developers submitted proposals, said Cameron Thornton, chairman of Mater Dolorosa’s Board of Directors. It would be a minimum of three years before the project — if it happens — even breaks ground, he said.

“We do not have a specific design that is set (for the single-family homes),” Thornton said. “We’re going to invite as much feedback during the entitlement process as we can, and we will be reaching out and having public forums. ... The entire process is one that has been thought out very well.”

Residents who oppose new development can point to the 32-acre Stonehouse and One Carter project, which has been in the works for more than a decade. Elisa Cox, the city’s spokeswoman, said this project has gone through multiple owners and has been the object of a lawsuit. Although the property was graded in 2007, only one of the properties has broken ground.

(Mod: 2014 is the 10th Anniversary of nothing ever getting built at One Carter. Outside of perhaps the Downtown Specific Plan, One Carter is the very worst City Council decision in the recent history of our community. That these two decisions were basically the work of the same two former Mayors is not coincidence. Both had Gene Goss and Noah Green signs in their yards earlier this month. No surprises there, either.)

Tonight is the City Council Reorganization

Get there early if you want a seat. Judging by the Corfu invitation list, the Harabedian camp will be bringing in a lot of folks for their celebration of all things Johnny Mayor. And while there are three new City Council members to be seated as well, there are priorities.

Tonight will also be the last gasp of the Civility Party. With the single four year terms of Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran ending this evening, we will now have a City Council with no member having served for more than two years.

I recently put together and posted a list here of the problems the Civility Party has had in governing this town. I've since edited it a bit, and figured I should share that with you today. It's been a rough four years. We are coming out of a particularly difficult era in this City's history, and hopefully this will help folks understand that.

The Top 10 Failures of the Civility Party

1) Water rates increased twice. Twice because they couldn't get the math right the first time. $10s of thousands of dollars were needlessly paid to a second consultant to fix the mess caused by the first one.

2) The highest utility tax rates in California were put on the ballot twice in two years, failing both times. Residents were told various tall tales by the city about their double-digit utility tax rates. Few of which turned out to be completely true, and accordingly were disbelieved by the majority of voters.

3) Many downtown businesses closed, and those storefronts remain empty today. This despite $30,000 in taxpayer money being spent on something called a "Market Demand Study."

4) Our Moody's water bond ratings dropped three times, despite over 100% in combined water rate increases. A problem the water rate hikes were supposed to correct, or so residents were told by this City Council. Currently our water bonds remain rated "junk."

5) Our water ran out. SGVMWD replacement water, which the city is paying near ransom rates for, turns several different rainbow colors and kills pet fish.

6) Health plan costs for select city employees rose to some of the most expensive levels in the entire state of California. This while residents were being told that costs at City Hall had been cut to the bone.

7) The Tree Commission was killed off for no apparent purpose. What was left got folded into something called an EENER. The insulting reason given for this is it would save city staff time.

8) The EENER Commission, after months of meaningless politically correct posturing over just how "green" and "sustainable" Sierra Madre is, goes on life support after Chairperson Paul Alva suddenly quits. No move is made to replace him. Somehow the city survives.

9) Out of the three people elected to the City Council in 2010, none remain. Joe Mosca resigns for reasons never fully explained and leaves the country. Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran decide not to run for reelection rather than face questions about all of the above.

10) When the City needed leadership and guidance during the Bob Matheson/Child Pornography Affair, this City Council did nothing. Instead they quickly shifted all responsibility over to the SMPD, who then also did nothing. Two Councilmembers actually denied ever having known Matheson. Photos soon emerged showing that they were not telling the truth.

(Mod: We plan on "live blogging" tonight's City Council reorganization meeting. Join us at 6:30 if you like.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Kumbaya: Sierra Madre UUT Revenues Will Continue To Go Up If Latest SoCal Edison Rate Increase Is Approved

Kumbaya: Bringing us together
(Mod: Today is a bit of an important day here at The Tattler. For the longest time I have been trying to get the noted taxation and city revenue expert Kumbaya to write a post for us. And just as I'd given up on it ever happening, the following showed up in last night's e-mail. As always with Kumbaya, it is an incisive dissection of the kinds of financial shenanigans we as taxpayers are subjected to by the unethical powers that be. This is a carefully researched piece of writing, and well worth the kind and generous attention you have always given to us at this site.)

Did you read “Notice of Southern California Edison Company’s Supplemental Filing For Residential Electric Rate Changes" (R.12-06-013, Phase 1)? You should have. It was in your last Southern California Edison (SCE) bill. It looks like this:

Fig. 1
Edison says that due to a new law (AB327) and a ruling from the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), they will “simplify California’s residential electricity rate structure and better align rates… Edison proposes to phase in the changes over a period from 2015 through 2018.”

In its request, Edison desires to make the following changes to the residential standard electric rate plan (Schedule D).

“Reduce the number of rate tiers from four to three tiers in 2015, and then to two tiers by 2017.

Let me think, here, for a minute: If there are fewer tiers to capture more money, will SCE have to increase OR decrease the cost of the lower tier? That is a trick question! INCREASE, of course.

So, you’ve been using less electricity by being energy efficient?  Too bad.  Go get your wallet.  And, you get to pay more UUT money on top of that.

“Phase in an increase to Edison’s Basic Charge from the current $0.94 per month to $5.00 per month in 2015, $7.50 per month in 2016, and $10.00 per month in 2017. The Basic Charge is a service fee that recovers some of SCE’s fixed costs.”

fig. 2
What does this mean, really? Congratulations, Sierra Madre rate payer!  You will now have a monthly “meter fee” for electricity, just like the dreaded water department meter fee.  So even if you use little to no electricity (think solar, or an extended vacation), it appears that you’ll still owe at least $5.00 per month in 2015 to Ol’ Man Edison. And more UUT money, too.

“Starting in 2016, lower the amount of usage billed at Tier 1 rate within each baseline zone.”

fig. 3
Wait a minute! If they make the lower tiers smaller, won’t I have more usage at tier 2 or 3 rates so my bill will go up?

That’s correct.  In figure 3 for Zone 10 (Inland Empire used since Sierra Madre rates weren’t in the brochure), the “Illustrative Changes in 2015 Monthly Bills Non-CARE Customers” show an estimated “bill impact” of 26% for the customers who are in the lowest 50% of electrical use. And you’ll get to pay more UUT.

Believe it or not, while most of us will be paying more for electricity in 2015, not everyone will be angry about:

Lower number of tiers

Increasing meter charges

Smaller Tier 1 (base rates)

As an example of that "not angry" category, the City of Sierra Madre will be thrilled!!

Not only will they get to collect more total tax UUT dollars from the 60% water revenue increase over the next 5 years, but wait, there’s more! The city will also get to collect more UUT dollars from increasing Southern California Edison bills.

Is this a gold mine for Sierra Madre or what?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Special Edition of the Tattler Sunday News

Umbrella weather on the Easter egg
(Mod: One possible benefit of embracing the apocalyptic is that should all of your dreams come true you will not have to go to work tomorrow. I don't know what it is like where you work, but for many people I know the end of all possible Mondays just might seem like a decent swap. However, that this would be made possible by exchanging the extinction of everything we have ever known, including our oftentimes annoying selves, and for only a few days off, might be too extreme. So maybe we shouldn't go there right now. There is a City Council reorganization this week, and who'd want to miss out on that? Not me. Here is your Easter Special Edition of the Tattler Sunday News. Read it and feel your awareness of all things grow.)

If El Niño Comes This Year, It Could Be a Monster (Wired link) - Attention, weather superfans: El Niño might be coming back. And this time, we could be in for a big one.

Official NOAA Climate Prediction Center estimates peg the odds of El Niño’s return at 50 percent, but many climate scientists think that is a lowball estimate. And there are several indications that if it materializes, this year’s El Niño could be massive, a lot like the 1997-98 event that was the strongest on record.

“I think there’s no doubt that there’s an El Niño underway,” said climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The question is whether it’ll be a small or big one.”

On top of some late-’90s nostalgia, a strong El Niño would bring pronounced changes to weather patterns around the globe, and possibly relief from some of the less-pleasant weather trends that have dominated headlines this year. After a Polar Vortex-fueled, unbearably cold winter in the U.S. Midwest and East Coast, a strong El Niño could bring warmer, drier weather in late 2014. And to parched California and its prolonged drought, El Niño might provide drenching rainstorms to fill up reservoirs.

(Mod: I am all for this. I have been getting really bored with the drought, and I've come to believe that a return to mudslides and floods would be preferable. Besides, it's better than earthquakes, right?)

The Fault That Could Eat LA (The Los Angeles Times link) - The Puente Hills thrust fault, which appeared to be responsible for Tuesday's predawn magnitude 4.4 earthquake that shook much of the Los Angeles area, is capable of generating earthquakes up to magnitude 7.5 -- massive shakers larger than any in the modern history of the Los Angeles Basin.

A Times article from 2003 said that the Puente Hills system could touch off a 7.5 temblor directly underneath downtown Los Angeles.

Sue Hough, a seismologist in the Pasadena office of the U.S. Geological Survey, added: "This is the fault that could eat L.A."

(Mod: Here is a question the Los Angeles Times was incapable of asking. What exactly would L.A. taste like? True journalism is dead here.)

74-year-old Pasadena man dies at hospital two weeks after alleged attack by 25-year-old wife (Pasadena Star News link) - A 25-year-old Pasadena woman arrested earlier this month on suspicion of domestic violence against her 74-year-old husband may face additional charges after the man died at a hospital Friday, officials said.

Gina Marie Sas, 25, was arrested the afternoon of April 1 after allegedly striking her elderly husband in the head with an object at their home in the 200 block of South Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena police Lt. Vasken Gourdikian said. His name was not released Friday pending notification of family members, Los Angeles County coroner’s officials said.

Police declined to say what the object was, citing the active investigation. The man suffered a cut to his head, but was walking and talking when he met with police on the day of the alleged attack, Gourdikian said.

But the man’s condition quickly deteriorated once hospitalized, the lieutenant said. “Once he got to the hospital, his condition became critical,” he said. “He’s been on life-support since the first of April.”

Police were notified Friday morning by officials at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena that the man had died.

(Mod: Sometimes love is not enough. And even then it can be a headache.)

Why Portland Reservoir Was Flushed After Teen Peed in It (Yahoo News link) - Officials in Portland, Ore., are flushing 38 million gallons of public drinking water after a 19-year-old was caught on camera urinating into an open reservoir on Wednesday (April 16).

The water, which had already been treated, was tested for contamination after the incident. As expected, the sample came back clean, Jaymee Cuti, a spokeswoman for the Portland Water Bureau, told Live Science.

Officials acknowledged there was little public health risk from a small amount of urine in an open reservoir that is presumably exposed to the droppings of wild animals all the time. So why dump the whole supply? Bureau officials say they won't stand for serving their customers "purposely tainted drinking water."

"Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated," David Shaff, the bureau administrator, said in a statement. "We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns. We will continue to provide our customers with safe, clean and cold Bull Run water."

(Mod: Would City Hall flush out our settling ponds should a similar unfortunate incident ever happen here? And would we have the water to do it? That would be a good question for Bruce Inman on Tuesday.)

LA County unveils $26-billion budget, plans hiring spree (Los Angeles Daily News link) - Los Angeles County’s budget officials on Monday unveiled a proposed $26.1 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2013-2014 that calls for hiring about 1,300 new employees — mostly nurses and social workers — as well as funding for reforms in the troubled jail and child welfare systems.

Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich, however, believe more money should have been set aside for patrolling unincorporated communities and repairing aging infrastructure. And Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wants to know whether the county’s hospitals, clinics and health centers can absorb hundreds of new staffers before approving any hiring.

Meanwhile, a steward in the county’s largest employee union complained the proposed staffing increases are not enough to reduce social workers’ caseloads to a manageable level. Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 721 went on strike last year to complain that social workers handle as many as 30 or more cases at a time.

(Mod: It's really OK. The LA County people are planning on putting that Measure R sales tax extension back on the ballot later this fall, and it will take care of everything. Or at least until next time.)

Peoria Mayor Sends Police to Track Down Twitter Parodist ( link) - Politicians can be a thin-skinned bunch. You'd think they'd let insults roll off their backs given how much power they have over the lives and livelihoods of others. But if you have all that power, why bother letting insults roll of your back when you can use that power to disproportionately punish people?

Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, ordered police to track down whoever was responsible for a parody Twitter account mocking him.

As a result, police raided a West Bluff home, seized property, and detained three people for questioning. The Twitter account, @PeoriaMayor, has been suspended. According to the Journal Star, the account had all of 50 posts and an equal number of followers. The Twitter profile apparently did not initially indicate that it was a parody account, but added that label in early March.

The label was hardly necessary, though, to prevent reader confusion. The Journal Star explains that "police were informed of the account by Ardis on March 12. The tweets implied 'Mayor Ardis utilizes illegal drugs, associates with prostitutes and utilized offensive inappropriate language,' according to an affidavit filed for the warrant." Who would actually believe such tweets were coming from the mayor? Well, maybe residents of Toronto.

Nevertheless, police raided this home and intend to charge whoever was responsible for the account for false impersonation of a public official. The police chief also doesn't think it was obvious the account was a parody and thinks the impersonator "went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor."

(Mod: I think Sierra Madre needs a Mayor with similar resolve to deal with the blog problem we have here in town. It really has gotten out of hand.)

Don't eat too many peeps today. I'm not sure those things are good for you. Especially in large quantities.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mater Dolorosa: Good Friday's "Unneeded Land" Photos

Mod: Here are a few pictures showing how that inappropriately labeled "unneeded land" was used during yesterday's Good Friday services at the Mater Dolorosa Monastery. The question today being will those hoping to observe future Good Fridays at the monastery be prevented from doing so once that unfortunate tract housing called for by the Passionist Fathers eventually squeezes them out?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Have the Passionist Fathers Decided to Take the Mater Dolorosa Development Money and Run?

(Mod: I received the following e-mail from the Stop The Monastery Housing people, and the news isn't all that good. Here is what they had to say this week about some of the unhappy recent events there.)

Hi John: Here is the latest salvo from Mater Dolorosa. We had proposed to them to give the citizens of Sierra Madre as well as donors a chance to try to purchase the property before they sell it to a developer.

Unfortunately, they didn't feel the amount of money we could raise would be as much as a developer would pay them for the property. The concern now is that because they seem to be focused on maximizing their profit, we will be looking at a major housing project at Mater Dolorosa. With the water shortage and other issues, this will not be a good thing for Sierra Madre.

Attached is a copy of their recent letter. They just posted it on their website under "Property News".  I intend to send their letter along with some commentary on Friday to all of the supporters on our email list.

Because our efforts to negotiate a "win-win" solution by preserving the open space and getting them the money they needed, we now move into a different phase of our efforts. It will also be interesting to see how much the city will try to promote this project now that the UUT went down in flames.  They would probably want the additional revenue.

It will also be interesting to see how all the people driving up Sunnyside this Friday for the Stations of the Cross will react to all those sign along the way. They have to drive the gauntlet to get there and probably didn't know a substantial portion of that property - about 20 acres - is about to be sold off.

(Mod: All good points. City Hall, which is always hungry for more development impact cash, is not likely to be of much assistance in helping to preserve the last truly open spaces here in Sierra Madre. Meaning that once again we could be on our own. Fortunately we have three new City Councilmembers who all expressed concern during the campaign about the fate of this at risk monastery land. This could be their first big test in office. Here is the "Property News" our correspondent wrote to us about.)
April 15, 2014
Property Communications - Dear Friends,

The Passionists of Holy Cross Province, headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois and the owners of the property on which the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center stands, has confirmed a final decision to develop an unused portion of this property, which they have owned since 1924.

The Passionists have our full support in this decision. This property is below the retreat house and is not used nor needed for our mission. As we have previously communicated, this sale has been in the planning stages since 2007.

The Passionists are selling the land to raise monies for the retirement and care of their aging priests and brothers and for the continuation of its global mission and their ongoing work. All monies raised from the sale of this parcel will go back to the Provincial Headquarters for this purpose.

We are now in the feasibility stage of our planning process. Based on the information gathered over the past seven years, the development will be in keeping with our neighborhood of single- family homes. This direction is important to the city, to our neighbors and to the many who come to Mater Dolorosa for the nearness to God, our quiet setting and Stations of the Cross provide.

As this property sits at our entrance and is around our neighbors, we have been conducting a thoughtful process to identify a firm that represents our values. Openness, listening and sensitivity to the environment are amongst the issues we have looked for compatibility.

We have looked at a range of approaches to divesting of the property from an outright sale as is to us developing the property on our own. We do not have the expertise to thoughtfully develop the property and feel it is important that we participate in offering our thoughts throughout the development process.

Consequently, we plan on entering into an agreement that in many ways acts as a joint venture arrangement with the ability for us to protect the serene environment through input and approvals throughout the development process.

Our due diligence process has included cordial meetings and ongoing phone conversations between a number of concerned residents, including Matthew Bryant, a Mater Dolorosa neighbor, Council Member-elect Denise Delmar and Leslee Hinton, a General Plan Update Steering Committee member. We have also received input from members of the Sierra Madre business community and many other long-time residents of our community.

While we will never be able to make everyone happy about this land being sold, we have found that once people learn the details and understand that any development will be in keeping with city regulations and will involve a very public process, they are more understanding.

The Passionists and Mater Dolorosa are in the final steps of selecting a developer to implement the decision in a manner that is sensitive and responsible to both the retreat center and its neighbors.

We commit to:
- speak with transparency and openness;
- keep the community informed of development milestones and provide updates on our website;
- support the developer in their intent to implement a design compatible and complementary to our retreat mission, our neighbors and surrounding land uses;
- work with the developer to provide information in a timely and detailed manner to representatives of the City of Sierra Madre as we move through the development process.

Once a purchase and sales agreement is executed, I will formally introduce the developer we will be working with.


Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. Retreat Director

(Mod: How jamming a bunch of tract housing up there is going to "protect the serene environment" is anybody's guess. Michael Higgins could just be saying this to make you somehow feel better. You never can tell. Someone closely associated with this "due diligence process" sent in the following. I believe it is far more to the point.)

The coalition met with representatives of the Passionist Fathers and discussed at length the concepts of developing a plan to raise 10 to 15 Million dollars to acquire the property. The representatives indicated the amounts discussed were insufficient.

(Mod: Apparently concerns over the "serenity of the environment," along with the rest of that rhythm, took a backseat to cold hard cash. Someone in the development world must be waving some very substantial sums beneath Passionist noses. As it is with City Hall, the needs of the community are now being kicked under the bus to fund the requirements of people who don't care very much about the effect their personal situations may be having on those unfortunate enough to live near them. Once again we are being asked to suffer the consequences of someone else's indifferent personal planning. Here are a couple of more points that were shared with me yesterday.)

1. Why sell it now.  The property existed intact since 1926, you had the great depression as well as real estate booms. There could have been plenty of reasons to sell the property then but the powers that be decided that it was important to hold onto the property.

2. Once you sell it, its gone forever.  They aren't making any more land like this.  Even though they consider it "excess" land, how do they know that they won't have a need for it down the road. The Huntington Library could have sold off their excess land when they had some financial challenges.  They managed to keep it and now we have the beautiful Chinese gardens.

(Mod: Ironic that an organization dealing with the ultimate in eternal considerations has here decided to take a more "live for today" approach. You can only wonder what is going to happen to the Passionist cause once its current guardians have sold off all of the remaining precious things passed down to them by people far better than they.)