Claremont Insider: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Mountain Labored and Brought Forth a Mouse

Or, CUSD Still Playin' "Hide the Ball"

The Establishment finally came out with its much-ballyhooed List of Projects for Measure CL. This so-called "project list" is breathtaking in what it so obviously tries to hide from the voting public. In a few words, there is NOTHING there.

Attentive readers may recall that two weeks ago the Courier published Q and A article with the Bond Support and Promotion Committee, Bill Fox, Lee Jackman, and Mike Seder.

Even though Proposition 39, the law allowing this bond to go forward under the 55% threshold rules, requires that the July 22 ballot resolution by the school board be accompanied by a specific list of projects, well, there was nothing like a specific list. We commented on that issue in an earlier post.

Board member Jeff Stark opined at the July 22 School Board meeting that it was quite premature to expect a list; they needed to get a bond resolution first.

OK, but then the August 14 number of the Courier came out with the aforementioned article.

Courier: What are the specific projects and the estimated costs for each project?

Mr. Fox: "This project list is something that the district has been working on for a couple of years now. And this project list is something that our team--a committee within our team--is working on and narrowing down. So it's not ready to go out to the public yet because we've pared down a list that was $165 million to $95 million and we really are looking at what items on that list will reach the most children in the district."

There was a lame squawk about no project list in the August 18 Courier letters section.

In the meantime, the Mountain labored.

The August 25 number of the Courier contained a letter from Claremont teacher Dave Nemer castigating those with the impatience and impertinence to want some answers. He wrote in part:

Meanwhile, several recent letters to the editor have been critical of our school district because of the upcoming bond issue...The negativity expressed in the letters is unwarranted and based on little understanding of the facts involved.

The details of the bond plan have not been publicized yet, but naysayers have already denounced the plan anyway, preferring their preconceived judgments to informed reasoning...

Before we launch into impassioned debate about the new bond, it would behoove all combatants to wait until the details are announced.. Then we could proceed with a discussion based on actual information rather than ignorance and preconceived conclusions, for a change.

And still the Mountain labored but properly chastised, we waited patiently.

Finally, on August 28, teased by a 36-point all-caps headline on Page 1, above the fold, "NOW THE DETAILS", came what we all were waiting for.

Well, no.

The Courier didn't actually publicize the list, but we have it here. For ease of reading, we've broken it into two parts: the table proper followed by the notes. Click on the images to enlarge.

click images to enlarge

click images to enlarge

The money paragraph in the Courier article--in fact the only paragraph with actual cost estimates, reads as follows: "The current plan for the $96 million bond is to apply the funds in 4 main categories: repair and modernization ($48,412,886), technology ($22,189,862), sustainability ($14,395,562) and debt elimination ($10,000,000). The numbers are approximate figures representing an ongoing plan of spending."

That's it? No cost estimates? No numbers showing the balance among schools? Nothing other than a bunch of check marks? Where are the metrics? How do we measure performance? What is the District actually planning to do?

From the Courier:

Estimates for individual items on the project list were unavailable. Mr. Fox said the estimates for each section were based on looking at the needs of the Claremont schools.

"A estimate [sic] of each item would be done after the bond has passed," he pointed out. "There would need to be architects and project managers that would have to be hired by the district to come out. [Does this guy really talk this way? Re-read the last sentence. We have quoted it correctly. "There would need to be come out" ???] That is a very costly step and the district would have to use part of the bond money to do that."

So this is the mouse the Mountain labored over: Wait until the bond passes and we will tell you then.

We actually think this spreadsheet had to have come from a version that at one time had numbers in the grid, and like a clumsy FBI-redacted document the author or committee scrubbed the page of any incriminating information. Really, does it make any sense to have a grid, with "totals" column, and subtotals placed just above each group, and precision to eight significant figures, if a prior version didn't have numbers where all we have now are check marks?

We guess the committee, the school district, and the consultants don't really believe all that much in transparency.

By the way, when searching for the author of the "project list", whether it was Bill Fox, or Lisa Shoemaker (the head of the CUSD business office), or Terry Nichols, the Superintendent, or ???, we found an interesting fact. In the Adobe PDF "Properties" the author is saved. And who authored this masterwork?

Look at what we found:

And who is Jared Boigon? CUSD's high priced communications consultant. The priorities are not even set by the committee, they are set by a consultant in San Francisco! Either that or he is the World's Most Expensive Committee Secretary! Mr. Boigon is a Partner at TBWB Strategies--Public Consensus; Winning Propositions. He's not an educator nor a finance guy nor even a construction expert. He's a political hack. Read here about his getting his mother elected to the Denver City Council.

* * * * * * *

The report can be found on the supporters' website, here.

The version that was up as this post was written is displayed below:
Bond 2010 Site Detail 08-26 FINAL

The image of Fox, Jackman, and Seder is from the Claremont Courier.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Get on the Bus, Drive it over the Cliff

A reader sent is the snapshot below of a Claremont home. We are not sure if the house is actually a foreclosure, or whether the occupant--if any--has just decided to go with the whole drought-tolerant sustainably dead landscaping look, complete with leaning signs.

click image to enlarge

But whatever, the picture provides a good allegory of the school bond Measure CL situation.

The school district, and its bond supporters, want all homeowners in the district to assume financial responsibility for district mistakes reaching back more than a decade. They propose to do this with an increase in property tax of at least $200 (this is the district projection) per year for the average home--very possibly much more.

(This year's tax rate on Measure Y is something like $300 per year for the average Claremont homeowner, and that bond was only $49 million. Measure CL will be a $95 million bond and--we're not too good at math-- we don't find the district estimate all that convincing. 600 bucks per year seems much more probable to us.)

Add that to the already over-burdened Claremont homeowner-taxpayer, underwater on his mortgage, and you reach the property-tax tipping point, stop sending payments, dead lawns, liens on the property, foreclosure, and auction on the south steps of the County courthouse.

Your lawn can go dead while the bank takes over your house, too!

So, Get on the Bus! and drive it over the cliff.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Church & State, Revisited

From the More Things Change file:

The Insider has learned that the circle of people officially associated with the Yes on Measure CL campaign has widened from the original three - Bill Fox, Mike Seder, and Lee Jackman - to include insurance agent and Claremont 400 heavyweight Randy Prout, former Claremont United Church of Christ pastor and current city Human Services commissioner Butch Henderson (photo, left), and former Human Services Chair Suzanne Hall, wife of the ubiquitous Ken Corhan.

We shouldn't be surprised to see Prout or Henderson or Hall/Corhan, popping up in the Measure CL campaign. All were associated with the 2005 Preserve Claremont campaign that tried to derail the candidacy of Claremont city council member Corey Calaycay. We should also remember that the PC campaign was as much about censoring council member Jackie McHenry and keeping then-City Manager Glenn Southard in charge as it was concerned with barring Calaycay from the council.

That the current school bond campaign and its supporters don't mind twisting the truth shouldn't come as a surprise either. During the 2005 city council election and after, Henderson, who seemed to use his position in our town's main church to unduly influence people to support the Claremonsters' agenda, was a spokesperson for the Preserve Claremont campaign and was quoted in the Claremont Courier on 2/19/05. In that article, Henderson admitted not only that his campaign employed manipulative tactics, but that such games are a natural part of any political campaign, even one involving the Claremont UCC's head pastor:

Mr. Henderson responded to a complaint he had heard that the [Preserve Claremont] ads were "manipulative".

"Of course they are," he said. "That's what politics is all about. Claremonters like things to be real nice. They say, 'Let's do powerbrokering behind the scenes and be real nice.' But politics is about leaders. Mr. Calaycay s running for office and we're trying to get factual information out about him."

Click on Images to Enlarge

It mattered not a whit that the "factual information" Henderson alluded to consisted of nothing more than rumor, innuendo, and outright lies, much of which was supplied by city staff. But, rather than being shocked that a former man of the cloth would engage in such self-acknowledged manipulations, we should expect it.

We can't help but recall the last Claremont Unified School District Measure Y bond campaign in 2000. During that lead up to that campaign, school district officials held a public meeting at which residents who lived near Claremont High School showed up to protest the planned use of Measure Y money to put a football stadium in at the high school.

When it became clear during the meeting that the football facility plans were going to imperil Measure Y's passage, the district officials took a break, held a quick sideline huddle with Superintendent Keeler calling signals, and then reconvened to assure the audience that no Measure Y dollars would be used for the high school stadium. At that meeting, one Butch Henderson, who happened to live very near the high school, stood up and said he was happy with the district officials' plan to accommodate his neighbors.

With no opposition from the Towne Ranch neighborhood, Measure Y passed by a little more than 100 votes citywide. Within a matter of a few years, the district, flush with Measure Y dollars, installed the permanent football field, lights, and bleachers at the high school. In fact construction workers are installing a second course of permanent seating right now.

So, yes, the neighborhood was lied to. But in Claremont anything associated with the school district approaches a certain religious fervor, complete with a kind of priesthood to deliver CUSD's holy word. The truth is whatever that priesthood says it is. As Pastor Henderson could tell them, all's fair in politics and war.

Not a Stadium

Friday, August 27, 2010

Inexplicable Tragedy - UPDATED

Catherine Shelton, a 14-year resident of Claremont, died in the automobile incident reported yesterday.

There is an article in the Daily Bulletin with more details.

Our hearts go out to Ms. Shelton's family and her friends, and also to Brenda Monahan and hers.

This is a sad time for our community.

UPDATED, 8/28, 12:25PM
The Daily Bulletin's Will Bigham has a letter from Brenda Monahan's son Nicholas Calderon posted on his Inland Empire Courts blog. The letter gives more details on what happened.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gaming the System

The Insider's investigative arm has been hard at work trying to confirm some information that came in over the transom last week regarding the $95 million Measure CL bond the Claremont Unified School District put on the November ballot. The information would seem to confirm our original hunch that the bond proponents will be following a very familiar game plan for the bond.

You may recall that one of the problems with school district's the bond measure is that they're asking for a boat-load of money without explaining how they intend to spend this. In its bond resolution's fine print, CUSD said that if you wanted to figure out what the projects in question are, you had to consult the district's Facilities Master Plan, an inches thick black binder kept at the school district's offices.

We're hearing that the Master Plan contains a copy of the following document in a pocket on the inside of the binder:

This document is a campaign consultant's template for a generic school bond campaign. It's a concern because CUSD isn't supposed to be be campaigning in favor of the bond. Yet, there the campaign template is, or was, sitting in a district binder. The district will no doubt have the document removed as quickly as possible, but as you can see above, we still managed to obtain a copy.

But is the district really planning on using this road map in the present campaign? It certainly seems thus so far. There are some noteworthy suggestions listed in campaign consultant's document - suggestions the Yes on Measure CL campaign seems to be following closely.

For instance, Item 4 on page 1 of the template suggests that campaign funding should include the district's vendors and that the amount of money those vendors donate can be tied to their volume of business. In other words, the district is saying, "If we've got you under contract, you should kick in a dollar amount commensurate with the amount of work (and money) you're getting from us.

Item 4 Vendors who do business with the District also see value in helping the District become stronger in serving the children of the community. District staff members working on their own time can help in this area. See Exhibit 2. Note that contribution goals can be set per volume of annual business with [the] District [emphasis added - ed.]

As with CUSD's 2000 Measure Y bond, the district's surrogates will hit up those vendors for big donations. In 2000, the bond supporters raised over $80,000, the majority of which came from CUSD vendors. They'll do so again and will go over $100,000 if they stick to their usual methods.

On page 7 of the document, we see a sample ballot argument. Precisely the same talking points the Measure CL proponents have used are listed in this sample:
  • The bond will "provide funding for Classrooms and Facilities." Our district keeps saying that, even though they have admitted that the money will go towards restoring faculty health benefits and reimbursing the district for the time spent by its staff on bond projects.

  • None of the funds will be used for administrator salaries. The Measure CL bond resolution approved by the CUSD board makes exactly this statement. Yet, as noted, they have also publicly said the money will go to salaries and benefits.

  • Reasonable cost - $1.00 a day. Isn't this the $365 campaign that was pushed by the Claremont Educational Foundation? Say, if you happened to get on the bus with your $1 a day donation, and then the district succeeds with the bond, you could easily end up paying double that $365 once the bond assessments are made.

  • The district has created a bond oversight committee to ensure bond funds are spent wisely. Yes on CL committee leader Bill Fox keeps reminding people of that oversight requirement. But he keeps leaving out the part about the last bond oversight committee failing to keep accurate tabs on how the money was spent.

Beginning on Page 11, the document lays out a direct mail campaign with estimates of the voter turnout and the number of votes needed to win. The targets of the mailings are divided into six groups, each with its own specific content.

A couple points of interest here. The district's consultants recommend mailing to property owners a message that gives each homeowner an estimate of their individual taxes for the bond based on county assessed values. The property owner mailing, though, has a ceiling set on the assessed property values. In the consultant's example on page 14, they said they will exclude mailing to voters with assessed value of more than $150,000.

In these times in Claremont, that number might be closer to $400,000. The consultant appears to be trying to conceal how much their bond will affect people with homes above a certain value because they might find the bond prohibitively expensive.

The district's consultant doesn't stop there. Page 14 also lists a mailing to be sent to non-property owners. The pitch to them? "Measure A [the example in the report] costs you nothing." So, despite the district's claim that renters end up paying for the bond, they tell those renters the opposite. The district tells them to not worry, they'll get a pass on any bond payment, so they should vote for it. It's a free ride, the consultant says.

We also learn that the mailings don't come cheap. The consultant's projected budget on page 10 lists $31,000 for direct mailing and, naturally, $30,000 for the campaign consultant. Those two budget items account for $61,000 out of a possible $80,000 in campaign contributions for the hypothetical bond election.

The consultant also recommends getting other local officials (council members, county supervisors) on board, as well as police associations, business men, contractors, vendors, unions, and realtors.

All of this gets us back to the fact of the district having a sample campaign strategy and spending plan stored in its Facilities Master Plan binder at the district office. By law, the district is supposed to refrain from directly participating in campaigns. Yet, let's not forget that the district paid $25,000 for the consulting company TBWB Strategies to conduct a poll that was turned over to the Yes on CL campaign, which consists of the same three people that earlier this year worked together on the district committee that came up with the recommendation to go forward with a bond.

Is it any wonder why we keep thinking the bond was always the goal and that district all along intended the TBWB poll to be used to poll-test bond arguments with voters? CUSD seems to skate awfully close to the line of electoral propriety with some of their actions.

According to the district highlights for its 6/3/10 meeting, the president of the teachers union is even listed by name in support of the district's bond idea:
Superintendent Nichols provided background on the Bond/Parcel Tax Survey Committee and asked Jared Boigon, TBWB, to provide an update on the Bond/Parcel Tax Survey. Mr. Boigon shared highlights from the survey report and committee members, Lee Jackman, Bill Fox, and Mike Seder provided additional background and outlined the committee’s recommendation. Joe Tonan, incoming CFA President shared the association’s support for the committee’s recommendation. Staff and Mr. Boigon responded to Board questions and the Board requested more specific information on a timeline and next steps and requested a defined project list that included staff and committee priorities. This item was for Board information and discussion and no action was taken.

Their actions underscore the reality that CUSD, its board, the bond campaign committee, and the leaders of the Claremont Faculty Association seem to unlimited quantities of contempt for voters, for the spirit of the election rules they should be obeying, and for truth in their campaign statements.

You don't have to be a super-sleuth to get to the heart of the bond matter: If the district is already acting in less than forthright ways before the bond has even been voted on, why should anyone trust them with the $95 million they're asking for?

First St. Accident

We heard about an accident involving an SUV and a pedestrian on First St. in front of the Village Expansion parking structure yesterday and noticed that the Courier's Tony Krickl had a post about the matter on his blog.

Krickl reported that yesterday morning a vehicle driven by Brenda Monahan, the owner of Three French Hens, accelerated onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street and struck the pedestrian. The pedestrian, whose name was not given, was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital but didn't survive.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Update--Sunday, August 22. See end of post in red.

In June, when the Claremont Unified School District was still negotiating with the Claremont Faculty Association, Wes Woods II had an article in the Daily Bulletin about the heated nature of the contract talks.

One interesting point that came out in Woods' article was the amount CUSD spent on the law firm that represents the district:

The school district's Los Angeles-based law firm, O'Melveny & Myers, also has been an issue for the union. Tonan said the firm spent about $149,000 in reduction in force hearings in 2008-09, while the union's firm spent about $28,000.

A union flier was shared with the media, union officials and the school district that indicated Claremont Unified's attorney Framroze M. Virjee (image nearby) was paid $765 an hour for every hour he was at the bargaining table. Virjee's law firm, O'Melveny & Myers, was paid more than $535,000 in 2008- 09 and more than $365,000 in 2009-10 by Claremont Unified.

That's right. CUSD spent $900,000 on legal expenses in the past two years. That's almost 1 percent of the district's November Measure CL bond, and you can bet that some of the money the bond generates will somehow end up compensating the district for their legal expenses.

As we're discovering, there's real profit (or cost to taxpayers) to be found in the education business, at least in consulting and contracting work. In return for those expenses, administrators and teachers alike avoid the level of sacrifice they ask property owners - the ones footing the bill - to make, and the elected school board officials get to continue to play their self-indulgent fiscal games. The trade off is that schools are more expensive to run but are in no substantial way better than they were last year or the year before that.

It's a little like the inverse of Moore's Law. CUSD's costs relative to performance are falling. Or maybe it's just a manifestation of Baumol's cost disease.

* * * * *

A couple quick comments:
  • Since Woods' article in late-June, CUSD and the CFA have agreed to a contract that calls for the union to accept larger class sizes in the middle and high school grads and to concede $1.58 million in health and welfare benefits over the next two fiscal years. In exchange, the union has agreed to support the November Measure CL bond with the understanding that they will get their former benefits back if the bond passes - an arrangement that allows both parties to circumvent the law requiring such school bonds to not be used for administrative or teacher salaries - at least, that's what CUSD officials have said.

  • O'Melveny & Myers is a true legal heavyweight. The firm, which is the 19th largest in the world, has for partners such luminaries as former Reagan White House Counsel Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr., and former Clinton Administration Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

    Claremont is more than a little familiar with O'Melveny & Myers. Former CMC trustee Louis Caldera, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Army from 1998 to 2001 and who lost his most recent White House job in 2009 after a PR flap, is an O'Melveny alumnus. And CMC retained O'Melveny to conduct an investigation into the Nazi stolen art controversy involving CMC history professor Jonathan Petropoulos a few years ago.
Update, Sunday:

Saturday's Claremont Courier touched on this issue. On page 5, The Courier describes an offer at last Thursday's School Board meeting by Marcie Gardner, a Chaparral parent, to help look for a cheaper law firm. As an aside, that ought not to be too hard.

Gardner is quoted, "One area that seems out of control within the district is legal fees, and I say that because I'm a lawyer and I have quite a bit of experience with things related to education. The hourly rate that is being paid by the district for an attorney is double and sometimes triple the going rate of what these services would cost in the open market." [emphasis added]

We also received a cryptic email from a reader on this general topic, and we can't help but read it as also casting aspersions on the ol' Insider:

The reader writes:

900,000 is a lot but how much of that 900,000 was tied to defending Tonan's personal lawsuit against the district? How much was tied to the negotiations that were dragged out to ridiculous lengths only to be settled after Tonan's lawsuit was settled? A settlement, mind you, that could have been reached 6 months ago if it were not for Tonan's conflict of interest.

There is more out there that you are ignoring. I'm wondering if it's intentional.

--Outside Claremont

We asked for additional info, and the reader was good enough to give us one specific that appeared on page 6 of the 2010-2011 Claremont Courier Almanac, sent with the paper a week or so ago (our reader refers to the personal lawsuit between the Tonan family and the district):

Settled for 75k I heard. Settlement between the union, that Tonan heads, and CUSD came immediately afterwards.

One view is the Tonan dragged this out, at great cost, until the issue with his wife was settled...

--Outside Claremont

Notice the walk-back from the main point: "One view is..." Our reader isn't even saying that's what he believes. We hold no brief for Joe Tonan or the merits of his case. The fact is, we never understood nor were given a cogent story on the Cynthia Estep-Tonan dismissal. It seemed both sides were scurrying for cover and obfuscation in that one. (to readers who don't know what we're talking about, we don't blame you. You'll have to look at back numbers of the Claremont Courier from Spring 2010 to see articles on the brouhaha accompanying Ms. Estep-Tonan's dismissal as a school nurse by CUSD.)

Anyway, the reader makes a valid point by inference. Total district legal cost equals average hourly rate times number of billed hours. Ms. Gardner says the average hourly rate is too high; our reader implies that the number of billed hours is higher than necessary.

Both are easily within the control of the School Board: Hilary LaConte, Jeff Stark, Mary Caenepeel, Beth Bingham, and Steven Llanusa. Get a less stratospheric attorney and don't get involved in labor disputes where you are having some one like good old Fram (see above) bill you north of $700 per hour and then have to write a check to your employee for $75K.

Our daddy always told us that the party that had to write the check was the party in the wrong.

Weekend in Pomona

The Daily Bulletin tells us that the Pomona PD will conduct a DUI checkpoint from 9pm tonight to 3pm Sunday morning, as well as a "city-wide saturation patrol." So watch your drinking and driving if you're passing through Pomona tonight.

Besides making for safer streets, these checkpoints must be a money maker for cities. They're underwritten by federal grants, and they generate revenue from the citations the police hand out.

* * * * *

If you're looking for a family activity this weekend, John Clifford at M-M-M-My Pomona writes that there will be a screening of the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (the one with Gene Wilder) at the Fox Theatre in downtown Pomona tomorrow at 2pm. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids under 12. Doors open at 1pm.

Also, Clifford says that they'll be a whole lotta shakin' going on at the Fox on September 25 when Jerry Lee Lewis comes to the Fox for a concert. Tickets start at $30, and you get all the info here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

O'Toole Update

shadowy Joe O'Toole
We were curious what had happened with the the trial of Claremont resident Joseph O'Toole, who was arrested in June for his alleged involvement in what was described as an illegal international arms trafficking case.

O'Toole's trial was supposed to commence this past Monday in a federal court in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We checked in with the court and learned that the start of the trial had been continued to October 5 at the request of O'Toole's attorney Stuart Adelstein, who had a conflict and who needed more time to prepare for the trial.

Court records show that O'Toole also appears to have had some health problems since his incarceration, and he has been moved from the place he was originally being held (presumably in or near Ft. Lauderdale), to a federal detention center in Miami for emergency medical treatment.

This Weekend in Claremont


Yet more Raveler spam in our in-box yesterday. They'll be back at the Doubletree Hotel on Foothill Blvd. for the Claremont Kiwanis Club's Route 66 beach party fundraiser:

Hey Now!

The Ravelers had a great time in Chino Hills last night...great to see you all!

This Friday night will be a great opportunity for you to help raise money for various organizations around the valley through the Claremont Kiwanis Club. This will be a very fun night with dinner, silent auction, casino games, a fundraising duck race...and musical fun with The Ravelers in the courtyard on the patio stage we love so much...

Friday, August 20
Kiwanis Club Fundraiser-Route 66 Beach Party!!!

Doubletree Hotel Claremont
555 West Foothill Boulevard
Claremont, CA 91711

Tickets are available from any Claremont Kiwanian and are $25 for dinner and all the fun. For more information, call 909-621-2996 or 909-626-1147.

The fun starts at 6:30 pm

Click here for an article about this fundraising event.

See you soon!

Hai, Pat, Martie, Rob
The Ravelers

(Now on Facebook)

Here's a photo of some Ravelers fans from Wednesday night's concert in Chino Hills:

These kids in Chino Hills have been rockin' it up for years...we have watched them grow-up having fun,and they continued the fun Wednesday.


Friday Nights Live continues with music at various locations throughout the Claremont Village and Village Expansion. Three bands will be playing tonight:

Aug 20th

Claremont Voodoo Society - Chamber of Commerce (Blues / Folk Rock )
Hank's Cadillac - The Public Plaza (Country)
Slinker - City Hall (Pop Rock)



Another local band, Sugar Mountain Mama Serenade, will take the stage at The Press Restaurant tonight, part of a weekend lineup there that includes Wreck n' Sow on Saturday and the weekly acoustic jam on Sunday:
The Press Restaurant
129 Harvard Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 625-4808

Friday, August 20th, 10pm
Sugar Mountain Mama Serenade

Saturday, August 21st, 10pm
Wreck 'n' Sow

Sunday, August 22nd, 9pm
Sunday Night Acoustic Jam


The band Santa Fe's Round Mountain, which consists of the brothers Bobby and Char Rothschild, will be onstage at the Claremont Folk Music Center 7:30pm Saturday.

The Daily Bulletin's Diana Sholley has a preview:
Each brother plays a different set of instruments - often two at a time. "We're a two-man singing folk orchestra," Char said.

Char is left-handed and plays guitar, dobro and gaida (Bulgarian bagpipe). He also plays trumpet and accordion - simultaneously.

Robby, a righty, plays cajon, kora (West African harp) bouzouki and djembe.

Round Mountain will play with Frank Fairchild. Admission $12. Call or visit the FMC for more information.
Folk Music Center & Museum
220 Yale Avenue
Claremont CA 91711
(909) 624-2928

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Soon Parted: Hello Fools, Goodbye Money

We and others in the community have been bothered by the fact that Measure CL, the Claremont Unified School District's $95 million November bond measure, has no identified projects in need of all that money. Perhaps we missed something.

We looked again at the bond resolution the CUSD board approved on July 22, and noticed that buried deep in the ballot proposition language was a sentence under the heading "Project List" that says:

The District conducted a facilities evaluation reflected in the [Facilities Master Plan] presented to the Board of Education on January 21, 2009 and incorporated herein by reference...

So there is a project list, CUSD just didn't include it for the voters to review easily. We've confirmed through our back-channel sources that it takes more that a bit of effort to see that list. If you are interested in what that $95 million might be spent on, you have to go to the district office on San Jose Ave. and review a several inches thick binder that constitutes the district's Facilities Master Plan, otherwise known as CUSD's wish list.

It's not exactly the most user-friendly way of discovering the district's intentions for the bond. From what district tout Bill Fox said in the Claremont Courier last Saturday, we can expect the bond campaign committee - Fox, Mike Seder, and, direct from Claremont Heritage and the Claremont Educational Foundation, the ever-reliable Lee Jackman - to cull through that binder and pull out enough poll-friendly projects to add up to $95 million.

But there's no guarantee that whatever bond project list CUSD's campaign cooks up will ever be completed. Buried in the fine print at the end of the resolution is a sentence that says:
In the absence of State and/or Federal matching funds, which the District will aggressively pursue to reduce the District's share of the projects' costs, the District will not be able to complete some of the projects listed above.

The school district doesn't tell you, however, that it will fail to really pursue State and/or Federal matching funds as it assures us it will. Even in failure, the district has a design. If the district opts out of state funds, it also doesn't have to worry about accountability in the form of state spending guidelines and audits. That's why no CUSD official will speak of any bond oversight that is independent of the district. Instead, CUSD and its board will handpick a "citizens committee" with a safe majority of its friends to ensure the bond money is spent as they see fit.

The district's secretive project binder and that fine print at the end of the ballot proposition language demonstrate just how far CUSD Superintendent Terry Nichols, the CUSD Board of Education, and the bond campaign committee are willing to go to conceal the truth of the bond from the voting public. They are betting that if they bury enough qualifying clauses in dense enough prose, they will be able to fool enough voters into supporting this bond.

The Fine Print
(Click to Enlarge)
As you can see above, it's not exactly an open, clear, well-articulated plan. It's really more of a lawyerly, CYA paragraph designed to inoculate the school district from blame when the money dries up long before their yet-to-be-released project list is completed.

The first sentence in the fine print, for instance, says, "The listed projects will be completed as needed." In other words, if needed we will decide that items previously deemed priorities really aren't necessary, and we'll use the money on other unspecified things - whatever we want.

As we've pointed out several times in the past, in the case of CUSD's $48.9 million Measure Y bond one of the main projects listed, La Puerta Elementary School, wasn't ever built because it was deemed unnecessary. Instead, the district threw the money away on such urgent, non-educational items as Claremont High's track and football facilities.

With Measure CL, the district also seeks to circumvent its own bond language. On the one hand, the last paragraph states, in all caps for extra emphasis:

But just a couple sentences above that, the full ballot language claims:
Proceeds of the bond may be used to pay or reimburse the District for the cost of District staff when performing work on or necessary and incidental to bond projects.

So, how does one square those two contradictory statements? The district doesn't intend to. That last paragraph is merely something they are required to include but which they will never follow. If you need further evidence, check reporter Landus Rigsby's article on page four of the August 11 Claremont Courier. Rigsby wrote:
"Any [extra] money that comes in [from the state] or money from a bond needs to go to salaries," said CUSD Director of Human Resources Kevin Ward. "If the district receives an increase in base revenue higher than what is [currently] projected, then before the district can spend on other things, a certain percentage will go back to salary restoration for all the employee groups."

Ward was simply being honest, even if what he said ran counter to the bond's ballot language. The bond money will be used for salaries, no matter what the district says during the bond campaign. Now, it would be illegal for the district to simply take the money and dump it directly into teacher salaries. So CUSD will wash the money through its project list and pay for the salaries that way rather than asking employees to make some temporary sacrifices to help balance the district's budget.

No one thing irks us more than the disregard and contempt the district, its board of education, the teachers' union, and the bond campaign committee have for language, bending it as they please to suit whatever momentary meaning they require. They intend to use words not to further their educational mission but to manipulate the public into supporting something they've intentionally misrepresented as a needed facilities repair and construction bond.

It's a poor example for the very students they claim to care so much about, and no wonder why, even under the best of circumstances, Measure CL supporters and their highly paid campaign consultants will have a fight ahead of them. Without the truth on their side, it'll take a lot of doublespeak to get the 55% of the vote needed for the measure to pass.

Of that sort of talk, though, the district and its various representatives have no shortage. These are, after all, many of the same people who gave us Glenn Southard, the Parks and Pasture Assessment (lost 44% to 56%), Preserve Claremont, and failed city council candidate Bridget Healy, the retired Claremont assistant city manager who's currently raking in $166,700 a year from a CalPERS pension.

Given the stagnant economy and the level of joblessness and foreclosures in our area, they'd be wiser to ask for far less and sacrifice more before asking property owners to pay off a $95 million debt. They'd also be well advised to stick to the truth in the future if they're going to ask people for that amount of money.

(In the coming days, we'll have more on that debt, how much larger it will be than the district has portrayed it, and how the bond proponents intend to finance the bonds over the next 55 years - far enough in the future for all of them to be safely dead long before the extent of their folly is revealed.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chino Hills UnRaveled

The Ravelers sure are busy these long summer days. They bring to mind Lena Grove from Light in August - "My, my. A body does get around. Here we ain't been coming from Claremont but two months, and now it's already Chino Hills."

This bit of Raveler spam came in today with a late announcement of their concert in the park tonight:

Hey Now!

The Ravelers apologize for the short notice...our email department was on vacation until late last night...

Come enjoy a nice summer's eve in Chino Hills for their final summer concert in the park...TONIGHT...

Wednesday, August 18- Chino Hills Concert in the Park!!!

Crossroads Park
2675 Chino Hills Parkway (Chino Hills Parkway & Eucalyptus)
Chino Hills, CA

The Ravelers play 6:45 pm - 8:15 pm.
Bring a blanket, picnic dinner, and enjoy a nice community evening of musical fun!

The Chino Hills web site for more info...

Hai welcoming everyone to the park at a previous Chino Hills concert..."Anyone have any cheese pizza?" (photo by Tamara)

See you TONIGHT!

Hai, Pat, Martie, Rob
The Ravelers

Halls of Justice

Former Three Valleys Municipal Water District board member Xavier Alvarez made the news today. Alvarez, you'll recall, pleaded guilty last year to a charge of having violating the federal Stolen Valor Act by falsely claiming to have been a Medal of Honor recipient.

Alvarez has since been in court appealing the conviction on the ground that the Stolen Valor Act violated Alvarez's First Amendment rights. Alvarez's attorney argued that Alvarez's lies harmed no one.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Alvarez in a 2-1 decision, saying the law is unconstitutional. A federal judge in Colorado made a similar ruling last month in another Stolen Valor case.

Alvarez remains in state prison on a fraud conviction stemming from false statements he made that allowed his ex-wife to receive health benefits while Alvarez was on the Three Valleys board.

Here is a copy of the opinion by Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr., and the dissent by Judge Jay S. Bybee:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Claremont Unified School District Drops the F-Bond!

District Shoots for an A, Gets an F,
Asks for Grade Change

Sometimes it's amazing what we hear. This came from a Los Angeles County employee who wanted us only to use that identification. We couldn't confirm the ID from the email address--it wasn't a County email--so we called a County office and confirmed the basics of the story. We were asked to re-write the events, so here goes:

You heard it first here: In the November 2010 election we will be voting on Claremont Unified School District Bond Measure CL.

But the story of how the measure came to be designated "CL" is an interesting one.

Apparently the proponent agency gets to request a letter designation for any measure it puts before the voters. In this case, CUSD, through an August 3rd letter from superintendent, Dr. Terry Nichols, requested the letter 'A'. For many reasons, the requested letter might be unavailable, and that was the case here. So the County elections officials provisionally assigned the the CUSD Bond measure the letter 'F'.

The CUSD Bond was the F-Bond!

This was an especially low blow, since Nichols apparently had some visceral aversion to the letter 'F'. Our informant quotes his letter to the election official: "If possible, the District would like to request the measure letter designation of 'A'. If not possible, the District requests that we not be assigned the letter 'F'."

It seems this letter designation lasted through at least Friday afternoon, August 13th (unlucky for some).

Our informant is a little hazy on the sequence of events after that but somehow, probably as a result of several frantic calls between the County offices and the School District, presumably with Superintendent Nichols pleading for a higher grade--"But I did most of my homework on time...", "It was Lisa that was making noise, not me..."I got C's on almost every test..."You didn't tell us we would be tested on that..."Hilary has my papers..." Well, the County relented, and Terry gets to take a brand shiny 'CL' home on his report card. And that will be the Bond measure's letter designation: Measure CL.

We're not sure* what 'CL' stands for.



Certain Loser?

We don't suppose there is any reclama with the County, but we'd like to have Measure F back.

It is with a good deal of wistful regret that we lament the passing of the prosodic possibilities of a Measure F: "CUSD GET'S AN 'F' ON THIS ONE"...... "FAILURE IN STORE FOR CUSD MEASURE F"...... "WTF?".

* * * * *

*Yeah, we know; it's probably CLaremont. CLever. We really do think everyone should continue to call it the F-Bond.

H/T to our County informant. Luvya.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Corrections

We had a couple emails come in that warranted posting.

The first was a note about our post from last Wednesday on the Claremont Unified School District's and school board member Jeff Stark's tendency to obfuscate:

DATE: Thu, August 12, 2010 10:44:03 AM
SUBJECT: and it's just that simple
TO: Claremont Buzz

" the July 22 school board meeting, Jeff Stark (apparently the voice of authority on the bond issue) claimed it would take a long time to get that information....

"The assessor's report for 2009 on page 28 of the PDF file lists the assessed valuation for the city of Claremont as $3.55 billion."

I love how well you do that, and I know why it pisses people off. Never stop.

By the way, after reading that email, we noticed an error in Wednesday's post. The page we referenced from the LA County Office of the Assessor's report was page 16, not page 28. We've corrected that mistake.

* * * * *

Then there was this from a reader who wanted to set us straight on the matter of now-retired Indio city manager Glenn Southard. Earlier, we speculated that Southard's annual pension might be significantly larger than his final year's $300,000 salary. We thought that Southard might be able to use some of his $162,000 in unused vacation and sick time towards the number used to determine his CalPERS pension.

The reader, who has a good deal of expertise in municipal retirement finances, says that we were in error when we indicated that Southard could have used any bonuses, vacation, or sick time to enlarge his retirement. The reader also states that Indio's own finance director would have been ethically bound to advise the Indio council of the improprieties of allowing Southard to count such extras towards his retirement payouts.

The reader goes on to say that the real budget buster for municipal pensions is public safety workers (police and firemen). The reader makes a number of good points there that are very much overlooked, by us and by others who follow public pensions.

Here's the reader's letter:
DATE: Wed, August 11, 2010 11:40:32 AM
SUBJECT: CalPERS fact check
TO: Claremont Buzz

A couple of things you did not get quite right. I'm no fan of Glenn Southard, but your article does have some factual errors. As to spiking, CalPERS is pretty good about not allowing it, unless the City Council is complicit in the spiking scheme (ala Bell). Overtime, bonuses, and sick leave and vacation payouts are NOT used to determine final compensation. The only way accrued sick, and vacation time could be used to spike the final years salary, is if the City Council approved, a salary increase, in lieu of paying out the accrued leave, That would have to be done at a public meeting, and if found by CalPERS would result in the benefit being reduced. CalPERS finding it, and doing something about it (as in Bell) is not likely. But a City's finance director, would know that this is a prohibited practice, and would be ethically bound to advise the Council against taking such an action.

Now, a great CalPERS/ public safety union scam has to do with police and firefighters. Uniform allowances, education pay, and special assignment pay (like being a detective, or a truck captain) are counted as part of final compensation, which is paid at about 98.6 % in retirement starting as early as age 50. Where else can you get paid after retiring for uniforms you don't wear, a speciality bonus for work you no longer do, and for getting an education which allowed you to advance through the ranks, to the level of pay at which you retire at. And if you are a firefighter you get paid to sleep, and as a police officer you get paid for your meal times. This is were the pension system is bleeding. Oh, and guess what. CalPERS has recently completed new actuarials on age. The average public safety worker will live to 82.5, while the average general employee lives to about 81.7. This finally answers the myth that police, and firefighters don't live very long after retiring--therefore they should get better pensions.

You really ought to look into this, instead of focusing on management, as public safety retirement benefits are what are creating the large unfunded liabilities.

I should know. I am a former finance director for a large California city.

We stand corrected, though we are still puzzled by a couple things. The Claremont Courier's Tony Krickl reported last week that Southard's retirement payments, according to Indio's records, were $309,000 a year. Since this is above his final contract's salary, something must have been added in.

We looked at another blog's post that showed a 2007 amendment to Southard's Indio contract (posted here). Included with that contract amendment was a letter from CalPERS regarding Southard's retirement that states: "69.625 days unused sick leave have been credited to the member's account. If all of this information is correct, no action is needed." The letter was dated March 18, 2010. So at least some portion of that sick leave appears to have been used to bump up Southard's pension.

One other point. In Indio, Southard's finance director was Michael Busch, who had the same position under Southard in Claremont. We can't speak to his ethics, but Busch was always a Southard yes-man. We don't see him opposing anything that would benefit Southard.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday in Pomona

Today is the second Saturday of the month, and that means Artwalk time in Pomona's Arts Colony in downtown Pomona. The 2nd Saturday Artwalk starts at 6pm tonight. You can find a map and more information here.

* * * * *

If you're thinking of taking the 71 Freeway any time soon, you may want to find an alternate route. The Daily Bulletin tells us that the city of Pomona's Public Works Department has begun a $44 million construction project that will remake the intersection of the 71 and Mission Blvd.

The main portion of the project will be a bridge to carry traffic on Mission over the 71, eliminating the traffic light there. If you've ever tried to get through there during the morning or afternoon commute, you know that remove a major bottleneck. The construction area has been a mess for quite a while with Pomona having to construct bypass roads before the bridge work could begin.

The 71 and Ninth St. intersection is another bottleneck that has been reconfigured. You'll no longer be able to turn left from either direction on Ninth, and you can't get onto Ninth from the 71. The Bulletin article said it's unclear as to whether or not that's a permanent change. Residents off Ninth St. on either side of the 71 are no doubt unhappy about that part of the transit makeover.

It's equally uncertain what economic benefit, if any, the area will derive from the project. According to the article:
An economic study of the impact the improvements will have on the area has not been done recently, but will be done as part of the update of the city's general plan, said Raymond Fong, director of the city's redevelopment agency.

"We're still a year away from the the Mission-71 being completed and in an economy that is not indicating a boom" is close by, he said.

After the general plan is updated, the city can go forward with an economic strategy for the city. As part of that strategy, special attention will be given to the prominent city corridors including areas such as Mission and the 71 area, he said.

The area around the 71-Mission intersection has been overlooked for quite a while, though at one time certain politicians apparently thought it was a great backdrop for campaign photos.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and CUSD Bonds

Now that the Claremont Unified School District's bond is set for the November 2 election, we think it's time to pause and consider how the district arrived at their figure of $95 million.

When CUSD last sought a bond, in 2000, it was for $48.9 million. In its bond resolution language for the 2000 bond, the district laid out, school by school, a laundry list of repairs, upgrades, and retrofits that the bond was going to pay for.

This time, however, there is no such list. This lack of specifics is what should worry property owners within the district's boundaries. When the matter came up before CUSD's board of education on July 22, board member Jeff Stark said that the district couldn't give any list until after they approved going forward with the bond. However, the district's own bond resolution from 2000 refutes Stark's claim about the specifics.

You can see the 2000 CUSD bond resolution here and the 2010 resolution here.

The dissembling from Stark is especially telling because Stark was the co-chair on the 2000 bond campaign. It's also not the first misinformation deployed by the district in their current pre-campaign campaign. Remember those two loose wire photos from 2000 and from this year, both from Condit Elementary School?

So where did the $95 million price tag for this year's bond come from? It takes a little digging to find an answer - but not much. Solving the mystery requires only a few mouse clicks.

It turns out, as several readers have pointed out, that the $95 million is just about the limit of the total bonded indebtedness that the district can legally incur, and the law determining the dollar amount is buried within the current bond resolution's language. Section 1 of the resolution said that the CUSD board is acting "pursuant to Education Code Sections 15100 et seq., 15264 et seq., and Government Code Section 53506."

Click on Image to Enlarge

Section 15106 of the Education Code states:
15106. A unified school district or community college district may issue bonds that, in aggregation with bonds issued pursuant to Section 15270, shall not exceed 2.5 percent of the taxable property of the school district or community college district, or the school facilities improvement district, if applicable, as shown by the last equalized assessment of the county or counties in which the district is located.

So CUSD's total bonded indebtedness is limited to 2.5% of the assessed value of all the property within the school district's boundaries. Now when this came up during at the July 22 school board meeting, Jeff Stark (apparently the voice of authority on the bond issue) claimed it would take a long time to get that information. He seemed to be saying the district had no idea what the assessed valuation was, and no one at the meeting ever mentioned the 2.5% limit.

Despite the district's and Stark's game of hide the ball, one can get a fairly close estimate of the district's indebtedness limit by looking at the total assessed valuation for property within Claremont, a number that's readily available from the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor's website.

The assessor's report for 2009 on page 16 of the PDF file lists the assessed valuation for the city of Claremont as $3.55 billion. The school district includes a small number of properties in Pomona or in unincorporated county areas, so the assessed valuation for the city will be slightly less than the number CUSD will use for this bond.

2.5% of $3.5 billion is gives you a bond limit of $88.75 million. Then, if you allow for the non-Claremont properties within the district and the 2% adjustment per year Prop. 13 allows, you get pretty close to $95 million.

So the district didn't arrive at that $95 million by looking at how much money it would cost to complete a certain number of projects. Instead, they just figured the maximum they can legally ask for and used that limit for the bond. There is no list of projects because they have no specific ones in mind. They're just maxing out their line of credit with no explanation for where all of that money will go.

If someone were to ask a banker for a business loan and offer no plan for how they were going to use that money, they'd quickly be shown the door. But with this school bond, CUSD expects voters to sign off on just such a loan. Given the district's track record of misspending the last bond, voters would be foolish to buy into the district's intentional misrepresentations about the need for this one, especially when they've started off with some real whoppers before the campaign ever officially began.

Southard Redux

Former Claremont city manager Glenn Southard is the subject of a Steve Lopez column in the LA Times today. Lopez holds Southard up as an example of the excesses in the city manager profession.

In addition to the perks we and others noticed, Lopez noted that Southard, who went to the city of Indio in 2005, received a $30,000 signing bonus with his 2007 contract. Lopez also went to lay out some of the other hidden benefits Southard got while in Indio:

Southard's contract called for a $50,000 life insurance policy and a second policy, for good measure, valued at $500,000. In addition to city contributions to his pension with the California Public Employees Retirement System, "City agrees to deposit the maximum sum allowed" into a separate, deferred retirement fund known as a 457. That put the city on the hook for as much as $22,000 a year more.

He was given 30 days of vacation time the day he started work, with 30 additional days (six weeks) per year. "Such vacation may be carried over, if not used, with unlimited accumulation," said the contract, which allowed him to accept cash, instead, for up to 120 hours of vacation time each year.

In addition, the contract called for 90 days of sick leave, health insurance, a $600 monthly car allowance, 13 paid holidays and two personal days annually.

Besides all of those generous gifts, Lopez says that Southard was also able to buy two years worth of retirement (part of a golden parachute Southard engineered under the cover of downsizing Indio's city staff). That meant that, as Lopez writes, Southard got seven years of retirement credit for five years of work.

As we noted previously, Southard was also able to accumulate the equivalent of $162,000 in unused vacation and sick leave, which he cashed out upon retirement. We're still trying to run down how much of that accrued time counted towards his final year of salary, the figure used in determining Southard's pension payments.

It's not Robert Rizzo territory, but it still stings, especially when Claremonters are stuck with a good portion of the unfunded part Southard's CalPERS retirement bill.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

City Attorney Firm Subpoenaed in Bell Investigation - UPDATED

The LA Times reports that the two parallel investigations into the Bell scandal, one by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley's office and one by state attorney general Jerry Brown, have proceeded with brisk election-year dispatch, an efficiency that will no doubt fade quickly after the first Tuesday in November.

The Times said that an LA grand jury has issued subpoena's in the DA's investigation. The Times also indicated that Brown's office served subpoenas to obtain records and depositions from nine former Bell officials.

The Times article also said that the AG's office served subpoenas on Best, Best & Krieger, the law firm Bell employed for its city attorney services:

The attorney general also said Monday that his probe was expanding to include the city's former law firm, Best, Best and Krieger, which also received subpoenas. The city last week ended its contract with the lawyers. Shortly thereafter, a longtime city attorney, Edward Lee, who worked for Best, Best and Krieger, announced that he was leaving the firm. A spokeswoman for Best, Best and Krieger said the firm had received the subpoena and is "assisting in any way we can."

BB&K contracts with many municipalities to provide city attorneys. Claremont's city attorney, Sonia Carvalho, is a partner at BB&K.


The city of Maywood, which outsourced nearly all of its services earlier year, was also in the LA Times today. An article in the paper's LA Extra section described how the turmoil in Bell has spilled over into Maywood:
In late June, Maywood fired most of its workers and turned over operations to its neighbor city. But the scandal over eye-popping salaries in Bell has become a "distraction," and Maywood leaders said they would look for someone else to run their affairs.

"We're caught in a situation where we need to move forward," said Maywood Councilman Felipe Aguirre. "We don't want to be distracted by things that are not germane to our city."

Aguirre said doesn't want Maywood to "become a laughing stock of a city," a term used to describe Bell by one of its own embarrassed council members.

When it began to look outside the city for its services, Maywood hired Angela Spaccia, who was at the time the assistant city manager in Bell, as its interim city manager. Spaccia's Maywood contract paid her $10,000 a month. Spaccia was also earning $376,288 at her regular job in Bell and received benefits that drove her total compensation up to $845,960. Bell let Spaccia go when it fired its former city manager Robert Rizzo when Times broke the news of Rizzo's exorbitant compensation package.

Maywood's three-month contract with Spaccia ends on Thursday. During her short time in Maywood, Spaccia oversaw the dismantling and outsourcing of the city's various departments, and under her Maywood signed a $50,833 a month contract with Bell to run Maywood's basic operations.

Maywood also retained BB&K's Edward Lee for its city attorney, and Lee resigned from Maywood on August 2.

The photo that accompanied today's Times' Maywood article showed angry residents at last night's Maywood city council meeting. The protesters were upset over Maywood's alliance with Bell, and the photo showed one person waving a sign that said, "BBK and Spaccia Brought Bell to Maywood."