Sunday, May 31, 2015

Your Tattler Sunday News and Review for May 31st

Be Water Wise
Mod: Another month has somehow passed us by. As far as this blog goes it was a fairly decent one. We'll finish up at 5PM today (Midnight GMT) at around 68,000 hits, more comments than I feel compelled to total up, and the growing sense that Sierra Madre is heading for its third utility tax increase ballot initiative in six years. More proof that this town's leadership is often blissfully unaware of just how ridiculous it makes itself appear sometimes. It's not like we don't try real hard to tell them, you know? But then again, we're not the fierce and very scary SMPA. However, that is a tale for later this week when June 6 gets a little closer. In the meantime here is some other ridiculous news. Unlike water, there never seems to be any shortage of that.

California Senate offers 24-hour rides for lawmakers too drunk to drive (The Sacramento Bee link): California Senate officials earlier this year hired two part-time employees to provide late-night and early-morning rides for members while they are in Sacramento, a 24-hour service that follows high-profile drunken driving arrests involving lawmakers in recent years.

The office of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León declined to discuss the details or rationale of the program. “We’re not going to provide comment, because it’s a security issue,” spokesman Anthony Reyes said.

Senate records show two “special services assistants” were hired Feb. 2. They work in the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office, where their duties include providing “ground transportation for Senate members.” The employees, a retired Assembly sergeant-at-arms and a retiree from the Department of General Services, are paid $2,532 per month.

One man who turned down the job told The Sacramento Bee that Senate officials approached him earlier this year about working from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to drive senators home upon request.

He said he was told the shifts would come only when lawmakers were in Sacramento – generally Monday through Wednesday nights when the Legislature is in session, between January and early or mid-September. The purpose, he was told, would be to give rides “just if they were drinking too much. Just pick them up and take them home.” One legislative chief of staff confirmed that the service is intended to prevent drunken driving by legislators.

(Mod: I guess it would be too much to ask the state's most entitled drunks to call a cab and pay for the ride themselves.)

L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers (Los Angeles Times link): Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.

The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

"With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them," Hicks said in a statement. "This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing."

(Mod: So if you belong to a union in the City of Los Angeles you are now entitled to make less than the minimum wage? I'm not sure this is quite the outcome a lot of people were expecting.)

NYC Cops Arrested Men for ‘Manspreading’ on the Subway (National Review link): New York police allegedly arrested two men for “manspreading” (sitting with their legs far apart) on the subway, according to a report entitled “That’s How They Get You” released by the Police Reform Organizing Project.

“On a recent visit to the arraignment part in Brooklyn’s criminal court, PROP volunteers observed that police officers had arrested two Latino men on the charge of ‘man spreading’ on the subway, presumably because they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders,” the report states. Metro Transit Authority rules ban people from taking up more than one seat “in a station, platform or conveyance when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority’s transit system or the comfort of other passengers.”

MTA also placed signs on subway cars in December instructing people not to “manspread” as part of a larger campaign to encourage riders to be polite, which also included signs telling people not to hog poles or do their makeup on the train. The “no manspreading” rule in particular, however, got most of the publicity after feminist activists attacked “manspreading” as being not just rude and/or annoying but actually oppressive to women.

(Mod: Yet one more great reason for never taking public transportation.)

McDonald’s To Open A Restaurant Run By Robots In Phoenix ( link): After seeing a decline in earnings for the first time in nine years, McDonald’s plans to do something no other store of its kind has ever done before; open a store run entirely by robots.

The store is set to open July 4th in Phoenix, Arizona once the state-of-the-art robot remodel is complete. The restaurant will still employee a small team to insure all of the robots are working correctly, the food along with the cleaning supplies remaining stocked and removing the money collected by the robots.

If the test launch for the store is a success, visitors to the restaurant can soon expect to see these new robots working in harmony at a speed of 50 times faster than the average human employee, with no chance of error, located in every store all over the country.

The store’s new manager, Jay Funkhouser, told CNN that he has worked with the machines in a product development facility in San Francisco for over six months now and speaks highly of the robots.

“These things are great! They get their work done in a fast and orderly manner. And they don’t ask for cigarette breaks.”

(Mod: I guess robots don't have to be paid a $15 an hour minimum wage. How soon before robots will be made available to city governments?)

Here's What Happens When a Black Man Open Carries a Gun (The Daily Beast link): A disturbing video contrasts police treatment of a white man and a black man carrying the same type of weapon in public.

Open carry is all the rage in gun-rights circles. Advocates strap handguns to their hips, sling AK-47s and AR-15s to their backs and stroll the streets with cameras in hand to catch unwitting cops violating their Second Amendment rights by asking for Identification or trying to ascertain if the heavily-armed man walking toward a school might be a threat. For liberty or some such.

A quick Google image or YouTube search will demonstrate what we know to be true: The open-carry crowd is made up of a whole lot of white people, mostly men. Why is being allowed to walk heavily armed through the streets baiting cops purely a white fight, you may wonder?

It could have something to do with the fact that black men already face enough danger from interactions with the police to not want to bait cops for the fun of it. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white counterparts, according to an analysis by Propublica.

And when a gun is present? For that answer, we can look to the recent shooting death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot dead for carrying a BB gun in a Cleveland Park. Or John Crawford, who was gunned down by police in a WalMart as he held an unloaded air rifle from one of the store’s shelves.

Still, there are a few brave open carriers of color, and a new YouTube video appears to show just how differently they are treated compared to their white freedom-loving counterparts.

View this video by clicking here.

(Mod: Could this be the next great civil rights struggle?)

Apocalypse Soon: California’s Snowpack Is Gone (Yahoo News link): This movie San Andreas opened Friday, depicting the destruction of San Francisco and Los Angeles as mega-earthquakes rip apart California. The same day, a real-life catastrophe quietly unfolded high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that runs parallel to the San Andreas Fault: The drought-stricken state’s snowpack disappeared.

The California Department of Water Resources reported Friday that mountain snowpack across the state was 0 percent of normal for May 29. That means that even before summer begins, there will essentially be no more of the crucial mountain snowmelt that California relies on to replenish the streams, rivers, and reservoirs that supply water to cities and farms.

Sure, there are still patches of snow here and there around the high Sierras. But the “snow water equivalent”—the volume of water that would be produced by melting a depth of snow—is 0 percent, according to measurements taken at 98 stations by the water resources department.

When the snowpack hit a record low of 6 percent of normal on April 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued the first statewide mandatory water restrictions, ordering cities to cut water consumption by 25 percent.

A week ago, some California farmers agreed to voluntarily reduce their water use by 25 percent, a sign of just how desperate the Golden State’s situation has become.

With the snowpack now gone and California entering its fourth year of drought, such cutbacks may be just the beginning.

(Mod: We're screwed. No, really.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Has This Been Your Experience With Water Waste Enforcement?

Hog Heaven
(Mod: I received the following letter yesterday. After hearing a lot of talk from the city about just how serious they planned on getting about overuse of water during the millennial drought, apparently out there where the rubber hose meets the lawn not a whole lot of enforcement is going on. Or at least according to the following account. Is this anything at all like your experiences?)

Hey John: Something rather entertaining has gone in my neighborhood today. The people across the street have had their sprinklers on over 5 hours now. They aren't home. This is not the first time they have had this happen. The Fire Department came before.

I have no idea whether a message was passed to the Water Department, or if they were warned or whatever. I know the city is closed Friday, but I called anyway. I was referred to a number to report a water emergency. Turns out it's the Police Department. The dispatcher had no clue what to do but she would ask around.

So, I wrote to John Capoccia; no answer. I wrote to Bruce Inman; no answer; I wrote to the City Hall e-mail address that says report water waste; no answer. Over an hour goes by. The sprinklers are still going strong.

So, since no phone numbers are given on the City Hall site to any department, calling is futile. The hours for the water people cut off at 2:00 PM and no one is in on Friday. How very quaint.

So I write Elaine Aguilar. She actually wrote back. She advised me that there is nothing they can do. They can't go on the property. They will be given a notice or a fine if this happened before and was reported. I have no idea if these people are out of town.

I know they aren't home. I resorted to calling their alarm company and they said they can only leave a message for them. They aren't always at the house, but usually they are there on Friday nights by 8:00 PM as they usually have a rip roarin' gambling event going on.

So, here we are in this drought and the city has no provision for this. This can't be the only house that has problems with their timers in the whole city. How many times has this happened and nothing has been done? No on-call staff? SMPD all checked out on water, too?

I just thought I would share my day with you, as I'm sure you have nothing better to do.

Signed, Concerned Resident

(Mod: A few hours later I received the following follow up email from our friend Concerned Resident.)

At 3:45 PM the son showed up. He had to drive all the way from USC. The parents are out of town, and the son did not seem to know what to do.

The police finally showed up as well, as did someone from the water department (I've never seen him before) and shut down the sprinkler system. Apparently there was a broken valve. Mr. Capoccia returned my call and wanted to know if it was a leak. I wrote him back and explained. End of story.

(Mod: Great letters, thanks Concerned Resident. You see how hard it is going to be to get a handle on water waste in Sierra Madre? And that doesn't include all the leakage from all of those old pipes, which in my opinion accounts for a lot of it.)

One of California's biggest sources of water just disappeared

Interesting article from Business Insider. Click here to check it out.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Arcadia Preservationists Taking Their Case To The Voters

Today we have some pretty good news via the latest edition of the Save Arcadia newsletter.

This, in addition to the Brown Act lawsuit also initiated by the Save the Arcadia Highlands folks (link), shows that maybe Arcadia's demise has been a bit overstated.

It is all something that Sierra Madre needs to keep an eye on. Hopefully we would never have to go that route, but with only about 250 signatures needed here to get something like that on the ballot, it can be fairly easily done.

I know some people who would help.

More on the Very Loud Horn (VLH)

The other day somebody left the following comment here in The Tattler, along with an invitation to follow up:

Karol Ballard, who runs the Invasion of the Shoddy Blaster site, decided to check out that insurance angle (I was going to say claim) with City Hall. Here is how this quick two part e-mail exchange went:

The plot thickens.

Here are a couple of observations that have been sent my way. Doesn't "testing" this horn daily take away some of its emergency alert impact? If the community is hearing it that much, what would make any additional blast stand out from all of the others? I think most people would assume it is only another test, just like the other 365 a year.

It cries "wolf!" a little too often.

Also, a horn that requires daily testing because of its storied antiquity might not be the best way to let folks know that they are all doomed and need to make some quick peace with their Creator. It certainly raises serious dependability questions. Why does it require daily testing? A modern alarm would at best only need to be tested once a week, thereby retaining its true emergency impact.

Modern siren technology would include both a battery option and solar power capacity. Things that would make it far more efficient in any power outage. The horn from days gone by requires a generator to work in an emergency. If all civilization is crumbling about our ears, who is going to get into their car to drive downtown to crank it up? And what if that key person was hit on the head by a falling two by four?

Also, is that generator tested daily, too? What if it doesn't work?

If the safety of this community really is the concern here, a siren that uses modern technology would be a much wiser move.

More news on this controversy as it comes our way.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where Are City Employee Health Care Insurance Costs In Sierra Madre Now?

The City's health care insurance costs came up a few times in the comments yesterday, so I thought today we should look into this topic a little bit and see exactly where we are at. It never hurts to check on these sorts of things.

As you may recall, it was about a year ago (add a couple of months) that we were treated to the news that the taxpayers of Sierra Madre were paying what looked to be the single most expensive employee health care insurance plan in California in the year 2012. A record that was only broken recently by a water district located in Long Beach.

This 2014 article, penned by Transparent California's Robert Fellner, was called "State and local government spending on health insurance grew by twice the national rate for 2012" and you can link to it here.

One of the more alarming data points I have come across while compiling the necessary records for the Transparent California website has been the large sums of money spent on health insurance for public employees. As our site groups together the cost of pension payouts and health insurance in order to present the information in a uniform and understandable manner, the cost of individual health plans was not something we were particularly focusing on.

However, in the course of formatting and uploading the necessary records to Transparent, several agencies jumped out at me due to their alarmingly expensive health insurance plans. First, it was the $20k+ plans in Corte Madera, Calif. and the Contra Costa Community College District. Then I saw the $30k+ plans in Beverly Hills. Finally, I came across what remains the most expensive plan I have seen to date — a $37,815 health insurance plan for the Water Superintendent of Sierra Madre, Calif.

As the City of Sierra Madre shows signs of cranking up the UUTax hike initiative "process" for an unprecedented third time in six years, it is important to remember that it was not too long ago that some of the most ridiculous health insurance spends imaginable were being doled out to city employees here, and with no questions asked. And in 2012 we not only had the single most expensive health insurance package out there, we also owned the lion's share of the Top 10 for the entire state in that category. Only the City Manager of Beverly Hills even came close to our guys.

Here is a chart that Transparent California's Robert Fellner put together for us showing just how out of line with the real world we really were in 2012.

The City's individual health insurance plan costs started to come down a little. Here are the Top 20 or so health care package costs for the year 2013. As you can see, they were still quite high, but at least Sierra Madre was no longer setting state records.

All of the adverse publicity that the City of Sierra Madre had been receiving on this site and elsewhere began to have an effect. In November of 2014 City Hall posted the following on their website. This is a notice that they had established a maximum of $18,000 a year for management medical insurance plans, and $15,000 a year for classified employees. Here is what the management version of this looks like (link):

Which, when you compare it to the excesses of 2012, isn't quite so bad. Again, not being the highest in the entire state for things like utility taxes and health insurance plans isn't necessarily a bad thing. Certainly we'd had more than enough of that sort of infamy.

But here is another 2013 Transparent California chart for you to check out.

Notice the bar all the way to the left. Average private sector health insurance package costs on the west coast are $7,464. All the way to the right you can see that the Metropolitan Water District is over $16,000 on average. Which just goes to show it isn't only their water that is golden.

Now while we're not quite that bad these days, City Hall health care insurance packages in Sierra Madre are still not quite in line with the real world. Even that $11,000 state government average is probably quite a bit less. We are kind of extrapolating here a little because City Hall has yet to share its 2014 numbers with anyone. Unfortunately those are still under wraps, though I am certain they must know what they are by now.

So we do need to ask, where are City employee health insurance costs in Sierra Madre today?

As the residents of this town are being asked to struggle with exactly where and what to cut as far as spending goes, and given this city's rather sketchy past in the category of health insurance plans for its employees, this would seem to be information that everyone needs to know.

As one commenter put it early this morning:

It is not really fair to talk about what department budgets (or departments altogether) should be cut because we don't really know what goes into those budgets. Health insurance costs are one thing. There are others as well.

If Sierra Madre has to bring its budgets down by $740,000 or so, wouldn't knocking health insurance costs down somewhere near the private sector average save the city around $100,000 of that figure? Again, we don't have the 2014 numbers so it is hard to be exact.

But I'll bet it would be more than enough to save Community Services.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is The UUT Going Back On The Ballot For A Third Time?

Round and around we go.
Those two elections where the voters said NO to increasing utility taxes was apparently not enough. Now we are looking at a third attempt at raising those very same taxes. How so? Perhaps the city is far more fearful of its own employees than it is the people who will actually have to cough up all of that additional money?

Personally I believe that the pair of utility tax defeats at the ballot box suffered by the widely discredited Buchanan/Moran/Walsh crowd in 2012 and 2014 should have been more than enough. And knowing that a 6% utility tax rate was twice the will of the people, the current City Council should be making the cuts necessary to live within a budget created by that most democratic of processes, elections.

Two of them to be exact.

But the world can be a complex place, and things never seem to be quite that simple. And the mechanism put into place, innocently or not, is the community input (but not outreach) meetings that have been taking place. With the big enchilada of these meetings happening at the firehouse on June 6th.

There a relatively small group of people will be able to overturn the results of two elections and thousands of votes by simply stating that they want all of the services they have now to remain the same. Which will then be interpreted by the all too eager tax faction on the City Council to mean that the people must therefore want a utility tax hike.

Look, none of this is pretty. Cutbacks mean that people will be fired. Lives disrupted. And nobody wants to do that, or at least be perceived as doing that, all by themselves. Rather it must be presented as a community tragedy involving a lot of unnamed people, where nobody but fate is at fault.

The psychology at work here is that while nobody wants to be an uncivil staff firing ax wielding mean person, they also don't want to have to pay any more taxes. So at that June 6th meetings people will likely say they don't want departmental cutbacks. Then, when they go to then polls to vote on raising utility taxes next April, they will say NO.

Because who in their right mind would ever want to go back to paying some of the highest utility taxes in California?

Most people want the events provided to them by Community Services. They also want their Library. But they also want to keep their own Police Department, their own Paramedics and their own Fire Department. Despite the fact that in some cases the services provided by outside agencies would be superior to what the homegrown versions can provide. Plus more than save enough money to rescue the many other things that people want, like the Library.

The entire cost of the Paramedics, which is $700,000, could be saved if we went to Los Angeles County and told them that they need to provide EMS services for us. That is at no cost. They are required to do so by law. Did you know that?

The situation with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is also intriguing. For $450,000 less we could partner with a massive public safety organization that comes complete with helicopters, SWAT teams, battle tanks (in case the terrorists are holed up in Mother Moos), search and rescue dogs, all of the tough stuff that Sierra Madre never had before. And they would even hire any of our cops that could meet their physical and cognitive requirements.

Sierra Madre could also outsource the Library, save $150,000, and see most of the folks working there now rehired and still in place. Nothing important would change. The city would lose the Library Board of Directors, but somehow I believe the world would go on.

But many in this community apparently believe that in order to maintain Sierra Madre as it has always been, the quaint foothill village, it must have all three of those services as they are now, with no changes.

This is a widely held perception, but it is not reality based. It is also illogical and incredibly expensive. However, should the 60 (or 100 or 200) people who show up at the firehouse on June 6th somehow embrace the outsourcing of these three services, the City of Sierra Madre would save $1.3 million dollars and have more money, and be able to provide more services, than ever before.

But, sad to say, there are a lot of people who just can't seem to handle that level of logic. Something that the more demagogic and cynical political elements in this community will attempt to exploit for all they can get.

Look at it this another way. Let's say the 60 (or 100 or 200) people who show up at the Firehouse on 6/6 proclaim that they would lose their cotton picking minds should the Police Department be outsourced. So then why not cut the SMPD's budget a little? If hiring the Sheriffs would save the city $450,000, then why not cut the SMPD $450,000? Mission accomplished. Police budget met and SMPD rescued from the scrapheap of history.

The SMPD is getting nearly $4 million now, which is a full 40% of the city's General Fund. The purpose of this exercise is to cut the city's budgets, not change the color of anybody's uniforms. They should be more than able to get by on $3.5 million. And in the process save themselves and so many of those other things people value.

This is how ridiculous putting the UUT back on the ballot for a third time gets. In 2012 the voters said NO to a 12% UUTax. In 2014 they said NO to a 10% UUTax. In 2016 they will say NO to an 8% UUTax. Which means that in 2018 a 6% UUTax is sequentially all that is left to do. Or exactly what the people voted for in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Could things ever get any crazier?

Well, yes they can. Here is what the ballot could look like next April. The Teapac group headed by Earl Richey will have a measure on the ballot that will do away with the UUTax altogether. Zero percent. At the exact same time the Harabedian/Goss/Municipal Union claque will have UUTax increase on the ballot, probably at 8%.

All of which will be pitched to the voters here as the greatest tax war of all times. A true battle for the heart and soul of Sierra Madre.

Think of the hyperbole and wild accusations that will be flying then. You'll need a helmet with a full face plexiglass spit shield just to keep all the stuff they're flinging at each other out of your eyes.

But you do know that there would also be a third option as well, right? If next April you were to vote NO on both the very conservative Teapac measure, and very liberal HG-MU measure, the UUTax would stay at the 6% you voted for two times.

Meaning there really is a middle, and moderate, road. Which I think is where most people will prefer to be on this one.

Fun, right? Personally, I don't have a problem getting rid of the UUTax altogether, I just don't think it will ever pass. I also believe the tax increase crowd will try to portray that 0% UUT measure as something extreme and dangerous in order to make their initiative more appealing. Politically that could work. Better to just save the 6% UUTax the voters approved twice.

Councilmembers Arizmendi and Delmar, along with Mayor Capoccia, were willing to go forward with the cuts to make a 6% UUTax work, but apparently wanted to wait and hear what those who show up to the June 6th meeting have to say first.

Councilmember Harabedian, who favors a UUT initiative without any input from the residents, is also is willing to go forward with the cuts, but with the proviso that everything return to where it is now should the tax increase go through. My take is he hopes these cutbacks will make people more willing to increase their utility taxes at the polls. As always, Johnny Politics is working the odds.

Gene Goss? Our one dinosaur 2012 John Buchanan throwback. No cuts, tax increase initiatives now. Including "alternative ideas" such as a parcel tax.

Where we are at.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Opposition to the Very Noisy Fire Horn Gets Louder

I don't know if you've seen this Facebook site yet, but those Sierra Madre residents who are not exactly overjoyed by that nostalgic daily blast from the past every blessed day now have a place to go and register their displeasure. Taking its inspiration from the classic Sierra Madre sited 1950s horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is called the Invasion of the Shoddy Blaster (link), and it looks a lot like this:


The people who have put this thing together are pretty funny. Using appropriated stills from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, they have put together a series of photo cartoons about Sierra Madre's now famous (or should we say infamous?) fire horn.

Here are a few:

The Invasion of the Shoddy Blaster's creators have been in touch with our local government agency (AKA City Hall), and for their efforts did receive the following letter from then Mayor Pro Tem John Capoccia:

Karol, I haven't been able to take the time to look into this a bit more closely, but I haven't forgot about it. It just hasn't been a high priority as I haven't had too many complaints. I would think that I would get more complaints if the problem was as big as you say it is. My experience as a member of the council is that Sierra Madreans are certainly not shy about contacting their elected representatives to voice opinions on matters important to them. Why aren't more people complaining?? I haven't discussed with other council members because of Brown Act restrictions, but no one has asked that the item be agendized, so I'm guessing that none of them has received a substantial number of complaints either. Nonetheless, you raise valid concerns and I may ask that the council agendize. John

Since that time the issue of the mighty loud horn has been agendized for City Council discussion on June 9. It does pay to be persistent, you know. If you think it is more than the human (or pet) ears can stand (especially those ears living nearby) they encourage you to email Mayor John Capoccia at

If contacting the authorities isn't quite your cup of tea, then you can always post your opinion on The Tattler using whatever name you choose. The most popular being Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. We will forward your comments a day or so later, privacy guaranteed.

Despite the lack of perceived anti-horn opposition in town (at least according to Mayor Capoccia), the IotSB folks have not given up. Like all good Sierra Madreans at their wit's end they have begun to do some hard research. They recently uncovered a newspaper article that details some of the reasons why the horn was first silenced way back in 1999. It was a near fatal tragedy that did it.

In times as difficult as these, I am not really sure how much more controversy this old town can take. But then again, we love it. I will keep you in touch with any further developments on the very loud horn as soon as they happen.

Tonight's City Council Meeting

In case you missed it, we posted our preview article for tonight's City Council budget heavy meeting yesterday. I don't know why I did that, it was Memorial Day after all and everyone was off and doing other things. But here us a screen shot of how that post was kicked off.

To view the whole thing click here. Or just scroll down a couple of inches.

We will have all the news about what went down available on this site bright and early tomorrow morning.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why Is The Sierra Madre Police Department Offering To Make The Least Amount Of Budget Cuts?

Tuesday evening's City Council meeting will be dedicated almost entirely to trying to find a way to make the budget fit into the new 6% utility tax (UUT) reality Sierra Madre is now heading towards. In a municipality where the solutions in the past have always been simply to ask for more money, and as often as possible, this is quite a culture change. Especially for those running City Hall. This should make for interesting and at times emotional viewing Tuesday evening, with many concerned individuals pushing to save the budgets of those departments reflecting their particular areas of interest.

As you can see by the colorful pie chart above, each department budget shown is based on the old 10% UUT rates. Among the highest in California, this was something that the taxpayers here in town voted twice to get rid of. At tomorrow night's meeting the City Council will attempt to make that happen.

Or at least some of them will. One or two there do believe they know better than the people actually paying those utility tax rates.

Below are figures each department prepared for this meeting, and are contained in a report called "Budget Reduction Alternatives" (link). All but one department offers up options that represent a significant cut in their overall budget percentage.

That one exception being the Police Department. For the purpose of saving money this is a problem since the SMPD represents 40% of the overall General Fund budget, or nearly $4 million dollars. In order to keep that figure nearly intact other departments would have to sustain significant percentage cuts. With Community Services and the Paramedic Program for all intents and purposes going away altogether.

With projected future deficits ranging in the $700,000 to $1,000,000 range, the reluctance of the SMPD to consider significant reductions to their budgets potentially shifts a lot of the burden onto other city departments. The question that needs to be asked being is this really the smart way to go. In a traditionally low crime city such as Sierra Madre, do we really require quite so large a police force? And at the expense of so many other, possibly more important, things?

Here are the projected "budget reduction alternatives" numbers:

Administration, Finance, Human Resources, Elected & Appointed - Current $500,000

Community Services - Current $153,000

Fire & Paramedics - Current $1,768,000

Library - Current $810,000

Planning & Community Preservation - Current $600,000
 Public Works - Current $532,000

Police  - Current $3,953,000

As you can clearly see, the SMPD's proposed percentage reductions are minimal when compared to what is being offered by other departments. This despite the $4 million allocated to this one department. Additionally, what is not discussed in this Agenda Report is the reasoning behind this lack of sacrifice. Why the budgets of the SMPD should remain nearly intact while those of other departments would be significantly slashed, and in some instances at draconian levels, is problematic in my opinion.

There is a section of this report that deals with department outsourcing. It would be possible to save enough money through outsourcing the Police Department to save all of the other departments and preserve most of their services. The saving would be approximately $1,000,000. This would supposedly include closing the Police Station, which honestly I don't buy. 

There is also a superfluous cost of $200,000 for event police staffing considered, but aren't those costs recouped from the involved organizations anyway? And at very high rates?

Here is my question. Wouldn't it be better for the Police Department to come up with a more realistic budget cutting proposal? Particularly when by doing so it would not only save itself from having to be outsourced, but also help preserve most of the services offered by the other city departments?

Sierra Madre has been one of the safest cities in California for decades. No matter what the size or focus of the Police Department. Given the numbers supplied above, perhaps this is where the City Council needs to look tomorrow night. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pasadena Star News: Rose Bowl Ticketgate more ‘Far Side’ than outrage

Free tickets for fun city officials 
(Mod: The latest in those every other Sunday opinion pieces I am doing for the Pasadena Star News - link.)

There probably isn't a more politically correct city this far east of Santa Monica, nor one that tolerates the shenanigans of its elected leaders quite so much, as Pasadena. It is more of a belief system than government. Maybe a mood. Say no perceived evils, never see them as well.

As most people who scribble columns about politicians know, there is no more happy combination than petty malfeasance combined with effortlessly assumed self-righteousness. It is what you pray for. And what better place to find this than on the west side of the Michillinda Curtain?

Recently it came to the attention of the world that Pasadena's elected officials, along with their institutional whipping boy, City Manager Michael Beck, had received $150,000 dollars in free tickets from the Rose Bowl Operating Company. RBOC being folks whose interests these officeholders vote upon.

And as was stated in the paper you are holding now, "The Seco Street Residents Association’s complaint accuses Darryl Dunn, the Rose Bowl stadium’s general manager, of operating a 'slush fund' of tickets that he uses to 'build political favoritism from council members,' according to the complaint."

Of course, everyone already knows about this. The FPPC has the complaint before them now. Though, outside of the faintest of wrist slaps, plus a few days of news stories, this will likely go the way of the Wooten Scandal. That is how it usually rolls.

However, I believe there is a more important dimension to this kerfuffle, one that is receiving absolutely no coverage. Anywhere. That being what exactly it is these usually prim city officials went to see.

The performers who entertained Pasadena's elected elite at these Rose Bowl events were Beyonce, Rihanna, Jay Z and Eminem. All artists known for lascivious lyrics and salacious live performances. I thought I'd take the opportunity to quote you a few of their more intriguing librettos.

Eminem: "I may fight for gay rights, especially if the dyke is more of a knockout than Janay Rice/ Play nice? B**** I'll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance/ Till her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens."

Beyonce: "Ya man ain't never seen a booty like this, And why you think ya keep my name rolling off your tongue, 'Cus when he wanna smash I'll just write another one, I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker."

Jay Z: "'Now eat the cake, Anna Mae,' said, 'Eat the cake, Anna Mae!' I'm nice, for y'all to reach these heights … Sleep tight, we sex again in the morning."

Now all that said, I cannot claim to be too offended. As an almost two decade long veteran of Atlantic and Interscope Records, this is just the old hat corporate rhythm to me. We call these "booty shows." I paid for my house selling this kind of stuff to Wal*Mart.

Then again, I am also not an elected official in the political piety capital of the 210 Corridor. It is easy for me to say something.

So yes, I am having some trouble figuring out what the likes of Bill Bogaard, Terry Tornek and Jacque Robinson were doing at these shows. It just doesn't gibe with their daily drag. Hanging out in some of the finest free seats ever handed out by a solicitous promoter to possibly complicit local government.

It had to have been some kind of sight.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Monday is Memorial Day - Your Attendance is Requested

McMansion Development Brown Act Lawsuit in Arcadia 

Mod: Here is some excerpts from an article that ran in the Pasadena Star News earlier this week.

Arcadia resident may file lawsuit against city for alleged violations of California’s open meetings law (link) - An Arcadia resident Monday gave city officials 30 days to respond to alleged violations of California’s open meetings law before he files a complaint with the District Attorney or pursues a lawsuit against the city.

In the letter, Highlands resident David Arvizu offered two alternatives to litigation: the council would either set aside the decisions made in closed session on May 5, or make the meeting minutes available to the public.

In a closed session May 5, the City Council voted to suspend comprehensive updates to the city’s commercial and residential zoning codes, postpone the Neighborhood Impacts Committee and proceed with a historic preservation survey, excluding the Highland Oaks Homeowners’ Association.

Kelly Aviles, open government attorney and vice president of Californians Aware, said the analysis of the act is not cut and dried but rather more fluid.

“We are talking about the intent of the Brown Act and how these types of laws are supposed to be interpreted transparently,” she said. “Closed sessions are supposed to be for the exception to the rule ... and are supposed to be interpreted narrowly.”

Aviles has prosecuted several cases involving Brown Act violations. If the decisions were ones that could not have been made in closed session before litigation was initiated, she said, they cannot be made in closed session just because litigation is pending.

In the lawsuit, filed March 12, Save the Arcadia Highlands challenged the council’s approval of two residential developments. The suit asks the city to conduct an Environmental Impact Report based on the cumulative impacts of the two projects, in addition to several others that have been approved in the past few years.

Arvizu, who is also a member of the grassroots organization, said since 2012, nearly 30 homes larger than 5,000 square feet have been proposed in the Highlands neighborhood alone.

(More …)

A common thread among Arvizu and other residents who spoke during public comments Tuesday was concern the city did not give notice about its intention to take action on the three items, something open government advocate Gil Aguirre said is clearly stated in the law.

“They can’t piggyback items into a closed-session agenda item,” he said. “The agenda has to be very specific.”

April 7 and May 5 special meeting agendas state only that the city will confer with legal counsel regarding the matter of Save the Arcadia Highlands v. the City of Arcadia, et al. It says no business other than the above would be considered at the meetings.

Arcadia resident Arthur Lane said he was concerned the city was not being as transparent as it could be.

“I am discouraged very much by not seeing these kinds of topics that affect so many residents being discussed in open session,” he said.

Highlands resident April Verlato said because the public had no idea the city was going to be discussing zoning code updates or the historic preservation survey, they were unable to direct comments toward those items.

“It’s kind of huge that they excluded the Highlands from a historical preservation survey,” Verlato said. “I think a lot of my neighbors, had they had proper notice, would have liked to come and comment on that. The biggest problem now is none of us really know or understand why they made those decisions, and I don’t think that’s fair to the public.”

(Mod: There is a great reader comment attached to this article on the Star News website. I thought I should post it here as well. Note the City of Bell connection.)

Sierra Madre Middle School Update

The PUSD is saying that new contractors are supposed to be in place and they're stating that the same timeline will be met. As to why the three project leaders were let go, that is "confidential."

They are apparently doing everything they can to keep a lid on this story. Here is a reader comment from this morning that might shed some light on what are some pretty murky doings:

After several years of increasingly fractured leadership from senior PUSD administrators, Frazer resigned and has taken an administrative position in the SF Bay area. Had there been a history of open and honest communication from PUSD, as well as some assurance that his work on behalf of the District was appreciated, he would have stayed because he really didn't want to uproot his family. 

Other long term Facilities staff has either left or is planning to leave in the very near future and it is likely that things will slow down considerably while Mr. Cayabyab tries to get a handle on the work. If he follows his past history at BHUSD, PUSD will probably hire a much higher priced construction management firm (such as Bernard Bros.) . Gee.... I wonder when the witch hunt will start..... 

More when we find it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Sierra Madre Tattler Friday News Dump

Hopefully they're not moving to Arcadia
Mod: I am not quite sure where to put these news compendiums anymore. Trust me, I have been losing sleep. I used to post them on Sundays, but now I have other things that need to go there. I tried Monday once or twice, but that always interfered with City Council meeting coverage. So I am going to try Fridays. If you don't know, a "news dump" is where publicity people try and hide stories that they have to release, but hope people won't see. Fridays being the day when news reader interest is at it lowest point. We'll have to see how this works out. But in the meantime, here is the Sierra Madre Tattler news dump. A collection of news items that caught the eye of readers who were kind enough to send them our way.

Here’s what celebrities’ lawns look like during California’s drought (The New York Post link): “Let them drink dust!”

As these aerial photos from The Post prove, Hollywood celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Barbra Streisand and Jennifer Lopez continue to suck up water to keep their gardens fresh and lawns green, while Southern California withers from a devastating drought.

Experts predict California reservoirs have less than a year’s worth of drinking water left. An emergency law passed last week forces local cities to conserve water immediately. The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which supplies many of these elite enclaves north of Los Angeles, will have four weeks starting next month to cut water use by a staggering 36 percent. But the mandate is toothless, with the maximum fine a paltry $100.

“We’re right up there with Beverly Hills,” said one official who estimates 70 percent of the district’s water is going to the lawn maintenance of about 100 manicured estates. “And that means we have to get the A-listers on the bus.”

The Hidden Hills estate of Kim Kardashian/Kanye West is so lush, even their wealthy neighbors are outraged. “The Kardashian flowers and hedges are right in our face,” one resident told The Post. “It’s disgusting. You walk by and you can smell the freshness.”

(Mod: Well there you go. Class warfare has come to the drought. And from The Post no less. If I had a subscription I'd have to cancel it.)

Man Gets Prison Sentence For Collecting Rainwater On His Own Property (Washington Weekly News link): His story quickly went viral after a rural Oregon man was slapped with fines for collecting rain water on his own property. But now, as of last Wednesday, Gary Harrington of Eagle Point, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and more than $1,500 in fines, all because he had three reservoirs on his own property, that he used to collect and use rainwater.

Harrington says he plans to appeal the conviction in the Jackson County Circuit Court. That conviction revolved around nine misdemeanor charges that come from a 1925 law. That archaic ordinance bans what state water managers called “illegal reservoirs.”

“The government is bullying,” Harrington said in an CNS News, last Thursday.

“They’ve just gotten to be big bullies and if you just lay over and die and give up, that just makes them bigger bullies. So, we as Americans, we need to stand on our constitutional rights, on our rights as citizens and hang tough. This is a good country, we’ll prevail,” he added.

(Mod: Most governments don't react well when their monopoly interests are challenged. Sierra Madre residents collecting rainwater in barrels might want to keep them hidden from sight.)

Alleged Sierra Madre thieves jailed after confrontation with resident (Pasadena Star News link): A Sierra Madre man confronted a trio of burglars in front of his home early Wednesday, chasing them off before police arrested the suspects, officials said.

A man heard noises about 4 a.m. coming from the front of his Grove Lane home, Sierra Madre police officials said in a written statement. He looked out his window to see someone breaking into his car.

“The resident went outside and confronted the suspect, who was now inside his vehicle, and a brief struggle ensued,” according to the statement. “The suspect had a large silver object in his hand which the resident felt was a gun. Fearing for his safety the resident backed away from the suspect allowing the suspect flee southbound to a dark-colored SUV.

Another suspect ran out from another nearby home and jumped into the SUV, which sped away, police said.

Police quickly found and stopped a vehicle matching the reported description and arrested three suspects after finding them in possession of suspected stolen property and drugs, according to the police statement. Police were still looking for the rightful owners of some of the property.

“We discourage residents from confronting suspects for their safety but are glad the victim is okay,” Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone said.

(Mod: The Chief needs to think about why a resident might decide to take things into his own hands rather than calling him.)

How Can Twins Have Two Different Fathers? (Yahoo Parenting link): One New Jersey woman got the surprise of a lifetime when she discovered that her 2-year-old twins have two different fathers.

The mother (identified as “T.M.” in court documents) got the news this winter, when she received the results of a paternity test mandated by family court as part of her application for public assistance, The New Jersey Law Journal reported on Thursday.

The Passaic County Board of Social Services had required the mother to establish paternity of the twins — in order to make the toddlers’ father pay child support — because she revealed that she’d been intimate with another man during the same week in which she believed her children were conceived with her former partner. DNA test results revealed in November that T.M.’s partner was the father of only one of her children.

(Mod: That must have been embarrassing. Then again, now the twins will have three grandmas.)

China may have edge in race to build California's bullet train (Reuters link): Chinese state firms are poised to be strong contenders in the race to make high-speed trains that will sprint between Los Angeles and San Francisco, part of a $68 billion project to bring the service to the United States for the first time.

While "bullet train" manufacturers from Germany, Japan, South Korea, and France are expected to be among those jockeying for the estimated $1 billion train contract, China’s ability to offer low prices and hefty financing appear to make it the one to beat, say lobbyists and industry insiders.

Lacking experience in the technology, California must turn to foreign firms to build the trains – albeit domestically and with American workers - setting off a geopolitical race to grab a foothold in the nascent U.S. high-speed rail industry.

Germany's Siemens is expanding its rail factory in Sacramento to incorporate a “high-speed lot.” Japan has voiced its interest, boasting a record of no fatal accidents in over 50 years operating high-speed trains. France’s Alstom, which produces rail cars in upstate New York, is also a potential contender.

Awarding a piece of America’s most ambitious and expensive infrastructure project in decades to strategic rival China – over a long-term ally such as Japan - would be prone to political controversy.

But a Chinese bid with generous financing attached could prove hard to resist for California’s government, which has so far secured only a fraction of the total funding needed for a project that would see trains speeding at over 200 mph (322 kph) to connect the state’s biggest cities in under three hours.

“They are the 900-pound guerilla," said Rod Diridon, former board chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), the state government agency tasked with issuing the bid and selecting a manufacturer. "They have huge advantages, because they have so much funding.”

(Mod: First the 710 Tunnel and now the bullet train. Anyone detecting a pattern here?)

Husband, wife run against each other for Bremerton City Council (NBC News Seattle link): Two candidates. One seat on the city council. And one very unique bond.

Roy Runyon, a six-year incumbent representing District 6, learned this week that his wife, Kim Faulkner, filed for his seat.

The couple is married and living together.

"I just sat down and said I think the city of Bremerton, District 6, needs more qualified people to run for office," said Faulkner, sitting next to her husband at a coffee shop. "I'm going to put my name in the hat."

"I was surprised," said Runyon. "I said, 'Boy, you could do a really good job.'"

Runyon added, "She has a different approach, which might serve the citizens. She's eminently qualified. She's not experienced in government. But she does have a different approach."

(Mod: Who says married couples don't communicate. The debates are going to be especially interesting.)

Late Edit

As was pointed out by a reader this morning, the latest City of Sierra Madre "e-blast" states that the agenda for the 5/26 City Council meeting is available the city's website. As of this typing (10:00AM) it is not.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oxy Moxie: Fun With the $15 An Hour Minimum Wage

I get into these bizarre arguments over on a Facebook page called Pasadena Politics. Can't help myself really. It isn't always easy being right in a world where everyone else is wrong. And nowhere are they more wrong quite as remarkably as at Pasadena Politics. It is a place where people who venerate government, and particularly the government of their special city, like to congregate. Needless to say, I don't quite fit in. Though the nice lady who moderates the place does treat me kindly.

Here's an example of what I mean. A couple of years ago the Pasadena Unified School District went through its "redistricting process." Which is the politically correct term for political gerrymandering based on racial and ethnic identity. Or pretty much the opposite of what some obtrusive people attempted to accomplish with busing back in the early 1970s. So it isn't a totally bad idea.

Unfortunately, those who were in control of that PUSD so-called redistricting process threw in something a little extra. They denied three of the more traditional suburban locales in this area (such as Sierra Madre) the right to vote for their subdistrict representatives until a full 2 years later than the urban subdistricts.

Terribly unfair in my opinion. If the term "taxation without representation" doesn't come to mind, then you must have slept through history class.

Among those responsible for this PC vote theft is a gentleman straight out of P'dena named Ken Chawkins. And when I attempted to discuss this matter on the Pasadena Politics site with him, he reacted in the following unfortunate and intolerant manner:

Come on, Ken. Can't we all just get along? 

Another of the Pasadena PC Posse who finds my mere presence on the Pasadena Politics page entirely intolerable is Occidental College Professor Peter Dreier. Peter, in case you are blissfully unaware, is a lifetime radical activist who carries on like he believes that 1968 never ended. And woe to anyone who might disagree with him.

A quixotic pursuit made comfortable for him due to his tenured professorship at Occidental College, a liberal arts institution in Eagle Rock that costs parents of the youngsters who go there about $60,000 a year. 

I'll bet you can buy some real nice office furniture with that kind of dough.

Now one of Professor Dreier's bugaboos these days is the $15 minimum wage. He's written whole articles on the matter, and has even given a few speeches about it as well. Here is a portion of an LA Times op-ed piece he penned a year or so ago (link).

It's surprising, then, that Los Angeles has not yet seen a campaign to adopt a citywide minimum wage for the more than 800,000 city residents — 46% of working Angelenos — who make less than $15 an hour. That comes to less than $30,000 for year-round full-time work.

That amount of money doesn't go very far in Los Angeles, where the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,523. A family needs to earn $29.29 an hour to afford that rent, according to the Southern California Assn. for Non-Profit Housing. At the current state minimum wage of $8 an hour, two minimum-wage workers would each have to work 73 hours a week to afford that apartment.

Worse yet, wages are going down in Los Angeles even as the cost of living rises. Between 1979 and 2011, the median inflation-adjusted pay of L.A. workers declined by 14%. For the working poor — the bottom quarter of income earners — yearly pay plummeted by 26%.

Where, then, is the City Council? Where's the Mayor?

Now this matter has been up for discussion on the Pasadena Politics site lately, mostly because the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Garcetti, along with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, got with Peter's principles. And nobody was more giddy with delight than the Professor. Check this out:

As you know, I always try to be as helpful as possible, no matter what someone's opinions might be. And one of the ways I try to do that is to point out the contradictions in things people are saying. The contradiction for Professor Dreier being that the college where he serves as a senior professor, Occidental, pays their more blue collar help simply terrible wages. Or at least by Dreier's standards.

Here are some unhappy examples:

I am not sure being an "on-call banquet assistant" for $11.66 an hour is quite in the spirit of that $15 an hour minimum wage campaign Peter Dreier has been championing. I attempted to point this out to him, but wouldn't you know it? He cussed me out quite roundly, and with little regards for my feelings I might add.

Then he posted the following bold statement:

But here is the thing. And believe me, I take little pleasure in saying this. While the Los Angeles City Council did pass something along the lines of what Professor Dreier describes, it isn't quite what he has represented it to be. Here is how CNBC describes that pain (link):

As Los Angeles moves to become the largest city to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $9 an hour over the next five years, a key question is which other large cities might follow suit and hike pay.

The Los Angeles City Council agreed on Tuesday to draft a proposal to raise wages by 2020. The plan will go to a vote next month and Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he will sign it into law.

And there is the catch. This is a $6 an hour raise over the course of five very long years. And in the next year or so current $9 an hour minimum wage earners will see their life's bounty make a feeble leap up from what they earn now to the rather unlordly $10.50. 

I am not sure this is going to make all of those Tiger Temps and Banquet Assistants at Occidental College jump for joy. Or put in their orders for new Audis, either. 

This despite the bold promises of a $15 dollar and hour minimum wage Professor Dreier made on their behalf over at the Pasadena Politics Facebook page. And failed to deliver in a timely manner.

Just don't you dare go and tell anyone.

Late edit

This article has since been pulled from the Pasadena Politics page.