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BH Vice Mayor John Mirisch Wants Better Metro Transparency

In a post titled "Jimbo and Me—In Search of the Elusive Professor Dolan" on CityWatch, Mirisch calls on Metro to be more forthcoming with its scientific data.

The following post first appeared on the website CityWatch and is being republished with permission from the author.

WHAT’S METRO HIDING? - James Francis Dolan, PhD. Professor of Earth Sciences at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The guy may be tone-deaf, for all I know, but he is literally one of the region’s true geology rock stars. The go-to guy when it comes to faults, tectonics and all that jazz. 

I have no idea if his friends call him “Jim” or “Jimmy” or “J. F.”  Somehow with all his contagious enthusiasm and dry sense of humor, I imagine that he’s a Jimbo, but it’s just a hunch. Jimbo Dolan, USC rock star.

His rock star qualities became apparent at Metro’s Oct. 19 presentation when, as a member of a panel paid by Metro, barely able to conceal his authentic intellectual pleasure at discovering new faults, he moved County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky to remark that he would have become a geologist if he had had such teachers at UCLA.

Yaroslavsky repeatedly referred to Professor Dolan as “Professor Dillon,” so maybe this is a case of where there’s Gunsmoke, there’s fire. As for the supervisor’s scientific ambitions, the retort from a Trojan would, of course, be: if you’d have gone to USC, you would have had such teachers.  

While there may be some who wish that Supervisor Yaroslavsky had had Dolan or at least a Dolanesque geology professor back in the day, one can at least agree that “science can be fun and fascinating.”

After having seen JD live at the Metro presentation—yes, that’d be the one that Metro Board Member and County Supervisor Mike Antonovich described as Metro lucha libre, where you know the outcome before the match begins—I was interested in learning more about our faults. No, not about my own individual faults, as I have enough people in my life to constantly remind me of those. But I was fascinated to learn there was a major fault along Santa Monica Boulevard, complete with the requisite scarps.

I also loved hearing about Professor Dolan’s sense of time. He mentioned how geologists have a different perception of the time-space relationship and how he once found himself saying, “Yeah, those rocks are really young: they’re only ten or fifteen million years old.” I can only imagine that an added benefit of studying under Professor Dolan would come to any of his students ever needing any extra time to finish off a term paper, report or thesis. Need a deadline extension? No problemo.  What’s an extra week or even an extra month, given the context? 

Having read a bit more about Dr. Dolan and having written about his Alquist-Priolo conclusions in the Huffington Post (in an article entitled “Fault-y Towers: Don’t Mention the Core!”), I wanted to take the opportunity to chat with him in person. This was, it should be duly noted, before the October Metro report was seriously called into question by the independent review conduct by Exponent Consulting.  

But whether the conclusions drawn by Professor Dolan and his cohorts regarding the seriousness of the Santa Monica fault were justified or not, I was interested not only in his scholarship about the Santa Monica fault, but actually mainly about other faults in the region, including the Puente Hills fault with its potentially devastating power to wreak the ultimate destruction on Downtown LA. I was concerned that maybe the extent of the faulting in the region wasn’t adequately documented, and wanted to hear his reaction to the suggestion that more funds be devoted to mapping the area to the same extent Metro had done with the Santa Monica fault.

Our Deputy City Manager called Dr. Dolan to try to set up a meeting. Dr. Dolan answered his own phone, unpretentious unlike other rock stars. Does Eddie van Halen pick up his own phone? How about Justin Bieber? But Dolan does and he graciously said he would be happy to talk to me. But there was a catch. He also said that he was under contract to Metro; we would need to talk to Metro to be able to talk to him.  

After repeated calls to Dennis Mori, Metro’s current Executive Officer, capital development, we finally got a response. (Mori is also the former project manager of the Red line, whose construction was perhaps most well-known for its near-fatal sinkhole on Hollywood Boulevard). The answer to my request was “no.” I felt like Michael Moore when GM denied his request to meet with then-General Motors CEO Roger Smith.

Metro was clearly being overprotective of their rock star. Yet I still wasn’t sure what their reluctance was. Were they scared that I was going to try to lure him to become Beverly Hills’s Chief Geologist? We do have a Chief Arborist, but not a Chief Geologist. At least, not yet.   

Perhaps they didn’t want me to talk to him about the fascinating subject of Alquist-Priolo zones? I had written at this URL about the potential consequences of the new fault discoveries. Perhaps Metro didn’t want to be seen in the greater development community of greater LA as being at fault for the faults. As I wrote, while that might stifle overdevelopment and be frowned upon in some quarters, in others it would be looked upon as a holiday gift, namely by those who prefer more human-scale, low-rise development.

Why was Metro denying access to Professor Dolan? What of open-source scholarship? It seems the only reasonable conclusion is that Metro wants to control Dolan, control the message, control the spin. But to what end?  

If Metro restricts access to their experts, just how objective, just how independent can those experts really be? For people in Beverly Hills, the answer will be something they feel they already knew all along. Are there parts about the good professor’s data or conclusions which could somehow, somewhere work against what Metro perceives to be its interests? Why did GM so studiously avoid allowing Roger Smith to talk to Michael Moore?

In the case of Metro, the issues would seem to be as follows:

Metro is not particularly interested in the impacts the potential new Alquist-Priolo zones indicated by Dr. Dolan’s scholarship would create on their developer friends.  They like TOD (transit oriented development, or “death” in German) and density because it increases ridership. So while they’re happy to use the new fault information to put the kibosh on any Santa Monica Boulevard station, they are also concerned about the effects building restrictions could create upon ridership both in Century City and along the length of the Santa Monica fault.

Furthermore, living in an earthquake zone and with many more potentially deadly and unmapped faults all around us, additional study and mapping of faults could muck up future subway expansion plans. It seems that Metro is employing a very selective “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy. 

Don’t ask, for example, about the Puente Hills fault with its potentially devastating effects on huge swaths of the Downtown LA area. As mentioned, I wanted to talk to Dolan, among other things, about this fault. The conclusions it might lead to are perhaps not what Metro, their developer friends, as well as the politicians who benefit from their developer patrons, might want to hear. So don’t ask, don’t tell.

Dolan seems apolitical, and the only way to spin his viewpoints would be to control what he says; muzzle him about other potentially niggling facts, which as a scientist, he might be forced to conclude, but which would be bothersome to other aspects of Metro’s agenda.

In rejecting my request to meet with Professor Dolan, the “official” Metro line from Metro PR-meister Jody Litvak, responding on behalf of Dennis Mori, was that these paid experts—some of whom also happen to be professors at major universities—receive far too many enquiries from elected officials and media reps to reasonably fulfill. How odd: I seem to remember that Art Leahy said the experts would be available to media reps under the guise of “we’ve got nothing to hide” and “full transparency” messaging. In fact, his exact words at the Oct. 19 meeting were: “The panels that have just presented are available not only to answer questions now but they’re available to the media following the conclusion of this item on this committee.”

Let me get this straight: there are so many media requests to talk to Professor Dolan that there’s no time left over to talk to elected officials, especially in jurisdictions which passed Measure R by the highest of margins? If there are really that many media inquiries, maybe this guy just needs a press agent. Rogers and Cowan, where are you? You may have thought you had your hands full with Britney Spears, but another type of rock star awaits.

As a writer for various publications including the Los Angeles Business Journal, Huffington Post and the Beverly Hills Courier, I could perhaps reasonably qualify as a member of the media, but denying elected officials, especially those in areas that could potentially be affected by Metro’s plans, access to these experts seems nothing if not Orwellian. Are they afraid that independent elected officials (i.e. those who haven’t gotten financial donations from some of the potential beneficiaries of the subway routing) might ask questions that lead to different conclusions from their own spin?

I would have complete understanding if Metro were trying to restrict access to Lloyd Cluff, who was one of the “distinguished” and “independent” panel members conducting the peer review on the study. Cluff was until earlier last year the Director of Risk Management for PG&E, which gained notoriety throughout the state for their attempt to manipulate California voters through Proposition 16, a brazen and opportunistic ploy to protect PG&E’s monopoly within its sphere of influence (and which voters wisely rejected, despite the $46 million PG&E spent on propaganda). These textbook efforts to abuse the initiative process to cement their local monopolies were followed a mere few months later by PG&E’s gas explosion in San Bruno which killed eight people. Not a great year for PG&E.

Asking Cluff to be part of the peer review is a little like asking the risk managers for Chernobyl to serve on a Nuclear Power Safety Committee. The analogy isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem to some. After all, this is the same Lloyd Cluff who evidently feels it’s OK to build nuclear power plants on fault–lines. Cluff’s response to State Senator Sam Blakeslee, who expressed concern about the safety of his constituents living near PG&E’s nuclear power plant on a newly-discovered fault line was: “There’s uncertainty in everything. We don’t see a concern about the uncertainty.” So let’s get this straight: according to Cluff, it’s OK to build a nuclear reactor on a fault line, but a subway station is verboten?

So, yes, I completely get it if Metro wants to deny anyone and everyone access to their paid expert Lloyd Cluff, former Risk Manager for PG&E, the investor-owned utility which was responsible for the deadly San Bruno explosion (not to mention the attempted initiative scam that was Prop 16).  

But Jimbo Dolan?

Unfortunately, it would seem so. And here we have yet another reason why additional checks and balances should be imposed upon Metro, a public agency whose board consists of a number of elected and appointed officials, but whose board has not been elected directly by the taxpayers funding it. For starters, Metro should be subject to an extensive governance audit. The function Metro is supposed to serve is much too important to be left to a byzantine construct where a bureaucracy seems to be running the show, playing favorites and managing the board members in a way that would put some of Franz Kafka’s corporate cultures to shame.

Unfortunately, Metro’s refusal to allow elected officials access to Professor Dolan and the other panel members (sans Cluff) unnecessarily degrades Professor Dolan to just another talking head and for all Metro’s talk about the “independent” panel, gives cause to question his “independence”.  Tom Lehrer’s words about former VP Hubert Horatio Humphrey come to mind in slightly modified form: “Once a fiery scientist spirit, ah, but now when he speaks he must clear it.” 

What a shame that Professor Dolan’s ivory tower isn’t open to all; and as such, unfortunately, it perforce must lose some of its stature. Selective data by its very nature must lose credibility. After all, isn’t a great scientist willing to look at the bigger picture and all the consequences—at least isn’t afraid to examine and confront them all head-on?

Another Dolan was once proclaimed to be a “genius” for his mere suggestion of steak and a bottle of Lowenbrau. In the immortal words of Arthur Prysock “Tonight is kind of special.”

Today would be kind of special if Metro would “free Professor Dolan” and allow him to do what he does best: share the full wealth of his knowledge with those who are interested. All those who are interested. After all, that’s the Academic Way, isn’t it? In fact, on Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s website we can read the following:

While acknowledging that such discoveries [i.e. new faults] can spark concerns, Dolan said in an interview that he prefers to take an all-news-is-good-news approach.
“I think anything we learn about active faults in LA is always good news,” he said, “because it’s absolutely critical that we fully understand the seismic threat facing us as residents of earthquake country.”

While SC’s Professor Dolan, much like the eponymous steak and Lowenbrau-loving character from the Clio-worthy 70’s commercial may very well also be a genius, it’s difficult to appreciate the Professor’s brilliance if access to his knowledge and insight are being restricted by a Metro muzzle. 

What happened to the all-news-is-good-news approach? Isn’t all information good information?

Guess not for Metro.

C’mon, Metro: take the muzzle off of Professor Dolan.

To read the post on CityWatch, click here.

Minoter May 18, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Mirisch never appears at the Metro hearings. He hides behind the power of his irritating pen. His obsession with nailiing Prof. Nolan is a bit tedioous if anybody wants to even read such a long diatribe. Yesterday's hearing was orchestrated to discredit one group of experts in favor of the BH experts who determined that there's no fault inder BHHS. Nobody ever mentions that the proposed tunnel won't even go under the school, only a 1 story building that is going to be demolished anyhow. So it all still comes down to the argument of BH kids in danger. Buresh, the flippant BH spokesman, has now come up with new ridership figures based on BHHS kids taking the subway to school so their moms (or nannys) don't have to drop them off.
John Mirisch May 19, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Mirisch can't make it to the Metro hearings because Mirisch works for a living, Minoter. Try it for a change. Also: the good professor is a Dolan, not a Nolan. On the other hand, the director of Dark Knight is a Nolan not a Dolan. And while I'm a fan of Nolan, I don't have any obsession with Dolan, though I do have a passion for good, transparent government. And, yes, I'd love to sit down with Jimbo over a beer and discuss such fascinating subjects as the Puente Hills Fault. But, you see, he's controlled by Metro, who rather than encouraging dialogue among elected officials, prefers to literally rips microphones out of the hands of those elected officials who dare ask questions about their EIR's. We get it: for Winston Smith acolytes such as yourself, process doesn't matter and Metro can do no wrong. For some of us, though, process does matter, and we will continue to raise our voices and whet our irritating pens in defense of our Community and local control and public policy which is free from the influence of moneyed special interests. By the way, you're also wrong about where the proposed tunnel is located, which is under the historic core of the High School and is not slated for demolition. Interesting that you speak with such disdain for the idea of schoolkids using the subway. No doubt, this is why you're likely unconcerned with the plight of UCLA students who just don't have the financial muscle to get a conveniently located subway stop.
Jake May 23, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch takes a stab at the less fortunate and those who "care about process" by showing up to Metro meetings. Nice.
John Mirisch May 23, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Jake, your attack on working folks doesn't really make any sense. You evidently don't have any understanding that people who work for a living might not be able to attend meetings during working hours? Or do you seriously mean to imply that the only people attending Metro meetings are the involuntarily unemployed and not, maybe, paid lobbyists or members of the 1%? If you really "cared about process," how about getting Metro to move its meetings to the evenings, so that hard working folks also have a chance to participate?
Tom Pease May 23, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I work for a living and I take Metro to get around, Jake. Because of that I can't get to all these meetings either. As a user of the system I want it to make sense to riders, not developers. The same people who came up with the idea of "rapid only" bus stops and service cuts to the Westside are telling us, the riders they know best. They don't.
Jake May 23, 2012 at 04:50 AM
I don't see any attack on working folks, unless Vice Mayor John Mirisch is stating that only those with 9-5 jobs count. Last time I checked, being Vice Mayor was a job too—apparently one that should involve attendance at Metro meetings. It'd be great if Metro had evening meetings—but that's no excuse for an elected official to publicly demean someone and tell them to get a job. It reeks of arrogant classism, which hardly helps the image of Beverly Hills. Tom, I use Metro to get to work too. The riders have spoken—they want Constellation, not Santa Monica Blvd.
Tom Pease May 23, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Jake- Last time I checked the position of Vice-Mayor (or any council member) in Beverly Hills wouldn't cover utility bills. As a daily rider I wonder how that data was collected? I don't remember being asked any time in the last 25 years of ridership.. Tea leaves? Runes?
Jake May 23, 2012 at 06:07 AM
I'm sure a guy as intelligent as Mr. Pease knows how they estimate ridership, but if he has issues with the numbers, as a financial analyst and well-connected member of Beverly Hills' government, he knows how to get ahold of Metro and make public comment—and he did. Apparently, being a Beverly Hills "Human Relations Commissioner" means defending the BH electeds when they get called out for misleading the public.
John Mirisch May 23, 2012 at 06:35 AM
What good is making a public comment when Metro has made it clear it isn't listening? I guess Mr. Pease should be glad at least that a faceless Metro bureaucrat didn't literally rip the microphone out of his hands. Thank G-d for the little things, I suppose. And, no, Jake, serving on the City Council in BH isn't a full time job with the same kinds of salaries and benefits of those who work for governmental agencies. You must be thinking of Metro or other cities. Maybe the DWP. And while it's clear that some people don't work from 9 to 5, most people's working hours are during the day. Evening meetings would encourage more public participation. Clearly, though, less convenient for Metro staff. And now I'm misleading the public? Thought I was being "called out" for not attending Metro's meetings. Guess I'll just have to take your word for it. But since you and others hide behind Patch-monikers and we have no idea who you really are or aren't (and therefore no idea of your or any other anonymous commenter's work status), my comments can't reasonably be taken to be anything other than a defense of the fact that I'm a working stiff and can't attend many public meetings which occur when most hard-working people are busy trying to earn a living. By the way, Jake, since you're the self-appointed rep of the riders, riddle me this: do they want Orange Grove instead of Fairfax? Do they want the VA instead of Barrington and Wilshire?
George Vreeland Hill May 23, 2012 at 12:01 PM
John Mirisch is correct on all points. Metro does not listen and has never listened to the truth ever since they (Metro) decided to plan a tunnel under BHHS. Metro has not once given a proven answer about the safety of digging and putting a tunnel under BHHS. The City of Beverly Hills has provided absolute proof of the dangers of such a project. The City of Beverly Hills has also provided proof that there are not only safer, but better alternative routes for the tunnel. Metro is on a mission to do what it wants, even if it means putting lives in danger. Metro is also on a money making mission with real estate interests. The whole thing stinks. Hey, I am all for the subway. Just put it where it makes the most sense. For ALL people. That means with safety in mind. Santa Monica Boulevard makes the most sense. George Vreeland Hill
Tom Pease May 23, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Jake, Thanks for writing that I'm intelligent. As for being a "well-connected member of Beverly Hills' government", that gave me a chuckle. My comments on Patch are not in defense of anyone and have nothing to do with my (unpaid, volunteer) Commission post. I'm just questioning MTAs decisions in regard- or perhaps rather disregard to its riders. Now if you'll excuse me, according to NextBus the #14 will be here in 53 minutes, so I have to run.
Jake May 23, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Being Vice Mayor is not full time, but it does pay $10,000 in cash compensation, plus retirement contributions of 2.5% @ 55, and another $20,000 in health and vision benefits. Not bad for a part-time gig, John Mirisch. Mirisch repeats his straw man argument about his Metro meeting absence that another commenter made, but the real issue is that he is lying about the facts and misleading the public. It's unfortunate that an elected official who can't or won't differentiate between commenters on a simple webpage is making public policy decisions based on complex environmental statements and geological surveys.
centurycitysubway.org May 23, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Jake: It's easy to make blanket statements unsupported by any evidence, especially when you choose to remain anonymous. The least you could do is provide some specific examples to support the allegation that John Mirisch "is lying about the facts and misleading the public." Do you have any?
Jake May 23, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Vice Mayor John Mirisch lied about the danger to students at Beverly Hills High School. He lied about the extent of the fault zones underneath Santa Monica Boulevard and he lied about LA approving a condo tower "despite" the information from Metro. Is that enough?
centurycitysubway.org May 23, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Jake: Please provide links to the statements referenced above and your evidence that they are untrue and misleading. Just saying that he "lied" and that those staements untrue isn't really proof, now is it?
Jake May 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM
For fearmongering about the danger to BHHS students, go to any Beverly Hills meeting…unless you are arguing that the rest of the world is wrong about how subways can safely tunner under schools. Anything contrary to that is a lie. As far as lying about Santa Monica Boulevard, I'll refer you to here: http://beverlyhills.patch.com/articles/experts-emphasize-flaws-in-metro-s-westside-subway-studies Seeing as how it's illegal (according to Mirisch himself!) for LA to build condos in a fault zone, Vice Mayor John Mirisch lied about it. By the way, while we're on the topic of transparency and accountability, I noticed that you're a "strategic communications, litigation support, and crisis/reputation management" firm. Maybe you're on here because your client has stepped in it and is getting hammered. I'm just an unpaid, non-Metro affiliated taxpayer living in the City and County of Los Angeles. At least I use my real name.
centurycitysubway.org May 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Jake: What do you mean "go to any Beverly Hills meeting?" You said that Mirisch has been lying and making misrepresentations. Can you be more specific about which meetings and what he said that is a lie? I've seen him reference the Field Act and the DSA and how the State of California has higher standards for public school construction. Is it your contention that those statements are lies? If so, you are wrong. As for your baseless and erroneous allegation that he "lied" about the City of Los Angeles approving the construction of skyscrapers in the same area Metro deemed to be an Alquist-Priolo zoned, you can read a summary here http://bhcourier.com/los-angeles-rejects-metro-seismic-study-approves-39-story-tower-on-top-of-metro-faults/2012/04/20 Or, if you don't believe the BH Courier, you can find information about Metro's Alquist-Priolo findings here: http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/westside/images/fault_report.pdf. Then you can read about two of the approved developments along Santa Monica Blvd here: http://cityplanning.lacity.org/EIR/10k_SantaMonica/FEIR/issues/FEIR.pdf and here: http://www.tract7260.org/CenturyCityPages/CEN20060314_01.htm That wasn't so difficult to prove, was it? Jake, you really should be more thoughtful about accusing someone of lying and making false representations when you just can't back it up.
Jake May 23, 2012 at 11:11 PM
John Mirisch lied because LA either approved the condos before they knew about the fault or the condos don't appear on the fault line. Thus, when Vice Mayor John Mirisch said that LA approved the condos "despite" Metro's geological reports, that was a lie. Game, set, match. That wasn't so difficult to prove, was it? centurycitysubway.org, you really should be more thoughtful when pandering to your paid masters, or at least tell them to stop lying. Also, since you're an astroturf front organization, maybe I should just start calling you Terry Fahn.
centurycitysubway.org May 23, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Jake: Only the California Geologic Survey can declare an area to be an Alquist-Priolo zone. They haven't done so. And that's the point, just because Metro says something is an Alquist-Priolo zone doesn't make it true. "Game, set, match...." Really??? LOL
Jake May 23, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Repost for spelling/clarity: Vice Mayor John Mirisch's stated that LA had Metro's geological survey and decided to approve the construction anyway to cast doubt on Metro's survey, when as centurycitysubway.org/Terry Fahn at Sitrick And Company posted, only the California Geological Survey can designate official Alquist-Priolo zones that would trigger the building prohibition. Thus, John Mirisch lied. He lied when he stated that LA approved something "despite" Metro's geological report, KNOWING that Metro's report has no impact on official Alquist-Priolo zones or the City of LA. By the way, LOL at your triple question marks. Apparently, John Mirisch likes to hire people like Terry Fahn at Sitrick and Company who write like high schoolers.
John Mirisch May 25, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Jake, you seem to be a bit confused about the timeline: LA approved the condo skyscraper a few weeks ago; Metro’s studies about the supposed earthquake dangers were published in October. Metro’s “experts” are suggesting that much of Santa Monica Blvd. should be designated an Alquist-Priolo zone. Only the California Geological Survey can make that determination and once they do, you’re right, construction is severely restricted by state law. Since no zone has been formally declared (or even informally, except by Metro’s paid experts) there are no legal obstacles to LA’s having entitled construction of the building, despite that it lies at the nexus of what Metro has been portraying as two faults (the Santa Monica fault and the West Beverly Hills Lineament, or what they claim is the northern extension of the Newport-Inglewood fault). Of course, the fact that the CGS hasn’t gotten around to declaring the area an Alquist-Priolo zone is no reason that LA’s own building and safety department can’t use Metro’s information in making their own decision. This is exactly my point: if Metro’s information is to be believed, then LA had no business entitling the 39-story condo tower a few weeks ago. Conversely, if they weren’t concerned about faulting or a potential Alquist-Priolo zone, then Metro’s findings perforce must be called into question. It’s one or the other; you can’t have it both ways.
cutop May 27, 2012 at 01:06 AM
People on reddit are discussing this comment thread: http://www.reddit.com/r/LosAngeles/comments/u1v6j/in_comments_beverly_hills_vice_mayor_john_mirisch/
John Mirisch May 27, 2012 at 06:43 AM
Thanks, Cutop. Then they will surely also be interested in the following, as well. With apologies to the dude who doesn't like rhetorical questions, please feel free to let them have at it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-mirisch/faulty-towers-dont-mentio_b_1102430.html Of course, they're talking even more about other timely and more worthy issues on reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/Music/comments/u6ilb/is_loreen_a_worthy_winner/ My own answer to this meaty question is an unequivocal: Yes! Heja Sverige!

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