Tuesday, September 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny old dude, that Bart.


Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Catching Up With Some A-Wandering Sierra Madre News

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

Sierra Madre's favorite bagpiper is back from Scotland

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

News of the continuing political struggles of Joe Mosca

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

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

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


Saturday, September 16, 2017

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

Click here for the "Amnesty Don" song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The word is DACA,” Trump responded.

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

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


Friday, September 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 14, 2017

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

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

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

Or so I had been led to believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another unfortunately sourced solicitation for the SMCF:

Mountain Views News Aug 26, 2017

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your support.

Steering Committee

Mod: See you there!


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Getting A Grip On Sierra Madre's CalPERS Debt Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Gabe

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

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


Monday, September 11, 2017

Computer Crash

So my trusty old Apple MacBook Pro has wheezed its last and I need to buy a new one. Hopefully I get that done today. No new post today. Hopefully I'll get it rolling again tomorrow.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Monarch Butterfly is on the edge of extinction

Mod: We're rapidly killing off a lot of things in this world. Of course, we could easily be on that list as well. 

The Monarch Butterfly is on the edge of extinction (Pulse.com link): The West Coast Monarch Butterflies are on the edge of extinction after suffering an alarming decrease in its population during the last few decades. According to a new study, the population of these famous butterflies has declined by 97 percent in 30 years.

Scientists say that the decrease of the Monarch Butterflies population is greater than expected. It is mainly a consequence of the loss of their primary food source, the milkweed. As well, they say that their disappearance could be a result of climate change.The West Coast Monarch Butterflies are on the edge of extinction after suffering an alarming decrease in its population during the last few decades. According to a new study, the population of these famous butterflies has declined by 97 percent in 30 years.

The population of Western Monarch Butterflies is declining at a seven perfect rate every year, which is faster than virtually all the population of Easter Monarch Butterflies. The latter species is also about to go extinct. The species has faced a 97 percent decline of its population during the last 30 years. To get to this data, scientists have collected available historical records using statistical models to merge data from the 1980s and 1990s with records gathered by scientists during the last two decades.

“In the 1980s, 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California. Today there are barely 300,000,” Cheryl Schultz, a biologist at Washington State University Vancouver who led the study, in a statement. “This study doesn’t just show that there are fewer monarchs now than 35 years ago. It also tells us that, if things stay the same, Western Monarchs probably won’t be around as we know them in another 35 years.”

In the 1990’s, scientists and people from Western California began noticing that these beautiful and colorful insects were not seen as frequently as before. That is why scientists began tracking western monarch butterflies. Since the Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count in 1997, hundreds of volunteers have help scientists to count these butterflies.

The disappearance of the monarch butterflies is due to the loss of their food source and due to the increasing urbanization in California. Humans have changed their habitat as many places where the butterflies used to feed and nest are being used for the development the cities and areas for agriculture. Also, climate change plays an important role too.

The study findings were published in the journal Biological Conservation last week. Emma Pelton – endangered species conservation biologist at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and co-author of the study – said that this study will help conservationists understand the risks that are faced by the western monarch butterflies and how to protect them. She said that scientists and policy makers were aware of the increasing disappearance of the Eastern Monarch Butterfly population but little did they know before that the Western Monarch Butterfly was facing a greater risk of extinction.

Unlike the Eastern Monarch Butterflies – which spent the winter in Mexico -, western monarch butterflies stay in California’s coasts during the winter in nests, before they disperse around the west coast for the warmer months. Therefore, losing the nesting areas for the butterflies makes them disappear too. The migration of the western monarch butterflies is also amazing because, after the winter, they go to lay their eggs on milkweed and drink nectar from flowers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah. They return to California in the fall.

Schultz says that due to that, they are studying the breeding times and other locations for the Western butterflies to know how to protect these black-and-orange winged insects. For her, there is still hope. She believes that if actions are taken now, it is possible to make out of the 21st century the era when these butterflies return to landscapes.

“The hard part of being a conservation biologist is documenting species declines. The exciting part is figuring out how to help declining species recover” said study co-author Elizabeth Crone, an ecologist at Tufts University. “In the 20th century, we brought bald eagles back from the brink of extinction by limiting use of DDT.”

Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This agency also helped to fund the research. They are facing a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and an 84 percent chance in 50 years if current trends continue. The Monarch Butterfly is one of Americas’ most popular and recognizable butterflies. They are a common subject of study for students and scientists internationally.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Insane Political Advertising that Russia's "Active Measures Campaign" Bought and Paid for on Facebook

Mod: Wouldn't you like to know what kind of Facebook political advertising the Russians were buying until recently on Facebook? Probably some of the sickest stuff ever seen during an American political campaign. Then again, look at what they were supporting. Here is how The Daily Beast explains it.

30 Batsh*t Crazy, Mostly Racist Facebook Memes the Russians Used to Corrupt Your Mind (The Daily Beast link): Earlier this week, Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, revealed that Russia had “likely” used 470 deceptive accounts to buy about $100,000 worth of political advertising before and after the 2016 presidential election. It was Facebook’s first public acknowledgment of the role it unwittingly played in the Kremlin’s “active measures” campaign to help elect Donald Trump. Based on the numbers, a Facebook marketing expert consulted by The Daily Beast says the Facebook run might have reached 70 million people.

The admission was a sharp turnaround for Facebook. As recently as July, the company was denying that it had evidence of Russian ad-buys, even though four months earlier the Russian news outlet RBC specifically identified one of the Facebook communities secretly run from Russia and promoted with paid Facebook ads.

That community, called SecuredBorders, positioned itself as the work of conservative Americans concerned about U.S. border security. In truth, according to RBC, it was operated by a notorious St. Petersburg troll factory called Internet Research Agency, which is financed by “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence,” according to a public report by U.S. intelligence agencies (PDF).

Facebook finally closed down the page last month in its belated purge of Russian propaganda. By then SecuredBorders had 133,000 followers. So far, Facebook is refusing to release any of the posts and ads from Russia’s campaign, opting instead for this terse description: “The ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

That sanitary language doesn’t do justice to the actual content. The Daily Beast scoured search engine caches and found remains from the now-shuttered SecuredBorders page, just one of Russia’s propaganda communities, including dozens of their posts and graphics. Here’s a collection of the Russian Facebook memes we recovered.

Mod: Come to think of it, this ugly Russian propaganda, which you might have found on your Facebook page until only recently, is not really all that different from what some unfortunate individuals have been posting in the comments section of this blog. It really does make you wonder who those people are, and where they are coming from. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Get Over Yourself - Trump's Campaign For President Was Largely Based On Race

Mod: Pollyanna cocktail chatter about America being a "post-racial society" is now a thing of the past. The folks behind the Trump campaign, which needs to include their Russian confidantes, had a very different and far more cynical understanding. They surmised that if they ran a campaign based on race, they would win. Throw in some face saving cover about the "disenfranchised and alienated white working class," and how unfair trade pacts with Mexico like NAFTA have been, and the picture was complete. With Trump now planning the deportation of 800,000 DACA kids (and what a sight that is going to be), I am not sure how there can be any doubt about what has really gone on here. Will they be put into boxcars like Nazi Germany did with their hated minorities? And then left in the desert just south of the Rio Grande? Imagine how that will be viewed by the rest of the world.

The First White President (The Atlantic link): It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it.

Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.

His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.

It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint.

Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue.

So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”

In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards—and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump’s contentious claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.

Mod: There is a lot more to this article, and you can access it through the above link.

The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election (The New York Times link): Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website.

“These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US,” he wrote on June 8, 2016. “Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!”

Mr. Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy.

The DCLeaks site had gone live a few days earlier, posting the first samples of material, stolen from prominent Americans by Russian hackers, that would reverberate through the presidential election campaign and into the Trump presidency. The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.

Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election (Washington Post link): Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company’s findings.

Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said. A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said, although they declined to say which candidate the ads favored.

Most of the ads, according to a blog post published late Wednesday by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

The acknowledgment by Facebook comes as congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are probing Russian interference in the U.S. election, including allegations that the Kremlin may have coordinated with the Trump campaign.

Mod: Here is a case study on why politicians that attain high office should not hire their moron kids. Trust me, this product of Trump's union with a fashion model is not bright.

Trump Jr. Says He Wanted Russian Dirt to Determine Clinton’s ‘Fitness’ for Office (The New York Times link): Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators on Thursday that he set up a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer because he was intrigued that she might have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, saying it was important to learn about Mrs. Clinton’s “fitness” to be president. But nothing came of the Trump Tower meeting, he said, and he was adamant that he never colluded with the Russian government’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.

In a prepared statement during an interview with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, the younger Mr. Trump said he was initially conflicted when he heard that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, might have damaging information about Mrs. Clinton. Despite his interest, he said, he always intended to consult with his own lawyers about the propriety of using any information that Ms. Veselnitskaya, who has ties to the Kremlin, gave him at the meeting.

Mr. Trump has given differing accounts of his contacts last year with Russians. He told the Times in March that he never met with Russians on behalf of the campaign, a statement his lawyer has since said was meant to refer to Russian government officials. In July, he described the Trump Tower meeting as primarily focused on the issue of Russian adoptions, before eventually acknowledging that he took the meeting because he was told Ms. Veselnitskaya had damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

Wife of Trump Organization Ethics Lawyer Arrested After Alleged Tryst With Inmate (The Daily Beast link): The wife of a lawyer tasked with monitoring ethics in President Donald Trump’s business trust was arrested Tuesday afternoon after “suspicious” activity with a Virginia inmate in the backseat of a car outside a jail.

Teresa Jo Burchfield, 53, was outside Virginia’s Fauquier County Adult Detention Center when deputies charged her with a crime of her own. Burchfield and an unnamed 23-year-old inmate were spotted in the backseat of a car, along with a bag of pills and other contraband items that Burchfield had allegedly given the inmate. Burchfield’s husband, Bobby Burchfield, is an ethics advisor to the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, an entity intended to keep Trump’s business and political ties separate.

“The defendant was caught in the backseat of her vehicle with an inmate," according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Fauquier Times. "When the inmate exited the vehicle, he handed me a bag of brown pills that he claims to be workout pills."

The inmate, who told police he and Burchfield had been having sex, also had other contraband items on his person, including cigarettes and vitamin supplements, according to the complaint.

Bannon: Catholic churches ‘need illegal aliens’ (The Hill link): Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in a new interview slammed the Catholic Church for its stance on immigration, saying leaders “need illegal aliens to to fill the churches."

Bannon told "60 Minutes" that the Catholic Church has been “terrible about” immigration when Charlie Rose noted that Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York opposed President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “You know why? Because [they have been] unable to really, to come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it,” Bannon said.

Mod: As I am sure you are aware, the KKK hates Catholics, too.