Monday, September 25, 2017

Lawsuit Richie McDonald's Arcadia Districting Plan Is Unanimously Disrespected

Singpoli's publicist expressing prescient disappointment
Mod: At the end of things it was the Orange Map versus the Purple Map. Whatever it was that Lawsuit Richie McDonald was pushing received no support. Even Sho Tay, who you'd think would have theoretically benefitted from that (in a development kind of way), went for guaranteed self-preservation instead. Here is how a tuned-in Arcadia resident's account, which made the rounds on Facebook, described it.

Thank you for your support for the Orange map. We gave it a good try but in the end the vote was 3-2 for the Purple map with April Verlato and Tom Beck voting for the Orange map. Beck was not there but he told the council his preference. Verlato's motion to submit the Orange map as an alternate, and thus continue the debate to Oct 3rd, failed in a 2-2 tie. Even if Tom had been present his arguments would have been unlikely to sway the majority. So the outcome on Oct 3rd would be the same.

While it is disappointing, this result is not surprising since it preserves the status quo by giving a district to each of the current council members and no change to the election cycle. It was all too easy for Peter Amundson to cast the deciding vote for the majority.

With these districts, the incumbency of the current council members is almost guaranteed. Getting new faces on the council seems unlikely for years to come.

I've posted below the Purple Map, which is the one that Chandler, Tay and Amundson voted for, followed by the Orange Map voted for by Beck and Verlato.

Richie MacDonald was there, of course. He claimed his client, HQH (AKA Chinese American Equalization Association link), wanted public map K as it preserved 3 districts in the south of Arcadia, or B or L which also preserve 3 districts in the south. These maps also put Councilmembers Beck and Verlato in the same district, which would guarantee the political demise of one preservation vote. Lawsuit also had a problem with the Orange map as it created a large multi-family district. Of the 7 public speakers there that night, 5 wanted the Orange Map. None wanted the Purple Map.

In the end I suppose there is no real need to bring up the fact that MacDonald misrepresented the ownership of Hotel Constance, which he denied was owned by Singpoli, although public records show that is exactly who owns it. Nor is there any reason to bring up the fact that MacDonald sits on the board of  directors for Invest LA, an EB-5 Regional Center created by Singpoli/Kin Hui to fund the Hotel Constance. Nor is it necessary to bring up that Invest LA (headquartered at Singpoli's offices in Arcadia) was also the largest contributor to Councilmember Sho Tay's campaign in 2014, in the amount of $10,000.

Apparently LSR MacDonald is used to manipulating elections on behalf of his client, Kin Hui. MacDonald sat on the Pasadena Planning Commission in 2010 when the Hotel Constance project was brought before that commission for approval. At that time MacDonald was the attorney of record for Singpoli in a lawsuit filed by hotel union workers against Singpoli/Kin Hui.

MacDonald was also on the Pasadena Redistricting Task Force in 2011-2012, and then donated to the campaign of Terry Tornek, the candidate for the district in which Hotel Constance was located. In Terry Tornek's campaign for Mayor of Pasadena in 2015, MacDonald contributed $2,125 cash as well as another $2,000 in "non-monetary" contributions when he hosted a fundraiser for him.

But wait, there's more. Another client of MacDonald's, J&K Investments (a developer) also contributed to the campaign of Terry Tornek in the amount of $2,500. And BDK Capital, another Kin Hui development company, also contributed to Mayor Tornek's campaign to the tune of $9,900.

And don't forget HQH is headquartered at Singpoli's Arcadia offices. And should you take a look at Sho Tay's campaign finance disclosure you will note that his campaign headquarters was also at Singpoli.

No, there is no real need to mention any of this, because Councilmember Chandler, Mayor Pro Tem Tay and Mayor Amundson had already decided to take the safest way out and protect all of the current councilmember's seats. The Purple Map won.

But we'll mention all of that here anyway, if only for the irony I suppose. Redistricting in the end changed nothing in Arcadia. And HQH? Sold out pawns.

But all of this did help expose some important information about Lawsuit Richie McDonald. After all, he does have a few Sierra Madre issues as well.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fool That He Is, Trump Gets Into Fights With Everyone - Even LeBron James

Mod: Now that fool Trump is feuding with some of the biggest stars in the NBA? Why would anyone want to do that? What could you possible gain? Unless you're off your rocker, of course. Which this bum apparently is. 

Trump withdraws White House invitation to Stephen Curry (The Hill link): President Trump on Saturday said the “invitation is withdrawn” for Stephen Curry to visit the White House because the NBA All-Star “is hesitating.”

All-Star Warriors guard Stephen Curry said this week he didn’t want the team to visit the White House to celebrate their NBA championship title. 

“I don’t want to go,” Curry told reporters on Friday. He said in June he “probably” wouldn’t go to the White House, and this week said he didn’t think the team should go either. Managers said they will discuss the decision as a team in an open forum. 

Curry said his reasons for not wanting to visit the White House were “that we basically don’t stand for what our president has said, and the things he hasn’t said at the right time.”

Mod: The next article also comes from The Hill, and shows the consequences of picking fights you didn't really need to fight.

LeBron James hits Trump: White House visits were an honor 'until you showed up!' (The Hill link): NBA star LeBron James called President Trump a “bum” on Saturday after Trump said Stephen Curry was no longer welcome at the White House following the Golden State Warriors' championship victory. 

“You bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite,” James tweeted. “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” 

NBA championship teams have traditionally paid a visit to the White House, and the Golden State Warriors have reportedly been mulling a visit after defeating James's Cleveland Cavaliers this year. 

But earlier Saturday, Trump said Curry’s invitation to the White House was “withdrawn” because the NBA point guard was “hesitating.”

Mod: After this exchange the above story went viral and was a dominating theme during yesterday's news cycle. This following piece from The New Yorker, also from yesterday, pretty much sums it up.

The Racial Demagoguery of Trump’s Assaults on Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry (The New Yorker link): Every day, and in countless and unexpected ways, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, finds new ways to divide and demoralize his country and undermine the national interest. On Tuesday, he ranted from the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly about “Rocket Man” and the possibility of leveling North Korea. Now he has followed with an equally unhinged domestic performance at a rally, on Friday evening, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he set out to make African-American athletes the focus of national contempt.

In the midst of an eighty-minute speech intended to heighten the reĆ«lection prospects of Senator Luther Johnson Strange III, Trump turned his attention to N.F.L. players, including the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and asked a mainly white crowd if “people like yourselves” agreed with his anger at “those people,” players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Trump continued. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

“People like yourselves.” “Those people.” “Son of a bitch.”

This was the same sort of racial signaling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of “dog whistling.” This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon’s behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.

In these performances, Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself. Which, at this point, should come as no surprise to any but the willfully obtuse.

Mod: The rest of the above article is available at the link. And apparently Trump's big mouth is also having an inadvertent effect on NFL players as well.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers post messages of 'unity' as unprecedented NFL Sunday dawns (The Sporting News link): Tom Brady's relationship with and feelings about Donald Trump have been a source of speculation since before the 2016 presidential election.

With Trump at the forefront of the conversation around the NFL on Sunday after his criticism of the league's players the previous two days, Brady weighed in via Instagram by expressing fellowship with his fellow players.

The Patriots will be perhaps the most closely watched team during Sunday's national anthems. They were the first championship team to visit the Trump White House and owner Robert Kraft is a friend of the president's — though he did issue a statement earlier Sunday expressing his disappointment in Trump's recent comments.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers followed Brady's Instagram post with a similar one that contained many of the same words.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Keep your eyes open. It's doomsday

Mod: Stay safe. Remember, the end of the world will only come around this one time. You do not want to miss it!

Nibiru, Planet X and Biblical prophecy: Will the world end Sept. 23? ( link): The latest internet rumor has a rogue planet, dubbed either Nibiru or Planet X, striking the Earth on Sept. 23, wiping out mankind. It's not the first time Nibiru has made it appearance in the world of online conspiracies, though it's gained such traction this time that even the U.S. space agency NASA addressed the issue.

"Various people are "predicting" that world will end Sept. 23, 2017 when another planet collides with Earth. The planet in question, Nibiru, doesn't exist, so there will be no collision," NASA said in a statement this week.

The Nibiru /Planet X/Earth collision story first surfaced in 1995 and gets recycled occasionally into various apocalyptic tales, all of which NASA said are just internet hoaxes.

"There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth...astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist."

So where does the rogue planet theory come from?
The Telegraph traces its origins back to Wisconsin native Nancy Lieder and her alien-conspiracy website ZetaTalk. Lieder allegedly claimed aliens from the Zeta Reictuli star system warned her about Nibiru and its track towards Earth destruction. The story was posted online, later shared by people such as Christian numerologist David Meade and before you know it, it's everywhere. it gained additional traction when users pointed to end-time prophecy in the Bible.

What's new this time and why is the Bible involved?
The Biblical element of the Sept. 23 end-of-the-world rumors comes from the alignment of the constellation Virgo on that day. On Saturday, the sun will be in Virgo, with the moon near the constellation's feet; Jupiter will be in Virgo, while the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury will be close in the constellation Leo. Conspiracy theorists point to a verse in Revelation 12:1 in their efforts to prove the day will be cosmically significant:

"And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth."

Proponents of the theory said the alignment - which comes a little more than a month after a total solar eclipse in North America - signals the start of the end of days, seven years of tribulation or the rapture of Christian believers.

As EarthSky notes, however, the alignment of the constellation is not that unique in history.

"From the standpoint of astronomy, there's nothing unique or unusual about the sun, moon and planets - or the constellation Virgo - on September 23, 2017, despite claims on the Internet of a unique and significant celestial event, supposedly "mirroring" the Bible's Book of Revelation," astronomer Christopher M. Graney said. "In the past 1,000 years, this same event has happened at least four times already, in 1827, 1483, 1293, and 1056."

The world is ending....again
Apocalyptic predictions aren't anything new. As recently as 2012, NASA had to step in to debunk claims that ancient Maya prophecy predicted the world to end that year.

"The world didn't end on Dec. 21, 2012. You've probably already figured that out for yourself," NASA said at the time. "Despite reports of an ancient Maya prophecy, a mysterious planet on a collision course with Earth, or a reverse in Earth's rotation, we're still here."

Just as we likely will be Sunday.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Annoying City Council Quotes in the Pasadena Star News

There have been a series of Claudia Palma articles on Sierra Madre in the Pasadena Star News lately. They're usually a jump or two behind what we report here, which is fine. This blog focuses on just a few cities, whereas the Los Angeles News Group, which owns the Star News and others like it, has made it their goal to put out a lot newspapers covering many cities with as few reporters as possible. And those reporters they have kept are practically on starvation wages. They'd almost make more money working at Wal*Mart.

It's a tough world out there I know, but even a bad newspaper is better than none. Obviously the era of the watchdog daily is a thing of the past now, and very little has arisen from those ashes to pick up the fallen banner. At one point it was hoped that blogs like The Tattler might fill the gap, but nobody else answered the call for long. Even Bill Coburn crapped out. Can't figure out why. I certainly enjoy doing this.

Something often lacking in Pasadena Star News articles are explanations about how things got as bad as they have. They certainly covered the notion that Sierra Madre has a water infrastructure problem, but hardly a peep about how that came to be.

They have also acknowledged that Sierra Madre has a debt problem, but did they ever tell you how that happened? Or who might be responsible? Not really.

And their coverage of the Sierra Madre Library debacle? You might have come away after reading about that thinking they were doing publicity for the Friends of the Library. And who knows, maybe that is the case. You could certainly fool me.

But what really gets my dander up is the Star News's utter dependency on "The Quote." You know, that self-serving sentence or two from the concerned politician, obtained over the phone, that is somehow supposed to lend credence to the reporter's work. And no matter who the reporter on any given article might be, they rarely dare to question such words from on high.

Here are examples. The following two quotes come from a recent PSN article titled "Sierra Madre: Water rules are about to change" (link). This was supposed to be an expose' of the draconian water use penalties City Hall was clobbering people with not that long ago. Things got so bad that the residents revolted, causing the city to back off. Here is the resulting white wash from Mayor Arizmendi:

Can anybody please explain to me what the above is actually supposed to mean? Wasn't it a water rate study that led to those ridiculous water fines in the first place? Are you saying that study wasn't holistic enough? Or that you're willing to start at the beginning and perhaps make the same mistakes all over again?

In that same article Gene Goss took his golly shucks empathy shtick to an entirely new level when he dropped this small ball of thunder.

The water fines weren't meant to punish people? Really, Professor Goss? Then what exactly were they for? Soul mulching? And while it is great that you're sorry and all, how deeply are you digging into your pockets to pay all those folks back?

You'd hope that a newspaper reporter would want to question an offbeat statement like that, right?

A true whopper of a quote, one that literally begs for a follow-up question or two, but got none of course, was this flaming box of bromides left on our collective psychic doorstep by John Harabedian. The Star News article is titled "Sierra Madre decides fate of controversial Darling house demolition" (link), and it went this way:

Uh, sure. That should be enough. I think I've made my point.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Your Rich Neighbor Might Be a Corrupt Chinese Official

Mod: Apparently Arcadia has a famous person living in a very large house there. Or, if you are a Chinese official working in Beijing, what is also known as a person of interest.

Your Rich Neighbor Might Be a Corrupt Chinese Official (The Epoch Times link): There are an increasing number of cases where corrupt Chinese officials are buying luxury homes and villas, with many of them choosing to buy properties overseas—and the United States is one of the most popular spots.

It was recently exposed that Chinese businessman Ling Wancheng owns a luxury home worth millions in Southern California. Ling is the brother of Ling Jihua, the former head of one of China’s main spy departments, the United Front Work Department.

The home is located in Arcadia, near Los Angeles, according to online Chinese news outlet Boxun. Online real estate database Zillow shows that the 7,808 square-foot home was sold on Sept. 19, 2013, for $2.5 million.

The buyers of the home were Wang Cheng and Li Ping, according to Boxun. Wang Cheng is a known pseudonym often used by Ling Wancheng, and Li Ping is his wife.

Before Ling’s brother, Ling Jihua, was sacked for corruption last December, rumors of Ling Wancheng being investigated started to surface. However, the Chinese regime’s official news outlets have not yet confirmed the investigation.

The Arcadia home is also not the only property held by Ling Wancheng in the United States, according to Chinese news outlet Duowei.

Arcadia is also apparently a hot spot for wealthy Chinese businessmen and officials, a local real estate broker told Duowei. Currently, about half of the residents there are Chinese. Luxury private swimming pools and tennis courts are commonly seen in the neighborhoods.

Chinese people aren’t necessarily surprised when they hear of officials or wealthy businessmen owning luxury homes in the United States. Even some lower-level officials have been reportedly buying properties in the United States.

Mod: The gravy train could be grinding to a halt, however. The reason why The Epoch Times, which is Chinese in origin, has an interest in stories such as the one above is because of the anti-corruption drives being conducted by Beijing. Who, trust me, know all about Arcadia. The next article, out yesterday, details another consequence. 

Chinese Investment in US Real Estate Likely to Slow (Commercial Property Executive link): Following the Chinese government’s announced restrictions on outbound capital flow, the country’s investors have been finding it more difficult to purchase U.S. real estate.

The effects are already showing, as total volume of Chinese foreign investment in the first six months of the year declined 46 percent to $48 billion, after total volume hit a record high of $101.4 billion in 2016, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce data.

Aimed at strengthening China’s economy, the restrictions were formalized and updated in July, and they’re likely to significantly curb Chinese investment in U.S. real estate even further.

Mod: Will this lead to a bust in Arcadia's potentially at-risk McMansion market? That may have already begun. Click on the link provided above to learn more.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When Did Sierra Madre Become Involved With CalPERS?

Mod: I have been doing some digging around trying to figure out who exactly is responsible for Sierra Madre's mountains of debt. And by that we're talking about whoever signed the Foothill Village up for CalPERS and the 2003 Water Bonds. Both of which, when combined, are drowning City Hall in a vast sea of red ink. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but you still have to wonder how some elected officials could have been quite that stupid.

Establishing the blame for Sierra Madre's millions of dollars in water bond debt, much of it accumulated through paying only the interest due for fifteen long and apparently stone cold blind years, was fairly easy. I filed a PRA with Sierra Madre's remarkably transparent City Manager and he sent me the actual bond documents themselves.

Here are the guilty parties:

Case closed. Prepare to begin launching the old cabbage and rotten tomatoes.

However, the origin of Sierra Madre's involvement with CalPERS has proven to be much more difficult to establish. Again I sent in a PRA to Sierra Madre's City Hall and again a bounty of useful information was sent my way. My problem now is how exactly to interpret it.

There have been some commenting here who have claimed the exact same City Council that drowned Sierra Madre's Water Enterprise in bond debt are equally responsible for the municipal employee retirement fandango that ate the City of Sierra Madre. And as much as I would enjoy saddling those same folks with the blame for all of this town's financial disasters, it probably wouldn't be accurate. There is little evidence establishing that right now.

Besides, responsibility for all of that water bond debt should be burden enough for those guys. Let's not downplay the immensity of that one.

All said, would you believe that the year the CalPERS debacle began here could very well be 1962? Here is a document Gabe Engeland sent me that may very well establish this as fact.

I am not familiar with that particular City Council, though I have little doubt there are some here who will remember those folks. Nor am I certain this is really the end of the story. I am sure there have been amendments and changes to CalPERS along the way that have exacerbated the situation here.

I will continue to inform you of anything I find out. Like it or not.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2003 Water Revenue Parity Bonds: Why Would Bart Doyle Say Such A Thing?

It would appear that former Sierra Madre Mayor Bart Doyle has shown something of a memory lapse in the latest edition of the occasionally true Mountain Views News. The following comes to us from a front page article published just this past weekend called "Council Improves Refinancing Of City's Water Bonds."

The bone of contention here is the claim that Sierra Madre's "2003 Water Revenue Parity Bonds" had something to do with refinancing preexisting debt. Which, as anyone ought to know by now, just isn't true.

On August 9th City Hall held what they called a "Water Forum." At that jam-packed meeting many pressing water issues were discussed. The new City Manager Gabriel Engeland later encapsulated all of that in an interesting document called "Water Forum Questions & Answers." Link here.

This is how the question of the origin of those 2003 Water Bonds is explained.

So apparently the 2003 Water Bonds had little to do with refinancing anything. They were issued to raise cash to build some nice water tanks.

My guess is the problem former Mayor Bart Doyle is having with the 2003 Water Bonds controversy is that it was he, more than anyone else in Sierra Madre, who was responsible for making a call that went on to cost this town millions of dollars in unnecessary interest payment costs. Which is why those bonds needed to be refinanced now, a decade and a half later.

Or, as the City Manager dryly phrases it, "... the debt sold by the City to match the Federal funds was not structured effectively. This bond series is 30 years with 5% interest, and the first 15 years of payments are interest only."

It was Bart Doyle who made that financially bizarre "interest only" call. And now he suddenly can't remember why that was done?

In a recent article in the Pasadena Star News called "Sierra Madre just figured out how to save $1 million" (link), the consequences of not refinancing Bart's disastrous 2003 Water Bonds are explained by City Manager Engeland.

Sierra Madre just found $1 million-plus in savings and plans to use it to upgrade its water system, something city officials say is desperately needed.

The City Council approved Tuesday the refinancing of two water revenue bonds with a loan that can save the city approximately $68,600 annually. The bonds currently represent about $7.2 million of debt for the city, according to a staff report.

The 30-year bonds had the city paying interest only for the first 15 years and one had a large balloon payment due at the end of its term.

“Not only we were about to see our payments double, but we would have had inescapable payments we likely wouldn’t be able to make,” City Manager Gabe Engeland said.

Funny old dude, that Bart.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Arcasia: "An influx of immigrant wealth has turned a Los Angeles suburb into the Chinese Beverly Hills”

Mod: The following is an excerpt from an article published by a magazine called "The World of Chinese." Headquartered in Beijing and in existence for well over 100 years, the publication describes itself this way: "The World of Chinese is a bi-monthly English magazine and web portal dedicated to Chinese language and culture." The highlighted topic here is corrupt real estate and development practices in Arcadia. The person who forwarded me the article included this description: "Finally a story about something we've always known. Arcadia will implode and we have the dishonest Chinese realtors and developers to thank for that. Arcadia is slowly becoming an AirBnB McMansion dumping ground." Read on.

Arcasia (The World of Chinese link): Mei Zheng, a realtor from Beijing, has lived in Arcadia since 1994. Her son recently graduated from AHS, but Zheng worries about the effect that education migrants have on property values: Because public schools are typically free for students in their attendance area, some parents purchase property solely for their child’s school years.

In 2012, Zheng sold 17 homes in LA County; in 2016, she sold eight. “What happens when kids from a Chinese family graduate from Arcadia?” she asks. “Who’s going to replace those outgoing Chinese families?”

Arcadia has ridden out previous housing bubbles. In 2008 when the market crashed and many sub-prime mortgage owners found themselves without a home, Chinese realtors carried on, as they still had the best leads.

“The character of the city has changed,” says Ronnie Sky, a realtor in his mid-50s who first moved to the area in 1986. “The demographics have gone from that of a middle-income community to an international community with the main influence being Chinese.”

Sky names several reasons for the exclusion of non-Chinese realtors, including language and cultural issues, but thinks the real reason is the kickback, known as the ‘red envelope.’” This is when a homeowner receives a percentage of the realtor’s sales commission as a hiring incentive (realtors generally make 3 to 2.5 percent, and a red envelope is around one percent).

Kickbacks on property sales are illegal in both the US and China, but those in the profession say that it happens more often than not, especially among Chinese realtors. This practice is hard to prove, but if caught, a realtor can lose their license.

“We call these types of people ‘rats,’ and every company has a few,” Zheng says. “There are people who don’t care about damaging reputations by being dishonest.” Kickback culture has hurt her business too: “It’s difficult to get listings when you are competing with realtors who agree to some form of kickback condition.”

Some believe Arcadia’s property market may have already peaked, at least temporarily—home purchases in cash, associated with Chinese buyers who prefer to pay in full, are down overall, from 461 in 2014 to 344 in 2016, while cash sales in the San Gabriel Valley and LA County have declined 17 and 12 percent respectively in the same period.

The slowdown is blamed on tightening capital controls back home. Chinese policymakers, alarmed over the outflow of their foreign exchange reserves—down by 1 trillion USD in two years—had already begun restricting capital flight to 50,000 USD a year (a limit that most could nonetheless circumvent by using connections to create multiple quotas, a process compared to “ants moving rice” by one realtor).

Since 2015, the screws have tightened considerably: customers at China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange must now provide details of how their funds will be used, and promise not to invest in property overseas or convert currency for others.

These policies have reverberated to the San Gabriel Valley, where much of this money was being parked; even so, the previous years of boom are evident in the physical and economic transformation of Arcadia. According to one city website, the average price of a family home in Arcadia in 2000 was $372,000 USD. In 2013 it was $802,400 USD. Right now, prices range anywhere between $500,000 to $12 million USD. But it wasn’t just the economics of the housing boom that had some residents concerned.

David Arvizu and his neighbor April Verlato, a local attorney who now sits on the city’s ruling five-member city council board started a coalition called Saving Arcadia, which has about 20 core members, half of whom are Chinese.

The problem, according to the coalition, was that major construction projects in the community were tearing down smaller homes and replacing them with larger, lavish “McMansions”—multi-story faux European villas, replete with chandeliers, marble floors, and garish fittings. Reportedly, many of the city’s compact ranch-style homes, built in the 1940s, did not find favor with new Chinese buyers.

In 2014, Arcadia received 165 requests for home development projects; neighboring Monrovia, which prohibits teardowns on homes built before 1940, had only 20.

Two years ago in south Arcadia, the Neighbors of Hollis Lane, a 50-strong group, protested a Chinese investment company over plans to build an oversized property on one of their lots; local media reported the company attempted to bribe residents to drop their objections.

The opposition was not just about aesthetics—many were concerned that investment properties blight the community. “We ended up with a bunch of homes purchased with no one living in them,” Arcadia’s then-mayor Mickey Segal told the LA Times.

Mod: The entire article is available by clicking on the link provided above. You oughta check it out.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Catching Up With Some A-Wandering Sierra Madre News

Some notable Sierra Madre personalities have taken their acts on the road. Here are several brief yet peripatetically inclined items for your Sunday reading pleasure.

Sierra Madre's favorite bagpiper is back from Scotland

Apparently Chelsea has been busking on the cold hard streets of Hollywood in that snapshot. One person I was discussing this with yesterday saw the above picture as a possible reason to question the authenticity of Chelsea's ties to Sierra Madre. But I look at it this way. Being true to the art of the bagpipe as a daily lifestyle commitment is quite an act of dedication. How else are you going to make your living doing such a thing except to travel far and wide plying your craft to the passersby? You might also notice that there is no police surveillance evident in this picture. Are you scared?

News of the continuing political struggles of Joe Mosca

The above comes our way via a somewhat satirical news site from Roving Joe's present political stomping grounds called Encinitas Guerilla (link). Apparently for those who have actually lived in Encinitas a bit the lack of local expertise from their recently appointed City Councilmember has become something to poke fun at. Which is troubling because you do know how unpleasant the former Sierra Madre Mayor can become when he is not treated like a big boy.

Marilyn Diaz is being paid to tell others how to run their Police Departments?

Mod: The rest of this article, which comes from a paper called The Courier-Herald, can be accessed here. I don't even know where Bonney Lake is, so I certainly can't vouch for any of what is being reported on. However, I will say that when you consider the dysfunctional mess the Sierra Madre Police Department was left in when Marilyn Diaz's career here finally ground to a halt, the thought that she is actually being paid to tell others how to run their departments is a little baffling. But that's consultants for you.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Amnesty Don: Angry Right-Wingers Turn On Trump, Burn Their ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats

Click here for the "Amnesty Don" song.

Mod: Well now, here is some bad news for the Trumpers. It looks like their boy isn't going to drain the swamp after all. Or build the wall. Or get Mexico to pay for it. Or even make America great again. Nope, none of that stuff. It just isn't going to happen, despite what you've heard. And he is even getting together with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to keep the DACA kids from being deported. Pucker up, y'all suckers.

Angry Right-Wingers Turn On Trump, Burn Their ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats (Huffington Post link): Many one-time supporters of President Donald Trump are so red hot over his possible immigration deal with Democratic leaders that they’re burning their “Make America Great Again” hats.

The angry right-wingers shared images of the charred caps on social media under the #burnmyMAGAhat hashtag. They also referred to the president as #AmnestyDon and some even called for him to be impeached.

Trump’s die-hard supporters are fuming after an apparent about-face on ‘dreamers’ (Washington Post link): Staunch conservative allies of President Trump have erupted in anger and incredulity after Democrats late Wednesday announced that the president had agreed to pursue a legislative deal that would protect thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation but not secure Trump’s signature campaign promise: building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nearing midnight and into Thursday, social media accounts came alive as elected officials and activists on the right dashed off tweets and posts to share their shock. And in between those posts, there was a flurry of fuming calls and text messages — a blaring political fire alarm among Trump’s die-hard supporters.

“The reality is sinking in that the Trump administration is on the precipice of turning into an establishment presidency,” Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, said in an interview early Thursday morning.

While the initial wave of fury could change direction as new details emerge, the torrent represented the first major break of Trump’s devoted base from the president on a core issue.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the GOP’s biggest immigration hawks, issued a dramatic warning to the president after he scrolled through news reports. “If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,” King tweeted, referencing an Associated Press story on the bipartisan agreement. He added, “No promise is credible.”

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who is friendly with Trump, mocked him for seeming to shelve the pledge that has animated his supporters since his campaign’s launch. “Exactly what @realDonaldTrump campaigned on. Not,” Ingraham wrote on Twitter. She later added, “BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL! … or … maybe … not really.”

Conservative polemicist Ann Coulter, who wrote a book titled “In Trump We Trust”, did not buy the president's explanation. “At this point, who DOESN'T want Trump impeached?” Coulter tweeted on Thursday morning.

Breitbart News, the conservative website now run by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, quickly became a gathering place for aggrieved Trump backers. Readers congregated by the thousands in the comments section for an article with a bright red headline: “Amnesty Don.”

Right explodes in anger over Trump's immigration push (The Hill link): President Trump’s supporters are apoplectic and lashing out at “Amnesty Don” for pursuing a deal with Democratic leaders to protect young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Only a week ago, Trump thrilled his base by rescinding an Obama-era order on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows about 800,000 young people brought into the country illegally to live and work without fear of deportation.

But the president quickly backtracked, reaching an agreement late Wednesday over dinner with Democratic leaders Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) that would extend protection to the so-called Dreamers in exchange for promises to enhance border security.

Breitbart News, the pro-Trump outlet helmed by Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, ran a string of scathing headlines about the deal.

Dems declare victory as Trump caves on DACA,” said one. “Amensty Don trends #1 in D.C.,” said another, referring to a nickname the right has given Trump on Twitter.

As Trump boarded Air Force One for a trip to hurricane-ravaged Florida on Thursday morning, a reporter shouted at him to ask if he supports “amnesty.”

“The word is DACA,” Trump responded.

He later pushed back on the criticism from conservatives. "We're not looking at amnesty,” Trump said. “We're looking at allowing people to stay here. … We're talking about taking care of people."

Mod: Look at it this way. Trump was more than willing to betray his own country to the Russians in order to win an election. What made Republicans think he wouldn't someday cross the aisle and dump them for the Democrats? What did they expect?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Is Lawsuit Richey McDonald Promoting A Race-Based Political Strategy Against Pro-Preservation Arcadia City Council Members?

Lawsuit Richey in Sierra Madre
Mod: Perhaps you'll recall Richard McDonald (AKA "Lawsuit Richey") from his obstreperous performances at Sierra Madre City Council meetings on behalf of CETT Development, the folks that want to build McMansions up on One Carter. The very real possibility of lawsuits over that matter remain in effect. Now Lawsuit Richie is also attempting to gin up a bogus civil rights controversy in Arcadia on the behalf of billionaire foreign development interests? Read on. 

So what exactly is Richard MacDonald, Esq. doing in ArcadiaRichard sent a letter last year on behalf of the Chinese American Equalization Association (HQH) to the City of Arcadia demanding that they go to district-based elections. The reason:  under-representation of Chinese-Amercian councilmembers in a city that is predominantly Asian (nearly 60% according to the 2010 census).

Arcadia did not take any action to Richard's threat of litigation. But then in May of this year, another attorney, Kevin Shenkman, sent a letter to the City of Arcadia demanding they move to district-based elections. Kevin Shenkman has been papering cities indiscriminately because of the financial gain to an attorney who successfully challenges each attacked city in court.

The City of Arcadia voted 3-2 to move to district-based elections due to Shenkman's threat of litigation.

Re-enter Richard MacDonald at the first public hearing in Arcadia about districting. Richard was full of useful tips and suggestions for drawing district lines. He even submitted 3 proposed district maps (Maps A, B and L). Link here and here.

What do these 3 maps have in common? Each of them places Councilmembers Beck and Verlato in the same district, thereby eliminating one of the 3 pro-preservation voices on the City Council.

The Hotel Constance
At the council meeting of September 7, MacDonald again appeared and gave public comment in support of the 3 maps that he had so helpfully proposed. Councilmember Verlato grilled him on his motives for such an "interest" in Arcadia politics.

Richey is neither a resident or business owner in Arcadia. He claimed he was attending the meetings for his client HQH. When asked if HQH has any members that are Arcadia residents, MacDonald claimed there were.

When asked for specific names of Arcadia residents that are members of HQH, MacDonald refused to answer. When asked what type of law MacDonald practices, he coyly remarked it was on his website. Councilmember Verlato then read to him his biography from that website which identified him as a developer's attorney.

When questioned about the client he listed on the website, The Hotel Constance, MacDonald declined to confirm who was the owner of the hotel, retorting it could be found in public records with the county.

When asked if Singpoli was the owner of The Hotel Constance, he denied it. When asked if Kin Hui was involved with the ownership of the hotel, the suddenly forgetful Richard MacDonald stated he couldn't remember. Councilmember Verlato then asked whether he would be submitting a bill to the City of Arcadia for his work in preparing district maps on behalf of his client. MacDonald said he hadn't thought of it.

Singpoli Building in Arcadia
When Councilmember Verlato continued to press him for an answer, MacDonald became increasingly agitated and aggressive. Mayor Amundson abruptly cut off the questioning and MacDonald scurried back to his seat.

In reviewing public documents, Park Place Commerical LP is the title owner of The Hotel Constance. Who is Park Place Commercial LP? A partnership of Singpoli Pacifica, LLC. Who is Singpoli Pacifica LLC?  Kin Hui. Who is Kin Hui? A highly prominent real estate developer, headquartered in Arcadia and a resident of Arcadia.

It is well known that Richard MacDonald has represented Kin and his various entities in past litigation, and that MacDonald was sitting on the Pasadena Planning Commission when The Hotel Constance project came through Pasadena'a planning department.

HQH is headquartered at 25 E Foothill Blvd. As is Singpoli.

So why did MacDonald lie about Singpoli's ownership interest of The Hotel Constance? Why does all of this matter you ask? You'll have to wait to see at the next Arcadia City Council meeting on September 19.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Last Night's Library Forum Could Lead To Something Interesting: Putting the Library Question on the Ballot.

A solution to the Library's rat problem.
I do like these Hart Park House public forum meetings. The water one was especially entertaining, aggravated residents and all. And I hear that those who had been monstrously overcharged for water have been filing their appeals with City Hall and getting refunded. Or whatever it is the city is giving them to make things happy again. Not too shabby a result.

Last night's packed Library Forum was also an enjoyable experience, though it was an imperfect joy. Billed as a forum for residents to express their concerns and ask questions about whatever is being done to the Library, it did devolve into something approaching a dog & pony show at times. Which was a bit disappointing. After all, this wasn't supposed to be a campaign event.

Or so I had been led to believe.

Here is how that happened. Several residents would ask questions or make comments, and the city's attentive and alert new City Manager would then attempt to answer them. Which is good, it's what most folks had come to hear.

Unfortunately, one of several annoying persons from the Friends of the Library would then invariably leap up, grab the microphone, head to the front of the room, and proceed to give a long and windy lecture about how wonderful it would be if the Library were to move across town to the YAC Shack.

This occurred several times. Obviously it was planned, and got tiresome quickly. And why exactly do they want to move the Library this badly? It seems almost like a religion to them. A cultish snake-handling a-talking in tongues storefront kind of religion.

As an example, each repeatedly mentioned the rats in the basement of the Library like that is of immense deal-breaking concern. Fine, rats suck. I get that. My house on Grove Street had plenty of rats, mostly in the attic. They were getting in there via the power lines.

So I got a cat, and then I didn't have rats anymore. Cats are great. You pay them in readily available cheap smelly food and they don't get CalPERS. Which is good because they live nine lives.

However, that is not what I wanted to share today.

Somewhat better news finally did arrive when a former resident, dressed in attractive casual attire, suggested that a happy solution to the controversy over whether or not to move the Library and sell off the property would be to put the question on the ballot and let the people decide. The new and improved City Manager proclaimed his excitement about the prospect of a citizen referendum on this controversial matter, and vowed he would propose it to the City Council soon.

Wouldn't that be interesting? I wonder if the Friends of the Library will be hiring Martin Truitt to run their side of the campaign. They certainly have plenty of cash. Imagine the postcards!

How many Jolly Holly plants can each resident grow?
Is the Sierra Madre Community Foundation soliciting funds for the new Library/Cultural Center?

Did anyone receive a letter with their latest water bill? It was written by a former city staff member named Michelle Keith.

The Sierra Madre Community Foundation (or SMCF for the acronymically inclined) is a charity that awards grants to organizations located in Sierra Madre. According to their website, it was founded in 2006. Past board members include Rob Stockly, John Cappocia and Frank Hall. Ms. Keith is the current chair.

This letter is soliciting donations from Sierra Madre's generous residents. It also names some of the past projects that the foundation has supported. But it does not specifically state what organizations or projects will be receiving the money that will be collected as a result of this particular city distributed letter.

The SMCF has donated money to the Sierra Madre Library in the past. Will they be doing so now? It is anybody's guess, I suppose. If they do donate money to the library, will it be for the current version, or the proposed new one? Please keep in mind that according to the city's own staff report, sufficient funding for the new library has yet to be secured. So there is that.

Some of you might recall the controversial Kersting Court "renovation" project that was presented to the City Council last year. Did you know it was organized by the Sierra Madre Community Foundation? Michelle Keith, Rob Stockly, and Bart Doyle all spoke in favor of it at the City Council meeting held on July 12, 2016.

Here is another unfortunately sourced solicitation for the SMCF:

Mountain Views News Aug 26, 2017

Along with the Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce, the SMCF is sponsoring a program in preparation for the Christmas season. "Join in the holiday spirit," it says. "Purchase an ornament for the Sierra Madre Community Tree and help raise funds for civic improvements. Volunteers will be decorating Kersting Court in mid-November for the holidays."

What exactly do they mean by "civic improvements?" Do you know?

Should you choose to donate some of your hard earned dollars to this organization, be sure to ask them what project you might be supporting. The current Library? The new Library? The Kersting "Starbucks" Court renovation? Or, exactly what?

You really do need to inquire. After all, you have both a right and need to know how your money is going to be spent. Especially now.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Preserve Sierra Madre: Library Building Forum Wed. Sept.13th at 6:00 pm

Mod: An interesting moment in Sierra Madre history has arrived. The notion of preserving this town has always taken two paths. One path was for those who wanted to keep the town the small and quaint residential community it has always been. The other wanted to save such deeply traditional American community services such as the Library. Yet aren't these both really the same thing? I think so. Now, because the vintage local pols who had always led the movement to "Save the Library" have suddenly become strong advocates for its destruction, there is a distinct political shift taking place. And tonight's community forum could be where the consequences of their betrayal become evident. This from Preserve Sierra Madre:

Preserve Sierra Madre has been receiving an increasing number of emails expressing a growing concern from our coalition members regarding the possibility of selling our much-loved Public Library building and moving the Library to a new location on the east side of town near the recreation center.  The existing library building would most likely be demolished, sold to a developer and replaced with a large condominium project.

While no final decision has been made on the Library, there will be a public forum to discuss this option:

Wednesday, September 13th from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Hart Park House - 222 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.

We would encourage our coalition members to attend and ask a lot of questions.  We have a heard much concern about the proposed location for the new library particularly in regards to parking and noise.  We also want to know what has necessitated selling a city-owned asset to a developer after so many years in its current location?   What is the cost to build a new facility and why can't the existing building be upgraded to meet current needs?

Many of us use the library on a regular basis, many of us have donated to the library and many of us placed a "Love the Library" sign in our front yard.  Many of us also understood that one of the reasons we voted for the passage of the UUT tax was to save our library.  We are not sure that demolishing the building was quite what many of us had in mind when we made the decision to show our support for the Library.

Don't forget, "we" are Sierra Madre.  It is our Library and we should have a say about what happens to it.  We don't want to leave such an important decision to the five members of our City Council.  For that reason, we would encourage you to attend this forum and get answers to some important questions.  Preserve Sierra Madre has not taken an official position on this issue yet, but we do have our concerns. Preserve Sierra Madre does take the official position that "We Love Our Library".

Thank you for your support.

Steering Committee

Mod: See you there!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Getting A Grip On Sierra Madre's CalPERS Debt Problem

Mod: I got a loaner Apple while my MacBook Pro is in the shop. Feels weird, but I am dealing with it. I've been told that my computer had the equivalent of a cyber stroke, but it might survive. I have my hopes to keep me strong. Anyway, as you probably recall, 22% of the cash Sierra Madre's water enterprise gets goes to pay for debt. OK? Not an especially good number. But what percentage of this city's tax money goes to pay for CalPERS? If I told you a whole bunch, would you believe me? Unless you were part of the 2002 "Caligula" City Council, you'd likely admit you do. Here is how City Manager Gabriel Engeland responded to my recent PRA request on that troubling CalPERS tip. 

Hi John,
I was able to confirm the pension payments for utility employees (water and sewer) are paid from each respective enterprise fund.  This is true of the CalPERs payments ($551,400) as well as the UAL (Unfunded Accrued Liability) payments ($727,510).

It is likely there are restricted funds that cannot be used to pay for pensions or other benefits, but Sewer and Water Funds are “enterprise” funds, meaning the revenues pay for the operational cost of each entity, respectively, including the cost of benefits (pensions, healthcare, insurance, etc). This means the pension payment for Water employees comes from the Water fund, Sewer employees from the Sewer fund, and General Fund employees from the General Fund.

In order to calculate a percentage of benefits to expenses I would still use the total expenditures as I did below ($24,830,600). However, I could also see an argument being made to only use specific Fund expenditures - Water ($5,015,900), Sewer ($1,123,000), and General Fund ($10,865,900) - for total fund expenditures of $17,004,800, which would make the CalPERS payments of $1,278,910 equal to 7.52% of total Water Fund, Sewer Fund, and General Fund expenditures.

As we discussed last week total salary could also be a way to look at this, as it strips out all other benefits, but the UAL is not a benefit to current employees. The UAL is the liability for current pensioners and represents the “gap” between what CalPERS projected to receive in investment returns and what they actually received.  If we are looking at salary only, and CalPERS payments only, the percentage would be 11.33% of total salary, if you include the UAL payment, along with the CalPERS payment, the percentage would be 26.3% of salary.  As you know this last calculation would include a benefit for past employees in a payroll/salary number for current employees.

In the end pension payment as a percent of salary is probably the easiest way to look at this, but for me, the total expenditure is the most compelling figure.

In 2016-17 we paid more than $1.2M to CalPERS, regardless of how it is analyzed.  This number will increase in the coming years and UAL is in addition to the CalPERS payment.  Here are the current calculations for the UAL payments:

2016-17:          $727,510
2017-18:          $829,860
2018-19:          $973,160
2019-20:          $1,124,297
2020-21:          $1,220,651
2021-22:          $1,122,952
2022-23:          $1,030,422

Assuming the annual CalPERS payments holds steady you would have to add more than $500,000 to each of the above UAL numbers for the total pension payments the City will make.  Also, we should assume the CalPERS payment will increase, and not hold steady.

I hope this makes sense.  There are a lot of different ways to look at the numbers as a ratio, but the bottom-line is payments are high already, and they are increasing at rate that is much quicker than most people realize.

Thanks, Gabe

Mod: I suppose you could put Sierra Madre's debt problem into perspective by adding total CalPERS payments to that of the Water Bond debt for each year.

Mod: As an example, in the year 2020 you would add $640,595 from the water bond debt plus that $1,720,651 in CalPERS Cash for a grand total of $2,361,246. Or just around what the city could realize by selling the Library property. Get the picture? Just in case you're wondering why the city may soon no longer be able afford to pay for nice things, and instead strictly focus on its survival.