Mayor Sorensen agendizes another discussion about the Cal Water rate increase

8 Oct

A big thanks to Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk for showing up to speak at Chico City Council this past Tuesday on the water rate case proposed by Cal Water. Kirk detailed the reasons that Butte County is protesting this case, although, I am not sure if the county will seek Intervenor status. Kirk herself went ahead and got “Party” status – that’s all I could ask of an individual, and I’m very grateful to Maureen. She was nice about it, said the CPUC process was “complicated” – it’s onerous bullshit meant to keep people, even your county supervisor, from sticking their nose in Cal Water’s business. She told the council they should put their lawyer on it. 

I was kind of surprised to hear Chico Mayor Mark Sorensen move to agendize a conversation about the water rate increase. I frankly didn’t expect them to do anything. But excited? No. At this point, with the ship moving slowly away from the dock, it almost looks like they are intentionally tarrying so they won’t have get on board.  I’ll stop there, before I offend anybody.

I’m already offended, but I’m just an old chatterbox.

I’m going to write a letter to the CPUC on behalf of all of you Chico Taxpayers, our protest. I’ll be working on it, don’t bother me.


Lou Binninger: private water providers like Cal Water charge up to 80 percent more than municipal providers

8 Oct

Marysville Can’t Afford Cal Water By Lou Binninger

Territorial Dispatch, Oct. 7 2015

 Marysville households are in shock over their water bills. Olivehurst, Linda and Yuba City residents can use much more water, add their sewer fee and still pay far less than Marysville people spend just for water. And, many of those water bills are larger than what people owe for PG and E. 

Why? Marysville is controlled by California Water Service (CWS), a for-profit corporation. CWS is known for high water rates, big profits and generous dividends. The other water systems are municipal, owned by the people and have low rates.

CWS bills are steep enough to cause customers to move. Cheaper options are 5 minutes away, just outside Marysville city limits.

Most Marysville lawns and landscaping were brown prior to drought restrictions. People could not afford the price of water in 2012. The city looks like no one gives a damn. Properties look abandoned.

However, other cities found a solution. Create a public water company and purchase the infrastructure (pipes, wells, tanks etc.). The citizens of Marysville already own the water. CWS is paid to deliver that water to them.

Food & Water Watch (FWW), a nonprofit advocate for safe and affordable drinking water, helps communities move to public control. In 2009, FWW studied nearly 5,000 water utilities and 1,900 sewer utilities and concluded that private entities charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services.

CWS rates are much higher, 3-4 times higher.

In the current CWS rate case submitted to the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) more than half of the requested 25% increase goes to improving CWS operations in San Jose. Less than one mile of the more than 54 miles of Marysville water line is listed to be replaced. In the last rate case CWS wanted 47% (2013) more and before that they were awarded a 55.5% (2011) spike in rates.

In November 2002, CalAm (Cal-American Water Co), the City of Felton’s (pop 4057-yr 2010) water provider, proposed a 74% rate increase over three years. Felton residents formed Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW), and with legal help from Santa Cruz County, fought the rate increase. CPUC reduced it to 44%.

However, fearing future escalating costs, FLOW began working on a plan to buy the water system and turn it over to nearby San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD), a public utility. By 2005, FLOW enlisted the help of FWW and worked on a ballot initiative to raise the funds to buy the system.

They were successful. The ballot initiative won with nearly 75 percent of the vote. SLVWD then proposed to buy the system for $7.6 million. CalAm/RWE refused to sell. SLVWD pursued eminent domain to force a buyout. Just before the case was to go to jury trial, Cal-Am agreed to terms.

Today, with Felton now served by a public utility, the average resident’s bill has dropped by at least 50%. FLOW has calculated that even with using a property tax increase to pay off Cal-Am, most residents are already saving as much as $400 per year.

Citizens of Ojai (pop 7581-yr 2013), east of Santa Barbara, have been working on buying-out Golden State Water (GSW) and joining adjacent Casitas Municipal Water District. Casitas delivers water at one-third the price. In 2008, GSW hiked its water rates by 34.9%. In January 2011 they bumped rates again 26.2%.

On August 13, 2013, Measure V was put on the ballot to approve joining Casitas, issue bonds to buy GSW and make capital improvements. It passed with 87.4% of the vote.

Ojai customers expect 10-15% rate decreases the first year after purchase and for rates to remain stable. The typical customer would experience an annual savings of $141.00. They project that savings will increase to $1500.00 per year by 2025.

Though the court has ruled for Ojai FLOW / Casitas Water District to purchase Golden State, the legal wrangling continues. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in July 2015.

Marysville residents have been slapped with similar or greater rate increases as either Felton or Ojai. No wonder Appeal Democrat writer Harold Kruger believes Marysville leaders are soft on the issue. Maybe it’s time the residents take charge.

City council makes last minute agenda change, announces Cal Water presentation tonight

6 Oct

Added to the council agenda late yesterday, Cal Water is scheduled to make a “presentation” before tonight’s regular council meeting.

I have been asking Mayor Mark Sorensen to become an “Intervenor” and formally protest this rate hike. He has not responded to me in any way, but announced at a previous meeting he wanted to bring Cal Water in.  I’ve watched the agendas eversince, and when I checked the agenda that was mailed to me last week for tonight’s meeting, there was nothing about Cal Water.

Last night after I heard it on the news, I checked again – still nothing. My Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk e-mailed me to say she’d seen the news bit but had also checked the agenda and found nothing.

Oh, but now it’s suddenly on the agenda. The miracle of computers, eh?

It’s scheduled for the first part of the meeting, under “Presentations.” When I received the agenda last week, North Valley Ag was the only business listed there.

I know – it really doesn’t matter. I’m not planning to attend. I sent a list of questions to Mark Sorensen and Sean Morgan:

I see the Cal Water presentation has been added to the agenda – it was not on the agenda I received last week, I looked for it.  I heard it on the news last night that Cal Water would be making this presentation.  Thanks for keeping me in the loop (sarcasm alert). 


I don’t know if the public will be allowed to ask questions, but looking at their presentation I see there’s nothing about employee expenses, pension liability, or how much employees pay toward their own  benefits and pension.


I hope one  or all of you will ask these questions. And, I’d also like to know – why hasn’t the infrastructure been maintained? Why all these repairs now? What projects do they have to show for the last three consecutive rate increases we’ve received over the last 5 years? One notice listed $384,000 for pensions, and only $164,000 for infrastructure. I still have that notice.

Thank you for your due diligence to this matter, Juanita Sumner

I’m going to hold my breath until after the meeting. The Marysville City Council also invited Cal Water in for a “presentation.” They listened politely, asked a few pointy questions, and then voted unanimously to become an “Intervenor” and formally protest the proposal. 

Maureen Kirk has got “party” status, meaning, CPUC sends her updates of what is happening with our case. I’ve asked and asked for the county to become an Intervenor, Maureen has told me she’s going to check again with county counsel Bruce Alpert to see if that’s happening. 

Imagine my surprise when I read this on the Marysville For Reasonable Water Rates:

Interestingly, Butte County is also seeking party status. It filed its motion in late August.

“With or without consolidation, the proposed rate increases would impose a significant burden on the county, as a customer of Cal Water. Further, the rate increases would affect an undue hardship on county residents in the Chico and Oroville districts, as many Cal Water customers in these areas are of limited means,” Butte County’s county counsel wrote. “The average income in the affected county areas is low to moderate, with many customers on fixed incomes and/or government assistance. Economic development in these areas is slow to regain footing, as the economy is slow to recover.”

Wow! That was hard-hitting stuff.

But there was more.

“The county, as a Cal Water customer and on behalf of its residents residing in the Chico and Oroville districts, has an interest in opposing consolidation and minimizing the proposed rate increases in the above-captioned application based on the direct burden to the county and the hardship of the affected county residents,” the county’s filing said.

Wow again!!

Butte County isn’t taking any guff from Cal Water. The gloves are off.

Well, that’s nice of the MFRWR to say, but I’m very disappointed that Butte County did not use Bruce Alpert’s very expensive time to pursue Intervenor status. 

I’m disappointed in myself somewhat, I wish I could muster up the motivation to file for at least party status, write up some sort of protest – but here’s the thing. I don’t like standing up like that, with nothing but a cold breeze blowing up the back of my skivvies.

We’ll have to see what our council decides to do.

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: Taxpayers must defend themselves and take a more active role in opposing taxes

4 Oct

Thanks to Bob and Jim, who both sent this link in response to my whining about the “deluge” of tax increase proposals rolling toward the 2016 ballot:

This is a good read. Starting with some background about the history of sales tax in California and the rules by which sales taxes can be enacted, raised, and spent, this article explains how taxing agencies can actually spend these monies just about any way they want if they choose their words carefully.  

Sales taxes are subject either to a simple majority (51%) of the voters – for general sales tax increases that can be spent at the taxing entity’s discretion – or a two-thirds majority of the voters – for a special tax with a specific purpose.

HJTA explains, “In an effort to circumvent the two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes, some cities and counties have placed majority vote general sales tax increase measures on the ballot along with a companion advisory measure ‘advising’ local officials how to spend the tax proceeds without actually legally dedicating the tax proceeds for the ‘advised’ purposes. With this strategy, local officials can spend the tax proceeds any way they want and are not legally bound by the contents of the companion advisory measure.”

I’m pretty sure the same holds for a bond or assessment on homes, but will have to check into that.

So far, tax increase proponents in Chico have been asking for some pretty specific stuff. CARD says they want some $10 million-plus for an aquatic center, they’re probably going to ask for a bond on our homes. Meanwhile, Chico PD is stumping for a sales tax increase, specifically for staff. Both of these sound like they will require two-thirds of the voters. 

That should be comforting, but like HJTA says, “Opposing and defeating a sales tax is often not easy, even when a two-thirds vote is required to pass the tax.”

I started this organization back in 2012 to fight Measure J, the cell phone tax proposed by then-Mayor Ann Schwab and other members of council. I had heard about it somewhere, and in my research, I found out they’d been illegally taxing our cell phones for years, and this measure was their attempt at making it legal without really explaining that to anybody. They didn’t want to tell us – if we overturned that tax, they’d have to REFUND MONEY THEY’D BEEN STEALING FOR YEARS. 

We overturned that tax, and they had to offer the refunds.  They cried about it, but continued to raise their own salaries and refusing to pay for their own benefits and pension. Like Jarvis says, “Local governments have been placing sales tax measures on the ballot in response to alleged ‘budgetary problems.’ Such ‘budgetary problems’ are often a result of wasteful or excessive spending by local government officials, including high pension costs and excessive personnel costs. Local governments also like to play budgetary shell games in which they place a sales tax measure on the ballot to fund a politically popular purpose, and if the tax passes, it would enable the local government to free up money from the general fund that can then be spent on the pet projects or programs of local politicians.” 

Here, councils’ favorite pets seem to be cops and firemen. I was just reading this old article from News and Review, June,  2013, same old story:

“Constantin then advised the council that the city has $3 million less in “spendable” cash than last year, and that the Chico Police Department payroll is 2 percent over where it should be at this time. Meanwhile, the Fire Department payroll is 11 percent over what it should be, in spite of some savings from the reduction of staff at Fire Station 3 at the Chico Municipal Airport.”

While Constantin would now like everybody to believe they’ve tightened up their “loosey Goosey” budget, you will still find “budget appropriations” on almost every council agenda – that’s $taff saying, “we’ve gone over budget again, and we need to have more money…”

Public Safety is a hungry monster in our town, it eats almost all our city pie. The city sewer, airport, development, and other funds have been pilfered to meet payroll overruns, workman’s comp overruns, and even PG&E gas bills that run over-budget because, as ex-finance director Jennifer Hennessy explained, the cops get paid to shower and dress – called “donning and doffing” – before and after every shift. That’s a lot of hot water. 

search term of the week: “how to defeat a city sales tax increase…”

4 Oct

I’ve been busy – I got a splinter in my finger and whoa, it got infected. Having run the gamut with the local medical scene, I waited until it was swollen up like a basketball and then I got a new razor blade out of my husband’s tool box and I cut it.

BOOM! Bloody puss everywhere, what a mess. I had to cut it a couple more times to get all the junk out, squeezing it and dabbing at it with a Q-tip soaked in witch hazel. Then I took a pair of scissors we got from the vet, and I cut the rest of the blister off so it wouldn’t get full of puss again. At this point I started to see tadpoles swimming in my eyeballs so I had to quit.

I would have amputated the finger to avoid a trip to any of our filthy local medical establishments. I’m looking at it right now, poking it with my other finger and everything – I can’t believe it’s almost healed already. Feels brand new, except a stiff little scab on the tip of my finger. It’s shocking how an injury like that just takes all my concentration, even now I think about it every time I touch that finger to the keyboard.

It’s still hard to concentrate with all the stuff going on around here. It’s like one of those tv shows where the plot line is so complicated, if you miss one episode you might as well quit watching. And when I turn to fellow audience members to see what happened while I was in the bathroom, I get, “sorry, I missed that meeting…” or “oh, I don’t have time…”  

After a recent conversation with one of my elected representatives and staff regarding the homeless situation, crime, and the County Behavioral Health Department, I’m tempted to blow this whole Chico scene and go off grid.  Just say,  Fuck it,  like EVERY DAY.  But when I look at that sea of crap floating in here and all I got is this little dinghy, I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “Man the battle stations!” There is nothing left but The Fight. I won’t give up everything I own here and hit the road like a dust bowl Oakie.  

So imagine my delight when I look at the search engine and see “how to defeat a city sales tax increase” hanging among the debris of the week? Somebody else is out there!  

I wonder what they found besides this blog. I type their search phrase into the computer.

I find out, right off the top, about two-and-a-half years ago, the voters of Los Angeles defeated a half-cent sales tax increase – $211 million/year “to prevent layoffs, fund the Los Angeles police and fire departments and improve city streets and sidewalks.”  Facing a $215 million deficit, 55% of voters just said “No!” to their city employees’ outrageous demands. Good for the people of Los Angeles. But that’s kind of a squeaker.

Next I read an interesting story from Park City, Kansas, a small town near Wichita, where a sales tax increase was placed on the 2008 ballot.   According to a pre-election article in  the Wichita Business Journal, ” a proposed one-cent sales-tax increase over 10 years — to be decided by voters Nov. 4 — to finance the construction of an $8 million recreation center is putting Park City’s pro-business reputation under fire.”

There are pictures of businesses around town with “Vote No” messages on their marquees – a sign at the local Spangles gives a phone number and encourages passersby to contact their  council members. “Park City business owners talk about the competitive disadvantage and how a higher sales tax rate would drive patrons to places outside the city with a cheaper sales tax.”

Good for Park City business owners, and good for the voters who turned out to trounce that measure by 88%.

In 2014, Wichita tried their own sales tax increase – to fix roads was all I could find on that – but the voters defeated that measure by 62%. There were three sales tax increase measures on the Sedgewick County  ballot that year, all defeated.

Kansas kicks ass. 

But, I can’t find very much about how they defeated these measures.  And there’s not much news for what happened afterwards. I found an article that threatened more highway fatalities because Missouri voters defeated a sales tax grab.

That’s all they have – threats. Here in Chico, our police department threatens not to do their job. Well, they already don’t do their job, so what do we have for perspective?

I find, I’m not the only person who thinks the government is a financial black hole, that our public employees are only interested in their personal finances, and that we the taxpayers have had enough. 




Meet serial criminal Joseph Hammett – he’ll be out on bail in your neighborhood before you know it!

2 Oct
Below is the story of a serial criminal,  a guy who has a history of petty crimes in our town, but is still running around loose, committing more crimes. The first story, posted the other day in the Enterprise Record:
Man arrested after car, foot chase

Chico >> Items stolen from two vehicles in Chico were found after a Butte County Sheriff deputy detained a man and a woman early Tuesday morning.

Deputy Josh Brazzi was patrolling an area in west Chico around 3 a.m. when he spotted a white Honda Civic speeding in the Dayton Road and Pomona Avenue area, according to a press release.

The vehicle sped into an apartment complex at 851 Pomona Ave., and the male driver and female passenger ran from the vehicle.

Brazzi was able to detain both subjects after a brief foot chase, and later found items in the Honda reportedly stolen from two vehicles earlier in the evening, including a surveying laser worth about $3,500.

Driver Joseph Hammett, 24, was booked into Butte County Jail on charges of burglary, possession of stolen property and driving on a suspended license. He was out on bail for vehicle theft.

The female passenger was interviewed and released.

Notice it says, “He was out on bail for vehicle theft.”

vehicle theft” usually means, he stole a car. Stealing from a car is called “vehicle burglary.”   Stealing a car would usually be a felony, simply because of the dollar value of the car. Why this man would be out on parole after his history is beyond me. Here’s a court filing regarding similar a similar charge from 2013.

On August 30, 2013, a Chico police officer observed defendant Joseph Eugene Hammett, whom the officer knew to be on parole. After conducting a parole search, the officer ran a records check which revealed that the bicycle in defendant’s possession had been reported stolen.1 1 Because the matter was resolved by plea, our statement of facts is taken from the probation officer’s report.

Defendant pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property. (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a).) In exchange, a prior prison term allegation (id., § 667.5, subd. (b)) was dismissed with a Harvey waiver.2 Defendant was sentenced to county jail (Pen. Code, § 1170, subd. (h)(1), (2)) for the upper term of three years, awarded 52 days of custody credits and 52 days of conduct credits (id., § 4019), ordered to make restitution to the victim, and ordered to pay a $280 restitution fine (id., § 1202.4), a $40 court operations fee (id., § 1465.8, subd. (a)(1)), and a $30 court facilities assessment (Gov. Code, § 70373). We appointed counsel to represent defendant on appeal. Counsel filed an opening brief that sets forth the facts of the case and requests this court to review the record and determine whether there are any arguable issues on appeal. (People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436.) Defendant was advised by counsel of the right to file a supplemental brief within 30 days of the date of filing of the opening brief. More than 30 days have elapsed, and we have received no communication from defendant. Having undertaken an examination of the entire record, we find no arguable error that would result in a disposition more favorable to defendant. DISPOSITION The judgment is affirmed.

Notice, right in the beginning, it says, he was already on parole at the time of this incident.

Why are serial criminals walking our streets, committing new crimes? 

Reading over this report, I see the district attorney isn’t really taking these people seriously. My husband recently got BUSTED! He was taking a load to the dump without a tarp over it, and there was a CHP officer with a very satisfied smile on his face waiting along Neal Road. That’s right Honey, it was a TARP STING!

We got the ticket the other day – 200 fucking dollars. For not having a tarp over a load of old bicycle parts and other junk. He had an old hockey net tied over the top, thinking, they just wanted you to tie it down. No, CHP said, it had to be a tarp!  $200 fucking dollars!

But this guy is out stealing bikes, breaking into cars, stealing cars – and he gets out with about a $300 slap on the wrist.

Old Yiddish Proverb: When the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish that stinks. We have a many-headed fish in Butte County, starting with the county board of supervisors, and including our CAO, our DA, and our city council, city managers, and police chief. 

And, I love that “0 comments” on the article – where’s Rick Clements? Where’s dbski4it? Where’s the outrage? 

Chico PD announces quarter cent sales tax increase campaign through “Business Support Team”

29 Sep

I don’t like the Annie B’s Foundation because it’s misleading. This is supposed to be a community fund through which the willing and able can channel their disposable dollars into various “community benefit” organizations. Lately it is more and more misused by public agencies phishing for money to cover their outrageous salaries, benefits and pension packages.

And, here’s something that makes my teeth hurt every time I read it – “In addition to receiving a grant from Annie B’s, The City of Chico will match your donation by 40-60%! If you give $100, this organization can receive an additional $50 or more, based on how much is raised!”

As a city of Chico taxpayer, I am forced to give to these organizations whether or not I believe they provide any kind of “community benefit.” 

Like Chico Police Department. They’ve found a way to use a good-will organization to get more money for themselves, through an outfit called “Chico Police Department Business Support Team.” Mysterious front man Jack Van Rossum was interviewed a couple of months ago on Alan Chamberlain’s podcast variety show “Chico Currents”.  Van Rossum makes it very clear – Chico PD runs this organization, telling Van Rossum and his friends what they want and sending them out to get the money for it, one way or another.

Not only is Van Rossum stumping for money from Annie B’s Foundation, with the 40-60% matching grant from the city of Chico, but he says CPDBST is asking Chico city council to place a quarter cent sales tax measure on the ballot, “specifically used only for the police department…the primary concern is staffing.”

Backing Van Rossum and the  CPDBST are organizations like Chico Chamber/Clean & Safe, Chico Rotary (of which Mayor Mark Sorensen is past president and an active member), Chico Exchange Club, and Neighborhood Church.  Van Rossum says members have been very generous – he mentions the license plate readers purchased in 2013, as though they were completely paid for out of the donation fund. He forgets to mention, “40 – 60%” of that money came out of the tax coffers. 

He mentions the city of Chico is “on the verge of bankruptcy.” But can still make a 40 – 60% match on charity funding? 

Van Rossum begins by describing the “close to a substation” Chico PD is requesting at Enloe Hospital – that’s what they want the Annie B’s/City of Chico charity handout for. Van Rossum claims police officers spend a lot of time at Enloe Emergency Room,  “because of their requirements when they deal with people they meet on the street…”  He says Enloe will give the space, but it needs to be outfitted with special radio equipment because the cops can’t use their cell phones or radios from inside the hospital. He also complains that the emergency room is “always backed up…the hospital does not provide priority to the police department.”    Anybody who’s ever been to Enloe ER, he says, “knows there’s a long tedious wait to get someone to serve you…” So, these officers need their own space to do “other work.” What other work? Their other work is outside the hospital.

Wow, I don’t know where to go with that – I sat at a meeting earlier this year and listened to the head of Butte County Behavioral Health talk about the new building the county just bought over near the old Chico Community Hospital. This building would house the staff who are supposed to meet the Chico PD officers at Enloe Hospital and take these “street people” off their hands, freeing police officers up to, well, get back to their jobs.  Here Van Rossum is telling us it’s their job to sit down at Enloe cooling their heels “in the cue…”  

So, we need to pay for a county building, and we need to provide a substation at Enloe Hospital? 

And then Van Rossum goes off on a bender about how the police department is having trouble filling the positions approved and funded by our “on the verge of bankruptcy” city because the police department is understaffed. Feel dizzy?

Here’s a direct quote: “the police department has a low morality.” Chamberlain didn’t correct Mr. Van Rossum, neither will I.

 Listen to the complete interview for yourself. This is the beginning of Clean and Safe’s campaign to raise our local sales tax. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.