Outsourcing Local Government

Can one elected L.A. County official represent one-fifth of the county and still really look out for Altadena?

Something’s gone wrong. Let’s say your email is down for the tenth time this month, or the morning paper failed to arrive for the seventh day in a row.

So you make a call and go through the punishing, mind-numbing, soul-zapping, head-splitting process known as the phone tree.  And the phone robot says those irritatingly disingenuous words--“OK” and “got it” and “hmmm, I didn’t catch that”--in hopes you’ll vent all your frustration to a machine.

But, no, you’re going to keep your own counsel. You’re going to wait until you reach a real live person, someone of flesh and blood, no matter how long it takes.

Finally, your persistence is rewarded; you’ve clawed your way up to the live-operator queue.  A queue with long hold times and looping music that has no beginning and no end.

Then at last a human being comes on the line. “Hello, my name is Matt,” he says. But you’re pretty sure his name isn’t really Matt. Because Matt has a tinny voice, a voice compressed into digital packets to make its way across the ocean to your living room at the least possible expense to the company. In other words, not only is Matt located overseas, he sounds likes he’s talking from the bottom of the ocean.

Welcome to outsourcing. It’s an old story by now. We’re accustomed to pouring out our tales of woe to someone far, far away. And we know the drill; Matt will attempt to solve the problem; Matt can’t solve the problem. We just bide our time until we can ditch Matt and escalate the matter to the Holy Grail–someone local.

I have learned to live with this when it involves personal services such as cable, phones, and the like.

But I’m not so forgiving when it comes to outsourcing our local government. 

Which Local Governments?

Today, Tuesday, our County Board of Supervisors is discussing which 22 cities they are each going to represent in the future. They’re going to cut the cake. As to how Altadena is sliced or on whose plate it falls, I can’t see that it makes much difference.

Our current rep, County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, has been a nice enough fellow. He’s an animal lover, and, as I understand it, likes the great outdoors. And when we get a big enough group together, scream loud and hard enough, he hears our voice above those of his other 2 million or so constituents, from time to time.

But face it. The guy has a lot on his mind. Altadena is not the only fish in his sea–he supervises a huge geographical area.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Our supervisor, whichever one we end up with, will probably neither live nor work here in Altadena.  

Which means, whoever is in charge will not personally understand what it is we need.  Additional four-way stops on our wonky streets, for example. Clean up at vacant houses and lots. An . He or she will likely not be a guru who can wade through codes and zoning laws, allowing a couple of community-building projects–like a Farmer’s Market on Mariposa Street or a block party.

If Antonovich, for example, had lived here, maybe he would have asked what’s up with that . Or why fees from film companies filming in Altadena do not go towards Altadena improvements. Or why we couldn’t .

Perhaps, if he had lived in Altadena, he would have questioned whether Altadena is carrying more than its fair share of "group homes,” and, when early release programs are put in place at California prisons, will Altadena have even more.

Maybe if we had a local government that was, you know, local, the powers-that-be would have intimate knowledge of our town, our desires and aspirations; have a vested interest in  making Altadena, not less than what it is, but more of what it can be.

I don't know, I just don't know. Because we’re all on hold, with that looping music; the same old song.

mister altadena September 27, 2011 at 02:40 PM
From what I hear, county is responsive to whatever problems are out there (just takes a while and you have to jump thru hoops to get something done). Someone has a problem, they call county & county responds. However........ Since they aren't locally based, they don't have a "feel" for what we want, they give us what we need (as prescribed by the "one size fits all" style of governing that unincorporation offers). In order for Altadena to get what it needs, we have to have gov't be more local. That means creating a town council et.al with real governing powers &/or incorporate as a city (I still question what parts of the current Altadena to include in such). Until that time, we'll continue to take what county gov't offers. We can somewhat amend that control with our own community standards document (likely waiting yrs for implementation if at all). We get little crumbs of improvement here and there (repaving of Altadena Dr., restripe Lake above Altadena Dr. maybe they'll move a bus layover etc.) to calm us down but it does feel like 2nd class citizen attention. BUT....does most of the town like it this way? "Big" gov't is not in our face all the time, telling us what to do? Living on the fringe? Up against the hills? Partial anonymity? For those that may invite/want more local gov't presence, can it be balanced with the Altadena independent spirit? I dunno........
Laura Monteros September 27, 2011 at 03:37 PM
I've found Antonovich's field deputy, Sussy Nemer, to be very responsive; however, "responsiveness" is part of the problem. We do not have a proactive county government because each supervisorial district is ridiculously large, geographically and demographically. I have never understood why the PUSD has seven board members (up from five when my kids started school), while L.A. County has only five supervisors who are expected to run everything from the Natural History Museum to slurrying the streets. IMHO, L.A. County should have twice as many supervisors with full staffs. Yes, more government, more cost, but also more localized service.
Patrizzi Intergalactica September 27, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Doesn't the Altadena Town Council hold any sway? and maybe PUSD has too many board members
Patrizzi Intergalactica September 27, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Maybe this org can help: 1995 About Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government, and expand and recognize the rights of people, communities, and nature. Company Overview The Legal Defense Fund has become the principal advisor to activists, community groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. Mission Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government, and expand and recognize the rights of people, communities, and nature. Explore our web site, learn at Democracy School, consider a different strategy based in fundamental rights...then get in touch! Products Community Organizing, Local Law Drafting, Public Service Law and Community Rights Advocacy Email info@celdf.org Website http://CELDF.org
Dickinson September 27, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Mike has alot on his plate but he has local reps that are available for all sorts of complaints, input, etc. ACONA has had Ms Nemer at their meetings. But the Town Council is his eyes and ears. He looks to them to say what the town does and does't want. That's why the Town Council exists, to tell him what Altadena wants. Truth is the ATC's job is make sure that Mike A doesn't lose touch with our needs. Your ATC rep should be able to help you get answers to questions. They're your non-outsourced voice to your Supervisor. Mike A looks to the ATC to give him that input. He wants to get re-elected and knows that being out of touch doesn't help that effort. How do you get the County to be more responsive, get to know your ATC rep. Make them work for you, Altadena elected them. Don't like the person representing your area? Run for the seat yourself, or elect someone else. I've had alot of response from my rep but I know who that person is! I ask questions. They can get the county to clean up vacant houses and lots, for example. I hear alot of complaints about the Town Council but they're there specifically to let Mike A know what's up in Altadena and to navigate through government processes. Not to make us feel warm and fuzzy about them. Go to their website and read what their charter is. Let's put the tools in front of us to work! Let's make those people work with the county to clean up lots, etc. Ask them the questions that you have above. I'm sure there are answers.
Karin Bugge September 27, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Mr. Altadena, personal opinion here, but what we gain in anonymity we lose in self-determination and autonomy. There are too many layers between our town and those who make the sustentative decisions. It's not a government "of the people," it's a government of people complaining to someone who doesn't see and live with our issues on a daily basis.
Lori A. Webster September 28, 2011 at 12:05 AM
Exactly right, Karen....and I'd ask what we gain in anonymity, anyway. Businesses closing? Lower property values? Only by having a proactive government rather than a reactive one can we achieve what we need here and only by having our residents involved in the process can we achieve that. We need to capitalize on what people are already coming to Altadena for - hiking, suburban living, gelato and maybe someday, a great town center with a vibrant shopping area!
mister altadena September 28, 2011 at 12:47 AM
@ Karin - I agree. So, who's starting the incorporation petition and fundraising drive? @ Lori - If proactive gov't is the wish, then force the ATC to have a proactive vs mostly reactive agenda. OR, begin an effort to incorporate. When you say "We need to capitalize on" those coming into Altadena, who's the "we" (residents? business owners? both?) and what are your suggestions on how to capitalize upon those that are coming into Altadena for the reasons you stated? For the record, I'm pro incorporation but understand it would be a slow, costly process. As I've noted many times, I'm not sold that everyone in the current 91001 boundaries would be for incorporation nor would everyone want 100% of the current boundaries included in a "city".... maybe the county knows what a difficult fight it would be and takes us somewhat for granted in that regard?
Karin Bugge September 28, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Perhaps we're in violent agreement on this. And you may also be right that a majority of Altadena residents are quite satisfied with the way things are. We just don't know. A possible first step would be for town council members to poll those within their boundaries -- to see if there is a taste for incorporation. Of the Altadena history I know, maybe back in the day, being "county" afforded greater latitude, but I don't see that now. Not when we have to conform to the rules of all the other county areas, some with needs much different from ours. Also, from a cost perspective, it could be argued that all the Altadena monies that get funneled to a general county fund costs us more, in the long run.
Margaret Finnegan September 28, 2011 at 03:40 AM
Wow. Well said, Karen. You've given me a lot to think about.
mister altadena September 28, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Agreed....the challenge is to find someone to take this ball and run w/ it. Even if the ATC only has a few email addresses of the residents, getting a "yes" or "no" to whether they would favor incorporation is a start. Even to ask ATC to conduct an email poll of residents in their boundaries means someone has to get off their booty and make the request.. Who will start the process........?
Desdy Baggott September 28, 2011 at 03:42 PM
I'm concerned about the over-zealous Animal Control board. It has become possible for one disgruntled person (who should probably live in San Marino) to harass anyone they choose. I've just received a complaint from of course an anonymous source who doesn't like the sound of my tiny donkey braying once or twice during the day. It is a delightful sound, in my opinion. It is a sound that makes me glad I live in Altadena where a few pets are welcome. When Coco brays it makes me smile. But one person doesn't like it, and I am threatened with terrible penalties if I do not teach her to hold her tongue. This same Animal Control group has already accused me of having a barking dog. Lobo only barks if some unfamiliar person is lurking, and never barks without a reason. Then they objected to my roosters crowing. I don't even HAVE roosters, or chickens. This form of harassment should be nipped in the bud. and the cranky person should be told that if they don't like the beautiful sounds of nature they shouldn't rent a house in Altadena (near a stable)!!! .
Lori A. Webster September 28, 2011 at 05:57 PM
This is an example of having a reactionary governing body, unfortunately. To answer Mr. Altadena's question, it would require that the Town Council not be volunteers. We need our civic groups subsidized by the County, so there will be some impetus to actually become the advising body they should be. I'm not sure incorporation is the way to go, having just read the article in the LA Business Journal about East L.A. and their fight about incorporation - I see the downside as well as the upside. Whether we're a formal city or remain a township, what's needed here is more action and latitude by our Town Council - I agree with Karen that the current cookie-cutter style of governance is not acceptable.
Karin Bugge September 29, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Take Desdy's case, for example. Someone rents a place next to a stable and then complains to the county that they're living next to a stable. And the county code is the same for Altadena as it is for what -- Marina Del Rey? I'd continue this rant, but the county told me to move my yacht. Ok, I'll go to the next town council meeting. Polling the residents seems a starting place, so I'll suggest it.
Lisa Hastings September 29, 2011 at 04:53 AM
Animal Control harassed me for years when my dogs were alive because I live next to a hateful man who hates dogs. He was home all day and made it his mission to repeatedly file complaints about my dogs. Animal Control's wannabe cops would visit my home at all hours - 6:30 a.m. and even one Saturday night. Animal Control would complain to me that my dogs were barking at them. I stopped leaving my dogs outside and the harassment still continued because my hateful mean neighbor continued to file complaints claiming that he could still hear the dogs barking. I set up voice activated recording devices in my home and discovered that my dogs were barking at the mail carrier and that was about it. Animal Control escalated the matter twice to the District Attorney's office where I faced felony charges for disturbing the peace. I finally hired a criminal defense attorney the last time and an animal behaviorist as an expert witness. I spent about $6,000 on legal fees and was prepared to face charges. I refused to allow this hateful and mean man and Animal Control to bully me into giving up my dogs who only barked at the mail carrier and other normal events. The District Attorney declined to file charges against me. Now the mean and hateful neighbor and Animal Control are picking on other neighbors with dogs. All because of one hateful man. Animal Control can GO TO HELL.
Lisa Hastings September 29, 2011 at 05:24 AM
I always thought it amusing that the Altadena Town Council has 16 members (plus alternates at one time) for 40,000 residents and the Board of Supervisors has only 5 members for a population of almost 10 million.
Desdy Baggott September 29, 2011 at 11:02 PM
The thing I like about NOT being incorporated is that (except for animal control) if somebody has a real complaint about a neighbor they have to drive into Los Angeles and pay for parking and traipse all over City Hall to lodge the complaint. If we were incorporated, these idle people with nothing to do but complain would find it a great sport to harass us all on a whim. It is too easy to just walk into "headquarters" and get lots of attention. Let's continue to make it a real chore to complain.
Susan Campisi September 30, 2011 at 02:08 AM
The county conundrum gives me a headache. So does trying to get through to Charter. The analogy is brilliant. Keep us posted on the next council meeting, Karin. Maybe I'll join you.
mister altadena September 30, 2011 at 03:16 AM
@Desdy's 4p comment..... Why would someone w/ a complaint in Altadena drive to "city hall" in LA? LA City Hall has nothing to do w/ Altadena; since we're under's LA County's jurisdiction. Past articles on various code violations have shown how easy it is to CALL (vs. drive) the county to lodge a complaint. Being incorporated or not would likely not matter to the ease at which someone can complain about code violations et.al
Cafe Pasadena October 04, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Kb, did u get a permit from The County to publish this for public consumption?


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