Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Captain Obvious: How Sierra Madre's Robust Real Estate Market Makes The Utility Tax Cut A Walk In The Park

(Mod: Today's guest informant is Captain Obvious, a gentleman who is as comfortable with numbers as he is uncomfortable with some of the curveballs being pitched lately by City Hall. What he shows us is that because of the huge real estate sell off in Sierra Madre recently, the City will easily make up the lion's share of it's so-called utility tax cut generated budgetary shortfall with the resulting surge in property tax increases. Because, and as almost everyone who has sold their house lately can tell you, the things are worth a whole lot more now than they used to be, which means more tax money for the taxman now that they've been sold. Captain Obvious breaks it all down into the following easy to follow steps, and then provides us with the spreadsheet to prove it ...  I think we can all agree, what a guy!)

Hi Mr. Tattler, this is your Captain speaking:

The figures of Real Estate Sales in 91024 is for the last 90 days ending 09/28/2014. They were obtained using the Redfin.com iPhone app.

What the big long attached spreadsheet at the end tells us:

- 83 properties sold in the last 90 days. That is the same rate as 332 sales in a year!

- Total property tax increase for the last 90 days is $282,622.

- Sierra Madre's cut of the increase is about 21.9% of that increase. That's $61,894.11 for the last 90 days.

- Multiply $ 61,894.11 X 4 = estimated annual increase of $ 247,576.44 so say $250,000. AND that's for every year + 2% COLA.

- The City says a drop to an 8% UUT rate would result in a $400,000 "loss of revenue".

- BUT, $400,000 minus $250,000 = $150,000 shortfall left to cover.

- A $150,000 shortfall out of a $8,500,000 general fund budget would be 1.76% of that budget. Are you telling me the City can't find 2% to cut?

- These figures do not take into account former Finance Director Schnaider telling the City Council that there was about $200,000 extra from 2013-2014.


Captain Obvious

(Mod: Problem solved! Bring on the City Hall reorganization! Here's the spreadsheet.)

(Mod: Tune in tonight at 7PM for the Special Meeting of the City Council. They're dealing with the budget, and now you have some exceptionally good information to share with them!)


Monday, September 29, 2014

Judy Gold: A Conversation With Mayor John Harabedian About Reforming Sierra Madre's City Government

(Mod: What follows is an email conversation that took place between informed resident Judy Gold and the Mayor of Sierra Madre, John Harabedian. The topic is the City Hall reform proposals being put forward by Councilmembers Denise Delmar and Rachelle Arizmendi. While many believe an extensive reworking of our city government is well overdue, the Mayor confesses to some reluctance in this email exchange. In my opinion this offers some important insight into what could happen at Tuesday evening's City Council Special Session meeting on the budget. Tune in tomorrow at 7:00.)

Judy Gold: The new employee structure and pay reviewed by commission on Tuesday needs to be revisited. The ladies are right on and you and your colleagues are dead wrong.

Mayor John Harabedian: Thanks, Judy -- why am I dead wrong?  I'm asking because I would honestly like to know what parts of the plan you agree with and why the City should implement them now.  I thought your husband made some very good comments at the meeting, and like him, I could not justify increasing our General Fund budget by $63,000 through this plan -- plain and simple.  I think that any reorganization plan should be saving the City money, not costing it.

That being said, I think parts of plan have some real merit (hence why we did implement certain aspects of it on Tuesday night), and we will be revisiting the other portions of the plan during our budget discussions. Happy to discuss, John

Judy Gold: Mr. Harabedian, do you always agree with your wife's opinions? Barry and I are not joined at the hip and on Tuesday he was still confused. I can't speak to his feelings at this point. Neither of us are totally competent to understand the jargon used in these plans. Originally, I thought too, that an increase in salaries is not a good thing. I gave the matter some thought. The plan places caps on  the higher salaries. For instance, if an employee makes 100,000 plus in perks, the plan would raise him 15,000 but decrease his benefits by 5,000. The employee retires. If the plan is not in place, a new person might get 140,000 plus perks of at least 20,000. That's 50,000 more right there. Right now we have nothing in place to control salary. We would be asked to pay more taxes and have McMansions forced down our throats. The plan also gives 5 years to cut salaries and number of employees. By staff admission, city employees have 22% higher perks than the norm. This is a start.

The cuts the city has made up to this point are negligible. At this point, it seems to be more in favor of employees than the citizens that must pay for them.

The screams from the library people are really off putting. With the advent of e-books, Internet, etc. the library is becoming a burden financially. I hate to see it go as they were important to me growing up. But no longer. Too many employees for the services required.

The same could be said of the Police Department. Certainly it can be outsourced. Perhaps there could be a compromise. Keep a small patrol force and outsource the rest. Several months ago, some ornaments were stolen from our yard. After the police department got a good laugh out of it and asked what they were supposed to do about it, we provided them with our camera tape. We were able to identify the kids as students from La Salle. We got pictures of their car. A policeman watched the student drive from the school, stopped him and told him he wanted the return of the items. We were told we would be contacted as to the disposition of the case. No one from Sierra Madre called. We called and were told the DA would call. That never happened. We weren't out for blood. All we wanted was to know that the school had been told (which according to them, were unaware), and some response from the parents. Small deal, but for a city this size, lots of things should be taken more seriously.

There are several other incidents in which we involved the Police, because I guess that's what law abiding folks do, and little or nothing was done regarding a repeat happening that could have grave consequences. My dealing with them would be the same as the Sheriff. But I wouldn't expect as much nor have to pay as much. If the police and fire are combined, so what? We are little more than a village with our population. Our tax base cannot afford these salaries and benefits. The plan is a start.

You seemed to dislike the structure plan. It minimizes micromanagement, cross trains, allows for advancement, eliminates several supervisors. In essence it streamlines the present system. What more could you ask?

The General Plan needs to be finished. The municipal code needs to reflect the general plan. The new person hired for Mr. Castro's job needs to have that in place. The new department title has the word preservation in it. That is key.

There is more I can say, but I don't think you intended to read a tome. I will leave it at that.

Interested to hear your take. Judy Gold

Mayor John Harabedian: Hi Judy -- this is helpful, thank you. I cannot say that I disagree with you on much of this.  I do think there are some lingering questions about the structure itself that I have (mainly, whether it does more harm then good), but to me, the big thing here is timing and sequence -- I want to get our budget in order and then plan for the future in terms of salaries, benefits, structure, etc.  Some would disagree with that  and say that you get the structure and salaries in place, and then talk about the budget.  But I just don't think that makes sense -- with the UUT sunsetting, we have a task of cutting around $800K from the General Fund (nearly 10% of our budget), and that to me should be the council's first priority.  After we determine how we're going to do that (with an eye towards benefits and salaries), then I think we will be well positioned to start deciding on structure and compensation.

Doing it the other way around seems silly to me -- for example, why agree to give 10-20% raises to employees (while capping benefits) and tie salaries to a market rate before you've decide which departments and positions will still be in existence in 2 years?  In other words, let's say we instituted the plan as presented:  we re-organized and offered the compensation packages as proposed.  But then, as we were going through the budget process, we realized we could no longer support a fire department, police department, community services department, or a library (one or all of those things) -- what was the point of reorganizing and implementing the compensation packages if we are only having to unwind the structure altogether (which is altogether possible)?

Also, on the savings on health care plans, I think we should also consider the fact that those savings were offset by corresponding salary increases, and salary increases bring deferred pension liabilities and costs for the city, while health care costs don't.  So, while you save on health care costs, you increase your PERS costs -- something that has killed local municipalities up and down this state.  We have done a good job of keeping our pension liabilities in check and I want to keep it that way.

Finally, my wife and I disagree all the time, and she is 99% of the time right on those occasions.  She is a much wiser person than me, and probably would make a better Mayor, but is smart enough not to run for office.  John

(Mod: My takeaway here is that Mayor Harabedian seems committed to making the kinds of cuts necessary to make a 6% UUT work. Or so he is saying. Even to the point of actually delaying City Hall employment and organizational reforms over a relatively minor expense, which are both necessary and way overdue. And John does indulge himself in some unfortunate hostage taking here. Not being able to afford a volunteer fire department is a bit of a stretch. It will be interesting to see how deep the Mayor's commitment actually is, and if he will stick with this tomorrow evening.)


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Would The Taxpayers Ever Abolish The UUT Altogether?

Currently we're a 10% UUT city.
Tuesday evening is a City Council Special Meeting, and the topic will be City Hall's budget. Much of the meeting will find us having to listen to certain City Council members loudly and tenaciously bemoaning the rapidly approaching $800,000 General Fund budget deficit, along with the role that sunsetting the UUT will play. And that $800K we will be talking about this week is around 10% of the city's overall budget, which also makes it a considerable sum.

So what will they do about it? This will either lead to a whole lot of budget cutting and commensurate layoffs, or the City Council will instead opt to take a third shot at trying to convince the voters to approve an extension of our currently state leading 10% utility taxes.

I believe that when all is said and done there will be at least a push to attempt the latter option. Something that, should it succeed, could spare this City Council the unhappy experience of having to cut jobs or end services. Or so it will be claimed.

However, what if the voters are not in the mood to approve an extension of the UUT at 10%, especially after having already shot that notion down twice already? Being asked to vote for a third time on the exact same thing, and just because City Hall didn't like the previous two results, might not be received that well.

And what if the voters had another option on this matter? What if there were two UUT initiatives on the ballot at the same time? The first to extend utility taxes way out into the future at that current 10% rate, and another one to get rid of the UUT altogether?

That would be interesting.

According to the public notice below, published in this weekend's edition of the Mountain Views News, an initiative to end the UUT in Sierra Madre altogether could end up on the ballot as early as next Spring. Perhaps at the exact same time the City Council's initiative to extend the UUT at the current 10% is put on the ballot as well.

Check it out:

I personally do not believe that an initiative to get rid of utility taxes altogether would do well. At least the way things look now. Many voters will likely feel that knocking the UUT back down to 6% was enough, and they would be willing to live with that.

However, should a majority of this City Council launch yet another attempt at keeping utility taxes at 10%, it just might be a game changer. People could decide that they are sick of having their votes ignored by City Hall, and in a fit of pique opt instead to rid themselves of the UUT altogether.

People can only be expected to take so much. And if ending the UUT entirely could finally end this seemingly endless process once and for all? People just might go for it.

At which time that 6% UUT would suddenly start looking a whole lot better to City Hall.

Except it would be too late.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

X-Mayor Nancy Walsh: The Blue Sky Hair On Fire Speech

This is the latest video in our series of Sierra Madre X-Mayor Nancy Walsh's oddly incoherent City Hall performances. It was taped on September 23rd, the date of our most recent meeting of the City Council. As it always is with Nancy and her speeches, it truly is one doozy of a show.

For those of you with iPads and other devices like them, you can link to this video by clicking here.

While not quite as off the chain as her "We can take you out" tirade (link), this speech was intended as a kind of broadside against the City Hall reorganization and financial reforms initiated by current Councilmembers Rachelle Arizmendi and Denise Delmar. Instead it comes off as a toxic mix of poorly thought out and disconnected canards, Library hostage taking, and all larded over with a rapidly ramped up tone of hostility and resentment.

Much of her talk was haltingly delivered from notes that Nancy at times seemed barely capable of reading. As you watch notice how she paws at them throughout her short talk, as if desperately trying to dig a way out of her growing confusion.

While viewing this video it is also possible to wonder if she'd actually spent very much time with these notes before the meeting. A possibly bigger question being who might have actually written them for her.

If these notes had been ghostwritten for Nancy, then who are the cowards sending this poor confused woman to City Council meetings so that she can deliver their messages for them? Do these individuals lack the courage necessary to deliver these sorts of strange and incoherent speeches themselves?

Should we see this as an admission that even they know her attacks are pointless and irrational, and therefore would never care to attach their own names to them? Instead preferring to send in Nancy Walsh as their messenger, a furious one woman distraction from what really is an extremely serious matter?

At the end of this short video two uncomfortable things happen. First, and as you will see, Nancy steps back from the podium, looks over to the City Manager, smiles, and then loudly sucks her teeth. A tell if ever there was one.

The other is the stunned expressions on the faces of all five members of the City Council. As Nancy Walsh leaves the podium to walk up the aisle and back out into the night, their looks of embarrassment and silence are profound.

Obviously there were no questions for Nancy. You could have heard a pin drop.

Next Tuesday's Special City Council Meeting On The Budget

Here is an all too brief description of the excitement, taken from the September 30th City Council meeting agenda.

This may be a very significant meeting as it could indicate whether the Dude Faction of the City Council intends to honor the vote of the people of Sierra Madre on the UUT, thereby allowing it to sunset back down to 6%.

The people of this community have voted in favor of cutting their utility taxes twice, and within two years no less. Obviously this is a legitimate, and now legally reinforced, demand of the people. This City's government must now reduce utility taxes to their pre-2008 levels.

But will they? Is the era of the $37,600 a year health care plan really at an end? I personally doubt it. Apparently the City Council Dude Faction doesn't care to listen to the voters. They instead appear to believe that they are above the law, and beyond the reach of the taxpaying citizens of Sierra Madre.

There is even talk that rather than reducing the size of city government here, the CCDF will instead attempt a third vote on what are currently the highest city utility tax rates in California.

So who knows? Maybe we'll need to hire a lawyer and fight for this community's rights to have its UUT vote honored. And in the process restore democracy to Sierra Madre.


Friday, September 26, 2014

A Very Big Announcement From Preserve Sierra Madre

(Mod: I received this announcement yesterday from Preserve Sierra Madre, formerly known as the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project. It is some very big news for those interested in saving Sierra Madre from exploitative overdevelopment.)

Dear Supporters:​
The Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project was formed shortly after the Mountain Views News broke the story on November 16, 2013 that the Passionists from Chicago were planning to sell off a significant portion of the Monastery land. Since that time, our Coalition has grown rapidly from just a few people to a large group of concerned citizens committed to the preservation of one of the last large open spaces left in Sierra Madre.

During the time of our growth, we came to realize that the pressures of over-development had come not just to Mater Dolorosa but to the entire city of Sierra Madre. In other words, Mater Dolorosa was only a small part of a larger problem.

In an effort to protect this beautiful "Village in the Foothills" from the relentless pressure of outside developers, we have decided to form a new organization with a larger focus. The name of our organization says it all:  Preserve Sierra Madre.

In furtherance of our new efforts, we now can be found on Facebook and we are constructing a new website with the domain: www.PreserveSierraMadre.com. Our new email address is PreserveSierraMadreNow@gmail.com. 

Our new logo is:

We will have two principles that will guide our efforts:

1. We want to protect Sierra Madre from over-development in which Arcadia-like McMansions and lot splits appears to be the primary threat at the moment.

2. While we believe in private property rights, we also believe that a developer should not be allowed to build a property that causes a reduction in value to neighboring properties.  In other words, the developer's gain in value by building the biggest house possible should not be at the expense of the neighbors who see a loss in value because their views, light, or privacy are adversely impacted.

The Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project will still exist but only as an arm of the larger Preserve Sierra Madre organization.  Because of the moratoriums,  it will be somewhat dormant for the time being with Preserve Sierra Madre being at the vanguard of our new expanded efforts.

Finally, we want to thank each of our supporters.  Much has been accomplished in the ten months of our existence. Those accomplishments are due to the efforts, commitment and passion of the members of our Coalition. We will undoubtedly face an array of challenges in the future including from deep-pocket developers and their lawyers.

However, we will not be silenced or intimidated. Its all going to come down to whether we care more about preserving our city than the developers care about preserving their profits.  If everyone does a small part, we can prevail and preserve the Sierra Madre we know and love for future generations.

Thank you for your support.
Steering Committee
Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project 

(Mod: If I can throw in my two cents. The Preserve Mater Dolorosa group has been the most effective and professionally run new organization dedicated to curbing predatory and exploitative development here to emerge in Sierra Madre in quite some time. That they are now taking their efforts citywide is incredibly good news for everyone concerned about this important issue. We here at The Tattler fully support their efforts and hope you will as well.)


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Brown Act Boys Club: Fighting To Keep Things The Same?

Two gents in comfortable shades of brown.
Mod: As we saw Tuesday evening, the all male Tax Me Triplets faction of the City Council is getting ready to put a new UTT Measure on the ballot. It will be the third time our city's local government agency has attempted to do this since 2012. Which is an awful lot of work on their part, and proof that Einstein was right. Insanity truly is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

As potentially embarrassing as this might be to these fellows (and I use the word potentially because there is the possibility that they are not actually capable of feeling embarrassment), it is apparently preferable to them than actually following the wishes of the taxpayers. Which, as we know, is reducing taxes through diminishing the size and cost of our city's government. Why they're like this, well, we're not certain. Though it could be that the condition is genetic. You know, like a cowlick. Or ears that stick out in a funny way, catching the wind and causing the head to spin. Or even the affliction known as flat feet. Which some may find amusing, but good luck finding shoes that fit.

Unfortunately, the guys we have taken to calling the Brown Act Boys Club (so named because they are fellows who some believe have been taking private dancing lessons together), apparently answer to interests other than the taxpayers. Why else would they be going to such lengths to not bring spending into line with the voter designated amounts of folding money a 6% UUT would raise? That would certainly be something easier to accomplish than many of the strenuous and reactionary things they are attempting now.

Those would be the questions of the day for me. Fortunately there are some answers.

Rachelle Arizmendi and Denise Delmar have a plan that, should it be adopted, would achieve the kinds of things the residents of this city have voted for twice. This plan takes into account the reduced amounts of revenue the city will be taking in, and does so with the least amounts of disruption to the services City Hall has traditionally provided. Such as taking in revenue in order to be able to pay city staff for taking in that revenue. If that makes any sense.

Unfortunately, and I do mention this with sincere regret, there are some who seem to be confused by this plan. Nancy Walsh, speaking from the public comment podium Tuesday evening (and, most ironically, without the three minute timer being turned on), went so far as to declare that she was the victim of a vast conspiracy to confuse her.

I for one am not certain it would take a conspiracy to do that. This could also be a genetic condition. You know, rather than the work of any fashionable cabal dressed in nicely coordinated shades of brown?

So, in order to bring some badly needed clarity to all of this, we have put together a brief review of Denise and Rachelle's ideas. Done so in the hope that the Nancy Walsh's of this world (or even those dotty enough to have been misled into believing that the Library is going to close), might understand.

I sure hope this works. I'd hate to think these people are still just wandering around out there.

1) City Hall doors will open at 7:30 AM, Monday through Thursday. What you do once you get in there is entirely up to you.

2) The employee group that taxpayers pay for 100% of their health and welfare costs will now have a cap on their benefits. The era of the $37,800 health care plan (the most costly of its kind in the entire State of California) now comes screeching to a halt. Hopefully the laughter from our neighboring cities will soon subside as well.

3) Based on this proposed 5 Year Compensation Plan, all Health &Welfare costs are subject to further reductions. This is what happens when a city government is in touch with the marketplace. Often called "shopping for the best possible price," or "bargain hunting," it makes adjustments for things like actual cost. How's that for a wild idea?

4) City Hall, in a rare moment of candor, has now confessed in an actual Staff Report that Health & Welfare benefits have been 22% higher than market value for quite some time now. A condition that existed during their last two attempts to raise the UUT. You know, at the same time they were claiming that the City was broke, and everything had already been "cut to the bone?" Everything wasn't cut to the bone. They just made that stuff up.

5) Within 15% of "Market Rate" has been designated as the limit of a salary range, but it must also meet the criteria of being realistically based upon our population and budget. A manager who oversees four people in Sierra Madre cannot expect to be paid anywheres near as much as a manager who oversees 150 people in far more populous places such as Pasadena. Let's get real here. Nobody is getting any raises without actually earning them.

6) Four Director positions have been eliminated. We mention this in passing because otherwise you probably wouldn't have even noticed.

7) Information Technology will move out of Library. Anyone who sees this is as proof that the Library is closing will be offered a free mental health evaluation at the Kensington.

8) The Police and Fire Departments will now become a shared service known as Public Safety. This does not mean that the SMPD will be patrolling the streets of Sierra Madre in a firetrucks, as fun as that might sound. It does mean that certain redundancies will be eliminated, and at a savings to the taxpayer.

9) Human Resources, Community Services, Fiscal Services and Library Services will
report to the Assistant City Manager. The era of one person dominance at City Hall is now thankfully coming to an end.

10) Development Services will now become known as Planning & Community Preservation. Things such as the General Plan will now be consulted when decisions are being made to build something. Projects of mysterious origin ("POMOs") such as "Camillo Road" style LULUs, will cease.

11) Public Safety, Public Works and Planning & Community Preservation will report to the City Manager. But hopefully not that one. At least not for too much longer.

12) With this separation of powers a Succession Plan will also be put into place. The era of a "one irreplaceable person" comes to an end. City Staff will find it much harder to avoid the wishes of the taxpayers as government becomes more transparent, accessible and diffuse.

13) A Customer Service Manual will be required training for all employees. An adherence to standards acceptable to the community will become mandatory. Updating will be constant.

14) A Community Communication Enhancement Plan will be implemented. City Hall will actually attempt to compete with The Tattler. We welcome that competition.

15) Community Services will move to City Hall. One stop shopping for residents will become the rule. We'll then be able to see if anyone is buying.

16) Human Resources will set employee development expectations. Employees will be expected to continually develop new understanding and skills throughout their careers here. Just like in the real world.

17) The fiscal impact is mimimal and sustainable for two years. The main expense would be the temporary help needed for two years to complete the General Plan and Building Moratorium ordinances. Attempts to slow the completion of these two important initiatives down in order to enable things like the Mater Dolorosa development would naturally be squelched.

One more very important thing. The genius of all this is that once everything is in place, the financial and workplace flexibility needed to enact any changes made necessary by the sunsetting of the UUT will be there. Finally bringing municipal government here into line with the expectations of residents who have twice asked for a more efficiently run city, and at a price a village of less than 11,000 people can actually afford to pay.

We'll be free at last.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Will This City Council Have The Fiscal Discipline Needed To Run Sierra Madre On A 6% Utility User Tax?

The Library campaign takes flight.
Are you kidding me? There is not a chance in hell that a Harabedian-led City Council is going to show the backbone it will take to stand up to this city's employee unions, the Chicken Little Library claque, plus Nancy Walsh and the entire John Buchanan corporate Sellout Sierra Madre crowd. This one is over right now. Stick in the fork already.

Rachelle Arizmendi and Denise Delmar can talk until there is no tomorrow about establishing modern employee fiscal management practices for the first time ever at our sadly antiquated and old school City Hall, but I don't see it happening. Why? We are talking about a city government that has been literally awash in taxpayer cash for years. They're used to getting whatever they want, and don't really believe they will ever have to change. And who knows, they just might be right.

The highest utility taxes in California, the highest costing health care plans in California, Sierra Madre City Hall has had it all for years. And I don't think that the majority of this City Council will have the backbone it takes to break those bad old habits and stand up for the taxpayers. Even if they wanted to, which they do not.

Enablers like Harabedian and Goss are big time political machine union guys who want to give city employees as much as they possibly can. Capoccia will talk endlessly about saving money and being prudent, but in the end he'll vote with the union guys. You know, because he has some doubts and he wants to be fair.

This will be the girls against the boys, and the people of Sierra Madre will lose on a 3 to 2 vote.

So where is this all really heading? What will the immediate consequence of this loss be? A third attempt to raise the UUT back up to 10%. Or, if they think they can get away with it, 12%. Three of the five members of this City Council apparently do not wish to respect a decision the voters of Sierra Madre have now made twice. That being to cut utility taxes and rein in the costs of running City Hall.

You can bet the farm on it. The chickens, too. The UUT is going back on the ballot for a third time. And far sooner than you might think.

City Hall finally deals with the sex offender issue  3 years too late

Yep. Three years of not having a solitary clue about how to deal with an issue that twice has had a devastating impact on this community, and now City Hall is writing a letter to Judy Chu and Chris Holden.

Far too little, and way too late.

Chris Holden

All you need to know to realize what a phony this guy is can be found by clicking here. The epitome of what a bought and paid for L.A. County machine politician is all about.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is Certain Public Comment Getting Left On The Cutting Room Floor? Plus: There Is A City Council Meeting Tonight

I have received several complaints from people who have told me that their public comment from the most recent Planning Commission meeting has pretty much been chopped out from any of the SMTV3 reruns.

Which is kind of troubling in a couple of ways. The first being that this city is blessed with some very thoughtful and eloquent people, folks who actually bother to go to City Hall for these meetings and share what they know. A thankless task if ever there was one. You'd think they would deserve to be treated a little better than that. Besides, finding out later that your brief 3 minute talk has been badly cut or even deleted from Planning Commission meeting TV reruns altogether has got to be a sobering experience. You could find yourself wondering why that might be. Are your thoughts really that dangerous?

Even more troubling is that there might actually be somebody in a position of authority here who actually fears what some people had to say to the Planning Commission last Thursday. To the point where they would arrange to have the comments in question badly truncated or even deleted entirely from city video taped meeting reruns. You have to wonder what the stakes might be for someone to cause such a thing to happen. It really is kind of mind boggling and absurd.

One resident particularly annoyed by this is Barry Gold. Barry is an especially thoughtful and courteous speaker, and carefully prepares what he plans to say way in advance of these meetings. Barry spoke at last Thursday's Planning Commission meeting, and here is his entire statement:

Good evening Commissioners,

As you all know the support of our community to preserve the uniqueness of our very special town by preventing the McMansionizing of Sierra Madre has been overwhelming. 

Soon you will send the General Plan update to the city council. Our citizens are looking to the general plan update to reinforce the goals and guidelines that will save our city from the developers who's only desire is to build the largest homes they can on the smallest lots possible to make the most money they can and then leave without ever looking back at the destruction to our way of life that they caused.

As a lay person I cannot be sure that the wording in the general plan update covers all that it should to give us the protection we need to preserve Sierra Madre. So we look to you, our experts, to protect our neighborhoods by making sure that the plan contains the guidelines that will stop our community from being transformed into that which we all dread.

We do not want to prevent anyone from building their dream homes here and enjoying the tranquility of Sierra Madre. We just want their homes to blend in, not stick out.

I know that this committee recognizes that lot coverage, setbacks, mass, bulk, and I think most importantly, architectural fit are vital components of preserving our communities uniqueness. By making sure that the general plan update properly addresses these items you will be saving a cherished way of life for all who live here for years to come.

Thank you for your time, Barry Gold

All that made it to the reruns is that last paragraph and the sign off.

And apparently Barry isn't the only speaker to find that much of what they had to say was missing from the meeting reruns. Others have noticed that some or all of what Marguerite Shuster, Teryl Willis and Deb Sheridan had to say was also chopped out of the SMTV3 Planning Commission re-airings. There may have been some other people whose words were edited as well.

In that La Habra Heights City Council agenda report, the one George Edwardz forwarded to us recently, there was the following quote from the General Manager there, Shauna Clark. An individual adamantly opposed to public comment appearing in the public access reruns of those meetings. Here is what she had to say:

We don't have much in the way of the kinds of public comment described here. And according to people I have spoken with neither does La Habra Heights, despite the claims of its City Manager. Apparently it was just a lot of hyperbole meant to justify an act that is tantamount to government censorship.

But maybe this is a new government trend in dealing with unwanted and inconvenient public comment at city meetings? You have to allow people to speak during the meetings by law, but since there is no legal requirement that you include them in government access TV reruns later on, City Hall is free to just hack their comments out. That way only those watching the meetings live will ever get to hear them.

I hope that idea hasn't spread here.

There is a City Council meeting tonight

Rather than write about the whole thing here, I thought this week I should just link to the City Council meeting agenda, which is here. Somehow I just ran out of time this week. I'm sure you can figure all of this stuff out for yourselves. Probably better than I can.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Could Sierra Madre Become The Next Cudahy?

A few short years ago then
City Council mainstay Kurt Zimmerman proposed that a forensic audit be conducted here so the many mysteries of Sierra Madre's sorely abused finances might finally be revealed and at last straightened out.

As you may also recall, this sent John Buchanan into an ashen faced spasm of fear, possibly because he understood how things such as City Hall's misuse of CRA redevelopment funds would be quickly unearthed and then exposed to the hot lights of a rather hostile District Attorney review. Something that could have caused a number of his former City Council associates and cronies to face extensive interviews with some of this state's most intriguing legal authorities.

Fortunately for the good old boys of that era a forensic audit never took place, and perhaps the last really proper opportunity to rescue Sierra Madre from any possible consequences of its CRA excesses soon passed. Possible because, as you can see below, those fellows from the state do come around from time to time. And just because they haven't done so for quite some time is no guarantee that they never will.

In three easy steps, this is how the CRA Shell Game could very well have all broken down here. Redevelopment (or CRA) money always was the easiest to way to hide additional payroll costs, and City of Sierra Madre management has long been suspected of using the "assign payroll costs shell game" to disguise a number of intriguing things. Here's three.

Number 1. Despite the electorate saying "Do not spend more money!" by defeating the UUT increase TWICE (2012 and 2014), City Hall jacked up such things as employee health care plans, and to the tune of over $30,000 per year in some especially happy cases.

Number 2. Using CRA funds hid the fact that Sierra Madre is top heavy with bloated upper management costs. Instead of pushing payroll to the 4th of July Parade or Water Department, Sierra Madre could have streamlined directors and/or implemented outsourcing. But why would they want to do that when there was all that secretive and free CRA cash laying about?

Number 3. The CRA shell game also hid the true CalPERS pension costs because the good ol' budget splits it up instead of putting it in one big number that you could call out as being excessive.

So what could those possible consequences be? Check out what just happened in another once upon a time CRA Magic Kingdom, the one people like to call Cudahy (link):

Calif. Controller Orders City Of Cudahy To Repay $22.7M In Taxpayer Funds (CBSLA.com) — Officials in the City of Cudahy had virtually no oversight in place to prevent the misuse of taxpayer dollars when it spent nearly $23 million in redevelopment funds, according to state audits released Tuesday.

The assessment from California Controller John Chiang was outlined in several audits examining the city’s internal controls and fiscal management practices, as well as its compliance with state laws governing the use of transportation and redevelopment funds.

During the period between July 2010 and June 2012, auditors found questionable leave pay, violations of the city’s contract code, uncontrolled credit card spending and mismanaged state grant funds. Chiang also reviewed redevelopment asset transfers and ordered $22.7 million in redevelopment assets to be returned to the agency.

“They used their credit cards improperly, they misspent, they wasted good state tax dollars that had to be returned back to the state,” Chiang told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.

The audit’s findings come just over a year after former Cudahy mayor David Silva was sentenced to one year in prison in January 2013 for his role in taking cash bribes from a businessman who wanted to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Another former Cudahy city official, Angel Perales, was sentenced to five years of probation for his part in the scheme.

The audit – which was initiated late last year at the request of the Cudahy’s new management – found that of the 79 basic standards of internal controls, only eight were used in the city. Internal controls are management practices that ensure the appropriate use of public funds as well as sufficient accounting to show the use and tracking of the city’s expenditures.

Chiang praised current Cudahy officials for their cooperation in uncovering the problems identified in the audits and for their commitment to implementing the recommendations.

“Sweeping problems under the rug is not a solution for fiscal mismanagement,” said Chiang. “Cudahy leaders deserve credit for wanting an independent review of their internal controls and for moving quickly to address the major gaps in the prior administration’s accounting and management practices.”

Update On Public Comment Hating La Habra Heights 

Back on September 12th we posted an article about the attempt by certain City Council members in La Habra Heights to erase public comment from any local television rebroadcasts. The reason being that they did not particularly enjoy some of the things that the public had been saying.

The post was called "Is It Possible To Censor And Remove Public Comment From City Council Meeting Television Rebroadcasts?" and you can link to it here.

The Whittier Daily News is reporting that the La Habra Heights City Council has now backed down on so radical and undemocratic a move, at least for the moment (link).

La Habra Heights council puts off decision on blackout of public-comment period on cable TV - A proposal to black out the City Council public-comment period on the city’s cable television broadcast will be put on hold until the beginning of 2015. The council on Monday voted 5-0 to table the blackout.

“What I’d like to do is give it a couple of months and take control myself,” said Mayor Brian Bergman.

“I guess I blame myself for some of this because I haven’t engaged enough and I’ve let people make false accusations and accuse staff of all kinds of things,” he said. “I’m not ready to vote for it tonight but if it doesn’t get fixed, I’m voting for (the blackout).”

Before the vote, the council appeared to be split with Councilman Roy Francis and Councilwoman Jane Williams opposing any change.

Councilmen Michael Higgins and Kyle Miller, who made the proposal to stop of showing the public-comment period on cable television, went along with Bergman’s proposal for more time.

So what was the reason why they back down? Good old fashioned public outcry it appears. Here's more:

Resident George Edwards, who speaks at most meetings, Tuesday said he took exception to the comments about speakers like himself.

“I took offense to Mr. Bergman’s rant that was inaccurate and meant to pretty much deceive the community,” Edwards said. “I ask, why do you believe a politician?”

The black-out proposal was opposed by most speakers at Monday’s meeting.

“I can’t believe this would be under consideration,” said Kathy Steele, a member of Heights Oil Watch that opposes a proposal by Matrix Oil Co. to drill for oil, at the meeting.

“Why would you want to black out the public from hearing what their fellow citizens have to say?” Steele asked. “If you want to tick people off, ban their guns and their right to free speech.”

Mike Hughes, Heights Oil Watch president, said he’s happy the black-out proposal was put off because his members want the opportunity to talk about the oil issue.

“There’s a few disrupting people who bring up the same events over and over again and have nothing to do with oil,” Hughes said. “Every city is going to have its problem kids but you can’t ban everyone else from voicing their opinions.”

Could it be that certain LHH City Councilmembers don't want the outspoken opponents of environmentally destructive oil fracking there to get any more attention in the community than they already have? And because of that they are now trying to silence them with what is tantamount to government imposed censorship?

Considering the large sums of money involved, I'd vote yes on that one every time.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Los Angeles County Superior Court A Nuremberg Defense Strategy Can Get You A Sweet Quarter Of A Million Dollar Settlement … Just Ask Nick Conway!

In LA County Courts they believe it.
Mod: Who knew that the "I was just obeying orders" defense would someday become the pathway to untold taxpayer riches in the Courts of Los Angeles County? Apparently for former SGVCOG Executive Director Nicholas "Nick" Conway it proved to be the winning lottery ticket, and got him a cool $250,000 dollar settlement from that utterly useless cloaca of public funds, the San Gabriel Valley Council Of Governments. Plus legal expenses, of course. You always need to take care of the lawyers that got you there. This from the Pasadena Star News (link):

San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments agrees to $250,000 settlement with Nicholas Conway: The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments will pay former Executive Director Nicholas Conway more than $250,000 for severance pay and legal costs stemming from his dismissal and court proceedings in which felony conflict-of-interest charges eventually were dismissed.

A legal settlement was approved Thursday night by the SGVCOG board on a 27-1 vote. Bradbury Mayor Richard Barakat voted no.

Aside from the cash, Conway also received a letter of apology from the SGVCOG saying the investigation and prosecution by the Los Angeles County District Attorney was incorrect and created an “unwarranted image” of the SGVCOG, Conway and his management firm, Arroyo Associates, Inc.

The letter states that termination of the contract Conway and his firm had with the SGVCOG for nearly 18 years was not due to the belief that the DA’s charges had merit. In addition, the letter recommends future employers or associates should look beyond the unfounded allegations “and instead focus on the totality of your body of work and the many significant accomplishments you helped achieve ...”

The payments to Conway and or Arroyo Associates are listed in the settlement agreement as follows: $175,194.49 for defense costs; $9,500 for attorney’s fees for negotiating the settlement; $62,440.84 for resolution of a dispute regarding his termination on Oct. 31, 2012 and $5,838.64 for repayment of a building security deposit connected to the SGVCOG’s office lease.

SGVCOG Assistant General Counsel Kimberly Hall Barlow said a single check will be issued to the trust account of Conway’s attorney. Kenneth White of Brown, White & Newhouse was Conway’s lead attorney throughout the preliminary hearing and the dismissal of the charges by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norm Shapiro in July 2013. Conway was also represented by John Van de Kamp, the former state Attorney General and a Pasadena resident.

He did as he was told.
Mod: Here is the part of the article where Mr. Conway's highly successful Nuremberg Defense Strategy is cautiously described:

Shapiro granted the petition to throw out all four charges accusing Conway of benefiting financially from work he funneled for SGVCOG through his management firm. White argued successfully that Conway was doing what the SGVCOG asked and that any contracts and compensation his company received was part of his lawful duties as executive director. Van de Kamp argued that the issue was with the agency’s structure, not the executive director.

Mod: You see? Poor old Sgt. Nick was only obeying the COG's orders. What difference does it make whether those orders, or his carrying out of them, were quite possibly illegal? Crack open that public purse and start paying.

And then there is this:

“Overall, the best part about it is we have reached an agreement and we can put this behind us and the COG can continue working and looking ahead,” said Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, president of the SGVCOG since July 1.

Mod: It is nice to see that Mary Ann "Gold LineLutz can be so chipper about turning over a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer fun funds to the Sergeant Schultz of former COG Executive Directors. You know, so that the important work of the COG can now go on. Like battery recycling, for example.

“Some characters like him in government get away with everything. The good guys are stuck playing by the rules,” said Tom King, ex-SGVCOG president and former Walnut council member who retired from the City Council in July 2013. King and Diamond Bar Mayor Carol Herrera testified for the prosecution in Conway’s preliminary hearing in February 2013.

Mod: Yes, indeed … Now not to pat myself on the back too much, but the matter of Conway's "Nuremberg Defense" was first discussed here on The Tattler back on February 15, 2013. Of course, The Tattler is also the only place where it was discussed, but we won't blame anyone else for that. At least not today. And I wasn't completely right, you know. I never dreamed that it might actually work.

Is Nick Conway Employing A Nuremberg Defense? You don't hear the "I was just obeying orders" defense too much these days. Or at least I haven't heard of anyone using it lately. I had been pretty sure it had gone out of fashion somewhere around 1946, which was about the time a number of famous defendants were using it, and with little demonstrable success. But old styles do have a way of coming back from time to time, and apparently this legal fashion statement stepped right out of its metaphorical Gold Line this week, and walked straight into Los Angeles Superior Court. You can't even begin to imagine the enhanced levels of excitement when they brought this historical (or is that hysterical?) doozy back.

Mod: You can read the rest by clicking here. 

So who exactly are the 27 spineless COG apparatchiks who voted to fork over a quarter of a million dollars in your money to Sergeant Nick? Apparently we will have to wait an entire month before their names are publicly revealed by the SGVCOG. It is a process, you know. However, I promise you that when the identities of these fabulous public servants are made public, we will list them here. With comments.

And who knows? Maybe they were just obeying orders, too.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

San Marino's Effort To Recall Dennis "Poopgate" Kneier

Dennis "Mayor Poopgate" Kneier caught in the act. Videos here and here.

(Mod: The following article was put together by some residents of San Marino. They are facing the same kinds of wacko development pressures that a lot of other small cities are facing, and rather than let their little piece of the valley paradise descend into developer hell, they've decided to fight back. Sound at all familiar, friends? Of course, they have the additional burden of their very famous Mayor Poopgate, that adamantly developer forward fellow who attracted so much attention recently for a very inconsiderate act. Who could have known that this moment of doggy decrepitude would soon serve as a remarkable metaphor for so destructive a record in office?)

A Little Town Under Siege: If you drive through the town of San Marino these days, you'll see lots of new city construction work - street and sidewalks torn up, the ficus trees along Hungtington Drive ripped out and replaced with new trees, a center median irrigation water system replacement all throughout town on Huntington Drive, new and unneeded drives along Lorain Road, and lots of curious street reworking projects such as those at Monterey and Oak Knoll. Add to it the new bicycle lane striping on Del Mar Boulevard, also forced upon the city residents by City Hall, along with many other unwanted projects being rushed to the front of the construction pipeline, and things aren't looking so very good right now.

Additionally, streetlights are about to be "replaced" with entirely new lampposts, this even though they were relamped a few years ago. City Hall has also completed its very own building reconfiguration and remodel of its interior spaces, with a strange little "fountain" being built outside the place, embedded with the City's seal. As if that shiny civic badge somehow sanctifies their many bizarre activities.

And therein lies the tale. Tremendous numbers of proposed and mysterious new construction projects are being spawned from the dark heart of City Hall, then released upon the residents of this town as if they are Dorothy's flying winged monkeys. And just in time for Halloween, too.

All things that are neither needed nor wanted by the local folks. Tearing down the trees in Lacy Park to expand unnecessary parking lots being yet another if these travesties.

And oh, yes, there's that "parklet" in the middle of town, built for no particular reason except maybe to say there is now a parklet. They're all the planner rage these days, you know.

Or how about spending thousands of dollars on consultants to create a rationale for painting 30% of the streets with striping? Narrowing Huntington Drive down to two lanes in a vast bike lane scheme, and in a town with comparatively little such traffic.

Then there is the spending of $50,000 for public meetings designed to manipulate and manufacture public consent for tearing down one of the city's prime historic structures, Stoneman School (now owned by the city), done so that the actual program provider could maximize her personal profits. Oh, and City Hall will get more revenue, of course.

The cost? Upwards of $15 million dollars!

Where is the city getting the money for all of these misappropriations? The word coming from the City Manager and former Police Chief is that these folks plan on shifting some new bonds to pay for it all, done so that residents can pay out their collective nose for the destruction of a building on the historic register. One containing a mural that is both historic and irreplaceable.

Add to all this new olympic-sized pools, repaving and rebuilding the Huntington Drive interchange at the Civic Center, remodeling the Women's Club building, build underground parking structures, oh my!! The list is apparently endless.

But the city's coffers are nearly bare.

So where is all of this massively expensive wizardry coming from? From none other than former Mayor (and still Councilman) Dennis "Poopgate" Kneier. That very infamous gent has now inflicted upon us all a massive construction juggernaut, done by instigating projects that he himself puts on his own quite spurious "Make San Marino Better" list.

It's like handing out candy at the door to all the little goblins and ghosts that put in an appearance on Halloween night.

Those little hands-out-at-the-door have been clearly abundant in the last few years, and with outsourced construction and services going to all kinds of interested outside providers, these trick-o-treaters have now grown into a full mob of Poopgate entitled developers and contractors.

All of whom have found abundant candy love in their new happy home at City Hall.

So, as a result, a group of concerned local residents has recently emerged. Their purpose? To get rid the city of Profligate Poopgate once and for all. Their website, recallkneier.org (link), is now collecting signatures to recall Dennis Kneier, with a filing set for October 22.

Good information can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/recallkneier (link).

While he has resigned as San Marino's Mayor, Poopgate Kneier continues to insist that he will stay on as a member of the City Council. He has sought legal counsel in order to complete his doggy term, which ends in October 2015. Clearly, both he and the City Manager have a predatory development agenda that they keenly desire to further implement during his remaining time on the Council. Hence the urgent need to remove him.

But until that happens the development siege continues, and San Marino's seemingly endless Halloween night continues to cast a pall over the town.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Planning Commission: The Stonegate At Sierra Madre House Of Many Shapes And Sizes … Changes Again?

(Mod: It is about 2AM, just got home from a very productive work trip to Portland, Oregon. Where, by the way, it was 62 degrees and rainy. It was a very good day. What made it even better is four people sent in reports from the Planning Commission meeting last night, for which I am truly grateful. If you ever decide you want my friendship, then write something for my blog. Especially when there was a meeting as important as this one, and I had to miss it. Here are those reports, plus one very cool picture, reiterated.)

Reporter #1:
Meeting began approx 7:25 pm.

Applicant offered a revised proposal.

Members of the PC offered input:
-Lower the ceiling heights
-Reduce bedrooms by 10%.
-Shift the staircase

Frequently, members of the PC said, "You are close" (to approval).

While the commissioners were speaking, however, private discussions were being whispered between McDonald, Chang, and a third man sitting in the audience. (I do not know him … he might have been the project manager.)

After the PC members spoke, Chang approached the podium. "We've been to so many hearings … I'm getting kind of tired of it."

McDonald requested that the PC approve the project with conditions or vote on it. He asked that they articulate the points so they have those to consider.

The city attorney suggested fleshing out the concepts here, and getting a thumbs up or down. McDonald and the Asian man walked out to the foyer. McDonald came back alone. Later, the manager?) came back into the chambers. More whispering took place between him, McDonald, and Chang in the audience. McDonald requested a continuance, as well as a list (of specific concerns/suggestions).

The Planning Commission voted in favor of continuing the project at the October 2 mtg. Applicant will bring new drawings.

Reporter #2:
The meeting began 25 minutes late. City Attorney reported that there was a matter of anticipated litigation, direction was provided, and no action was taken.

Ex-commissioner John Vandevelde took up to 10 minutes of public comment time to discuss, in detail, inconsistencies in zoning codes and definitions. Maybe legitimate areas that need to be addressed, but not really swift to bring them up there and then. In fact, Adele Chang referenced it to her advantage.

Barry Gold - great. The general plan needs to reinforce goals and guidelines to save our city from the developers who want to build "the largest houses they can on the smallest lots they can to make the most money they can." The PC being on top of the GP will save a cherished way of life for all of those who will live here for time to come.

Adele Chang: We’re hardly asking for anything compared to what “we are allowed under the settlement agreement” Repeated and emphasized"we are allowed" She did not bring up the fact that there is, under the settlement agreement, no guarantee.

The architect talked about her slide show of big houses in Sierra Madre, the one she made when the commissioners suggested that she drive around to look at the diversity of homes in town. She wished that she’d brought it with her so that the commissioners who hadn’t seen it could see it. Each of those big houses were on equally big lots. False comparison doesn’t even begin to say what a hustle that was. Deliberate misrepresentation is more like it.

Used Vandevelde's comments about inconsistencies to her advantage. Who didn’t see that coming?

Commissioner Pevsner asked her if she had lowered the ceiling heights (as had been suggested previously) “No, I didn’t. My client is still concerned with marketability” She then went on to suggest that she could probably convince the client to lower ceiling heights, if the PC would approve the project with conditions of approval. That was the theme for the next hour. Or two.

Marguerite Shuster was once again the best representative Sierra Madre could hope for.

Commissioner Pevsner asked to talk to the resident who had discussed things with the applicant’s lawyer. The resident said that “There were more promising elements in play than were presented at the following meeting.” In other words, the developers went back on their words.

Each commissioner said there was still too much bulk and mass, and that the ceiling heights need to be lowered. Frierman-Hunt suggested taking a foot off the 2nd story height and 6 inches of the first story height, for an overall lowering of 1 and 1/2 feet. 

Chair Desai had numerous suggestions for reconfiguring the second story that would “keep in the program" the applicant wants but reduce bulk (reduce the Master suite by 10%, one bedroom by 10%, 1 bath by 10% - and adjust some placement downstairs to do that.)

Later Chang asked if she could add square footage downstairs if she reduced upstairs, and Desai said you don’t have to - in his reworking he reduced upstairs and added nothing downstairs.

Chang flipped and said “I’m getting tired, maybe you guys like doing this, but vote up with conditions, or down." Later she said, “I am asking for an up or down vote” But that was the biggest fib of all. She and MacDonald huffed and puffed and then rolled over.

The commissioners would not vote to approve with conditions because they all said they had to see the plans before they could do that. The city attorney said the commission needed to see what it would look like.

The commissioners went into great detail on their suggestions.

Somebody put it brilliantly: people were coming here and destroying our town, one lot at a time, maybe not intending to, but destroying it anyway.

Continued to next PC meeting, October 2.

Reporter #3:
Some of the best quotes of the evening:

Adele Chang when she first went to the podium - "I'm getting kinda tired of it." Referring to the PC meetings.

Adele Chang: Our plans are now correct.  Gina noted except for one thing.The plan still says there is a 6 ft retaining wall on one page and not on the other.

A One Carter neighbor, referring to the tour that Adele said she made. Adele said she found a lot of big home in Sierra Madre. The speaker disagreed with the assumption, and said those were big homes on big lots. What you want to do is build a very big house on a small lot.

Deb Sheridan: Allowed doesn't mean guaranteed.

Kevin  Paschall: Adele you said these are hard lots to build on. We did not force you to buy them.

Adele is now calling it a Spanish Colonial, no longer Santa Barbara … she must have read The Tattler.

Livable sellable space is 3,886.

Reporter #4:

McDonald wants approval with the comments from commission. Desai says no. Needs to see changes. Fees we've come a long way. More comfortable seeing changes. McDonald says he does understand still request approval, vote on it and articulate what it is the commission wants.

- City Attorney: needs design changes, even if they agree to changes commission wants to see it. 

Gina - we're not too far away from agreement. We need to see a concrete plan. Can't say yes without plan. We can discuss what needs to be changed and willing to come back. Take off foot an half of ceiling. 

Adele - shaking her head no. This is controversial in Sierra Madre. Adele says we have been told we are close before. A commissioner stated previous plans have been wrong. Adele said everything was checked 3 times. Plans are correct. 

Gina - told her there were still mistakes. 

Adele - said her client still wants up or down vote. 

Mc Donald - approve it with conditions if not chair articulate changes. 

Desai - said he will articulate them now. On ground floor shifting of stairwell and powder room to the east, allow second floor to shift mass. Bedroom 3 truncated entrance, work on bathroom, pushes back front, bedroom 2 10 percent reduction. Master bedroom lessened 9 percent, a little reworking of master bath. Desai went thru the motions and knows it can be done.

(Mod: Thanks again to all who wrote in!)


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Endlessgate: The Planning Commission Goes Another Round With CETT Investments Corporation Tonight

No protective headgear
It seems like this has been going on for almost ever. The folks from CETT investments Corporation, along with their busy architect Adele Chang, plus the always warmly humorous attorney for "the developer of the Stonegate lots," Richard McDonald (link), are back with yet another iteration of what they hope to build someday at Baldwin Court. Or, as we like to think of it, Sierra Madre's "Stairway to Heaven."

There have been so many of these fabulously designed proposed plans that it has become hard to keep track anymore. Though I do know for certain that everyone will be relieved that they are holding to the "Santa Barbara Design." Even though this isn't Santa Barbara. We lack the beach.

And just so you know, "Stonegate" is what the developer has taken to calling the place we all know as One Carter. Their unexplained need to change the names of things in our community being a kind of unwelcome presumption in my opinion. Though the way things are going they should probably call it "Empty Lotsgate." It would be more accurate.

The good folks over at the Preserve Mater Dolorosa group sent out the following e-mail yesterday. I think it summarizes the situation pretty well. I am re-posting it here for those of you who are not on their mailing list.

Dear Supporters:
Attached is the agenda for tomorrow's Planning Commission Meeting scheduled for Thurday, Sept. 18th at 7:00 pm. Right towards the top is going to be a very important agenda item: The owner's of One Carter/Stonegate are applying for a Hillside Development Permit and Conditional Use Permit.

Because our Coalition is expanding its focus into over-development concerns for the entire City of Sierra Madre and not just a concern for a possible development at Mater Dolorosa, we are taking an official position of being opposed to this project as it now stands unless substantial changes are made to conform to development standards in Sierra Madre and the repeated requests of our Planning Commission.

We would urge our supporters to attend the meeting and support our Planning Commission which, thus far, has held the line in the face of the usual bullying, intimidation and threats by the developer's lawyers.

Our Planning Commission has done an exemplary job and they deserve our support and our accolades. Thank you.

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

The Planning Commission agenda referred to above can be accessed by clicking here.

So what exactly is afoot this evening? Assistant Planner Dereck Purificacion lays the big rhubarb out this way (link):

So there you go. The celebrated architect for the Stonegate lots, the highly regarded Adele Chang, has shrunk the basement a bit. Which wasn't really all that visible to us above ground. She also removed the "Snoopy Deck," which means that all of the other homes in the area shouldn't have to buy air raid curtains.

But are these changes adequate? Has the rest of this joint been brought into legal compliance, as requested all those many times before? Will the Planning Commission end up feeling like they are getting jerked around again? Those are the big questions that could be answered at this evening's meeting.

It all kicks off at 7PM tonight. I have to work late and won't be able to make it. But if you do go, please leave a comment or two here so that I will be able to figure out what happened when I eventually do get home. Be more than a witness. Be a Tattler.

There is also a "Special Agenda"

"Special Agendas" are what they call it when the lawyers get involved. These events are done in private, which I guess is because they're special. And lawyers get involved when there is a lawsuit afoot. After all, when it comes to attorney work product, lawsuits are to lawyers what the honeypot is to Pooh Bear. Here is what this particular pot looks like:

You know what it is. Many here are of the opinion that this indicates CETT Investments whatever is going to take it all to ugly town if they don't get their way tonight. No surprises there.

What that also may mean is this whole mess could go on for yet another couple of years. Which also means the "One Carter Curse" is nowhere near its end. That is, if it actually has an end. Some things apparently do not.

Thank you, 2004 City Council. Ten years later and you guys are still screwing things up.