Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Sierra Madre's First Ever McGranny Mansion Mystery!

- Behold! The mysterious rising of Sierra Madre's 1st ever McGranny Mansion, complete with elevator. -

Today's post involves a most unlikely twist on the old Granny Flat concept. As many readers here will recall, it was not too long ago that granny flats were discussed as a possible way of helping Sierra Madre achieve its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (or RHNA) numbers without having to actually allow for the building of anything. RHNA numbers being the product of corrupted Sacramento central state planners intent on forcing high density housing into resistant cities such as this one.

So in order to hit this number without actually allowing any SCAG housing in, the City Council at that time began looking at Granny Flats as a way of pumping up Sierra Madre's RHNA numbers. And it was decided that Granny Flats, those small single bedroom detached structures some people have tucked away in their backyards, could be brought up to code and then counted as real housing.

Or so the plan went. Many were in a state of disrepair of course, but should their owners fix these structures up a little and bring them up to code, the city could then count them as actual housing. Thus adding to the community's housing stock and helping dodge predatory state high density development mandates.

Invariably, the good intentions of that City Council were somehow subverted, and we are today looking at Sierra Madre's very first McGranny Mansion. Or, as some in that neighborhood have taken to calling it, the "two story aircraft carrier." Take your pick.

I like McGranny myself because it ties nicely into what has been a decade-long conversation about low income housing here.

Last week one resident did speak with the always well-informed and helpful Leticia Cardoso about this first ever McGranny Mansion, and came away with a lot of interesting information. Much of what follows is based on a series of emails sent to me yesterday afternoon. Our intrepid reporter learned a lot about the 2-story McGranny Mansion that has arisen from the ground toadstool-like out in back of the properties at 665 Fairview and 400 Gatewood, and also raised a lot of questions.

Unlike resurrected Granny Flats, the city considers this item to be an "accessory" structure, or at least according to the permit dated December of 2014. It cannot to be considered a true "2nd unit," or Granny Flat. Or so they are saying now. As such, it cannot have a kitchen and cannot be lived in on a permanent basis, although guests can stay there temporarily. It also cannot be rented.

Here I sense a disconnect. I am not certain how anyone could have gotten from the Granny Flat idea to this McGranny. How could the construction of so large a building be allowed by City Hall, yet nothing much can be done with it? If there is to be no kitchen, and nobody can rent the place, what is its purpose? Maybe it is to be clubhouse for some rather privileged youngsters? Complete with an elevator?

Because the permit was pulled in December of 2014, the new rules that were passed by the Planning Commission in June of 2015 do not apply here. Under the new rules, plans for a two story item such as this would need to be submitted to the city for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), and the neighbors would have been notified.

Even though none of this apparently applies to the object of today's conversation, our correspondent wanted to address "2nd units," which the Planning Commission will hopefully be taking up at their September 3rd meeting. So here goes.

A few years back a previous City Council changed the rules to allow 2nd units in R-1 zones. As we stated above, they did this as a way of complying with onerous state mandated RHNA requirements for more low income SCAG Housing without having to actually allow for the building of any. They faced a Hobson's Choice between allowing for more multi-unit buildings in the city, or allowing these already existing (though often rather neglected, or just plain funky in the planner sense) 2nd units to be rebuilt, upgraded and brought up to code in the R-1 Zone.

To make it easier to turn these 2nd units into viable living spaces, that City Council relaxed some of the R-1 Zoning requirements in regards to things like set backs. But now, with the rising of this city's first ever McGranny Mansion (as fine an example of good intentions gone wrong as you will ever see), the concern has become whether or not this effectively turns an R-1 Zone meant for single family homes into an R-2 Zone where pretty much anything goes.

That doesn't sound like anything anyone was looking for to me. Regardless of what you call that bizarre structure, it should not have been allowed under any rules, new or old.

Usually backyards run together. Now the neighbors of this LULU have a massive 2-story structure looming over their properties. Leticia Cardoso believes that under the wording of the new rules a CUP would apply to any 2nd story, whether it's for an "accessory" structure or a "2nd unit." Though, we must add, she wasn't absolutely sure about any of this, and intended to bring it up with the City Attorney.

It is also hoped that new floor area limits would also apply, although I'm not absolutely sure about that, either. Like I said, there are mysteries here.

Maybe this McGranny was just one of those Danny Castro "over the counter specials." You know, like the Carbuncle Castles at 319 and 321 Camillo Road? If there aren't any specific rules against approving construction, you just pass 'em through, right?

You have to wonder if there are any other surprises out there, just waiting to get built.

It might be a good idea to show up at that Planning Commission meeting at 7:00 on September 3rd. There is a lot that needs to be discussed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Arcadia Association of Realtors Pol Chief Chip Ahlswede Takes Credit for the Election of Johnny Gem Coins

Long time residents of Sierra Madre are sure to be familiar with Chip Ahlswede. Chip was one of the political wunderkind who ran the "No on Measure V" campaign here, and despite $170,000 in contributions from the likes of the California Association of Realtors, Building Industry Association and the Arcadia Association of Realtors, managed to lose that ballot initiative race to a collection of resident political amateurs who didn't raise 1/10th that amount of money. A pretty weak showing on Chip's part.

The political consultancy Chip worked for back in the mid-aughts, Schubert Flint, later went on to lead the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2009 ballot initiative that waylayed same sex marriage in California for a few years. According to the blog Queers United, Schubert Flint Public Affairs went on to do far bigger things than merely screwing up the 'No on Measure V' campaign in Sierra Madre.

Here is what that blog has to say about Chip's once upon a time employer (link):

Schubert Flint Public Affairs is an advertising agency that created many of the ads that helped Proposition 8 pass in California, leading to same-sex marriage rights being taken away in the state ... The "National Organization for Marriage," an anti-gay think tank, is continuing their relationship with the ad agency in an attempt to further erode marriage rights for same sex couples.

I have always found it to be wryly amusing that the highly politically correct "Civility Party" proponents of massive blocks of high density overdevelopment in downtown Sierra Madre did business with an organization that later achieved such intense notoriety in certain quarters through its efforts to defame gay marriage.

Of course, and as Chip always feels it is necessary to point out, by the time Prop 8 was up and running he had already left Schubert Flint. Which makes sense. They certainly didn't win much while he was actually working there.

It is also important to share that Mr. Ahlswede has never condemned his former employer for leading the fight against gay marriage in California, either. Eventually perhaps he will. Who knows, anything is possible.

What brings Chip Ahlswede back to our attention now is apparently he is to be a head political honcho in the fight to defeat an Arcadia resident ballot initiative designed to stymie mansionization there. Given his past record in these kinds of election fights, you have to wonder why they didn't try and find someone with a better track record. 

After all, Sierra Madre beat on his butt like he was a red-headed step child.

The word now is Chip has been actively seeking out Arcadia supporters of this ballot initiative in order to meet with them to supposedly discuss the possibility of "trying something else, something a little less disruptive." Which is a hoot since all he is obviously trying to do here is suss out what their plans are.

That not a single one of these Arcadia preservationists have agreed to meet with him is a sign of how little Chip is trusted in that community. And wisely so.

Anyway, just to give you an idea of what a gratuitous grandstander Ahlswede can actually be, check out the following radiant example of eccentric political behavior. An Arcadia resident uncovered this and sent to me, for which I am grateful.

Here Chip gives himself major props for the election of Councilmember John "GemCoins" Wuo, and credits it to a Facebook campaign he claims to have organized.

Facebook. Gosh, now wasn't that a piece of original thinking? And for the record, wasn't this actually a re-election campaign? And perhaps not quite the long shot proposition Chip is claiming here?

On to the article. Like Chip himself it's a little windy, but hilarious nonetheless.

A work of timeless political genius, for sure.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto Attempts To Stop The Bad Press Arcadia City Hall Has Been Receiving In The Pasadena Star News

Big boys do cry.
There is blaming the messenger, and then there is going to the messenger's boss and complaining about that messenger. The latter apparently being the preferred method for Arcadia City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto. A gent who does not take criticism of those whose interests he is apparently representing lightly.

Thanks to a Public Records Act request filed on behalf of that portion of Arcadia concerning itself with integrity in government (rather than enabling cash only McMansion sales, GemCoins and the opinions of Realtor combines), what we can see here is a full throttle City Hall attempt to silence a Pasadena Star News reporter. One that had the temerity to write about a dicey development scheme in a way that Mr. Lazzaretto would have preferred not see in print.

A project that, should it ever go forward, would contribute additional property taxes and development impact fees into a General Fund administered by, yes, you got it, Dominic Lazzaretto. It's a small world, isn't it?

We're posting here today a highly indignant email sent by City Manager Lazzaretto to a senior figure at the Los Angeles News Group, which oversees the Pasadena Star News. The target of Lazzaretto's ire is Courtney Tompkins, the author of the following article. Her crime? Apparently being seen talking to members of Save The Arcadia Highlands, and then publishing what Lazzaretto feels are its points of view.

Apparently Save The Arcadia Highlands is an organization Lazzaretto views as an enemy, and must not be allowed any press coverage without consulting with him first.

First Courtney Tompkin's Star News article, then Mr. Lazzaretto's many complaints.

Here is City Manager Lazzaretto's email to Ron Hasse of the Los Angeles News Group:

Granted, perhaps Ms. Tompkins should have made inquiries about the whereabouts of Tim Schwehr, an Arcadia city employee who apparently prefers not to update his telephone voicemail when he goes on vacation. Something most think of as a professional necessity.

However, since this article has a lot more to do with a situation involving the conflict between a private resident and a developer, rather than whatever was going on with staff at Arcadia City Hall that week, why would Courtney have been required to talk with everyone working there? Would their opinions have really been all that relevant to her article?

After all, there is only so much space in a newspaper. You can't bring everyone into the mix that wants to be there.

And where exactly did Tompkins suggest that Arcadia's City Staff was complicit in a bribery scheme? I didn't read any of that in her article, did you? In his email Lazzaretto appears to be guilty of the very wrongs he accuses Tompkins of committing.

Perhaps Mr. Lazzaretto sees himself and his employees as being at the center of all that goes on in Arcadia, and that their opinions must be consulted no matter what the topic. But was that really the case in this instance? Though certain past City Hall decisions do serve as background to this story, I don't see why everybody there is automatically owed their own personal soapbox.

That is, unless Dominic Lazzaretto sees himself as somehow representing the interests of those accused in this article of allegedly using a form of bribery to gain a questionable development end.

In which case yes, there is a City Hall problem, and Ms. Tompkins might want to look into it.

Is Dominic Lazzaretto the Arcadia Tattler?

So here is something. There were several comments attached to the Tompkins article on the Pasadena Star News website (link). Including this one from the "Arcadia Tattler."

Notice any similarities between what City Manager Lazzaretto complains about in his email to Ron Hasse and the gripes of the Arcadia Tattler? Especially that bit about the alleged bribe, along with Tim "No Current Voicemail" Schwer?

It does make you wonder.

Friday, August 28, 2015

LA School Nearly 100 LAUSD email accounts tied to Ashley Madison hack

Mod: The LA School Report blog (link), which focuses almost exclusively on the Los Angeles Unified School District, did an "Ashley Madison" search on all of the LAUSD email accounts and other identifiers to be found on that infamous Internet love nest for extramarital affairs. For their efforts they turned up a whole bunch of now unhappy folks. Needless to say, The Tattler is quite envious of their inspiration and initiative. If anyone cares to do a similar search for such persons from any of our local government agencies, do send in any conclusive results. Preferably with screenshots. And yes, we'll be glad to post your findings.

Mod: Hopefully we'll have a PUSD report soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Arcadia City Councilmember Sho Tay Holds A Community Outreach Meeting On Development, But Only In Mandarin

Show time with Sho Tay
As Arcadia faces resident driven lawsuits and ballot initiatives designed to curb McMansion development there, the City Hall Empire is now attempting to strike back. City Councilmember Sho Tay, in what was promoted as community outreach, held a public meeting to air out some of the issues that community faces.

Unfortunately, this was not entirely an outreach effort because it was only held in Mandarin, which means that a large portion of the community was excluded from participating in these discussions. Which you could probably assume was the purpose.

So, and as a service to those who do not speak Mandarin, yet feel they too have a right to know what a Councilman who theoretically was put into office to represent all of the people of Arcadia was up to, we have obtained some translations of the media coverage for this event. Which, of course, was only the Mandarin language press. Which I guess was the point. None was intended for you.

Obviously this was an attempt to rally certain targeted ethnic support behind the building of McMansions in Arcadia, while also organizing opposition to an initiative that would put the lid on such things. Which, judging by the surprisingly sparse attendance at this event, might not be as popular with Sho Tay's carefully targeted audience as some might assume.

Attempts at political organizing based on racial assumptions can be problematic, so it might be that the desire for preservation in Arcadia actually does cut across ethnic lines. Meaning McMansions could have even less support than was first thought, and that the opposition to them cuts across all ethnic lines there.

I doubt that was quite the impression Sho Tay was hoping to convey when he was putting this meeting together.

Our first look into this event is a brief translation of a news report that ran on TV LA 18. You can access this video feed by clicking on the link beneath the screenshot.

Video link here.

I think the most important thing we can take away from viewing this video is just how small the turnout for Sho Tay's ethnically profiled meeting actually was. Something shown in this clip.

The other translation we have for you today is taken from coverage found in the newspaper Chinese Daily USA. Which, not entirely coincidentally, is owned by Arcadia City Councilman Sho Tay himself. It is a small world.

Something that remains important to note. While the TV news report did show the sparse size of this gathering, Sho Tay's newspaper offered no such images of the turnout. Meaning that just perhaps even he now recognizes that this attempt at building a race-based consensus for McMansion development was not successful.

Meaning that, despite the unfortunate assumptions of some, McMansions do not have as much support in Arcadia as first thought. No matter what portion of the community you are talking with.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sierra Madre: Despite Your Votes to the Contrary, Are You Still Paying 10% Utility Tax Rates?

The residents of Sierra Madre have twice voted themselves a Utility User Tax (UUT) cut. The first time was in 2012, and the second 2014. This had to be done twice because, as you likely know, City Hall does not give up its tax money easily. One vote apparently wasn't enough for them, and two might not be, either.

As I am sure you already know, the city just might try to raise utility taxes again in 2016. To 12% no less, highest in all of California. And after they fail to win that vote, in 2018, 2020 and 2022 as well. They are stubborn like that. But then again, so are we. What choice do we have? It's not like City Hall really cares to hear from anyone who doesn't want to give them more money.

As you might also be aware, and we did cover this momentous event here on The Tattler, July 1st was a very special day (link). Because the citizens of Sierra Madre voted themselves tax cuts in both 2012 and 2014, that was the day utility taxes actually started going down here. From 10% to 8%.

Making it the first time ever in the history of the Foothill Village that taxes actually decreased. That never happened here before. No tax has ever gone down in this city. Not once.

Or at least that is what we had believed to be true. I mean, the vote of the people is sacred, and no government official, elected or hired, would ever dare to mess with that, right?

Well, unfortunately that might not be the case. At least not in Sierra Madre.

One couple in town had been looking closely at their utility bills to see what effect the utility tax cut was having on their monthly cash outlay. They live on a fixed income, and the money they thought they'd save through voter approved utility tax relief would have an important effect on their budget.

Well-compensated city officials might not have to worry about saving money, but many people who actually live here do. There are quite a few fixed income people in Sierra Madre. In some ways they are this city's forgotten citizens.

So what our couple noticed is that the UUT cut was not making any difference whatsoever in their monthly utility bill costs. Not in July, and their August bills also showed no effect of these voter approved tax cuts. They were not happy about this and, sensing something is wrong, began to make phone calls.

One company that immediately responded to their request for tax information was Verizon. They are a big corporation that provides both cellular and land-line phone service here, so obviously they follow the utility tax requirements of Sierra Madre. The law forces them to collect such taxes.

Shockingly, what Verizon told our concerned couple is that as far as they know utility taxes in Sierra Madre are still 10%. Nobody ever informed them that tax rate changes had been made here, so that is the rate they continued to collect in both July and August. Not 8%.

Verizon even sent our couple detailed accounting sheets for all taxes attached to their phone bills. It is a long list. And as you will plainly see, Sierra Madre utility tax rates did not change. Or at least nobody told Verizon that they did, because the below statements show July and August utility tax rates are still 10%.

Here are three statements Verizon sent to our concerned Sierra Madre couple. The first one covers the month of June, 2015. Here Verizon identifies Sierra Madre's UUT at 10%, which is correct.

However, for the months of July and August, when the UUT rate here had legally fallen to 8%, the Verizon statements for those two months clearly show the rate remaining at 10%.                                                                  

And that is what our concerned couple found to be very alarming. Look to the right side of the statements, eight lines down from the top.

Remember, utility taxes in Sierra Madre cover a long list of categories (link). Everything from telephones (landline, cellular, intrastate, interstate and international) to cable TV, electricity use, wifi, gas, water, garbage collection and even sewers. This stuff does add up. And if City Hall somehow neglected to tell all of those folks to start collecting less in utility taxes, as directed by the voters, then some pretty serious laws have been broken.

Obviously an investigation is in order. Along with some refunds.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Last Night's Special City Council Meeting Was Yet Another Bad One For Bruce Inman

Just mailing it in?
You have to wonder if perhaps Bruce Inman is asking, in a round about and rather passive aggressive way, to be retired. And if that is the case, judging by the frustrated reactions of the City Council to Bruce's performance last night, he just might get that wish. And sooner than we even know.

Due to the sunsetting of the UUT, making this a time when money is truly the most troubling issue the City Council has to deal with, Bruce continues to only offer solutions that require the spending of lots of it. Last night was no exception, with the amount asked this time being $28,250. No alternatives to that number were offered by the Director of Public Works, though clearly some could have been.

Last night's Special Meeting of the Sierra Madre City Council was originally supposed to be one item only, and expected to last all of 15 minutes. It involved a Sacramento concocted UUT collection adjustment that expands the confiscatory reach of City Hall to tax a previously untouched category of cell phone service. The vote on this item was a legal formality, one that was quickly held and unanimously passed.

However, on August 13 an important connection to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which is a large pipe, sprang a leak. And since the SGVMWD is now the sole source of water for Sierra Madre, it is a serious problem. Temporarily patched, the financing for required permanent repairs was added to the agenda, and at the last moment.

Now there is budget in existence that would cover that amount of money, but can be spent only if the City Council first votes its approval. And given the emergency nature of this problem, a serious rupture in the line where SGVMWD water is piped into this city's system, it was obvious to all attending that the work needs to be done.

But the devil is in the details, so let's take a look at the Staff Report (link).

On the surface this all looks fairly standard, but you need to know a little more. Perry C. Thomas Construction is the same company that did the original work, and that took place just two short years ago.

Here is some more to chew on:

So here's the problem as I see it. As I said above, Perry C. Thomas Construction is the company that built all of this two years ago. Therefore they could be held at fault for any failures causing this line to spring a leak. Traditionally the company that does the job is responsible for their work. And according to the City Attorney, for a period of four years. Well within the time frame we're discussing today.

Yet Perry C. Thomas is the only company Bruce Inman called. No inquiries were made to any other companies that do such work, nor were any answers as to why this problem might have happened sought. Instead, claiming time was of the essence and that no other possible remedy could be considered, Bruce made just the one call, and that was to the very people likely responsible for the failure.

And so you know, the amount paid to Perry C. Thomas for their original work on this project was in excess of $500,000. An awful lot of money, even for government. The stated purpose being to link Sierra Madre to a viable water source.

This amount was paid by the SGVMWD and not the City of Sierra Madre, but you know the drill. The source of all such funding comes from just one place, that being the pockets of you and I.

It seems to me that a City Director more engaged with his job would have called Perry C. Thomas Construction and asked them to come out and take a look at the sad state of their work. And once there demanded that they explain why this leak occurred.

Certainly holding them financially responsible for any needed repairs is not an unheard of practice. As it is Perry C. Thomas Construction would stand to profit by their failed work. You have to wonder if they believed they would get away with that.

When asked by the City Council last night why this failure occurred, Bruce admitted he didn't really know. But since he only made that one phone call, this is not very surprising.

Councilmember Gene Goss boiled it all down. Gene compared this to a plumber installing a bathtub at his house. If the tub springs a leak two years later, wouldn't the most obvious solution be to call that same plumber and make him fix his shoddy work? And if that guy can't get the job done, hire someone else and make the original plumber pay the bill?

Pretty standard stuff in anybody's life. A workman is expected to stand by his work, and almost always at no additional cost.

Here is another problem. The firm that designed the system for this SGVMWD hook up is Spencer Engineering. Another company Bruce has done a lot of business with over the years. Wouldn't they have been among the first calls you would have made? In order to find out what happened?

Under questioning from the City Council, it turns out that call has yet to take place.

All Bruce Inman did was make one call, and got a quote from that one company. That being the same company likely responsible for this failure, and therefore beholden to fix the problem at no cost.

Then Bruce asked the City Council for the $28,250 that Perry C. Thomas Construction demanded to repair their own inadequate work. Certainly the people of the City of Sierra Madre deserve better than that.

A clearly exasperated City Council asked Bruce Inman to get them some more answers. We'll see how that all goes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Chinese Daily USA" is a Publication Owned by Arcadia City Councilmember Sho Tay - Check Out the Huge Spread for the Big GemCoin Bash Last May

It has become the opinion of some close observers of the GemCoin financial scandal in Arcadia that much of this was originally conducted in order to create a significant amount of investment capital for additional LULU (Locally Unwanted Land Use) projects. In particular more of the kinds of predatory and bizarrely ostentatious real estate development that has sadly become so prevalent there.

It certainly helps to explain the involvement of some of the big pro-McDevelopment government officials at the event we are discussing today, most famously the starring role Arcadia Councilmember John Wuo was daft enough to take. The gray jacket and brown pantsed gentleman who later on went on to proclaim in the Arcadia Weekly, and in a most Sergeant Shultz way, that he knew absolutely nothing about GemCoins. This despite the vast amounts of photographic evidence to the contrary found on the Internet.

Councilmember Wuo also famously requested that the use of his image in GemCoin related efforts be removed, and in all instances. Which makes the continued colorful Internet photographic and news article documentation of his smiling presence at this big GemCoin presser event last May as found in Sho Tay's "Chinese Daily USA" all the more puzzling. You'd think Mr. Tay would want to help out his colleague GemCoin Johnny a little bit and wipe all of that evidence off the web.

However, Sho Tay has not. Which you can quite easily see by clicking here. Or looking at the photos we cut and pasted to this post last night.

So up until now Arcadia City Councilmember Sho Tay's connection to the alleged GemCoin ponzi scheme controversy has not been quite as evident. Despite his staunch and unpopular opposition to any kind of resident control over predatory development there (he is now subject to a recall campaign for this lapse), Sho Tay has not been directly linked to any of the things his far less cautious Arcadia City Council colleague recklessly lent his image and support to a few months back.

But judging by the gaudy coverage of this particular GemCoin event in his Mandarin language newspaper Chinese Daily USA, Sho Tay doesn't have a problem with it, either. And obviously, we are talking about crass consumerism on bucket loads steroids here. Conducted for the benefit of those who would actually want to live in gigantic houses equipped with acres more plumbing than taste.

And what exactly are the Freudian implications of living in a home with 6 bathrooms, anyway?

I received the following e-mail recently from a resident of Arcadia that sheds some light on the contents of this meretricious GemCoin spread in Sho Tay's tawdry tabloid. Fluent in Mandarin (it is her first language), this heroic preservationist resident also provided me with a translation of the article that accompanies the tacky photographic nonsense we've included above.

Here is her note to The Tattler community.

Here is a portion of the Chinese Daily USA article in the original Mandarin:

Here is the translation.

That is it for today. We will have much more in around 48 to 72 hours. Exciting and fresh Arcadia revelations will soon be heading your way.