Ain’t no sunshine!

25 Jan

Below is the original proposal from the Chico Police Officers bargaining unit to the city of Chico. This was posted on an agenda, because of our “sunshine” ordinance, but was later removed, I was told by a city councilor, at the request of the CPOA. Apparently, the public didn’t react too well to their demands – I had posted the link here – and the cops didn’t like the criticism. They removed the proposal below and put up a new diatribe with “explanations.” If Michael Jones had not saved this particular document, we wouldn’t have it.

I also have the city’s counter proposal, but I’m having a devil of a time cut-and-pasting it. The proposal below also included a cost analysis chart which I posted in a blob at the bottom – some of the figures wouldn’t even cut, make whatever you can out of it. The total cost of this proposal over three years, estimated by the CPOA, is more than $5 million.  There are no savings.

I have not had time to compare this to the new proposal they buried as an attachment to an old agenda on the city website but I’ll try to get to that again.  I also have the city’s counter proposal. I’ll try to get those posted soon.

This is not my job. This is the city manager’s and the assistant city manager’s job. Those guys get paid about $200,000/year each, plus benefits and pension. They don’t want the public to know this stuff. Pay attention. Constantin has already remarked that he wants a sales tax increase for public safety, the gauntlet is down. He also said he doesn’t think the cops are overpaid. Look over this proposal and tell me what you think.

Chico POA Proposal – September 24, 2014

The following is a proposal for a successor MOU to the one expiring 12/31114 between the Chico Police Officers’ Association and the City of Chico. This proposal is intended to begin the bargaining process and introduce several ideas that the POA believes can create a better environment within the City of Chico Police Department, specifically the Departments ability to retain and recruit police officers.

When possible, the current MOU provision that would be affected is listed. Wording is NOT final and will be edited to reflect any changes prior to submission to the City in formal bargaining.

1. Three year term ofMOU: 111115-12/31/17. 1.3A

2. Salary. 5% increase effective 1/1/15, 1/1116 and 1/1/17. 5.1 and Exhibit B

3. Longevity. Add four new longevity step increases of 4% at the following length of time of employment with the city: 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and 25 years. New Article 5.12 “Longevity Pay”

4. Pay Step Addition and Adjustment. 5.1C a. Add a Step H at 5% salary increase. b. Add a “training pay” step equivalent to $18 per hour.

5. Cash out Holiday Time Banlc Reinstate policy of allowing employees to cash out unused holiday time bank hours each year. 6.2

6. Vacation Cash Out. Allow employees to accrue vacation above the maximum caps and to cash out any unused vacation accrued above the caps at the end of each calendar year. 6.5

7. Holiday Hours. City shall provide ten hours of Holiday Time Bank pay for holidays. 6.1A

8. OT Pay for Holidays. City shall pay employees overtime rate for working holidays. 5.2 and 6.1

9. FICA and Dental to be paid by City. 6.3 J+tvY\ ~ z, Qv£A;1vuf C{(tf8t u: ~ a. City shall pay the 1.45% of FICA that has been paid by employees since 1/1111. 6.8G

b. City shall pay the entire employee portion of the dental insurance (or allow the employee to opt out of coverage).6.3 and Exhibit C.

10. Call Back Pay. Increase the call back minimum pay to four (4) hours. (3 currently). 5.5

11. Shift Differential. 5.9 a. Increase swing and graveyard shift differential pay by 5%. b. Shift differential to be calculated into base pay for overtime pay rate calculations.

12. Adopt and/or publicize the ability to put OT earnings directly into deferred compensation. 6.6E

CPOA Initial Proposal Estimated Costs/Savings Initial Proposal – 9/ 24/ 14 2) 5% Increase 3) Longevity 4a.) Additional “H” Step 4b.) “Training Pay” Step 5) HTB Payout 9a.) City Pick-Up of FICA 9b.) City Pick up of Dental 6) Vacation Cash Out 7) 10 Hours Holiday Time Bank 8) OT Pay for Holidays 10) 4 Hours vs 3 hours Call-Back 11) Shift Differential 1/1/15 – 12/31/15 1/1/16 – 12/31/16 1/1/17- 12/31/17 Total $ 447,360 $ 922,968 $ 1,438,726 $ 2,809,054 $ 222,622 $ 286,354 $ 364,010 $ 872,986 $ 328,847 $ 369,216 $ 385,040 $ 1,083,103 $65,637 for full-time FTE vs. hourly employees currently paid outside of CPOA From $200,000- $300,000 per year plus taxes/benefits $ 89,454 $ 90,136 $ 91,174 $ 52,954 $ 52,954 $ 52,954 Unknown- will take research to see who is at cap for the year Currently a “Use it or Lose it” Benefit Currently Coded as Straight-time- more research needed Need to look at individual timecards for analysis Need to look at individual timecards for analysis

Making heads or tails of the police contract talks

23 Jan

I’ve been struggling to keep track of city business lately, but in these paranoid times, I can hardly get a straight answer out of anybody Downtown.  I thought I was alone in my concerns over city finances, at a time when management is crowing about an upturn in the economy (?), but most of my friends and people I talk to on a regular basis share a similar outlook – the city is spending too much on compensation, and at some point, the fiddler is going to have to be paid.  A lot of people I’ve spoken to lately believe there is a movement just off the radar to put a “public safety tax” on the 2016 ballot. 

Right now, the most important thing going on Downtown is the police contract talks. The police contracts were up December 31, and so far, there’s been proposals made by both sides – see the CPOA proposal here:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=512&meta_id=42166

I got a copy of the city’s counter, but have not figured out what it means or how to post it. It’s not included with the agendas, you have to ask Chris Constantin for it. He sent me a copy that can’t be cut-and-paste. I’ll work on it. Tomorrow I’m going to talk to some folks who might be able to explain it to me.

The other day I talked to a friend of mine who spent about 20 years working for a California county, during which time she served as part of a “bargaining team.”She tried to fill me in on the basic workings of your average public employee contract talks. In the little county where she worked, it was done in the county administrator’s office, with the CAO serving as the negotiator. The bargaining teams would work with the CAO/negotiator, and then, in a separate session, the CAO would meet with the board of supervisors. The proposals would go back and forth, with additions or changes made, and eventually all parties would agree. At that time, the public wasn’t anywhere in the equation – people hadn’t started to ask about public compensation.

Now we have sunshine laws, the city of Chico is supposed to make available to the public all proposals made back and forth, before any decisions are made. I talked to a city of Chico official, who told me, the big difference in Chico is the use of a hired consultant to help out with the negotiation process. Nowadays, the process is not so friendly anymore, and council has probably been wise to bring in a consultant. I was told this consultant has cost a little over $100,000, which might be a cheap price to pay for some semblance of objectivity.   

When I’ve talked to various people about the contract talks, I’ve found, they are aware we spend a lot of money on compensation, and most people are also aware that in Chico, as in many cities in California, the lion’s share of compensation goes to the police and fire departments.

But people have a lot of misconceptions about how the contracts are made, myself included. Over the years I’ve tried to find out more, but people Downtown are very secretive. Which only adds to the speculation that something sneaky is afoot. The general picture is this: a bunch of sulking cops/firemen sitting directly across a table from council members, throwing ugly looks and veiled insults and threats at each other. One former councilor told a friend of mine, “it takes nerves of steel…” This only added to the mystique for me, I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t sound good. Sounded like racketeering. This is how many people who work in the private sector view the public sector unions – bullies, mobsters, Rod Steiger in “On the Waterfront”.

A few years ago, council voted to “sunshine” the proposals after each bargaining session. This didn’t seem like much to me – I still felt we needed to know exactly what went on in the sessions. I’d like to know the councilors’ reasoning behind their votes, but they all hide behind the veil of secrecy – they say they can’t discuss the details. They won’t even discuss it afterwards.

An insider recently told me, a lot of people think the cops’ proposal is outrageous. She told me, council members had thought the CPOA would be more reasonable in their demands, knowing that the proposals must be sunshined to the public, but instead they seemed to be surprised that the proposals were made public, coming to a recent council meeting to  complain. They felt the council had turned the public against them, when it was their own outrageous demands that have pissed people off.

Alot of my friends opine that Sorensen, Morgan, Coolidge and Fillmer told the cops to come up with an outrageous proposal that will make their eventual really sweet deal look pared down and more reasonable by comparison. Could be. We’ll have to see how this goes.

Also, let’s be sure to check the February campaign reports, in which lie the last contributions made in the recent elections. A lot of the big donors wait until the last minute so the voters won’t know where the money came from until after the  election is way over and pretty much forgotten. It would be interesting to see what the CPOA did with their money, as well as the Chico Firefighters Association. 

 

 

Ban the Bag Ban – interesting website shows widespread opposition to the bag ban

23 Jan

I got this link from fellow blogger Anthony – thanks!

http://fighttheplasticbagban.com/

Thomas Elias: Government attorneys should be investigating CPUC

21 Jan

 

sorry for the sloppy cut and paste, but I also included the link here:

http://www.chicoer.com/opinion/20150120/thomas-elias-government-attorneys-should-be-investigating-cpuc

Thomas Elias: Government attorneys should be investigating CPUC
Posted: 01/20/15, 3:46 PM PST |
# Comments
Memo to U.S. attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego: It’s high time you investigate the former president of the California Public Utilities Commission,
along with some current CPUC members and officials, for things like conspiracy to commit fraud.
Evidence against current commissioners and former commission President Michael Peevey has mounted over the last six months, but there has been no action against
anyone.
State rules forbid utility regulators from communicating individually with executives of the companies they regulate. Any letters, texts or emails must go to all five
commissioners, as a means of preventing secret deals favoring the companies over their customers.
Yet, emails have shown that Peevey for years communicated privately and had understandings with executives of both Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California
Edison Co., of which he was formerly president. He even hosted at least one high PG&E official at his country home in Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco.
He also communicated privately with Edison execs, setting up a dinner in London with one, and in one case reported by the U­T San Diego newspaper agreeing to delay a
CPUC action that would limit the percentage of Edison’s executive bonuses it could bill to ratepayers until after that year’s bonuses had been paid under old rules.
Current Commissioner Mike Florio has recused himself from some votes affecting PG&E because of his role in a “judge­shopping” attempt. Emails showed Florio helped
the utility choose a sympathetic commission administrative law judge to preside over a key case.
And there was the recently disclosed 2012 phone call between Edison’s external relations director and the administrative law judge presiding over a case to determine
how Edison and its customers would split the cost of retiring the disabled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Edison says that call covered only technicalities.

All this led Michael Picker, the new commission president, in a public meeting, to call the emails “troubling and very painful to read.” Yet, in the year he served on the
commission with Peevey, Picker never voted against him in any major case.
Customers of California’s big regulated utilities — PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — pay power rates averaging almost twice as much as consumers
served by the municipal utilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, Sacramento and Anaheim.
Utility profits are not supposed to lead to doubly high energy bills. That, in fact, is what the CPUC was set up to prevent.
CPUC favoritism of the big companies over their rate payers has been a constant criticism, but the emails released in recent months provide a smoking gun pointing
toward possible criminal conspiracy. If so, it could be charged as mail fraud and/or wire fraud because excessively high rates set via conspiracy would have been billed by mail or email.
Former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre suggests the U.S. attorneys convene special grand juries like the one that indicted PG&E for its conduct surrounding the
fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
“We need to investigate how utility rates got so high,” Aguirre said. “It’s been a swamp of dishonesty.”
Aguirre suggests investigating, for example, what happened to money collected by the big companies to ensure utility safety. “Edison was paid money for defective San
Onofre steam generators. PG&E was paid money (since the 1950s) to fix (gas lines), but failed to do so,” his report said. Similarly, he said, defective SDG&E equipment
caused a huge 2007 San Diego County fire.
“In each case, the PUC blocked its (staff’s) investigations into utility executive wrongdoing,” Aguirre charges. No one knows what happened to billions of maintenance
dollars paid by customers.
The bottom line: The evidence of utility regulators’ favoritism of the companies they oversee is so strong, it would be dereliction of duty for prosecutors to ignore it.
Thomas Elias’ syndicated column appears each Wednesday. He can be reached at tdelias@aol.com.

Low turnout in November 2014 will mean more propositions in 2016

20 Jan

Low turnout last election lowered the thresholds for signature gatherers to get propositions on the ballot. This article in the San Jose Mercury News give more details:

http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_27341277/voters-beware-november-2016-ballot-could-set-record

 

Voters beware: November 2016 ballot will likely be filled with propositions

POSTED:   01/17/2015 12:08:24 PM PST2 COMMENTS| UPDATED:   3 DAYS AGO
 
 

SACRAMENTO — California voters in November 2016 may be forced to read a ballot pamphlet as long and dense as a political science textbook — and oddly enough, they’ll have the millions who sat out last year’s sleepy elections to thank for the extra work.

 
 

The number of signatures required to get a measure on the ballot is reset every four years, based on the votes cast for governor in the previous general election. Since only 42 percent of the state’s registered voters — a record low — turned out in November, it’s going to be easier than ever to put a proposed law before the people.

 
 

A complete list of 2016 ballot initiatives won’t take shape until early next year, but the short list is already a mile long. It includes proposals to legalize marijuana for recreational use, overturn the new plastic bag ban, increase tobacco taxes, eliminate the death penalty, make over the landmark Proposition 13 and boost California’s minimum wage even higher.

 
 
 Another reason the fall 2016 ballot will be jampacked is because state law now requires that all citizen initiatives go before voters in November. As a result, many Capitol observers are predicting the size of next year’s ballot will be unwieldy and that campaign consultants will be forced to rethink their strategies to compete in an unusually crowded field.
 
 

“There’s a storm of pent-up issues that folks have waited to put on the ballot in a presidential election year,” said Corey Cook, director of the University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center. “The sense now is that the ballot could be huge.”

 
 

Over the past four years, 504,760 signatures were required to get on the ballot an initiative that seeks to change state law — and for a constitutional amendment it took 807,615. Now, you need only 365,880 and 585,407, respectively.

 
 

California’s lowest signature-gathering threshold in more than 30 years has some advocates cheering the savings they’ll reap in getting measures on the ballot, but others are groaning about how much tougher it will be to reach voters in media markets saturated with proposition ads.

 “According to the chatter, this is the year people will finally get off the sidelines and into the game,” said Kurt Oneto, a Sacramento attorney who specializes in initiative and referendum law. “Time will tell if that speculation pans out.”It will certainly take some effort to beat the California record. In the November 1914 election, 48 ballot propositions appeared on the statewide ballot. In recent decades, the elections that have come the closest to that record were in November 1988 — with 29 propositions — and November 1990, when 28 propositions were on the ballot.

The Drug Policy Alliance considered putting a recreational pot measure on the ballot last year but decided against it to leave more time for raising the $10 million it needs to run a successful campaign. The group was instrumental in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington. And with large shares of young people expected to vote in the next presidential election, the alliance thought 2016 sounded like the perfect year to guide the change in California, said Lynne Lyman, the alliance’s California director.

Now, she sees the exceptionally low signature-gathering threshold as a “double-edged sword” that will help the group save money but may invite other marijuana advocates to run their own initiatives and contaminate the alliance’s messaging.

“Most of us forgot that these levels get reset,” Lyman said. “It wasn’t something we anticipated or something I’d really even thought about.”

Many ballot measure proponents plan so far in advance that discussions already were underway last year for 2016, so the lowered signature threshold is more of a bonus than a motivator, said Shaun Bowler, a UC Riverside political science professor and expert on the initiative process.

Signature gatherers are typically paid for each swipe of the pen they collect, so the lower threshold means more to measures that don’t have so much money behind them, he said. For example, the conservative Pacific Justice Institute may make a second attempt to block a state law that allows transgender students to select which bathrooms and locker rooms they use. The referendum last year narrowly missed getting on the ballot.

Bowler said there’s “definitely” a risk of voter fatigue, in which voters beset by an avalanche of measures throw up their hands and just vote no. “The ones at the top of the ballot are likely to see higher votes,” he said.

Whatever effect a slew of measures might have on one another’s success, it’s looking like fat times for California campaign consultants.

“We should start calling next year’s ballot the Political Consultants Relief Act,” said Steve Maviglio, a veteran Democratic strategist who quipped that the voter guide will be thick enough that someone might mistake it for “War and Peace,” the famously long novel by Leo Tolstoy.

Maviglio has already signed on to work with Californians Against Waste, the proponents of last year’s landmark plastic bag ban legislation, if opponents of the ban — as expected — succeed in putting the law before voters as a referendum.

Out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers spent more than $3 million collecting signatures and are girding for a costly battle to overturn a law they call a “job killer” and a “cash grab” for grocers, who would get to keep 10-cent-per-bag fees.

“This ballot is going to batter every spending record we’ve seen,” Maviglio said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if activity starts now because no one wants to be last.”

Activists could submit initiative petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office as late as early 2016, but they have only until Sept. 2 of this year if they want the full 180-day period allowed for signature gathering.

Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he and others are working to place a public-pension reform measure before voters in November 2016, and a crowded ballot “could work to our advantage if there are lots of other measures that labor unions want to support or oppose.”

For example, the state’s largest teachers union may lead efforts to extend the temporary sales and income taxes voters approved in 2012 when they endorsed Proposition 30. That would force labor to “spend their money on other things,” Reed said.

Reed tried to put a measure on 2014’s ballot but abandoned the effort after meager fundraising and a defeat in his court challenge to the measure’s official summary.

The Save Lives California coalition is pushing for an additional $2-per-pack tobacco tax — either through the Legislature, where a two-thirds majority would be needed in each chamber, or at the ballot box. Voters last approved a tobacco tax hike in 1998 but rejected a $1-per-pack proposal in 2012.

Coalition spokesman Mike Roth said supporters of the tax are not afraid the measure would get lost amid a flood of other ballot measures.

“No matter how many measures are on the ballot, there would be only one with life-or-death consequences,” Roth said. “We’ve seen historically that voters want the ability to cut tobacco use, to save lives and to save money.”

Staff writer Sharon Noguchi conributed to this report.

POSSIBLE PropositionsFOR 2016

 
 

The measure that will appear on the 2016 ballot won’t be finalized until early next year, but here are just some of the high-profile issues voters may be asked to decide.

 
 

RECREATIONAL POT: The Drug Policy Alliance is hoping young voters who turn out for next year’s presidential election will help lift their marijuana legalization measure to success.

 
 
 
PLASTIC BAG BAN: Out-of-state manufacturers that oppose California’s new law banning single-use plastic grocery bags hope to repeal the law at the ballot box. They’ve already submitted signatures and are girding for a costly fight.
 
 

PENSION REFORM: Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed abandoned his pension reform efforts last year, but he plans to bring the measure back in 2016.

 
 

MINIMUM WAGE: California’s minimum wage will soon climb to $10 an hour, but some liberal Democrats, including Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, don’t think that’s enough and may back a measure calling for boosting the hourly minimum to $13.

TOBACCO TAX: Voters narrowly rejected a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes in 2012, but health organizations and the deep-pocketed Service Employees International Union think 2016 may be the year to fight for a $2-per-pack tax.

PROPOSITION 30 EXTENSION: The California Teachers Association is pushing Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to extend the temporary sales and income taxes voters approved at Brown’s urging in 2010. If they don’t, the union may put the taxes back on the ballot.

DEATH PENALTY: Last year, a federal judge ruled that California’s death penalty system is so plagued with delays that it’s unconstitutional. Capital punishment opponents may use the decision to again push a measure that would outlaw the practice here.

SPLIT ROLL: Changing California’s Proposition 13 to make businesses pay more could mean millions more in revenue for school districts. Next year, the state’s powerful teachers union may back a measure to create the “split” property-tax roll that’s been considered here for decades.

BATHROOM BILL: A conservative advocacy group tried putting a transgender student rights bill — which allows transgender students to pick which bathrooms and locker rooms they want to use — on last year’s ballot as a referendum and narrowly failed. Now that the signature threshold is lower, the group may try again to reverse the legislation.

OIL TAX: Billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, now considering a U.S. Senate run in 2016, has floated the idea of taxing oil companies for every barrel of liquid gold they extract from California land. If the Legislature won’t act, the ballot box might be an alternative.

Why wasn’t this story in the Enterprise Record? PG&E exec who lost job over inappropriate e-mails receives $1.1 million severance package. And we paid for it!

20 Jan

Thanks to a reader for sending in this tip – I had missed this story. Here we have Thomas Bottorff, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Pacific Gas and Electric. This is the genius who came up with the recent “rate changes” that have higher PG&E users paying lower rates, passing higher rates onto lower users and even CARE recipients. Here he explains the logic behind robbing the poor to pay for air conditioning the rich:

http://www.pgecurrents.com/2013/02/22/californias-electric-rate-system-is-broken-and-needs-to-be-fixed/

But Mr. Bottorff got caught red-handed in the e-mail scandal and was forced to resign.   With a $1.1 million severance package? That’s how we punish the rich here in sunny California.

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_26870345/pg-e-executive-who-lost-job-over-emails

 

 

PG&E executive who lost job over emails to receive $1.1 million in severance pay

POSTED:   11/05/2014 08:29:50 AM PST3 COMMENTS| UPDATED:   3 MONTHS AGO
 
 
 
 

SAN FRANCISCO – A former PG&E senior executive who lost his job following the disclosure of inappropriate emails to regulators will receive a $1.1 million severance payment, according to a report filed by the utility with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 
 

Thomas Bottorff, the former senior vice president of regulatory affairs, was one of three executives whose employment was terminated in September when PG&E revealed a set of emails to the California Public Utilities Commission that appeared to show improper judge-shopping.

 
 

Bottorff’s separation agreement was included in San Francisco-based PG&E’s quarterly report to the SEC, filed on Oct. 28.

 
 

The agreement was signed by Bottorff on Sept. 12 and said he resigned as of that date.

 
 

Conditions of the severance package are that Bottorff must cooperate in legal and regulatory proceedings concerning PG&E, must not sue PG&E for any reason, and must refrain from demeaning the utility’s reputation.

 
 

The agreement says, “Even though Mr. Bottorff is not otherwise entitled to them, in consideration of his acceptance of this agreement, the company will provide to Mr. Bottorff” certain separation benefits.

 
 

The benefits include the $1.1 million in severance pay; continued vesting of stock given to him in an incentive plan; $29,000 in health insurance payments for 18 months; and $12,000 worth of career-transition services.

PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens said today, “The benefits that were provided were in accordance with the company’s officer separation policy and are based on individual compensation levels and years of service.

“The agreements are in line with what other officers have received who have left the company with commensurate years of service,” Stephens said.

The emails were announced by PG&E on Sept. 15. They were written in January by former Vice President for Regulatory Relations Brian Cherry, whom Bottorff supervised, to a PUC staff member and Commissioner Mike Florio.

The messages concerned apparent attempts to influence the selection of a PUC administrative law judge for a PG&E gas transmission and storage rate case. PG&E said when disclosing the messages that it believed they violated the PUC’s rules barring private communications to commissioners and staff on regulatory matters.

An administrative law judge who held a hearing on the messages ruled on Oct. 16 that the “PG&E’s actions severely harmed the integrity of the regulatory process.” The commission is scheduled to consider a penalty at a Nov. 20 meeting.

Cherry and Vice President of Regulatory Proceedings and Rates Trina Horner were also terminated from PG&E employment in September. The Oct. 28 SEC filing did not provide any information on the terms of their separations.

On Oct. 6, PG&E released a second batch of emails written by Cherry in 2010 and 2013 and said those messages also appeared to violate the rules.

In an email report sent to Bottorff on May 31, 2010, Cherry described a private dinner with PUC President Michael Peevey at which, according to Cherry’s letter, they discussed several regulatory proceedings and Peevey allegedly asked PG&E to contribute $1.1 million to an anniversary dinner and a campaign against a ballot initiative.

“The evening was social but we did delve into some work matters,” Cherry reported to Bottorff at the start of the message.

The 2013 emails were exchanged between Cherry and Florio and concerned whether the pressure in a disputed natural gas line in San Carlos could be restored to normal operating level.

City of Chico and Butte County are failing to deal with mental health issues that complicate the homeless situation

19 Jan

 I read a promising article in the News and Review a couple of weeks ago, with everybody fretting over all these police shootings across the nation, about a new local program “that addresses situations in which officers respond to those with mental problems.”

I’ve been trying to follow  this conversation for a couple of years now. At several meetings I attended, including a Police Advisory Board meeting and a local governments joint session, former Chief Kirk Trostle, lieutenants Linda Dye and Jennifer Gonzales, and other members of Chico PD described problems in dealing with the “homeless” and “street people” who are deemed “unsafe for themselves or others.”   When officers are called by a citizen or citizens who have an incapacitated person laying in the middle of the sidewalk in a puddle of their own making, or somebody who is standing in the middle of a local business screaming at the customers, Chico police officers have to make that determination – is this person at risk either of their own injury, or at risk of injuring others? These officers receive training in dealing with the indigent, including a week at Butte College for a sort of mental health cram course.

During the “normal” business day – Monday through Friday 9 to 5 – these people are transported to Enloe Hospital Emergency Room, I assume checked over by a medical doctor, and then handed over to a “support” employee from Butte County Behavioral Health, for transport to the facility on Rio Lindo Avenue here in Chico.  But, after hours and on weekends, there is no “support,” and these folks are simply handed over to the staff at Enloe ER. The police won’t arrest them, because then they’d be responsible for the bill, so these people are free to wander out on their own after the police have deposited them in the ER, leaving hospital staff to clean up. And the bill is left to the taxpayers.

Last year Butte County supervisors received over a $1 million-plus grant for county Behavioral Health. At a subsequent meeting, I watched them parcel most of that grant to two doctors, one of whom will not even set foot in the county. He will administer patients via computer.  Their salaries and benefits took up about half the grant, the rest was supposed to be used to secure those “support personnel”, at salaries of $30-35,000. The last time I talked to Supervisor Maureen Kirk about this, she forwarded an e-mail from a Behavioral Health Department staffer saying they were having trouble filling those support positions. No kidding?

 Lake County received a similar grant, but got more money because they have more poor people there. Here’s an article about how they parceled that out:

BOS approve three-year contract, eight positions for behavioral health

By J.W. Burch IV

jburch@record-bee.com @JWBurchIV on Twitter

UPDATED:   01/08/2015 09:10:14 AM PST
 

LAKEPORT >> A three-year contract for substance abuse services was unanimously approved by the Lake County Board of Supervisors at this week’s meeting.

Totaling a little less than $2 million, the contract be effective from July 1, 2014 until June 30, 2017.

The objective is to make substance abuse treatment services available to Medi-Cal beneficiaries, the contract states. State and federal funds will be used for service reimbursements, which were decreased for the county.

“It is possible that amount will change again,” Lake County Behavioral Health Director Linda Morris said.

District 3 Supervisor Jim Steele asked if funds are equally distributed to all counties in the state.

According to Morris, funds are distributed based on a county’s needs.

“So there is a chance for us to change our position,” Steele said.

In other business, the board also unanimously approved a resolution that would add a total of eight positions in the behavioral health department.

Positions include one clinical psychologist, one full-time and six part-time client support assistants.

According to Morris, a clinical psychologist is needed to provide competency and secondary conservatorship evaluations.

Additionally, the clinical psychologist would work in the mental health, as well as the alcohol and drug divisions.

The full-time client support assistant will arrange vehicle maintenance, coordinate departmental transportation schedules, as well as schedule drivers for client transportation.

Enhancement of services to existing Wellness Centers and supporting SB 82 grant services will be the role of the six part-time client support assistants.

Grant services through SB 82 involve diverting potential crisis clients away from local hospitals to centers for peer support, resource planning and referrals.

The expansion “will allow for a reduction in services being provided,” Morris stated. It will also alleviate some of the time spent by local law enforcement agencies on such services.

While the client support assistant positions were planned in the department’s budget, which is expected to range between approximately $5,886 and $7,159, the clinical psychologist position wasn’t.

“However, it will be funded by anticipated savings from other vacant positions,” Morris said.

Contact J. W. Burch, IV at 900-2022.

See that – “ six part-time client support assistants.”  Would you want your son or daughter to be one of those “client support assistants“? With a budget “between approximately $5,886 and $7,159“? Are you getting that – that’s $6 – 7,000 to pay all six assistants! To provide escort for mental patients?

The article I read in the News and Review involved handing out cards to homeless people who have a hard time verbalizing to police. Here’s the full story from California Health Report:

By Lynn Graebner, California Health Report

http://www.healthycal.org/program-aims-ease-encounters-mental-health-consumers-law-enforcement/
When law enforcement and people experiencing a mental health crisis intersect, it’s often not clear to either of them what they are dealing with or how to proceed. A new program in Butte County seeks to make those encounters safer for everyone.

 The Butte County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and local law enforcement are offering cards to consumers of mental health services that can contain any information the consumer feels would be important for a first responder to have. That may include their diagnosis, emotional triggers and emergency contacts.

The back of the card carries the emblems of local law enforcement agencies that support it.

“It invites the officer to step out of an enforcement mode and into a public service mode,” said Andy Duch, a captain at the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

 “When mentally ill people are approached by law enforcement, just like anyone else, they get incredibly anxious,” said Jason Tate, program manager for the Iversen Wellness and Recovery Center in Chico. “Anxiety and fear can lead to a more challenging time.”

And symptoms of mental illness can appear to police as drug abuse. A manic episode, for instance, can look like methamphetamine use and slurred speech can often be mistaken for drunkenness, Tate said. So a white card explaining unusual behavior may change the interaction with a police officer.

 A successful pilot project with cardboard cards was done three years ago. So in April NAMI Butte County started rolling out more substantial plastic ones. Close to 100 have been distributed, said Cathy Gurney, president of NAMI Butte County.

 Some leaders in the mental health community fear the cards will increase stigmatization of the mentally ill, painting them as incapable of speaking for themselves or even dangerous.

 Duch and Gurney anticipate it having the opposite effect. They liken the card to a medic alert bracelet.

 “It legitimizes their crisis,” Duch said.

 “And it opens up a whole new line of conversation,” Gurney said.

 No record is made of who gets a card or what’s on it. The consumer dictates the information to the person producing the card which can even be issued blank with just the law enforcement emblems on the back.

 Shannon Patterson got one for safety reasons. She has bipolar depression and has been homeless for three months. A doctor prescribed her medication that caused her to become deeply depressed. When police took her to a social service department for help she was turned away because she was homeless and staff thought she just wanted shelter, she said.

 The next day she attempted suicide. She had to be resuscitated three times, spent 10 days in the hospital and still suffers hand tremors from the overdose.

 “The system really failed me,’’ she said. So when the white card program emerged she decided to get one.

 “I felt it would be better for me to have that,” she said.

The card lists her name, diagnosis and triggers, such as confinement and loud noises. It also lists numbers for her mental health provider and emergency contacts and her medical conditions including multiple knee and back surgeries and a heart murmur.

 She’s hoping the card would legitimize her medical conditions to staff if she ever had to seek help at an emergency room.

 James Freeland, who is staying in a Chico homeless shelter with his wife after their house burned down, said he thinks the card is a great idea. He has paranoid schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder.  “I’ve been in prison most of my life and this card shows that there are issues on top of issues,” he said.

NAMI Butte County is gradually rolling out the program, wanting it to spread by word of mouth, Gurney said. Her organization will print cards for clients of the Iversen Wellness & Recovery Center in Chico every two weeks and cards will also be printed at the Torres Community Shelter in Chico and the Butte County Behavioral Health Department. The City of San Diego has also expressed interest, Gurney said.

 So far the cards have been well received. The Iversen Wellness and Recovery Center has had about 35 people opt to get one.

 Tate hasn’t spoken to anyone who has used a card with law enforcement yet but said his members seem to really like having them and he has not heard any negative opinions.

 But the cards aren’t for everyone. Corey Chambers is staying at the Torres Community Shelter in Chico while he pursues an internship in the solar industry. He has friends with white cards but does not intend to get one himself. He’s been homeless since May and takes Zoloft for depression. He’s afraid of being classified as mentally ill and thinks the card may add to the stigma he already suffers as a result of being homeless.

 “I’m trying to stay as functional as I can,” he said.

 Leaders in the mental health community have similar concerns.

 “The white card initiative, while well intentioned, is extremely problematic,” said Leah Harris, director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. “It borders on psychiatric profiling, and also reinforces the assumption of dangerousness,” she said.

 Yana Jacobs, senior program officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, feels white cards are another way of keeping people disabled.

 “It creates a picture of someone who is so out of their mind they don’t know where they are,” she said. “Suddenly someone might go from being a PhD at Johns Hopkins to a psych patient who can’t speak for themselves.”

 She contends that people with mental illness are already afraid to call for help when they have a physical health problem for fear they will be shipped off to a psychiatric hospital, she said.

 “If [responders] see psych meds in their possession it invalidates them,” she said.

 Instead of white cards Harris would rather see more mobile crisis teams with peer support specialists and clinicians who can de-escalate situations and connect people with the appropriate care.

Efforts in that direction are underway as well, said Gurney. NAMI California, the California Highway Patrol and the Behavioral Health Directors Association held a summit in November. They are discussing the possibility of standardizing Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement across the state to improve interactions between police and those living with mental illness.

For now Patterson feels a little safer carrying a white card to help her navigate any potential confrontations with law enforcement or county health services in the future.

The News and Review hadn’t printed the whole article, or even a link to the whole article, I had to ask for it.  That was unfortunate, and evidence that people here don’t seem to care about this problem beyond a sound-byte. Notice the criticism – Leah Harris of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery agrees with me, “would rather see more mobile crisis teams…”   But in Butte County, as in Lake County, the mobile crisis teams are staffed part-time and paid less than poverty level income, with no benefits.

The News and Review also printed this editorial the other day:

 Consider a day center

Chico needs a daytime safe space for homeless individuals

This article was published on 01.15.15.
The barriers homeless individuals face to get off the streets are complex and numerous, but when mental illness factors into the equation, things become infinitely more complicated.

As you’ll read about in this week’s cover piece by Assistant News Editor Howard Hardee, mental illness often prevents those in the homeless community from receiving services from Behavioral Health and other public agencies and nonprofit organizations. Those individuals often have an extremely hard time advocating for themselves. But there also are many practical reasons that the aid this population needs is out of reach.

For example, as reported in the story, homeless people have no safe place to store their belongings. Nor do they have transportation to make appointments or a way to keep track of them to begin with.

That’s where the idea of a day center comes into play. Chico is home to many wonderful organizations, such as the Jesus Center, which feeds the local destitute and offers them an opportunity to clean up, and the Torres Community Shelter, which provides a roof for those who don’t have one of their own. However, there is no place for local homeless folks to go during the day. Those who stay the night at the shelter must leave early in the morning, and the Jesus Center is not a place for people to hang out.

Ideally, a local day center would have experts in public health and housing, among others, who would help connect individuals in need with wellness information, housing referrals and job counseling. Lockers for storage, voicemail and message services, and transportation to medical appointments would also greatly benefit this vulnerable population.

The day-center model has been successful in many cities and it’s long past time that Chico’s leaders consider it as an option here, especially since the local homeless population is on the rise. Such a center is a vital part of the long-term efforts needed to help this portion of our community.

I have to ask the editor – would she staff such a center? Would she take a budget of $5 – 7,000 to run it? People are so quick to expect others to make do.

The system in Chico has broken down. We have all these ideas, but nobody wants to do the actual work of dealing with the mentally ill. The money seems to be there, but our “leaders” don’t seem to have any sense in spending it. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.