People in county still complaining about Board of Supervisor’s trash franchise deal – don’t be left out of the discussion about Chico’s deal

25 May

In today’s Enterprise Record a letter writer complains about the new garbage franchise deal rolled out by Butte County last month.

Butte County residents were told this new contract between waste providers and the Butte County Board of Supervisors would be beneficial both environmentally and in road wear and tear. We were also assured prices and services would stay consistent, despite our choice as consumers being stripped.

Not surprisingly, our lack of choice has created the ideal situation for Waste Management to do what they please.

The issues began with our first bill — environmental and administrative fees were tacked on. At first they tried to placate individuals but with more and more complaints, they finally started crediting everyone’s accounts. Waste Management also wanted the right to use my long driveway, despite the fact that they wouldn’t be picking up my trash while they were up there. What?

The most current issue is Waste Management has decided to discontinue recycling services to the rural areas of their district, namely Cohasset. As the landfill isn’t getting any smaller, it’s hard to believe this idea is favorable for anyone. My bill was to cover trash and recycling.

I was incredibly happy with my choice in years of service from a local company, and am now incredibly dissatisfied with my forced use of a substandard corporation. At what point will the Board of Supervisors begin making decisions that are in the best interest of Butte County residents?

— Rebecca Finn, Cohasset

This echoes complaints I read about in the Forest Ranch newspaper, as confirmed by County Administrative Officer Paul Hahn at the Local Government Committee meeting earlier this month. Hahn  said they had “phones ringing off the hook” with complaints for over a week.

Hahn and other staff members also confirmed that most of their problems were with Waste Management. Hahn advised Chico City Manager Mark Orme that WM does not even have a call center in California. How could they possibly deal with complaints about billing and service, or lack thereof, from out of state? Hahn said even he was given the runaround when he tried to call WM on the phone.

Orme keeps answering questions about Chico’s deal with “it’s still in negotiation,” even though he has also said he expects to have the deal in place by July. When I pressed him about whether Chicoans would have mandatory service, he would only say “that’s the way they do it in many other municipalities…”  He also made it very clear this deal is to get revenues for the city of Chico, they’ve completely dropped that bullshit about wanting to do any “right thing.” Mark Orme will tell you, the right thing for rate payers to do is shut up and continue to pay for these onerous pensions.

The county staffers also said they had a lot of problems with private easements. A private easement is a road that is on one or more people’s private property, used by folks who live along it by agreement with the owner. There is oftentimes a written agreement in the deeds to the connected properties that the easement is used for “ingress and egress” of the appointed residents, and also any utility companies that have property like phone or electric poles installed on the easement.

Trash trucks are usually not included in easement agreements. Trash trucks, according to Ask.com, weigh about 64,000 pounds, or “32 short tons”. Compare that to your average family SUV, weighing in at about 4300 pounds, or just over two tons. Trash trucks, especially when driven at high speeds, literally trash roads, even paved roads. That was part of the conversation regarding the Chico trash deal – former City Mangler Brian Nakamura said the city would get all this extra money out of the haulers to fix our streets. Ex city staffer Fritz McKinley confirmed at a meeting shortly before he was canned that trash trucks were responsible for a lot of the damage to our roads. But, for years the city has allowed the haulers to use bigger and bigger trash trucks without charging them a big enough franchise fee to cover the damage. You see and feel the results all over town.

The problem with private easements is that neither the hauler nor the city (nor the county) will take responsibility for the damage, the property owner is left to deal with the enormous gouges and sinkholes left by these behemoths as they speed in, beep-beep-beep their U-turn, then roar back out onto the public street, leaving a big old crevice where the dirt/gravel private driveway meets the crumbling asphalt of the public right-of-way.

This is the same with city owned alleys. 

County staffer Bill Mannel told the assemblage at  the Local Gov Comm that the county is not allowed to use any road funds to repair private property, so they couldn’t force these people to allow the trucks onto their private driveway. This may mean that others along that private drive can’t get front door service, are forced to take their trash out onto the public right-of-way, leaving it all night because we never know what time the haulers will show up the next day.

This is a problem all over Chico, but Orme seemed completely oblivious when I brought it up. He doesn’t care, all he cares about is getting money to pay the salaries and CalPERS payments. We have at least a $64,000,000 pension deficit, and CalPERS wants that money.

Pay attention to this conversation – don’t be like the dummies in Forest Ranch, who all showed up to bitch and moan after the deal was already done. Write to Orme, express your concerns NOW.

That’s mark.orme@Chicoca.gov

California’s “water crisis” an “opportunity” for publicly traded companies

24 May

My friend from Marysville sent me this article that made me so mad – I hate being right all the time. Yes, it’s true, according to investment site smallcappower.com – California’s “water crisis” has become “an opportunity for these publicly traded companies.

http://www.smallcappower.com/posts/california-s-water-crisis-22-05-2015

“California Water Service Group(NYSE:CWT), meanwhile, has seen its revenue rise 2% between 2013 and 2014 to US$597.5 million, while reducing total operating costs from US$491.05 million to US$488.93 million.”

Of course there’s a hearing this Wednesday (city chambers) about the new fines that will be imposed for those of us who use “too much” water –  this scheme rewards PIGS by basing your “allowance” on your past usage. If I do attend, it will be to see if any of our elected city or county representatives show up. I was able to get our county supervisors to write a couple of protest letters about last year’s rate increase, and that might have affected the outcome (increase reduced from proposed 38 percent to 20 percent). I would like to see our local electees work a little harder to protect our interests, but instead I see them increasing our garbage rates to get money for salaries and benefits. Not a good sign.

I would like to ask the Cal Water representatives where the fines will go – a court just ruled that utility companies can’t profit by charging more than it actually takes to provide their service, so where should these fines go?  They can’t go into the company’s profits, or be paid to their shareholders – shouldn’t this money stay right here in Chico, to be used for rebates and  other incentives to save? 

In some cities, water customers are offered financial help to re-landscape their yards, buy rain water storage tanks, etc. The city of Santa Cruz recently offered very nice rain barrels at a $100 discount:

http://www.rainbarrelprogram.org/santa-cruz

Here in Chico, Cal Water will give you a “water conservation kit” which includes an adjustable hose nozzle, two low-flow shower heads, three faucet aerators, and some toilet leak indicator tablets. I priced the contents on Amazon.com and it looks like maybe a $50 value. You are allowed one kit per service address every three years.  

We picked up the kit for one of our rentals we were turning over – I was not impressed. The stuff was pretty rinky-dink chintzy – plastic parts, not long for this world. We already had all the items except the toilet leak indicator tablets, all better quality old stuff we’ve had for years, with real metal and rubber parts, made to last a long time. I predict these kits will not last the three years you are required to wait for a new one! 

I realize, you know too – Cal Water is not sincere about wanting us to save water – why would they be? They’re a FOR PROFIT operation, profiting off our most basic of needs. They want us to use plenty of water, and they will stick us whatever we do. 

When will you find your hind legs Chico? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the chief’s report – what does he want? Do we need more cops, or do we need overpaid cops?

19 May

I was reading the article about Chico PD Chief Dunbaugh’s report, and I notice the link to the actual report does not work.

The report should be available when you open the city website, but instead they have an expired article about Enloe’s recent Drug Drop and Dash. The city website hasn’t been kept up very well lately, but the report is available under “Police” in the drop down city departments window, here’s that link:

http://www.chico.ca.us/police/documents/2014AnnualReport_Final.pdf

I don’t know why she didn’t just use the link, that tiny url shit hasn’t been working right for a long time. She probably doesn’t check her own links, I notice she barely has a handle on spelling, grammar and punctuation. Probably cause she’s so busy writing down whatever they want her to say.

What I see here is a man pandering for a tax increase, and everybody skirting around it, but nobody with the gagnas to bring this beast right out into the open, where God and everybody can get a good look and a sniff at it, and say, “PEEEEEE-UUUUUU!” . They just increased salaries down at the cop shop, the cops agreeing to pay – BFD – 12 percent toward pensions of 90 percent at age 50 – and they have the nerve to be crying about staff shortages? 

Here’s my prediction – the whore of Babylon, Downtown Chamber harpie Katie Simmons, will be the one to push it forward. $5 says she’ll do it right before Christmas, threatening us with drunk drivers and muggers. 

County moving along on new Chico Behavioral Health Center, promises 24 hour staffing

17 May

Thanks to David Little for the reminder – I had meant to continue my rambling narrative of the Local Government’s Committee meeting I attended a week or so back, because they discussed the county Behavioral Health Department. Little wrote a pretty generic “remember National Mental Health Month” piece, without really knowing what’s going on locally, cause he didn’t attend or send a reporter to that meeting. Typical Chico media – the News and Review ignored it too.

But I’m glad for the reminder – the Behavioral Health Department is central to Chico’s “homeless problem.” The BHD is responsible for taking people who “are a danger to themselves or the public” off the cops’ hands. For years now the center on Rio Lindo has been inadequate, open only Monday through Friday from 9 – 5, as if people only have mental breakdowns during the work week. After 5pm and on weekends, Chico police officers who get calls about indigent, inebriated, injured or “crazy” people must dump them like a sack of laundry on the staff of Enloe Emergency Room. Here, they become Enloe’s problem, and their unpaid bill becomes another unpaid liability for Enloe. Oftentimes, since they haven’t been arrested (because then the police would be liable for the bill), they just get up and wander out when they feel like it. Staff can’t stop them. 

How’d you like to wake up with a ringing hangover in a hospital bed, somebody presenting you with a $30,000 bill for a one nighter? Last I heard, Enloe charges $7,000/hour for the ER, and another $7,500 a night for a room (old figures, probably more now). Per person.  You can’t force somebody who was not willingly checked in to pay, so there we are.

I have heard the cops complain about this at various meetings with city and local agency staff. This problem has been in discussion for at least two years now, according to my notes from Police Advisory Board and other meetings. 

Little, in his editorial that sounded like a C grade high school research assignment, talks about the “white card” program instituted by the county a year or so ago, by which people who have sought treatment for mental problems receive a card that tells police they have mental problems, essentially – “I’m crazy, I’m not responsible for my behavior, please don’t kill me for acting weird…” 

This is not a solution to the problems around Chico – shoplifting, vagrancy, armed robbery, burglary, public filth, vandalism, arson, assault/murder, and other criminal activities associated with the little army of the night we have camped out in our town. 

At the Local Goverment Committee meeting I attended earlier this month, county staffers announced they are in escrow on a property that will become the new BH center for Chico, located near the Enloe facilities on Cohasset Road. Staff said this facility would be staffed and open 24-7, suited for 10 “clients” at a time. The discussion was over before I could ask about funding for staffing, or why those salaries are so much lower than the management salaries, but that would be a good question for you to send in to County Administrative Officer Paul Hahn. Hahn is a nice guy and will answer your questions to the best of his ability. He’s also very sharp and competent, so don’t waste his time. It’s just good to let him know your concerns.

That’s PHahn@buttecounty.net. 

 

Look at other recreation districts for perspective – CARD is being mis-managed

14 May

In researching Chico Area Rec District’s proposed aquatic center, I thought I’d look at recreation districts in nearby towns. I was shocked at the comparison between CARD finances and Durham Recreation District. 

Here’s CARD’s 2014-15 budget:

http://www.chicorec.com/documents/Public%20Information/CARD%20Budget%20Final%202014-2015.pdf

Here’s the budget for Durham Rec Dist:

http://durhamrec.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/14-15-budget-preliminary.pdf

The first thing you might notice – CARD has a budget of about $7 million a year, while Durham Rec comes in at just under $1 million. Wow, eh?  That’s demographics for you – Durham only boasts about 5500 people, while Chico checks in at over 80,000. But, look – Durham’s median income is about $53,000/year, compared to Chico’s $43,000/year. Housing is also comparably priced in Durham, there’s just not as much of it. So, CARD gets a wad of tax money, while Durham gets a fraction as much.

So, why is Durham doing better, taking in more of their revenues from programs? Their programs are doing better, look at the figures. Their aquatics program is doing great, and their pool is as old as Chico pools. 

I’ve been to Dwight Brinson pool in Durham, years ago, when my kids were little. I remember it was alot nicer, just like friends had told me. At that time it was not uncommon for Chico moms to take their kids to Durham to swim instead of Chico pools. I lived within a block of Pleasant Valley pool at the time, so we had a pass and went almost every week day for a couple of hours. But, I went to Durham whenever I was invited. Brinson was cleaner, better staffed, the bathrooms were bigger and nicer, and everything was better maintained. The admission price was $1.25 as compared to PV’s 75 cents a head, but wow, you sure got what you paid for.

Chico Aqua Jets participate in tournaments at Brinson pool. Brinson makes quite a bit of money for Durham Rec District.  

I think CARD is being miserably mis-managed. 

 

 

 

 

CARD Aquatic Facility Advisory Committee discusses feasibility study – consultant to “re-interpret” old survey, run public workshops

14 May

Chico Area Recreation District is moving forward with plans to build an “aquatic center”, looking for a consulting firm to conduct the required feasibility study. Their Aquatic Facility Advisory Committee (AFAC) is currently working on the “Request for Proposal”, first step in the bidding process . The proposals should include plans for “a public process, market analysis, facility programming, a business plan, as well as exploring funding mechanisms and potential partnerships. Services may also include a site analysis, schematic design alternatives and associated construction estimates.”

Reading over the “Anticipated Scope of Work,” I get frustrated. Most of this stuff study could be conducted by CARD staff, especially “Research and document existing aquatic facilities in the region …” A college intern could get that information through the use of a computer and telephone. Why they need to spend $30,000 on what amounts to a basic English class research assignment is beyond me. In fact, CARD staffer Rob Hinderer told the committee that all the demographics information required in the study is available online.

 Looking at other feasibility studies online – including an article that used a couple buying a home as an example – you see it’s just a common sense matter of deciding if the project is a good idea. But consultants are also hired to sell the project – it’s the way they present it, they way they lead the conversation, they don’t ask us if we want it, they tell us why we want it. 

 (From Wikipedia “feasibility study”) Market research study and analysis. This is one of the most important sections of the feasibility study as it examines the marketability of the product or services and convinces readers that there is a potential market for the product or services.[citation needed] If a significant market for the product or services cannot be established, then there is no project.

 Here’s a swimming pool feasibility study from Otto Township Pennsylvania, 2009. Look at the survey – the answers to the questions were provided

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_004975.pdf

I looked at Otto Township, Pennsylvania, on Google. It’s a  small town, for sure, but it looks like less than 1 percent of the town population participated in the study. That’s not a study, that’s called “giving tacit consent.” All the consultant had to do was run the workshops, prove they were adequately noticed to the public, and provide some numbers for attendance. I don’t know if Otto Township got their project, but this is basically how CARD will go about running their aquatic center up our ass.

Here’s something interesting – they are asking potential consultants to “re-interpret” the old mail-in survey done by another consultant two years ago instead of conducting a new survey. Apparently they didn’t like their previous consultant’s findings that “there is no support for this project in the community.”   So, they will pay the new consultant to come up with findings they like out of the same survey. I posted that survey before, I’ll dig it out and do some interpreting of my own – the questions were very leading, including threats that our kids would fall into drugs if we didn’t build them a fancy new Taj Majal swim center. 

I would encourage people to attend the committee meetings, attend CARD board meetings, and write letters to the CARD board and the newspapers, but I would not encourage participation in the workshops unless you plan to be very vocal in your opposition to this project. Otherwise you are just a body in a chair, and they count you in favor.

One of the items listed on the request for proposals is to fix Shapiro Pool. I think they’re just including this option because they’ve had so much stink from the public since they announced Shapiro will be closed for good at the end of Summer 2015.  They originally said that Pleasant Valley pool would also be closed, but that was not mentioned at the meeting. CARD staff says it will cost SOMEWHERE between $275,000 and 1.65 million to fix Shapiro Pool. What’s with that range? There was no explanation. This is just more crap to get the public to approve a new tax of some sort.

What I’d like to know is, why is there no “pool fund” in CARD’s budget? If you’ve been to either pool, it’s obvious they haven’t spent money on maintenance for years. The money has been going into their salaries, benefits and pensions – for which they pay nothing – like water going down a gopher hole.

I’ll try to post the entire draft later  – I have a paper copy, I’ll figure out the best way to post it on the blog when I get a chance.

Lou Binninger: Governor Jerry “Shut Up” Brown’s statewide water reduction mandate is a boon for privately held water companies

13 May

I got my Cal Water notice Monday, I assume you all did too. I’ve been too mad and really, too busy, to write about it, but here’s an article from Lou Binninger. I don’t agree with Binninger that water is being “wasted” on fish. I think that’s misplaced, but he’s right about the pensions – that’s the real story in these rates hikes, and no other media source is covering it. Cal Water management do not pay anything toward their outrageous pensions. I’m not sure what the lower tier workers pay, if anything. Like public employees, these “quasi-public” workers get 70 percent of their highest year’s salary at age 55, and we pay for it. 

When the court recently ruled that utilities can’t charge more for their product than it actually costs to produce it, the state came up with “penalty charges” that seem completely unrealistic. That’s because Jerry Brown is insane – I’m no shrink, but he seems to have a notion of “grandiosity,” or what we lesser humans call a “superiority complex.” To the point that he has no regard for people he doesn’t know personally. The Moonbeam would probably approve a plan by which everybody making less than $50,000/year was made into Soylent Green and fed to those making less than $100,000/year. All presided over by public employees making $150,000 plus benefits.

We need to get rid of Brown, and then go about dismantling these hog agencies he set up, based on embezzlement through our utility bills. 

Cal Water Profits from State Water Mismanagement

By Lou Binninger

Beginning June 2015, Cal Water Service (CWS) is requiring Marysville customers to reduce their water consumption by 24% compared to their 2013 usage or face financial penalties. The recent CWS mailer attributes the reduction to  Governor Jerry “Shut Up” Brown’s statewide water reduction mandate. The CWS penalty / surcharge will be twice the per-unit-cost for the highest quantity tier, up to an additional $10 per CCF (1 CCF=748 gallons).

Water activist Connie Walczak says the problem is that most Marysville customers were already conserving in 2013 because water became unaffordable. Cutting back another 24% using 2013 as a baseline may be impossible to attain. It appears that Gov. Brown and Cal Water’s hatchet approach rewards bad water use behavior. Those already conserving in 2013 are allotted less water before a penalty than water wasters. The mailer explains the rules and how to file an appeal. Other restricted uses of water will bring a $100-a-day fine.

Cal Water Service (CWS) prides itself on serving Marysville for more than 80 years. Until recently, it was a wallflower monopoly with little presence in the community. They once provided a state-regulated product that was affordable. Rates went up slightly over the years, but in 2011 residents were stunned by a 53% increase. Bills spiked. Landscapes dried up. CWS justified the increase because the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) agreed. However, the CPUC, created to be a watchdog of monopolies for the consumers, is now under investigation for corrupt practices favoring egregious rates for big utilities. Commissioners have hired a law firm specializing in criminal defense.

In 2013, CWS applied to the CPUC for another 47% rate hike. If successful it would have been a 100% increase since 2010. That caught the attention of East Marysville resident Connie Walczak. Walczak filed the first rate complaint ever with the CPUC against CWS.

After rejecting Walczak’s complaint, the commissioners granted an over 10% increase along with additional fees and adjustments, a 63% bump in rates since 2011. Private water companies are a cash cow for investors and CWS is one of the most successful. CWS has paid dividends to stockholders 279 quarters in a row. CPUC granted them a $45 million increase in revenue in 2013. Net income in 2014 was $56.7 million.

In 2014, their top 5 executives received a total of nearly $7.5 million not including benefits. The CWS President / CEO collected $2.8 million.

CWS employees are generously rewarded with top salaries, ‘Cadillac’ health insurance policies, retirement plans, school tuition subsidies and many get company vehicles. CWS recently constructed new corporate digs in San Jose and a Marysville office. All improvements and benefits are incorporated into the rates. Like all utilities they are guaranteed a profit by the CPUC.

As water usage goes down Cal Water’s revenue and profits are insured by a WRAM charge (Water Revenue Adjustment Mechanism) that will increase. It is listed on your bill along with the service line cost, usage charge, CPUC fee and Public Purpose Programs. Under Brown’s state water doctrine consumers will pay more for less while millions of gallons of water each day are wasted on fish.

More information can be obtained from the mailer, calling Cal Water 530-742-6911 or attending a meeting Wednesday, May 27th, 5:30pm at 130 D St., Marysville.

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