Thursday, December 31, 2015

KCAL/CBS News Los Angeles: Little Sierra Madre Float That Could Chugs On For What Will Be 99 Years

Mod: Nice article from the KCAL/CBS News LA website that speaks volumes about Sierra Madre's mastery of the art of Rose Parade float building over the years. Since it is New Year's Eve and tomorrow is the big parade in Pasadena, I thought I should post the article in case you haven't seen it yet. Even better, a great TV news video is attached to this piece as well. You can link to the entire KCAL/CBS website by clicking here.

Link to the video here.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

John Capoccia and John Harabedian: Reelection Candidacy Press Announcements

Though neither one of these items was sent to the widely read Sierra Madre Tattler (campaign staff oversight is the guess here), both John Capoccia and John Harabedian did release press statements announcing their candidacies. And while both do gently allude to some of the problems the city is facing at this time, neither is long on any specifics.

As an example, not mentioned at all are things like the huge debt Sierra Madre is carrying, with millions of dollars owed to the banks holding the city's water bonds. That, combined with those years of CalPERS obligations you've been hearing so much about, is quite a lot of money. The estimated total figure being somewhere in the $30 million dollar range.

At a time when the only two candidates in the running are calling for 66% utility tax increases, this might be seen by some as an unfortunate omission.

It could be one of the problems facing Sierra Madre this election. When you only have two incumbents running (along with The Eagle), these sorts of things are not likely to be brought up by the candidates. Why would they want to?

Instead, what we are going to get is a lot of the following:

Though mentioned, exactly how the city's budget and water problems have improved is not discussed.

But maybe it doesn't matter. All of the real action is going to be with the three ballot initiatives anyway. Those being raising the UUT to 10%, getting rid of the UUT altogether, and whatever it is the SMPD union will finally foist upon the residents.

They have been kind of secretive, and we are still not certain what that is going to be.

Where is City Hall?

I am not sure too many people have been paying attention, but City Hall has been closed since before Christmas, and will not reopen again until January 4th. Quite a long stretch of time. And had you gone to the City's website last evening, you would have noticed the following:

So now that you've been pretty much cut off from your city government, is there anything you've found yourself missing?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Earl Richey's "No UUT" Ballot Measure Qualifies for April

The second time is the charm. Rather than allowing themselves to be shot down twice by the powers that be in Los Angeles County, this time Earl Richey and his very determined tax fighters submitted two times the number of signatures needed to qualify. It looks like the strategy worked, and the voters of Sierra Madre will now have the option to vote away their utility taxes completely this coming April. Something that has never happened before in The Foothill Village. Interesting times we're living in.

Here is how the notification came down earlier this week:

The Ballot Argument Against Measure UUT

The forces opposing City Hall's "Measure UUT" have aligned on another front as well. Here is the ballot argument from three residents who do see the point in paying some of the highest utility taxes in the State of California:

It looks like Sierra Madre residents will now have the unprecedented opportunity to vote on their utility taxes three different ways. You will be able to vote the UUT out of existence altogether. Or you could choose to vote them up to 10%, making this town one of only the very few in California with double digit utility taxes.

The third option? Vote no on both measures and the UUT will remain at the 6% level you voted for in 2012 and 2014.

Congratulations. You now have some choices.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Pasadena Star News: How Sierra Madre’s water issues went from bad to worse due to the drought

Mod: Big Sierra Madre article in today's issue of the Pasadena Star News that pretty much nails it. The problems here are far more complex than what most cities are facing.

Mod: For the rest of this article (and to view Bruce Inman's video) click here. It goes into the damage done to Sierra Madre's 80 year old pipes by chloramines, the massive amount of leaks, how this has affected the city's ability to reach its state mandated water usage goals, potential huge fines, plus a lot more.

Including some interesting funding questions.

One thing that this article does not explore is how it all got this bad, but then nobody has done that. Ancient pipes and all. That would require naming the names of people who now prefer to remain out of sight. Something they have successfully been able to do so far.

Be sure to check out the video. Is your water clear now?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Will The Two City Council Candidates Be Discussing Sierra Madre's #1 Debt Problem This Election?

When you have just two incumbent City Council candidates running for two seats, you're not going to get much in the way of any wide ranging discussions on the issues. In Sierra Madre it appears that among those things not being talked about this election is the city's largest debt problem, its mandated contributions to employee CalPERS accounts.

Of course, it would help if Sierra Madre actually had a more forthcoming adjudicated newspaper. According to this weekend's Mountain Views News, and despite much evidence to the contrary, everything is getting better in Sierra Madre. The article bases its claims on campaign press releases put out by John Capoccia and John Harabedian. Both of whom take full credit for what are essentially fantasy claims of increased City Hall financial viability.

Here is how this one went.


Softball journalism at its best. Apparently what the City of Sierra Madre can look forward to this political season is something along the lines of a coronation. And as is usually the case with royal society, you won't get much of a chance to question the motives of those who will continue to rule no matter what the verdict at the polls.

The real situation is obviously quite different from what these two candidates are so far presenting to the public. Here is how the actual pension liability numbers looked in an article we posted here on December 8 (link) called "The Reckoning: Is Sierra Madre Close To Insolvency?"

Sierra Madre has a fiscal year ending June 30. That means that under Governmental Accounting Standards Board No. 68, Sierra Madre will be required this year (for the first time) to record a “net pension liability” on its balance sheet.  The liability is the difference between the total pension liability and the value of the assets that have been set aside to pay benefits to current employees, retirees and their beneficiaries.

It also requires the recording of interest on the liability. Sierra Madre’s financial statements are typically completed by mid-January so it is likely that the amount of the liability has already been calculated. It could be more than $9 million.

For June 30, 2014, Sierra Madre had a total fund balance in its governmental funds of $11,131,838. So if the adjustment is large enough it’s possible that by recording this liability for this fiscal year (the first year it is required), Sierra Madre will be nearly insolvent in its governmental funds.

The city would still own approximately $200 million in hard assets like roads and sewers / etc, but you can’t pay a pension with asphalt.

Again, I doubt either of the Two Johns, Harabedian or Capoccia, will be talking about "net pension liability" too much. While they certainly will be pushing the UUT increase ballot measure with everything they got, the real reason for it, CalPERS obligations to the tune of $9 million dollars, will not likely be part of any discussions they'll be having.

Why is that? Because they don't want you to know too much about the actual reasons for the 10% utility tax ballot initiative they're pushing. It isn't a politically expedient vote getter. As the above blurb in the MVN states, the Two Johns are addressing financial stability, the needs of badly neglected city infrastructure and "water issues."

However, none of those have very much to do with the 10% UUT ballot measure. Despite the inferences, neither the Water Department, or any infrastructure for that matter, will be receiving any significant increased funding from the UUT initiative.

Instead that money will be going to CalPERS. But do not tell anybody. It isn't part of the message. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Joseph Mosca: The Next Step In His Political Career

As we are all aware, Joe (or Joseph as he now prefers to be known) abruptly resigned and moved to Europe halfway through his second term on the Sierra Madre City Council. Despite repeated promises to do so, he never came back here. There has been some unkind speculation in this community about why he cut and ran. We shouldn't go there today.

Joseph Mosca did return to the United States eventually, and resettled in a quaint seaside San Diego County town known as Encinitas. Which, and by the wildest of coincidences I am completely certain, is a place where locally unwanted redevelopment has become a highly contentious issue. Just like Sierra Madre back when he first showed up here.

Also like Sierra Madre, it wasn't too long after his arrival that Joseph became involved in local government. He wasted no time in the effort, applying for and winning an appointment to the Encinitas Parks and Recreation Commission. And while this might seem like a rather modest post when compared to being the Mayor of a city like Sierra Madre, it could provide him with the foot in the door he'll need for that Encinitas City Council run he is probably planning.

After all, while still brand spanking new to that community, he will have served on an actual commission. Something that probably would carry some weight with the more politically naive and poorly informed residents, giving his run for elective office there a level of credibility it otherwise might not have. And who doesn't like parks?

So, seeing how it is December 26 and there isn't much else going on, I thought we should check in with the City of Encinitas and see how things have been going for Joseph so far. Surely there must be some items of interest for us to explore.

Here is how Joseph's appointment was first announced in a local weekly called the Encinitas Advocate (link).

That was September 9. Joe's first meeting as a member of the Encinitas Parks and Recreation Commission took place less than a week later, on September 15. Here are some examples of how Joe participated, as taken from this meeting's minutes (link).

The first time our former Mayor spoke out at this meeting was on this next item. His suggestion seems reminiscent of what he often advocated for during his City of Sierra Madre years.

As I am sure we all remember, things such as Senior of the Year Awards and "volunteer recognition banquets" were pretty much Joe's meat and potatoes when he was here. He worked events like these hard. Certainly they would present opportunities for him to get out there in an official capacity and mix it up with the lokes in Encinitas. Important for someone with his political ambitions.

Here is one of the featured items Parks and Recreation discussed that evening. Again, this is all comparatively modest, far from proposing utility tax and water rate increases like he did here.

This next item is equally placid.

Good to see the work plan passed unanimously. Then there was this item. No news if these are happy trails.

Two hours of heavy lifting later, the whole thing mercifully ground to a halt.

Only one other Encinitas Parks and Recreation meeting has taken place since Joseph Mosca was appointed to that commission. And this time they actually had something important to consider. Again, from the Encinitas Advocate (link).

So how did Commissioner Joseph Mosca use the opportunity to speak out on an issue as important as this one?

Kind of reminds you of that old "No Show Joe" excitement here in Sierra Madre, right? Joseph Mosca was actually removed from his SGVCOG gig by then Mayor MacGillivray for repeated nonattendance at meetings (link).

The highlight of the evening for this observer was the beginning of a process that will likely result in Joe Mosca being relieved of his SGVCOG duties. The reason being his poor attendance at COG functions as revealed in the meeting minutes published on this organization's website. After hearing from SCAG about the importance of participating in the activities of the regional planning organizations, certainly we need to have a liaison that will actually show up at the meetings. Once staff prepares the necessary documents, the eminently qualified Don Watts will likely serve as our new liaison to the San Gabriel Valley Council Of Governments. The vote to move this process forward was 3 to 2.

Joe Mosca's response to the initiating of the process to knock him from his SGVCOG perch was typical. He admitted that there are many "things I have missed," but went on to claim that he is personally committed to COG. Then he blustered to Mayor MacGillivray that "you don't even know what COG means!" And then, in a statement fraught with pathos, blurted out, "Do you know how embarrassing that would be?"

Memories. Hopefully Joseph will remember some of the problems he ran into back then over his lack of attendance, and he will show up more often at Encinitas meetings than he did while here.

We will continue to follow events in Encinitas and report back on what we find.

Friday, December 25, 2015

This Christmas Take the City of Arcadia Residential Development Community Survey!

The world renowned Dunce Cap McMansion
Mod: We have now hit the very apex of the festive season, and what better way to celebrate mightily than taking the Residential Development in Arcadia Survey? Well, OK, I could think of a couple million better ways if you gave me the time, but what the heck. What you see below is not interactive, rather its a series of screenshots linked together to fill a page. If you wish to actually answer these questions so that caring Arcadia officials can evaluate your responses, click here

Mod: I think it is now time to try the wine. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Your Christmas Eve Predictions For 2016's Sierra Madre City Council Elections

Things are tough all over
Political predictions are not always a safe bet, but why would anyone want to do that? Play it safe, I mean. Besides, since this is a blog I am kind of expected to say the sorts of things your more traditional journalistic types might steer clear from. That is, the few remaining souls still doing that job.

When is the last time you saw actual news in the Mountain Views News? Or on Just about all that is being published these days are City Hall press releases, regurgitated verbatim like they are received wisdom from a place on high. Kind of lazy of them in my opinion. Covering the news around here becomes a more unique and lonely job every day. Nobody wants to put in the work anymore.

So here is what we have for you this Christmas Eve. John Harabedian, John Capoccia and Bill Tice have all drawn papers to run in the City Council race. This election, which takes place next April, is already over. Nobody else will run this year.

Bill Tice will enjoy the biggest vote totals of his political career as some residents cast protest ballots for him over the utility tax issue. He'll still lose of course, but not by quite as much as usual.

Even if there were candidates willing to take on incumbents John Harabedian and John Capoccia, it wouldn't have been easy. Both would be very hard to beat because of their support for the building/water moratorium. I am not sure if this was by design or it just happened that way, but by supporting preservation in Sierra Madre they effectively guaranteed their re-election. This while also neatly splitting the utility tax increase and slow growth development issues.

Until now those who successfully opposed UUT ballot initiatives could count on the support of slow growth advocates because they shared a common enemy. The tax hike devotees of the past (Nancy Walsh, John Buchanan, Josh Moran and Joe Mosca) were also big development advocates.

We no longer have a situation like that. Instead UUT increase supporters on the City Council and slow growth advocates are on the same page in regards to mansionization. Effectively dividing what had lately been a particularly potent political coalition in town.

This has a couple of unfortunate consequences. The first being that nobody feels particularly compelled to run against the incumbents. The city has already been saved from mansionization, so that issue has been taken off the table. Or so a lot of folks are pleased enough to believe.

Personally I suspect this might have been a calculated "divide and conquer" strategy on the Two Johns part, and once they are safely reelected their minds might change on the development issue. There is a lot of money in development impact fees for this city, and these two Councilmembers, both of whom supported the last two successive UUT increase measures, might be thought of as having an interest in money.

And you do know that both are capable of "changing their minds," right? As an example, just look at Capoccia and his artful flip on the UUT issue.

In order to be effective a potential challenger would have needed to start campaigning at the beginning of December. It would have taken at least $15,000 to get traction, and this insurgent campaign would still have needed to hope Capoccia ran a poor campaign.

Another effect of the lack of any City Council challengers is to shift all the big interest away from the City Council race and place it all on the ballot initiatives. That is where the real action will be in April.

If the incumbents run unopposed (Eagle Bill does not count except as a protest vote) Harabedian and Capoccia will then be able to use their campaign war chests to help push for the UUT increase. Thus achieving the real priority at City Hall, continuing to bleed the city dry in order to fund Sierra Madre's massive CalPERS exposure.

If the UUT is raised per a decision of the voters, City Hall will then try and limp along with the Police Department and run up even more massive pension debt. If the UUT is not raised they will be forced to go with the Sheriff's Department.

Only after that bleeding has been stopped should the voters even begin to think about raising any of their taxes. And then only to repair the water infrastructure problems caused by years of incredibly poor city decision making. Or perhaps even outright corruption.

Remember, if the City Council goes with the LASD they would do so without the decades of pension debt overhang that could eventually drive this city into bankruptcy court.

Here is how it would need to be done.

Step 1:  No on the UUT increase measure. No on that abhorrent and destructive Cop measure.

Step 2:  Go with the LASD and use the $800,000 in savings to help balance the city's budget.

Step 3:  If the voters should then decide to raise taxes in order to pay down debt and make desperately needed infrastructure improvements, they will be able to do so in full confidence that the money will not be siphoned off to fund retirement costs for an ineffective and very expensive boutique police department.

One this small city of 11,000 can no longer afford.

Ironically, passing a UUT measure in April could eventually put Sierra Madre into worse financial shape than it is now. An approved 10% UUT would allow the City Council to take the politically expedient path of hanging on to the Sierra Madre Police Department, effectively jacking up the city's toxic CalPERS debt exposure to levels that could cripple Sierra Madre in just a few short years.

So will the voters pass a 10% UUT in April? Probably. The lack of any real City Council race will allow high utility tax loving city employee unions and their two candidates to use all of their money to support the UUT increase measure.

I'm not sure enough people are going to figure that out.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saving Arcadia Team: The Ballot Initiative Petition To Put Limits On The Size Of New Homes Is Moving Forward

A "barracks style" McMansion in sorely afflicted Peacock Town

Mod: Yesterday the Saving Arcadia group and their campaign to put an initiative on the ballot that would effectively halt mansionization there came under attack in the comments section of this blog. It was done pretty much along the lines of this charmer:

Which, while being pretty standard issue stuff for certain folks who come to comment here with bad intent, also presented what I thought was a good opportunity to get some truth out about what is really going down in Arcadia right now. And rather than the failure fearful Mr. Pouty here proclaimed in so typically sour a way, things are actually going quite well for the Saving Arcadia folks. Here is the report they sent our way.

The petition to put limits on the size of new homes in Arcadia has been very successful. We have gathered over 3,200 signatures, but we have only been able to verify about 2,600 as registered voters.

Saving Arcadia found that the county registrar will "de-activate" registered voters who haven't voted in a long time. In January, we are going to be contacting the 600 signers who are not currently on the registrar's roll to "re-register" them. We only need approximately 2,910 signatures to qualify.  We have most likely missed the April 2016 ballot, but we will definitely qualify for November 2016.  We have until February 24, 2016 to submit the signatures, which is more than enough time to get this done.

Anyone interested in helping can reach us at or contact April Verlato at her office (626)445-2411.

We are positive that we will get the required number of signatures to qualify. The only concern being what will the City Council do to keep us off the ballot. There is plenty that they can do. Just because we get enough signatures doesn't mean our initiative will automatically get on the ballot.

The first time Larry Papp submitted his petition for the repeal of the UUT in Arcadia, he had enough signatures, but the City Council voted against putting it on the ballot stating the language of the initiative was "Unconstitutionally Vague." Larry had to rewrite the petition and re-circulate it for signatures. The second time the City Council chose to put it on the ballot for April 2016.

The Arcadia's Best blog did a write up of all 7 of the possible contenders for next April's election (link). Only two seats are up for grabs. It is a mix of pro-mansionization and preservationist candidates, along with some who do not say. Obviously this will be a watershed election for Arcadia.

April Verlato
April Verlato will be running. She will be the choice of those who want reasonable development with reasonable standards in Arcadia. Here is how Arcadia's Best describes her candidacy:

April Verlato’s name has become familiar to viewers of the City Council meetings, where she has been waging a campaign against the building of large homes that has spawned the Save the Arcadia Highlands anti-mansionization group, which in turn sparked a lawsuit against the City of Arcadia earlier this year, and has also led to a proposed ballot initiative that would create a voter-written zoning code to limit the size of homes built or remodeled in Arcadia.

Property values in South Arcadia, which has no neighborhood design review and no limits on the size of new homes, have declined approximately 20% in the last year. In the areas of the HOAs, where there is design review that forces limits on square footage similar to what is proposed in the ballot initiative, prices have stayed the same.

One of the reasons property values have declined in South Arcadia is because of the number of homes for sale. The market is over-saturated. Why are so many people selling their homes? Why isn't there more demand? Limits on square footage will not cause property values to go down 30-40%. It didn't happen in San Marino, Sierra Madre, Pasadena or Monrovia when they adopted limits on square footage.

Property values are higher in the HOAs of Arcadia than in South Arcadia. Why? Because the HOAs offer a better, more appealing neighborhood where the size of homes is restricted. What will happen if the ballot initiative is adopted by the vote of the residents? Developers won't make as much money and people will want to live in Arcadia again because it's a "Community of Homes."

Attached is the City Attorney's Title and Summary of the Ballot Initiative. Anyone who signs the Petition has to sign on a page that has this on it. It is presumed by law that a signer of the petition can rely on this title and summary as an accurate representation of what they are signing. It is written by a neutral, third party that has no bias.

The following chart is one prepared by the Saving Arcadia Team to help people understand the differences being proposed versus the current zoning laws. The information is meant to help people understand what is missing from Arcadia's codes.

Here is an Addam's Family poster McMansion of what is wrong in Arcadia and what we are fighting against (link):

Mod: The ugliness and ostentation of this structure aside, why would anyone ever need 10 bathrooms? Is there a Freudian present who can explain this?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

April 2016 Election: Two City Council Candidates Emerge

The Eagle flies again
Two candidates have now drawn papers for the April 2016 City Council election. Both are very well known in this community, with the first to declare his intention to run clearly needing little introduction. Eagle Bill Tice, the near perennial candidate (he did not campaign last time) is once again prepared to soar high in his quest for a seat of elective honor and influence at the dais in Sierra Madre City Council Chambers.

I honestly have no idea what Eagle Bill's positions will be in this race, though you can be assured he will likely have at least a few to share with us. After all, even Bill cannot attend a candidates' debate and have absolutely nothing to say. Not that there is anything wrong with this, mind you. Many have in the past and did quite well.

My guess is Bill Tice can be counted on to claim that he loves both the Library and the Sierra Madre Police Department. But until we are completely certain we're going to have to leave it at that.

Just so you know, Eagle Bill is often referred to as the candidate people wish they had voted for when their original choice went on to do things in office completely at odds with what they had promised while campaigning.

Speaking of which, the other candidate to pull papers this week is the current Mayor of Sierra Madre, John Capoccia. Some recently speculated that Mayor Capoccia might have had his fill of struggling to find ways to keep Sierra Madre's boat afloat during these financially troubled times, but perhaps a sense of duty outweighed the need to find something better to do with his time.

Far be it from me to try and put words in other peoples' mouths, but some might be tempted to contrast Mr. Capoccia's stance against raising utility taxes in 2012 with what he is claiming today. It does seem fair to say that he was against the UUT before he was for the UUT.

Here is how John put his beliefs in a campaign statement issued 4 years ago.

For the upcoming April 10 election, Sierra Madre voters will weigh in on two Ballot Measures.  Measure 12-1 will authorize an increase to the Utility Users Tax (UUT) from the current ten percent to twelve percent on July 1, 2013 and delay the sunset dates by four years.  Measure 12-2 is a companion “advisory” measure, which is intended to allow voters to advise the council to spend the increase in the UUT on public safety.

As a candidate for Sierra Madre City Council, I want voters to know where I stand - I recommend a NO vote on both measures. Now is NOT the time for voters to authorize the increase and extend the sunset.  Let me make one thing perfectly clear – Voting NO on Measure 12-1 WILL NOT reduce the current UUT revenue stream, and it WILL NOT jeopardize Public Safety in any way!

Apparently John Capoccia's stance on the Utility Users Tax here in Sierra Madre has evolved since then. I am pretty sure we won't be hearing statements this time like: "Voting NO on Measure 12-1 WILL NOT reduce the current UUT revenue stream, and it WILL NOT jeopardize Public Safety in any way!"

But you never can tell. John might have a few surprises left up his sleeve.

Rumors are swirling that former Mayor and current City Councilmember John Harabedian will also be drawing papers to run for reelection, and fairly soon. But then again, they were swirling last week as well, but in an entirely different direction. To put this in a way that Yogi Berra would have been comfortable with, I guess we won't know for sure until we do.

No news about any other potential City Council candidates has been received at The Tattler news desk. But do you know what? I will be so bold as to predict that at least one more candidate will emerge. I have no solid proof of this, but nobody should ever be afraid to speculate. And yes, there are reasons to do so.

You can also look at it this way. If it turns out that only the two incumbents are running this time, along with Mr. Tice, then Eagle Bill could could end up being the lucky recipient of a significant amount of protest votes.

All he'll have to do to get them is show up.

Stay tuned.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mr. Sequitur Gets His Comeuppance

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana  

Mod: You got to love some of the great exchanges that take place in this blog's comments section. I know I do. And they are one of a couple of reasons why this blog works as well as it does sometimes. Of course, the first reason is I am willing to post something new here everyday. People have gotten used to coming here to see what is up. News coverage isn't what it used to be, mostly because newspapers just don't have the resources to employ a lot of reporters anymore. So somebody has got to try and fill the gap.

But the other reason, and at least equally as important in my opinion, is the comments. Here is where I have been really fortunate with this blog. The people who come here to share their opinions can be, at least sometimes, very informative and even entertaining.

So I thought I'd share a conversation that took place here yesterday. I'm not sure how many people were involved, but there were at least two. In my opinion this exchange pretty much summarizes a lot of what Sierra Madre faces. That being the past misuse of financial resources, and the resulting unhappy consequences today. One of the most unfortunate of those being the Water Department.

Mod: So you'd figure by this point our guy would finally try and deal with the question, right? At least a little bit? Apparently not.

Mod: And that is where the conversation ended. I guess Mr. Sequitur just didn't have an answer for the big question. How can things like water infrastructure be in such bad shape when the residents have dutifully paid good money for decades to keep them in good repair? And why should they continue to pay things like high utility taxes when the results just aren't there?

Avoiding having to answer that question is, of course, completely understandable. So far nobody in a position of authority in this town has done that so far.

It is either the big secret, or something pretty bad.

So where did the money go?