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Gadfly or Just Good-Natured Guy, Long-Time La Verne Resident Accepts Leading, New Role

October 19, 2017
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You’re not seeing double. It just appears that Rick Bowen is everywhere these days, especially when it comes to reviewing city business.

LA VERNE, October 19, 2017 — It’s Monday night in La Verne. Most residents are watching Monday Night Football or the Dodgers making their World Series run. Others are trying to recover from the start of another work week after slogging home from long commutes on L.A.’s increasingly congested freeways. Some are sitting down to eat.

Over at City Hall, the council chambers are mostly empty. In fact, for most in the city, the pending city council meeting is hardly on their radar, except for one citizen, that is.

Taste of Asia La Verne

He is Rick Bowen, a La Verne resident since 1983 and a retired 35-year hospital supplies salesman who recently sold his Pasadena-based company.

When he was working all those years, he rarely attended a city council meeting here or in Pasadena, unless an issue directly impacted his business.

But now he has a lot more time on his hands, and as sure a bet as the long lines at In-N-Out, Bowen is going to be at those bi-weekly council meetings. The question is what role does he play?

Is he a gadfly or simply a good-natured guy who likes to ask a lot of questions? By definition, a gadfly is a fly that bites or annoys livestock, but in the political realm, it’s an irritating person who annoys people by asking too many questions. A nuisance. A provocateur.

But, according to Bowen, it was never his intention to be a thorn in the side of the city council.

He was looking forward to endless rounds of golf as a member of La Verne’s Sierra La Verne Country Club. “I was never political at all,” he said.

TURNING POINT

Then came the proposed land swap in La Verne  that politicized him and galvanized him into action.

About a year ago, Rick said he first heard “through the grapevine” that the county was proposing to sell Marshall Canyon to a home developer in exchange for making Sierra La Verne a county course.

According to Bowen, when residents starting asking City Hall questions about the potential land swap, they were stonewalled.

“They took an attitude like, we don’t know anything about it and we’re not going to comment on it, because nobody has come to us with a plan.

“It was to the point, where everybody knew something was going on, and quite frankly, these guys acted like we didn’t know anything. It didn’t make any sense.”

But the issue finally got the council’s attention after scores of disgruntled La Verne citizens (Bowen said there were more than 100, the Daily Bulletin said there were dozens) showed up at a council meeting to voice their ardent opposition to the proposed land deal.

In response, Mayor Don Kendrick sent a letter on Dec. 8 to the county, requesting that the county reject any further considerations of a land swap. That should have been that. Next agenda item, but after Councilman Tim Hepburn had motioned to send the letter, Councilwoman Donna Redman said she was seconding the motion, as reported in the Daily Bulletin, to end the “disrespectful treatment of the mayor and to save us from a lynch mob.”

“People who were involved weren’t happy to be called a lynch mob,” Bowen said, adding, “My relationship with the city shouldn’t be adversarial. I’m not a bad guy. I’m just there questioning some of the decisions, and as a citizen, I think I have that right.”

If the proposed land swap was Bowen’s birth-by-fire political baptism, he’s been a firebrand ever since.

Instead of teeing up balls on the golf course, Bowen is constantly keyed up for more upcoming council meetings.

For instance, on the heels of the land swap proposal was the city’s consideration of a proposal, presented in a slick brochure, according to Bowen, to place a measure on the March 2017 ballot asking voters if an additional 1/4 percent sales tax should be collected in La Verne that would raise about $1 million to address a variety of city needs.

“They did it under the guise that it’s really not going to be an increase because another tax was going to come off, Bowen said. “Then they came back, after an uproar from some people, including me, that they weren’t going to ask for it now.”

Officially, the City said it was walking back the potential ballot measure because of Prop M (country transportation) and Prop A (county parks) funds that had been approved by voters in November 2016, some of which would flow to La Verne.

But to Bowen, even some of those funds have literally been short-changed. Just this month, the City of La Verne agreed to swap $275,000 in Proposition A transportation funds for $198,000 of general funds with the City of Industry, an exchange rate of .72 per dollar.

Bowen believed that the City of La Verne should have found a use for those Prop A funds the way voters intended when they passed the county-wide proposition in November.

Bowen gave the city’s rationale for the funding swap: “We don’t need this Prop A money; what we do need is money for our general fund to pay for all of our mostly pension and other non-funded issues.”

Characterizing the city’s actions, Bowen added, “It’s a game, and everyone says it’s legal, and maybe it is, but that doesn’t make it right.”

MARCH ELECTION

Bowen also had a beef with the City of La Verne’s own election in March.

“During the election, you couldn’t get Robin [Carder] or the mayor to say we have a structural deficit, even though it was in print in several places,” Bowen said.

When LaVerneOnline.com noted that by the end of the fiscal year, the City had made up the budget shortfall, or most of it, and that the city typically counted its incoming revenues with conservative accounting, Bowen didn’t yield.

There are two ways you can do a budget, he said. “You can plan for it or you can pray for it. It appears we have prayed for it the last couple of years.”

Then in August, the Council took up discussion of raising the city’s water rates to sustain the current water system. Although the increase seemed small, but not inconsequential, in dollar terms ($8 to $12 a month), as a percentage the increase was 40 percent. Again, it was Bowen making the most noise about the hike.

“It’s 40 percent. It’s ludicrous,” Bowen told the council. “Why is our city going up 40 percent?”

Bowen also claimed that the argument that only water rates would be going up, and not trash and paramedic fees, was “disingenuous.” “Well, they failed to mention that both of those things went up two or three months earlier. They’re pitching this, like, ‘Oh, look, this is not affected.'”

So, would it be fair to call Bowen a fiscal hawk, somebody who is ready to argue over every nickel spent?

“Yes,” Bowen said emphatically. “It’s my money, or it’s partially my money, and I think every citizen has a duty to look into how they’re money is being spent.

“It’ll be interesting,” he added, “to see what happens when people get their first water bill [which should hit in early December].”

Bowen also has strongly denounced runaway city pensions and vacation package payouts, which he believes have hamstrung the city’s ability to provide vital services. He cited as examples two recent city retirees who received $197,000 and $58,000 in cash for unused or accrued vacation pay.

His public positions require both courage and a modicum of madness on his part, given that he is making his statements in chambers usually filled with police, fire and city employees.

“I have absolutely no problem with anybody taking what’s given to them,” Bowen said, “but somebody has to stop giving them our money. I have no problem with city employees. I’m sure they work very hard. I support the police like crazy. I have a police sticker on my car. I support the fire. I support all of them.

“I just don’t think they should retire rich.”

HEATED EXCHANGE

So this Monday, when it came time to comment on a staff recommendation that the City of La Verne approve a request to approve a line of credit of roughly $80,000 at 2 percent to help Chase’s restaurant (whose revenues have increased five times since opening) expand into a larger downtown building, everyone in the chambers knew where Bowen stood on the issue.

He was actually seated in the second row so he could quickly take his place at the dais during the public comment period.

“It’s favoritism,” Bowen said, concluding that that if the same terms were offered other La Verne merchants, they would be lining up at the city’s coffers.  “How do you justify that,” he asked. “I think you’re really opening up a Pandora’s box.”

Nor did he think the risk justified the investment.

“It would be like me reaching into my left pocket and pulling out a buck and putting it into my right pocket and saying I just made a dollar.”

From the beginning, Bowen has said he wants only transparency from the city and council.

“My intent is to go in and ask questions about things, but they [the council] seem to take it so personally,” Bowen said. “I don’t have a problem with anybody. I just say, ‘’Gosh, is this the best way to spend the city’s money?’”

Bowen said he doesn’t relish wearing the black hat, or hearing from city employees who said their bosses told them he’s that guy “trying to take our benefits away.”

That feeling only became more ingrained when Bowen and a city official exchanged heated words after the gavel sounded the end of Monday’s council meeting.

“I’m kind of sick of this stuff going on,” Bowen said, about the city’s unanimous vote to support the loan, to which the city official replied, “There’s a lot of people sick of hearing from you.”

The comment stung a little more because Bowen, who just turned 65 on Tuesday, seems quite affable, with a twinkle in his eye, somebody you might want in your golfing foursome.

Bowen had planned spending most of his time on the golf course, but he is investing more of that leisure time poring over city agendas and informational packets provided by the city. He fears irresponsible fiscal decisions, left unquestioned or unchecked, will spell the doom of the city he loves.

As a result, he will continue to be the city’s unpaid and unofficial fiscal watchdog, whether by default or by self-appointment.

“It’s not the position I planned on being in,” Bowen admitted.

 

5 Responses to “Gadfly or Just Good-Natured Guy, Long-Time La Verne Resident Accepts Leading, New Role”

  1. Mr. Bowen is absolute correct. The City has allowed its employees to accumulate thousands of hours of vacation time over the course of their employment and then allows them to cash out on their accumulated vacation and sick time upon retirement. This results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments each year to retiring employees. Great for the employee. Horrible for the taxpayers and complete and total mismanagement on the part of our civic leaders. If they didn’t allow that to happen there would be no need for tax increases or selling our Prop. A money for 72 cents on the dollar.

    As for the $80,000 loan at 2% interest to the owner of Chase’s Restaurant…..I can’t f%#@ing believe it. There is no need to make that loan because it is not in the interest of the City. Chase’s isn’t going out of business, after all the owner said he has increased his business five fold at his existing location. If he want’s to make the move to a different location then go for it, but make it on his dime and not mine. There clearly is favoritism going on here, as well, I’m sure, as a free steak or two.

    But the most shocking thing in the article is the city council member who said to Mr. Bowen, “there’s a lot of people sick of hearing from you.” Really? You have to be kidding me. Public comment at council meetings is required by law and it is the only tool that allows residents to state their opinion. Isn’t this what democracy is all about? Shame on you city council. Mr. Mayor, you need to have a talk with your fellow council members or else your three vote victory this year will not be repeated in 2019. Mr. Bowen may be a lone sole when he appears before city council, but a lot of people agree with him and thanks to social media word spreads quickly.

    Keep it up Mr. B.

  2. \A lot of people sick of hearing from you is the exact attitude that government employees in California take towards everyone that wants take pull back the gravy train they enjoy. Don’t question us just because we figured out how to take advantage of the tax payers in this state. They forget that they are our employees. Quit rocking the boat and leave these people to continue to screw us until the bottom falls out of they whole program.
    Nobody cares. The only ones that can help are the ones that benefit from the program and have no interest in changing things. Screw you citizens. Keep your mouth shut and we will let you know whats good us.

  3. Good for Rick, its about time people start questioning La Verne’s small town politics.

  4. Concerning the vacation payout:

    If an employee is told to work and put off vacation should an employee lose those hours and the money for those hours? Of course not. For 198,000 perhaps this was over a 20 year period so this may not be Unreasonable.

    I also hear a lot of grumbling on this board. Why aren’t any of you at those meetings?

  5. Annie,
    I agree that if your company WON’T let you take a vacation, you should not lose it. MOST companies encourage their employees to take their vacation as it “recharges the batteries”.If you only work 4 days a week maybe you don’t feel the need for a vacation. Vacation pay should not accrue forever and then used as a bonus payout. MOST people have to work 5 days a week.
    Not sure where you work, but $10,000 per year just in additional vacation pay sure looks good to most people. Try to get this type of payout in a PRIVATE company. Doesn’t happen
    I also whole heatedly agree that not enough people review issues and go to meeting unless it is a direct issue for them. I was guilty of that for years. Not anymore.

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