The Sierra Madre City Council unanimously voted in favor of continuing its participation in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) on Tuesday night despite the recent dismissal of the the group's executive director.
Membership in the organization is voluntary and, before the meeting, the city had withheld its annual dues payment of $8,284.40 until the benefits of membership had been discussed. The request to discuss the city’s membership was first brought forth by John Harabedian, a Sierra Madre City Council Member who serves as a liaison to the SGVCOG.
The SGVCOG includes 31 cities, three Supervisory Districts, and a few local water agencies. The non-regulatory organization focuses on issues such as economic growth, the environment, housing, and transportation. Other cities, such as Walnut, had ended their membership due to allegations of conflict-of-interest by the past Executive Director Nick Conway.
“The year has been incredibly difficult, really tense,” said Nancy Walsh, Mayor Pro-Term who serves as an alternate liaison to SGVCOG, on the challenges following the allegations on Conway and the reorganization of the group. “Now there’s an amazing energy. If we can get through whatever legal battle, [the SGVCOG] will definitely be stronger…this little city cannot get along without it.”
Fran Delach, interim director of the SCVOG, listed benefits Sierra Madre has received as a result of its participation in the organization. He began by stating a number of “green” benefits. For example, the city has participated in the San Gabriel Valley Energy Wise partnership, a collaborative effort with Southern California Edison and SGVCOG to incentivize and promote energy efficiency efforts in the community.
As a member of the partnership, Sierra Madre received lowered electricity rates for energy efficient programs and an energy demand “off peak” use of the water department. As well, Sierra Madre has participated in supporting California’s Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan (CEESP).
City staff has been able to receive assistance from PMC Consultants in terms of obtaining green-house-gas emission inventory data as well as create a complete Energy Action Plan draft. The city also has access to the County of Los Angeles’ online/automated energy management system that helps in analyzing energy consumption data in “real time” with the use of the Internet.
Furthermore, the SVCOG assisted city staff with smaller events and projects. One project touted was the return of single-use batteries to local businesses for recycling. Arnold’s Frontier Hardware and Best buy Drugs accept batteries due to a grant from CalRecycle and partnership with the SGVCOG.
“The process of engaging with the [SGVCOG] is still important–it doesn’t go on tangents that aren’t important,” said Delach. “I do think that the programs are of tremendous value.”
Concerns Over Transparency
Before voting on the city’s participation in the SGVCOG, a member of the city council wanted to ensure that there would be transparency in the workings of the organization.
“Despite the legal problems of the former director, this is an organization that gives Sierra Madre back more then the money we put in–it’s an extension of the staff, they are writing grants for us, we are receiving money for those grants, but I do have those concerns that are we exposing ourselves to anything further,” said Josh Moran, Mayor of Sierra Madre.
Another member of the Sierra Madre City Council inquired as to how Sierra Madre would directly benefit from the programs of the organization.
“I’m questioning if there’s a little too much bureaucracy here, our tax dollars are being spent in things that aren’t optimal,” said John Capoccia, a Sierra Madre City Council Member.
Despite the concerns raised in the meeting, the Sierra Madre City Council unanimously decided to continue with its participation in the SGVCOG.