Monday, November 30, 2015

Standard & Poor's May 1, 1998: Sierra Madre Financing Authority, CA Bonds Assigned A+ SPUR by S&P

Mod: A little blast from the past. What follows is the Standard & Poor's announcement of  the now notorious water bond deal the City of Sierra Madre made way back in 1998. A part of the reason why the Water Department is so badly hamstrung when it comes funding water infrastructure repairs is the large amount of bond debt it is currently carrying. The service on which eats up a whole rashers of cash. As an introduction, here is a quick summary of all water bond money owed as of August 2013 (link).

Mod: It is important to note that Sierra Madre is making interest only payments on the 2003 bonds, which is an extremely expensive way to go. Here is Standard & Poor's 1998 announcement (link):

Sierra Madre Financing Authority, CA Bonds Assigned A+ SPUR by S&P
NEW YORK, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Standard & Poor's today assigned its
 single-'A'-plus underlying rating (SPUR) to Sierra Madre Financing Authority,
 Calif.'s water revenue refunding bonds series 1998A dated May 1, 1998 due
 May 1, 2015.  The bonds, which are expected to receive a triple-'A' rating
 based on bond insurance, are scheduled to sell the week of May 11, 1998.

     The underlying single-'A'-plus rating reflects the following strengths:
     -- Significantly improved and strong financial performance,
     -- Manageable capital plan with no future debt requirements, and
     -- Low rates and a stable primarily residential customer base.

 A credit concern is that approximately 30% of annual water requirements
 is dependent on groundwater pumping credits associated with seasonal rainwater
 runoff. Sierra Madre obtains all of its water from groundwater and has
 adjudicated groundwater pumping rights that provide approximately 70% of
 annual water requirements.

 Although the city routinely exceeds its adjudicated
 pumping rights to meet its average daily demand of 2.48 mgd, it receives
 credit for captured canyon rainwater runoff, which recharges the groundwater
 basin through the city's own spreading grounds. With this additional credit,
 the city has adequate overall pumping rights, but is subject to seasonal
 rainfall constraints. Additionally, as a member of the San Gabriel Valley
 Municipal Water District, the city has access to supplementary groundwater
 supplies when adjudicated pumping rights and credits cannot meet water needs,
 which last occurred in 1983. This supplementary water supply is adequate to
 meet the city's estimated growth during the next 30-40 years.
 The bonds are secured by installment payments that the city has pledged
 as a first lien on the net revenues of its water enterprise. The bonds are
 being issued for refunding purposes and capital improvements consisting of a
 new well and seismic upgrades of water storage reservoirs. Located 17 miles
 northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Sierra Madre (population 11,300) is a
 bedroom community with household wealth levels that exceed state levels by 23%
 and national averages by 28%. The city provides water service to a stable
 customer base that is primarily residential.

 Poor management in the early 1990s resulted in leaving the water
 enterprise with no liquidity by the end of fiscal 1994. However, since 1994,
 rate increases have been imposed that have restored liquidity to a strong cash
 balance of $2.1 million by the end of fiscal 1997, equivalent to over three
 years of operating expenses.  Coverage of annual debt service has also
 increased to 5.54 times (x) in 1997 from 1.73x in 1994. The new money portion
 of this bond issue doubles the enterprise's debt but coverage is expected to
 remain a still strong 2.35x through 2002.

 Bond proceeds will fund a three-year, $2.6 million capital plan.  Additional
 annual system replacement costs of approximately $450,000 can easily be
 funded by net system revenues with no additional debt requirements. Monthly
 rates are currently $16.90 for 7,500 gallons of consumption and when combined
 with a low monthly average sewer bill of $5 (sewer service provided by the
 Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts), the combined monthly bill is a low
 $21.90. No water rate increases are planned through 2002.

 The outlook reflects the expectation of sound financial management of the
 water enterprise and continued strong financial performance. Additionally,
 coverage margins provide flexibility to absorb fluctuations in water usage due
 to prolonged drought and wet weather conditions, Standard & Poor's said. --

 SOURCE  Standard & Poor's CreditWire

Mod: One more thing that might be interesting to note. While back in 1998 the aforementioned Sierra Madre water bond refunding could be accomplished at reasonable interest rates due to that A+ rating mentioned above, no such deal could ever be made today. Which is a shame since the Water Department is being dinged for some very high 5% interest rates for its 2003 series bonds. The reason for this being Sierra Madre's water bonds are currently rated junk. The following comes from a May 2015 report issued by Moody's (link).

Mod: It was a long trip down to get to where we find ourselves today.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

City Clerk Announces April 12 Election In Sierra Madre

Mod: I received the following Notice Of Election from Nancy Shollenberger yesterday afternoon. Nancy, as you might have already known, is not running for reelection. In addition to next April's election that is announced here as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2015 Occidental Professors Voting to Give Students Power to Report Them for "Microaggressions"

Has this man been thinking bad thoughts?
Mod: Things just keep getting wackier over at Eagle Rock's very own Occidental College. Apparently if you are some 19 year old beta-twerp whose daddy can afford to send you to this $63,000 a year academy for those who couldn't get into something Ivy League, among the advantages of your rarefied economic strata will now be the privilege of informing upon any of your professors guilty of what you will have chosen to believe are "microaggressions." And who enabled this remarkably mad slide into political correctness run completely amok? Believe it or not the groveling professors of Occidental themselves. Which raises the following piece of delicious irony. Will obnoxious local political meddler Peter Dreier, who teaches at Occidental, soon find himself dragged before a student conducted thought crime kangaroo court for just about anything they might desire? The following comes to us from the website, and can be accessed in the original by clicking here.

Occidental Professors Voting to Give Students Power to Report Them for Microaggressions - Would also mandate diversity training In recognition of their complicity in “structural racism and oppression” at Occidental College, the faculty will vote on a resolution that mandates diversity training, requires all academic departments to make racial sensitivity a component of in-class instruction, and allows students to “report microaggressions” between students and professors.

The proposal, dubbed the “Plan of Action,” was created by Occidental’s Faculty Council, which governs academic affairs on campus. Reason obtained a draft of the proposal, which will be presented to the entire Occidental faculty at a meeting on Tuesday. From its introduction:

We recognize and are inspired by the leadership of Oxy United for Black Liberation and their call for widespread institutional changes in the culture of the College. We affirm that Black lives matter and also affirm the broader ideals of social justice to which their call speaks. We recognize that the structural racism and other forms of oppression of the College violate our commitment to ensuring equity and excellence in our educational programs for all of our students. We also acknowledge that our collective inaction as a faculty body makes us complicit in the failures of the College to make our Mission a lived reality. For this we apologize for failing you, our students.

The Plan of Action seems to be a response to recent protests on campus; students occupied the administrative center and vowed not to leave unless Occidental President Jonathan Veitch agreed to resign. They also want Occidental to hire more professors of color and fund new diversity initiatives.

The students will get many of the things they want, if the full faculty body approves the Plan of Action. The resolution would mandate diversity and ally training for all faculty, beginning in January 2016. “We empower the Dean of the College to ensure compliance,” the plan reads.

The plan also obligates professors to place a much greater emphasis on topics relating to race and ethnicity—even if they don’t teach subjects that call for much examination of social or cultural issues. “All departments must incorporate issues of cultural and racial identity and diversity in their curricula,” the plan reads. Does all departments include mathematics? Physical sciences? I imagine that it does.

Perhaps most worrying, the plan calls for a microaggression monitoring system that would allow students to report faculty members for offending them. The plan explains that this is necessary to correct “power imbalances between faculty and students.” But students will have too much power if they are granted the right to be safe from microaggressions—which are, by their very nature, subjective and relatively inconsequential. How are professors supposed to teach if they have to worry about being reported and investigated for unknowingly saying the wrong thing to a student?

In an email to Reason, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff expressed numerous free speech concerns about the resolution. Here is FIRE’s statement, lightly edited:

We are troubled by the new proposed faculty resolution at Occidental College as it requires speech policing, substitutes academic freedom and judgment with top-down ideological commitments, and stifles diversity of opinion in the favor of imposed orthodoxy.

Given that microaggressions can be unconscious and often exist in the eye of the beholder, the call to “address and report” professors' microaggressions creates a bottomless pit of speech policing.

Mandatory diversity training of all faculty puts even seasoned professors in the position of being told what ideological assumptions they should or even must have. Academic freedom requires professors to follow their own research where it takes them regardless of the opinions of paid consultants.

Finally the requirement that all professors, even hard science professors, incorporate “issues of cultural and racial identity and diversity in their curricula,” violates basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly independence.

FIRE vowed to challenge the proposal if it is adopted by the faculty.

Neither Occidental College, nor Faculty Council Chair Anthony Chase, immediately responded to a request for comment.

Mod: The above cited "Plan of Action," created by the not especially brilliant and rather obsequious Occidental Faculty Council, can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

NASA Climatologist: El Niño Has Arrived, Will Be ‘One Storm After Another Like a Conveyor Belt’

Canyon mudflow in 2009
Mod: Since El Nino has now officially replaced Dr. Helene Baribeau as the designated savior of Sierra Madre during its time of water travails, I figured we should start talking about him a little. I can say that, unlike Dr. Baribeau, El Nino has not attended any meetings at City Hall. Meaning he will not be asking for any money above and beyond that which was promised in the original contract. Which, I am pleased to report, was $0. However, we have also not heard from El Nino about mudslides and all the other excitement that usually occurs when he makes an appearance here. Also there is no news if City Hall has broken out its little green, yellow and red flags yet. Or made any other preparations for that matter. The following comes to us from the KTLA website, and it is real scary. You can access it in its original habitat by clicking here.  

NASA Climatologist: El Niño Has Arrived, Will Be ‘One Storm After Another Like a Conveyor Belt’ The National Weather Service’s latest forecast indicated that a powerful El Niño continued to strengthen in October, but a NASA climatologist said the effects likely won’t be felt in California until early next year.

In a report released Thursday, the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center stated the episode is already “strong” and “mature.”

“It’s official. El Niño’s here. It’s a done deal,” Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Los Angeles Times. “So at this point, we’re just waiting for the impacts in California.”

Typically, he said, El Niño doesn’t peak in the state until the first three months of the year. But when it does, the drought-stricken state will likely be hit with “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt,” Patzert told the Times.

Though it has the potential to bring “extreme rainfall” to California, federal forecasters cautioned earlier this year that it may still not be enough to erase four years of drought in the state.

“Seasonal outlooks generally favor below average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation over the northern tier of the United States,” the report stated.

Most models forecast that the current El Niño – predicted to rank among the three strongest episodes on record since 1950 — will continue through the Northern Hemisphere this winter.

Based on the averages of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific between August and October, the current event ranked second to the powerful 1997 El Niño, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Even though El Niño likely will not peak until at least next month, its effects have already been felt around the world for months, a NOAA blog post stated on Thursday.

Among recent events, it was credited with fueling Hurricane Patricia, which made landfall as a Category 5 storm last month and was among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded.

El Niños typically enhance the Pacific’s hurricane season, Emily Becker wrote in the post.

This year, there has already been 21 Category 4 or 5 storms, a record number for the region, Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University told NOAA. The previous record was 17, back in 1997.

Mammoth Mountain even credited the “Godzilla El Niño” for opening ahead of schedule this season. Northern and Central California was hit with nearly 3 feet of snow as a series of pre-winter storms blew through the Sierra Nevada mountains recently.

For now, experts are warning people to start preparing for the possibility of increased precipitation and other effects across the region.

“January and February are just around the corner. If you think you should make preparations, get off the couch and do it now. These storms are imminent,” said Patzert, who predicted the possibility of a “Godzilla El Niño” back in August.

El Niño is here. And it is huge,” he added.

Mod: FEMA would rather you get flood insurance now rather than asking them for cash relief later when your house is buried in a mountain of mud. This from the LA Times.)

FEMA urges Californians to buy flood insurance before El Niño With drenching El Niño rains anticipated to begin more than a month from now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging Californians to buy flood insurance, even if they live in areas of low to moderate risk.

"If there was ever a time to buy flood insurance, this is the time," said Roy Wright, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation.

"You cannot get it at the last minute. There's a 30-day wait period for new flood insurance policies to go into effect," Wright told reporters at a Friday press conference.

Traditionally, only one-third to one-half of U.S. residents who live in flood risk areas are covered by flood insurance, according to Wright. Most standard homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.

Californians can obtain information on flood insurance, as well as rate their flood risk, by going to the website

Earlier this month, Antelope Valley and Lake Hughes residents got a foretaste of the potential havoc El Niño could wreak this winter when heavy rains caused mudslides to bury cars and trucks along Interstate 5 and the 58 Freeway.

Although the downpour was unrelated to El Niño, it demonstrated how four years of drought and widespread wildfires had impaired the land's ability to absorb large amounts of rainfall. Unable to percolate into the soil, the rain raced over the earth, picking up loose soil as it moved to lower elevations.

"It's almost like asphalt," Wright said of parched and fire-scarred earth. "When rain hits, it just conveys straight down very quickly."

Mod: Hmm. That asphalt thing doesn't bode well for the "percolate" theory we hear so much about. Click here for the rest of the story. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Could Medical Marijuana Cultivation Save The Sierra Madre Police Department?

Sierra Madre's sales tax take is already buzz based.
It has become the opinion of many that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department will be setting up shop in Sierra Madre in the not too distant future. It is nothing personal against the boys in blue in the SMPD. Quite the contrary, they do continue to have strong support in this community. It is just that the PD has become far too expensive for a community of 11,000 or so people to financially maintain in the style to which it has long grown accustomed.

So here's the deal. Rather than jettisoning everything from Senior Services to the Library just to keep the SMPD gravy train rolling, City Hall has apparently decided that the considerable savings it would realize from bringing in the Sheriff's Department is really the only way for them to go. It is the least onerous option available. All that remains for the city to do is roll out all of the necessary public relations marketing.

A process that, in my opinion, has already begun. Just ask yourself this question. What would you want to keep? That is the what City Hall will be asking the residents over the next few months. Do you want the SMPD, or the Library?

However, there is now an opportunity to avoid having to make such controversial choices, and it is being placed before the Planning Commission (of all places) next week. Here is how this one rolls out (link).

We live in interesting times. Not that long ago the Sacramento Bee ran the following article about the city sales tax and other revenue enhancing possibilities of marijuana production in California (link).

California Measures Taxing Medical Marijuana Win Big At Ballot Box – Californians are eager to tax medical marijuana, but they want limits on who can grow it and sell it. That was the message from Tuesday’s voting, as backers of nearly two dozen local medical marijuana-related ballot questions tallied the votes.

Measures to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Encinitas and La Mesa, both in San Diego County, failed. Voters also rejected bids in four rural counties – Butte, Lake, Nevada and Shasta – to loosen cultivation rules for medical marijuana and favored more restrictive, city-backed regulations on marijuana dispensaries in Orange County’s Santa Ana.

At the same time, however, voters overwhelmingly approved local measures to tax the drug.

In Riverside County, Cathedral City voted to enact a 15 percent sales tax on medical marijuana while voters in the resort town of Desert Hot Springs approved a 10 percent tax on sales, plus a tax on medical marijuana cultivation of $25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet, and $10 per square foot thereafter.

Santa Cruz city and county also approved a retail tax, and a 6 percent added sales tax will take effect in Shasta Lake City.

The results painted the picture of a state that is still evolving in how it thinks about marijuana even as supporters – emboldened by successes Tuesday in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. – prepared to place a measure to legalize recreational marijuana on California’s 2016 ballot.

An exit poll for The Associated Press and television networks showed 54 percent of California voters in Tuesday’s election think marijuana use should be legal.

As anyone familiar with Sierra Madre's colorful counterculture past will tell you, this is a community that has long tolerated the use of marijuana within its borders. The question now being will the city monetize this longstanding tradition and in the process finance the preservation of its current status as a full service city. While at the same time maintaining the UUT at that 6% level the residents voted for in both 2012 and 2014.

This is the math. The UUT here is around $265,000 a percentage point. In order make up for the amounts of dough being lost through the sunsetting of utility taxes to 6%, you would need to sell $1.8 million dollars of weed and tax it at 15% (1,800,000 times 15% = $270,000). This for each point the UUT is reduced.

I figure Sierra Madre can reduce its UUT by one full percentage point for every 1,000 hard core potheads from the San Gabriel Valley purchasing their 420 in town. Not to mention the already robust native demand from domestic markets like The Canyon.

This is something that would not only keep the city's local money in town, but could also help solve the store vacancy problem downtown. Sierra Madre would finally have a business model that will give shoppers a reason to come here and spend.

That plus also enhance the prospects of certain already existing businesses. Eateries would boom. Happy's would now become Happier, and The Bottle Shop could open up a whole new kind of tasting facility. Call it Billy's Bud Room. And after all, both already stock rolling papers.

Of course, what the State of California is mostly concerned about is medical marijuana. Which would also work for Sierra Madre. This is a town that has long enjoyed a reputation as a place where the sick and infirm could go to revitalize their sagging metabolisms and triumphantly return to the paths of health. Sierra Madre could corner the San Gabriel Valley weed market for the "I need my medicine!" crowd, and in the process collect a bumper crop of sales taxes.

One local medical emporium in town already has a suggestive green cross perched atop its tower of health and hope. Can this be just a coincidence?

As of this typing City Staff is recommending that the Planning Commission nix Sacramento's ganja dreams. Local governments such as ours have the right to do so under this law, and staff is urging the PC to do just that. All of which is clearly pointed out in the Staff Report we linked you to above.

However, there is no discussion in that report about any of the financial advantages I have pointed out here. Which is puzzling. Since when has City Hall ever passed up on an opportunity to get its hands on more tax revenue? Especially at a time when department outsourcing and potential wholesale staff layoffs have become such hot topics in town?

The Planning Commission meets on December 3rd at 7 PM.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Library, Police, Taxes and Lead In the Water

I got a chance to watch much of last night's City Council meeting. Not a lot of surprises. I was impressed by the passion of the Library's supporters. There are many different ways to preserve this community, and not all of them have to do with houses. I am not sure that those who want to keep Sierra Madre's homes in-line with what has traditionally been here, and folks who want to keep a locally controlled Library, are really on different pages. The instincts are similar. Library and Preserve Sierra Madre signs should be displayed together.

Like I said, the need to keep Sierra Madre free of McMansions and the need to keep a Library here are not all that antithetical to one another. There are many ways of defining preservation. The real problem is money. The Sierra Madre Police Department has made itself extremely expensive to maintain, and will only continue to up take increasing amounts of the limited funding available to a small community of only 11,000 people. Something will have to give.

In order to keep the SMPD here, and pay for things the many costly things its members feel they deserve (such as CalPERS), it will need to continue taking up huge amounts of the General Fund budget.

And this is no matter what the UUT rate might be after April's election. Even a 10% UUT, should it pass, would not be enough to maintain all of the city's services. Something that was noted several times at last night's City Council meeting. The choice now being the Sierra Madre Police Department, or pretty much everything else. Including the Library.

Here's an interesting exchange from the comments yesterday.

Here is a pie chart of General Fund expenditures from the most recent City of Sierra Madre budget. You can link to the whole report here.

It seems obvious where the lion's share of the money is going. What remains to be seen is will people recognize that the SMPD is now too expensive for  a small limited tax base community to financially maintain. And that balancing the budget without getting rid of a lot of other things first would be impossible. 

Including the Library. Which under the Level 3 reductions discussed later in the evening would stand to lose $381,000. Pretty devastating.

But apparently the city's budgetary pie chart is not quite as accurate as it should be. This from a sharp-eyed reader.

So which would you rather keep? That is pretty much what it all comes down to. Because something is going to have to go.

Lead in the water

Dr. Baribeau didn't have any satisfactory answers about this apparently new issue. Or anything else for that matter. Something Mayor Capoccia pointed out. Doctor B. blamed the lack of ready city reports and data for her to ponder. Something that sounded like a dodge since those were the kinds of things many had hoped she would produce. 

When asked by the Mayor if she would show as much initial optimism when chasing her next gig, she replied probably not. But isn't that what consultants do? Promise the moon and deliver far less?

But then the discussion last night on water didn't provide very much in the way of useful information. I guess we can kiss that $50,000 good bye and just wait for the rains to come. Hopefully significant rains. There never really was any other solution.

This month's fix du jour to the city's water problems is apparently spreading SGVMWD water, which will then somehow percolate down into the city's aquifers. How much of that water will actually get to where it is supposed to go seemed to be anybody's guess. The ground is pretty dry right now. 

So why do it? I don't really know. Will it work, or is it just one more ineffective solution that will result in nothing more than more wasted time?

 One additional upshot of this being a return to using water from the Sierra Madre's own wells. Even when it is dust cleansed percolated SGVMWD water. After all, things were fine before MWD water was brought in. This also means the city would then return to putting chlorine back in the water, which is something that should trigger some memories.

The water will clear up some day, but apparently nobody knows when. In the end it probably depends on whether or not the rain consultant El Nino gets the job done. It has always been about the lack of rain. Along with the decrepit state of the pipes, which apparently will cost $40 million to replace. There never was a magic bullet, and the city was probably foolish to have hired Dr. Baribeau in the first place.

They should have known that the solutions she offered when trying to win herself a $50,000 gig here sounded too good to be true. And far too easy. In the end the magic elixirs didn't work.

The matter of additional money for Dr. Baribeau became embarrassing when City Manager Aguilar could not recall some of the information from the original contract, and then suggested a recess so she could dig it out. Bruce Inman then stated that there were only 3 meetings promised in that document, and she attended far more than that. Especially with City Staff. Thus the $7,000 debt.

The City Attorney is looking at the contract, and the fate of Dr. Baribeau's extra money will need to be decided at a future meeting. Her report was received and filed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tonight's City Council Meeting Has Other Troubling Topics Besides Water

Some of these items are actually just as strange and confusing as the water agenda report we covered yesterday. As hard as that might be to believe. It seems to be that kind of a meeting, I suppose. We do get those sometimes.

Maybe this has something to do with the approaching end of the year? I don't know. But this week we really do get some wild and crazy moments. We're just going to have to take these one at a time. First we start with the question all of us need to know the answer to. Is .25 of an inch of rain enough to keep anything alive? And how will you know it is a quarter of an inch when you've seen it? Will there be an email blast letting us know this threshold has been achieved?

Look at the bright side. At least nobody will drown.

I think if this next item is passed, it will allow the City Manager and the Mayor to sign warrants. Their titles are being added to that of the Treasurer and all three will be able to sign checks. I'm wondering why this is being proposed. Why do we need more people to have the authority to sign checks? And (somewhere down the line in time), could the Treasurer be eliminated?

Can anyone think of a check signing situation so dire and immediate that the City Manager has to do it because the City Treasurer can't be located (link)?

This next passage raises a couple of questions. I can't claim to have seen its like anywhere. So if ONE section is found to be unconstitutional, the City still wants the remaining parts to be valid?

Interesting. I wonder what prompted this. Or maybe it's just something the City Attorney puts in every ordinance? Has the Constitutionality of anything passed by the Sierra Madre City Council ever been questioned before? This one takes four votes to pass, by the way.

OK, so is this next one Constitutional?

I read a lot of the fine print of the ordinance itself (link). I think this is what we are facing: if a customer does not pay their bill within 30 days, there will be an additional charge. And after a 24 hour notice, water service may be restricted. Water will not be turned on until the delinquent bill is paid. The water rates, charges, and penalties will be charged against the owner and that property. The customer will be charged a fee for turning the water off and on.  The City Council determines the amount of the fee.

1st violation: 2 x Tier 1 rate per unit
2nd violation (and future violations): 3x Tier 1 rate per unit
Citations: 1st violation $125, 2nd = $250, 3rd = $500

Does this mean the City will put a lien on your property if you don't pay your bill?

Next! It would appear that the difficulty of hiring a new officer for the Sierra Madre Police Department has become so acute that they are now taking what appears to be rather desperate measures.

Why is the City offering to pay $37,000 to hire police when we are on the brink of bankruptcy? If we switch to the Sheriffs in the next year or two, are they obligated to hire this person? And if not, won't we "lose" our investment (link)?

And who is going to pick this recruit? And how can you tell this candidate would be a worthy one if they haven't been through an academy yet?

Here is a stunning surprise.

$175,000 Head Librarian and all, this (link) now makes it a clean sweep for those committees who studied the possibility of outsourcing things that have traditionally been under city control. None went for it, including the SMPD one. Of course, should the SMPD's responsibilities be outsourced to the Sheriff's Department, none of these other outsourcing options would need to be considered.

In other words, all of this would be moot should the SMPD's outsourcing happen. There'd be plenty of money for everything else currently on the chopping block. But should that not happen, contracting out the Library would probably be just about the only way to save it (link).

Finally, the big enchilada makes it to an interesting milestone (link).

There will still be public safety agencies in town, of course. They will just be of the outsourced variety. The irony being that by not passing a 10% UUT, the city would end up with a superior level of law enforcement.

My personal take is that even with a 10% UUT the SMPD's responsibilities will need to be outsourced. And I think the City Council recognizes this, which is the real reason why this is going forward. In the end it will all come down to the numbers.

The Mayor's e-mail may be running 20 to 1 in favor of keeping the cops, but that is probably neither here nor there. The SMPD has simply become too expensive for a small town of 11,000. Meaning that bring in the Sheriff's Department is most likely a done deal.

Everything else is just herd management.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Most Bizarre City Council Meeting Staff Report About Water Ever Written?

I've read and reread this thing several times now and I still don't quite know what to make of it. This is either some of the most momentous staff reporting ever, or the strangest. Considering it was written by both Elaine Aguilar and Bruce Inman, your guess is as good as mine. Anything goes, as they say.

Here is a stab at it. Many aspects can influence our water system's corrosion levels. Dr. Baribeau's study provided options as to how to treat our water. None of them worked. At least not very well. There is now a serious concern about the release of lead into our water system. Why are we suddenly having to be concerned with lead?  Has the MWD water stripped our old pipes down to some hitherto unmentioned element? I don't recall any discussions about lead in the past.

Maybe folks should have been tipped off about this "lead release" thing before now?

An option discussed here is to change or line all of those older pipes. Staff actually recommends these as the best solutions. Either of them. This will cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that was discussed at the last meeting and seemed to fly with the elected ones. They have the money somewhere.

But wait, weren't the various Prop 218 water rate increase moneys supposed to be used for that purpose? Yeah, I know. Me with the jokes all the time.

Several other options were looked at, and we will get to them. All of which then brings us to this:

"In a take no further action option the fact that many providers of MWD water are successfully distributing this water indicate that the discolored water events will eventually stop. However, the time period that will be required to achieve this goal is impossible to predict and depends on changing water quality and on distribution system operation."

So we now go from that alarming new concern about lead in our drinking water to a recommendation that nothing be done about it?

Quite a significant mood swing. Colored and foul smelling water, lead, nitrification and pipe corrosion aside, if we just whistle Dixie everything is going to be OK. Someday, but nobody knows quite when for certain.

Here is a screenshot of a passage that gave me pause.

This is rather groundbreaking. Usually when a City Council and the appropriate city staff persons engage a consultant, it is because they're paying that hire to come to a specific conclusion. It is usually more of a consensus building "cover our backs" exercise than anything else. Yet here was a consultant hired to deal with what was a possibly serious public health risk (nitrification or "blue baby syndrome," remember those?) and nothing much ended up being done about that. Or very much else, either.

To the point where the consultant, Dr. Helene Baribeau, didn't even hand in a very useful report. Something so disappointing to the City Council that senior staff practically threw the consultant under the bus.

So how was that disappointment to be dealt with? Give her more money, of course.

That additional payment of $7,040, which apparently still needs to be approved by the City Council, is mentioned in this report three separate times. Obviously it is something of concern to those who wrote it. Considering that a year or so back Dr. Baribeau was going to magically solve all of these problems (whatever they were), and at the cost of $50,000 no less, only to now cough up something described here as a "disappointment?"

Kind of an embarrassing ask. But that's what Elaine and Bruce do sometimes.

There are two revelations here. The second one is bigger.

I am not sure what the implications of putting SGVMWD water into Sierra Madre's spreading grounds might be. Maybe it is being done to dissipate the negative effect of chloramines on our rapidly corroding pipes and livers? In the process recharging the aquifers with something?

So the City of Sierra Madre wants to go back to using its own water again? Do we actually have any? I thought that was why SGVMWD water was being brought here in the first place.

Dr. Baribeau, who apparently has now gotten into the managing expectations business, warns us not to get our hopes up too high. But perhaps using our own water will help.

So I guess it has all come down to this. They're hoping El Nino brings us lots of rain this winter and solves all of these problems. If the drought ends in a tropical deluge, then Sierra Madre will be saved.

Despite all of the needless talk, meetings, hand-wringing, bad water, consultants and reports over the last couple of years, in the end waiting for the return of winter rains was all that needed to be done.

So I guess that what we require now is a rain dance expert and a dowser. Any idea what they cost?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Newzapalooza: The Three Most Wonderfully Annoying News Stories Of The Last Week

PUSD teachers getting some exercise. Video click here.

A few things have come my way that I thought could stand a little extra exposure here on The Tattler. Of course, scooping every news outlet in the SGV on the Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck resignation story was notable. I guess it was also annoying, but only to all of those newsies I beat to the punch by at least 6 hours.

But as usual I digress. The first item we have here is that rather wild teacher's union demonstration at last week's meeting of the oxymoronically monikered PUSD Board of Education. As you can plainly see from the video above they really did cause quite a ruckus, one that apparently held up the start of that confab by at least an hour.

Somehow the world survived.

The issue was, of course, money. The teachers are of the opinion that they deserve more of it. Among other things. And with three new PUSD Board of Ed members having taken bumpin' bunches of teacher's union political cash for their campaigns to get themselves elected last April, this demonstration did give the appearance of an attempt to collect on a debt.

I am sure all three, including Sierra Madre's own, the mild mannered Larry Torres, will quickly fold up like cheap cardboard suitcases and give them whatever they want. All on your dime, of course.

So you know, these people are woefully overpaid, especially if you factor in things like job performance and actual student academic results. In case anyone is wondering what teachers from one of the most consistently low performing school districts in California are being compensated these days, here is the unhappy news. They are doing quite well thank you, with benefits that few in the private sector will ever enjoy.

Keep dancing and blowing your whistles, unhappy teachers. For the rest of us working stiffs those remaining 68 pages detailing 3,385 PUSD employee compensation records can be easily accessed by clicking here.

Is Sierra Madre ready for San Diego's malodorous water solution?

I would hate to think that this is what the City Council will be considering for Sierra Madre's aquifers and spreading grounds Tuesday evening. It can't happen here, right? Even if Dr. Helene Baribeau recommends it?

Of course they are calling it that. Pure Water. For the rest of this annoying article click here.

Meanwhile, over at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, madness reigns.

Nothing says "the struggle against oppression" more than the anger of students attending a boutique college that costs their clueless parents $63,000 a year.

Link to this article in its original space by clicking here.

As you might recall, this is precisely where local political interloper and vastly privileged hinky honkey Peter Dreier teaches. Is it possible he too will soon be up for some student run re-education sessions? 

Perhaps some stink eye for the white guy? You can only hope.