ER editor stumps for a tax increase, time to write those letters!

17 Jun

 

The ER recently published a very insulting editorial.

Editorial: Discussion of a tax could loom for Chico

First of all, Editor acts as though he’s bringing up the subject of a tax – where has he been? The city has been kicking this idea around for years now, and has spent 10’s of thousands of taxpayers dollars on consultants. 

That’s the real story – spending taxpayer money on tax measures is illegal. Wake up Mr. “News”(?) editor. 

Not one word about the pensions.  Not one word about the garbage tax money that was just “stolen” (Karl Ory’s word) to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for non-street maintenance personnel. Just a not-very-clever ploy for bringing the “t-word” out of the closet. As if it’s some novel new idea, being suggested by a gosh-darn good old citizen!

Well, here’s what needs to be brought out of the closet – the Stanford Institute pension tracker.

https://www.pensiontracker.org/agencySummary.php?agency_name=City+of+Chico&id=1390&search=Search

This link covers the city of Chico, but you can find other local entities, like Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). This site blew my mind – what we have here, essentially, is two sets of books, one that reflects reality, and one that reflects what Staff has been telling us. Staff has  been reporting the “actuarial” figure as our total deficit – $127,864,195 as of 2017. The actuarial figure assumes a high return on the stock market, and that hasn’t been happening.  Our market deficit – what we owe – is over $400,000,000.  That’s what we owe employees, minus our “assets”. Study the chart yourself – it’s outrageous. 

I really appreciated Steve Wolfe’s kind words, so I wrote another letter to the paper. I included a link to this blog, so people can see the pension tracker for themselves. I hope to hear more people expressing some outrage over this issue, I think we can beat this thing before it gets out of the barn.

I keep hearing a popular chant from high school football running through my head – Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaaay back!

When we discuss the “t-word”, there are two other words that need to be included – “pension deficit” – the  difference between what public employees want to get in retirement, and what they expect to pay. Chico employees expect to get 70 – 90 percent of salaries over $100,000 a year while paying less than $10,000/year into the system themselves. 

CalPERS promised to fund the deficit with stock market investments but has failed miserably, and now expects the taxpayers to pay billions.  While Chico staffers cry poormouth and promise to use a new tax for infrastructure, they siphon millions a year  out of “dedicated” funds – like the street maintenance and sewer funds – toward their pension deficit.  City leaders told us they’d fix our streets with the garbage tax but recently directed this year’s takings to the general fund to pay unrelated salaries, benefits, and pensions.  

According to the Stanford Institute, the city of Chico carries over $418,000,000 total pension debt. That’s $11,329 per household, the majority of whom survive on less than  $43,000/year.  Staff says they don’t have enough money to maintain our streets and other infrastructure, while they funnel millions into the “Pension Stabilization Trust” every year. 

Editor warns, “If that one tax measure disappoints, the electorate will likely slam the door on future ones for a long time.” Why be stupid enough to approve a tax measure when we’ve already been disappointed? Would private sector employees get away with this? No. Time for staff to pay their own pensions.    

Find sources at chicotaxpayers.com

PG&E deferred maintenance to pay higher salaries and bigger dividends, now they want us to pick up the slack

12 Jun

My husband and I had to make an emergency trip out of town for the weekend. When we arrived home Monday morning our neighbor told us the power had been out since the previous morning, and had only been restored about an hour before we got home. 

From PG&E Currents: “The Public Safety Power Shutoff event in portions of the Sierra Foothills began Saturday, June 8 at approximately 9 p.m. and impacts about 16,000 customers in portions of Butte and Yuba Counties. Forecasts for the extreme weather conditions are expected to last through late morning on Sunday, June 9. PG&E will continue to monitor the weather conditions in Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties, and may still de-energize lines there overnight if necessary.”

This news really made me mad.  For one thing, we signed up for text notices, and we’ve never received any, despite having our power turned off several times.  Furthermore, we keep a freezer full of meat and vegetables bought at discount, as well as hundreds of dollars worth of medication that requires refrigeration. We finally bought a generator for such emergencies, but hey, are we not allowed to go out of town without emptying and turning off our refrigerator? 

PG&E says, “Our most important responsibly is the safety of our customers and communities.”  But their comments don’t jibe with the record. Investigations found that the 2010 San Bruno explosion that killed 8 people in their homes was the result of deferred maintenance. PG&E was placed on probation as a result. A judge recently ruled that PG&E violated that probation by continuing to defer maintenance to infrastructure and removal of vegetation, as well as repair of known failures, one such failure resulting in the Camp Fire. From KCRA Ch 7 News in Redding:

“The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric located in the Pulga area, Cal Fire said Wednesday…Cal Fire investigators said Wednesday that electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E were the source of the fire in Pulga…The cause of the second fire [on Concow Road] was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E…”

Furthermore, the record shows a very clear pattern of ignoring known failures, such as the failing towers at Pulga Gap that caused the Camp Fire. 

 

 

PG&E delayed repairs for years on transmission line linked to lethal Camp Fire

 

Some excerpts:

PG&E had planned as far back as 2013 to replace an aging complex of transmission equipment suspected of sparking the lethal inferno that roared though Butte County in November 2018, but never completed the upgrades, according to documents filed with state regulators.

The power facilities that weren’t repaired for years stretch through Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California and include 115 kilovolt transmission towers located on the Caribou-Palermo line, according to official filings with the state Public Utilities Commission.

“It is sickening to see this,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, or TURN. “It’s not that PG&E didn’t know there was a problem. It’s not that they didn’t have the money to do this. They just didn’t have the will to do the work, or they were just negligent.”

“In 2010 and again in 2015, the California Independent System Operator transmission plan identified the need to improve and upgrade this system to address potential overloads and power outages that would affect customers in the service area,” according to a May 2017 PUC filing and the improvements that were again proposed for the same line.

“They had failed record keeping with San Bruno, and now with their electrical system, it appears to be more of the same for PG&E,” Sen. [Jerry] Hill, Santa Clara County, said. “One of the questions is, if PG&E was given money to carry out these repairs, why didn’t they spend it? Or did they divert the money to something else?”

The “something else” was dividends, which were recently suspended indefinitely by a judge.

https://www.barrons.com/articles/pge-pcg-stock-is-rallying-even-after-a-judge-made-it-suspend-dividend-51554308612

“Judge Alsup told the company that it can’t pay shareholder dividends and must use the cash to improve its safety practices—specifically to cut down trees and manage other vegetation that could create fire hazards around its power lines.”

So, like the city of Chico and Chico Area Recreation District and the State of California and so many other public and quasi-public agencies, PG&E has deferred maintenance and repairs while paying dividends to shareholders, some the of best dividends on the market. Their stock price dropped dramatically  when judges started making harsh threats about fines and expensive wildfire mitigation plans, but those threats turned out to be pretty weak, and shares are back up. 

Coming home by way of Hwy 70, I did notice PG&E had cut huge swaths of trees from beneath the power lines stretching up out of the Feather River Canyon. Will wildfire mitigation really happen, or fade away like the repair orders from 2010? We need to pressure our legislators to make sure it happens, and it’s paid for with the dividends. 

Congressman Doug Lamalfa, Senator Jim Nielsen, and Assemblyman James Gallagher are our local representatives, you can find contact information at their websites. Try snail mail, I find e-mail doesn’t always get any response. 

 I think the shutoffs are a threat, PG&E wants the public to be afraid and stop pressuring for them to be accountable for their criminal negligence. They don’t want to pay, they want to raise our rates more and more to cover repairs that should have been done already. 

If you don’t think these power shutoffs are capricious, just remember “Bridgegate” –  people in high places don’t always have high morals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Lee_lane_closure_scandal

And before that there was the Enron scandal:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron_scandal

I heard the tapes, and they actually laughed about creating “rolling blackouts” to coerce Californians into paying outrageous rates. Two things to pull out of that, from wikipedia:

  • “Although Enron’s compensation and performance management system was designed to retain and reward its most valuable employees, the system contributed to a dysfunctional corporate culture that became obsessed with short-term earnings to maximize bonuses. Employees constantly tried to start deals, often disregarding the quality of cash flow or profits, in order to get a better rating for their performance review.”
  • “The company was constantly emphasizing its stock price. Management was compensated extensively using stock options, similar to other U.S. companies. This policy of stock option awards caused management to create expectations of rapid growth in efforts to give the appearance of reported earnings to meet Wall Street’s expectations

And PG&E, as I recall, went into bankruptcy to get out of paying for their end of the scam. 

 

 

 

 

Throw the bums out!

5 Jun

Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) recently hired another consultant to run yet another survey trying to get the voters to tax themselves. As usual, the survey was leading and suggestive – but here’s something new – it didn’t produce the results they were looking for. Instead of a fancy new sports complex, the respondents made it clear they want their existing parks cleaned up and properly maintained and they want the transient camps gone. 

I mentioned in a previous post, if you read the comments on various social media sites, or if you happened to read former CARD board member Terry Cleland’s recent letter to the Enterprise Record, you hear complaints of transient camps at soccer fields, transients stealing from snack bars and even personal  belongings from the participants. 

When my son played travel sports, we found ourselves in towns all over California, like Oakland. The manager at the facility in Oakland told us to park and stay within two blocks of the facility, and to report “anything weird…”  Is that what’s happening to Chico? 

But Cleland’s letter sounded a little too in line with suggestions the CARD consultants have made – every  consultant they’ve had has told them, get members of the public to speak for you. As a former CARD board member and a candidate for the board in the recent election, Cleland would be the perfect dupe to put their tax proposal out there, as if it came from the mouths of babes.  Well, here’s my response – let’s talk about a real solution to the transient problem – throw the bums out!

Chico Area Recreation District wants a new tax to provide security at playgrounds. Terry Cleland detailed the problem in his letter, and the Editor has written of families who are moving out of Chico because of this situation.  We have a serious criminal transient problem in our city.

Here’s why.  78% of the nearly $74,000,000 Butte County Behavioral Health budget comes from “intergovernmental revenues” –  money received from other cities and counties to “provide beds” for their mentally ill and drug addicted transients. 

In 2016 BCBH director Dorian Kittrell told me the county received $550 a day for each “client” they took in from cities and counties all over California that do not offer services. He explained in a budget memo that these “intergovernmental transfers” are the main source of funding for BCBH. Transfer patients are held for 45 days, and then released at their own recognizance from either the Chico or Oroville BCBH facility. Many are given prescription medication. They are offered rides to various shelters, but are not required to enroll in any program.

This is a legal form of getting rid of transients – just send them to a mental health facility in another town. Unfortunately, Chico has become that other town.

Our once incredible Bidwell Park, CARD playgrounds, retail areas, the college district, and lower income neighborhoods, are becoming overburdened by this practice of human dumping. We don’t need new taxes or more services, we need to tell our county supervisors loud and clear – stop the transfers.

Local media continues to spread the Big Lies – arm yourselves with the facts and fight back!

3 Jun

 

I was using the May 9 issue of the News and Review to wipe out the inside of a peanut butter jar (another time, another blog…) when I noticed an editorial I hadn’t read. It was offensive to see that these “journalists” are still pumping the city’s bullshit about being overwhelmed by the Camp Fire evacuees. That is one of the Big Lies they are using to get a sales tax increase, and I’m sick of hearing it from both the print and tv media. We have no journalism in Chico. 

So I wrote a letter about it!

(“Chico needs a lifeline” 5/9/19)  Chico has not grown by 20 percent in the wake of the camp fire. Like I said in my last letter, the figures the city is using to support the assumption that Camp Fire evacuees are placing a strain on city services are all estimates..  Go out at rush hour – the traffic impacts we suffered in the weeks immediately following the fire were temporary. Today there are over 200 houses for sale within the city. Housing prices spiked remarkably immediately following the fire because desperate buyers were very competitive, but prices are now back to 2017 levels.

The city’s financial problem is the pension liability.  Ask public employees to pay more of their own pensions. For example, the city manager gets  over $225,000 in salary, over  $80,000 in benefits, and 70% of his highest year’s salary in pension at age 55.  He pays 11% of his salary toward that pension.   The taxpayers are asked to pick up the rest of his tab, including an IRC 457. If he is sincere about “living within our means” he needs to pay more of his own pension – new hires pay 50 %, why are “classic” employees   still paying so little?

Join the conversation at chicotaxpayers.com

Juanita Sumner, Chico

I wish some of you would write – I know there are those of you out there who think they can’t write letters. All you have to do is arm yourselves with the facts, the letter will write itself. 

Read Mark Orme’s contract here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/documents/OrmeEmploymentAgreement10-2017.pdf

See his salary and benefits break down here:

https://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/Cities/City.aspx?entityid=79&year=2017

Have some fun – search the words “pension,” “liability,” and “deficit” in the budget and see how much money they pour into the pensions every year:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2018-19CityAnnualFINALBudget.pdf

Speak up! Maybe we can stop this tax measure before they spend any more TAXPAYER money on it.

CARD consultant admits a tax measure might not succeed, will take lots of “education”

29 May

Chico Area Recreation District has hired a consultant, EMC, of Oakland, to help them put a new  tax measure on the 2020 spring ballot. EMC recently conducted a survey of 405 district “likely voters” (meaning, picked and chosen)  and brought the following conclusions to the CARD board at their May meeting.

https://www.chicorec.com/files/1117523aa/Survey+Results+Presentation.pdf

“A parcel tax measure may be feasible for the March 2020 ballot but a bond measure would be a significant challenge.” Furthermore, “Initial support for a parcel tax for local parks and recreation is near the two thirds threshold needed to pass.”

Keep that word “initial” in mind, I’ll get back to that.

“Given the survey findings and the current community climate following the Camp Fire, we recommend that CARD begin an extensive public outreach and engagement effort before placing a measure on the ballot. Informational communications are essential to the community’s understanding of the need for revenue, particularly funds to maintain park programs and safety.”

You may have read that the majority of survey respondents indicated “public safety/safe parks and playgrounds” as their main concern. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media from disgruntled parents – a very common complaint is the play fields their kids’ sports  teams use are becoming illegal campsites, littered with trash, poop, and used needles. CARD has also complained about criminal activity and vandalism at various playgrounds, such as broken glass littering the skate park – bottles and trash thrown over the security fence after closing. 

In order of importance, survey respondents ranked “Reducing crime and homelessness in parks, providing clean, safe parks and recreational programs, and upgrading park safety features would be important components of a parcel tax measure.”  A graph on page 6 makes it very clear – of topics “Homelessness, Public safety, Housing, Street and roads, Public education, Jobs and the economy, Parks and recreation,” 63% of respondents ranked “Homelessness” (whatever that means…) as a “very high priority“, while only 22% ranked “Parks and recreation” as same.

Looking at that list, I only see one category that has anything to do with CARD, “Parks and recreation,” so, if you believe in the results of a survey of less than 5% of the population, carefully chosen to reflect the desired results, you would think very few people in this town give a rat’s patoot about CARD. Doing the math, I find that figure to be 89 people, which is a little more than 1% of the total population of Chico.

There’s doublespeak in this report. They start off saying there’s enough support to pass this tax, but here they reveal it will really take some convincing. They also remind the board, such a campaign needs to be “privately funded“. I love the words, “make sure the voters understand…” 

A parcel tax measure would be vulnerable to opposition. Therefore, a successful measure would likely require a well-coordinated, privately funded outreach effort to ensure that voters understand how additional funding would reduce crime and homelessness in parks, provide clean, safe parks and recreation for local residents, and help maintain the Chico area as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.”

And there you see them listing the priorities respondents chose from their carefully worded survey options, using what the people want to hear, just like Joseph Goebbels. That’s exactly the intention of these surveys – they aren’t out to get your true opinion, they’re out to get you to say what they want, and believe it’s your own idea.

What’s the anecdote to brain washing? 

These are good …

but the truth will set us free! On page 12 of the power point presentation, there’s a graph showing that initial support dropped off as respondents were given “information.” Parcel tax support went from 67% to 59% over the course of the interview, opposition went from 36% to 44%. It shows similar results for a bond. 

The survey questions are provided in the report, give it a read, see how they twist the “information” their way. On page 9, for example, they lead us to believe there would be ” NO money for salaries.”

That is true for a bond, which is restricted to use for facilities, not “operating costs (salaries and benefits)” But a parcel tax is different – they can spend the proceeds of a parcel tax any way they want. 

And here’s the thing – since 2013, CARD’s pension liability has almost doubled. Next post I’ll talk about WHY, and how much money has been diverted from “provid[ing] clean, safe parks and recreation for local residents, and help[ing] maintain the Chico area as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family”  toward staving off the pension tsunami.

 

Update, ACA 1 – lowers the voter threshold for tax measures from 2/3’s to 55%

28 May

Remember Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1? A bill introduced by a group of California legislators who want to lower the voter threshold  for tax measures from 2/3’s to 55 percent? 

It went to a vote on the assembly last week, and a friend sent me a notice:

You are receiving this email because you subscribed on the HJTA website, or you provided your address in response to direct mail.  Please see the bottom of this message to unsubscribe.

Immediate Action Needed! Call the Capitol to protect Proposition 13!

ACTION ALERT: We need every HJTA member to oppose Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, which attacks Proposition 13 by making it easier to raise taxes. ACA 1 cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week, and is now awaiting a Floor vote. Unlike previous committee votes, and per Proposition 13, passage on the Assembly floor requires a two-thirds vote.Communicating with your legislators now is crucial.  

WHEN TO TAKE ACTION: NOW! A vote on ACA 1 could occur at any time. We’ve been told by reliable sources that a vote will likely occur tomorrow 5/23 or Friday 5/24. 

WHY:

  • ACA 1 would lower the vote needed to approve new local taxes from two-thirds to just 55 percent if the tax hike was for “infrastructure” (which is almost anything).
  • The most imperative message is that a vote for ACA 1 is a vote for a tax increase because it makes it easier for local governments to propose and authorize higher taxes.
  • Lowering the two-thirds vote for bonds and parcel taxes makes it easier to approve debt that is included “below the line” on property tax bills and is not included in Prop 13’s one percent cap. This can add hundreds of dollars a year to residential and commercial property tax bills, and last for decades.
  • Parcel taxes are very regressive in that all property owners typically pay the same amount, regardless of the size of the home or business.

For ACA 1 to be defeated, eight Assembly Democrats must oppose or abstain. While the odds seem daunting, we do believe there is a path to victory. Please call the following Members of the Legislature who have yet to clarify their position on the bill, especially if you live in the areas they represent. Also, for calls to Mr. Ramos, please thank him for abstaining on ACA 1 in the Assembly Local Government Committee and ask him to do the same on the Assembly Floor. 

Assembly Member James Ramos (Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino) – 916-319-2040
Assembly Member Rudy Salas (Bakersfield, Hanford) – 916-319-2032
Assembly Member Christy Smith (Santa Clarita) – 916-319-2038
Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin (Camarillo, Thousand Oaks) – 916-319-2044
Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (Torrance) – 916-319-2066

You can also call your own representatives and urge them to oppose ACA 1. To find their names and contact information, go to findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.

Thank you for helping to strengthen the voice of taxpayers in California. We greatly appreciate you.

 

I’m sorry, I was out of town with no internet all weekend, and I missed it.  So I went to this “bill status” site:

https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=E211US105G0&p=ca+assembly+constitutional+amendment+1+current+status

It looks like it  passed the committee last week with a bare margin of 11 – 7, but was ordered for a third reading  before the assembly. 

I’ll admit, I don’t know that much about the process, I don’t know where it goes next – to the senate, I assume. I will sign up for HJTA updates, and I think I’ll also give some of those legislators a call to ask about the process. 

If this bill passes you might as well sign your house over to the city of Chico and the “Homeless Industrial Complex”. Look at your property tax bill, and see how many bonds and assessments you already pay – those were passed with 2/3’s of the vote, think how easy it would be to pass a slough more with the threshold lowered to 55%. 

Here’s an article from the HJTA website that fills in the details:

Major Threats to Prop. 13 and Homeowners

Here’s the text of the bill, with amendments, read for yourself:

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200ACA1

City sewer plant accepting wastewater from Camp Fire work camps despite claims that the system is overloaded by evacuees

27 May

I was looking over the city website and found this notice:

City of Chico Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP)

CAMP FIRE CLEANUP AND LICENSED WASTE HAULER SERVICES

We are accepting gray/domestic wastewater from the responder camps in an effort assist cleanup efforts. Download the permit application and pay the application fee.

Trip tickets, bill of lading or manifest containing the Waste Origin, Volume, Company Name and Truck ID# is required per load discharged at the Plant. Plant property discharge point open Monday-Friday, 7:00 AM-3:30 PM.

Really? Because just this past month Chico Public Works Director Eric Gustafson complained that our sewer system has been overloaded due to Camp Fire evacuees. In February he mentioned a sewer rate increase.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/02/01/city-staff-using-camp-fire-to-justify-sewer-rate-increase/

“‘If those increased flows continue, there will be increased costs, and we will have to go to council for increased funds,’ Gustafson says.

But they have plenty of room for gray water? 

Gray water means the water that comes from your shower, washing machine, kitchen sink. In many counties in California, gray water can be set up on a different drainage system from your toilet, and used to irrigate your lawn. When you go to a campground, your dish and shower water go directly on the ground. But city of Chico residents are expected to pay a sewer increase for responder camps?

Please note, there’s an application fee for this discharge. The city is double-ending on this deal!

Write to council at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov and tell them you’re not paying a sewer or a tax increase for this kind of gross mismanagement.