Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tonight's City Council de facto decision on selling off library property and tearing down the library building

I think the above comment, left here on The Tattler last Saturday, is pretty much going to be the City Hall spin tonight. As far as spin goes it is pretty good, but then spin should never be automatically confused with the truth. One is an attempt to convince people of something that might not be in their best interest. The other is, well, the truth.

The agenda item in question is on tonight's Consent Calendar. Something that ordinarily indicates the Mayor, who sets the agenda, wants this to be an automatic approval by the City Council. It is considered to be a request for an official sign off on business that has already been decided. No further debate, explanations or conversation is necessary, though the public will likely be asked to comment.

If you are concerned about any of this, you really ought to be there to comment. The meeting starts at 6:30pm, and this will come up at the very beginning of tonight's deliberations.

Here is the important portion of the agenda report (link):

If the project to sell off the Library property and move the contents of the current building to the YAC had already been approved and by community consensus was going forward, then yes, what is described above would be necessary. However, that decision not been made yet.

In the previous City Council meeting the residents of Sierra Madre were promised a community discussion before anything was to be done. Rather than that discussion, however, we now have a Consent Calendar item that not only makes a quite large $100,000 commitment to the process (so-called), it also effectively begins the project.

With no community discussion or consensus whatsoever. Despite the City Council's rather hastily made promise at the last meeting to allow for just that.

Here is a question

When you attended Friends of the Library events and happily donated to their efforts, did you for a minute ever believe that your money would be spent on something that will likely lead to selling off the property the Library has stood upon for decades? And even tearing down the building itself, all done to make way for a condominium project?

No matter how much wine you had been drinking?


Monday, July 24, 2017

Anthony Scaramucci to Appear at Pasadena Politicon

Yack yack, blah blah.
Mod: I'm not sure if you are familiar with Pasadena Politicon, but it is an occasional local event where name brand political gasbags go to do their well-worn shtick in exchange for a paycheck. If you are a cable television political news addict you likely know who at least some of these windy people are. 

That said, there is apparently more excitement than usual in Politicon circles because for their event later this week they have landed none other than Donald Trump's irksome replacement for the recently resigned White House Communications Director Sean Spicer, a snappish little fruitcake and hedge fund Wall Street billionaire named Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci

Here is some of their rather breathless press release:

Well yes, I am interested in covering this news in advance of the event. But no, I wouldn't want to go to something like this, even at gunpoint. I cannot begin to tell you how sick and tired I am of some of the people who will be there. Being in the same room with them could result in something mere bath soap will never be able to cure. That being the stench of failure and betrayal.

Apparently this Scaramucci fellow is a bit of a dirtbag. Or at least he is in the eyes of some of the Republicans he has slithered up against in the past. Here is an article that is currently up on The Daily Beast site that details the strong aversion several GOP types feel for him.

GOP Campaigns Recall a Self-Dealing Leaker in Scaramucci (The Daily Beast link): President Donald Trump prizes two qualities above all else: loyalty and discretion—don’t cross the boss, and don’t leak. Whether he’ll find either in his new communications director is an open question.

On Sunday, New York investor and media personality Anthony Scaramucci declared that he will root out White House leakers in his new post. “We’re going to stop the leaks. And if we don’t stop the leaks, I’m going to stop you. It’s just really that simple,” he said on an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

But aides to 2016 presidential candidates whom Scaramucci endorsed before coming around to Trump say he was suspected of leaking internal information, and left out of some internal discussions for fear that he would pass along those sorts of details to reporters—or that he already had.

Scaramucci did not respond to questions about this story.

He threw his weight behind the Trump campaign only after his first two preferred candidates, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, dropped out. Between his stints raising money for those campaigns, he was in talks with a third, that of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Former senior aides on all three of those campaigns say Scaramucci gave the impression of a hanger-on trying to methodically get in the good graces of whichever candidate he saw as most likely to prevail. Only when Trump had the nomination all but secured did Scaramucci sign on with his campaign.

“He was trying to pick the winner,” according to a former senior Rubio aide, who said Scaramucci approached that campaign after Walker withdrew from the race in September 2015. Despite intense competition to pick up the support of key fundraisers, the former Rubio aide said, Scaramucci was seen as too self-serving and untrustworthy, and the Rubio campaign declined his support.

Here's another Mooch trashing:

Anthony Scaramucci Loved Hillary, Gave to Obama, and Deleted Anti-Trump Tweets (The Daily Beast link): Anthony Scaramucci deleted tweets in which he previously criticized Donald Trump hours after accepting his new job as White House communications director on Friday.

Scaramucci also previously expressed support for his boss's old rivals, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—even donating money to their campaigns.

In December 2011, Scaramucci referred to the "Trump spectacle" in a tweet about Mitt Romney. Two months later, the new White House pick tweeted a National Journal article about Trump endorsing Newt Gingrich in the 2012 race: “Odd guy. So smart with no judgment.”

The deleted tweets were spotted by freelance journalist Josh Billinson, who Scaramucci briefly blocked.

“I'm just shocked he hadn't deleted them earlier,” Billinson told The Daily Beast. “That he could've been in the running for communications director and not even thought to check what he had publicly said about Trump in the past is wild to me.”

In December 2015, Scaramucci attacked Trump's call for a border wall between Mexico and the U.S.

"Walls don't work. Never have never will. The Berlin Wall 1961-1989 don't fall for it," he tweeted, above a picture of the wall.

Mod: My advice? Stay as far away as you possibly can.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

It Has Been A While Since Moody's Rated Sierra Madre's Water Bonds

Here is the most recent Moody's commentary on what they call the "Sierra Madre Water Enterprise." This includes Sierra Madre's 2003 Water Bonds. The report comes to us from 2015. The Ba1 rating is basically junk. The debt level they discuss here is $10,000,000.00, and I am going to assume that does not include interest.

Has any of that changed?

For the entire report click here.

4 Questions

1) Why did the City Council at the time the 2003 Water Bonds were sold commit us to something they must have known this City could not afford to repay without difficulty? Or, if not, where did they think that money would come from? The later voter defeated Downtown Specific Plan perhaps?

2) Why did the City of Sierra Madre decide to pay only the interest on its 2003 Water Bonds, knowing full well that doing so would require Sierra Madre's taxpayers to assume financial responsibility for an additional $9 million dollars in completely useless debt?

3) Why does City Hall refuse to in any way identify the elected officials who originally set us off on this financially ruinous course? Or discuss whatever their reasons were for doing so, even though those actions have today helped push our water enterprise to its current sad state?

4) Why did the City in the past refuse to address the widely held misperception that its proposed water rate increases were to fund water infrastructure upgrades, rather than mainly servicing demands laid out by Moody's that we had to pay more for water in order to repair our junk level bond ratings?  


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Quickly Spending the Friends of the Library's $100,000?

This also seems a little hasty. I believe after the last City Council get together the impression had been left on many that before going ahead there would be some meaningful public discussion held regarding the sale of the property the at risk Library now sits upon. Something that needed to be done before making any decision to move that building's heart, soul and pulpy contents to the YAC. Many concerned residents had been unhappily taken by surprise at the rushed revelation from two weeks ago that such a thing was even being considered.

So can anyone now explain for us this following equally undiscussed, very speedy, and quite distressingly abrupt, agenda announcement?

I don't want to get too country on you, but where I come from $100,000 is a lot of dough. And once having spent that kind of cash the community would be pretty much committed to going forward with whatever this largesse had been lavished upon.

Particularly if it is money that was raised by well-meaning volunteers with the purpose of helping save and preserve one of this community's most valued and beloved assets.

Not bulldozing it.

It certainly does take a lot of wine tasting to raise $100,000 dollars. Many grapes died to make this happen.

Spending that $100,000 this way, while it wouldn't legally commit the City of Sierra Madre to going through with the project, would certainly help create a certain psychological need to make it happen. Can't you hear all within earshot being told that we've already spent a lot of the Friends of the Library's money on this project, so how can we turn back now?

We have all seen public relations efforts aimed at creating before the fact process justifications. The DSP comes to mind. This would be kind of like that.

The community was told there would be a conversation. Rushing through a $100,000 spend of somebody else's hard earned cash, and as a summer vacation time Consent Calendar item no less (link), is not what was promised. If the City Council votes to send that $100,000 now, they are admitting that they have already made up their minds. In other words, they don't care what their constituents think.

I hate to sound too judgmental, but this all comes off as being more than a little downtown slick, and not transparent at all.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Donald Trump and Russia Investigation: Can the President Pardon Himself?

Mod: The big news in Trumplandia at this special moment is the possibility that Donald Trump might pardon both himself and his family for things he has yet to admit he ever did. Or even acknowledged that they even exist. Here is a breakdown of what this all means from Newsweek Magazine.

Donald Trump and Russia Investigation: Can the President Pardon Himself? (Newsweek link): President Donald Trump’s lawyers are examining his powers to pardon himself, his aides, and family members, prompting questions over the ability of a president to invoke such a power.

On Thursday the Washington Post reported that a source close to Trump said the president asked his aides about the extent of his powers to forgive legal offenses. Another source said his legal team was on it. The report follows damaging revelations last week that Trump’s son agreed to meet with Russians after being told they were part of a Kremlin plot to help his father win the presidency.

While the president does hold powers to pardon aides, legally, he cannot pardon himself according to legal experts and memos written by President Richard Nixon’s Office of Legal Counsel days before Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal in 1974.

The memos stated that “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”

Trump does have a potential out that would involve Vice President Mike Pence stepping in as acting president. Even if Trump did use that, any aides he pardons can still be legally compelled to testify against him without the protection of the Fifth Amendment, experts say.

News of White House efforts to legally insulate itself followed reports that special counsel Robert Mueller and FBI investigators are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings and examining the Trump family finances. Trump warned Mueller against expanding his investigation in this direction during an interview with The New York Times Wednesday.

These probes are part of the Russia investigation looking at Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and tilt it toward Trump. Investigators are also examining whether the Trump campaign and the president’s associates colluded with Russia in this.

While the president has the power to grant pardons, it is “important to remember that the pardon power is legally—but not politically—absolute,” wrote Steve Vladeck, a national security law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, on Twitter Thursday.

The real question, Vladeck said, “is how congressional Republicans respond” and whether they continue to back the president. Republicans control both the House and Senate, giving them the power to impeach the president—a legal process that could remove Trump from office.

The president’s pardoning power only extends to federal offenses. If Trump pardoned his aides and family members, they could be called to testify without the protection of the Fifth Amendment—this amendment means defendants can avoid giving testimony that incriminates themselves.

In a message to Trump on Twitter posted Friday, Harvard Law School constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe warned the president that “anyone you pardon can be compelled to testify without any grant of immunity, and that testimony could undo you.” This testimony could be used to back up an impeachment case against Trump.

One option remains according to the memo drawn up by Nixon’s legal counsel. Under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, the President could declare “that he was temporarily unable to perform the duties of the office.”

Vice President Mike Pence would then become Acting President “and as such could pardon the President,” the memo reads. “Thereafter the President could either resign or resume the duties of his office.”

It remains an open question whether a Republican-controlled Congress would bring any articles of impeachment against Trump.

Mod: In addition to enlisting murderous foreign dictators in their cause, the American Alt-Right is now celebrating what they see as the positive effects of deadly diseases. 

John McCain Cancer Is ‘Godly Justice’ for Challenging Trump, Alt-Right Claims (Newsweek link): Most Americans met Wednesday night’s news that Arizona Senator John McCain was facing a dire diagnosis of brain cancer with shows of respect for the elder statesman and former prisoner of war. But to some on the extreme right, the longtime Republican is a traitor worthy of scorn, presumably because of his willingness to work with Democrats, as well as his criticism of President Donald Trump.

The attack on McCain--a war hero who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison—is faintly reminiscent of the early days of Trump’s presidential campaign. During a family values summit in Iowa in the summer of 2015, just a month after he’d announced his seemingly quixotic bid for the White House, Trump lashed out at McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

At the time, Trump was angry because McCain had complained that Trump "fired up the crazies" during an anti-immigration rally in Phoenix.

Trump has in no way endorsed or encouraged the alt-right’s attacks on McCain, which have thus far been limited to the fringes of digital discourse. Trump sent a statement of support for McCain on Wednesday. "Senator John McCain has always been a fighter. Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family. Get well soon," that statement said.

The attacks came regardless.

“The last president for McCain will be Trump. There’s some godly justice right there,” wrote one user on the “Politically Incorrect” message board of social media network 4chan, a hothouse of right-wing memes.

“I’m pretty sure that God is punishing him,” wrote another 4chan user. “God made it pretty clear that he supports New Right now.”

Mod: Vladimir Putin's favorite Congressman comes from California. And wouldn't you know it, he is working hard to make sure he keeps his title.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) given explicit instructions by the Kremlin for how to attack sanctions (Raw Story link): A bombshell report claims that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has long been described as “Putins favorite congressman,” was given explicit instructions by the Kremlin for how to attack sanctions against Russia last year.

The Daily Beast reports that “after being given a secret document by officials in Moscow, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher sought to alter sanctions legislation and tried to set up a virtual show trial on Capitol Hill” last June, right at around the time that Donald Trump Jr. and key members of the Trump campaign met with Russian nationals who claimed to be representatives of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine the candidacy of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Rohrabacher’s original plan was to have a show trial in Congress of anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder in which he would “confront Browder with a feature-length pro-Kremlin propaganda movie that viciously attacks him—as well as at least two witnesses linked to the Russian authorities, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.”

The purpose of this “show trial,” according to an email reviewed by the Daily Beast, was to undermine a set of sanctions placed on Russia that were named after Sergei Magnitsky, who served as Browder’s tax attorney before being imprisoned after exposing a Russian corruption scandal.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Horrors! ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Remake in the Works at Warner Bros.

Mod: Hollywood just can't seem to leave well enough alone. The movie that put Sierra Madre on the map back in the 1950s is about to remade for what, the fourth time? As if the first version wasn't good enough. Hopefully Warner Bros. will have the respect to return to "Santa Mira" for at least some of the filming. Think of all the pod work you'd get being hired as an extra.

‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Remake in the Works at Warner Bros. (Variety link): Warner Bros. has launched a remake of the classic science-fiction movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and set the project up with producer John Davis. “The Conjuring 2” screenwriter David Leslie Johnson has been tapped to write the script.

The original 1956 movie is based on Jack Finney’s 1954  novel “The Body Snatchers” in which the small California town of Mill Valley is invaded by aliens plant pods, which replicate humans as they sleep. The resulting replicants have no emotion.

The movie, set in the fictional California town of Santa Mira and shot in less than three weeks in black and white in Sierra Madre, Glendale, Chatsworth and Los Felix, ended with the aliens taking over. It was produced by Walter Wanger, directed by Don Siegel and starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers” grossed $3 million in its initial release and grew in critical stature to the point that it was selected in 1994 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The film has been remade three times: in 1978 with Donald Sutherland starring and Philip Kaufman directing; in 1993 as “Body Snatchers” with Gabrielle Anwar starring and Abel Ferrara directing; and in 2007 as “The Invasion” with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman starring and Oliver Hirschbiegel directing.

Mod: Will Sierra Madreans be limited to just six pods and only allowed to grow them indoors? There has been no word from the city just yet.

Sierra Madre to ban marijuana sales and shops but may reconsider delivery (Pasadena Star News link): Despite Proposition 64, most marijuana activity will be restricted in Sierra Madre, city leaders have decided. In response to the state’s legalization of marijuana in November’s election, the City Council decided Tuesday to update the city’s policy on marijuana, completely prohibiting commercial marijuana uses, including dispensaries.

In compliance with Prop. 64, Sierra Madre will allow for personal cultivation of marijuana plants for medical and nonmedical uses. Specifically, the measure permits individuals, ages 21 and older, to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal or nonmedicinal purposes, but indoors only.

“Given that this is something that the voters have voted on in our state, I think it’s very prudent of us to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence to make sure that we’re not just being reactive to the state law, but that we are putting things in place that we are driving, as a city,” Mayor Rachelle Arizmendi said.

Some residents said they worry they won’t have access to legal marijuana products without some type of commercial business operating in the city. “It would be important to include a medical part,” resident John Lopez said. “I would recommend thinking about helping out those people who need it in a medical capacity.”

The council members all agreed that they would not like to see any shops in the city but said they will reconsider the issue after January, when the state is expected to layout more details for licensing in the state.

“The question is, do residents need a storefront in the city to access that medicine,” said Councilman John Harabedian. “There’s going to potentially be a lot of delivery services that will be coming into the city. There will be sufficient supply for the residents who need this medically.”

Mod: There was one comment to this article, and more proof that you just can't please everyone. This from someone going by the name of A Freedom Fighter: "Right, Sierra Madre can ban cannabis but that's not going to stop anybody from using it in Sierra Madre and in the end you just stop cannabis revenue from coming to your location. The sick part is this town is full of liquor stores and tobacco shops all far more dangerous than cannabis will ever be. Just more stupid Reefer Madness nonsense Sierra Madre!"


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mountain Views Susan Defends Her Infamous Dead Bear Picture As A "Freedom Of Speech" Issue

Good old Susan Henderson. She is to freedom of speech what the soon to be paroled OJ Simpson is to family therapy. After having banned all of her local political columnists over the years for daring to have opinions that she does not approve of (Sierra Madre classic rock legend Rich Johnson being among the most recently excommunicated), and then replacing them with safe and locally irrelevant fourth-tier nationally syndicated columnists, all of whom being about as scintillating as mud, now she is proclaiming herself the great defender of free speech while valiantly refusing to print all but one of the letters she received complaining about her having published that particularly hideous dead bear picture. It is typical Henderson, and your sadly abused tax dollars at work.

Susan, of course, is free to print pictures of all the dead bears she wants. She is also free to admit that she doesn't always look at what goes into her paper, which Susan did this week. Trust me, nobody would be surprised, and she is hardly the only person who doesn't bother even looking at the thing.

However, people are also free to object to anything in her paper that offends them, and as the local taxpayer supported adjudicated publication of record, The Mountain Views News is obliged to at least acknowledge their opinions. And, should they complain about something she publishes in her paper, they are not practicing censorship as this absurdly self-reverential tax beneficiary accuses them, they are exercising their right to free speech. And as such do not deserve to be demeaned by her in so unhappy a manner.

More Susan nonsense. The reason she fills her op-ed pages with mind-numbing bromides from the likes Michael Reagan and John L. Micek is, as residents of far off places who have probably never even heard of Sierra Madre, they are highly unlikely to offend any of Henderson's local business and government cronies. In other words, she has effectively banned from her paper all local political opinion except hers because she fears it might interfere with her downtown cash hustle.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a bear. Or you are a free thinking local columnist such as Rich Johnson. Or folks writing in to complain about something they found offensive in her paper, as Beacon Media Editor Terry Miller did recently. Then you are at-risk of being labeled an enemy of free speech and censored by its #1 self-interested defender, Susan Henderson.

An irony that should be lost on nobody.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The City Manager Provides More Information On The Library (and Debt)

Mod: If you are not emailing your questions to City Manager Gabe Engeland you really are missing out. Not only will you get a prompt reply, you will also receive a lot of interesting information. Along with a bunch of follow up questions. The guy is both a straight shooter and clearly dedicated to transparency. That is going to take some getting used to. Here is an example of what I mean.

Tattler: Here's a question I meant to ask earlier. Are any Utility Tax moneys being used to make CalPERS payments?

City Manager: The UUT is a general tax, it is used to fund General Fund activities. The General Fund includes CalPERS payments for any employees paid from the General Fund (mostly non-utility employees, including Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, Library, Community Services, etc).  It is fair to say the UUT funds a portion of everything budgeted in the General Fund, including CalPERS payments.

Mod: You might recall that when this question was asked during the run up to the April 2016 election, the answer from the city and the winning candidates wasn't quite that clear. I remember being told by the previous City Manager that it was not possible to track exactly how utility tax money is being spent, therefore we will never know. Very devious, that one. Prompted by yesterday's Tattler post, here is how the rest of this conversation went.

City Manager: When we talk about the future of the library building I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion the building will be demolished.  In fact, I would say preservation of the Library is a likely outcome.  I know people assume the future is condos or apartments, with a demolished library, and a new building on the site, but if I were a betting man—at this point—I would not bet on demolition.

When I was at the joint Library Board and Community Services Commission meeting I asked them to vote as if demolition of the building was the probable outcome.  I did this so they would understand the gravity of their vote, and all potential outcomes, not to imply that was the course which we would pursue. With that said, all outcomes for the Library building remain on the table.

Things change constantly and trying to predict a decision which is likely a few months away would be difficult on my part as we are still so early in the due diligence process.  At this point though, the only conversations we have had among staff internally are preserving the Library building and incentivizing rehabilitation.

The second point you discuss on the UUT is interesting to me. The idea the UUT would “save” the Library is something I had not heard before, at least not in the context you are writing about it. I wasn’t here for the discussion however, so my interpretation is 100% looking back on a historical event. I had always assumed the services the Library provides were the items the UUT would pay for (save), not the building where the services were held. I can actually see how someone’s view of this would be influenced by what side of the UUT discussion they were on.

A “NO” voter on the UUT probably sees a plan to move the Library (which will reduce future costs significantly, while also avoiding immediate costs) as a violation of what was promised in the UUT campaign.  A “YES” voter on the UUT probably sees the plan to move the Library as carrying through on the promise to not cut Library services—which is exactly what they were told by the UUT campaign.

A “YES” vote will save the Library! After reading your article I can see this from both viewpoints.

It seems to me the idea to preserve Library services, while simultaneously reducing operating costs and avoiding substantial one-time costs, would be welcomed by the public. Sierra Madre residents appear to want services retained without increasing taxes.  I’m not sure where else this makes as much sense as with the Library.  I understand people reflexively go to Police service, but the discussion there is on a reduction of costs and a reduction of service, which is a key difference, as the Library is a reduction of costs, but not a reduction of services.

I’m curious on your perspective around the Library.  Do you believe moving the Library is a violation of the UUT campaign?  Also, if moving the Library is able to reduce annual operation costs, and avoid large one-time costs, while keeping the level of service the same, why do you think people are opposed to it?  The sense I get is people fall into three categories:

1. Fine with the move, fine with whatever happens to the Library building.

2. Fine with the move, do not want the Library building demolished, but are okay with a sale.

3. Not fine with the move.

The vast majority of the conversations I have had are with people who fall into category 1 or 2.

I’m sure we each have our own echo chamber, but is this substantially different than what you are hearing? If the Library was moved, but the current building was preserved what would your viewpoint be?

If the community is against new taxes AND reduction of services AND changes to how services are provided we are in quite a pickle!

Thanks for continuing the discussion in the community, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tattler: If the Library is in deteriorating condition, and cannot be repaired by the city because of the cost, who would then want to take on the big expense of both acquiring that property and also rehabilitating that sadly neglected building? What commercial benefit would they see? Property is gold in Sierra Madre, with the cost being about the same. Unless you know someone who is both exceptionally kind and wealthy, I cannot see that happening.

City Manager: I agree, property is gold in Sierra Madre.  The high cost should actually work to the City’s benefit in a seller’s market.  Keep in mind, we have not had an appraisal of either property completed yet, either as individual properties or together.  In addition to this, I have not talked with anyone or any business about potentially purchasing the building. With all of those caveats, there are a couple of scenarios I can see playing out, but for purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus on the scenarios which lead to the rehabilitation of the current building (all numbers are examples):

Scenario Number 1: The properties are valued at $3.0M together. Private market repairs are expected to be $1.0M.  The Council determines there is value to keeping the structure in the city and incentivizes repairs through the private market. At sale Council agrees to rebate $1.00 for every $1.00 spent on rehab to the new owner up to $1M.  The owner also has the option of selling the attached lot for a single family home (under this scenario the City would restrict the development of the second lot to single family only). The currently vacant lot should receive a good price at market. Now the owner has a building which is fully rehabbed and has a value of more than the $3M, but has spent significantly less through the sale of the second property and the rebating of rehabilitation costs. This is also before State and Federal grants or property tax rebates which the property may be eligible for as a rehabilitation.

Under this scenario the Council has found a way to incentivize the rehab of the Library building, while also moving to a new location which will reduce Library expenditures quite significantly, meaning taxpayers pay less for better service.

Scenario Number 2 would be: It is determined to be too costly to move the Library to the YAC with available funds, even though the sale of the Library property. Instead of selling the parcel the Library sits on, Council instead opts to sell only the lot behind the library. The sale from this lot is used to fund a large portion of the repairs at the current library. The library, because it is too small to host programs, moves these programs to other City locations, likely the Hart Park House, Sierra Madre room, etc. Under this scenario the City avoids large one-time costs and does not need to ask for a tax increase. This option does minimally reduce services as well as annual costs.

I’m sure there will be lots of community discussion on what is best, but at this point I don’t see why rehabbing the current Library building is not a viable alternative.

Tattler: I have no problem with the Library moving. It is a bold and creative move that the happy Library guy has come up with. My gripe is over how the UUT hike in 2016 was sold. Remember, we beat a UUT increase here twice, so the margin of that loss was sobering. The continued survival of the Library, along with the PD, was definitely part of the YES message. Measure UUT passed, and now the Library has been declared too costly to upgrade and in danger of being razed as part of a property sale. That is not going over well with some.

City Manager: I can’t speak much as to how the UUT conversation went, but I would hope it was focused on Library services. Without the UUT passing the Library services we currently offer would certainly be reduced with most eliminated completely. I can see your point of view however, and understand people may feel the UUT was supposed to pay for Library services as well as the building itself.

My bottom-line is we are bringing forward several options to reduce the cost of operations as opposed to asking for more money through taxes. We were very successful using this approach to balance this year’s budget. For me the Library discussion focuses on how to provide the best services we can at the lowest possible cost.

Tattler: One thing that I think needs to be done. A public conversation on the city's debt. It needs to be spelled out and defined. It is the publics' debt. They have to pay it, yet largely folks do not understand the situation. It needs to explained exactly how the city got to this point, and what needs to be done to deal with it. Many cities are dealing with problems just like Sierra Madre's.

City Manager: I agree on the debt. The long-term debt of the city hasn’t been managed very well.  We are currently set to bring our refinancing forward in September. At this meeting I intend to have a formal discussion about current debt and each repayment schedule. It fits in nicely with our discussion on infrastructure maintenance, replacement, and repair.

Mod: A lot to mull over. If I am reading this correctly, the good citizens of Sierra Madre could get their first good hard look at Sierra Madre's massive debt problem ever in September. Something most previous regimes refused to do. I can't imagine some people being very excited about that, though I certainly am. 


Monday, July 17, 2017

Selling Sierra Madre's Library and Measure UUT

2016's Measure UUT was once widely believed to be the source for money intended to be used to save Sierra Madre's Library from insolvency. Which is why so many people have been both shocked and surprised by last Tuesday's proposal to sell off the property the Library now sits on to a private developer and move everything to the Youth Activity Center over in Sierra Vista Park. The assumption being that the Library itself would then be razed and replaced by highly profitable condominiums.

Yes, it is always about the money. Please keep your eye on that.

In a troubling article published in this weekend's edition of The Mountain Views News ("Proposed Library Changes Awaken Community") the reaction many have had to the unhappy news is described in this way:

Many issues have been raised by the proposed sale of the property the current version of the Library stands on, but none is potentially more troubling than the growing realization that one of the main justifications pushed by the well-financed campaign in 2016 to raise utility taxes in Sierra Madre, rescuing the Library, has now been exposed as being largely false.

Of course, this disconnect will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog. As we stated often during the run up to the April 2016 election, the real reason driving this city's burning need to pass Measure UUT was not the Library, the Sierra Madre Police Department, or any of the other justifications pushed by the disingenuous "Yes on Measure UUT" campaign. It was 10's of millions of dollars in unnecessary and financially perilous CalPERS and Water Bond debt.

Current Sierra Madre Mayor Rachelle Arizmendi, in a postcard issued during her 2014 run for City Council, admitted just that. Here she states one of her main reasons for running for City Council that year.

Sadly, and even though she obviously knew better, by 2016 Rachelle Arizmendi was lending her credibility to the Yes on Measure UUT campaign, and endorsed just the kind of tax increase she opposed when she originally ran for office. Here is how that one looked.

The individual who ran the "Yes on Measure UUT" campaign through a series of sock puppet organizations and individuals, Pasadena political campaign consultant Martin Truitt, also knew this purported campaign to save the Sierra Madre Library and Police Department through utility tax hikes was not on the level. Back when Martin was still quietly supplying this blog with background information he sent me the following email.

Truitt also managed Rachelle's campaign for City Council in 2014. The rumor is he will not only manage her reelection campaign in 2018, but also the City Council candidacy of Edward Garcia. Garcia is the individual who fronted for Truitt in 2016's Measure UUT campaign. In my opinion Mr. Garcia has a lot to answer for, and hopefully will be forced to do just that when he runs for office here next year.

On March 19 of 2016 many Sierra Madre residents received this postcard:

As we have stated, a large portion of the funds raised by Measure UUT would go on to pay for things like Sierra Madre's many millions of dollars in CalPERS debt. CalPERS is located in Sacramento, not Sierra Madre. The money does not all stay in town as claimed on this less than honest postcard.

This was the elephant in the room that the City Council refused to acknowledge in 2016. Probably because it might cause you to vote "NO" on their tax hike.

The Sierra Madre Library faces the wrecking ball because of funding problems. Despite the passage of Measure UUT. More on this tomorrow.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

ABC News: 6 months in, a record low for Trump, with troubles from Russia to health care

Mod: The Orange Man is now charting new levels of unpopularity for any POTUS at this point in their administration. You do have to wonder if perhaps the Republican Party has begun to find life unbearable and has decided to end it all by sticking with this extraordinarily disrespected and unpopular fellow. Is another explanation? 

6 months in, a record low for Trump, with troubles from Russia to health care (ABC News link):  Americans give President Donald Trump the lowest six-month approval rating of any president in polls dating back 70 years, punctuated by questions about his competence on the world stage, his effectiveness, the GOP health care plan and Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

Just 36 percent of Americans polled in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of Trump’s job performance, down 6 points from his 100-day mark, itself a low. The previous president closest to this level at or near six months was Gerald Ford, at 39 percent, in February 1975.

Sixty-three percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, say it was inappropriate for Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager to have met with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. Six in 10 also think Russia tried to influence the campaign, and among those who say so, 67 percent think Trump aides helped, similar to results in April.

Yet the Russia controversy is just one on the list of Trump’s troubles. Just 38 percent say he’s making significant progress toward his goals; 55 percent think not. With no apparent help from the G-20 summit, two-thirds don’t trust him to negotiate with other world leaders -- or with Russian President Vladimir Putin specifically -- on America’s behalf. And about half say the country’s world leadership has grown weaker under Trump; just 27 percent say it’s gotten stronger.

On his party’s signature campaign issue, health care, Americans by a 2-1 margin prefer Obamacare over the Republican plan to replace it, 50-24 percent. (Another quarter either want something else entirely, 17 percent, or are undecided, 9 percent.) “Strong” preference for the existing law surpasses strong preference for the GOP plan by 20 percentage points. Relevant to proposed GOP cuts in the growth of Medicaid, the public by a broad 63-27 percent says it’s more important to provide health care coverage for low-income Americans than to cut taxes.

Mod: The rest of this article from ABC News is available at the link provided above.

Why people are comparing Donald Trump Jr. to The Godfather’s Fredo Corleone (Vox.com link): The New York Times reported over the weekend that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son and one of his most vocal proxies, met with a Russian lawyer on June 9, 2016 — shortly after his father became the apparent Republican nominee for president — allegedly because he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

And then, in an apparent effort to downplay the story, Trump Jr. instead confirmed it, in a story that keeps snowballing.

The sequence of events immediately renewed interest in a pop cultural comparison we’ve seen before: between Trump Jr. and Fredo Corleone, second son of mob don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Godfather films. Twitter, being Twitter, was merciless:

Don Jr.’s attempt to salvage his reputation by sabotaging it instead certainly prompts the Fredo comparison — and, the Daily Beast reports, it turns out this isn’t a new nickname. Some staffers had reportedly been calling Donald Jr. Fredo (and Ivanka Michael) behind his back since the days of the campaign, when it became obvious that he lived in terror of displeasing his father but couldn’t seem to help doing so anyway:

Mod: More at the link.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trump Wants A “Transparent” Border Wall To Prevent Injuries From Falling “Sacks Of Drugs”

Mod: Unfortunately, and despite what you might have heard a few times, it doesn't look like Mexico is going to pay for the border wall. Apparently that bill will be paid for by you.

Trump Wants A “Transparent” Border Wall To Prevent Injuries From Falling “Sacks Of Drugs” (Vanity Fair link): Construction on the wall Donald Trump made central to his presidential campaign—one that he repeatedly promised would run the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, geological and fiscal impossibilities be damned—has yet to begin, which might be a good thing, since Trump apparently has some new design notes for how he’d like the wall to be built.

Asked by reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday night about the wall, the president offered several perplexing new details about his plans and insisted that he was “not joking” about adding solar panels, a proposal he earnestly suggested would help cover the project’s estimated $21.6 billion cost. “There is a chance that we can do a solar wall,” Trump said. “We have major companies looking at that. Look, there’s no better place for solar than the Mexico border—the southern border. And there is a very good chance we can do a solar wall, which would actually look good. But there is a very good chance we could do a solar wall.”

Trump went on to say that the wall needs one thing: transparency. “You have to be able to see through it,” he explained. “In other words, if you can’t see through that wall—so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.”

The wall needs to be see-through, the president continued, because drug dealers may otherwise throw large bags of drugs over the wall to the other side, and hit innocent passers-by. “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over,” he added. “As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall. But we have some incredible designs.”

Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would find a way to make Mexico pay for the wall. A new spending bill released by House Republicans this week proposes $1.6 billion to begin building the border wall. Mexico has no plans to pay for any wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, transparent or otherwise.

'Why is it lie after lie after lie?': Fox News anchor goes off on Trump administration (Business Insider link): Fox News anchor Shep Smith tore into the Trump administration on Friday for its lack of transparency on the unfolding Russia scandal.

"Why is it lie after lie after lie?" Smith said to fellow anchor Chris Wallace. "The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling." What set Smith off was the latest development about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer who reportedly offered dirt on then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Reports on Friday revealed there were more people in attendance than Trump originally acknowledged.

"We're still not clean on this, Chris. If there’s nothing there — and that’s what they tell us … If all of that, why all these lies?" an exasperated Smith said.

The reprimand was uncharacteristic coming from Fox News, which has been reliably positive in its coverage of the White House. Since news of the Trump Jr. meeting broke last week, pundits on the network have targeted their criticism at the media, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton herself.

"There are still people who are out there who believe we’re making it up," Smith said. "And one day they’re gonna realize we’re not and look around and go, Where are we, and why are we getting told all these lies?"

Dems mock Trump Jr with giant Time cover on the House floor — and read his emails into the Congressional Record (Raw Story link): Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) on Friday read the full contents of Donald Trump Jr.’s email chain on the House Floor, accompanied by a print of TIME magazine’s most recent cover, a photo of Trump’s eldest son superimposed with the words, “Red Handed.”

Don. Jr.’s emails are a smoking gun,” Gallego told his colleagues at the House of Representatives. “They prove that the Trump campaign was not only aware of the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in our elections, they were enthusiastic about accepting Russian support.”

Gallegos said the emails paint a “disturbing picture of a campaign and now an administration willing to break the law and sell out to an adversary of the United States in order to advance their own petty interests.”

Reading out Trump Jr.’s statement which accompanied the email, Gallegos noted that despite the president’s son’s assurance that he was publishing the emails in the interest of transparency, “he wasn’t even in this email.” Recent reports indicate as many as eight people were present at the June 2016 meeting, though Trump Jr. originally indicated it was only himself, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Referencing Trump Jr.’s response to finding out he would be obtaining information damaging to Hillary Clinton at the meeting, Gallegos tore into the president’s eldest son.

Mr. Speaker: ‘I love it.’ His response was ‘I love it,’” Gallegos said. “I’ve worked in politics for a long time, I’ve never been approached with information from a foreign government. But if I was, my response would not be, ’I love it.’ My response would be, ‘this is completely inappropriate.’ My response would be, ‘don’t ever contact me again.’ My response would be, ‘I’m calling the FBI.’”

“In this email, Donald Trump Jr. showed his true colors,” he continued. “This email proves that he lacks basic integrity, and the willingness of Jared Kushner to attend that meeting proves that he, too, is no patriot.”

He and Lieu proceeded to read out the contents of the email, pausing at times to pepper the exchange with their own commentary. Noting Trump Jr.’s pledge to lock in a meeting with Veselnitskaya, Gallegos said, “that’s some eagerness that this man has for this information.”


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Mountain Views News Refuses to Print a Letter that Complains About Their Dead Bear Picture

A happier bear picture
Mod: You may recall that last Friday we helpfully posted an article titled "What's Up With The Dead Bear Picture In The Mountain Views News?" (link). Apparently Susan Henderson was not amused. She has also been refusing space in her paper to anyone writing in with criticism of her rather gruesome taste in wildlife photography. One letter writer was Terry Miller, editor of such fine weekly newsers as the Sierra Madre Weekly, Arcadia Weekly and The Pasadena Independent. In the American spirit of keeping free speech alive, here is Terry's letter in its entirety.

Dear EditorDeanne Davis’ amazingly disjointed column in your paper July 1 left me wondering what the hell I just read, and moreover, why ever did I read this disorganized diatribe?

What actually grabbed my initial attention was perhaps one of the sickest most thoughtless photos I have ever seen published in a local newspaper was that which appeared on page 3 of your current edition next to that above mentioned column.

The photograph depicts a grinning hunter, Rick Bennett, holding a high-powered, scope driven rifle with his ‘trophy’… a beautiful, albeit very dead, black bear.  Photos like this are usually seen in NRA publications, not a community newspaper.

The author of the piece deemed it appropriate to describe, and in vivid, sickening detail no less, that the hunter can murder a grizzly bear… “blow out the heart and still race [the bear] 40 yards in 3-4 seconds, kill your graveyard dead and run a couple of hundred yards more before collapsing.”


As I read this in utter disbelief, I was reminded how many people out there are 'sport hunters' with no regard for animals.  However, there are many more of us who respect and love wildlife and would never harm a single animal let alone a symbol of the west like the Black Bear.

Another recently published photo (Telegraph and National Geographic) comes to mind when a trophy hunter was killed by the very animal he shot as he was posing with the massive elephant carcass when the poor creature fell on top of said hunter and crushed him to death.

I mean no harm to man nor beast, but you have to admit, that’s poetic justice.

Thank you,

Terry Miller
News Editor
Photography Editor

Beacon Media News

John Harabedian, Orwellian Councilman?
Mod: There is an interesting article today in the Pasadena Star News titled "Sierra Madre decides fate of controversial Darling house demolition" (link). I'd post the entire thing here, but they would probably complain. The PSN likely prefers you view it on their site. However, there is a quote from John Harabedian that requires highlighting here. 

Mod: While every situation, no matter how mundane, is unique in its own special way, this one was hardly commonplace. Here we saw how a scofflaw attempted to circumvent a specific city code, got caught in a highly publicized manner, was roundly chastised by both the Planning Commission and many in the community, yet somehow managed to get the entire Sierra Madre City Council to shower him with praise, apologies and a demolition permit. So tell me, how does allowing this guy to get away with it in so grandiose a manner not diminish respect for the city's ability to enforce its building codes?


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Preserve Sierra Madre: Darling House is gone, Library Threatened

Dear Supporters: Our City Council voted to overturn the Planning Commission's denial of the demolition permit for the Henry A. Darling House at 126 E. Mira Monte which allows the total demolition of the project to take place. The sale of the Library was granted a reprieve, but based on last night's meeting, we feel it is probable it will be sold to a developer. A few points that come to mind as a result of last night's meeting:

1. How many times do our coalition members have to attend meetings, send emails and speak at public comment in order to prevail in some of these preservation battles.  We were there when the Brown family wanted to demolish the home.  We were there when Mr. Kefalas tried to carry out his plans for the property.  How many times do we have to marshal an all-out effort in order to stop some of the anti-preservation actions that take place.  That is a question we have to ponder because in today's busy world, there are only so many times we can marshal that kind of an effort. If we save our best for last as in last night's appeal, there may not be a "last" because there are so many steps along the way where a given project can get the green light to go forward. In other words, we need to fight 10 battles while the developer needs to fight only 1 - the last one. In this case, just win the appeal from a City Council that cannot be expected to know all the nuances of what took place at the Planning Commission level.

2. Many of us attended the Planning Commission meetings with Mr. Kefalas leading up to this point..  We saw firsthand how angry the Planning Commissioners were with Mr. Kefalas's conduct.  Yet, all that is suddenly behind him when it goes for appeal to the City Council. In fact, the City Council was actually apologetic towards Mr. Kefalas for the Planning Commission having the temerity to stand in the way of his plans.

3. Some of the City Council Members could not understand why any part of the original structure needed to be saved so long as the home was re-built to have an outside facade similar to what the home used to look like (except for a very large addition that will be appended to the back).  Following that line of reasoning, any historic home can be torn down so long as a Disneyland replica can be put in its place. But is a mere replica of the Gamble House still the Gamble House? We don't think so.

4. The Henry A. Darling House had the misfortune of being situated on a very large lot. It appears that almost every buyer for the property saw the house as a mere obstacle to be overcome in their plans to build a much bigger home and take full advantage of the lot size despite the historical nature of the home and despite the incredible architectural details on the inside. If the Darling house was situated on a smaller lot, it would not have faced those same pressures and the most likely buyer would have carefully restored the home to its former glory.

5. What role does City Staff play in all of this? Time after time they made recommendations regarding the 126 E. Mira Monte property that had to be rejected by our Planning Commission. Do they not realize that the vast majority of residents of Sierra Madre want to preserve this town or do they become too familiar and cozy with the developers as a project winds its way through the city?

6. Regarding the Library, we have to wonder what the reaction of all the people who had the "Save the Library" signs in their front yards will have when they find out about the proposal to move the library to another location and sell the existing property to a developer. Many of those with that sign may not be members of Preserve Sierra Madre. Hopefully, once they find out about these plans, they will join the fight to save that property.

All in all, not a good night for preservation in Sierra Madre.

Thank you for your support.

Steering Committee
Preserve Sierra Madre

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

So Will the City Council Sell the Library to Bill Kefalas?

Which one?
The old Sierra Madre power structure was very much on display at last evening's City Council meeting. Bill Kefalas, who in the opinion of many in Sierra Madre very much violated a few key city ordinances when he razed the Henry A. Darling house, was given a free pass. Despite what the Planning Commission had found.

Not just that, the City Council then actually apologized for the inconvenience he had been caused by the people hired to enforce city ordinances, and actually had done just that when they red-tagged his sorely abused property. As we have often seen in the past, it certainly does pay to have some sympathetic connections at City Hall.

Let's be honest. If the City Council won't stand up and defend Sierra Madre's laws, no matter what the potential legal inconveniences, or whose special downtown toes are being stepped on, then there really is little reason for them to be there. Might as well just close City Hall down and send everyone home. It would save folks a lot of money and aggravation.

So what does this say about the City Council's resolve to keep McMansions out of whatever the developer is calling One Carter these days? Or the Monastery property? What will they do about anyone else who decides they have enough influence at City Hall to get away with tearing down a historic property?

Denise Delmar stated that the City Council has already tightened up the demolition ordinance, so this will never happen again. But isn't it always about the next time, and never now?

The suddenly communicative Library Friends, who have apparently been very busy in relative secrecy, and over a fairly long period of time, revealed their rather startling plan to sell off the property the current Library sits on to whoever has the cash to buy it. No matter what the intentions of the buyer, or the potential harm it could cause the community.

The overall plan to turn the YAC into a library sounds interesting enough, and there could be certain positive benefits. But I am not sure that is the point right now.

The Library Friends plan was cooked up behind the scenes, the community was excluded from sharing its thoughts on the matter, and obviously none of them have given a moment's thought to any possible unintended consequences. The whole thing was just unleashed on the public. Ready or not.

The often offbeat Gene Goss took the opportunity to launch into one of his signature patters. This time it was about how reaching out to the community had helped pass Measure UUT last year. And that when city government tries real hard, and communicates to people in what he actually claimed was an honest and forthright way, even a utility tax increase can be passed.

Gene wasn't tracking well last night. The reason Measure UUT was finally passed in 2016, and by a large margin, was because the voters were told it would save the Library.

So that Library, the very one Measure UUT was approved by the voters to save, is now going to be sold to any random developer with the necessary scratch, and then quickly turned into rubble?

Not all is lost, however. The City Council did give you permission to grow up to six pot plants in your backyard. I guess they figure if you're kept stoned and stupid, maybe you won't go getting in their way.

Not a very good meeting. You can only imagine what could be coming next.