Nothing but lies

by the Reverend Dr. Jerry Cornelius, Pasadena Weekly, Dec 13, 2007

What is the truth?
Could you handle the truth if you knew it?

Would you know the truth if you saw it, heard it, felt it,
or smelled it?

Woven into his week’s tapestry of fabrications are some
threads of truth, but not many — just seven in all.

There are some items that may or may not be true —
pushes that could go either way. If you can convince us that they really are
true, then so it will be.

The challenge is to find those items that are true then
write to us with the answers to win tickets for you and a friend for dinner and
an event of some kind, courtesy of the Pasadena Weekly.

We only have enough tickets for five winners, so you’ll have
to hurry up and choose.

Just remember; there are no false truths. In other words, if
one part of the statement is false, then the whole thing is false.

For instance, if the statement is “Former PW reporter Carl
Kozlowski was named the Funniest Reporter West of the Mississippi,” that would
be false. Why? Carl is not a former reporter, well, not yet. Who knows, that
one might be true by the time you write in. But that’s how it works.

By the same token, some items are open to interpretation.
But if you say something is true — and then swear on a stack of Bibles
— hey, who are we to quibble?

So dig in, take the test and tell us just what is true and
what is false about your hometown, Pasadena.


1.   Caltech’s Ramo Auditorium is named for a character
in the 1984 hip-hop and graffiti culture film “Beat Street.”


2.   In January, the City Council will hear a proposal
by former Raymond Theater owners Gene and Marilyn Buchanan to purchase the
Pasadena Playhouse and convert it into luxury condos.


3.   Now that he’s been sworn in as a lawyer, Rene Amy
is preparing to represent onetime PUSD volunteer-turned-accused serial killer
John Whitaker in his upcoming murder trial.


4.   A shipment of 10,000 Bill Bogaard bobble-head
dolls produced as part of a deal to bring the China-themed float to the Rose
Parade were recalled after it was found they were finished with lead-based


5.   He’s all for gun control now, but when he was
young state Sen. Jack Scott shot a neighbor’s dog.


6.   PW writer Carl Kozlowski was recently voted
America’s Funniest Reporter.


7.   Pasadena City Councilwoman Jacque Robinson is
really only 18 years old.


8.   Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once attended
Caltech as part of an Austrian student exchange established by Albert Einstein.


9.   Before moving to Pasadena, schools critic Mary Dee
Romney served as California’s Secretary of Education under Gov. Pete Wilson.


10. Contrary to his subsequent statements, former
presidential candidate John Kerry actually did mean to say that without
education, you’ll get stuck in Iraq.


11.  He doesn’t talk about it much, but Caltech
President Jean-Lou Chameau is actually the brother of French actor Jean Reno.


12. Pasadena Councilman Steve Madison is a lot of fun to
hang out with once you get to know him.


13. After being harassed and audited by the IRS, All Saints
Church Rector Emeritus George Regas recently declared that GW Bush really is a
great president and that war in Iraq was actually a good idea.


14.  Los Angeles Sentinel owner Danny Bakewell is the best
qualified developer for the Heritage Square housing project.


15. And speaking of Bakewell, his grandfather was the
architect who designed Pasadena City Hall.

16.  Pasadena Magazine is really put together in
Pasadena, Texas, and has nothing much to do with Pasadena, Calif.


17.  Pasadena Superintendent of Schools Edwin Diaz is a
Rhodes Scholar.


18.  Former Altadena Town Councilman Justin Chapman
moved to the Bay Area and now serves on the Berkeley City Council.


19.  Freddie’s 35er bar is so named for the price of a
shot of whiskey in the early 1960s.


20. Barney’s restaurant and Barney’s Beanery are both owned
by Pasadena Police Chief Bernard “Barney” Melekian. Melekian refuses to be
publicly called by that name so people only think of it in reference to his


21. A portion of the thousands of condos and apartments
currently being built in upscale West Pasadena are to be used to house recently
released prison inmates.


22. Larry Flynt will be talking to the city next month
about purchasing the Crown City Loan and Jewelry pawn shop in Old Pasadena and
turning it into a Hustler store.


23. Former PUSD Superintendent Percy Clark became an
Episcopal minister and moved to a village in Africa to see for himself how the
children are doing.


24. James Macpherson’s Pasadena Now news Web site is
produced exclusively in Pasadena.


25. The Rose Bowl was first built to host chariot races for
the city’s wealthy residents.


26.  After reading about its new Sunday Night Bowling
and Drinking Club in PW, the National Bowling Association decided to have its
annual tournament at Eagle Rock’s All Star Lanes.

27.  Hounded from the tri-city airport commission,
Glendale Councilman Bob Yousefian quit public life altogether to become a
professional ventriloquist.


28. Bliss, PW’s contributing music editor, is a pseudonym.
Her real name is Severin Browne, brother of rocker Jackson Browne. Likewise, PW
dining critic Erica Wayne is really Carl Kozlowski, as is fellow food scribe
Dan O’Heron.


29.  Pasadena impresario Tom Coston recently announced
that participants in January’s loony Doo Dah Parade will have to test positive
for drug and alcohol use before being allowed to march in the event.


30. After leaving Day One, the anti-drug and alcohol
nonprofit organization for teens, Tahra Goraya went into business with
legendary pothead Tommy Chong to sell designer pipes and bongs.


31.  The 21 Flavors yogurt shop in Old Pasadena only
has 17 flavors.


32.  Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo recently
fulfilled a lifelong dream and became a firefighter in neighboring Glendale.


33.  Before becoming a year-round Christmas supply
store, Stats once served as an equipment warehouse for the LA Dodgers.


34.  Paseo Colorado is owned by a management company
controlled by Jennifer Lopez.


35.  Speaking of Lopez, she owns a restaurant in
Pasadena called Madre’s.


36. Before it became the Gold Line, the Metro Gold Line was
to be called the Blue Line.


37.  Actor Kevin Costner once owned Twin Palms
restaurant, but lost the business in a high-stakes poker match at Morongo


38.  Conservative Republican Congressman David Dreier
once dated workout guru Richard Simmons.


39. Pasadena Councilman Steve Haderlein was forced to
resign his post with the state marijuana reform campaign because of his refusal
to inhale.


40. Peace activist Dick Smoak once broke a man’s nose for
laughing at his name.


41. Former state Attorney General John Van De Kamp
regularly serves his family’s brand of fish sticks at garden parties held at
his Pasadena home.


42. Conservative Pasadena blogger Wayne Lusvardi is
actually a registered Democrat.


43. Pasadena Board of Education member Scott Phelps is one
of the few remaining members of the Pasadena branch of the John Birch Society.


44.  Pasadena Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino
was arrested, along with Congressman Adam Schiff and former state Sen. Tom
Hayden, in San Francisco in the 1960s at a meeting of Hayden’s Students for a
Democratic Society.


45.  Pasadena City Councilman Sid Tyler was an ace
fighter pilot in Vietnam.

Past deadline

Local journalism legend Mikki Bolliger steps aside

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 8/16/2007

Mikki Bolliger hasn’t seen it all, but she sure has seen a lot, having been a veteran journalist before taking over as the adviser to Pasadena City College’s Courier weekly newspaper 34 years ago.

Now Bolliger has apparently seen enough and is retiring, mainly to let someone else take the reins of that award-winning college newspaper and guide budding reporters in steering the paper in newer, online directions, such as podcasting and streaming video.

After 1,032 issues, Bolliger says it’s time for someone who is already familiar with those technologies to bring the students up to speed. And that person is Warren Swil, a South African-American who works as an editor with the Pasadena Star-News and has taught journalism classes at PCC for six years.

Bolliger started out in 1963 as a photographer covering the Baldwin Hills dam failure, one of the first spot news stories to appear on television, and wrote for a number of papers before beginning at PCC — the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Hollywood Citizen News, the Van Nuys News and Green Sheet (now the LA Daily News), and the Valley edition of the LA Times — before going to work as a public relations teacher at LA Valley College in Van Nuys. There she encouraged anyone interested in PR to spend some time on a newspaper staff in order to understand the functions of both professions.

Although Bolliger resisted the teaching job as long as she could, “as soon as I heard a student say ‘Now I got it,’ I was hooked. I knew I had more to offer.”

But she also understands that some things cannot be taught. “College newspapers weed out a lot of journalist wannabes that can write a decent story but aren’t willing to do the extra hours of research and interviewing it takes to write that story that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Bolliger said.

Over the course of her career, Bolliger has seen many students and stories come and go — from political extremism on campus to claims of excessive force by police. Also since she took the helm at the Courier, recognized by the Journalism Association of Community Colleges as one of the top college newspapers in the state, Bollinger has seen newsrooms transform from a bunch of people smoking cigarettes and pounding on typewriters to physically fit and well-educated young men and women plying the Internet.

“She has this renowned, unstructured, laissez-faire teaching style that’s extraordinarily one of a kind,” said Titania Kumeh, a former Bolliger student and former contributor to both the Courier and the Pasadena Weekly.

“Everyone could tell that Mrs. B loved being the adviser and she loved her students,” said Stacy Wang, the Courier’s editor in chief for the 2007-08 school year. “She would stay late with us every week to make sure we put out a great paper and expected nothing less than the best from each of us.” 

Bolliger thinks community college is a good option for young journalists.

“I’m a little biased because I think the two-year schools do a much better job of preparing students for jobs in journalism,” said Bolliger.

The Courier was the first college paper to go online, back before doing so was necessary for a print newspaper’s survival. The newspaper industry, if you haven’t noticed, is at a dramatic and very uncertain crossroads. People have become used to instantaneous and free news at the convenient click of a button. And a few years of soul searching hasn’t seemed to produce any meaningful or long-term answers in the world of print journalism.

Bolliger is optimistic about the transition from print to online media.

“People will always want and need the information that journalists provide,” Bolliger said. “There are still going to be wonderful stories of people to be told and corrupt politicians to cover. The difference is that in the 21st century, it’s not all about the print edition. I think it will continue to be a wonderful profession with a lot more opportunities. And I don’t think the print editions of the paper are going anywhere.”

Swil, Bolliger’s replacement, has big plans to move the paper forward by focusing attention on the paper’s Web edition and getting the students updated on the rapid changes occurring in the newspaper industry.

“We’re going to be doing what every newspaper in the world is doing, focusing on electronic delivery of the news. It is vital that students learn about these changes that are happening in their industry,” Swil said.

As for her post-retirement plans, Bolliger plans to keep writing and freelancing for publications, and wants to do some traveling. She’s helping her daughter plan her wedding and wants to drive across the United States, having just purchased a new hybrid car, to visit relatives on the East Coast.

Reflecting on what she’s proud of and what she could have done better in terms of her tenure as the Courier adviser, Bolliger said, “I am particularly proud that the Courier is a well-respected newspaper. It regularly wins statewide recognition for general excellence and has done so consistently for the last 30-plus years.  I know a lot of colleges where the faculty and administration do not take the campus newspaper seriously. I’m proud that that is not the case at PCC. People not only read the paper, they pay attention to what the paper has to say, which means the students are doing a really good job.

“As for what I could do better,” she said, “you know, I haven’t had the time to give that much thought. As the months go by and I see how my replacement is doing, I’ll probably say, ‘Why didn’t I think to do that!’”

Town Council winners

Posted by Pasadena Weekly Staff | Jun 14, 2007

Weekly contributor Justin Chapman and a number of other incumbents won re-election to the Altadena Town Council last Saturday.

Incumbents Steve Lamb, Ken Balder and Michele Zack were also victors, and Gene Campbell and Lorie Judson won unopposed. Newcomers Timothy Kelly and Keith Gibbs were also elected. Results are to be certified by the council on Tuesday.

Altadena elections Saturday

by Pasadena Weekly, June 7, 2007

Incumbents are running for four of five seats up for grabs in Saturday’s Altadena Town Council election. Candidates Alice Wesson and Keith Gibbs are fighting over one vacant seat. The council serves as the voice of the small unincorporated community, but serves only in an advisory capacity. Incumbent Justin Chapman, who is an occasional freelance writer for the Weekly, is being challenged by Sarah Fuller. Longtime Council member Steve Lamb is facing Matt Little, and Jerry Rhoads is challenging Council member Michele Zack.Town Council Chairman Ken Balder is facing political newcomers Laura Graham and Pete Baumer.

How to make change

The Altadena Town Council is accepting candidacy applications and candidate statements for the upcoming June 9 election

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 4/26/2007

The Altadena Town Council is accepting candidacy applications and candidate statements for the upcoming June 9 election until 5 p.m. on May 8.

Applications can be picked up at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive, and at the Altadena Library, 600 E. Mariposa St.

Candidates must be Altadena residents, at least 18 years old and pay a $25 filing fee.

Size Doesn’t Matter

New PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz says his first shot at running a large school system isn’t going to change him or his operating style

By Justin Chapman and Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, 4/12/2007

In a perfect world, no one would be asked to deal with the legacy of one of the worst administrations in local public school history, which was what Pasadena had under disgraced former Superintendent Percy Clark, who finally left the district last year under a cloud.

Needless to say, Clark has left his replacement a swirling pile of unresolved controversies to handle. But even facing such daunting realities as downward spiraling enrollment, which determines school funding, probably more budget shortfalls, and any number of other possible crises with district teachers and administrators, Edwin Diaz says he’s up to the job.

The 53-year-old Diaz was born in Gilroy and served as assistant superintendent of the Oak Grove School District in San Jose before taking the reins as superintendent of the Gilroy Unified School District in 2000. While there, according to a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times, he taught social science and served as head football coach. Diaz took charge of Greater Pasadena schools in March amid high hopes that he would be able to overcome the mistakes of the past and instill new hope for public schools.

Giving the deal a little more oomph than just best wishes is a hefty salary: $220,000 a year, a pay range that is among the highest in the country and nearly $50,000 more a year than what he was making in Gilroy, along with numerous perks, including a car. But Diaz, according to some, has proven himself to be worth the investment.

“My impression is he is a person who has inspired the entire [Gilroy] community to support public education, to help young people succeed in the classroom and then in the course of their lives,” said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, a longtime Pasadena Educational Foundation member who in December traveled north to the garlic capital of the world along with school board members, Sierra Madre Mayor John Buchanan and Altadena Town Council Chairman Ken Balder to learn more about Diaz prior to his hiring.

  “I’m anxious for him to start establishing working relationships within his organization and in the community because I am confident he will have a positive impact on the schools,” Bogaard said.

Others also seem pleased with Diaz’s selection.

"Mr. Diaz can be a catalyst for pushing it all together. He’s got to be a good politician, a good manager, a good listener and a good collaborator, and those are all things I’ve heard about him," Occidental College political science professor and PUSD parent Peter Dreier told the Times back in December.

Except for size — Gilroy has only 10,100 students, nearly half as many as Pasadena Unified — the Pasadena district is similar to Gilroy in significant ways. One is that Gilroy is located near Silicon Valley, an area filled with scientists, engineers and other professionals in the computer world who demand high educational standards for their children. Pasadena faces similar demands from parents, some of whom work at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech and other institutions of advanced learning.

But complicating fulfillment of that objective is the fact that Gilroy remains a largely agricultural region and contains a large working-class and underclass population. And some in that community have not been as impressed as Bogaard, Dreier and others with Diaz’s management style or his ability to satisfy all parents.

The Web site Republic of Gilroy, which closely monitors school doings in that city (, reported on an April 2004 incident in which a teacher was fired in front of her students the day after she publicly complained to the school board about the district’s practice of passing students who don’t make the grade — what educrats call “social promotion” — and the allegedly unfair way teachers were being treated.

After much community uproar, Diaz formed a special accountability task force, which came to be called a “task farce” after he appointed himself, another board member and other district insiders to participate in the final determination that the district did nothing wrong in its treatment of the teacher, who was later awarded an $18,000 out-of-court settlement with the district, according to other published accounts.

“He is a lousy policymaker, and he ignores critics, but Diaz excels at spin management. It helps that he is officially off-limits in the local press and that he has five willing dupes on the school board … to enable him,” the Republic of Gilroy concluded.

But Diaz had his supporters in Gilroy, among them the district’s teachers union.

"As a superintendent, he had to work on a lot of different areas," Michelle Nelson, head of the Gilroy Teachers Association, told a reporter with the Gilroy Dispatch. “He had to look at facilities, at compensation, at student achievement, and he tried to implement an accountability system," said Nelson, who according to the Dispatch gave Diaz an "A-/B+" for his six years in charge.

Here in Pasadena, it will be interesting to see whether any of Diaz’s top managers in Gilroy will make the trip south to be with their old boss in Pasadena. According to Republic of Gilroy, colleagues who left the district around the time Diaz decided to come to Pasadena include the human relations director/assistant superintendent who fired the aggrieved teacher in front of her students and then had her escorted from the school by police.

During a recent interview with the Weekly, Diaz spoke at length about creating a sense of togetherness between Pasadena, Sierra Madre and unincorporated Altadena, where some residents have begun efforts to secede from the PUSD.

Diaz acknowledged that he faces a daunting challenge in a number of areas. But he believes the recipe for success here is the same as it was for him in Gilroy: establishing relationships with as many parents, teachers, community leaders and taxpaying stakeholders as possible.

All that, and lots of hard work.

“I plan to be involved at every school site,” Diaz said, “so I won’t leave any one community out.”

Pasadena Weekly:   Gilroy’s a smaller district than Pasadena. How do you think you’ll adjust to a bigger, more spread-out district that includes two other communities? What differences and challenges do you anticipate?

Edwin Diaz: Size is a big consideration. One of the things that I noticed already is that Pasadena is a much smaller community as far as relationships; longtime residents and people who went to school in the public school system are now teaching here, so a lot of that smaller town community feel is welcomed, because I thought I’d be losing some of that. However, it is more of challenge, especially having three different communities that are served by the PUSD school system. That’s going to require me spending more time meeting with representatives from each of those communities and extending myself in order to establish partnerships and create a sense of collaboration and trying to meet the needs of the separate communities. At the same time, I think there’s a huge opportunity to pull the three communities together around one direction and focus and approach to improvement for the school district. It is going to be more of a challenge, but I think with a challenge you can also identify some opportunities. One of the pieces of advice I received from somebody was, the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 may seem like a lot, but don’t change my operating style. Don’t let people tell me that it’s too big to collaborate, to establish relationships, and to try to pull people together around a common vision, because size shouldn’t get in the way of that.

What’s the No. 1 issue or goal you want to address or achieve during your first year with PUSD?

There are a number of immediate challenges: the budget, declining enrollment, charter schools, district configuration by grade level, size of schools, [and] a consistent district philosophy around choice vs. neighborhood. All those immediately come to mind. I’m starting with, at least in these first 90 days, trying to get to know the schools, the instructional program that kids receive, the people who work in the schools, the level of instruction, the site administrators, what the challenges and successes are. [I’m also trying] to make connections with individuals in the community and representatives from each of the two cities and the town council, and trying to establish myself as somebody who’s a leader who focuses in on kids first, wants to collaborate but is also focused on results. One of the immediate issues is how to deal with the management audit, which I see as a great set of recommendations to help guide me as I start to look at some things we can do internally to improve operations.

Will outside organizations, such as the Stupski Foundation or the Pasadena Educational Foundation, influence your decisions as superintendent?

My philosophy on working with outside organizations, foundations and other entities has always been that before we truly engage with those groups, we need to establish what our purpose, focus and priorities are, and then engage in partnerships and relationships to address our most critical needs. So I’m really not interested in expanding the number of partnerships if they don’t meet with our core vision and our priorities as a district.

We’ve heard there will be a $6 million deficit and more school closures over the next few years. How will you address declining enrollment and growing budget issues?

Currently the budget two years out [has] a $3 million gap. What we’re immediately doing is putting together some ideas as far as how to enhance revenue or recommendations for reducing expenditures. But when it comes to school closure and trying to operate more efficiently as a district, that’s a process that’s going to take place over the course of this coming year. And what you just mentioned as far as school closure or any of those efficiencies really has to do with the size of our schools, grade configuration, the number of schools we have and what our overall purpose and district-wide structure is for our schools. Once that conversation happens and some decisions are made, then we can ask what that means for the number of schools that we currently have. But the other part of it is maximizing our enrollment and attendance, putting in place some ideas around improved daily attendance, making sure that we’re operating as efficiently as we can, and also being able to identify some funds for improving compensation of employees down the road, because it’s going to be very difficult to move forward in this type of very competitive environment without at some point in the next couple of years granting some type of compensation for workers.

What have you heard about the citizen-sponsored Altadena Unified School District petition effort? Any thoughts about that?

I’ve heard it mentioned but I don’t have any details. My question would be: What are the issues and what are the concerns that led a group of residents to develop a petition in order to start their own district? Is it because of dissatisfaction with PUSD? Have they somehow felt alienated from the school district? What are the specific issues? Because my guess is that what I want from the schools located in Altadena is probably what they would want with a separate school district.

What will you do to include Altadena and its community leaders in future district policy decisions that affect them?

I plan to, first of all, be aware of the issues of all the schools by being at the schools enough and being involved with the community enough so I understand if any one community feels their needs aren’t being addressed. I clearly get that PUSD serves three communities. When I went to the Town Council meeting, [it] was probably the first step in what I hope is a more collaborative relationship between Altadena and the school district. So I intend to keep connections with all three communities.

What do you have in mind for the district’s four closed elementary schools in the short and long term? Would you like to see them remain designated for educational use, or do you have other ideas?

I believe from my short time here that there’re a couple of issues that need to be addressed. I believe that every school site needs a more specific updated facilities use plan. We go into every school site and get a detailed plan about the facility needs. … My approach is going to be, first of all, that we take care of our schools and we maintain enough capacity to accommodate a shift in enrollment where in the future there may be growth. Then we try to maximize the value of all the other sites, whether that’s some type of long-term lease that gets revenue coming into the district, or it’s some joint-use partnership, or it’s some development plan that addresses a critical need that PUSD has but also gives us an opportunity to maximize the value and create revenue for the district. So after you take care of the school sites, and you have that plan not only for current students but also future students, then I think it’s really about making the best business decisions for the district with the other assets that the district has in its possession. There’s been a lot of discussion about [the district office] building. My thought about the district office has always been, if there’s an available school site or whatever, we can operate pretty much anywhere as long as it’s a central location and if we’re able to create an opportunity where the district gets an enormous amount of capital to be able to use to deal with some of the other needs. I’ve always wanted to explore those options. You read in the management audit just a basic recommendation of $4 million for technology. That’s a critical need, so where does that money come from? You have to look at what assets you currently have to see if there’s any way of dealing with those needs.

If you could offer one criticism of the board or the district, what would it be?

I would say strategic, improvement and operational planning needs to be much more consistent and ongoing. When you have issues like declining enrollment, facilities needs, technology needs, management structures, at some point those have to be identified as areas of improvement, and you have to continually plan every year to address them. My comment would be you can’t let any of those systems or issues go unaddressed for very many years, because then you get in the position of having to catch up and make major changes that could be hard for everybody to accept.  

Altadena Town Council Member Profile: Justin Chapman

By David Crockett, Mountain Views News Magazine, 3/15/2007

Altadena Town Councilman Justin Chapman is 21 years old and has been living in Altadena since the age of 6. A lifelong resident of the Foothills Region, education and development are the two issues that interest and motivate him the most.

Chapman was elected to the council in June of 2005, and his two-year term will expire this coming summer. On the issue of development in Altadena, Chapman, like many of his colleagues, seeks to continue spurring economic growth in the area without overdeveloping the community. Finding the right balance is a difficult task, and at times, a contentious one as well.

Chapman is most passionate about education, and feels that the needs of Altadena's residents are often neglected and overlooked by the Pasadena Unified School District, which includes Altadena in its jurisdiction. After PUSD made the decision in December of 2005 to close down three public schools in Altadena, Chapman proposed the creation of an education committee to "look in and investigate the possibility of seceding from PUSD." The district is currently exploring options on what to do with the closed sites, though Chapman wants to ensure that they continue being used for educational purposes and that they not be sold to real estate or retail developers.

Though the idea to study secession from PUSD has additional support from other members of the Altadena Town Council, the effort has been stonewalled because there are disagreements on how exactly to go about with such an ambitious plan. In order to jumpstart the process, the council needs to procure signatures from 25% of the community, and once the petition is submitted to the County, they will conduct a feasibility study. The process includes more bureaucratic hurdles after that; in order for Altadena to have its own school district, additional studies must be completed and approval from both the County and State will be necessary.

In addition to serving on the Altadena Town Council, Chapman writes for the Pasadena Weekly and works at the Huntington Library. He has an AA degree from Pasadena City College and is considering the possibility of continuing his education at UCLA; he is uncertain as to whether he'll seek a second term with the council. He is also an experienced actor, having appeared in numerous TV shows and commercials.

A school of our own

The only thing Altadenans have to fear is themselves in the drive to form a new school district

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 3/1/2007

The reason I helped create the Altadena Town Council’s Education Committee shortly before Christmas 2005 — fittingly enough on the same night that the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education voted to close four elementary schools, three in Altadena — was to help my community have a say in decisions that affect its children.

The original purpose for this committee was to “explore the desirability and possibility of recommending that the Town Council start a petition process to secede from PUSD,” as it is written in the committee’s chartering document. That sounds simple enough. But today, the drive to form a new district is anything but, with the secession effort virtually no further ahead today than it was when it started more than a year ago.

Less than three weeks after the creation of my committee, three Altadena residents — Bruce Wasson, Maurice Morse and Shirlee Smith, with the help of aspiring lawyer and longtime schools watchdog Rene Amy — filed a petition with the county to get the process under way.

Although it was perfectly legal for them to do so, that petition prohibited any efforts by the Education Committee to do the same, mainly because county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents Altadena, made it clear that he only wanted one petition effort to be conducted.

Someone recently asked me if newly hired PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz and the election for three open school board seats on Tuesday would take some of the steam out of the AUSD effort. I don’t think it will, at least no more than apparent changes of heart by some original supporters already have.

The main concern driving the desire to secede is the lack of Altadena community and Town Council influence, input and representation on both the school board and a special committee formed by the district, the 711 Committee, to decide what to do with the district’s recently designated surplus properties, including the three closed schools in Altadena.

Illustrating exactly what I am saying, the 711 Committee’s recent report completely ignored two separate Town Council resolutions and other input from Altadena residents.

Another concern is how Diaz was selected to replace outgoing Superintendent Percy Clark, who proved during his nearly five years in power to be no friend of Altadena.

Although Town Council Chairman Ken Balder traveled to Gilroy with Board of Education members Peter Soelter, Scott Phelps and Ed Honowitz, as well as Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and Sierra Madre Mayor John Buchanan, to interview Diaz, Balder was not authorized to represent the Town Council. He participated solely as an individual, much as I am in writing this story, so Altadena did not have adequate official representation in the selection of Diaz.

Altadena deserves to be listened to, and that’s not happening. Like any community, we don’t want decisions made for us without our consultation, input and participation.

It’s important to remember that signing the petition will not automatically result in Altadena seceding from PUSD. The petition only makes the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s (LACOE) Committee on School District Organization (CSDO) do a feasibility study which will determine what will happen to PUSD if another district is formed. If PUSD would be harmed in any way by the formation of an AUSD, the petition would be denied. 

The study would also provide critical information on the AUSD’s demographics, as well as the number of students expected to attend each of the new district’s schools, which, with the state paying roughly $7,500 a year per student, would generate the revenue needed to operate.

After that, a draft report will be presented, community meetings will be held and a vote will be taken by the county Board of Education either to deny the petition or approve it. From there, the proposal will be sent to Sacramento, where the state Board of Education will decide whether to proceed. If it does, either Altadena residents or voters district-wide will vote on the matter in the next general election. In the end, if things get that far, the matter will come back before Altadenans for the final decision.

The AUSD steering committee, its volunteers and the chief petitioners have gathered roughly 2,500 signatures out of their goal of 7,000, the county’s requirement of 25 percent of registered Altadena voters. Since November, though, signature gathering seems to have come to a complete standstill.

One problem is with Wasson, who apparently is not storing completed petitions at the agreed-upon safe house, the Altadena Sheriff’s Station. Wasson has apparently cut off communication with many volunteers who dedicated the past year to helping the AUSD effort, people who collected the majority of signatures.

According to fellow Town Council Education Committee and AUSD Steering Committee member Jerry Rhoads, one of the main complaints the excluded volunteers have with Wasson’s petition efforts is that it is increasingly becoming less transparent and accountable. In order for this movement to work, it must be a diverse, community-wide effort.

Although I was not involved in the petition process, I was listed as an endorser on the official AUSD Web site that was created by Rhoads. He is one of the people now being ignored by Wasson, who apparently copied Rhoads’ Web site onto a new “official” AUSD Web site and listed a select few endorsers, including me, even though I never gave him permission to do so.

The other two chief petitioners, Morse and Smith, have both publicly stated that they want to be attached to the petition in name only, and want nothing to do with day-to-day operations.

At the Jan. 16 meeting of the Education Committee, Rhoads, speaking for Altadenans for Quality Education, proposed that the committee recommend the Town Council support the petition effort only if the chief petitioners are replaced by elected community leaders.

Rhoads further proposed that if the chief petitioners were not replaced, the Education Committee should support the concept of an Altadena Unified School District as a possible option in the future, but not under the current petition effort led by Wasson.

To date, the AUSD effort is NOT formally supported by either the Town Council or its Education Committee.

According to Daniel Villanueva, LACOE CSDO secretary, a chief petitioner cannot be replaced without his or her consent. I doubt Wasson wants to go anywhere. As for Smith, it’s hard to say. In Cortney Fielding’s latest Pasadena Star-News story on AUSD, Smith essentially said it doesn’t matter whether she’s a chief petitioner or not. Morse would be the most likely candidate. In order to be replaced, an original chief petitioner would need to send a letter to Mr. Villanueva with the replacement’s name and contact information.

If the original chief petitioners aren’t replaced, chances are high that this petition will never be seen by the voters of Altadena.

In my opinion, the best thing for Altadena to do to obtain more representation in not only its school district affairs but also other aspects of community planning is to incorporate. Historically, Altadenans have resisted this idea. But I believe now, as the San Gabriel Valley continues to grow, is the time to localize power, both in the community and in our schools. Incorporation would certainly make an AUSD more feasible.

But for now, a diplomatic move from the school board and the Pasadena City Council to include the Altadena community and Town Council, such as inviting representatives from the Town Council to joint meetings between those two governmental bodies, might restore a little faith in PUSD and at the same time help build a more united community and a better school district for all the children of the foothills.