Claremont Insider: January 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Donut Talk

The Claremont Courier's story about the arrest of Moun Chau, the donut shop owner accused of violating the federal Endangered Species Act, brought some sharp words from Courier reader Hal Hargrave in a letter published in last Wednesday's Courier. (Sorry, the letter is stuck behind the Courier's new pay wall, so no link. You'll have to get a subscription if you want to read it online.)

Hargrave felt that the Courier coverage unfairly singled out Chau's business, Pixie Donuts, which, aside from accepting some ivory shipments three years ago, seems to be a fairly average mom-and-pop business. Hargrave wrote:

Pixie is poetry in motion every morning as June and her staff know the orders of most and work in harmony to move the masses through their small, simple donut shop. They are a Claremont family with their kids going through Claremont schools. They support us and I know I will continue to support them despite the twisted article written about something that took place in 2006. You should have stuck to reporting on “Storm Watch Twenty Ten!”

As I read your description of the all-powerful Department of Fish and game and their aid on Pixie in 2006, all I could picture was the TSA finding a shampoo bottle. Whew, I feel so protected by these almighty governmental agencies.

This all prompted Courier reporter Tony Krick, who wrote the article about Chau, to defend his naming the Pixie Donut Shop in the article. On his COURIER City Beat blog, Krickl argues for the newsworthiness of including the business' name in his news piece. He says:
I am not doubting that Pixies has good doughnuts or the owners are friendly to their customers. But the fact remains that federal agents found dozens of pieces of ivory in the business as well as tools to carve them into decorative products, likely to be sold on to collectors.

While we don't see anything wrong with naming the business in the article - it is, after all, the place that took delivery of the shipments. However, we also don't see the need to boycott the business. The federal indictment didn't name the business or Chau's family as additional defendants, so the implication is that the alleged crime was Chau's alone.

The feds have had over three years to put a case together, so if they had any reason to go after the business itself, they would have. So, in from our vantage, we don't see anything wrong with continuing to patronize Pixie. As we've said before, they do make the best donuts around - at least their weekday fare is very good - not too doughy or greasy, and just the right amount of stuff on top. And, Hargrave is right, the family does seem like good people, whatever personal shortcomings Moun Chau may have had.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Desert Update

Well, it turns out that the Indio City Council did decide to offer some of its employees, including our friend Glenn Southard, golden handshakes as a way of reducing its payroll. As expected, Southard, having designed the very package he desired, took it.

The Desert Sun reports that Southard has announced his decision to retire from Indio, leaving the desert town with a $5 million budget deficit. Southard gets high marks from many in Indio for all the things he accomplished in his five years there. The Sun article lists those good works, some of which included revamping of the city's water system, repaving Indio's roads, and revitalizing of the city's downtown area.

As ever with Southard, there is always a price to pay, and the Desert Sun article also noted Southard's downside:

In recent months, however, Southard's leadership has drawn sharp criticism from council members and valley residents:

In October, Southard asked council members to withdraw consideration of a change to his contract that would have given him more than 10 weeks of vacation a year. He said the issue and swirling questions “became a distraction.”

The city jeopardized $1.5 million in federal funding — earmarked for a major road project and for improving community housing conditions — when two different agencies questioned how the money was spent or the city's actions leading up to it.

City Hall revoked most of its credit cards and drafted new oversight requirements after a Jan. 3 Desert Sun report showed the city's 62 cardholders had charged more than $805,000 since January 2008. That included nationwide travel, frequent meals out and tickets to three national sporting events.

So, Southard sails off into the municipal managment sunset, taking with him a $300,000-plus yearly CalPERS pension, to which he'll indicates he'd like to add consultant fees, hoping that Indio will bring him to let him help with some of the city's unfinished projects.

All this just goes to show the truth in the old saying: when the going gets tough, Glenn gets going.

Earthquake Relief Fundraisers


Wes Woods II tells us on his Claremont Now blog that the Round Table Pizza at the Auto Center in South Claremont is hosting a fundraiser for the Haitian earthquake today from 11am to 11pm. During that time, if Round Table customers say, "Haiti Cause," 20% of the their bill will go to either the American Red Cross fund or the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.


Round Table Pizza
408 Auto Center Dr.
Claremont
(909) 625-2444

Woods also reports that La Parolaccia Osteria at Indian Hill Blvd. and Second St. is having a fundraiser Tuesday, February 2nd, to raise money for the American Red Cross Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund.
La Parolaccia Osteria
201 S. Indian Hill Blvd.
Claremont
(909) 624-1516
* * * * *

Claremont's city website also has information about donating to Haitian earthquake relief drives:
Red Cross Donations For Haiti

The City has received a number of calls regarding how and where people can help the Haiti Earthquake Relief efforts. Red Cross is requesting monetary donation. Our local chapter of the American Red Cross is coordinating donations and has several ways in which residents can contribute. Donation boxes are available at City Hall and the Hughes Center front counters.

Donations may also be made by calling 909-624-0074, mailing in a donation - please indicate "Haiti Earthquake Relief" - in the check memo line to: American Red Cross 2065 N. Indian Hill Boulevard, Claremont, California 91711 or donate online at the following link.

For additional donation opportunities, as well as information on how to volunteer assistance or expertise in Haiti, please visit the web site for the Center for International Disaster Information.

Make an online donation with the Red Cross.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sales Slumps Roll Downhill


Claremont Toyota, whose sales have slumped severely because of the recession, faces even tougher times. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times had a front page story about Toyota's decision to halt the sales and manufacture of eight models because of problems with the gas pedals sticking.

The Times article reported:

Industry experts could not recall any time in recent history when a carmaker had stopped both production and sales of so many models at once. Tuesday's move follows two recent recalls aimed at preventing Toyota-made vehicles from surging out of control, which has been blamed in at least 19 deaths and scores of injuries over the last decade, more than for all other automakers combined.

Toyota could pay dearly for the problem, industry analysts said.

Aside from the immediate drop in sales, Toyota's position as the global sales leader, built on its vaunted reputation for trouble-free cars, is now being called into question.

"This could be an extended issue. It is very serious," said Aaron Bragman, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.

The eight models affected accounted for 57% of U.S. sales last year of all Toyota brands, including Lexus and Scion.

Toyota's woes will hurt Claremont Toyota, and that in turn will trickle down to the City of Claremont, which is heavily dependent on the Toyota dealership for sales tax revenue. At its peak, the local dealership accounted for something like 57% of the City's income from sales tax.

Claremont has been working hard to diversify its sales tax base, but Claremont Toyota remains the town's largest source of that revenue stream. Toyota's decision couldn't come at a worse time for Claremont. The state of California forecasts a $20.7 billion budget deficit through fiscal year 2010-11, thanks to the refusal of the state's leaders to deal with problem in a meaningful way last year. That means the state will be looking to raid more local money to fix its problems, and towns like Claremont will have another budgetary hole to climb out of.

All in all, 2010 is beginning to look a lot like 2009.

Peppertree Square Facelift in the Offing

Peppertree Square, the small shopping center at the southeast corner of Arrow Hwy. and Indian Hill Blvd., is almost ready for its long-overdue renovation. The City's website has all the information, along with a couple watercolor renderings of what the center will look like.

Here's what the City has to say about the matter:

Peppertree Square Redevelopment Plans (Jan 21, 2010)

The City of Claremont is working closely with the property owners and broker of the Peppertree Square Shopping Center, located at the southeast corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway, to improve the site and attract new tenants. Based on feedback from the community, the City, property owners, and broker have developed a plan to renovate the center and bring in two anchor tenants and several small retail shops. In a gap analysis performed earlier this year, residents expressed a desire for a grocery store in the southern portion of the city.

The broker is in negotiations with a major pharmacy and grocery store to occupy the two proposed major vacancies. The grocery tenant's lease is conditioned upon a pharmacy locating into the center. The pharmacy interested in the site requires a drive thru. Staff will be bringing a drive thru ordinance to the City Council which would allow bank and pharmacy drive thrus in the City upon securing a conditional use permit.

Wheeler Architects is preparing the design for the renovation which will be reviewed by the Architectural Commission, Planning Commission, and Council before final approval. The proposed renovations will include new construction and renovation of some of the existing retail space.

The Peppertree renovation has dragged on for almost two years now, and the drive thru may be a sticking point. Claremont bans these, and we suspect that a few people - former mayor and self-appointed town historian Judy Wright comes to mind - would strongly oppose an ordinance allowing for drive thrus. We'll see if the need for sales tax revenue trumps the desire to maintain Claremont's ban.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

City Council Meeting Tonight

The Claremont City Council meets tonight, beginning with a closed session meeting at 5:15pm. The closed session involves negotiations for the 2.66-acre property on Base Line Rd. 1000 feet east of Towne Ave. One other item on the closed session agenda is litigation involving L.A. County and the county's Flood Control District.

The regular session begins at 6:30pm. The agenda seems fairly light. A few items stand out:


If you'd rather stay in, you can watch the council meeting here.
Claremont City Council
City Hall - Council Chambers
225 Second Street
Claremont, CA 91711

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where Are They Now?

Former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard was back in the news recently. Southard, who is now the city of Indio's City Manager, seem to have gotten into hot water over his and his staff's use of city-issued credit cards.

Two reporters for the Desert Sun, Erica Felci and Xochtil Pena, have covered the issue in a series of articles this month. According to the a January 4 Sun article, Indio's city staff spent around $805,000 on its credit cards in a two-year period beginning January, 2008. The Desert Sun article said:

A Desert Sun review of nearly 1,000 pages of credit card statements, however, shows that through October, the city's 62 cardholders spent at least $43,000 more than they had during the same period last year.

The newspaper's investigation also found:
  • Tens of thousands of dollars in credit card bills were racked up monthly with charges to local restaurants, NFL and major league baseball teams — even a a women's clothing store. City administrators have repeatedly refused to explain the purpose of these charges.

  • About one in five employees has a card. Records show the cards were issued to employees at all levels, including a front desk receptionist and the five members of the city's executive team.

  • Statements are not seen regularly by City Council members. After reviewing The Desert Sun's findings, the mayor [Gene Gilbert] said he feels “blindsided” and believes some spending liberties were “abused.”

With Indio facing a current $5 million budget deficit, the Indio City Council took a lot of heat for the credit card expenses, which included the cost of a trip to Quebec for Southard's wife Gale, who accompanied Southard on an official trip. Southard claimed the matter was a mix-up. He had no defense, however, for the cost of a $15 airline baggage charge for Gale for a trip to Sacramento.

Mayor Gilbert's shock came as something of a surprise. Another Desert Sun article noted that in 2006, an accounting audit recommending a review of Indio's credit card policy:
In January 2006, city officials released an audit that showed 18 areas where accounting standards needed to be tightened. That included a notation that receipts were not always included with card statements, making it difficult for the city to determine if a charge was valid.

The following year, the auditor did not include any reportable conditions.

Still, the City Council in 2006 formed a subcommittee to review the issues raised in the audit — including Indio's credit card policy.

Councilwoman Melanie Fesmire was one of two council members on the subcommittee. Former councilman Mike Wilson, a frequent critic of the city's spending habits, was the other.

“2006. Wow. I can't remember doing it,” Fesmire told The Desert Sun last week. “I don't remember being on the committee. I don't remember the audit frankly. If we met, I assume we came out with a report. I don't recall any of it frankly.”

Wilson told The Desert Sun the subcommittee never met.

The Desert Sun also showed the credit card statements to former Indio City Manager Tom Ramirez:

Ramirez recently met with The Desert Sun to review the city's credit card statements, noting the documents contained “big red flags.”

“There is no way in hell they can justify buying Minnesota Viking tickets,” Ramirez said, pointing to a $1,156 charge in October 2008 on the card issued to assistant to the city manager Mark Wasserman. “Nobody at the top is setting the standard for performance. You're talking about taxpayer money.”


Naturally, Southard defended the credit card policy (or in this case non-policy) as the normal way of doing business.

So, once again, Southard creates a problem for a city council, and that council has to take the public heat. Southard's solution, as always, is to runaway. As part of their cost-cutting efforts, Southard and his staff have recommended offering golden handshakes to employees to get them off the payroll. Part of the deal includes giving employees who are over 50 and who have over 5 years of service (read: Glenn Southard) the option of buying up to two additional years of CalPERS retirement credit.

Southard, who has wrangled similar retirement options in his prior places of employment, has never missed chance to feather his nest. The Sun reported that Southard, who has worked for various cities for 36 years, actually has 40 retirement years.

Let's say that Southard can average 2.5% of his salary for each of those years (he gets 2.5% from Claremont and 2.7% from Indio but has also worked for San Clemente and West Covina*). And let's also assume that Southard buys the extra 2 years he is proposing for himself and the rest of his eligible employees. That would give Southard a yearly pension of 2.5% times 42 years, or 105% of his $300,000 annual salary (actually an average of his highest years of salary), along with yearly cost of living increases.

Southard has indicated that if the Indio City Council adopts the golden handshake to balance their budget, he may sacrifice himself by taking it. Southard, as always, is two steps ahead of the rubes he works for. He is turning a self-created crisis into a golden opportunity for himself.

All of this takes us back to Glenn's year in Claremont. Recall that he attacked then-councilmember Jackie McHenry because she questioned Southard's refusal to submit receipts for his reimbursed expenses. Then, he had a majority of the council on his side, so he could afford to take the offensive. This time, though, the Indio City Council is having to take a harder line because of the bad press they've gotten, and Southard is having to step more carefully.

Indio has already recalled most of its city-issued credit cards (though not Glenn's, we suspect), and there will likely be other reforms in the offing. We suggest one more. Go ahead with the golden handshake for all except senior management. It's worth it to eat the cost of firing him rather than rewarding Southard for his constant refusal to implement commonsense financial checks-and-balances.

It's worth it here to take a trip in the Insider Wayback to Claremont in January, 2005, when Southard staged a fight with former Councilmember McHenry in order distract the public from the questions McHenry was raising about Southard's receipts. Time just may be proving McHenry right.

For your viewing pleasure:





*CORRECTION: Southard actually worked for San Juan Capistrano, not San Clemente.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Smogdance 2010


If you're looking for something to do today, head on over to the Laemmle's Claremont 5 Theatre for this year's edition of the Smogdance Film Festival. Smogdance started yesterday and continues today and tomorrow.

The festival features short films from around the world, and there will also be question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, as well as an awards party tomorrow at the Claremont Forum in the Packing House. Smogdance was started in 1998 by the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona and has changed venues this year, leaving the Pomona Fox and moving the City of Trees.

The change in venues was not without some controversy. The Daily Bulletin's David Allen tells us about a feud behind the move:

[Festival director Charlotte] Cousins quietly seized the festival's reins last year from the dA, a Pomona nonprofit, renewing Smogdance's Web site in her name and filing fictitious-name statements for the festival as if it were hers.

She told me there had been differences of opinion with dA officials on film selection and poster art, as well as personality conflicts with some dA directors.

She said she was being squeezed out of the organization - this after winning a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the festival, drawing attention from the New York Times and doubling attendance.

According to David Allen's column, the folks at dA say this was more of a hostile takeover.

_______________________


SMOGDANCE ’10--The 12th Annual Pomona Valley Film Festival
The Claremont 5 Laemmle Theatre
450 W 2nd Street, Claremont, 91711

Saturday, January 23 at 3:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, January 24 at 1:00 p.m and 5:00 p.m.

Pie Day

“Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.”
Jonathan Swift



From what we read on David Allen's blog, today is National Take Your Pie to Work Day, or something like that.

Actually, it's National Pie Day, and the American Pie Council (there really is such a group) offers up some pie trivia:

Learn About the History of Pies

  • Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in "reeds" which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

  • The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

  • The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as "coffyn". There was actually more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

  • Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them "coffins" like the crust in England. As in the Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten, but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffin.

  • Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today "the most traditional American dessert". Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years, that we now commonly use the term "as American as apple pie."

We decided to celebrate by finding a good pie crust recipe and came across an interesting one with a surprise ingredient. Here's hoping you all have a Happy Pie Day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Crime Report

DONUT SHOP OWNER CHARGED

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Moun Chau, the owner of a Claremont donut shop, was indicted by federal officials on January 19th on charges that he illegally purchased and imported elephant ivory from Thailand.

The article said Chau purchased the items on eBay. It went on to say:

Fish and wildlife agents tracked the shipment of tusks to Chau's business in Claremont, where they later seized dozens of ivory pieces. Samples of those items and others from undercover ivory purchases in Thailand were sent to Fish and Wildlife's forensic lab in Ashland, Ore., for DNA testing, which determined they were from endangered African elephants, Dean said.

A joint investigation by her agency and the Royal Thai Police, with help from animal welfare groups such as the Freeland Foundation, led to the indictment of Chau and his alleged accomplice in Thailand, Samart Chokchoyma, 36.

The Times article didn't name the business, but according to the Claremont Courier, Chau owns Pixie Donuts, which is located in the Vons Shopping Center at Base Line Rd. and Mills Ave.

According to the indictment (posted online by the Daily Bulletin), Moun's transactions occurred in 2006. EBay has since banned the sale of ivory on its site.

(One non-crime note: Pixie Donuts also has the best donuts in the immediate area. This news is a real surprise. )


OTHER CRIME NEWS

Wes Woods II over at the Daily Bulletin posted a couple snippets of other police blotter action:

The Claremont PD is warning residents to watch out for scammers claiming to solicit donations for Haitian earthquake victims. CPD reminds people to use common sense, to verify the organization's identity, and to not give out any personal identifying information.

The city of Claremont also has Red Cross donation boxes located at City Hall and the Alexander Hughes Community Center. More info here.

The CPD offers residents this advice:

Haitian Earthquake: Be Wary of Donation Solicitations

Claremont PD reminds Internet users who receive appeals to donate money in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to those requests. Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization and/or a good cause.

Therefore, before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, to include the following:
  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
Anyone who has received an e-mail referencing the above information or anyone who may have been a victim of this or a similar incident should notify the IC3 via www.ic3.gov.

* * * * *

Wood's Claremont Now blog also carried news of an armed robbery at the Baskin-Robbins at 973 W. Foothill Blvd. The robbers apparently got away with $220. No word on whether they took that in a cup or cone.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Farewell, CMA

TOUGH TIMES

We were sorry to see the Claremont Museum of Art close its doors at the end of December. We liked the idea of a museum to showcase local artists and hoped it would make a go of it.

The museum had the misfortune of opening just before the economy tanked, and that certainly contributed to its demise. It also may have suffered from too small an audience. We'd always wondered how they'd be able to support itself when its core audience came from a town of only 35,000 people. CMA didn't seem to have much wide appeal outside Claremont. For example, a December, 2008, fundraising dinner in Pasadena ended up costing more than it brought in.

When it was still a going concern, the museum did make a splash with a $10 million gift from an anonymous donor. The donor, however, attached some conditions to the gift, and the museum wasn't able to use the money for its $900,000 annual operational budget. In the end, the donor pulled the $10 million, and the museum's fundraising efforts fizzled.

Facing closure, the CMA came to the City for money last September. They asked city staff for $4,500, and staff dutifully complied by giving the museum the money without a public hearing. That money helped keep the museum open until the end of October, when the CMA again had to go hat in hand to the City for a second cash infusion of $5,721, again without public input.

During that period, the museum made some changes that included expanding its board to include former Claremont mayors Sandy Baldonado and Ellen Taylor (the kiss of fiscal death, if the CMA had really thought about it). We interpret the inclusion of these two as a sign that the 400 had taken up the museum's cause, which made sense because some of the biggest donors came from the 400. In any case, the museum also closed its store, cut back its hours, and laid off all except one employee.

Former Mayor Ellen Taylor
blowing hard

ONCE MORE TO THE WELL

None of the museum's changes made any difference, and by November, the museum had to come before the City Council for $18,879 from the City's Public Art Fund to keep it going until the end of December. The city staff report from the 400's ever-reliable Mercy Santoro gives the background.

At a meeting on November 11th, the City Council heard a pitch from the museum. Among the pitchmen was none other than former Mayor Taylor, who, with her typical Ellen eloquence, explained how the museum go in such dire straits: "...things came [up] and just kicked us in the goddamned butt. [at around 3:17:00 of the meeting video]"

As we might expect, Councilmember Pedroza and Mayor Pro Tem Elderkin were the most sympathetic to Taylor's message from the Claremont 400 that we really need this museum (and you better support it). In her comments, Taylor kept using the 400's buzzword "vision," implying that that anyone who voted against the City donating the money was blind to what was best for the City. In other words, you're either with us, or you're a bad person.

Taylor's words also carried the implicit threat that any councilmember heartless enough to vote against giving the money would be done as a local politician. It's the 400's polite way of strongarming people (or The People) to get money they think they need: Why exactly do you hate the museum? Other societies might call this extortion.

Councilmember Peter Yao was really the lone voice of reason, pointing out first that he was concerned about what might be construed as a gift of public money, which would have been an illegal action. Yao further pointed out that because the City had essentially provided the museum with 100% of its working budget, it had a duty to question how effectively its money would be used. After all, Yao asked, what good would it do to give the museum the city funds if it was just going to delay an inevitable failure?

Another question Yao posed was to asked what plan the museum had to raise the $200,000 they were aiming for to fund its 2010 budget. None of the museum representatives could answer that, other than to say that they had formed a working group to work on a plan to develop a plan for fundraising. In other words, they had no real plan.

The discussion included other absurdities. Among these was the idea, raised by Pedroza and Elderkin, that the museum store was a moneymaker. Despite comments from a museum representative that the store had been "hemorrhaging money," Elderkin, assured as ever of certain certainties, wanted the museum to reopen the store. Elderkin also expressed absolute certitude in the museum's fundraising team, which surely portends greater fiscal problems for the City if, as expected, Elderkin takes her turn as mayor in March.

Still, in the end, the council bowed to the pressure and voted unanimously to give CMA its $18,879 (we never did figure out what changed Councilmember Yao's mind). The museum had its money and went off merrily to find the $200,000 they were sure was waiting for them. Unfortunately a final fundraiser managed to raise only $26,000 in pledges, and on December 27th, the museum shut down.


SONG REMAINS THE SAME

You'd think the 400 would have learned at least a little financial sense from the Claremont Trolley experience. If you'll recall, the City found it cheaper to put the trolley into storage and eat the lease payments rather than continue to fund its three-year $889,000 budget.

Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary and lacking any specific data, the 400, through its mouthpieces, trotted some of the same arguments for the museum that it used in its failed attempt to keep the trolley going: it brings economic benefit to the city; it just needs a few more months to really get going; we just need to make a few changes to turn it around.

Well, they got their way, and the museum closed anyway. In the process, the city frittered away nearly $30,000 at a time when Claremont is having to lay off employees and cut their benefits, reduce services, and raise fees in order to address a $2 million dollar budget deficit for the current fiscal year. As Councimember Yao pointed out, one can be supporter of the museum on the personal level, but one should not turn that personal view into a public one at the cost of vital taxpayer dollars.

With the 400, though, rationality has limits, and Yao's arguments fell on deaf ears. The nearly $30,000 Claremont doled out to the museum may be chump change to city staff, but the city's deficit is really as much the result of the accumulation of decades of these stupid little financial decisions as it is a matter of the current recession.

Our suggestion to future councils is to just say "No" the next time the 400 comes calling, no matter how painful that may be. A little tough love might be good for them and for the city in the long run.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

City Meetings on Tap

The Claremont City Council is hosting one of its semi-regular neighborhood meet-and-greets tonight at 7pm at the Blaisdell Community Center. Come on down and get your flesh pressed by a couple of your council representatives:

City Council Neighborhood Forum - Blaisdell Community Center

7:00 - 9:00 PM
440 S. College Ave.
Claremont
(909) 399-5460


* * * * *


The City's finances move to the front burner with Claremont scheduling a series of public budget meetings beginning in February. You are cordially invited to vent:

(Click to Enlarge)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where Are They Now?

We were wondering what became of Oliver Chi, Claremont's former Assistant to the City Manager (photo, left). You may recall that when last we heard, Chi had just resigned as City Manager of Rosemead. That was back in April, 2009.

Well, Chi was back in the news last week. The story, as told by Rebecca Kimitch in Pasadena Star-News, is a little convoluted. It begins with a former Rosemead councilmember, John Nunez, who lost his re-election campaign in March, 2009. Soon after that election, Nunez filed for unemployment benefits for losing his City Council seat.

After Rosemead officials learned that Nunez was claiming the benefits, they filed an appeal with the state's Employment Development Department (EDD). The EDD, however, sided with Nunez, and he has collected a total of $11,000 so far. All that money came from the Rosemead coffers because the EDD bills Rosemead directly for its workers' unemployment claims. This all prompted several outraged state officials to threaten to change the state's laws governing such claims. The Star-News article explained:

Since Nunez's claim became public, two state lawmakers have challenged its validity and threatened to change state law. State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, are helping the city appeal Nunez's claim for a third time.

This time, they are citing a section of state code that seems to explicitly prohibit elected officials from receiving unemployment.

"We have written a very clear letter to the EDD, indicating how they have misapplied the law. But we have yet to hear a response," [current Rosemead City Manager Jeffrey] Allred said.

The Nunez matter caused someone to take a closer look at what Rosemead was paying out and to whom. Turns out that, after he resigned last year, Oliver Chi also filed for and was granted unemployment benefits. According to the Star-News piece, Chi collected around $10,000, which was apparently a surprise to the city of Rosemead. City officials there seem to have thought they were done with Chi when they paid him $350,000 under the settlement agreement he and the Rosemead council reached prior to Chi's resignation.

Chi, unlike Nunez, had the good graces to return the $10,000 he received for his unemployment claim. In the article, Chi defended himself:
Chi said he had every right to collect unemployment after he left his post in April 2009 since he resigned "under the threat of termination." He agreed to return the payments in order to maintain a good relationship with city staff and officials.

What's $10,000 between friends?

This really ought to show folks who think that every high level managers in the public sector can be every bit as greedy as the people who brought you the tech stock and real estate bubbles and the Wall Street investment banking firms that were responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008. The scale may be smaller, but a fellow can dream.

If the rank-and-file public employees who do the actual work and the voters who foot the bills paid any attention to the money lavished on some of these guys and gals in salaries, benefits, and severance packages, the outrage would be every bit as great as what you're seeing right now with with bank bonuses.

In fact, it may already be reaching that point. In our next "Where Are They Now?" installment, we'll look back to Claremont and points south.

Storm Clouds

Okay, campers, rise and shine! It's going to be a wet one, so don't forget your rain gear.

The rain started yesterday afternoon, and it doesn't look to let up until the end of the week. The National Weather Service reports that we can expect a series of three storms to move in from the west courtesy of El NiƱo. The strongest of the three will hit last and should arrive around late Wednesday or early Thursday.

The NWS has issued a winter storm advisory for Southern California. Foothill areas are predicted to receive a total of between nine and fifteen inches of precipitation in the coming week, and areas burned by last year's 160,000-acre Station Fire will be faced with the potential for debris flows.

As always, you can find hourly local weather information from the automated weather station at Los Angeles County Fire 62 on Mills Ave. just south of Mt. Baldy Rd. Speaking of which, if you need sandbags, the Daily Bulletin's Wes Woods II tells us that you can get them at the local fire stations. You may want to listen to Woods rather than the City of Claremont, or you could end up taking a longer drive then you need to.

As you might expect, the airwaves have been filled with chatter about this weather event. The commotion is enough to wake the dead, or even the e-dead.