Two mavericks have joined San Marino’s City Council, and the temperature in the room just went up.
Steve Talt and Dr. Steven Huang, who won election to the council in twin landslides in November, were sworn in before last week’s council meeting. Each clearly wants to make a strong early impression, and in the course of the proceedings, the normally even-tempered Dr. Richard Sun exhibited a rare flash of anger, and later exasperation.
Sun, a two-term incumbent and now the vice mayor, lashed out at Talt as the newcomer jockeyed to get himself onto an ad hoc budget committee. The council has been deliberating for weeks about the committee. It seeks to have two council members join with community members to gauge the efficiency of city government department by department.
New mayor Dr. Allan Yung repeatedly said he was inclined to have the committee council members be himself and the vice mayor, but Talt angled for rotating the council representation on the committee as it works its way through the various departments.
“Pick someone with the mayor and look at parks and grounds,” Talt said, by way of example.
Yung said he understood the suggestion to involve representation by the mayor and vice mayor.
“I didn’t agree to the vice mayor,” Talt countered. “I’m sure the vice mayor is very busy. Any one of the remaining …”
Sun broke in sharply: “Let me decide, correct? Let me say if I’m busy or not. Don’t tell me I’m busy.”
Talt backed off, but only briefly. He urged that the mayor and another council member launch the committee right away, beginning with the city’s public works and administration arms, and added, “I will volunteer myself.”
Sun acknowledged that Talt obviously had a keen desire to serve in this capacity, and gave him his wish: He made a motion that Yung and Talt be the first members of the ad hoc committee and begin a management performance audit of those two departments. The two councilmen on the committee will decide which community members to invite onto the panel.
Further on in the meeting, when Talt and Huang opposed accepting a turf-removal rebate to convert two Sierra Madre Boulevard medians to drought-tolerant landscapes, Sun expressed annoyance.
“California is facing a long-term drought,” he said. “Why are we encouraging residents to save water, encouraging them to grow drought-resistant plants, and as a city, while we have the advantage of taking out the grass, we don’t use it? … The city has to make an example of ourselves. If we cannot set an example ourselves, how can we encourage our residents to save the water?”
With Richard Ward absent, the vote on a motion to proceed with the rebate was a 2-2 deadlock. That effectively killed the project, because in order to qualify for Metropolitan Water District rebate, the project must be completed by Dec. 26. A 60-day extension is available, but the city wouldn’t have much hope of getting such an extension if it hasn’t even approved the work — and wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so until it meets again Jan. 13.
Ultimately, absenteeism caused the measure to fail. At the Nov. 12 council meeting, Yung and Ward were in favor of moving forward with the allocation of $38,688 to convert the two medians. (The MWD would then reimburse that sum through its rebate program.) But Eugene Sun and Richard Sun were absent from that meeting, meaning the council needed all three members in the affirmative. Dennis Kneier, in his last action on the council, said he could not approve the allocation, preferring to request a modified design of the landscape and to punt the matter to the new council.
Last week, three votes would have moved the project forward, but this time Ward was absent, resulting in the 2-2 stalemate.
Talt said he couldn’t support the median conversion because Public Works employees were going to do the work, and it would “take people away from preparation for El Niño to obtain this $38,000 project. The last thing I want to see is we were not prepared for [El Niño] because we were planting drought-tolerant plants.”
Huang said, “I’m concerned that if we start with one median, and it looks good, we would have to do the others and it would cost us more. I would rather wait for El Niño and see if the grass comes back.”
In other business:
• The council accepted a bid of $108,134 from E.C. Construction of South El Monte for the Patrick’s Tree shade project in Lacy Park. Shade trees and other enhancements will be installed in the area of the kiddie playground equipment in honor of the late Patrick Martin. Local residents Danielle Martin and Colleen McGuinness raised $103,000 for the project and the Rotary Club of San Marino put up another $10,000.
• San Marino’s contract with its police union ran out at the end of June, and protracted negotiations have finally yielded a new one. The council approved a memorandum of understanding that will make the new contract retroactive to this past July 1. It will run only through next July 9. There were no salary adjustments in the agreement, but it does include a 2.2% increase in benefits.
• The council also adopted ordinances that will tighten restrictions on massage therapy in the city and prohibit medical marijuana operations here.