Claremont Insider: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

State Senate School Journalism Bill

Censorship in Claremont, always a popular subject among the Claremont 400, is in the spotlight once again. The California State Senate is considering a bill to protect public school and public university journalism teachers from reprisals by school administrators who want to quell so-called "negative" stories - that is, stories that cast their institutions in unfavorable light.

The bill, SB 1370, was introduced by State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and is sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA).

Will Bigham has an article in the Daily Bulletin on the subject. Bigham's article notes that in their support of SB 1370, the CNPA has cited an incident at Claremont High School, where former principal Carrie Allen removed a respected teacher from her position as faculty advisor to the school paper, The Wolfpack. Bigham explained:

The reassignment of Becca Feeney, former adviser to Claremont High School's Wolfpacket, is one of the instances cited by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a sponsor of the bill.

Feeney, an English teacher, was stripped of her Wolfpacket duties in July 2007 following a clash with Carrie Allen, then the principal of Claremont High.

In May 2007, the newspaper published a series of articles critical of long-term substitute instructors teaching advanced-placement classes.

Shortly after the stories were published, Allen lashed out at Feeney and the newspaper in a letter placed in Feeney's personnel file, according to a written description of the events that Feeney submitted to the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

As we noted back in August, 2007, the Wolfpack, under Feeney, won an award from the Los Angeles Times for a series of articles they published in 2005 about the Claremont Unified School District secretly allowing author Jeremy Iverson to enroll at CHS posing as a student in order to write a book about life as a high schooler.

Both the Iverson incident and the use of substitute teachers for AP classes are things that parents and kids would be concerned about, and the only way they discovered these things was from the Wolfpack. Yet, the CUSD administration would have students and parents denied that important information.

None of this oddball behavior regarding censorship is new to Claremont. Just consider the recent Jonathan Petropoulos-Nazi-looted art story that Claremont McKenna College may or may not have tried to squelch (depending on whom you talk to) before it the story was published in the Claremont Independent.

Claremont, you see, is populated by a good number of faux civil libertarians, a good number of whom are on the CUSD board or on the City Council, yet who have remained silent on this and many other similar issues. That silence you hear is the uproar over at the local Democratic Club over the goings on at their local high school. And, as we wrote in a follow-up to our August post about the removal of Becca Feeney from the Wolfpack:


In more absurd CUSD action,
Will Bigham in today's Bulletin writes that the school board apparently violated the Brown Act during Monday night's meeting.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to long-time school board observers. The Claremont 400 has had little respect for the Brown Act and has fairly consistently sought to conduct its business behind closed doors. In its heyday controlling the city council,
the 400's actions earned Claremont a Black Hole Award in October 2000 from the California First Amendment Coalition.

That philosophy no doubt informed the decision to remove the faculty advisor from Claremont High School's student paper, the Wolfpack, as we noted yesterday. One good thing about these small-town
Savonarolas' actions - through their attempts at hiding their business from the public eye and at controlling what news gets out, they're helping shape the resolve of a few future journalists and artists who are now students under this absurdist regime.

So, Claremont's gift to the world isn't its consistently bad record on First Amendment issues; it's the Journalism Teacher Protection Act, which is what SB 1370 would be called should it become law. Like Claremont's Cookie Grinch, Mayor Ellen Taylor, this is simply more evidence illuminating the real characters of the group running the town. It's comforting to know that some good comes out of these continuing bad acts.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Affordable Housing in the Village?

Mayor Ellen Taylor Ready
to Huff and Puff on
American Dream Folks
We got some mail in on the affordable housing issue from a reader who has some reservations about the selection process for the affordable housing committee being assembled by the Claremont City Council.

The screening of committee applicants is being conducted by Councilmembers Ellen Taylor and Sam Pedroza. Taylor has a well-deserved reputation for trying to bully her way through these things, so our condolences go out to Pedroza, who will need the patience of a Girl Scout to deal with Taylor, who will try to load up the affordable housing committee with the same people responsible for pushing the failed Base Line Rd. project.

Our reader commented:
The Courier article regarding the selection of the committee to review, and presumably select, sites for low income housing development seems to suggest that the committee might be "loaded". If past experience is any foresign, the committee will include Sharon Hightower, Karen Vance and [Andrew] Winnick with Sharon appointed as the chair.

Wouldn't it be nice to see a committee appointed with entirely new individuals who may not have biases or prejudices in the matter.

The Courier article (Wednesday, March 19th, page 4) the reader referred to isn't posted online, but it was notable for quoting then-Mayor Peter Yao, who, as usual, managed to mischaracterize his fellow councilmembers positions on the issue. For instance, Yao claimed that Councilmember Corey Calaycay was "not interested in building it anywhere."

Yao's statement is not borne out by Calaycay's public positions on the issue, which seemed more supportive of having the affordable housing spread throughout the community in the spirit of the inclusionary housing ordinance the Claremont Area League of Women Voters spent so much time pursuing a couple years ago.

The March 25th edition of the Courier had another article on affordable housing. That article, Tony Krickl is posted online. Krickl wrote that one possibility for the affordable housing project is the old Courier building on College Ave. near the Metrolink station.

The Courier site is owned by The Olson Co., which had planned on developing it as a mixed-use condo project. However, because of the housing market downturn, Olson has put their plans on hold. In the meantime, the People for the American Dream, the group that had opposed the Base Line Rd. project, has met with Olson representatives, as Krickl reported:
A community group called Citizens for the American Dream feels it can not wait for the city to act anymore. The group strongly opposed the affordable housing project on Baseline Road and worked hard to make sure it was never built.

With the city’s task force on affordable housing yet to be assembled, members of the community group are already trying to make arrangements for a new project.

Recently, 3 members of the Citizens for the American Dream met with executives of the Olson Company, who have plans in place for a development project at 111 S. College Ave., the former location of the Claremont COURIER.

“We told them that we are not representing the city, but that we want to help the city find an appropriate site for the project,” said Linda Kovach, who attended the meeting.

The other 2 group members, Joseph O’Toole and Bruce Mayclin, have both applied to sit on the city’s affordable housing task force.

Ms. Kovach said that after crunching some numbers to study its financial feasibility, Olson company officials responded positively to the idea of creating an affordable housing project at the site.

Claremont's new mayor, however, can be expected to put the kibosh on any plan put forward by the American Dream group, as she has consistently done in the past.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Southard Takes On A Councilmember - Again

We had several more responses to our recent posts about former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard. One reader wrote in to say:

Okay, this is gonna be gooooood to watch. Compare and contrast:

The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA.)
April 18, 2006, Tuesday

...Indio's population increased 10 percent between 2004 and 2005 alone, to more than 66,000. It is now the largest and fastest-growing city in the Coachella Valley, according to estimates by the California Department of Finance...

Gilbert said the need to immediately deal with growth is one reason the council agreed to pay Southard $240,000 a year, one of the highest city-manager salaries in the state. The council will decide in the next few weeks whether to pay Southard a bonus of up to 10 percent, he said. Gilbert said Southard deserves the bonus if he continues performing well.

The Desert Sun
March 21, 2008

...Indio, with nearly 1,500 homes in foreclosure in the city's limits, is leading valley cities in taking a stand.

A new law goes into effect April 4 targeting abandoned homes with overgrown landscaping, stagnant pools and other eyesores that scream "empty" to squatters.


Glenn Southard deserved a growing salary because Indio was growing rapidly -- which means that he must deserve to see his salary shrink now. Right? Yeah, pull the other leg. Funny! Glenn Southard deserves a large salary because of the need to deal with rapid economic growth, and Glenn Southard deserves a large salary because of the need to deal with rapid economic decline. I'm gonna pop some popcorn and take a front-row seat for his next bonus review.

Well, dear reader, it's nice to know that Southard took some of that famed Claremont rationality with him when he fled to the desert in 2005.

And it looks like Southard also took his infamous temper with him as well. Another reader sent in link to a news story on the Palm Springs ABC TV affiliate KESQ Channel 3.

According to the KESQ story, Indio Councilmember Mike Wilson is feuding with Southard over a matter involving an Indio representative to the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control Board. Wilson accused Southard of illegally leaking information to the Desert Sun newspaper:

Indio City Councilmember Mike Wilson says that City Manager Glenn Southard illegally tipped off the Desert Sun newspaper last week to the city's intentions of removing Duran from the bug board.

Wilson and Southard then got into a face-to-face verbal spar.

Southard addressed Wilson and the rest of the council, saying, "I think I'll speak for myself, you know, thanks Eddie, but I intend to speak out as long as I see something wrong. If council sees something wrong with it they can deal with it. First off, this is the most absurd 'bait and switch' comment I've ever had. We have a meltdown at the Bug Board and all of a sudden the council has 'violated the Brown Act' and 'I've done something.' Produce the quotes, produce the facts on the violation of the Brown Act. But just making these silly allegations, produce something -otherwise. Let's stop it. You can't accuse people of something with nothing. Produce it."

Wilson responded, "I intend to. I intend to, Mr. City Manager. This is the fourth time you've done something like this. You like to play games."

Nothing new here. When Southard was still in Claremont in 2005, he feuded with then-Councilmember Jackie McHenry in a witchhunt of epic proportions (mostly made up of unsubstantiated claims by Southard and his staff). When a censure of McHenry was proposed, and an actual investigation was threatened, Southard backed off, electing to shut up rather than put up.

And, even farther back, after the 1999 Irvin Landrum shooting, Southard publicly released an old criminal record for Irvin Landrum's uncle Obee Landrum in order to discredit the uncle. Some critics of the Southard regime accused Southard of misusing access to criminal records to find the information. The Claremont 400, including present Mayor Ellen Taylor, refused to criticize Southard in public: Oh, that's just Glenn, they said, just as they're saying it now with Taylor.

The video of the recent Indio council meeting where the blowup happened catches Wilson and Southard yammering at each other. If you watch the new video, you'll notice that at no point does Southard actually deny Councilmember Wilson's accusations. An old Southard trick: When confronted with an allegation, don't address the substance of the claim. Instead, Attack! By the time your opponent is done backpedaling, the media will have forgotten what the original accusation was.

Sure seems like old times.... Indio ought to do what Claremont finally learned. They need to call his bluff. We predict Southard will be gone from Indio in a heartbeat once people there start seeing through his games.

Say, it's a shame we don't have anything in the Insider vaults showing what Southard was like when he was here. We'll have to hunt around and see if anything turns up.

Packing House Wins Award

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed had a post about the 27th Los Angeles Conservancy preservation awards. The Claremont Packing House received an award for adaptive reuse. The Conservancy's press release said:

Claremont Packing House, Claremont -- The last visible link to Claremont’s pioneering history in the citrus industry was transformed into a thriving center for arts, entertainment, retail, and community services, becoming a model of adaptive reuse and an anchor for revitalization.

The conservancy apparently did not look at the effectiveness or economic viability of the Packing House reuse. Consumers will ultimately have the say on that count.

The awards will be given out Thursday, May 8th, at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $125 per person. Call (213) 623-2489 for more information or email

Friday, March 28, 2008

Three Forks Makeover

Will Bigham in the Daily Bulletin posted a brief piece about Three Forks Restaurant in the Claremont Packing House having to change names after receiving a letter from a Texas restaurant called III Forks:

CLAREMONT - One of the hottest new restaurants in the area will likely be changing its name.

Three Forks Chop House, located in the city's downtown Packing House, received a cease and desist letter in December from the owners of a Texas-based restaurant called III Forks, said Mark Bollinger, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother.

Bigham's piece said that Three Forks will be changing its name soon to "The Forks."

We wrote about the problem and the similarities between the two places last month.

2008 Claremont Folk Fest

The 28th Annual Claremont Folk Music Festival is set for Saturday, May 3rd, at Sycamore Elementary School, located at 225 W. 8th St. in Claremont.

Tickets for this year's festival go on sale beginning this Saturday, March 29th, at 9am. The tickets are $50 each for adults. Children under 12 accompanied by adults can get in free.

From Saturday on, you can order tickets here.

The 2008 festival is headlined by two big acts: Jackson Browne and Taj Majal, who will close the show. The festival will run from 10am to 8pm, and there will be plenty of fun activities for kids, as well as food and other entertainment.

For more information, contact the Claremont Folk Music Center, which runs the event.

Claremont Folk Music Center
220 Yale Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 624-2928

Claremont Red Cross Charity Event Tomorrow

The Claremont Red Cross is holding it's annual Walk on the Wild Side tomorrow, Saturday, March 29th, at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens and Cahuilla Park. The event runs from 8am to 2pm and is co-hosted by the local Red Cross Chapter and the Claremont Police Department.

There will be a 5K walk in the Botanic Gardens. Registration for the walk is $2o for youths - kids 3-17 years old, $25 for adults, and $80 for families if you register by today. Registration tomorrow is an extra $5. Check-in for the walk will begin at 8am at the Claremont Youth Activities Center (YAC) at 1717 N. Indian Hill Blvd. in Cahuilla Park. Participants have from between 9am and 12pm to complete the walk.

You can register for the 5K at the Claremont Red Cross website or in person at their office at 2065 N. Indian Hill Blvd. Call (909) 624-0074 for more information.

The YAC will also host a blood drive and, beginning at 10am, live music by the classic rock band "The Answer." At 11:30am, food will be available at the Fair. Besides those activities, there's an opportunity drawing (we used to call these raffles way back when) with many prizes, all valued at over $100. Opportunity tickets are $20 each.

Saturday, March 29th, 8am to 2pm
2008 Walk on the Wild Side

For Information Contact:

American Red Cross, Claremont Chapter
2065 N. Indian Hill Blvd.
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 624-0074

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mayor Taylor Gets Early Nod for Award

Centinel at the Foothill Cities blog picked up on the run-in Claremont's new mayor Ellen Taylor had with a group of Girl Scouts two weeks ago. Centinel's post is titled "Cookie Monster Becomes Claremont Mayor."

Centinel nominated Taylor for Grinch of the Year, and fellow blogger Frazgo concurred:

I had to do a double take…the post is great, when runs its nominations for Grinch of the year toss it in. I’m gonaa call it cookiegate in my recap of the blogs. You guys just crack me up.

FYI: Last year's Blogging LA Grinch of the Year winner was Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. Let's keep the award in the San Gabriel Valley in 2008 - Ellen for Grinch!

If you missed the story, you can catch up on the all the Girl Scout cookiegate news here.

Tri-City Disbands Advisory Board

Tri-City Mental Health Center, the troubled mental health services agency run by the cities of Claremont, La Verne, and Pomona, has disbanded its citizen advisory board.

The Daily Bulletin's Will Bigham reports that the Tri-City Mental Health Commission was dissolved by the agency's governing board. The article quoted La Verne Mayor and Tri-City governing board vice-president Jon Blickenstaff:

Several former commissioners have been critical of the board's decision to disband the commission, even raising questions about the legality of the move.

But Blickenstaff said the board "did everything by following the word of our legal counsel," and was even encouraged by several commissioners to disband the commission.

"Many of them themselves used the word `dysfunctional' to describe their work, partly because they couldn't get enough participation," Blickenstaff said.

Tri-City's governing board is seeking applicants for 10 positions on a new advisory board. Applications are due by April 18th and are available on the agency's website. You can also call (909)623-6131 for information.

Tri-City filed for bankruptcy in 2004 after over-extending itself by expanding its services too fast. At the time, Tri-City had over $20 million in outstanding debts. The agency did not emerge from bankruptcy until August, 2007.

A state of California review panel found that Tri-City was a redundant agency, providing services that are also available through the County of Los Angeles. The state panel recommended disbanding Tri-City.

Why did they stop caring after 2000?

Wilderness Park News

Click Map to Enlarge
The Claremont Courier reported yesterday that the past few months has seen a rise in car burglaries at the parking lot for the Claremont Wilderness Park. According to the article, by Tony Krickl: the past several months, an increasing amount of car burglaries has worried some park visitors and has the Claremont Police Department searching for solutions. The recent trend began on June 29, when 4 cars were broken into between the hours of 3:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.

Since the incident, 17 more cars have been burglarized while parked at the Wilderness Park parking lot, Claremont Police Sergeant Mike Ciszek said. The latest incident happened on Friday, March 14, between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. when a woman's purse was stolen.

In all cases, a window was busted open and valuables were grabbed from inside. Items of value - purses, wallets, backpacks and cell phones - were often left on car seats in plain view of a potential thief. With incidents taking place from early morning to late afternoon on random days of the week, police say there is no pattern to look out for.

The article (not posted on the Courier's website) did not make clear which Wilderness Park lot was being targeted. There is one at the end of Mills Ave. about 1/4 mile north of Mt. Baldy Rd., but the photo accompanying the article showed the one at Mills Ave. and Mt. Baldy Rd.

The article said that the police have no leads currently, and the police department is considering putting security cameras in the lots. The main lesson is a common sense one: park visitors should not keep valuables in cars or at least not in plain sight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alvarez Deconstructed

Those of you interested in the Xavier Alvarez saga might want to take a look at the Foothill Cities blog. Beginning yesterday, they enlisted the help of Claremont Graduate University Ph.D candidate Murray Bessette to give a full analysis of the story.

Bessette's coverage continues today.

City Council Recap

A brief note on last night's Claremont City Council meeting:

As we expected, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor was named Mayor during the council reorganization at the beginning of the meeting. Taylor's Girl Scout cookie escapade didn't stop Councilmember Corey Calaycay from nominating Taylor or the rest of the council from approving of the nomination. In Claremont, tradition still trumps bad behavior.

Some Girl Scouts did show up at the meeting and got to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, during public comment one of them politely addressed the council without mentioning the Taylor incident, thanked the council for supporting the Girl Scouts and presented each council member with a box of cookies.

During the council reorganization, there were some indications of tension between outgoing Mayor Peter Yao and Councilmember Calaycay. The mayor and mayor pro tem positions are traditionally rotated by seniority, so with Taylor becoming mayor, that left Calaycay in line for the mayor pro tem slot. However, when the time came, Linda Elderkin first nominated Calaycay for Mayor Pro Tem. Yao then nominated Sam Pedroza, who showed remarkable class by declining the nomination. Because there were no objections to Calaycay's nomination, he was approved without a vote. Yao never did give his rationale for wanting to bypass Calaycay.

So there you have it: Mayor Taylor and Mayor Pro Tem Calaycay.

For the time being, Taylor seemed chastened by the reaction to her cookie fit and was on her best behavior. Though she no doubt wanted to dust off the old red light timer for members of the public addressing the council, she ran the meeting without it. And, the meeting's Internet feed also continued without Taylor pulling the plug.

As to business, the downtown trolley lease was approved, Phase One of Padua Park was okayed for placing out to bid, the downtown salon restrictions were approved, tweaking the Land Use and Development Code was debated, and the council reviewed a proposal by the Uncommon Good charity and Claremont High School's Teen Green club to build a "green dome" facility at Cahuilla Park.

The Uncommon Good proposal, incidentally, was pushed by two Claremont insiders (small "i"): Claremont Auto Center owner Roger Hogan and J. "Not a Claremont Resident" Michael Fay.

We'll try to delve into some of these matters in more detail in coming days.

Pomona College Names Sisson Treasurer

Pomona College has tabbed Los Angeles City Administrative Officer Karen Sisson to be its next treasurer, overseeing the college's $130 million budget and $1.7 billion endowment.

Will Bigham had an article in the Daily Bulletin on the Sisson appointment.

Sisson is a Pomona alum and is probably picking a good time to leave the City of Los Angeles, which is facing a $400 million budget deficit after already having had to cut $155 million from its current fiscal year's operating budget.

Sisson's experience with LA's budget problems didn't escape Charles Johnson's notice over at the Claremont Conservative:

My main question: God knows I'm no finance guru, but does Pomona really want to entrust that task to someone who managed the City of Los Angeles into a $155 million deficit?

(I guess when you're jugging around with a $7 billion dollar budget, $155mil is chump change.)

Naturally Sisson had a series of recommendations to reduce the shortfall by $117 million, "including the sale of three former animal shelters and a delay in the construction of police and fire stations."

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed gave a brief biography for Sisson when she was named Los Angeles' CAO last year:

[Posted on LA Observed, 2/2/07]:
Her extensive career in public finance includes eight years as Chief Financial Officer of Los Angeles World Airports, where she was an architect of LAX’s post-9/11 Interim Financial Plan. The plan’s success resulted in LAX receiving a double-A rating from Standard & Poor’s - the highest ever rating for a general airport revenue bond.

In her new role, Sisson follows William T. Fujioka, who retired after more than seven years of distinguished service as City Administrative Officer. Sisson began serving as Acting City Administrative Officer in early December.

Sisson has held progressively responsible positions with the City of Pasadena, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and one of the City’s financial advisory firms, Public Resources Advisory Group. Her private sector experience includes positions with Countrywide Funding Corporation and the former Chemical Bank in New York.

She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago in Finance and Public Management, and a BA in International Relations from Pomona College.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Queen Ellen Ascends the Throne

Well, there was plenty of feedback to Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor's boorish behavior last week.

One reader wrote in to us to suggest that we band together to buy up all of the cookies from the Girl Scout troop that got Taylorized:

Couldn't we launch a campaign to buy cookies from the girl scout group who was threatened by Her Majesty and send said cookies to either the Taylor Law Office (*** North Indian Hill), or to the City Council meetings??

We could call it "Trefoils for Taylor"

(Trefoils are the cookies shaped like the Girl Scout logo)

Any contact info for Maya West's troop??

Not a bad idea. Unfortunately, the cookie sale ended on Sunday, and we don't have contact info for West's troop. There is some contact information for the local Girl Scout Council office in Montclair on their group's website, as well as information about events and volunteering opportunities.

As we wrote last Friday, there was also a blog post on LA Now over at the LA Times website, and the Claremont Courier had a couple letters touching on Girl Scout cookie sales. The first letter, by Courier reader Leah Kay Ketter, questioned whether Taylor's actions were a good re-election strategy:

I must admit I’m a bit baffled: Last week, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor found it necessary to summon a Claremont police officer to disperse a troop of 8-year-old Girl Scouts selling cookies.

The Courier also had a nice letter from Sandy Silva, the CEO of the Girl Scouts' Spanish Trails Council, thanking Claremonters for their support of Girl Scouting:

As this year’s Girl Scout Cookie Sale comes to a close at the end of March, I would like to extend thanks and appreciation to the Claremont community for your ongoing support of Girl Scouting. Every year, girls use this unique opportunity to learn vital financial literacy skills—budgeting, goal setting and customer service skills. They learn to dream big, handle rejection and to persevere in spite of it. The hard-earned skills and abilities will prove invaluable throughout their lives and helps to develop our girls into young ladies of courage, confidence and character.

Silva's letter actually has no mention of Taylor, and is, unlike our Ellen, perfectly gracious in extending thanks to the community. Over on the Spanish Trails' website, there is a CEO's Blog, which had this commentary from Silva, along with the text of her Courier letter:

This past week, I was surprised to read in my very own Claremont Courier an interesting (to say the least) article about our girls selling cookies and how a member of the city council took exception to the girls selling in front of a local business. Issues of safety were raised, business permits, who approved their presence at the place of business, etc. As I read the article I thought to myself, there will be a lot of Girl Scout supporters reading this story and I am sure the majority will say to themselves (as I did) hey, let girls do their thing!

On Sunday, I visited with a senior troop in front of Starbucks in the Claremont "village" and their feedback was that people stopping by the booth were supportive. I have received quite a few calls and emails from friends and neighbors--all cheering our girls on. Surely our troop leaders and volunteers take extra care of girls when they are out selling (especially so if the girls were their daughters). Our girls are smart young ladies. I doubt we should have fear that they will run crazed into the street, banging on car windows, screaming "buy my cookies, or else!" We have the proper permits and approvals--we make sure we do things right when it comes to selling cookies. All in all, Claremont, like the other cities within our jurisdiction support our girls and we, as a Council and a Girl Scout community, are grateful that they do. Despite run-ins with the occasional "Cookie Grinch."

* * *

Speaking of Queen Ellen, tonight is the Claremont City Council's reorganization meeting. They have these annually, and the main order of business is the selection of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. The positions have traditionally rotated, but because current Mayor Peter Yao, Taylor, and the Claremont 400 did not want Councilmember Corey Calaycay in line for the mayor's position this year, the council kept Yao as mayor for a second term.

This has happened in the recent past when the Claremonsters wanted to keep Jackie McHenry from having an opportunity to be mayor. Paul Held was allowed to be mayor for two one-year terms, so that the best McHenry could do was Mayor Pro Tem.

There's always a lot of lip service paid to the fact that mayor's position is mostly ceremonial. However, the mayor does set the agenda for council meetings with the city manager, and the mayor also assigns the other councilmembers to various local agency seats such as the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito Vector Control, the Foothill Transit board, or the League of California Cities delegation, to name a few.

Held, you may recall, wielded the power of the mayor position like a petty tyrant, and you can expect more of the same from Taylor, who, as her Girl Scout confrontation showed, didn't need the position to behave intolerably. Look for Ellen to:
  • Strictly enforce a four-minute time limit on public speakers. Taylor and the rest of the council will get unlimited time to talk or, in Taylor's case, to plant misinformation on important issues.

  • Try to find a way to do away with the televising of City Council meetings. Taylor true personality really comes across on television, and she's going to put a stop to that.

  • Use the mayorship to punish those councilmembers who displease her. She can do a variety of things, including denying councilmembers certain choice delegate or board seats.

  • Manipulate the council agendas in advance of her re-election bid.
Count on the council to appoint Taylor as Mayor, even though they and the rest of us will all end up regretting it. It's anybody's guess who the Mayor Pro Tem will be. There are plenty of other things on the council agenda tonight - perhaps it's a gift from Yao to Taylor: Placing Phase One of the Padua Sports Park out to bid; the awarding of the downtown trolley lease; the beauty salon ordinance placing limits on salons in downtown Claremont.

Incidentally, if you want to cast your own vote for Mayor of Claremont, over at the top of the left sidebar we've added our inaugural "Insider Poll." Feel free to vote (limit of one vote per customer).

    Claremont City Council Meeting - Tonight, 6:30pm

    Claremont City Council Chambers
    225 W. 2nd St.
    Claremont, CA 91711

    Mailbag: A Soulless Village?

    This came in from a reader last week. The reader had some comments on the Village Expansion experience. We'd meant to post this sooner, but it kept getting pushed back:

    Hello! Just like to say I like your blog. Just recently started reading it. The other day I went down to the Village West. I wrote a few comments about my experience. If you did want to use my letter on your website I don't want my name involved though. That's because I just don't know anything about Claremont's political atmosphere and until I understand more I don't want to publicly comment on things. I'm a twenty-something who has grown up in Claremont and still lives here. These are just my comments. I'm thinking about also sending a copy to the Courier but not sure. Thanks.

    Recently, on a Friday night I went to downtown Claremont-the new part. What I felt was different than usual. Wealth and money were in the air around the Packing House and 425 lounge. My father and I stopped in to see what the new lounge looked like. The UCLA-USC game was on and I was a little interested because I am an alumni.

    Well, in that lounge I felt business people who are doing "well" and a poshy vibe. I noticed a few people taking in my father-a retiree who prefers wearing golfer-style relaxed clothes and a hat and they were kind of not approving. The girl at the desk had a kind of smirk. Now I understand how some places are like this-like Hollywood, LA, NY, but Claremont? This is a working class area. The people here are smart, hard working, respectable-but we're not posh. And I like it that way. But the people there on that night were and so are a lot of the boutiques and restaurants.

    Which leads me to ask myself the questions others have posed-just who was this complex built for? Who were the planners thinking of when they built and planned this? Certainly not my family and friends who are all modest in their consumption, and with good reason. The world's materialistic greed is starting to poison us-literally. More does not always equal better. What message are we giving to our young kids by putting this place with its fancy clothes and corporate business like American Apparel? Buy more, accept the status quo, conform to the latest fashion---and fashion these days has lost most of the soul that dressing ourselves should have.

    I just don't like the taste of the materialism, consumerism, and classism down in that new part. The places are nice-don't get me wrong-they're just not us or not the values I consider Claremont to stand for. More is not always better, let me repeat, and you already see the problems like with parking, etc. I saw recently an article for people to come together and help plan Claremont's marketing strategy. At the end of the article the author said, "Let's give Victoria Gardens a run for their money!!" Firstly, I don't like Victoria Gardens-it's so tasteless and artificial, but that's beside the point.

    Secondly- Why? Why do people need to be enticed to come shopping here? I know it's part of economic growth, more taxes for the city, etc. but in this time of environmental worry and damage should we really be urging people to buy more, to consume more and to drive their cars further (thereby polluting more of the terribly overburdened environment)?

    As someone who lives just blocks from the constant noise and pollution of the 210 and someone who cares about the earth I would say a far better idea is to put our efforts into getting our community involved and together. What if people took more time from driving and spending and started to focus on the community? What if instead of trying desperately to get people to come and visit Claremont we worry about the people who are already here? We're not all driving expensive cars and wearing expensive clothes and drinking expensive wine.

    The class division is so in your face down there it stinks and it's endemic of what's going on right now in society but I don't want to get too far off topic. All I know (is there's something not quite relaxing about the new part of the village, something a bit soulless. I don't know if they wanted to create a new Pasadena for people who don't want to drive to Pasadena-kind of like Pasadena is the place for people in that area who don't want to drive to LA, but one thing seems certain, the clothes don't quite fit [metaphorically speaking] and I don't think they ever will and I think we'll all see the difference as time goes by and I have to say I'll most likely stick to the "old" part. It's just a better fit.
    Well, there's always the danger that all the changes to the Village will change Claremont in ways not anticipated by the people who've planned it. It's awful hard to not commit to the sort of expansion Claremont has without also committing to the sort of chain stores that are coming in. Just look at Pasadena's Old Town where fewer and fewer Mom-and-Pop type operations are surviving.

    Claremont's population of 35,000 simply isn't enough to keep all of the new and old businesses going. Consequently, the town will have to look to attract visitors to spend money. The town, however, is still stuck between committing to that change and retaining the small town feel of the Village, even though it's a little late in the game to go back. The time for the town elders to consider all that was 15 years ago.

    And then there was the letter last week to the Claremont Courier from reader Judy Wineberg, who didn't get a very warm welcome at the Village Expansion's Le Pain Quotidien.

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    The LA Times Dumbs Down

    On Saturday the Los Angeles Times' California Section had a profile of Pomona Mayor Norma Torres. The article, by Times reporter Paloma Esquivel, did a very poor job of presenting a balanced view of Torres' record as mayor.

    The Times piece was really a campaign kick-off for Torres, and we think the Times owes an apology, as well as equal coverage, to the other candidates running to replace Nell Soto. And we're not the only ones who feel this way. Ed Barrera at the Editor's Corner, a San Gabriel Valley Tribune blog, had a blurb about the Times article.

    John Clifford at M-M-M-My Pomona also wrote about the piece and said:

    An obvious PR piece in the news business is usually called a "puff" piece and this certainly qualifies. How anyone can spin the mayor's "feud" with chief Romero as a positive, really doesn't understand the outrage of the community.

    Esquivel's article claimed that Torres is "considering a run for the state assembly." But it's no secret (except to the LA Times) that Torres is running, and the seat Torres is seeking, the 61st Assembly District, is occupied by Torres' mentor, former Pomona Mayor Nell Soto - another fact omitted from the Esquivel piece.

    The article also barely touched on the feud Torres started with Pomona Police Chief Joe Romero, who is generally well-liked by Pomonans. And it completely ignored the fact that Three Valleys Municipal Water District board member Xavier Alvarez would never have been elected had Torres not endorsed Alvarez. Alvarez, as most of you know, is facing federal criminal charges for lying about having won a Medal of Honor. Alvarez also falsely claimed he was still married to his ex-wife so that she could get medical benefits from Three Valleys. Alvarez is also the fellow who is defending his behavior by arguing in court that he has a First Amendment right to lie.

    The Alvarez affair alone should disqualify Torres from running for higher office. In endorsing Alvarez, Torres indirectly aided in the perpetration of a fraud on the the people of her city, and she was responsible for a highly qualified and experienced incumbent, Luis Juarez, losing his water board seat. Yet, no mention of any of this in the Esquivel article.

    Torres' patron, Nell Soto, herself came under the spotlight last year when she missed months of Assembly legislative sessions due to illness. Although she remained at home in Pomona, Soto continued to collect tens of thousands in per diem for living expenses. Soto's absence wasn't really noticed locally until the Foothill Cities wrote about it.

    As we've written in the past, the type of political machine that produced Torres seems to encourage incompetence because the people at top generally don't want to be shown up by surrounding themselves with underlings who might be smarter or more talented. Consequently, there's a gradually dumbing down of the process: Nell Soto begets Norma Torres begets Xavier Alvarez. With each iteration, the quality of leadership is diminished. We've seen this happen here in Claremont over the years, and it's hell pulling the community out of the pit that's been dug.

    The LA Times and their reporter not only missed the pertinent facts behind their story, they also failed the voting public with what is at best lazy reporting and at worst a use of the paper as an adjunct to a political campaign. We expect better reporting from a national paper like the Los Angeles Times, and we trust they'll not repeat this sorry performance in the future.

    Soto, Torres, and Alvarez do not emerge out of a vacuum, and the Times ought to devote its resources to understanding and explaining what is really happening here rather than presenting a People Magazine profile in its news section.

    In the meantime, if you really want to catch the Pomona Troika, you can see them hawking themselves nightly on the Home Shopping Network:

    (Click to Enlarge)

    Students Wanting to Ride the Rails


    The Real Zajac over at the Foothill Cities Blog has a post about a group of San Gabriel Valley college students who have organized a grass-roots effort to lobby for the Gold Line Extension from Pasadena to the Ontario Airport.

    The group calls itself I Will Ride and has been posting videos on You Tube. The website has some student videos as well as an online petition to sign.

    Funding for the Gold Line was left off the most recent Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) draft long range transportation plan, so the timetable for completion of the extension to Montclair has been pushed back to 2014. The Ontario extension will take even longer.

    The Real Zajac's post also includes a link to the Gold Line Authority's Call to Action page, where they have instructions for submitting letter to the MTA in support of putting the Gold Line Extension back into the final long term plan. They also mention that there will be a public meeting on April 8th to address the draft plan and to take public comment. Here's information for the meeting:
    MTA Draft Long Term Transportation Plan Meeting
    April 8, 2007, 6pm
    Potero Elementary School
    8026 East Hill Drive
    Rosemead, CA 91770

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Bernard Field Station News

    The Claremont Courier also had a Kelsy McDonald article yesterday about the Claremont University Consortium's (CUC) plan to develop part of the Bernard Field Station.

    The article (also not online yet) said:

    Opponents of the development claim that the land is important as one of the last intact native Californian ecosystems of coastal sage scub and vernal pools, an academic resource, and sacred land for the Native American Tongva tribe.

    A lawsuit brought against CUC by the Friends of the Bernard Field Station in 2000 resulted in an agreement to preserve the central 40 acres of the 90-acre land for 50 years. Since then, the preserved area has been the only parcel officially dubbed the "Temporarily Restricted Robert J. Bernard Field Station," while CUC refers to the entire 90 acres still used as a field station and other lands north of Foothill s the "north campus property."

    The article states that CUC wants to build several administrative buildings and a parking lot on the unpreserved north campus property. As you might expect, the Friends of the Bernard Field Station, and there may be a reprise of the protests and litigation that happened back in 2001.

    Old School House Update

    The Claremont Courier reported yesterday on the progress at the Old School House, where Trader Joe's is scheduled to open on April 11th.

    The article by Tony Krickl, which isn't posted yet, said that Phase One of the project is 95 percent complete and will include a Robek's Juice shop and a tea shop in the Trader Joe's building.

    Phase Two, according to Krickl's piece, will include a renovation of the inside of the Old School House building as well as "An exterior facelift of the Candlelight Pavillion." The second phase will take another year to finish.

    Phase Three will be a tri-level, 240-space parking structure, 96 condos, and 30 lofts.

    You can read the specific plan for the Old School House/Claremont Inn Revitaliation on the city of Claremont's website (it may take a minute to load).

    Saturday, March 22, 2008

    Tough Cookie Taylor

    The LA Now blog received a comment on Jesus Sanchez's post about Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor going mano a mano with a gang of Girl Scouts.

    The comment said if Ellen had studied up on her Girl Scout badge requirements she would have learned that one of the lessons of the cookie selling experience is learning how to deal with people, including tough customers:

    Obviously, Ellen Taylor is not familiar with the requirements for the Cookie Connection badge. In dealing with her, the girls could practice the part of the badge requirement under "Tough Cookie:"

    "Knowing how to deal with people is an important part of being a salesperson. Always be polite and say "thank you," even if someone doesn't buy anything. With your troop or group, think of several situations that might come up when you are selling cookies and how you will handle them."

    Thanks for providing the link to
    the Girl Scouts' web page!

    Taylor's behavior really points up what's been wrong with the Claremont 400 way of doing things and why issues in the community have become so contentious over the years. The Claremont 400 continually says with a chuckle, "Oh, that's just Claremont." Recall that former Councilmember Karen Rosenthal, who was Mayor during the Irvin Landrum crisis, once said of Claremont public meetings, "It's like herding cats."

    But, like selling cookies, the business of city councils, city commissions, and city staff is customer service. Would you go back to a restaurant that refused you service, served other people ahead of you because they didn't like the way you talked, insulted you, brought you half-cooked food, and charged you double what other restaurants charged for the same things? Of course not.

    In Claremont, that's been precisely the kind of official response that citizens (other than the preferred ones) have received time and again.

    This attitude gives a perfect illustration of precisely why the Claremont 400 and their action arm, the Claremont Area League of Women Voters, should not be in the public service business at all. Their operating philosophy is not one that allows them to see the public as customers. Rather, they treat the public as children, as Taylor treated the Girl Scouts.

    It's top-down philosophy that says, "We here at the top of the pyramid have spent years studying these things. We know better than you, and we know what's good for you. Don't tell us how to run things." What they miss is the idea that if you provide good service, you don't get complaints in the first place. Think about the very best restaurants. It's not just the food. The servers are invisible. Glasses, plates, utensils, food, drinks just appear without the servers drawing attention to themselves. In the best restaurants, it's all about the customer and the food. No prima donna waiters.

    In Claremont, it's the opposite. The waiters give themselves bronze plaques. Poor customer service is rewarded. So, why shouldn't we be complaining? If we wanted to pay for being insulted, we'd go to Vegas and catch a Don Rickles show.

    Poor service has a price. Unlike restaurants, you can't boycott your city government. You're stuck with what you've got. So, voters got tired of the old treatment, and beginning in 2001 they started voting in new faces, primarily as a response to the Landrum shooting, but also because of resentment over tax matters and the city's refusal to implement a conflict of interest referendum that passed with 54% of the vote.

    Things really began to change after Glenn Southard, knowing that he'd long ago worn out his welcome, resigned as city manager in 2005. New city management brought a new management culture that really does seem much more customer-oriented. However, there are enough holdovers on the city council, on commissions, and on city staff, to keep us from completing the transition from poor to good or even great service.

    Taylor, however, will never change. She's our decider, a defender of Claremont's past, inflexible and intransigent as ever. Her declaring to the Girl Scouts that she is the "deputy Mayor" and calling the police on the girls shows that. Yet, she will be rewarded with the title of Mayor on Tuesday, March 25th, not for good customer service, but for being a member of Claremont's elite.

    And Claremont will be the worse for it.

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    LA Times Blog On Mayor Pro Tem Taylor

    The Los Angeles Times blog LA Now has a post by writer Jesus Sanchez on the story of Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor confronting some Girl Scouts in front of Taylor's office building in the Claremont Village.

    Sanchez noted that the police did come out to the scene, but got there after the girls and their adult leaders had left:

    Taylor did call the Claremont Police Department, which dispatched an officer to the scene only to find the Girl Scouts and their adult chaperones gone. The parents said they packed up to avoid a confrontation.

    "If she came out with a smile on her face instead of threatening us and threatening to call the police, we would have been more understanding," said parent Maya West.
    We haven't yet decided what side we're on. Perhaps after another Thin Mint.

    To those of you first-time readers clicking over from the Times' website, we in Claremont sincerely apologize for Taylor's boorish behavior and for the fact that she will be appointed mayor Tuesday, March 25th, at the next Claremont City Council meeting.

    It is, unfortunately, not an isolated instance for the Mayor Pro Tem. All you have to do is watch a video of her running a recent meeting on affordable housing to see how she treats people who think differently than her. Taylor will be worse after Tuesday, though right now she's on her hands and knees in supplication to the town fathers and mothers (known here as the "Claremont 400") promising that she'll be on her best behavior. Until after she's Mayor, that is.

    The funniest thing of all is that the 400 will buy into it. There's no real explaining it. That's just the way things are done here.

    City Spring Egg Hunt Tomorrow

    Claremont's annual Spring Egg Hunt will be held tomorrow, Saturday, March 22nd in Memorial Park. The event is sponsored by the City of Claremont and the Claremont Rotary Club. It begins at 9am, and there are plenty of fun activities for kids, including a petting zoo, crafts, games, and a candy egg hunt at 10am featuring an advertised 30,000-plus pieces of candy.

    Spring Egg Hunt - 9am to 11am, March 22nd
    Memorial Park

    840 N. Indian Hill Blvd.
    Claremont, CA 91711

    Call the Claremont Human Services Dept. for more information: (909)399-5490.

    A Reader's Take On Ellen

    We received a nice bit of commentary on Claremont Mayor pro tem Ellen Taylor from a reader whose opinion we hold in the highest regard:

    SUBJECT: ellen taylor

    Thank you for pointing out what should be more obvious—that people just excuse bad behavior because “that’s just how she is”. What I don’t understand is why the council will go ahead and elect her mayor. I don’t care that she thinks it’s her turn. Do the citizens of Claremont want an officious, unpleasant, and rigid mayor? Why don’t people stand up at Tuesday’s council meeting during open comment and say she doesn’t deserve to be mayor? And that we in Claremont deserve better? Because too many of us are sheep, I guess.

    Keep up the good work.

    And thanks for mentioning that KSPC can be heard in the Pasadena Target parking lot. Brought back nice memories.

    The reader brings up an important point (not the good work bit, though we surely do appreciate it).

    The issue at hand is this business of "it's Ellen's turn to be Mayor." Why exactly is that? Doesn't Taylor's rabid eagerness to lord her "deputy Mayor" position over a group of Girl Scouts like some playground bully speak volumes about her abuse of even the most minor official title?

    Yet, Claremonters are quite content to not only let Taylor's continued rude, callous behavior go unpunished, but to actually want to give her a higher title. To, in effect, reward her bad behavior because "it's what we do, it's what we've always done."

    This is not just the Peter Principle in action; this is a pathological dysfunction of the worst sort. What an absolutely perfect civics lesson for you Girl Scouts out there looking to earn your "My Government" badge!

    Petropoulos Revisted

    A reader sent in this story from The Jewish Chronicle about the story by Claremont McKenna College student Elise Viebeck regarding CMC history professor Jonathan Petropoulos. Petropoulos is also the director of CMC's Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights.

    Viebeck's article appeared in the Claremont Independent student paper and explained Petropoulos' role in locating a Camille Pissarro painting that had been looted by Nazis in Austria in 1938. The rightful owner, 78-year-old Gisela Fischer, had retained London-based Art Loss Register (ALR) to locate the painting, but there were the deal went awry after a dispute over whether the arrangement was supposed to be pro bono or not.

    As we've discussed before, Viebeck's real scoop was in obtaining emails between Petropoulos and a Munich art dealer Peter Griebert who was working with Petropoulos to negotiate with Frau Fischer. On the face, the emails seem to bolster Fischer's account of her discussions with Petropoulos and Griebert.

    Petropoulos' ethics in the matter have come under scrutiny, and the issue prompted CMC to commission a four-month investigation. The investigation cleared Petropoulos, as a letter dated 3/7/2007 from CMC Dean of the Faculty Gregory Hess explained.

    The Jewish Chronicle article quoted ALR representative Sarah Jackson, who walked a tightrope as she both defended her company and Petropoulos while also expressig some concerns about the professor's handling of the matter:

    Sarah Jackson said she did not regret hiring the professor, explaining: “It was always our hope that the picture could be recovered for Mrs Fischer and it was thought Prof Petropoulos might be able to facilitate this through his relationship with Bruce Lohse, who was suspected of having a connection to the picture.”

    She added: “The ALR intended to provide the professional expertise and financial cover for him, but we were sidelined in the process and so we played no part in any discussions to try and recover the picture.

    “We do not believe there was any dishonesty on the part of Professor Petropoulos but he made errors of judgment... and we believe that he did not have sufficient experience to handle this matter when there was a clear attempt to provide misleading information on the painting’s ownership.”

    She added: “We understand that the revelations of this case — particularly the activity of Peter Griebert, the discovery of the Schonart Trust in Lichtenstein and the role of Bruno Lohse, an unrepentant Nazi who profited for decades from the sale of Nazi looted art stolen from persecuted families — have caused great distress to Frau Fischer and her family.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    More Reader Mail

    We got this in response to yesterday's post on GD Southard:

    SUBJECT: wrong forever

    One day Glenn Southard will display the smallest sliver of humor or graciousness, and the planet will stop spinning on its axis. If you flipped him over and looked at the switch on his back, you would see his two settings: "Frothing attack" and "Off." What a miserable ****.

    One thing's for sure: this and last week's Ellen Taylor story really point up the problem people wanting change face here in Claremont. It's not the Southards or the Taylors; it's all the people who blindly support them and make every possible lame excuse, every allowance for really ugly, inexcusable behavior without requiring any accountability.

    These things crop up again and again, and the same folks in Pilgrim Place, in Claremont's United Church of Christ, at the Claremont Colleges, in the Rotary Club, at the Claremont Community Foundation, on city commissions and in City Hall say again, "Oh, that's just Glenn" or "Oh, that's just Ellen." (Yes, that's just the point, you fools!)

    The naiveté of these blind followers is exactly what the Ellens in town count on to keep in power. And we continue to pay the price. Bullying some poor Girl Scouts trying to sell cookies should be no surprise. It should be expected given Ellen. But you can count on the a significant chunk of the good people of Claremont to make every sort of screwball excuse for Ellen's bad behavior.

    That rationalizing is Claremont's original sin, pure and simple.

    College Radio Amps It Up

    KSPC 88.7FM, the radio station for the Claremont Colleges is getting a new antenna, according to the Daily Bulletin's Will Bigham:

    KSPC, on the dial at 88.7 FM, received permission from the Federal Communications Commission last month to relocate its antenna from the campus to the hills above Claremont.

    "We hope in a lot of places (the signal) will simply be good to a greater distance," said Fred Volken, a radio engineer working with KSPC. "The service area will increase.

    "And in a lot of places it will become clearer, not subject to the kind of static you get when you drive around hills and things."

    KSPC features original programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week - most of it independent and obscure music. Local bands often perform live on the station as well.

    Right now, the station broadcasts its signal from a Pomona College antenna, but the station is moving on up the hillsides where it should be able to reach more listeners. The signal is a bit spotty, depending on where you happen to be. We've heard in the past that you can pick it up if you're parked in the Target parking structure on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, so there's just no telling where KSPC will pop up.

    The article didn't say where the antenna was moving to. There are a several antennas up on Sunset Peak to the west of San Antonio Canyon. You can see these when it's a clear day, or at night blinking redly away.

    You don't necessarily need a radio to listen to KSPC. You can always hear the station over the Internet, too.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Yorba Linda Shows Tammy the Door

    The Orange County Register reported yesterday that Yorba Linda City Manager Tamara S. Letourneau, née Tamra Gates, was removed in a closed session of the Yorba Linda City Council. The Register article said:

    Letourneau's contract allows for her removal without cause, Winder said. She will receive a $209,592 severance package.

    "Our goal is to have a new staff and go in a new direction," he said.

    In making the announcement during the council meeting, Winder gave no reason for Letourneau's removal, but her salary has been an issue with residents in the city. The decision was unanimous among the council members.
    Letourneau was Glenn Southard's Assistant City Manager before moving onto Sierra Madre for four years. She was hired by Yorba Linda in 2004. Letourneau just received a $22,000 raise last November, so the removal was something of a surprise to casual Yorba Linda observers.

    Letourneau had previously been the subject of criticism in 2006 when a person named Jim Drummond claimed that Letourneau had spoken to a developer about the developer's ability to fight a Yorba Linda slow-growth referendum. The developers tactics reportedly included the hiring of "blockers" to interfere with petition signature gatherers hired by the slow-growth group.

    There was no word on whether or not Yorba Linda is satisfied with its city attorney's services. (Yorba Linda's city attorney is our own Sonia Carvalho of Best, Best & Krieger.)

    Wrong Again

    Gd speaks. We're glad He's a reader. Does this mean that the nasty-gram sent to Jackie McHenry from the same email account after her failed re-election bid in 2007 was really Him (or His wife) as well? (Link to article in question)

    Sting Nets 5 Arrests

    The Daily Bulletin blurb today about five people being arrested in a sting targeting people for selling or providing minors with alcohol. The action was part of a statewide joint task force, the Bulletin said.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Water Boarding

    Click to Enlarge
    Drip by excruciating drip, this story drags on.

    Our friend, Three Valleys Municipal Water District director Xavier Alvarez, is back in the news. No, he hasn't managed to get himself convicted of that federal misdemeanor charge of lying about being a Medal of Honor winner. Alvarez is the subject of a New York Times column today by Adam Liptak.

    Alvarez finds himself in the pages of America's paper of record because of the strategy being employed in his defense by Alvarez's public defender, Brianna J. Fuller.

    In a motion to dismiss the case filed on 12/21/07 with the federal court hearing the matter, Alvarez's attorney argued that the federal law under which Alvarez was charged is unconstitutional because it abridges Alvarez's First Amendment rights. Alvarez's counsel is arguing that Alvarez has a constitutionally-guaranteed right to lie.

    In the filing's introduction, Alvarez's attorney lays out her arguments:
    The law is unconstitutional, both facially and specifically as applied to Mr. Alvarez. Falsehoods are not outside the realm of First Amendment protection, and therefore restrictions on false statements must be supported by a strong government interest and must be directly related to that interest. The Court's scrutiny of the law should be especially demanding here, where the statement was made by an elected official, during a public meeting, on an issue of public concern: his qualifications for office. The Government's stated interest in this law, protecting the reputation of military decorations, is insufficient to survive this exacting scrutiny. For this reason, the statute is unconstitutional as applied to Mr. Alvarez and the indictment should be dismissed.

    A politician's right to lie? Sort of defies commonsense, though it might make great grist for the late-night TV mills. However, UCLA Law School scholar and blogger Eugene Volokh also examined the Alvarez case and found that the issue isn't necessary as black-and-white as it might appear on first glance, though Volokh seems inclined to believe that Alvarez's arguments would probably not prevail.

    Volokh notes that although there are certain exceptions protecting false statements as free speech, those exceptions don't necessarily apply here. For instance, in the Alvarez case, Alvarez's lies were knowing falsehoods, not innocent errors that might be considered protected speech.

    Click to Enlarge
    Volokh has a good summary of what he considers the relevant case law for the Alvarez matter. He also has a link to the Alvarez's actual motion to dismiss (pictured at left), and he has a link to the government's response to the Alvarez motion as well.

    Meanwhile, back here in the Inland Empire, the Three Valleys water board has to contend with Alvarez and all the bad attention that the case has attracted, as the NYT's Adam Liptak noted:
    In California, where Mr. Alvarez continues to sit on the board of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, an elected position, patience is wearing thin.

    “There’s no question he’s pathological,” said Bob G. Kuhn, the board’s president, recounting some of what has come out of Mr. Alvarez’s mouth. “He’s had three helicopter accidents. He’s been shot 16 times. These are all fabrications.”

    But Mr. Kuhn said the board was powerless to expel Mr. Alvarez, who continues to receive $200 per meeting and health insurance. The board has censured him, though, for putting a woman he falsely claimed was his wife on the board’s health plan.

    At first, Mr. Kuhn said, he took no position on the wisdom of the criminal prosecution of his colleague.

    “But we’ve had 40 or 50 veterans parade before our board, asking him to publicly apologize,” Mr. Kuhn said. “He has refused to do that. With that said, I have no problem with the prosecution.”

    Of course, we Insiders have to tread lightly when it comes to criticizing free speech arguments; after all, last September we had our 15 Warholian minutes in the blogosphere after Claremont City Attorney Sonia Carvalho tried to have us shut down. Unlike the Alvarez case, however, we were attacked for telling the truth, as was later proven.

    Like you, we'll just have to wait until the trial, which is scheduled for next month, to find out what happens. Unless, that is, the case is dismissed.

    CMC Dean Hess in Today's LA Times

    Claremont McKenna College's Dean of Faculty, Gregory D. Hess, was quoted as an economics expert in a front-page article in today's Los Angeles Times. The article is about the roiling financial markets and the Federal Reserve's facilitating the sale of investment bank Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    Hess, the article reported, is a former Federal Reserve economist. He appears to be of the mind that any intervention by the Fed in our financial markets is likely to be limited:

    Critics argue that the Fed's freedom of action is limited by the size of its portfolio of Treasury securities, which is essentially the only financial instrument that federal law allows it to buy outright. At $709 billion as of Thursday, the portfolio is hardly chump change.

    But it is dwarfed by the size of the country's financial markets.

    "The Fed has enormous resources, but they are not infinite," said Gregory Hess, a former Fed economist and the dean of the faculty at Claremont McKenna College.

    Hess, in his role of dean of faculty at CMC, was also involved in reviewing the Jonathan Petropoulous matter, as we noted yesterday.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    She's a Wonder


    IN the early part of the 21st Century, the town of Claremont faces certain destruction from marauding bands of street gangs and thugs. Crime is rampant, and law-abiding citizens fear to walk the streets alone.

    Into this breach steps Queen Ellen Taylor of the Amazons from the tribe's secret refuge on remote Paradise Island. Armed with her Lasso of Truth and her bullet-deflecting, indestructible power bracelets, Ellen, in the guise of her alter ego Wonder Ellen, comes to the aid of the beleaguered Claremont Police Department and honest but bumbling Chief Paul Cooper to defend Claremonters from the forces of evil.

    In our latest installment, Wonder Ellen fended off a gang of vicious pre-teen girls who were harassing innocent pedestrians and motorists. The youthful criminals possessed magic biscuits, which they tried to use to mesmerize their victims into giving the gang money. When Wonder Ellen intervened, the gang's leaders, two adult women, tried to counter Ellen's powers but were no match for our heroine's mighty cunning and righteousness.

    Wonder Ellen's good deeds win her the everlasting approval of Claremont's grateful town elders, who unanimously elect her Mayor.

    NEXT TIME: Ellen joins forces with the Justice League of Women Voters and squashes a Jamboree!

    CMC Professor Defended by Dean of Faculty

    We received another note from the reader who alerted us to the news of Claremont McKenna Professor Jonathan Petropoulos and the Camille Pissarro painting that had been looted by Nazis in pre-World War II Austria.

    The reader's most recent note contained a forwarded message from CMC Dean of Faculty Gregory Hess to CMC staff following a lengthy investigation into the matter by the Los Angeles law firm O'Melveny & Myers. The investigation cleared Professor Petropoulos any legal wrongdoing.

    Yet, according to an article in CMC's Claremont Independent, some experts in the field of art restitution questioned Petropoulos' ethical conduct. In the Independent's article, Petropoulos defended his professional ethics in the case, but the Independent turned up some emails from Petropoulos that, on the surface at least, seemed to support some of the criticisms that remain.

    One concern is the involvement of Petropoulos' associate, Munich art dealer Peter Griebert, with a man named Bruno Lohse. Lohse oversaw much of the looting of artwork from Nazi-occupied Europe during the war years. The painting in question was one of these and had been concealed in a secret Swiss bank vault and came to light after Lohse's death in March, 2007. It turned out that a trust controlled by Lohse called Schönart Anstalt was in charge of the vault.

    The Independent explained the connection between Petropoulos, Griebert, and Lohse, who reportedly is the subject of a forthcoming book by Professor Petropoulos:

    Legal documents show that Griebert, Petropoulos' associate, had been Lohse's aid and connected to Schönart Anstalt since 1988, and had entered the vault over 20 times.

    Petropoulos claimed in ARTNews never to have known of Griebert and Lohse's mutual connection to Schönart Anstalt or their mutual enterprises. He has, however, admitted to meeting Lohse "dozens of times," though in a recent email exchange refused to say how he met Griebert. A source close to the investigation says that it is very likely that as Lohse's aid, Griebert would have been present for Lohse's first meeting with Petropoulos, and that the two were familiar over the succeeding years. In the acknowledgments portion of The Faustian Bargain, Petropoulos' second book, Petropoulos thanks Lohse and Griebert along with many others for sharing "knowledge of the figures in this study."

    Petropoulos and Griebert had tried to negotiate the return to the Pissarro painting to its rightful owner for a large fee, at first while working for a British company called Art Loss Register (ALR), and later on their own. The original owners' heir, 78-year-old Gisela Fischer, however, was under the impression that she had retained ALR on a pro bono basis as a victim of wartime looting, which was the originally arrangement. Fischer claimed that Petropoulos and Griebert dangled the threat of the painting disappearing again if their fee was not paid, and emails obtained by the Claremont Independent seem to support Fischer's contentions.

    It's evident the matter is extremely convoluted, but as we've indicated, CMC's investigation cleared Petropoulos, and the college wants to move on, despite the lingering concerns from some among the CMC family.

    Here is the forwarded message from Gregory Hess:

    Vice President for Academic Affairs
    and Dean of the Faculty

    March 7, 2008

    Dear Colleagues:

    Last summer, published media reports contained assertions that Professor Jonathan Petropoulos had engaged in potentially questionable conduct relating to restitution of a painting that had been confiscated in Austria prior to World War II.

    In response, the College undertook a thorough review and retained an outside law firm to assist in the four-month investigation. That process is now complete. Based on evidence examined here and abroad, the College has concluded that Professor Petropoulos adhered to applicable contractual and legal obligations in attempting to arrange return of the painting. In addition, the College concluded that Professor Petropoulos' account of his actions was accurate.

    We appreciate Professor Petropoulos' patience and professionalism during this lengthy review, and thank him for his cooperation.



    Gregory D. Hess