Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center Chairman Cameron M. Thornton Denies Secret Meetings Have Taken Place

God's Builder: Cameron Thornton
There has been an interesting turn of events in the ongoing Mater Dolorosa land sale and development controversy. Cameron M. Thornton, pictured here in apparently happier times, has now issued a rather stern press release to all local news media, including The Tattler, claiming charges that secret meetings have been held at Sierra Madre City Hall are "mischaracterizations."

I thought this blog would be as good a place as any to discuss this matter since it was here that questions regarding secret meetings between Mater Dolorosa's pro-development management, New Urban West (the actual developer), and paid staff members from Sierra Madre City Hall, first arose. And judging by Mr. Thornton's reaction, such questions have not been received very well in his corner of the information exchange, and he felt he needed to let his objections be heard.

The initial source for questions regarding a first secret meeting was Elaine Aguilar, the City Manager of Sierra Madre. Here is what she revealed in the May 23rd, 2014 version of her weekly report to our City Council:

UPDATE REGARDING MATER DOLOROSA PASSIONIST RETREAT CENTER: Jerry Pearson, Cameron Thornton, and representatives from New Urban West met with City staff this week regarding their future plans for the development of the lower portion of the Mater Dolorosa property into single-family residential development. They informed staff that an agreement has been signed with New Urban West to develop the site, and that New Urban West will begin “due diligence” starting in June, and will begin community outreach in June - meeting with neighbors door-to-door, contacting stakeholders as well as Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to introduce themselves. New Urban West anticipates an application submittal by Fall of this year.

Now this meeting was not announced to the public, no notices for it were published in Sierra Madre's adjudicated newspaper, The Mountain Views News, nor were invitations issued to any of the many concerned parties in this community. Or even those parties that are not concerned. It was, for all intents and purposes, private, unannounced, and therefore by definition, secret.

Does this make it a bad thing? Not necessarily. Just because this meeting was held in private doesn't mean great evil was done. Or not done, for that matter. It's just that nobody knew when or where (or if) this was happening except the specially invited parties.

But here's some more news. According to what I have been hearing, and from reliable sources, other secret meetings have taken place as well. Including meetings with New Urban West, Cameron ThorntonCity Staff and individual City Councilmembers. If this is true, and I have so far been given no good reason to believe it isn't, then the only people who have not met with the developer and the people running the monastery these days are the residents.

Private meetings between advocates for unpopular development projects and our city officials happen more often than they should here. It is the stuff of local legend. But it doesn't mean that these particular meetings were a cabal of evil. It could be that these confabs were merely secret, and nothing else.

But for whatever the reason, Mr. Thornton discusses the matter in his press release as if secrecy is a bad thing. Which might say much more about him personally then it does the nature of the meetings he purportedly participated in. Here is the press release, and in what I am assuming are Cameron's own words:

The point about whether 60 homes will be built on the Mater Dolorosa site or not should have been directed to Sierra Madre Development Services Director Danny Castro. That controversial EIR to the General Plan he is working on seems to have been the source for this one. Not that anyone should take too much comfort in the "less than 50" spoken of in Thornton's press release.

But again, questions about secret meetings came about because secret meetings (by definition) did take place. We have that account of a first one in City Manager Elaine Aguilar's own words.

If Mr. Thornton finds the "secret meeting" charge to be offensive or troubling, then perhaps he shouldn't have held the ones he apparently did. Hopefully he won't want to participate in any more of them. And blaming the messengers will hardly improve things. That never does.

My advice to Mr. Thornton is, going forward, invite the public to everything he does that pertains to his Mater Dolorosa development project. There is no more effective balm for misunderstanding than the clean fresh air of transparency. Throw open those doors and let all hear what you and your business associates have to say.

People have a right to know. It is their community, after all.

Mr. Thornton should also discuss the considerable sacrifices he will soon ask the people of Sierra Madre to make. After all, it isn't his house that all of those trucks and land movers will be rumbling past for the next few years. And it isn't Cameron, who works out of an office in Burbank, that will be inhaling diesel exhaust and construction dust for the next few years.

However, our children will.

Here is my invitation to Mr. Thornton. Send me your notes from the meetings you have held in private with City Staff and City Councilmembers. I will then print them here and what happened will no longer be a secret.

Pretty good deal, right?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Results From The Sewage Processing Prop 218 Rate Hike Protest Are In … And They Smell Kind Of Rotten

I received this yesterday, forwarded by our friend George Edwardz from over in La Habra Heights. George, as long time readers of this blog know, runs a blog called The Avocado Express, and he has proven to be the kind of stalwart citizen we here at The Tattler always admire. George played an important role in his city's decision to discourage their City Attorney and her law firm from continuing to serve the people there any longer. Instead that firm left under a cloud. Many celebrated.

Tax fighter John Capoccia was there
Their law firm? Colantuono & Levin, with that City Attorney being none other than the voluminously coiffed Holly "Go" Whatley. Holly can now be witnessed handing down numerous Solomonic judgements at Sierra Madre's Planning Commission meetings.

So George had read about the County Sanitation Districts sewage processing Prop 218 rate increase shenanigans here on this blog (link), and decided to get on over to that meeting and check things out. A true peoples' witness, and thank you very much.

And what George discovered was pretty much what we'd come to expect. Almost nobody knew about this meeting or the Prop 218 sewage rate increase protest. Out of the 480,000 protest ballots that were mailed out as part of a "notice," only 150 came back. Obviously that infamous 51% threshold for defeating this boondoggle was not reached, and you will soon be taxed even more for processing sewage. A rather unpleasant and sticky situation for certain.

There is more to this story. While at this meeting George Edwardz came across something that I believe I need to share with you today. What he discovered is that this sewage processing tax rate increase is not due to additional costs for that important function alone, it will be used to fund other things as well. Like deep sea fun junkets for L.A. County sewage chiefs. Here is some incriminating evidence:

As you can see from this letter, the good ship Ocean Sentinel's excursions out onto the deep blue sea, courtesy of we the taxpayers who flush many millions of dollars yearly into the County Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles, are open to all who wish to go. Or so it seemed. And George Edwardz, like many citizens concerned about the strange workings of government, decided that he wanted to join them on that jaunty sewage ship of the high seas.

Here is the note he sent to Sewage Central:

Hello Ms. Sanchez, attached please find a PDF of a scan confirming my request for the Boat Tour.  I also faxed a copy to your main fax number.

Thank you, 
George Edwardz

However, the reply George received in return was not quite what he was looking for. It turns out that while the invitation might give the appearance of citizen inclusivity, apparently the actual rules are quite different. You must either be invited by someone from amongst the chosen, or be the fruit of their loins.

Mr. Edwardz,
 Thank you for your interest in our trips.  Unfortunately, these trips are not offered to the public.  As you can see from the letter that was attached to the response form, it is addressed to our Board of Directors. The tours are designed for them. Thank you again for your interest.  We are unable to accommodate you on our Board of Directors Tours.  We do have public tours available.  The next one is scheduled for June 7 and will be a tour of our San Jose Creek Water Reclamation Plant and the Puente Hills Materials Recovery Facility.  Please contact Ms. Nell Madigan at (562) 908-4288, ext. 2300 if you are interested in joining us for that tour.    
Sincerely, Cheryl Sanchez
Secretary to the Chief Engineer and General Manager
County Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County

So there you go, these are taxpayer funded family fun cruises for senior management of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. In other words, a serial junket. One that apparently runs most every summer weekend, and done so these fellows can get some whale watching in at taxpayer expense.

You have to consider that this rate increase will not only significantly impact 3 bedroom 2 bath single family homes, but also hit larger homes, religious institutions, hotels, retail establishments and landlords as well. Many of whom have vowed to pass on the increased costs to their renters.

And these senior sewer dudes will still get to take free boat trips almost every summer weekend? To "trawl" on the taxpayer's dime? Perhaps that Sriracha Hot Sauce guy might want to reconsider his decision to stay in Irwindale.

All in the name of fighting pollution, of course. These ploys always have something to do with saving the world. This is California, after all, and that is how your government sells things like tax increases. Everything is marketed as being necessary to save the planet. Have another oyster.

So here is George Edwardz's conclusion. He gets the last word because, after all, he did all the important leg work.

John, here is some info that the boat tour could become a Brown Act Violation:

California Attorney General Provides Brown Act Guidance on Tours of Facilities (Hanson-Bridgett link): The California Attorney General's Office issued an opinion concluding that a majority of the city council may not attend a private tour of the facilities of a water district that provides services to the city for the purpose of acquiring information regarding those services without violating the Ralph M. Brown Act. The guidance provided by this Attorney General's opinion applies equally to governing bodies of special districts, such as county water districts, that are subject to the Brown Act. A majority of the governing body of a public agency may attend a tour of facilities if the tour is held as a noticed and public meeting of the public agency, or if the tour is structured in a way to otherwise be exempt from the requirements of the Brown Act. 

The question arose when the Metropolitan Water District invited officers and employees of its local agency constituent members on a trip to tour water facilities. The tour was open only to invited guests, and not to the public generally. The purpose of the tour was to provide information about the water service that the Metropolitan Water District provides to its member agencies. The Attorney General determined that this type of tour was a meeting within the definition of the Brown Act.  

The Attorney General specified that the Brown Act applies to informal gatherings of a majority of a legislative body designed for the discussion of public business. The Attorney General went on to state that this tour would include the acquisition of information relevant to the water service Metropolitan Water District provides, or may provide, to the city and the gathering of such information is the public's business within the city's jurisdiction. 

Sounds right to me.

Check out this video!

Television production is what he does for a living, and George Edwardz made a video of this meeting. If you watch TV news the chances are quite good that you have seen some of George's work and not even known it. You can see his video of this conclave of tax happy sea doggies at the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts by clicking here. Note the cameo appearance from the Mayor Pro Tem of Sierra Madre.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Every Time We Write About Mater Dolorosa Our Traffic From China Jumps

We may be less popular back east.
The screen shot to the left comes from The Tattler dashboard. There aren't a lot of very complex things that can done with it, the set up is fairly basic and, more importantly, free. But we can track traffic from other countries. On rare occasions that is actually kind of interesting. To me, anyway.

This picture was taken during the one o'clock hour, and shows some of the hits we got at that time. We ended up with just under 2,800 pageviews for the day, so it was fairly typical. What I do find interesting about this is the amount of hits we got from China. During that hour it approached the total hits we were receiving from right here in the U.S.A. With the majority of that traffic coming from Sierra Madre, of course.

It seems that each time we post an article about Mater Dolorosa we get a surge in traffic from China. Does this mean that New Urban West has some Asian business partners who are following all that Mater Dolorosa rhythm here on The Tattler? Do they have some sort of web crawler that snaps up any stories dealing with this bewitched property and feeds them into somebody's daily executive summary?

I just don't know the answer to any of that. Do you?

New Urban West has a past fraught with controversy

If you hang around a Starbucks most of the evening looking for something to write about on your blog, which is what the WiFi crisis at my home caused me to do last night, you can find some fascinating things. The developer New Urban West, which apparently has its claws deep into the Mater Dolorosa site, has been pissing off community oriented folks all over the place, and for years.

The developer's modus operandi is apparently to find some beautiful natural settings where they are not wanted, and then fight like hell to build what they want. Which is usually California Generic Dense Pack, also known as McMansions. All done in the face of a lot of community opposition, and despite NUWI's claims of being creative, caring and very very special.

Here are four articles I thought I'd to share with you.

Higher-density housing plans spark debate (The Coast News - linkEarly development plans to build 362 new homes in Eden Valley have some residents concerned. 

“This has reinforced what we’ve always believed — development equals more development,” said JP Theberge, Board Member of the Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove Town Council.

Theberge has been a resident for two years and said people are worried about losing their way of life and community character to big developers. “Our motto is to keep it rural,” Theberge said. “This is one of the last few pockets of rural areas in San Diego and we want to keep it that way.”

The proposed project, known as Valiano, is a gated residential development that would occupy 209 acres of unincorporated land between the cities of San Marcos and Escondido. Construction of Harmony Grove Village, a 742-home-development adjacent to the property is already underway and would bring the total number of houses in the area to more than 1,000.

New Urban West, the original developer of Harmony Grove Village, opened communication lines and collaborated with residents to ensure the layout blended with the rural community.

Developer proposes upscale Escondido tract ( - linkDeveloper New Urban West has proposed an upscale 60-home subdivision on 43 acres of southern Escondido farmland just north of Felicita Park and west of Interstate 15. Neighborhood opposition killed a similar subdivision proposed 13 years ago in the same area. But city and New Urban West officials said the new plan does a better job of preserving the area’s rural charm.

“There would be a significant amount of open space and trees,” said Tom Zanic, senior vice president of New Urban West. “The character of the project would be tailored to the area.”

The proposal would create a small public park around the area’s popular duck pond, add hiking trails and avoid realigning Felicita Avenue, Hamilton Lane and other nearby roads. “The concept looks pretty attractive,” said Barbara Redlitz, the city’s planning chief. “It really has the potential for some great amenities for the public.”

It’s not looking attractive for at least one nearby resident, however. Yolanda Fleet was among several dozen people who helped defeat a similar subdivision in 2000, and she said she also plans to fight this one.

“So many people moved here for a quiet and rural atmosphere, but we’re trying too hard to turn Escondido into a city,” she said. “The people just want to be left alone.”

New Urban West Plans To Sell Burbank Rancho Development Site (San Fernando Business Journal - linkIn the face of continued neighborhood opposition to its residential project, New Urban West Inc. plans to sell the former General Motors training facility in Burbank’s Rancho neighborhood to a local school.

The Lycee International de Los Angeles has entered escrow on the Riverside Drive property and a deal is expected to close in 90 days, New Urban West Senior Vice President Tom Zanic said.

Representatives from the school could not immediately be reached for comment.

New Urban has faced stiff opposition in its plan to transform the former GM training site into a residential community. Because the site is zoned for commercial and office uses, New Urban West would need a zone change to build residential units.

In February, the Santa Monica-based developer trimmed its original plan for 120 condominiums to 50 single-family homes, but many residents—who once defeated a neighborhood Whole Foods--still opposed the project fearing it would still threaten the Rancho’s equestrian character.

Jay Geisenheimer--a member of the Rancho Review Board, which provides input on proposed developments in the equestrian neighborhood—said the neighborhood was ecstatic over the development.

Zanic said he expects the escrow to close, but that if it falls through, New Urban West will continue the entitlement process for its 50 single-family home proposal.

City Battles Developer's Temporary Use of Land (Los Angeles Times - linkDeveloper New Urban West Inc. built an illegal temporary staging area about half the size of a football field on land planned for a regional park near the Bolsa Chica wetlands, city officials said Thursday.

"What they will have to do is remove the trailer, the fence, the equipment and vacate the site and restore the site to its original condition," said Mike Strange, a senior planner with the city.

The developer built the 150-foot by 150-foot staging area at Palm and Seapoint avenues to serve as a field office and storage area for the completion of 53 homes nearby. The land will become part of the 106-acre Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park.

Jim Lockington, project manager with the Santa Monica-based developer, said the company received a permit for the project from the county. He referred further questions to Tom Zanic, vice president of New Urban West, who was unavailable Thursday.

However, Tim Miller, manager of the county's Department of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, said the permit requires the developer to get necessary city permits.

Strange said New Urban West never applied to the city for the coastal development permit it needed to build the staging area.

I think this will give you a good idea of what we have to look forward to with the New Urban West gang.

Oh, and one other thing. Here is their law firm, Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP (link). This outfit specializes in enabling the very things New Urban West does, and helps them cram densely packed locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) into places where people don't want any of that.

And like most lawyers, they do it with paper.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

General Plan Build Out Numbers Dominated This City Council Meeting

Built out lumber
(Mod: I decided to write this post point by point at the meeting. I needed to use City Hall's wifi as I don't have any at home right now.) 

1) The meeting got off to a robust start as a resident explained how voting made her tired, and could the City Council please take this heavy load off the shoulders of the poor overburdened residents of Sierra MadreMayor Harabedian replied that such a thing would be possible if the City Council decided to make it so. Of course, it would mean the end of Sierra Madre's colorful locals only elections as everything would get lumped in with all that awful state and federal slop. Maybe the purpose is to dilute the influence of a certain portion of this town's motivated electorate? People who only vote during presidential election years generally know nothing about local issues, and are more likely to vote for taxes.

2) Great comments from Matt Bryant about the secretive meetings taking place with the Mater Dolorosa  developer, New Urban West, and City Staff. Matt went on to ask if these meetings could take place in public since they would affect so many of those in the community. People who are not likely to be offered fresh crumpets and coffee in the City Manager's office. Mayor Harabedian weighed in by saying Matt's comment was not given at the appropriate time. No comment on any secret meetings, however. He didn't seem to want to go there.

3) Danny Castro rose to speak at the podium about the definition of a bedroom. I would have thought that a bedroom would be any room you might fall asleep in, but planners are never quite that practical. On the surface of things this reminded me a bit of the Kensington debate over what differentiates a unit from a suite. I was prepared to get sore about it, but apparently this is not really a bad thing. In the coming wave of potential high density community destruction in Sierra Madre, parking will be difficult for developers to provide. Closely defining bedrooms could mean developers will struggle to accommodate the amount of parking all those new cars will need. Mayor Pro Tem Capoccia chimed in about the effect this might have on impact fees. Which, in my opinion, are quickly becoming the new UUT.

4) The UUT Oversight Committee took about 3 minutes at the podium. The City tried hard, but couldn't get rid of this committee a few months ago because it was put into place by the voters. People who were told the UUTOC would matter and protect their stake in the draconian 2008 utility tax increases. It didn't. All we got out of it was years of absurdly high utility taxes and a yearly UUT fan dance by well meaning but largely naive committee volunteers. I number among them.

5) Item #4, the General Plan Build Out numbers, arose from the Development Services crypt. Danny Castro kinda fumbled around with this for a bit, all under the very watchful eye of the City Manager. Rachelle Arizmendi and Denise Delmar both brought up the very good point that those arbitrary 60 Mater Dolorosa McMonster units should not be included in any General Plan equation because that site is not zoned residential.

Councilmember Goss asked whether the 60 Mater Dolorosa McMansions penciled into Danny's edgy EIR documents would harm the city should the New Urban West lawyers decide to go after us someday. The City Attorney said absolutely not, but who believes her? Would you buy a used car from a Colantuono attorney?

MaryAnn MacGillivray informed the City Council that putting the EIR before the General Plan was "bass akwards." As usual, MaryAnn laid it out in a remarkable way. Her main point being the people spoke up during the General Plan run up, and what they wanted was slow and gradual growth. Not an explosion of McMansions at Mater Dolorosa, One Carter and Stonegate. Or ridiculous planner gibberish, for that matter.

6) Many residents came up to the podium and made impassioned speeches about the impending huge growth of development in this town. The City Council looked a little taken aback at the force of the conviction of those who spoke. It was an impressive turnout, and resident speechmaking carried the day. The City Council backtracked and did not vote on the numbers as presented in these general plan build out numbers.

7) My one disappointment is the City Council or City Staff did not discuss the "secret meeting" it had with New Urban West. Despite being asked that question directly by two concerned residents, and more than once by one of them. No one at the dais uttered a word. I guess they didn't want to have to verify that claim.

For the record, and since The Tattler was mentioned, the following is from the City Manager's Report that was released over the weekend. The intended audience being the City Council.

Jerry Pearson, Cameron Thornton, and representatives from New Urban West met with City staff this week regarding their future plans for the development of the lower portion of the Mater Dolorosa property into single-family residential development. They informed staff that an agreement has been signed with New Urban West to develop the site, and that New Urban West will begin “due diligence” starting in June, and will begin community outreach in June - meeting with neighbors door-to-door, contacting stakeholders as well as Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to introduce themselves. New Urban West anticipates an application submittal by Fall of this year.

Did you get an invitation to that meeting? Did you get yours for the meeting scheduled for tomorrow? Neither did I. No crumpets for us.

8) The San Gabriel Valley National Recreation Area came up for consideration. Why would we want to give the Feds any more control over our mountains than they already have? Parks are nice and all, but what would the consequences be? Why would we want to give up control over a portion of Sierra Madre's jurisdiction to what might turn out to be some Federal boondoggle? The trust is no longer there as far as I am concerned. Government is not the solution to everything. Quite the opposite if you think about it.

Many spoke. It is a big issue and one that many feel strongly about.

At this point I got up and left for home. I have an early day and need the sleep.

Fill in the blanks if you wish. Or not.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cough Up Resident, Your Sanitation District Wants More of Your Money - Plus: Is Sierra Madre Stupidly Claiming It Has 181 New Development Sites?

Don't know if you ever got this piece of mail. As a matter of fact, I am not even sure I received it. I don't recall such a thing ever happening.

The notice to the left was forwarded to me by a neighbor over the weekend. Apparently a rate increase for treating sewage (or turning it into "resources" if these guys are to be believed) is now going through a process of some sort. Just like the sewage does, I guess. And in order to stop this rate hike it would take 51% of the beneficiaries of this earthy service to get their Prop 218 protest votes in by, well, tomorrow. Did you send yours in yet? Because if you haven't, I regret to inform you that the opportunity for doing so has nearly passed you by.

I scoured the Internet for clues about this momentous event, looking in particular for news about how much this rate increase for sewage treatment will be setting we the people back. Sadly, there was only one article on the topic to be found, and it was published in the Whittier Daily News. Probably because that is the city where this so-called Public Hearing will be held early tomorrow afternoon. You can only imagine the ravening hordes that will be beating down the doors to get into this one. Here is the gist of it all (link).

Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County propose sewer rate increase The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County has proposed raising its sewer fees over the next three years, ranging from 3 to 6 percent, or $9 to $15 annually, depending on where you live. Public hearings about the proposal will be held by each of the districts’ boards in May.

Dave Bruns, assistant department head for financial management, said the rate increases would be imposed in much of Los Angeles County and raise about $9 million.

The additional money is needed to pay for routine maintenance of sewers and treatment plants, ensure that reclaimed waste water meets state standards and build a third discharge tunnel from Carson to Palos Verdes, Bruns said.

I have grown to dislike the Prop 218 protest process. A ballot vote by the people is far preferable in my opinion. Prop 218 assumes that there will be close to 100% participation by the afflicted rate payers, whereas a direct vote on a ballot initiative would only take 51% of those who actually bother to vote. An election based on an item like this odoriferous sewage rate hike would likely turn out only around 10% of those eligible to vote.

I doubt our recent water rate increase would have passed had it been put on the ballot for a public vote. And had City Hall been permitted to put Measure UUT up for a Prop 218 protest last April it probably would have survived. Not that people wanted it, mind you. The results show that a majority of those who cared enough to turn out and vote didn't want it.

It seems that anything put through the Prop 218 ringer just doesn't register with most folks. And for the opposing ratepayers to prevail 51% of everyone afflicted would have to vote their disagreement. This in a city where a 35% voter turnout is considered something to boot scoot over.

Prop 218 votes also get far less media coverage than anything put to a ballot vote. Such as in the case described above. One article in a newspaper that doesn't get distributed in Sierra Madre just isn't going to get that done here.

Tonight's City Council Meeting: Watch Out for Item 4

Downtown will be all un-abuzz this evening as the City Council convenes to agonize over the following issues:












We discussed Item #4 a little bit yesterday. Something that, in my opinion, might very well be a stealth move designed to help push development at Mater Dolorosa and other similarly afflicted settings in town. You know how City Hall likes to keep its processes oblique when plugging for things the people they supposedly work for do not actually want.

Plus our lawyerly Mayor seems to have quite a flair for deliberately opaque language. We'll be seeing a lot of that sort of thing over the next year I suspect.

But here is a bigger question. If we can list 181 places where new development can occur (click here), and that includes 60 densely packed McMansions at Mater Dolorosa, how can we ever tell SCAG that we are built out? How are we going to convince those clowns to keep our RHNA numbers down?

Sign off on numbers as stupid as those and the state will demand huge new development in Sierra Madre quicker than you can say BIA (Hearts) CAR.

And couldn't that 60 McMansion number become a self-fulfilling prophecy when the lawyers for New Urban West come sniffing around?

There is also this. How can we tell any government agency that Sierra Madre has a water problem when we have voluntarily identified 181 sites for potential development? What becomes of any building moratorium then?

I believe it was John Capoccia who called for these higher numbers. You know, the guy who ran for office as a mighty tax fighter and slow growth die hard. What in God's name happened to John?

Did the Pod People get him?

Secret Developer Meetings At City Hall

Last week potential developers of the Mater Dolorosa site were privileged with a private meeting that included certain senior members of City Staff. Apparently there will now be another similar secret meeting this Thursday.

Ever feel like you're being left out of all the fun?

Monday, May 26, 2014

General Plan Build-Out Numbers and Mater Dolorosa

It is Memorial Day, which is the occasion when we honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to help preserve freedoms that so many of us unfortunately now take for granted. And then there are City Council meetings, where local special interests often attempt to confiscate a few of those freedoms to help promote their own very special interests. And too often the citizens of whatever "governmental agency" is being finagled with cooperate by abdicating their responsibility to participate in whatever matters are at stake. Here is an example from tomorrow night's City Council meeting agenda.

4. DISCUSSION – GENERAL PLAN BUILD-OUT NUMBERS - Recommendation that the City Council approve the General Plan build-out numbers as updated.

What follows is a screen shot of the Staff Report. As you might know, there is considerable pressure on this community to accommodate large amounts of undesirable and frankly predatory McMansion development. In order for that to happen certain "adjustments" must be made to things such as our gradually emerging General Plan. So let me ask you this, would increasing our so-called "build-out" numbers help or hinder in the effort to preserve the character of this community? And, even more importantly, what exactly would be included in those numbers?

You can find the "Proposed Additional Build-Out Analysis" table here. But just to cut to the chase, here is one item that should send up a monastery's worth of red flags.

(Click to enlarge)

So here is my question. Why does this particularly destructive proposed development have to be included in anything having to do with our General Plan? Oh, and 60 units? Really? It seems like that number changes every day.

Here is another one. Exactly what did go down at that exclusive and very private City Hall meeting held with the developer last week? And did you know there is another meeting just like that planned for this Thursday?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

VFW Memorial Day Ceremony

(Mod: I received the following e-mail from this community's good friends at VFW Post 3208. Tomorrow, as you must know, is Memorial Day, and each year Sierra Madre's VFW post holds a commemorative ceremony at Pioneer Cemetery. If you have never attended this ceremony, it is both impressive and stirring, and something you need to witness.)

John: We are expecting a larger number of people this year. Please encourage people to come early if they want a seat. The event officially starts at 11:00 A.M. Crosses and flags went up today at Pioneer Cemetery on all of the Veterans grave sites, a week in advance of the Memorial Service this year, for the honor and benefit of affected family members who have Veteran loved ones buried there.

Back by popular demand, keynote speaker will be former two-time Mayor and three-term City Councilwoman MaryAnn MacGillivray. Congresswoman Judy Chu is also expected to be at our ceremony for a short time and will speak. We don't yet know what city officials will be a attending, however I'm sure Councilman John Cappocia will be there, and our fire and police chiefs.

We will have patriotic music playing before and after the ceremony, including popular music from the WWII era. A complementary sandwich lunch will be served to attendees immediately following the ceremony.  Post Commander Dave Loera will be officiating.  Msgr. Richard Krekelberg of St. Rita Parish will give the invocation, cantor Peter Vecchio, bugler Paul Puccinelli will be other participants as well as the members of VFW Post 3208.

Finally, see the following regarding the VFW Buddy Poppy Program (link here).

Also, here is a little history about the origin and meaning of the VFW Maltese Cross Symbol (link here).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Developer At Mater Dolorosa Is Quietly Revealed In The Latest City Manager's Report

Try passing one of these babies through the eye of a needle
The following information was rather surreptitiously revealed in the latest City Manager's report, located on the always informative City of Sierra Madre website. Which on ominous occasions such as this one apparently serves as an extension of the development industry's public relations arm, especially within the three square mile confines of this radically under assault community. All too often this is how such things get announced here. Quietly, like it's a secret that only those in the know should get to hear about.

At least until the public relations product is properly prepared for local resident consumption. I think that is regarded as being a part of the process. This item can be viewed in its native habitat by clicking here.

Oh, and what better time to share this news than right before a three day weekend? You know, when everybody's attention is focused elsewhere?

Jerry Pearson, Cameron Thornton, and representatives from New Urban West met with City staff this week regarding their future plans for the development of the lower portion of the Mater Dolorosa property into single-family residential development. They informed staff that an agreement has been signed with New Urban West to develop the site, and that New Urban West will begin “due diligence” starting in June, and will begin community outreach in June - meeting with neighbors door-to-door, contacting stakeholders as well as Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to introduce themselves. New Urban West anticipates an application submittal by Fall of this year.

June, eh? Not so very far away. I guess we all know which side of the equation the City Manager's loyalties fall on. The difference between "due diligence" and the entire northwest quadrant of Sierra Madre being rolled under in a blitzkrieg of some billionaire housing developer's bull and diesel dust apparently being moot downtown. Just as long as they get their bloody pound of flesh, what do they care?

Now it probably would have been nice of City Hall to invite members of the community to such a meeting. After all, they are the people whose taxes enable the salaries that allow staff to live the low impact lifestyle they have become so accustomed to. But you know how that works.

The remaining big questions being, was a sustainable lunch served? And was it served with or without bottled water?

So who is New Urban West?  Here's how they describe themselves on their website:

It's good to see that they view themselves as being public relations forward. Because they really are going to need that sort of thing once they get down to the destruction of the lives and happiness of all those unfortunate enough to live in the path of the thousands of diesel truck trips and other construction traffic that will be roaring up what had once been quiet residential streets. It takes a practiced flair to successfully market someone else's personal misery from the comfort of executive suites located in Santa Monica.

But hey, at New Urban West they get that. The Fathers must be very proud of their choice.

And what exactly do they build? All kinds of nonsense apparently. Here is a screenshot that shows the dreary mix of pretentious California Generica that New Urban West blesses our world with.

Lovely pictures, of course. Ranchos, meadows, harmony groves and a lariat. So special. What these projects might actually look like once they've arisen from their choking clouds of dust and diesel smoke being another big question.

My guess is it will be a lot more Rancho Cucamonga than Santa Fe.

They can be forced to back down, however. This March of 2012 article from the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link) shows NUWI's softer side:

New Urban West Plans To Sell Burbank Rancho Development Site - In the face of continued neighborhood opposition to its residential project, New Urban West Inc. plans to sell the former General Motors training facility in Burbank’s Rancho neighborhood to a local school.

New Urban has faced stiff opposition in its plan to transform the former GM training site into a residential community. Because the site is zoned for commercial and office uses, New Urban West would need a zone change to build residential units.

In February, the Santa Monica-based developer trimmed its original plan for 120 condominiums to 50 single-family homes, but many residents—who once defeated a neighborhood Whole Foods--still opposed the project fearing it would still threaten the Rancho’s equestrian character.

Maybe they'll be bringing some of this kind of informational literature around with them when they start going door to door in a week or so. Kind of makes them the Jehovah's Witnesses of predatory development, I guess.

You can witness this entire New Urban West collection of public relations expertise by clicking here. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

An End Of An Era: Joe Mosca's House Goes On The Market

Apparently the Boscas are about to return to the U.S., but rather than living in their beloved Sierra Madre they've decided to reside in San Diego instead. That is where the job that pays the bills is taking them. Their home here is now for sale.

There was an open house yesterday, and they'll throw those doors open for ecstatic home shoppers again on the 25th. The Realtor is Tim Hartley with Deasy/Penner & Partners.

Here's the problem. Deasy/Penner is out of Pasadena, which means that Joe did not go with a Sierra Madre Realtor. Can you imagine the chagrin downtown? A lot of those Realtors gave everything they had when Joe was running for City Council. Is this how he's paying them back for their devotion, hard work and loyalty? Why?

Deasy/Penner: When a Sierra Madre Realtor just won't do
Deasy/Penner has a blog called "Home As" Here is a screen shot from their site. Does it seem a bit pretentious to you? It does to me, too.

One more thing. Didn't Joe promise his political true believers that he'd be back someday? Because Sierra Madre would always be his real home?

Well, apparently not.

The first screen shot was taken from Trulia. Link here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pasadena Star News: Sierra Madre senior accused of possessing child porn

There is a fairly brief article up on the Pasadena Star News site about the arrest of Sierra Madre resident Edward L. Sanchez yesterday on possession of child pornography charges. Similar articles can also be found on the Sierra Madre Weekly (link) and Sierra Madre sites (link). All three of these articles are based upon a press release issued by the Sierra Madre Police Department, though the Star News piece does have some additional information.

Sierra Madre senior accused of possessing child porn (Pasadena Star News link): Authorities arrested a 65-year-old man for allegedly possessing child pornography. In a statement, police said a search warrant was served in the 400 block of Sturtevant Drive early Wednesday morning.

Officers arrested Edward L. Sanchez of Sierra Madre and seized computers and other items as evidence.

The Sierra Madre Police Department and the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force were involved in the investigation. Police released few details about the case.

Chief Larry Giannone said “this has been a lengthy investigation and is ongoing ...we are urging anyone who has minor children that may have had personal contact with Mr. Sanchez to contact the Police Department”.

“We have no further comments on this investigation at this time as it is still under investigation,” Giannone said.

Sanchez was booked on suspicion of possessing obscene matter involving a minor. Booking records show he is being held at an LAPD jail on $20,000 bail.

I have a question about the fourth paragraph. While it is important for the SMPD to reach out to parents in a situation like this, why did that have to happen only after a "lengthy investigation?" I understand the need to build a proper case so that justice can be properly served on this guy, but why put children at further risk by allowing this to go on for a "lengthy" period of time?

Sanchez either possessed child pornography or he didn't. Upon discovering that this was the case he should have been arrested immediately. Removing a potential danger such as this person from our community should have been the only priority. Allowing him to remain free after it was established that he had this stuff seems irresponsible to me. How much more did they need to know?

But perhaps this has more to do with the Chief's unfortunate struggles with proper syntax. It often seems fairly obvious that he is not a "word guy."

There is also the SMPD's obligatory refusal to say much more, though not being able to comment about the investigation because it is still under investigation is an entirely new twist on that theme. Perhaps because the investigation went on for too long it is being investigated?

Whatever the situation, not much is likely to happen. As it was in the Matheson case, we have probably now heard all we'll ever hear from Chief Giannone on this matter.

When Bob Matheson returned to Sierra Madre after a well-deserved stretch in a Canadian pokey for the possession of child pornography, many here wondered why the City did not have him immediately registered as a sex offender. Certainly someone like that requires special attention.

However, that is not how they saw it downtown. The Sierra Madre Patch reported the following:

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

That interpretation did not pass muster with everyone, however, And in an article titled "Sierra Madre police say child porn convict not required to register as sex offender," the Pasadena Star News correctly questioned the Chief's interpretation of the law. Here is what they had to say on this matter (link):

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

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

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

Here is a little more on this from that Star News piece:

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

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

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

Fell said has he understands it, sex-crime convictions in another state or country would require sex-offender registration as long as the law in the other state or country is substantially similar to California law. "As long as it has the elements," Fell said, "maybe it's not a gray area."

Like I said, we never heard much more about the Matheson case from the City of Sierra Madre. The whole thing just disappeared into that "the investigation is ongoing and can't be commented upon" black hole, never to return.

I have always maintained that Matheson's social prominence and high level political connections in this town got him a pass on having to register as a sex offender. Something that would have severely limited the socially proactive Mr. Matheson's ability to get around.

Hopefully we'll see more energy from City Hall in the Edward Sanchez case. After all, there are no pictures floating around of him breaking bread with former Sierra Madre Mayors or prominent Realtors.

One other thing. I did a little research and found the following on the "Internet Crimes against Children Task Force." This from the U.S. Department of Justice (link):

The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program (ICAC program) helps state and local law enforcement agencies develop an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This help encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, and community education. 

The program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the Internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and heightened online activity by predators seeking unsupervised contact with potential underage victims. OJJDP created the ICAC Task Force Program under the authority of the fiscal year (FY) 1998 Justice Appropriations Act, Public Law 105–119, and continued funding the program with successive appropriations in FYs 1999, 2000, and 2001. The Providing Resources, Officers, and Technology to Eradicate Cyber Threats to Our Children Act ("the PROTECT Act") of 2008, (P.L. 110-401, codified at 42 USC 17601, et seq.), authorized the ICAC program through FY 2013. 

It seems fairly obvious to me that the the arrest of Edward Sanchez was largely due to the actions of the Department of Justice, and not any investigations initiated locally.

Allowing the SMPD to break this news being a courtesy extended by the Feds to local law enforcement agencies in cases such as this one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Is Paul Tanaka's High Ranking Sierra Madre Political Support Feeling Now?

Tanaka with finger outstretched
We first wrote about our then Mayor Nancy Walsh's puzzling endorsement of controversial candidate for Los Angeles County Sheriff, the legally embattled former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, here on this blog early last January.

Given the nature of much of what was going on regarding Tanaka's apparently deep personal involvement in the various nasty Sheriff Department prison abuse scandals then (and still) under investigation by the FBI, Nancy's unfortunate vow of support didn't impress us as being an especially brilliant political move at the time. Here is what we wrote in the post discussing this very matter (link):

In what the staff here at The Sierra Madre Tattler has now begun to refer to as the "political equivalent of twerking," Mayor Nancy Walsh has made what has got to be regarded as a very controversial candidate endorsement. Paul Tanaka, who is under investigation by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for many of the very same things that drove Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca to announce his resignation as Sheriff yesterday, is not the kind of person politicians possessing a modicum of sense and wisdom would want to find themselves associated with right now. Then again, nobody has ever accused Nancy Walsh of having too much of that sort of thing.

Our former Mayor of Sierra Madre was celebrated in the following Tanaka for LA County Sheriff press release for her support, which as far as I can tell was only published on their website and here on The Tattler. Here is part of what was said (link):

Sierra Madre Mayor Nancy Walsh Endorses Paul Tanaka - Today, Sierra Madre Mayor Nancy Walsh officially announced her support of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka as he campaigns for Sheriff of Los Angeles County. Tanaka has also received the support of Rosemead Mayor Polly Low and Temple City Mayor Cynthia Sternquist. 

“Paul Tanaka’s exceptional leadership is exactly what the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department needs,” said Mayor Walsh. “As Mayor of the City of Gardena, Paul successfully saved the city from bankruptcy, reduced crime to record lows and increased business throughout the city. The department would be lucky to have him as their next Sheriff.”

Now why Nancy Walsh, who as Mayor here had repeatedly vowed to do whatever it takes to keep the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department out of Sierra Madre, would want to insert herself into that particular political race does beg an explanation. And I am not certain what that explanation might be.

Additionally, Paul Tanaka had also received the support of Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce President Ed Chen. So profound was Ed's devotion that he took a leave of absence from his position as Director of Governmental Affairs at Athens Services (our beloved trash company with the helpful multi-colored cans) to help run Tanaka's campaign for Sheriff.

It is also important to note here that Ed Chen is Chamber of Commerce President not only in Sierra Madre, but also in Rosemead and Temple City as well. A COC triple crown, I guess. All of whom have (or had) Mayors that endorsed the Tanaka campaign. And all at roughly the same time.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

So you have to wonder how all of those folks were feeling yesterday when stories such as the following  started showed up in all of the daily papers. This first one is from the Los Angeles Daily News (link):

Paul Tanaka urged to halt Los Angeles County sheriff bid in wake of federal jailhouse probe Sheriff’s candidate Paul Tanaka’s testimony in federal court this week set off a firestorm of criticism, as rivals called on him to bow out and some supporters remained steadfast.

Under questioning from a prosecutor, Tanaka acknowledged that he is a subject in an ongoing federal investigation.

Tanaka, a former second-in-command of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, was called to testify in defense of Deputy James Sexton — the first of seven sheriff’s officers to stand trial on charges stemming from an alleged effort to hinder an FBI probe of abuse of inmates in the county jail.

Tanaka said that he knew about the department’s efforts to hide an FBI informant and inmate inside L.A. County’s jails, but he believed the Sheriff’s Department had a duty to protect the inmate while the department investigated the inmate’s claims that a deputy and federal agent helped him smuggle a cellphone and drugs inside the jail.

“Orders that I passed on or carried out, I believed to be lawful and still do,” Tanaka said Tuesday.

Then there was this troubling report in yesterday's LA Register (link):

Opponent calls for Paul Tanaka to quit sheriff race in light of federal criminal probe Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been urged to step down from the race to become the county’s top law enforcement official in the wake of revelations that he is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Rival sheriff candidate Bob Olmsted, a retired commander, called on Tanaka to end his candidacy a day after Tanaka acknowledged in a courtroom during the trial of a deputy that he is the subject of a federal obstruction of justice investigation.

“Voters need and deserve an honest sheriff who will uphold and have the greatest respect for the law,” Olmsted said Tuesday in a statement issued through his campaign. “It’s clear that Paul Tanaka thinks he’s above the law and he doesn’t have the moral compass needed to steer the LASD away from its corrupt past and toward a future of integrity and transparency.”

Tanaka took the witness stand Friday and Monday in the federal trial of Deputy James Sexton, who is accused of helping block an FBI probe into deputy-on-inmate violence inside the county’s jail system. During questioning in a cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, Tanaka said he is aware he is the subject of the federal obstruction of justice investigation.

An ongoing federal civil rights and corruption probe has resulted in the indictments of 20 current and former deputies. Sexton is the first to face trial.

And, not wanting to be outdone by their rival city papers, The Los Angeles Times added the following to the discussion (link):

Obstruction probe includes upper echelons of L.A. sheriff's department Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and a sheriff's captain are being investigated for their alleged roles in hiding a jail inmate from federal authorities, a prosecutor revealed in court Monday.

Seven low-ranking Los Angeles County sheriff's officials are being tried this month on federal obstruction-of-justice charges. The statements from the prosecutor at one of the trials are a sign that high-ranking supervisors remain under scrutiny.

Tanaka and Capt. William Carey were witnesses Monday in the trial of Deputy James Sexton. Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox, Tanaka said he is aware that he is a subject of an ongoing investigation.

Fox asked Tanaka if he knows that criminal cases sometimes start with lower-level officials before moving toward the top. Sexton’s attorney objected to the question, and the judge ordered it stricken from the record.

Tanaka, who is retired, is running for sheriff against six other candidates, with the primary election on June 3.

Now certainly Sierra Madre has only played a bit part in this rather immense L.A. County scandal. However, and as small as our role may be, it can't be something that too many living here have taken much pride in.

In light of these new and disturbing reports, perhaps former Mayor Walsh and Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce President Ed Chen might wish to reconsider their support for Tanaka. And then maybe they'd also want to tell us why they've changed their minds.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Tattler's Readership In China Continues To Grow

We've been spending a lot of time on this site griping about potential McMansion development here, along with the far eastern origin of the cash that could potentially finance such things. And wouldn't you know it, our devotion to that particular topic has apparently now started to attract some reader interest in a very special faraway place. That being mainland China.

Just to the left of the words you are reading now is an inset detailing the international page view figures for this blog over the last 30 or so days. As you can see, the vast majority of those clicking on The Tattler are from the United States. Which makes perfect sense. And I believe that if Google was to break this all down a little more, most of that 54,176 figure would have come from California. Or even Los Angeles County. This is a local blog, after all, and deals with things that ordinarily don't translate very well in places far away. With many Europeans probably confusing us with a popular Mexican vacation destination celebrated in a song you can listen to by clicking here.

But our biggest overseas growth market for site traffic is now mainland China. With 2,407 hits in the last thirty days, or nearly double what the Mountain Views News website gets overall during one of its better months, it is obvious that we have caught the attention of interested folks from afar.

I've thought about why this might be, and decided it has to be the articles on McMansions. That and there are some people here who have a serious problem with them. It is certainly not the kind of thing you'd want to hear too much about, especially if it was you that was investing vast sums of cash in Southern California on just these kinds of real estate ventures.

Back on March 24 the Los Angeles Times published an article called "Wealthy Chinese home buyers boost suburban L.A. housing markets" (link). I think it adds some credence to my theories about our newfound readership.

The overflow from China's economic high tide is transforming the housing markets of suburban Los Angeles. Affluent Chinese home buyers are driving prices past boom-era peaks, spawning a subset of property brokers and mortgage lenders that cater to their distinct needs — and even dictate design details in new subdivisions.

The strongest magnet is the San Gabriel Valley, where Monterey Park became known as the "first suburban Chinatown" in the 1970s. Selling real estate there now requires familiarity with feng shui, the ancient Chinese principles of harmonious design.

"People are getting money out of mainland China and sticking it here," said Mel Wong, president of the West San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Realtors.

The trend appears unlikely to unwind soon. More than 60% of China's wealthy have left or plan to leave the country, at least part time, and their No. 1 destination is the United States, according to the Hurun Report, a Shanghai publishing firm focused on recently minted millionaires and billionaires.

Despite dizzying ups and downs in U.S. home prices, the market can seem more stable than in China, where fears of a property bubble have added to the economic and political worries of the burgeoning middle and upper classes.

Motivations vary by location. Luxury estates in San Marino are bargains by Chinese standards; inexpensive Inland Empire homes are purchased as investments; top-shelf schools draw throngs to Irvine.

Eva Chen and her husband travel between their homes in Shanghai and Arcadia, where they purchased a property near Santa Anita Park in October. They scooped up the second home as an escape from pollution and a shot at better schools for their two infants.

Compared with housing prices in China, the $1.27-million Arcadia property didn't seem expensive. "The Arcadia house is cheaper," Chen said.

But it's getting more expensive quickly. Heavy demand pushed the median home sales price past $1.32 million last quarter in Arcadia's 91007 ZIP Code — 30.5% above its peak in 2007, during the housing bubble, according to researcher DataQuick.

Next door in the 91006 ZIP Code, prices are up 23.7%. Other areas with prices exceeding their peaks include Walnut, Temple City, San Marino and parts of San Gabriel and East San Gabriel, all hubs for Chinese investment. 

I guess I need to do some more McMansion articles. It seems there is an audience overseas that is very interested in what is going on around here. Obviously it is a growth market for blog traffic.

How residents could have more influence at City Council meetings

The following article was forwarded to me by a longtime reader. The underlying issue is a serious one, and the reaction of some people in the City of Albuquerque is, in my opinion, quite understandable.

But that said, we come from a City where certain elected officials practically pass out if someone speaks from the public comment podium for more than 3 minutes. So can you imagine if something like the following were to happen?

Albuquerque Residents Vow to Storm Another City Council Meeting (link) - Albuquerque, NM residents have vowed to storm another city council meeting set for tomorrow just days after they forced councilors to flee following a raucous protest against police brutality.

Demonstrators crowded Albuquerque city council chambers on Monday before serving a “people’s arrest warrant” against Albuquerque police chief Gorden Eden, causing him to make a hasty dash for the exit. Protesters also called for the removal of Mayor Richard Berry.

Residents are irate about rampant police brutality and corruption, with Albuquerque law enforcement officers having been responsible for 40 shootings since 2010, of which 25 were fatalities. The U.S. Justice Department also released a report last month which called for institutional reform to stem “patterns of excessive force” that have dogged the police department.

Residents have promised to keep up the pressure, starting with the rescheduled meeting on Thursday.

“Nora Tachias-Anaya, a local activist, says protesters are planning to attend a rescheduled council meeting Thursday and will not stop criticizing the Albuquerque Police Department,” reports the Associated Press.

If tomorrow’s meeting is anything like what unfolded on Monday, expect councilors to be heading for the exit doors once again.

University Professor David Correia, who led the takeover the of the council meeting, said that some of the demonstrators were prepared to be arrested as they engaged in a conscious act of civil disobedience, risking a fine and 3 months in jail.

Not that I necessarily recommend this kind of thing, but wouldn't it be interesting if people here in Sierra Madre felt that strongly about topics such as predatory real estate development?

Monday, May 19, 2014

So What Will Happen To The Sierra Madre Tattler?

I don't know if you are aware of this or not, but after around 14 years of living in the occasionally friendly confines of Sierra Madre, my family and I are moving. There are a number of reasons for this, and unfortunately they all make perfectly good sense. It isn't anything we wanted to do, it's just that we have to do it. There really is no other way.

Here it is in a nutshell. Our oldest son is about to enter high school. We applied to quite a few private schools and, being a smart kid, he was accepted to all of them. The bad news is each of these fine institutions of a little bit of higher learning is quite costly. The one we were leaning towards, The Webb School in Claremont, would have cost us a cool $40,000 a year. Ties and meals not included. It is just too much.

Both Lorrie and I are the product of perfectly sound New York metropolitan area public school educations. Lorrie has two PhDs, and I ended up in the music business. Which makes the results 50-50, a decent enough average for the real world. And so, faced with some fundamental financial challenges, and not all that impressed with the private school educations our sons have received up until now anyway (as examples, neither can speak Latin or code computer programs yet), we decided to go out and tour some public high schools.

And that is how we discovered San Dimas. The high school there, which we fell in love with, has won just about every award the state can throw at it. The Middle School is equally celebrated. They offer everything real schools should, have extraordinary athletic programs (the San Dimas varsity baseball team has been scouted by professional teams with names like Dodgers), and in a lot of ways stack up very favorably with their private competition.

Interesting fact. Most private schools in the San Dimas area cost far less than their counterparts in the Pasadena region. Why? Because they have to compete with San Dimas's public schools.

House swap
The financials also add up. Homes in Sierra Madre, because the big development jackasses weren't allowed to wreck this town as they have so many others, are going for absurdly high prices right now. Our little cottage on the north end of Grove Street went for far more than I ever dreamed possible.

People want to live in towns that offer authenticity and character. Sierra Madre has all that, and people are willing to pay out the nose to get it.

If you check out the Redfin website you'll find a chart that shows Sierra Madre is one of the 5 hottest real estate markets in all of Los Angeles County. We didn't get this way by building the Downtown Specific Plan, or listening to the selfish complaints from the usual suspects in the Canyon.

It happened because slow growth Sierra Madreans stood up to some very big money, and won. The homeowners of this town owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

Generic SCAG housing, which has harmed property values in so many of our neighboring cities, never happened here. At least not yet. But, given the pressures being exerted upon this community by people who only care about the dough they'll make by cashing in your birthright, this might not last. Three potential McMansion developments, various large and densely packed infill nuisance projects, the growing atrocity that is the ALF, plus imported water that kills cats and fish, all of that needs to be taken into consideration.

Nothing lasts forever, especially when you don't want to fight for it.

The differential in home prices between Sierra Madre and San Dimas is still fairly large. With the equity we picked up from the sale of our small house here we were able to get something far more spacious. Our new home is located at the end of a long driveway that winds up the side of a hill. It is surrounded on three sides by wooded land, and from the fourth we have a view that on a clear day goes on forever. All at about half the price a similarly situated home would cost here.

So what will happen to The Sierra Madre Tattler?
There are critics of this blog who are of the opinion that since I'm moving out I must stop doing this. Nothing could be more ridiculous, even from them. My wife is keeping her practice right here in town, and I have many great friends in Sierra Madre that want me to keep this project moving forward.

Besides, as far as this blog goes, I can pretty much do as I wish. The only time I listen to critics is when I want to find out which opposite way I should go.

I think that in time The Sierra Madre Tattler will start to take on a more regional perspective. Living 20 miles down the valley from where I am typing this now will likely do that. But the change will be gradual, and I don't plan on forcing anything.

Also, this blog has become something of a brand, with a readership that is hardly limited to Sierra Madre alone. 2.3 million hits and 103,000 reader comments are numbers indicating that there really is interest out there in what we are doing. Why stop now?

There is a lot going on in Sierra Madre today, and I believe it needs the kind of coverage this blog has always given the place. I know the town, and I know the material. Besides, this is the Internet after all. Who can tell where anything is actually coming from? And really, does it really matter all that much?

We might be moving down the road, but The Tattler is going to stay right here. I expect the transition to be seamless.