Garry Cooper: “Ask them where all the money you paid already went.”

11 Oct

When I attended a Finance Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago, to hear Mark Sorensen’s plans to foist a bond on us for more pension fodder, I tried to raise a few questions about how our streets and roads are maintained now, how that’s paid for, and why the taxes we already pay are not sufficient. I asked about new roads I saw going in at new subdivisions off Hwy 32 and Bruce Road, and about road widenings provided for those subdivisions. The road widenings on Hwy 32 and Bruce were specifically necessitated by the Forgarty and Meriam Park subdivisions, as per a threatened lawsuit from CalTrans.

Before chair Mark Sorensen could tell me to shut up, I got staff to report that the Forgarty streets were paid for with $6 million in Redevelopment Agency funding, or RDA. RDA is borrowed bond money, it’s estimated to cost $3 in interest for every dollar spent. 

I have to wonder, how much RDA money went into those new streets at Meriam Park?

Soooo many questions – and too many people like Sorensen telling me “that’s enough, Ms. Sumner!” (Ah, in friendlier days, it was “That’s enough Juanita!”)

That meeting was pretty contentious. When tax advocate Stephanie Taber went on a ramble about how “the liberals”spent all the money and that’s why we need a new tax for street maintenance, committee member Randal Stone came across the table at her, looking like he wanted to grind her bones to make his bread, saying, “I don’t know which council you’re talking about, but we inherited the streets…” 

All I know is, the city of Chico has come after three of my houses in the county, telling me and my neighbors we’d get better services if we’d agree to annexation. We weren’t really told our rights – it’s actually doable to fight annexation, a neighborhood protest could overturn it. But we were led to believe it wasn’t fightable, so we rolled. I remember Dan Nguyen-Tan telling me, “just think, you’ll be able to vote in city council elections…”

And then we watched the streets in front of all three houses go to hell without maintenance. Here’s the thing – at House #2, the county started a resurfacing job. We were right off Palmetto, and the county had come in, taken it down to the base, and was about 2/3’s of the way through the job when the city annexation went into effect. They supposedly had an agreement that the city would redo gutters, curbs, sidewalks and the ends of driveways, which were left hanging a good 10 – 12 inches above the surface of the new street. We waited and waited, but the city didn’t come. We used our neighbor’s sideyard, with permission, to  get into our driveway. Three households driving across this woman’s side yard to access their houses. 

And then one night a neighbor on our street had a stroke. The ambulance could not get to her driveway, and had to run across neighbors’ yards with the gurney to get her out. She was about 95 years old. She died.

I called the city to tell them what happened, and the  guy who answered the phone was very flustered and apologetic – he didn’t know our street had not been completed.

Welcome to the city of Cheeeko!

The city has long had a policy of pay the pensions first, and worry about service later. In about 2006 then city manager Tom Lando floated a memo of understanding, signed by council, linking city salaries and benefits to “revenue increases, but not decreases…” 

Read that a  couple of times.

Salaries went up, 14, 19, 22 percent! Every year, until we figured it out. We started a collective bitch. The council responded by signing new mou’s – this time, they agreed to pay the employee share of benefits. For years management, along with PD and Fire, paid nothing, absolutely nothing, toward pensions of 70 – 90 percent of their highest years wages. Salaries had gone up – for example, Lando’s salary went from about $65,000 a year to over $100,000. By the time he retired he was making about $180,000 a year. His successor came in at $190,000/year. Now Mark Orme is making over $220,000 a year. 

We raised the collective bitch again, and they agreed to pay some of their benefits. Oh my, 4 percent! Well aren’t you special! So council gave them raises to cover the new payments. All’s well that ends with a  good public screwing!

We pay over 30 percent of their benefits now, add their 4 – 9 percent, and CalPERS wants 50 percent. For now – as time goes by, with CalPERS questionable investment policies, they will eventually want the full 100 percent. So begins the arm-wrestling match over who pays.

Mark Sorensen wants the taxpayers to foot the bill. Ask him why – I’ll answer that – because Mr. Sorensen has wrangled himself a sweet little job as city manager of the nonsense town of Biggs. That makes him a ward of CalPERS. While he doesn’t make half the salary Orme makes, he still depends on those benefits, he’s  got a growing family and a big old gated mansion to take care of. So he’s a soldier for CalPERS. 

The consultant who attended the meeting had all kinds of ideas about getting the public to go along with this scam. But his one warning was, tax measures are hard to pass, and opposition can overturn their little rowboat. The consultant actually suggested that they identify possible opponents and try to smooth them over – promise them stuff!   Get somebody else from the community to invite them out for coffee and snacks, and try to talk them out of opposing.

And, like consultants I’ve listened to at Chico Area Recreation District meetings, he said it was important to keep the measure a secret as long as possible, while surveying selected recipients – they use demographics to find out who is most likely to go along, and they call those people. One CARD consultant said it was very important not to include negative comments in surveys. 

At that point, having wasted enough of my morning, I got out of my chair, picked up my stuff, smiled at Sorensen, and walked out of the little stuffy room. As I walked out I said, very clearly, “there will be opposition, you can count on it.” 

And I was right. I’ve never met Garry Cooper in my life, I’ve never spoken to him, he’s never come to my blog or commented on my letters when we had Topix. So I was surprised and glad when he wrote the following letter to yesterday’s Enterprise Record.

 

The city of Chico wants to ask you to pony up tens of millions of dollars to repair the roads.

Ask them where all the money you paid already went. They will point out that about 80 percent of your money went to salaries of the public unions who, upon every election, donate generously and tout their valuable “endorsements” to the candidates most likely to give them better hikes in wages and benefits.

For instance, you have firemen in Chico bringing in over $200,000 and with base salaries of over $150,000, who are allowed to retire at age 55 with 90 percent of that for life. Most have rental homes and IRAs due to their generous salaries. You, the working class hero, who must work until 65 to get your average $1,200 Social Security retirement, are being asked to pony up more. Is that fair?

Sure, they will claim firefighting is dangerous, but so is roofing, operating heavy equipment, truck driving, and working on oil rigs. Just the stress of struggling by the average Joe in Chico whose salary is in the $30,000 range puts more pressure on one’s heart than those who hop in their $60,000 pickup and tow their $50,000 RV to fish on their days off after collecting their rents from you.

I have no problem with wealth and income, but getting your riches on the backs of the the poor by bribing politicians is wrong. These union agreements are illegal and voidable.

— Garry Cooper, Durham

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Don’t buy the hype, research the ballot measures for yourself

10 Oct

While I’ve been disgusted about the way Prop 6 opponents have been slurring the issues, I’ve noticed there are other very misrepresented initiatives on the state ballot this November. Two most obviously skewed are Props 8 and 10.

Measure 8 opponents tell us a YES vote will cut people off their much needed dialysis treatments, but’s it’s really an important price control. It seems providers think they should  be able to charge anything they want for a life-saving service, but this law puts a cap on how much patients have to pay. The medical industry is sick – it hasn’t been about “helping people” for a long time, the compassion is gone, it’s alllllll about  the money, Doc. These commercials are a threat that if they aren’t allowed to gouge they’ll just fold up their shops and go home. Using cockroaches and blood stains on their “NO on 8” signs, they insinuate any remaining clinics will be allowed to become filthy. What the hell kind of campaign is that for “doctors” to run?  YES on 8.

I have to laugh at Prop 10, the “rent control” measure. Sure, go for it – this measure allows an annual 5 percent increase. Do the math with your own rent, Doooood!  I’ve never had the nerve to increase my rent that much, even with multiple bonds being passed on my properties in one election. I want to keep good tenants, but I also want to stay on top of my expenses. I like to make those business decisions for myself, so NO on 10.  

The rest of the ballot is up to you folks. Of course I vote NO on all bonds these days, given the state of the state, the mismanagement, and the gaping pension deficit. But I don’t really understand Prop 5, so I’m voting NO on that.  Prop 7 has to be approved by the FEDs, and it just sounds dumb, so NO on that. Prop 11 is also confusing, and it looks like the unions are behind it, so NO on that – I really don’t want these people to work through breaks, I want them to have plenty of sleep and breaks. Hire more workers, how’s that? 

And Prop 12 is not supported by all the humane groups, it’s put up by a bunch of chicken farmers. What? The stuff they show in their commercials is already illegal. And what chicken farm is “humane”? Ask your “free range” chicken producer to show you his butchering process – it’s all the same, not too pretty. It’s just an awful fact that you have to kill animals to eat them. Prop 12 looks like an effort to close down competing chicken producers, keep the price of chicken and eggs high. I can’t afford to pay $6 a dozen for “free range” eggs, or $5.99 a pound for chicken, so I’m voting NO on 12.

I guess all elections are the same, everybody wants their way, and they’ll say whatever they think it takes to get it. If you don’t like the way I’m voting, at least do the research for yourself, don’t buy the hype.

 

 

 

Rules were made to be broken, beaten, stomped and thrown out – is this use of city property to campaign for a tax measure?

8 Oct

This is the worst year I ever remember for illegally placed campaign signs. There are rules – even for private front yards. For example, signs are supposed to be a certain distance from the public right-of-way, but most of the signs I see all over town are located at the property line or even in the public right-of-way.

Today I found the worst violation yet – “No on Prop 6” signs posted on two prominent city lots. Signs lined the sidewalk at the city property located at the corner of Mulberry and 20th, and then down Mulberry, at the little bum park there along Little Chico Creek, two more. 

This a city owned property at the corner of Mulberry and 20th Streets.

These are the only “No on 6” signs I’ve seen posted anywhere except the Knife River Construction yard over on Skyway. These are the same signs, yard size.  Anybody seen any of these yards signs actually posted in somebody’s yard?

Attack on bridge and road safety? I feel like the taxpayers are the ones under attack here, and they’re out for blood!

I feel it’s my duty as a citizen to remove illegally posted signs, so my husband and I pulled over and removed the five signs we found. It’s an imposition – they’re heavy mil plastic mounted on heavy wire frames, they’re going to take up a lot of space in my 32 gallon trash cart. But I’ll  be watching for others, and I’ll remove those too.

I won’t accuse the city of posting the signs, but I’ll say they’ve turned a pretty blind eye to what amounts to use of public property to campaign for a tax measure. 

 

 

Here’s another reason to vote YES ON PROP 6: REQUIRES CERTAIN FUEL TAXES AND VEHICLE FEES BE APPROVED BY THE ELECTORATE

7 Oct

It’s pretty shocking to how far the public sector will go to protect their own interests. Throwing public money behind a political campaign, paying temporary workers to distribute campaign literature, using misinformation, we’ve seen all that from opponents of Prop 6, the gas tax increase repeal. And then the Official Voter Information Guide came out from the Secretary of State – they’ve written the title of the measure and the description in such a way as to distort the truth about this measure.

ELIMINATES CERTAIN ROAD REPAIR AND TRANSPORTATION FUNDING…

Wow, I just hope the public attention span is more than seven words long. I’m guessing the state’s research showed it’s just about exactly that. The title goes on, REQUIRES CERTAIN FUEL TAXES AND VEHICLE FEES BE APPROVED BY THE ELECTORATE, but again, I’m not sure people who have to drive to work every day on shredded roads are going to read beyond the first seven words.

In the summary it mentions that 6 repeals “a 2017 transportation law’s taxes and fees designated for road repairs and public transportation…”. Then it goes on to emphasize how much money they will pull from  transportation projects if we pass this measure, insinuating that all that money would have gone for road repairs. You have to read the whole thing – they say the money “mainly would have paid for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs.” As well as insinuates a small portion would go toward non-road related projects, when over half the money in SB 1 is designated for rail, bus, and other forms of public transportation, as well as bike lanes and bridges.

A YES vote on this measure would “reduce funding for highway and road maintenance and repairs…” – the threat – and there it is again “as well as transit programs…” as if transit programs are an afterthought.

And it implies that long time funding is being cut, when it was only instituted in January of 2018. 

There is one positive note – but again, I worry that most people won’t read through the entire title or text. The summary and the “What Your Vote Means” section do make it clear that Prop 6 will include a stipulation that new or increased state fuel and vehicle taxes would require majority approval by the voters. That’s probably the most important part of this measure. Opponents have taunted us for being cheap asses, when we pay the highest gas prices and gas tax in the country. What opponents have tried to leave out of the conversation is that this measure was passed by the legislature, without so much as a conversation among the voters. 

I wish we could have got a better conversation going on this measure. Citizens are being torn between driving on shredded roads and paying fuel prices they can’t afford. The public sector is funding the campaign against us with our own money.  It’s a racket, aimed at getting more money out of us to pay their pensions. Don’t buy the rhetoric, YES on PROP 6. 

Don’t be fooled by city’s campaign to raise taxes

2 Oct

When I got home from that Finance Committee meeting last week I took a look at the city’s most recent budget, approved unanimously last June by a city council that had already drank the $staff koolaid. Then I wrote a letter about what I learned to the Enterprise Record.

At the September Finance Committee meeting assistant city manager Chris Constantin reported that Chico’s older neighborhood streets have been neglected in favor of  streets in newer subdivisions. “Money that comes available is steered toward roads that are in better shape, rather than replacing ones that have effectively failed.”

Staff reported $6 million in RDA funding was used to put new streets in the subdivision on Hwy 32 east.  So, the city is borrowing money at a rate of $3 for every $1 spent to build new roads for developers, while we in older neighborhoods will drive over potholes that void the warranty on our tires.

Council and staff want a revenue measure for “street maintenance”, but whose streets are we talking about?

The city already taxes our utility services, for “use of infrastructure”. $6,674,000 in Utility Users Tax added to our PG&E, landline and water bills. $845,000 in franchise fees added to our cable tv bills, $675,000 to PG&E, and another $800,000 to garbage. Another $7,490,000 added to our vehicle license fees. $7,597,000 in property taxes.  Over $2,000,000 a year in gas tax. Shouldn’t  these revenues be directly applied to the streets?

Where does the money go? Well, for example, roughly $2,000,000 of approximately $2,700,000 in annual state gas tax receipts is transferred into the salary and benefits pit known as the General Fund. Staff has also created a special fund to pay down their $180,000,000 pension deficit, council approving a $1,000,000 fund transfer earlier this year. That amount increases annually.

No to revenue increases, yes to more accountability Downtown.

 

 

 

Get your pension debt off my back Governor Brown! Yes on Prop 6!

2 Oct

Having seen commercials made by opponents of Prop 6 – the gas tax increase repeal – I was getting sick of the big money scare campaign. They are point blank threatening that if we repeal SB 1 we will die on the roads!  They won’t fix our roads, but will go on pilfering the taxes we pay for their salaries and benefits, and of course their gaping pension deficit. I can’t remember the figure I saw for the State’s pension deficit, but here we have a city of about 90,000 people with a deficit of over $180 million. Chico Recreation District, with less than 35 full-time employees, has racked up over $2 million.  So you can just imagine what the state is carrying, like a big tumor.

I haven’t seen any Yes on 6 commercials on our local tv stations, but the Repeal California folks sent me the following:

Watch the video

Yeah, I know, it’s actors. But it sums up my feelings about this tax increase – it hits hardest in homes that can’t afford it. 

People think I’m rich because I own rentals – one of the oldest myths around. I just got the property tax bill for my family’s home in Chico, where we also have a rental. Because my family fixed up two crappers on that property, meaning, brought them back from condemnation, replacing roofing, siding, floors and other stuff that is not exactly a luxury, our tax bill was jacked up by about $3,000 a year. The county assessor waited two years for a new subdivision down the street to build out, and then he used those $500,000 plus houses as comps for my house instead of using the much more comparable houses right next door.

So we’re screwed. Every year my family scrambles to come up with $6,000 in taxes, for one property. A 70 year old farmhouse and a granny unit over the garage. $6,000/year. Every school bond feels like a knife in the back. And then there’s really stupid stuff like a mosquito district assessment – when was the last time you saw any notice of BCMVCD spraying in Chico? 

So the actors in that commercial are speaking for me. Every time I have to buy a can of gas to mow lawns I pay that fucking extra tax. My kids both work minimum wage jobs that require a car, so they are screwed to. Look at the young people around you, just trying to make it out there, and imagine that yoke on their back. 

Which, by the way, was hung on us by the legislature after Jerry The Moonbeam Brown told us he would not pass any more taxes without voter approval.

 

Mark Sorensen is a bully, and I hope he doesn’t let the screen door hit his ass on his way out of the council chambers

27 Sep

Last June I went Downtown for an 8:30 am meeting about a revenue measure. Mark Sorensen is the primary force behind such a measure. At that June meeting Staff was asked to prepare a report about what kind of revenue measure might pass. Then all Finance Committee meetings were cancelled until September, leaving the public completely out of the loop.

So, I waited all summer for the meeting scheduled for yesterday to ask questions. That’s supposed to be what these meetings are all about, get the public involved. Well, that’s BULLSHIT.

Sorensen is trying to ramrod this revenue measure through. When I questioned the need for a bond yesterday morning, he got super pissed – he was fucking shaking, okay? That’s super pissed.

Because, I got $taff to admit, $6 million in RDA funding went to new streets in the Fogarty subdivision off Hwy 32 East. That pissed Sorensen off so much, he told me my time was up. Then he allowed Stephanie Taber to go on a ramble about how the Liberals spent all the money. That got Randall Stone super pissed! He leaned forward in his chair and raised his voice, saying the road fund had been millions in deficit when “we” came in, then telling Taber, as he leaned across the table with an ugly sneer, “I don’t know what council you’re talking about.” I swear he was ready to kick the old lady’s ass.

At that point, I, not chair Sorensen, asked them both to stop talking politics and behave. Stone sat glaring at Taber, who looked surprised by his aggressive hostility. The rest of the assemblage sat looking uncomfortably around themselves.

People have complained that the council meetings have been uncivil lately. Hah! I’ve been going to these morning meetings for a long time, and Sorensen has always been an asshole if you cross him.

I think it was 2012 when Shark-Jump city manager Brian Nakamura suggested the city FORGIVE a $180,000 loan to the Nature Center. I happened to know the CCNC was raking in money on their daycare camp scam, so I went to the morning meeting. When I saw the “finance report” the CCNC handed to the committee, a sloppy hand typed list of figures that looked made up, I felt it was inappropriate. I just applied for a refinance of a mortgage, and they asked me for a stack of documents, including bank statements, even my utility bills.  So I very politely asked the director if I could see their books. “That’s enough Juanita!” snapped Mark Sorensen, who told me I was out of line. What?

Well, let me tell you why I wanted to see those books. At that time, certain Chico Democrats had taken over the board of the CCNC, including Dave Guzzetti. I know Guzzetti – not only does he cheat on his wife, he screws his friends. I had the worst suspicion he’d been siphoning money from the CCNC into his political campaign funds, and  as treasurer of the Chico Conservation Voters, he was allowed to have free rein over that money. When I looked at Chico Conservation Voters campaign expenditure reports I was not surprised Guzzetti paid himself salary.

Well, have you heard the latest about Dave Guzzetti? Busted for embezzlement, not only from CCV, but from his long-time “friend” Kelly Meagher. This was especially hard to hear since Meagher fell and injured his back last year and has been having a long, hard recuperation.

https://www.chicoer.com/2017/12/11/former-chico-city-councilor-faces-campaign-violation-fine/

I was asking the Nature Center to show their books because the figures on their little typed sheet didn’t look real, and Guzzetti had been running that store. It also seemed odd that all the sudden a completely new board had been installed. Led by a local business leader whose company is politically active.  But Sorensen cut me off. Anytime somebody acts like Sorensen you have to wonder what’s really going on. 

He acts like he’s going smack you. At least he acts like he’s going to smack me, and I don’t like that. It’s unacceptable behavior for a man in his position, especially a guy who created and signed a “civility code” for everybody else. It’s BULLY BEHAVIOR.

So I wrote the following letter to the News and Review,  because they’ve been covering the “incivility”.

Yesterday (9/27/18) I attended a city Finance Committee meeting. The topic was  a revenue measure Mark Sorensen wants to put on an upcoming ballot. A staff report was ordered by council last Spring and then Finance Committee meetings were suspended for the Summer, giving the public no chance to get into the  conversation.

I expected a discussion of road funding options. When I asked about funding for the recent road improvements around town, I found out $6 million in RDA funding was used to put in streets at the Fogerty subdivision on Hwy 32.

As I questioned staff about this, Sorensen became very angry, and cut me off, saying I’d used 4 minutes of staff time and that was all I got. Other attendees  were allowed to ramble on at length, including a rant about how “the liberals” had spent all our money. As I held my hand up, he called on others who’d already spoken, because they all supported his revenue measure. 

Sorensen has  become increasingly hostile to anybody who questions his intentions. He’s created a hostile environment for citizens who want to participate. I’m glad to see him go, but we better be careful who we put in his place.

Juanita Sumner

UPDATE  I had to edit my letter to fit the limit – here’s the edit
Sorensen has become increasingly hostile to anybody who questions his intentions. He’s created a hostile environment for citizens who want to participate.

Asking questions is not uncivil. More people need to ask questions.