Claremont Insider: October 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Whatever Happened to...?

We were watching the current Claremont Unified School Board race unfold when the thought occurred, What ever happened to Preserve Claremont?

Those Preserve Claremont folks and their associated group, Claremont Business PAC, mucked up the 2005 City Council election with false, libelous campaign ads but have been awfully silent this time around. They were really the militant arm of the Claremont 400. Do you think they have gone away?

If this were the typical Preserve Claremont ("Claremonsters") campaign, we'd expect them to come out with a last minute, full-page attack ad in the Claremont Courier on Saturday, November 3rd.

The ad would single out one of other the candidates (call that person Candidate Z) and would make a bunch of false accusations. They would pick this coming Saturday because it would be too late for Candidate Z to respond before next Tuesday's election.

They would also have someone like Judy Wright - their past ghost writer of choice - gin up a slew of letters to send to the Courier and the Daily Bulletin stressing the very same talking points as their ad.

But, maybe this is a different time, a different kind of election.


* * *

We were looking at the supporter list for one of the three candidates (let's call the person Candidate X), when we noticed how many Preserve Claremont contributors and supporters were also backing this one particular current school board candidate.

Here's a list of some of Candidate X's campaign committee members and their roles in the 2005 Preserve Claremont smear campaign - dollar amounts are drawn from Preserve Claremont's 2005 campaign finance disclosures filed with the Claremont City Clerk; "supporter" indicates they allowed their names to be used in PC ads:


  • J. Michael Fay, $100 to PC, $100 to Claremont Business PAC

  • Randy Prout, $200 to PC, $100 to Claremont Business PAC

  • Jeff Stark, $250 to PC

  • Bob Fagg, PC supporter

  • Sonja Stump, PC supporter

  • Ken Corhan, PC supporter

We also noticed that some of the very same people are on one of the other candidate's campaign committees as well (let's call that person Candidate Y). Those double dippers are: J. Michael Fay, Jeff Stark, Sonia Stump, and Randy Prout.

And, Art Parker, Candidate X's campaign treasurer, has signed on as a supporter for Candidate Y. Ken Corhan, a Candidate X committee member, is also listed as a supporter of Candidate Y. Do you detect a pattern?

This probably goes a long way toward explaining all those post-candidate forum confabs between the two campaigns in question. Hey, do we detect the hidden hand of former Claremont Police Commissioner Helaine Goldwater manipulating things again? At least Helaine has good enough judgment to be on only Candidate Y's campaign committee.

So, they're still around. Whether or not they're up to their usual tricks is another matter.

CUSD Candidate Comparison

Like most of you, we're tired of the Claremont 400 trying to make these school board elections into high school popularity contests.

We're also sick of the thought that the outgoing board members and their friends feel that they possess a divine right to choose the people they happen to like (whether they are qualified for the job or not) and simply will the positions over to their hand-picked replacements - see Xavier Alvarez for an extreme example of the sort of trouble this type of thinking leads to.

And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are asking you (and us) to set aside our prejudices and to weigh the evidence on its merits. Let's remove personalities from the equation and look strictly at the candidates' qualifications.

We've put together a table with the three candidates for the CUSD Board of Education. We've randomized the candidates (listed as candidates A, B, & C) and have taken their qualifications and proposals and listed them below. We removed the names and have attempted to give you just the information the candidates themselves have presented.

We took the information directly from the candidates' own literature. We'll assume there are no Alvarezian misrepresentations and that all three candidates are truthful about their educations and job histories.

You tell us who you think is the more qualified of the three - A, B, or C - and who is second-most. On election day next Tuesday, we'll reveal which candidate belongs to which column. Those of you who've been following the election can probably figure this out pretty easily, but that's not really the aim of this exercise.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Claremont Halloween

The City of Claremont does what it does best tomorrow evening when the city throws a Halloween party for kids ages 2-12.

The event will take place in the Old Village from 4pm to 7pm and offers a safe alternative to trick-or-treating. There's no admission, and there will be games for kids in front of City Hall.

Call (909) 399-5490 for info.

Good Eats and Village Expansion Observations

Meg over at the M-M-M-My Pomona blog recently had a post about looking for a good Mexican breakfast in Pomona. She and her compadres ended up over at El Merendero at 301 S. Garvey (there's another one by the Fairgrounds).

We tend to forget about El Merendero - we've gone to the one on Fairplex in La Verne - but it serves up good food from an inexpensive menu. If you like traditional Mexican food, the carnitas is hard to beat.

Check out Meg's review.


El Merendero Restaurant
301 S. Garvey Ave.
Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 620-1411

El Merendero Restaurant
1901 Fairplex Dr.
La Verne, CA 91750
(909) 593-7078

_______________________


A while back we posted a link to Meg's write up of the Village Expansion, which she calls "the new mall," and her review of Casablanca, the new Mediterranean restaurant in the Claremont Packing house.

Meg's post generated a number of comments, which you can see here.

The best comment was from an anonymous respondent, who said:

I like to think of "Village West" as a work in progress. Given what is now residing there I predict there will be a turn over in 60% of the spaces within 12 months. The restaurants so far are obviously being operated by first timers (except for 3 Forks which by the way needs at least 3 entrees less than $20 on their menu to succeed in Claremont).

I have a feeling the overhead for the newbies is so high that they may not be able to tread water long enough to learn from their mistakes. First lesson these fine folks must learn is: Produce consistently good food. I have met the owner of Casa Blanca a very nice man, but he seems to believe he has a successful restaurant simply because he has a lease in Claremont. The key is and always will be the food, every plate that comes out of the kitchen. People in Claremont know good food, it is a shame it's so rare to find it in Claremont these days.


Another anonymous writer had this to say about Three Forks:


I have eaten at 3 Forks and I was shocked at the prices. There will never be any justification in my mind to pay that kind of money for food unless I am in an environment that dictates those prices. A steak is a steak is a steak. It may be a really good piece of meat but it is a steak for Pete's sake. If I am looking out at the Grand Canal in Venice or a storybook Square in Salzberg I could open my wallet as part of that whole experience. But $70 for a steak for 2 people (the Porterhouse) to look out and enjoy the view of a factory across from the restaurant is crazy. The pricing is alla carte so if a solo piece of meat is not your idea of a meal be prepared to pay another chunk of change for a salad or a vegetable. Plus if you feel the need to order a beverage of some kind to wash this all down well you can always get a second on your house.

My personal opinion is this type of restaurant has no place being in Claremont.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Von Alvarez Syndrome

The Daily Bulletin's editorial board yesterday called for the resignation of disgraced Three Valleys Municipal Water District board member Xavier Alvarez of Pomona.

An Insider reader wrote in to remind us that Alvarez might have more than a little in common with the Baron Von Münchhausen, whose Wikipedia entry reads:

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (11 May 1720 – 22 February 1797) (sometimes spelled Munchausen), was a German baron who in his youth was sent to serve as page to Anthony Ulrich II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and later joined the Russian military. He served until 1750, in particular taking part in two campaigns against the Turks. Returning home, Münchhausen supposedly told a number of outrageous tall tales about his adventures. The Baron was born in Bodenwerder and died there as well.

According to the stories, as retold by others, the Baron's astounding feats included riding cannonballs, travelling to the Moon, and escaping from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair.
The Baron lent his name to Münchhausen syndrome, the psychological disorder in which sufferers pretend to be ill or sometimes induce real symptoms of illnesses in order to get attention.

At least Alvarez might be able to legitimately claim an insanity defense in the criminal charge(s) against him.

Reader Reacts to Reader

The mailbag contained a reader's note in response to the reader mail we posted yesterday poking fun at the Claremont Courier's perceived lack of substance.

Yesterday's note seemed to strike a chord. This was the response:

Dear Buzz,

The comment you received today re: The Courier, expresses my feelings exactly. I have opened the last two issues hoping to see a unique take on the fires or other issues of local importance. What I have gotten is the "Claremont Unified School District Newsletter", and sadly this has been going on for some time. No investigative reporting on the trend to create an enormous number of apartments/condos/townhouses throughout the city in order to comply with the state mandated "fair share" of affordable housing. Why hasn't this became an issue?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Slow Death

(The title of this post and everything below is from a reader)

Wednesday: "Local elementary school embraces health and fitness"

Saturday: "A unique form of music appreciation" (Foothill Country Day School teacher Jody Orrison is excited about music.)

Next Wednesday's top story:

Sandwich Maker Uses Mayo, Mustard

Sandwich maker Jim Farnsworth makes sandwiches at a sandwich store in Claremont. He likes his job, he says, and enjoys making sandwiches.

Customers say nice things about Mr. Farnsworth. "I like the sandwiches," says Jessica Burton, a Claraboya resident. "The turkey is good."

This week, a COURIER reporter watched as Mr. Farnsworth made his sandwiches. He sometimes toasted the bread, and sometimes did not.

"It depends on what the customer wants," he says. "If the customer does not want to have toasted bread on his or her sandwich, we do not toast the bread. We give them the sandwich with the bread untoasted."

[Next 800 words omitted.]

The perfect newspaper for Claremont.

Antonovich Blog

When he's not busy leading cattle drives around the Claremont Wilderness Park, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich spends his spare time using the creative part of his mind to...BLOG!

Yes folks, our supervisor, as well as a number of other rightward thinkers have a site called LA Insight. Supervisor Antonovich, as well as such local Republican luminaries as Congressman David Dreier, listed as Insight writers.

The site seems to be mostly links to local news articles. Antonovich's and Dreier's bits look to be press releases written by their staffs.

We haven't found the left equivalent for LA Insight, but if we do, we'll post it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Village Venture

Don't forget to drop by the Claremont Village and check out the Chamber of Commerce's annual Village Venture today from 9am to 5pm. There's arts and crafts booths, as well as food and refreshments.

Xavier Alvarez Censured

The Xavier Alvarez saga continued today in the Daily Bulletin. Will Bigham's article, posted last last night on the Bulletin's website, noted that Alvarez's latest faux pas includes possible felony charges.

Alvarez was censured yesterday in a special meeting by the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, where he is Pomona's representative. As readers will recall, Alvarez is already facing a federal misdemeanor charge for falsely claiming that he is a Medal of Honor winner.

Alvarez has also made false claims that he served in the military in Vietnam and other exotic locales (he has admitted he was never in the military), that he is married to a starlet (he is not married), and that he graduated as an engineer from Cal Poly Pomona (there is no record of him having attended Cal Poly).

Bigham's article noted that Alvarez also obtained health benefits for his ex-wife, Juanita Diana Ruiz. The two have been divorced since 2002, but after he was elected in November, 2006, Alvarez listed Ruiz as his wife and Three Valleys paid $4,873.76 in benefits for Ruiz. The health benefits were what led to the board censuring Alvarez.

Bigham reported that Alvarez has promised to repay the benefit money. However, since the amount is over $500, Alvarez could be charged with a felony for misuse of public funds, according to Three Valley's president Bob Kuhn.

It struck us that there might also be fraud and grand theft charges in there, and Three Valley's board member Dan Horan said as much, accusing Alvarez of fraud.

For his part, Alvarez was keeping quiet, a refreshing change for him. He isn't talking to reporters, other than Bulletin columnist Dave Allen, who caught up with Alvarez after yesterday's meeting:

I followed Alvarez out, and as always we had a friendly chat.

"I've told you my story. Do you have a story?" he cracked. "I'm out of stories."

"You're a creative guy," I reassured him. "You'll come up with more stories."

"No, no more of that," Alvarez promised.

Alvarez may be down, but he's not out - yet. For him to actually be removed from office, he'd have to be convicted of a felony. Since the federal charge against him is a misdemeanor, that wouldn't suffice. Alternatively, if Alvarez had to go to jail for more than six months, the seat could be vacated.

The thinking here at the Insider is that if Alvarez does not show the good form to step down voluntarily, then Three Valleys should make a felony complaint for the health benefits. We also believe that Pomona officials, in particular Pomona Mayor Norma Torres, who as Alvarez's political patron provided the political backing that helped get Alvarez elected, should publicly campaign for his resignation.

Sooner or later Alvarez will be gone, he could help himself and the public by ending things as quickly as possible.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Dog That Did Not Bark

We can learn from history. In Claremont, we learn that with the Claremont 400 and their fellow travelers, history doesn't necessarily repeat itself. There's no intellectual consistency. Part of the reason the Insider too often dredges up historical events is that these events are available to us. If we tried to show things using future events, that would be speculative and not too convincing.

In that vein, we want to remind folks about the mean-spirited and clearly orchestrated attack that took place against one particular school board candidate in the last election. An element used in the attack was the church-state separation issue we have examined the past few days with respect to 2007 candidate Beth Bingham.

On a single day, October 12, 2005, the Claremont Courier printed five separate letters, all from college faculty members (four from Pomona College, one from Pitzer College), all similarly attacking 2005 candidate Kris Meyer. One letter quotes Nobel Laureate James Watson--a fraught endeavor given Watson's recent fall from grace. One calls Meyer a "scary guy" and goes on, in quite rational and measured professorial tones to say that Meyer can "spout cockamamie creationist theory in the privacy of his own home..." Another refers to Meyer's writing as "an incoherent rant". Say what you will, these are at least passionate people and the Insider hopes they treat their students with more courtesy than they treat their political foes. (We provide the letters opposite these paragraphs because we think they are instructive. Click on the small images for a readable image. We did some cutting and pasting for continuity and coherence and we don't think we messed up anywhere; not intentionally in any event.)

What surprises us--well, it doesn't really surprise us--is that there is no such orchestrated and passionate defense of the separation of church and state this year with an ordained, active minister running for office. We are shocked--shocked! It's the dog that did not bark. So, with apologies to Professor John Seery at Pomona, we will write the letter he doubtless would have written had his vigilant citizen cabal brought this issue to his attention. (His original letter is the middle one in the group to the right, under the head VIGILANCE: Thanks.)


Dear Editor,

I'd like to express my gratitude to several vigilant Claremont citizens and the Claremont Insider for alerting the rest of us to school board candidate Beth Bingham's stealth agenda and deceptive tactics.

In a letter to the COURIER (and I join others in urging the COURIER, as an act of public service and in the spirit of full disclosure to reprint her letter), Bingham has taken very adamant stances on school issues (decrying, for instance, the use of business concepts in the management of the school district, and a concern for the wall of separation between church and state when it's someone else's religion), and yet she reveals none of these positions in her current campaign literature.

My own view is that we need to elect board members who will exemplify high standards of integrity, candor and transparency. My question: Do the Claremont residents now displaying Beth Bingham signs know the full story about her views and nonetheless support them and her campaign, or have they been misled into believing she is simply a straightforward "children's" candidate.

definitely not written by John Seery
Claremont, CA


The point here is not to pile on Beth Bingham--though she felt compelled in her letter of November 5, 2005 to pile on Kris Meyer (linked two paragraphs above and here also). The point is that these crudely- and transparently-orchestrated attacks are well-oiled parts of the Claremont machine. It is never enough to put forward your own positions--in fact, that is seldom done. Gathering testimonials and lists of the usual suspect supporters is their way. Better to demonize and smear your opponent than to engage. Think of Glenn Southard's smearing of Obie Landrum, or the queasy activities of Preserve Claremont.

Yet More on Alvarez

This whole Alvarez thing at Three Valleys Municipal Water District just gets seamier and seamier. Allegations amounting to theft and fraud; allegations of spousal abuse; allegations of lying when he said he attended Cal Poly and received a degree. Even Norma Torres, Will Bigham reports, has pulled the plug--see here how the "endorsement" game works. But don't be near him when he goes completely mental; he might be packing.

Will Bigham at the Bulletin is on it. Don't expect to see a press release from Mayor Norma.

UPDATE: Will Bigham reports at 10:43 Friday morning that the Three Valleys water board voted 7-0 to censure Xavier Alvarez for taking spousal benefits from the district for his divorced former wife. Alvarez apparently joined with his colleagues in voting against himself.

FURTHER UPDATE LATE FRIDAY 10/27/07: The Daily Bulletin expands on the previous update with more details on the Three Valleys meeting where Alvarez was censured. The evidence has been forwarded to the DA that he may have illegally funneled some $4800 in benefits to his divorced former spouse. If prosecuted, that one is a felony.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Local Events

We had meant to get this information posted a while ago, but you know how it goes....

Our apologies to the Ravelers, who will be in concert at the Candlelight Pavillion tomorrow night, October 26th, for their 20th Anniversary Dinner Show Concert.

Tickets are $45, and doors open at 6:00pm with dinner at 6:30pm. The concert begins at 8:00, and there's an intermission with an optional dessert. For reservations call (909) 626-1254.

The Ravelers are a local classic rock band who also do some songs of their own, and you can find out more information on their website.

Candlelight Pavillion Dinner Theater
455 W. Foothill Blvd.
Claremont, CA 91711

(909) 626-1254


Here's a video the Ravelers performing an original song, "Trouble":

"On the Street Where You Live" Department

Apparently School Board candidate Beth Bingham, a Congregational minister, lives on Diablo Drive in Claremont. Bummer of a street name.

If we could find our tinfoil hat, we bet we could make something of this.

Thanks to a reader.

Image from League of Women Voters information website. Click to enlarge

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Cheerful Shepherd

Beth Bingham's October 17th Courier advertisement in the school board race carried the tag line, "Schools where every child matters and somebody knows their name." She seems to have settled on this as the theme for her campaign. It appears on her website as well.

It has kind of a nice ring--pretty friendly and inclusive--but we couldn't shake the feeling that we'd heard it somewhere before. You know how that is?--You're trying to remember something but you just can't get it back? Don't you just hate when that happens?

Then it hit us. Cheers. It's the theme song from Cheers.



Now it's not direct appropriation. We weren't even sure there was any conscious connection until we read the Rev. Dr. Bingham's April 28, 2007 sermon at Pilgrim Congregational Church. Her inspiration came from the sermon's first page:

...Not being known by a name erases us.

It was the theme song of a television show that pointed out the other side of all that, the beautiful side of all that: Many of you remember the lyrics, and the endearing, if hilarious [sic] friendships that developed at Cheers:

'Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where every body knows your name...'

We want to go where everybody knows your name, when they're awfully glad you came. You wanna go where everybody knows your name [sic, paraphrasing these and subsequent lines].

He knows your name. Jesus always knows our name and calls us by name and how precious is that?...

Bingham took her campaign theme from the lyrics of a television show jingle. We can only imagine the meeting where the theme was decided:

"Schools where everybody knows their name." No, that's kind of ambiguous; wouldn't everybody know their own name?

"Schools where children matter and everybody knows their name." Better in one sense; just as bad in the other. The reference isn't clear

"Schools where some child matters and everybody knows their name." That's no good. Why don't you switch "some" and "every"?

"Schools where every child matters and somebody knows their name." Kind of a low bar on the name recognition, but we'll go with it.

It's lucky she didn't take her inspiration from CSI. That's another television program that is mentioned more than once in her sermons. The mind boggles. Well, we've had our fun with that. No more beating that halt, lame, or possibly dead horse.

In the aforementioned sermon, Bingham proceeds to weave the passage in John 10 about the good shepherd with the 23rd Psalm. You ought to read the entire sermon if you have the time.

She doesn't mention John 10:16, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd."


Which is why Beth Bingham makes such a great trustee of a private college with strong church connections. But the same thought gives us pause when considering her for a public school board. In 2005, such concerns bothered her as well.



The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Bingham for School Board?

click image to read
In 2005, Elizabeth Bingham worried in print--in what then seemed to be a throwaway line--about a candidate in that year's school board race dimming the line between church and state. She said, "As deep as my concerns are about the possibility that Mr. Meyer would dim the line that separates church and state, this comment is equally worrisome..."

Now, in 2007, this same Elizabeth Bingham, an active Congregational Minister, is a candidate running for the Claremont Unified School Board. Of course she professes, when asked the question, great respect for and fidelity to the separation of church and state, but how well does that claim hold up?

The Insider thinks it would take, well, a saint, to pull it off. And though the Rev. Dr. Bingham is a nice lady with a very pastoral demeanor, we don't think she can do it.

For starters, let's look at the Covenant of her own church, Pilgrim Congregational Church in Pomona, where she is Senior Minister. In the second paragraph, she has covenanted not only to accept the Holy Scriptures as her rule of faith--fair enough--but also as her rule of practice. Does this mean, as we interpret it, that she would be ruled by religious precepts in her public actions? Even more worrisome is the next line where she, every member, and the church accept the duty of the advancement of His Kingdom in the world. Is the Claremont Unified School District Board a vehicle by which to advance this aspect of the Covenant?

If the Rev. Dr. Bingham denies these duties, isn't she violating her covenant to her God and her church? If she doesn't deny them, isn't she setting aside the principle of separation of church and state that she professed--in 2005--to hold as important? It seems to us that while it might be possible for a lay-person somehow--temporarily--to back-burner these important church commitments, it would be well-nigh impossible for a Senior Minister of a large congregation to do so.

How does she square her candidacy now as an ordained minister with her concern about the "line that separates church and state" expressed in the 2005 letter above? Isn't there, as she puts it, a "possibility" of a problem?

The Rev. Dr. Bingham is also a trustee of Piedmont College, an avowedly church-related institution in Georgia supported strongly by the Congregational Church for more than a century. In 2003, the Rev. Dr. Bingham participated in a ceremony founding a new Congregational church at the school.

During this ceremony, the president of Piedmont College, Ray Cleere, said: "While many colleges in recent years have been moving away from their historical church affiliations, at Piedmont we have worked to strengthen our ties to the churches that have supported us for many years."

The Rev. Dr. Bingham is a trustee at this college. And we think this is exactly the right kind of institution for her to serve. She has an M.A. from the Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. (The seminary's world view is informed by historic prophetic and social justice strands of United Methodism that equip Christians for engagement with the world.--from the website) She belongs with the kind of institution that Piedmont is and doubtless does an excellent job in its service.

However, as you read her biography and list of qualifications for service as a trustee of a public school, you find them pretty thin with respect to public education. Sure, she spoke at the Claremont Baccalaureate in 2007--possibly an audition for the school board race because the word on the street is that the departing board members "found" her to run. She was in the Baseball Dugout Booster Club, and was an "involved parent" at Condit, El Roble, and CHS. And, she was on the budget advisory committee in the district.

Her work on the budget must have inoculated her against common sense, since she wrote in the 2005 letter reproduced above that "Public education is not a business". And, "I shudder at the thought that decisions about the best way to teach our children will be made by dollars and cents..." This sounds naive. District staff and board members balance priorities and resources--dollars and cents--all the time.

All in all, we have little faith in the competence of the Rev. Dr. Bingham in the public school setting; and there is that whole Church and State thing...

She is asking herself to do the impossible in trying to reconcile these two sides. Where she is committed to her church, she is "involved" as a parent. That's like the difference between ham and eggs: the chicken was "involved", the pig was committed.

(While the Insider has no fear to step in it when the subject is local politics, the mix of politics and religion is, as they say, incendiary. It's been a long time since we flunked out of divinity school--at least we think that was us. So it's probably pointless to engage us in a debate of some of the nicer theological points raised above. It would be like having a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Claremont City Manager Pulls Agenda Item on Parking--Was it the Insider?

Prior to the main events of the Claremont City Council meeting tonight, City Manager Jeff Parker pulled consent agenda item 11 for "further analysis". We discussed this item here. We guess that Parker thought Witt and Desatnik were being a little too efficient. Or maybe he reads the Insider?

Claremont: "Security through Obscurity"

A reader sent us a reaction to the City's plan to hide the report of the security consultant on problems with the City of Claremont website and computer system.

As a computer professional, I'm astounded that the city would decide to hide the results of their security audit. "Security through Obscurity" is a widely-derided concept. It isn't that hard to make a website secure, and it really shouldn't involve any deep secrets. Presumably thousands of cities across the country have done it.
What this regular human being does not understand is that secrecy and obfuscation is a way of life, a credo, a hard-wired response with these people. It is a reflexive reaction that occurs without thought or consideration. It is limbic. It won't change until the voters make it change. Our guess is that the City Council will sit up there like potted plants on this matter. We get the kind of government we deserve.

Staff Efficiency

Claremont's city government has become a model of efficiency. Our city staff has figured out how to shrink 55 pages of analysis into a mere three, as you can see from the agenda materials for tonight's city council meeting.

Item #11 on the agenda is a proposed amendment to the city's Land Use and Development Code. Staff proposes that the council approve raising the amount charged to businesses for the city's in-lieu parking fee from $9,000 per parking space to $20,000.

The in-lieu fee is charged to Claremont Village businesses - a restaurant adding seating spaces, for instance - that want to increase expand or intensify their use but don't have land available to add parking spaces for the additional customers. The business can instead pay the in-lieu fee, which is supposed to go into a fund dedicated to buying land for parking or to building new parking structures.

In 1990, the last time the in-lieu parking fee was raised, the council agenda materials contained 55 pages that included a breakdown of how staff arrived at the per-space cost estimate:

Click on Image to Read

The 55 pages of staff materials also included an initial study under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and a negative declaration with several mitigations to offset adverse impacts.

So, in 1990 you had at least the appearance of staff doing the work to justify their recommendation that the in-lieu fee be set at $9,000.

Fast-forward to tonight's council meeting, and you see a three-page document with no supporting analysis. And two of the pages are taken up by the proposed council resolution language with the code change concering the fees. Community Development Director Anthony Witt and Housing and Redevelopment Manager Brian Desatnik simply have one sentence that says "The average cost of a structured parking space today is approximately $20,000."

Click on Image to Read


No supporting data, as in 1990. They just pull a number out of thin air that may or may not be true. We don't know because there's no information to evaluate the statement - Claremont 400 reasoning distilled to perfection!

This is the "process" that City Councilperson Linda Elderkin and her friends over at the League of Women Voters crow on and on about. And businesses in town will pay for that process - a process the Claremont Chamber of Commerce seems to endorse, given its silence on the matter.

No doubt Witt and Desatnik cut the material down to three pages to save the city the expense of their staff time (Witt: $148,223.77 in earnings per year, plus $51,532.43 in benefits; Desatnik: $111,846.06 in earnings, plus $43,450.38 in benefits).

Sometimes you don't get what you pay for.

Demand to Terminate City of Claremont Website

click on image to enlarge

We have received a copy of a letter sent to the City of Claremont over the weekend. We expect that we've seen the last of the City of Claremont website.

What you will soon see:

Fire Information

Those of you who have friends or family in the local fire areas can get information at these sites:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dishonorable Discharge

Xavier Alvarez, Pomona's erstwhile Medal of Honor winner and current Three Valleys Municipal Water District board member is back in the news, mostly as a result of the effluent that continues to issue from his mouth. (Get your waders on!)

The FC Blog has a post up with links to the Daily Bulletin's most recent coverage, which includes a Will Bigham article and a couple Dave Allen columns.

The Daily Bulletin also has the audio of Alvarez's false claims having served in the Marines for 25 years and having earned the Medal of Honor in 1987. Alvarez's comments were made at a July 23rd meeting of the Walnut Valley Municipal Water District.

The Bigham article noted that at the most recent Three Valleys meeting, several veterans got up at public comment to berate Alvarez. These included former Rancho Cucamonga mayor Jim Frost:

"I'm embarrassed for Three Valleys MWD," said Jim Frost, former mayor and current resident of Rancho Cucamonga. "I'm embarrassed for its professional staff, and I'm embarrassed for other members of its elected board.

"And I'm especially embarrassed for any voters who placed Mr. Alvarez in office in the belief that he is of honorable character."

The story even made the California section of the LA Times yesterday. Norma Torres, Pomona's mayor, and one of Alvarez's political patrons, even got a mention in the article:
Torres said Alvarez was a community activist from a hardscrabble neighborhood in South Pomona. She said he never told her he was a war hero. [if not, she must be the only one]

"It's unfortunate that this has all come up," she said.

Unfortunate for Torres because without Norma's backing, Alvarez, who only won his seat by 50 votes, most likely would not have been elected.

Dave Allen may have had the best comment of anyone observing the Alvarez spectacle:
If the feds really want to stick it to Alvarez, I suggest they go after him for a more obvious crime, one of fashion.

C'mon, wearing that mustache has got to be a felony.


Three Valleys has been a scandal magnet in the past few years. In 2000 or 2001, the water district put General Manager Richard Hansen--never fired--on administrative leave and reduced his benefits for harassing his administrative assistant following a steamy affair that had tongues wagging over in the offices on Miramar. The woman had been hired by Hansen at what seemed to be an unusually high salary. The district settled with her for more than $60,000 as we recall, and later had to pay some $20,000 or $30,000 in court costs in the ensuing flurry of public records request lawsuits by the Courier, the Los Angeles Times, and others.

Then there is the matter referred to recently by the Daily Bulletin about former Three Valleys director Paul Stiglich getting drunk on a MWD-sponsored trip to the Colorado River in the late 1990s; about that whole unsavory episode the less said the better. (The September 27, 2007 article is behind a paywall in the archive; search on "Stiglich" and be prepared to pay a small fee.)

$7430.65 Performance Bonus in 2006 for Claremont Information SNAFU Manager

Saturday's Claremont Courier had a page 3 article on Paystubgate which was teased on Page 1 with the headline, "Payroll SNAFU explained". It seemed a little curious for "SNAFU" to appear in all caps until we were reminded of the etymology of "SNAFU". It is apparently, or perhaps apocryphally, an acronym derived from a phrase going something like, "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up". Since this is a family blog, we think we will leave it at that.

The article in the Courier (which regrettably is not on the Courier website or we'd link to it) adds a little to the earlier Daily Bulletin article. For one thing, it says that the City has no intention of making the report on this, well, SNAFU, public:

"The experts have requested that the report not be released due to the fact that the information in the report could create security threats to our computer system," said [City Manager] Mr. [Jeff] Parker, citing the report's detailed examination of the city's security practices.

"It's definitely their choice. There is a lot of information in those reports that could compromise security going forward," said Michael Fitzpatrick of NCX [a computer security consultant hired by the city to investigate the incident].

Excuse us?

Do the hypersensitive antennae of the Insider detect a common Claremont ploy at play here? Parker blames the "expert" for hiding the ball. The expert says that hiding the ball is the City's decision. Did somebody not get the memo?

(You don't have to go too far back in city history, say to the October 9th Council meeting, to hear about a similar two-step concerning information on the Palmer Canyon fire settlement.)

We are wondering what the California government code says about this. We suspect someone will be making a public records request for this report, because we know there are scads and scads of people wanting to see it. You'd think if NCX and the City of Claremont have built an impenetrable system, they'd want people to know it.

Steve Senkle, Claremont's Information SNAFU Manager, was quoted in the Courier article, "It won't be possible in the future for this mistake of the confidential records being made available because our confidential database will not be connected to the Internet". There you have it. Can't happen. Won't happen. Believe it. This time.

By the way, Steve Senkle is another of Claremont's $200,000 Men. In 2006, his total earnings including allowances, vacation, sick and other compensation amounted to $126.563.38. He received a remarkable $7430.65 performance bonus, amounting to more than 9.1% of his regular pay. His benefits were a staggering $78,296.80. His total compensation through 12/22/06 for 2006: $204,860.18. Not bad for a computer guy with a broken system.

[note: the emphases in the quotes above by Parker and Fitzpatrick were added by us. See here for another example of the Claremont two-step.]

Oh, for an interesting image still up on Google, click here. Don't blame us, Sonia. We've reformed, as you see. Take it up with Google.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

City Archives Back On-Line

Without much hoopla, the city of Claremont has restored access to its on-line document archives.

Now that they've gotten to the bottom of things, maybe they'll get around to issuing the Insider an apology, or at least a thank-you. Without the ever-helpful Insider, the city's IT department would never have known what all information they'd made accessible on their website.

You're welcome, Claremont.

One sad thing about the pay stubs not being available any more - we'll never get to see what kind of raises and pay for performance bonuses the staff IT guys get this year.

* * *

The FC Blog has a discussion thread going on the lastest Paystubgate news. They included these comments by one in-the-know reader:

Only the most predictable thing in the world, although it’s still an incredible pleasure to watch. Here’s the rule: Anything you hear out of Claremont city hall, flip it and assume that the reverse is true. It’s like a law of physics.

But what I love is that they do it EVERY. EFFING. TIME. They spew and rant and threaten: The police are investigating, and we’re gonna sue these people, and and and we’re gonna send a report to the sheriff’s department and and and, uh…

(sotto voce)We regret that an error occurred, but human error is a natural phenomenon. Mumble mumble cough.

Clown shoes and fright wigs. Extra-hilarious to watch them row back every word they’ve spoken in the last month.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

* * *

And then there was this email from one of our readers:

What a surprise!
http://www.dailybulletin.com/news/ci_7220158

So, no doubt an apology is in order...(crickets...crickets...) I guess we won't hold our breath...

Keep up the great work-you are performing an honorable and necessary service to our community! Our founding fathers would be proud...

Friday, October 19, 2007

City Admits Error in Paystubgate

Will Bigham reports in today's Daily Bulletin that we at Insider were right all along about the city of Claremont having employee pay stubs available on their on-line document archive:

CLAREMONT - The release of city employee pay stubs through the city's Web site was caused by human error, according to a report commissioned by the city.

The report confirms claims made by the Claremont Insider blog that the information was available on the city's online public document archive.

The report also confirms that there was no security breach or theft related to the release of the pay stubs.

"I regret the error was made, but human error is a natural phenomenon that occurs in life," City Manager Jeff Parker said.

Where to begin...?

It's always great to hear that bureaucratese passive voice - "the error was made," not a simple, "We goofed." (For the record, anytime you hear that passive voice from these people you know that they are trying to avoid responsibility for something.)

Just as the sun rises in east, you can count on a non-apology from these folks, from the Claremont 400, from their candidates for office, and from city staff.

Parker is right that errors happen. We understand that and do not fault anybody for an honest mistake. It's the constant claims of infallibility by the Claremont 400 that cause them to look stupid. So when the inevitable fall comes, as it did this case, it's a just one - call it karma or schadenfreude.

And, it's not just that they refuse accountability, it's that they treat you as stupid or worse if you cross them, no matter how right you are. In the case of Paystubgate, the city assumed the Insider stole the information we published, falsely accused us of theft, had the city attorney contact Google to have this site terminated (does that sound temporary?) in an unsuccessful attempt at illegal and unconstitutional prior restraint, and had Google remove the pay stub images from this site (either because the information was confidential, because the images were copyrighted, or because the information was stolen, depending on what day it was).

Stop to consider who was right and who was wrong in this matter. Then apply the same lessons to any divisive issue that has come before the city in the past 20 or so years: the Landscaping and Lighting District, the roundabout at Indian Hill Blvd. and Bonita Ave., the Irvin Landrum shooting, the Padua Sports Park, the homes destroyed by fire in Palmer Canyon and Padua Hills, the Parks and Pasture Assessment District, the affordable housing project on Base Line Rd.

Everyone who has dealt with the city in those issues and many more has experienced the same thing we have with Paystubgate. That incompetence and the refusal to acknowledge their wrong actions have been constants in the city, and it will not change because the Claremont 400 will not let it and because city staff and the city attorney lack the integrity to tell them when they are wrong.

It is up to you to demand accountability. Until you do, get ready for the next Paystubgate, in whatever form it takes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hilary LaConte's Word Cloud. Or, Foggy Weather


We've already puzzled over the meaning of Hilary LaConte's bizarre advertisement. LaConte, is the odds-on favorite win the school board race. Only a very confident candidate could publish an ad that strange without fear of upsetting her apple-cart.

We wondered whether it was just us; it should be apparent by now that the Insider has a severe intellect deficiency. We ran Hilary's text through several on-line calculator tools that compute the Gunning-Fog Index. Roughly, the Fog Index is a measure of the readability of writing. The higher the number, the longer the sentences in the text. A larger percentage of "hard" words also produce a higher score. (Disclaimer: Don't email us that we are idiots for using this. Tell us something we don't know. Its virtue is that it's simple and its numerical value indicates more or less the years of education required to get a handle on the text.) Depending on the tool used, Hilary's ad weighed in at 13.5 to 15, meaning that she used words and sentence length targeted at the sophomore to junior in College level. She sure is smart.

(For your information, the preceding two paragraphs have a Fog index of from 10 to 12, which is about the best we can do for intelligent writing on a good day, with a stiff tailwind. Maybe high school junior, give or take a year.)

Another tool which you sometimes see on websites is the "Word Cloud". We won't try to explain it fully, but it gathers up all but the most common words in one's writing and displays the ones used most often in a larger font, for more emphasis. It makes a pretty picture. Hilary's "Word Cloud" is shown at the head of this article.

If you read the word cloud, you stand as good a chance of understanding her as if you read her own writing. The Insider has to admit a preference for the poetry and cadence of LaConte's writing: "The issue for future study and conversation revolves around the impact of inter-district transfer students." And, "I look forward to analyzing the finer points of these and other issues through on-going conversations with our community."

And so do we.

PhotoBooth

The Claremont Museum of Art brings the PhotoBooth project to Claremont from 10am to 3pm tomorrow, October 19th and Saturday, October 20th in front of the Claremont Public Library at 208 N. Harvard Ave. in the Claremont Village.

The project is the brainchild of San Francisco photographer Christopher Irion. The first 200 people to show up will get their photos placed into a large mural that will be displayed in the east plaza of the Claremont Packing House beginning December 1st and running through at least December 16th.

The first 200 people get their photos up. No exclusions, no one gets edited out.

_______________________

In other news, Foothill Transit is holding several public meetings to discuss a proposed fare schedule increase. The rising cost of gas and maintenance, along ith a funding cut, has led to the need for the increases.

Here's a list of the upcoming meetings from Foothill Transit's website:

  • Tuesday, October 23, 2007
    6:30PM
    El Monte Station (
    Google Map Link)
    El Monte/ Metro San Gabriel Valley Sector Offices
    3449 Santa Anita Ave.
    El Monte, CA 91731
    Take Foothill Transit Lines
    178, 269, 481, 482, 486, 488, 492, 494, and the Silver Streak.

  • Thursday October 25, 2007
    6:30PM
    Pomona Public Library (
    Google Map Link)
    Conference Room
    625 S. Garey Ave.
    Pomona, CA 91767
    Take Foothill Transit Lines
    286, 291, and 480.

  • Thursday, November 1, 2007
    6:30PM
    Foothill Transit Administrative Office (
    Google Map Link)
    100 S. Vincent Ave, 2nd floor Board Room
    West Covina, CA 91790
    Take Foothill Transit Lines 272, 284, 480, and the Silver Streak.
Comments on the fare increases can also be emailed to 2007@foothilltransit.org, via FAX to 626-967-4608, or by snail mail to the above Foothill Transit Administrative Office address in West Covina. Comments need to be received by November 1st.

Accountability

One of the hallmarks of Claremont's dysfunctionality is the lack of accountability practiced by the Claremont 400, groups like the Claremont League of Women Voters, and the Claremont city government.

The wonderful folks in the Claremont 400 love to prattle on about the perfection of city staff, the City Council, but they hate to stand up and take responsibility for the sometimes awful results of their actions and inactions.

The recent advertisement in the Claremont Courier by Claremont School Board candidate Hilary LaConte is but one example of them being wrong but refusing to come out and admit it in plain English.

Rather than apologize for attacking one of her opponents at a candidate forum for being right about the matter of inter-district transfers, in her ad LaConte issued this rather remarkable bit of prolixity:
My comment should only have referenced the application process, because in fact as I indicated, any student may apply to transfer to Claremont. The new insight to be gleaned is that the District does utilize a prioritization process to sort the list of students awaiting admission.
What is this person saying? Do literate people really use such passive constructions as "The new insight to be gleaned...?" And shouldn't a school board candidate at least be fluent in English?

The use of jargon and long-winded explanations is the last refuge of the bureaucrat responding to a problem. It allows one to sound erudite and impressive without saying anything at all. Sounds like a good fit for the Claremont school board.

* * *

The accountability hot potato was flying around the City Council chambers at the October 10th city council meeting when, in response to Dean McHenry's questioning about the $17.5 million Palmer Canyon settlement, Councilperson Linda Elderkin wondered aloud, in essence, "Why do we have to keep talking about this?" Or words to that effect. (We're working on video of this, but we're having some technical difficulties, so bear with us.)

Elderkin's question was its own answer. The harder the people at City Hall try to bury things, the more people are going to call them on it.

And City Manager Jeff Parker has been no better, claiming again and again that the settlement was an insurance decision and that the city had done nothing wrong. Yes, Jeff, this was a $17.5 million nuisance settlement. Right.

Let's face it folks, the city's insurer realized that the potential at trial for the plaintiffs to be awarded a much larger judgment led the city's insurer to seek a pretrial settlement. If the insurer did not believe there was a chance that a jury would find liability on the city's part, they would not have made such a generous offer. The insurer, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, has said as much.

By the way, that $17.5 million is believed to be the largest amount ever paid out by the JPIA, which is an insurance pool of California local governments. It's not like they pay out $17.5 million for every slip-and-fall and police or fire liability claim made against its member cities.

At the September 25th Council meeting, Councilmember Corey Calaycay made the lamest defense of all for the city's responsibility for the 2003 fire damage. Calaycay told about his father, who as a doctor was a defendant in a medical malpractice case in which Dr. Calaycay's insurance company made a settlement. Councilmember Calaycay said his father had done nothing wrong, but the insurer settled anyway.

Calaycay's comparison was a false analogy. We can infer from the lack of any malpractice awards being listed against Dr. Calaycay on the California Medical Board's website that the settlement was less than $30,000. In California, anything under $30,000 is not reportable to the Medical Board. These sorts of settlements are true nuisance offers and represent no admission of liability.

There's a big difference between such a low settlement and a $17.5 million one, and the public interest is not advanced by this sort of false reasoning.

It's high time for our elected and appointed officials and their staffs to speak honestly and truthfully to themselves and to us. We deserve no less.

Robbing from the Rich (and Poor), Paying City Hall

A reader pointed us to yesterday's Claremont Courier's letters to the editor. In particular, the reader wanted us to see a letter sent in response to Dean McHenry's recent Op-Ed piece about the irony of the juxtaposition of Claremont's centennial celebration with Paystubgate and the governmental secrecy (BlackOps?) practiced in closed session and other matters.

The letter writer, one William Rook, thinks Claremont's city government is building a fiefdom, complete with serfs - taxpayers.

Rook takes the city to task for the $17.5 million paid out by Claremont's insurer for the homes burnt down in Palmer Canyon and Padua Hills in the 2003 Grand Prix fire. Rook concludes by saying:


This [city's] government sounds like it is being run by Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Maybe we as the people should gather in Nottingham Wilderness Park and take to wearing Claremont green, (complete with appropriate lettering claiming our place as 5th best). Then they could send the code enforcement officer to cite us for illegal use of park property.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Money to Burn

We've been meaning to get around to a couple other items that have surfaced at recent City Council meetings, but Paystubgate has kept us pretty busy.

One of these other stories is the action pushed by Claremont Mayor Peter Yao at the September 25th City Council meeting to dedicate the anticipated transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue from the new Hotel Casa 425 to funding programs for the homeless.

Tony Krickl in the Claremont Courier reported on the Council's discussion on the topic.

(Check out the article - there's a large photo of a group of Claremont homeless milling about the Casa 425 courtyard illustrating the extent of the problem.)

According to the article, city staff estimated the city's anticipated TOT revenue from the Casa 425 to be around $60,000. Staff also claimed that approximately 10% of the kids in Claremont schools are "without a permanent home." The article quoted Claremont 400 stalwart Sue Likens as saying that "it's shocking to think that nearly 500 of our young people are homeless."

But is that number really accurate? As Councilmember Ellen Taylor pointed out during the council's discussion, the Claremont School District includes kids living with relatives or living out of motels as among those without permanent homes. So, we're not talking about a Dickensian scene of 500 homeless waifs wandering the streets of Claremont.

In any case, there were two really unusual aspects to this issue. First, the money being discussed, $60,000 per year, does not exist. No one knows how much revenue Casa 425 might generate. It could be $60,000, or it could be half that. There is no data on the hotel to be able to predict the city's revenue stream from the hotel.

The other, larger problem is the fact that the city has allocated this money without having a program identified for it. It's just money in search of a problem, which is not the most efficient or wise way for a city to spend.

Rather than having groups propose programs and give a proposed budget for those programs, the city is saying, "We have $60,000 a year. Any takers?" Cities usually take the proposals first, then allocate the money after approving the programs. Here, Mayor Yao has done it backwards.

In the discussion on the issue, Councilmembers Taylor, Linda Elderkin, and Corey Calaycay all expressed concern about setting a precedent with this way of doing business. But in the end, only Calaycay voted against the funding mechanism.

Mayor Yao says he got the idea from a League of California Cities conference he attended recently. However, Mayor Yao did not know if the cities that had done this sort of earmarking of tax revenue had already identified specific programs beforehand or not.

Mayor Yao, and the other councilmembers, were apparently under pressure from Sue Likens and the local Interfaith Coalition to get that money set aside. In a lot of ways, Yao's and the council's reaction to that pressure is a lot like their initial reaction to Paystubgate - act without thinking.

Will the money be well-spent? Well, Mayor Yao himself mentioned that the money was needed because of the state's cutback on funding for Tri-City Mental Health, the joint agency run by Claremont, La Verne, and Pomona.

How well run was Tri-City? It filed for bankruptcy in 2004. The state's reasoning for eliminating its funding for Tri-City was that there are state-funded Los Angeles County programs that do the same thing, so why have redundant agencies?

As several of the councilmembers indicated, this method of funding is bad precedent, and nothing good will come of it, no matter how well-intended the actions were.

Crime Watch

The Daily Bulletin reports that an Ontario man was arrested over the weekend on charges of making criminal threats at Scripps College last week.

The suspect, Roderick Crawford, was arrested by Claremont police and is accused of making three threatening phone calls to Scripps last week. The first two calls were bomb threats. Searchers found no bombs after either of the first two calls.

The third time, on Friday, October 12th, the caller demanded money and said he would shoot people if he was not paid.

The article gave no reason for the calls. Crawford is due to be arraigned in Pomona on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Six Degrees of Separation: Claremont, CMC, Kerri Dunn, Gary Lincenberg, Khristine Eroshevich, Anna Nicole



Claremont is home to Claremont McKenna College.




In March 2004, somebody vandalized Kerri Dunn's car in a parking lot at Claremont McKenna College with racial epithets.






In August 2004, CMC visiting professor Kerri Dunn was convicted on eyewitness testimony of vandalizing her own car.






Gary Lincenberg, of Bird, Marella, etc., etc., etc., & Lincenberg, was Dunn's attorney during her trial in Pomona Superior Court.



Dr. Khristine Elaine Eroshevich, who is under investigation by the California Medical Board is represented by Gary Lincenberg.




Anna Nicole, supermodel, died in February, and drugs were implicated. Dr. Khristine Eroshevich was her shrink and prescribed for her more than 1,800 pills, including the chloral hydrate implicated by the medical examiner.


Remember, the Insider connects the dots for you.

(Dr. Eroshevich should hope Lincenberg does a better job for her than he did for Dunn; Dunn was sentenced to one year in Stony Lonesome.)