There’s no more time for “civility” in the “homeless” conversation – let’s just say it like it is – too many of us are enabling the bums

25 Sep

 

Texas consultant Robert Marbut spoke to local “homeless advocates” the other day and told them that Chico/Butte County is headed for trouble if we don’t quit “enabling” transients.  This is a message that has played across the pages of local newspapers and been the subject of too many meetings, but this guy is an “expert” so heads were turned.

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20160923/consultant-gives-to-do-list-for-chico-homelessness

 

It’s about time we had a real conversation about “the homeless problem.”  But, there are too many people in our community who stand to benefit from keeping the status quo. 

http://www.orovillemr.com/article/NB/20160411/NEWS/160419957

https://www.newsreview.com/chico/all-hands-on-deck/content?oid=20684307

Meanwhile, League of Women Voters hosted a symposium on “civility.” I’m sorry, civility is a shield that bureaucrats use when the taxpayers ask too many questions. I’ve sat in meetings asking, why so much money for county behavioral health, why so much staff time and money going to the benefit of these criminal transients, arrested and released back into our community time and time again?  I’ve used the words “enabling behavior,” and I’ve been treated like a skunk at a garden party. I wish the LWV observer would show up at one of those Local Government Committee meetings, where Stairways manager Mike “Trucker Hat” Madeiros tries to glare down anybody who questions the spending or the salaries. According to Butte County Admin Officer Paul Hahn,  over half the county budget goes to programs for mental health and indigent “residents”. 

When I’ve complained here about policies and money given to the Torres Shelter, I’ve had shelter director Brad Montgomery up my ass. He tried to tell me the Torres doesn’t get tax money.  This post sure shut him up.

Chico a homeless Mecca? Butte County funds the programs that bring them flocking

Go out around town sometime. Try riding your bike through Bidwell Park. Go Downtown in the wee hours. Walk your neighborhood at 5am.  I’m tired of being civil. 

 

 

 

 

Oroville puts sales tax increase on the ballot – is their retail sector ready for this?

20 Sep

 

A few years ago I did a post about how great it is to shop in Oroville.

Shop in Oroville – nice clean streets, plenty of parking, friendly folks, and great stuff!

Well, forget that – Oroville city staff is bent on raising their sales tax – a full cent!

 

For what? Bill LaGrone’s $158,000 salary and $73,000 benefits/pension package.  A couple of years ago, Oroville police chief Bill LaGrone talked Oroville Silly Council into making him “Public Safety Director”, giving him both the police and fire departments. They might have thought they were saving money – did any of these people do well in math? They’re paying this guy the equivalent of two salaries anyway.  And holy freaking cow – what kind of benefits does a person get for $73,000/year? Retirement in a palace in Dubai?

Oroville police department salaries are on par with Chico, even a little higher. Because? You got me – a town of 18,000 residents? Here’s something I forget – the incorporated city of O-ville does not include Thermalito or Palermo, who have no police department, and are under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff.  In fact, a lot of what we think of as “Oroville” is actually county, the city of Oroville is a very tiny little burg.

Small, and too poorly run to justify salaries like this:

http://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/Cities/City.aspx?entityid=81&fiscalyear=2015

City-Data reports that Oroville employs about 23 police employees – including dispatch, but not including LaGrone – at an average salary of $66,000. That stacks up well against Chico police salaries, for a town about four times as populated.  The average employed Orovillian makes about $30,000, which is about half the state average income. The median family income is reported between $36,000 – $47,000/year, with about 20 percent of the residents living on $20,000/year or less.  Knowing that, you might predict – the crime rate in Oroville is high for California,  alarming for such a small town, with such a well-paid police force – see for yourself here –

http://www.city-data.com/city/Oroville-California.html

more here

http://www.bestplaces.net/economy/city/california/oroville

Oroville is our county seat, so I read on one website that the population goes up by about 7,000 during the day due to the influx of employees working at the county, city and schools. These people are most likely the folks who take the high salary county and city jobs and drive back to their homes in Chico – drive to Oroville some morning, see the conga line.  See the brand new cars.  Then drive home about 5 pm – see the same conga line, same people, driving their expensive cars back to Chico.  I’m guessing they don’t even slow down in the retail district, or even gas their cars in O-ville.

I’m shocked that the city council could  be stupid enough to put this tax on the ballot. Only one  councilor opposed it, and only because he wanted it pegged specifically  for public safety.  The rest of the council went the general fund route, because it would require only the simple majority – 51 percent of the voters who actually show up at the polls. Sounds like a slam dunk.

And it also seems pretty obvious that they aren’t shaking down their own residents as much as the outer lying folks who drive in to shop there. 

Well, that’s okay. I’ve already become very adept at internet shopping.  Farewell, O-ville, City of Fools. 

 

 

Enterprise Record running interference for Chico Area Rec District

14 Sep

I sent a letter to the editor of the Chico Enterprise Record Sunday, detailing the breach of promise described by Off The Wall Soccer in their dealings with CARD. My letters usually run within three days of sending. Instead, today, the ER published the following announcement about this week’s CARD board meeting.

CARD agenda filled with master plan, soccer, ideas

Staff Reports

CHICO >> An update on the projects on the table, as well as possibly competing with a local soccer business, and getting involved with a community- based recreation entity will be on the agenda for the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board.

The next board of directors meeting for the Chico Area Recreation and Park District will be 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chico Community Center, 545 Vallombrosa Ave.

General Manager Ann Willmann will be providing an update on the various projects that are in development or exist, as well as what’s happening with the CARD master plan. The board asked that the master plan be updated, and a $ 19,500 contract was awarded to Melton Design Group of Chico to provide those services.

At the last meeting, the board directed Willmann to meet with Off the Wall Soccer and others about the soccer program. Representatives from the indoor soccer business said in August that an old agreement with CARD not to compete over some soccer programs has been overlooked. The board asked to talk about that issue in September. The business maintains that competition from CARD is jeopardizing its financial stability.

At the August meeting, the board also heard from private organization Everybody Healthy Body representative Bill Brouhard who asked that a CARD representative participate in its meetings. The community group is evaluating local recreation assets and has been looking at developing a recreation complex or campus in Chico. CARD is interested in the concept because it has been talking about a proposed aquatic center.

Yeah, you see the Melon Head is going to get yet another very posh contract from CARD – $19,500 to update their General Plan? Why do they need Ann Willmann? 

Then that weak paragraph about OTWS.   She’s taking CARD’s perspective – she was there when OTWS presented the documentation of years of agreements, acknowledgements of agreements broken, and promises to keep their word in future. Over and over again. She heard the whole story, and this is what she prints. I say “she” because I know Urseny wrote the story, or at least provided the outline, but she’s embarrassed to put her name on it. I would be too.

And then they act as though “Every Body  Good Body” just rolled into town – surprise! They want to build an aquatic center too! Urseny doesn’t say anything about the inappropriate nature of their relationship with CARD or Chico Aquajets – Brad Geise, president of Aqua Jets and member of the old “aquatic facility advisory committee” is a board member of EBGB. Ann Willmann gave them cut rate pricing for their meeting(s?) at Cal Park Pavilion. Let’s stop being coy here folks, this is not being reported properly to the public, and the newspaper is going along with it.

We need this newspaper like a moose needs a hat rack.   Reporter Laura Urseny is in bed with CARD, they need to send somebody new into those meetings. But who? All of their reporters are horrible.  

What to read some journalism?  Here’s the letter I sent Sunday that hasn’t been run yet. 

I attended the August 18 CARD board meeting at which owners of Off The Wall Soccer reported CARD management has not honored a good faith agreement made with them in 2006 and is undermining their business with predatory pricing.   

 

OTWS opened in 2000, offering 7-a-side  soccer programs that were not offered through CARD.  In 2005, OTWS experienced dramatic decline in membership and found CARD had begun offering 7-a-side programs, at less than half the price.  OTWS owners felt it was inappropriate for a public agency subsidized with taxpayer money to undercut legitimate private businesses.  They approached CARD’s board, which instructed management to resolve the conflict. CARD management agreed to offer 7-a-side soccer only in the summer months 

 

OTWS owners report CARD has reneged on their agreement several times since 2006, and they’ve had to go back to management and the board repeatedly to get them to honor their word. 

 

At the August 18 meeting, long time board member Jan Sneed acknowledged “we agreed to this,” promising to “make it right”.  Nonetheless, staff again told OTWS they have scheduled competing programs that began this Fall. 

 

With six-figure salaries and nearly $2 million in pension deficit, the CARD price of $319 per team does not even begin to reflect overhead at CARD. Are they offering these programs below cost in an attempt to steal business?   They are using taxpayer dollars to compete unfairly with businesses all over town.  

 

Is this really an appropriate mission for a recreation district? 
Juanita Sumner

Oroville seeks to increase sales tax by a full cent – letter writer does the math

13 Sep

Thank you Steve Christensen for writing the following letter to the Enterprise Record. We need more people like Steve.

Oroville’s tax proposal would be far above norm

Chico Enterprise Record 9/13/16

In November, Oroville voters will decide whether or not to approve Measure R, a $ 3.6 million tax increase ( 1 percent added sales tax). Mayor Linda Dahlmeier said Oroville has fallen behind because we’ve not yet raised sales taxes. I’ve researched cities in Butte County and the six adjacent counties that surround us. Only four cities in this neighborhood of seven counties have already imposed an added tax by increasing sales tax ( Red Bluff one- quarter of 1 percent, Paradise, Wheatland and Williams one- half of 1 percent).

None of these four collect the other added tax, the utility tax. Oroville does. Utility companies in Oroville are required to add 5 percent to our utility bills and send it to the city. Annual revenue is $1.6 million, which averages $100 per citizen. The total population of the four cities with the added sales tax is 50,000. The total added sales tax revenue is $2.5 million, which averages $50 per citizen.

We’re already paying twice as much in added tax as our neighboring similar cities. If Measure R passes, Oroville’s added tax revenue ($ 3.6 million in new tax plus $1.6 million in existing tax) will average $ 325 per citizen. That’s 6 1/2 times more than any city in our circle of counties.

Measure R calls for a full 1 percent increase, twice the amount of the other cities. Measure R does not repeal the utility tax, which none of the other cities have. Oroville wants way too much from us.

Vote no on R.

— Steve Christensen, Oroville

CARD practices predatory pricing – this is a risky ploy in the real world, but not when you have guaranteed taxpayer funding

12 Sep

The story about Off The Wall Soccer and CARD has been bothering me. I sat in a board meeting last month and listened to the owners describe how CARD is putting them out of business, and it just pisses me off.

I remember when they opened that business, in a 20th Street warehouse that had been left empty for some time – what a good thing that was for that entire neighborhood. Sixteen years later, it is shocking to see a government agency go toe to toe with a viable business, pirating revenues to pay their burgeoning pension debt.

When I blogged this previously I heard from owner Dave Stahl and asked him for more information. He showed me the stream of written communication, as well as minutes from a 2006 board meeting which included a record of the conversation. At that time, staff acknowledged having made a spoken agreement with the owners of Off the Wall Soccer, and the board directed them to honor the agreement.

In my conversation with Stahl, he reported they reneged on their own agreement so many times, I can’t recount it.  All I know is, you better get it in writing if you are dealing with CARD. In a letter dated  August 10, 2016, CARD Director of Parks and Rec, Terry Zeller said, “I understand your description of past events in regard to your business and what you feel has and has not transpired as a result of conversations and meetings with CARD and its Board. As I mentioned before, without a policy or agreement created from these past discussions, I can only work from the present and your current concerns.”

What I hear Zeller saying is, OTWS made their deal with ex-staffers Steve Visconti and Jake Preston, and they’re gone now, so the deal is dead. Furthermore, says Zeller, “we cannot eliminate programs based on perceived competition. Local competition is present in almost all of the programs we offer.” He goes on to list programs from daycare to art lessons, programs that are also “offered by many private businesses, churches and non-profits.”

Zeller just ignores his own predatory pricing scam. Defined as “the pricing of goods or services at such a low level that other suppliers cannot compete and are forced to leave the market,” this method of eliminating your competition is risky for a private business. But CARD gets almost $4 million a year in tax money, getting less than half their revenues from program fees. In private business, if a service or product can’t pay for itself, you dump it. But CARD is subsidized by the taxpayer – they don’t have to support themselves.  They can undercut, undercut, undercut – until their competitors in the real world fail. And then they have a monopoly, and they can charge what they want.

They don’t have to play by the rules, either, because people rarely call them on their bullshit. Thanks to Dave Stahl and his partners at Off The Wall  Soccer, for calling this out in the open.  Their business is in dire straits, most of their clients having been lured away by CARD’s half price scheme. As teams defected, others were fairly well forced to go along – you can’t have team sports without a few teams, after all.  While CARD board member Jan Sneed admitted to having made the agreement with OTWS, the staff has gone ahead and scheduled exactly the programs they promised not to schedule.

This is exactly the treatment I got from CARD board and staff when I tried to find out more about their efforts to build a new aquatic center.  I had attended an early, publicly announced meeting – they said they were looking for people to sign up for a committee. I signed  up. I never got any notice of any meeting, although time and time again I’d see reports from the committee scheduled on board agendas. Former CARD general manager Steve Visconti played me like a pro – at first he apologized, my name must have gotten lost… it just went on like that.

It is imperative this agency increases funding, because their salary and benefit costs are going up all the time. While they are budgeting less than $500,000 this year for capital improvements, they continue to spend almost their entire budget on salaries and benefits – this year $5.5 million, last year $5.1, the previous year, about $4.9. This year they budgeted over $420,000 for pension premiums, and that amount increases by about $10,000/year.

They say they can’t maintain their facilities without more money. Please! Of their $482,000 capital improvements budget, $250,000 goes to fix rot at Park Pavilion. What were they thinking when they bought that thing? They wanted to rent it out – compete with local businesses.   Rotten from top to bottom, but they paid over $1 million, before interest.  Meanwhile, they deferred a $500,000 fix-it for Shapiro Pool in 2006 – that was 10 years ago. Today they say Shapiro is beyond repair.

After I talked to Dave Stahl I attended a special “informative meeting” with CARD board, staff, and three consultants who detailed CARD’s options for more funding. I’ll get back to that another time.

 

 

Time to write letters

8 Sep

I know some people think I’m just a broken record, that I hate taxes and have no use for any tax.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I know our community depends for many services on  a steady revenue of taxes from “users” like me.

But, our entire country is on a dangerous path to insolvency because of the pensions of public  workers. I didn’t make that up – google it, and you’ll find intellectuals across the country voicing the same concern.

I don’t consider myself an intellectual, I consider myself a person with common dog sense. There is nothing sensible about the public pension system. The CalPERS system is consistently underfunded, and we just found out why – the guy who was in charge of investing for the fund was nailed for accepting bribes to buy bad stocks. That’s apparently why CalPERS has lost money for years and depended on one bail-out from the state legislature after another. They’ve also been making demands of their participating agencies – pay up on your pension liabilities now, or face high interest on your debt.

Those agencies – from small agencies like Butte County Vectors to huge agencies like City of Chico always turn to the taxpayer to pick up the slack. This time it’s Chico Unified School District, with Measure K. They say they want money to fix their facilities – they said that with Measure A, and they said  it with the refunding bond, E. And here they are again, hand out for $152 million they predict will be $270 million in pay-off.

It’s been in the newspaper.  The district notices their meetings quite loudly.  But I don’t go – the district is a machine. They have so much money – they’re like blue jays. Blue jays take over your back yard feeder,  because they’re loud and obnoxious. As soon as they get the leg up, they eat all the food, way more than they need. They grow very big, and then they take over your entire back yard. Next thing you know, all you got is blue jays.

That’s why I don’t feed wild animals, and for the same reason  I am suspicious of new taxes. Lately all the public workers seem to be  hands out for us to fund their crazy pensions – for most public workers, it’s 70 – 90 (“public safety workers”) percent of their highest year’s salary, available at age 50 – 55. Teachers must wait til 60 – 62 years.  A paycheck  for life, with cost of living increases, health benefits, even life insurance paid in full. For this teachers pay 9 – 10 percent of their pension contribution.

Non-certified employees pay only 7% for employees hired before 2013 / 6% for employees hired after 2013. What? It went down?

According to assistant superintendent Kevin Bultema, “Administrators with a teaching credential usually participates in STRS and administrators without a teaching credential usually participates in PERS at the same rates.”

The district retirement is handled by both California Teachers Retirement System and CalPERS – obviously the teachers pay into CalSTRS.  CalSTRS did not have a guy accepting bribes to make bad  investments, so they are doing okay. But of course, both are demanding more money all the time. And, the taxpayers still pick up more than twice the employee “share.” 

Am I wasting my time fighting this bond? No, but I know what I’m up against, and I need other people to wade in here. Please write letters to the papers, let other voters know what’s going on. Don’t take my word for it – go to the district website and look for the budget – it’s not there. I had to ask Kevin Bultema for it – that’s kbultema@chicousd.org

Read the  budget, see for yourself, the administrators are lavishly salaried, and pay the same percentage for their pension as the teachers. Hey, teachers don’t do too bad. Full time teachers are making in excess of $65,000/year, some of them tipping in close to $100,000/year, plus benefits. And, if you look  at the publicpay.gov website, you’ll see, they list their overtime pay (which  I have been told includes subbing for another teacher or even playground supervision) separately, anonymously, so you don’t really know how much these teachers are yanking in. 

For their average salary, they figure in everybody – including part time workers making less than  $1,000/ year off the district. Blue jays cheat and play dirty, you can  expect them to bend the facts any way they want. Read it for yourself. 

And then write a letter to the editor of the daily or the weekly, or both if you want. If we fight this thing, inform the other voters, we have a rat’s ass of a chance of beating this bond. 

Do you want to pay $60 for every $100,000 assessed against your house? For what? 

Here’s my first volley:

In 1995, Chico Unified School District placed Measure N on the ballot, a $32 million bond specified “to acquire land and to construct new high school facilities and to construct new and renovate existing facilities on the Pleasant Valley High School Campus.”  The measure failed.  

In 1998,  Measure A specified $48.7 million would be used to “acquire land and to construct new high school facilities.”  This measure barely received two thirds approval.  But, the district reneged on the new high school, instead using  Measure A money for many uses not specified in the original measure. The Grand Jury investigated, but declared the school board was allowed to spend the money however it saw fit. 

In 2012,  complaining about aging facilities in disrepair, Measure E asked another $78 million, promising “local Chico  school  facility improvement.” This bond passed because the threshold had been lowered to 55 percent. 

Four years later,  the district still has the same complaints – schools over 50 years old, failing roofs, sub-par playground equipment, etc. Measure K asks for $152 million, $270 million with interest. 

While they say they will fix facilities, yearly budgets show a pattern of increasing employee costs and decreasing maintenance expenditures. The  district practices “deferred maintenance,” spending less than 8 percent of their total budget on maintenance while spending roughly 90 percent on salaries and benefits. 

If they really care about the students, they would have been maintaining the facilities instead of padding their pensions.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

School district expects us to bail them out of deficit, again

31 Aug

Well, here’s where I been lately.

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_local_measures.html#k

Measure K is Chico  Unified School  District’s latest bond – $152 million up front, $270 million with interest.  Again they complain the schools are falling apart and they need money for repairs. Here’s the measure:

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_measure_k_resolution.pdf

And here’s the breakdown on what it will actually cost:

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_measure_k_tax_rate_statement.pdf

They already have bonds totaling over $130 million, plus interest. Passed in 1998, $48.7 Measure A, with which they promised to build a new high school, was “frittered away” with the excuse that enrollment had suddenly tapered down and the third high school was no longer needed. In 2012 they started whining about how old and crappy the schools were,  and needed another  $78 million.  That passed a lot more easily because the legislature had lowered the threshold from 2/3’s to 55 percent.  The general public does not support school district decisions, but CUSD has enough employees and idiot parents to beat the rest of us into a corner.

It was Bob who pointed out to me, nobody ever seems to oppose these tax grabs.  He’s right – nobody formally opposed either of those last two CUSD bonds. No group or individual has been opposing the various sales tax increases put up in towns like Paradise, where less than 200  people even voted on the measure. 

So, I looked at the county clerk’s website, and I found out any individual who is eligible to vote on a measure can submit an “Argument Against” for the ballot. I was given a copy of the measure and I had about a week after the measure was posted to come up with a 300 word argument as to why it should not pass.

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_argument_against_measure_k.pdf

Yes, they’ve been spending all the money on themselves, no surprise there. About 90 percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits, less than 8 percent goes into Capital Outlay, of which maintenance is only a tiny fraction. In some budget years, Capital Outlay is listed as “$0”.   So excuse me if I find their spastic claims of 50 year old rotten buildings just a bit disingenuous. 

Oh but look who’s peddling this turd – your mayor!  

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_argument_in_favor_measure_k.pdf

Why do you think Katie Simmons left out her title as director of the Chamber of Commerce?  

Here’s my rebuttal to their “Argument For”

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_rebuttal_to_argument_in_favor_of_measure_k.pdf

I think I did a pretty good job of answering their claims, I put a lot of time and research  into it.  Meanwhile, they just resubmitted their “Argument For”, asserting that I “missed the point.” 

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln35/35_rebuttal_to_argument_in_favor_of_measure_k.pdf

Yes, I see they’ve got themselves a new band. Look at all the public salaries involved in support of this tax measure – makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? 

No, I don’t think I missed the point, I think I hit it pretty good and hard. The district doesn’t care about “the kids,” they care about their paychecks and their retirement bling.  They salaried, benefitted, and pensioned themselves into deficit, and now they expect us to haul their asses out again.

No.