Contacting your legislators isn’t always as easy as it sounds

17 Feb

Thank you Cyber Bully John Ferrera, due to your nasty comment, people have been reading that month-old post I made about your boss, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and ACA1, the bill that would drop the 2/3’s voter approval threshold for tax measures to 55%.

And I took your suggestion and tried to contact your boss via e-mail at the address she provided on her website. I sent her your message, as well as a link to Bill Track, and the contents of the bill. I told her I thought your comment was inappropriate and unprofessional, and that you are trying to mislead the public regarding ACA1.  My e-mail was sent back later in the day.

“Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:

cecilia@ceciliaforassembly.com (cecilia@ceciliaforassembly.com)
Your message couldn’t be delivered. Despite repeated attempts to contact the recipient’s email system it didn’t respond.

Contact the recipient by some other means (by phone, for example) and ask them to tell their email admin that it appears that their email system isn’t accepting connection requests from your email system. Give them the error details shown below. It’s likely that the recipient’s email admin is the only one who can fix this problem.”

Microsoft provided a link to try and fix the problem – they advised me that the problem is in the “destination domain,” probably “Aggressive anti-spam settings in the destination domain that block legitimate senders, for example, all senders from any domain in Exchange Online.”

I think this is the problem with a lot of legislators’ contact info. They hide behind their anti-spam software. They really don’t want to hear from the public, and they don’t want to use e-mail because then there is a record of what they said, they can’t deny it. A phone call can go all over the place, and then you have no record of what was said. 

Maybe I’ll write a letter to her local newspaper – that’s a 50-50 proposition in my experience, some editors won’t print letters from out of towners, others are glad to get letters from anybody. We’ll see!

 

 

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Meet professional cyber bully John Ferrera, chief of staff for California assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry

15 Feb

There’s a lot of yak-yak about “civil discourse” these days but I don’t think any of it is sincere. We’re warned about “cyber bullies” but usually in the context of teenagers posting trash about each other online that used to go on the bathroom wall.

Adults do a lot of cyber bullying, I  get it all the time. I know, I’m a crusty old broad, but I can tell when somebody is trying to intimidate me into shutting up, just by calling me a “troll” and telling me to “get a life”. I usually don’t post those comments, not because I’m thin-skinned, but because they don’t have anything to do with the conversation. But yesterday I got a comment from a public employee that was post worthy.

“You never comtacted our office for a conversation about your concerns or to explain why local officials should not be able to ask their viters for support of local priorities to support the local economy. So how transparent and engaged are you? The Assemblymember’s phone is everywhere. Her office is in the State Capitol. And she meets daily with people from all over California. But you’re frustrated that you can’t just troll her on social media instead of engaging in a policy discussion. Your choice, not hers. And, by the way, after years of fires in her district in Lake, Sonoma, Yolo, Colusa and Napa, she was the first person to offer assistance to her colleagues dealing with the Camp Fire. You think they may want to ask their voters to support local rebuilding efforts? Under her initiative, they can if they want, and voters must support. If not, nothing happens.”

What a jerk. He could have asked me if I wanted to chat about the bill, and then let it go, instead, he seems to be calling me out, playground style. This comment is so hateful and angry, if he had spoken to me like this in a small room, I think I’d be very uncomfortable. Not only is this man an adult, he’s an adult who gets paid over $100,000/year, plus benefits, to protect the public interest. 

He commented on a month old post I wrote about an assembly bill that would lower the 2/3’s voter approval for tax measures to a simple majority – 51 to 55%. But it’s been disguised as a housing measure, using wild fire victims as bait.  Read the post here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/01/08/ca-aca-1-another-attempt-to-lower-the-2-3s-tax-measure-threshold-disguised-as-a-housing-bill/

I don’t think I wrote anything insulting, I just expressed my outrage at this clever ploy to get us to sign away our voting rights tacked onto a bill that uses fire victims as a shield. Here’s the bill, from Bill  Track.

https://www.billtrack50.com/LegislatorDetail/21570

“resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Sections 1 and 4 of Article XIII ? A thereof, by amending Section 2 of, and by adding Section 2.5 to, Article XIII ? C thereof, by amending Section 3 of Article XIII ? D thereof, and by amending Section 18 of Article XVI thereof, relating to local finance.”

How could they make this more confusing?  This stuff isn’t written for the general public to understand. But you get that, right?  “amending Section 18 of Article XVI thereof, relating to local finance.”  

It’s pretty obvious, this bill is an attempt to change the system by which bonds are approved and the proceeds spent.  Read about that here:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=CONS&division=&title=&part=&chapter=&article=XVI

This bill is being carried by  assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, from Dixon-Winters California, near Sacramento. I went to her website to look for contact information, but was asked for my zip code, and then told she didn’t accept mail from outside her district. I think that should be illegal – we’re ALL her constituents, everything she does affects all of us. But we’re not allowed to contact her at her taxpayer supported website?

So I dumped my outrage into a blog, and went about trying to contact various friends of mine about the bill. I didn’t call her a whore, I didn’t give out her private address with 12-packs of eggs, I just suggested that people write to her local newspaper to tell her what they thought. And I made a personal note to remember to keep tabs on the bill.

Then the other day I got the nasty little comment from Ferrera. A pretty nasty, deliberate attempt to bully me into shutting up.

Yeah, good luck with that!

Chico city council plays their little violin for the “homeless” while sticking it to the rest of us with Utility Tax

13 Feb

I received two rate increases in my last PG&E bill, one a “general rate case application” and the other for the decommission of the failed Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.

I also got a letter from Cal Water detailing their pending rate increase. A CPUC hearing held in Chico this week drew a few protesters, but I’m unaware of any city council member or county supervisor who bothered to show up. 

It’s better to approach the CPUC directly, anyway. The hearings are just a dog-and-pony show required by law, overseen by shills hired away from the utility companies. It’s a good idea to write to the CPUC – in past a CPUC commissioner actually turned down a water rate increase, asking for further hearings, because he’d had so many protests from ratepayers. That increase went through, but not at the original amount requested by Cal Water.

There is a “formal protest” option, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The local CPUC rep told me I should get a lawyer to fill out the forms when I inquired about it. He said they’re very complicated and mistakes will result in your complaint being round-filed. I asked then-supervisor Maureen Kirk to do it but she turned me down. The city of Chico didn’t even discuss my suggestion that they mount a formal protest. That’s frustrating, because we pay for the city and county to have a lot of legal counsel, more than any of us could afford. And that’s what it takes, paying a lawyer.

But why would the city lift a finger to stop utility rate increases when they collect millions in utility tax – about $7 million last year. The budget projection for this year was over $8 million, but that was before the Camp Fire drove who knows how many refugees into residence in Chico. Whether they live in hotels or rentals or have bought homes, they will contribute to a heavy spike in utility tax. 

So, I’m actually hoping this nasty weather we’re having right now will result in higher PG&E bills, maybe people will get pissed off enough to start rattling their chains. Our city leaders are always posturing, posing and primping. Ann Schwab’s proposal for a rent control ordinance is a pretty brassy beginning to her 2020 campaign – she’s already pulled her papers. Randy Stone and Scott Huber have pasted their faces all over the “warming tents” – Stone has pulled his papers for 2020 and Huber used “the homeless” as his 2018 campaign. 

I think these petty gestures are very insincere, so I wrote a letter to the editor about it, see below.

REMINDER! start gathering together your utility bills, UT rebates will be available starting May 1. More about that later!

Chico council members have made goodwill gestures toward the growing low-income population in our town but have yet to offer anything of substance.

An ordinance to protect renters from landlords?  California tenants already get a minimum 30  days (60 days after one year’s tenancy) notice for any change in tenancy. Local jurisdictions mandating their own reasons to evict is contrary to state law.

A $100,000 budget for warming tents that attract less than a dozen street people? There are three publicly-funded shelters in town, as well as CHAT’s rotating “Safe Space”. 

These  gestures seem little more than grandstanding when council tacks a fee onto our PG&E, Cal Water and landline phone bills. Currently the city taxes our utility bills at the highest rate allowed – 5 percent. Utility Tax is one of the  city’s biggest revenue sources, raking in almost $7 million last year. While the city incurred some costs with the evacuees, UT revenues are sure to spike in 2019 – all those new residents, and rate hikes coming from Cal Water and PG&E. 

I saw no member of council at the Cal Water rate increase public hearing. Nor has the city mounted any formal protest against PG&E’s plans.

If council members sincerely want to help low income folks, they would reduce the UT, and protest the rate hikes. Instead they are using expensive staff time to figure out how to get us to approve yet another tax on ourselves.

Empty gestures are easily made with other people’s money. Let’s see something that really matters.

 

 

 

 

Dan Walter: School officials and school unions are teaching students that it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out

11 Feb

After I wrote my analysis of CARD’s use of their expensive Cal Park Lakeside Pavilion facility, I read this piece by Dan Walter:

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/school-districts-set-poor-example-for-students/

Walters is talking about various California school districts, but what he says also applies to our local recreation district – ” it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out.”

That’s becoming standard public agency policy these days, and it’s not just the pensions, but poor spending decisions by policy makers. I mean, blatant decisions, like spend $385,000 on a remodel for council chambers, or paying a million borrowed dollars on a crapped out old building and then several hundred thousand fixing it. 

But most poor spending decisions seem to involve public salaries and benefits. Walter reports ” In 2017, when Sacramento Unified’s teachers were threatening to strike, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg mediated a new contract that gave teachers an 11 percent raise. Later, it emerged that the salary increases would come from a reserve set aside for pension fund payments.”

In Chico, both the city and CARD have set up “pension trust” funds, allocating money from other city funds, to pay down their pension deficit. this is in addition to what taxpayers already pay toward pensions on a monthly basis. We pay their payments monthly, and then we’re on the hook for an annual payment that increases every year – this year, $7,598,561.  Former CARD finance director Scott Dowell now runs the city finances, so he set up both funds. He says these funds save money by avoiding penalties from CalPERS. What it amounts to is embezzling money from one fund to another so you can spend it any way you want. 

In Sacramento, contrary to the  rules for one of these “trusts”, they spent the money to give their teachers an 11 percent raise. Of course, you know what those raises are going to do to those teachers’ pensions, right?

As soon as Chico Unified passed Measure K in 2016, district finance mangler Kevin Bultema told the board they were still looking at deficits caused by raises given teachers. He told me in an e-mail that if they didn’t get more money they’d cut programs. 

Walter’s point in this piece is that the schools are setting a poor example for the kids. I’d say,  government in general is setting a poor example for everybody. 

 

Maybe we just ought to call it “Willmann Pavilion”!

10 Feb

Last Saturday (Feb. 2) I attended a “special” meeting of Chico city council. The most “special” thing about this meeting, besides the $3,000 consultant who ran it, was the location – Cal Park Pavilion? Not only is this facility remote and out of the public eye,  the city paid $472 for less than eight hours in a shabby little meeting room when they’ve got newly remodeled rooms available not only at city hall but at the old municipal building just down the street. 

For Pete’s sake – they just poured almost $400,000 of Comcast ratepayer fees into new IT, carpet and furniture for the council chambers. But they decide to convene out at Cal Park, on a stormy Saturday, instead of their centrally located, newly refurbished chambers?

I asked the consultant why the weird location and he said he needed a space to hang his blue display sheet – about 5′ x 7′ – and plenty of room for the attendees – 7 council members, about a half dozen staffers, and maybe a dozen members of the general public. 

I didn’t press him, or ask staff, cause they just lie.  The real reason was they didn’t want the public in there watching, seeing what is done with taxpayer funds, and how stupid and self serving council members are. 

Another question it raised for me was the way CARD uses Cal Park Pavilion. They paid a million bucks for the building, rotten roof and all, but with interest payments totaling almost $100,000 a year, they’ve hardly touched the principal. They poured several hundred thousand dollars more into repairs, including fixtures that serve no functional purpose that were either added or removed at the suggestion of the contractor. The contractor made fun of the outer looks of the building, referring to The Flintstones, and the board approved a $75,000 cost overrun. It’s not their money, and that’s how they spend it.

You don’t spend that kind of money on a facility that has no return value. Park Pavilion was supposed to be a money-maker for CARD, hosting weddings and other private affairs. It’s a  beautiful site, the big room is nicely done with huge windows overlooking a well-kept private lake. You’d think people would be lining up to use it.  When CARD rented it to a “non-profit”group that is looking into building a grandiose new recreation center south of town, I asked CARD staff about the rates.

Staff response: “It is a $500 deposit that is refundable to you. For a Saturday it is $3400 separate from the deposit and for a Friday or a Sunday it is $2800 separate from the deposit. We can do an hourly rate which is the same deposit and has a minimum of 8 hours and that is $225 per hour.

Lakeside is $225 Per hour weekdays and weeknights. There is no discounted rate for this building.”

No discount? But Every Body Healthy Body only paid a total $500 for a 5 hour rental of the big main room – essentially the entire building, tables, chairs, dishes, the Whole Shebang. Just a couple of years later, the side meeting room is almost as much? 

Who decides the rates and who gets a discount? Director Ann Willmann. I asked her about the discount rate for EBHB, knowing one of the members of that board, Brad Geise, is a long time associate of Willmann’s through Aqua Jets. Willmann’s kid was in Aqua Jets, Geise was the director of Aqua Jets, and Aqua Jets has used CARD facilities, so I know she’s pretty chummy with the guy.  She responded as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Hi Juanita, I authorized the $100 hr/fee. As CARD’s general manager, I have the discretion to adjust facility rental rates for use by community agencies and organizations particularly when they have objectives and purposes similar to and compatible with those of CARD. If there are no pending inquires for use of a facility or no programming taking place, we would recognize the opportunity for some revenue where otherwise there would have been none.”

So what’s she’s saying, is she gets to give her friends discounts, but the rest of us, who pay the bills by way of our property taxes, get no discount. Hey, why don’t you call up, and ask her, what dates is the Pavilion not being used, and ask for a discount rate for your kid’s wedding on one of those dates? 

You won’t even find rates on the website, you have to ask Staff. Which leads to special people getting special prices, is what I’m hearing.  What I’m also hearing is nobody wants to use the goddam thing unless they know Ann Willmann and expect to get a discount. 

https://www.chicorec.com/lakeside-pavilion

When was the last time you attended or even heard of a private function there – a wedding, company party, a business convention even? The only functions I’ve heard of were the EBHB party (complete with catering and table service) and this recent “special” council meeting. 

CARD offers programs there, like free movies for the residents of Cal Park, exercise classes, stuff like that. But I’ve never known anybody who participates in those programs, so I don’t know how well attended they are. 

Frankly, I think the Pavilion is an expensive train wreck, losing money, losing money, losing money. I don’t know who decided to buy it in the first place, but they spent way too much money on it, especially given the extensive dry rot they found throughout the building. They’re still paying the interest on the loan. 

I looked at the budget available at CARD’s website for reports on the Pavilion but only found one reference to $3,000 spent on “maintenance”. I assumed CARD staff is responsible for keeping track of these figures in some form of “Income statement, Statement of income, Financial results statement, Earnings statement, Operations statement,” or what my loan officer at Wells Fargo referred to as a “profit/loss report.”

https://www.cardfellow.com/blog/guide-to-profit-and-loss-statements-pls/

My husband and I are landlords, we’ve done profit/loss statements every year for our taxes, on each separate rental. We have to keep track of all the expenses, and all the rent – we even have to report any money we withhold from deposits, and account for every dime. We also have done PL statements anytime we’ve wanted to get or refinance a loan.

I’ll tell you a little secret – my husband and I went through the whole refinance obstacle course a couple of years ago, turning over document after document, answering many snoopy questions. We were finally turned down because our rents aren’t high enough. They said our debt/income ratio was out of whack, that we should raise our rents and call them back in a year. 

But it was a good exercise for us as business owners – we keep our rents low to keep good tenants, so we’ve started keeping a keener eye to expenses. We decided to sell a rental because it was getting old and the expensive repairs we’d made when we bought it were starting to need to be made again.  For example, at the rents we were charging, we never would have recouped the expense of another new roof. We’d also been replacing old windows one at a time for years, but were down to the big, pricey windows that would have to be done when the house was vacant, maybe even require permits. We had to make a business decision to suit ourselves and our kids, so we sold to a family that could afford to dump a bunch of money into repairs and remodeling. Losing the rental income was a shock, but we had to realize the repairs would have driven us further into debt. We make these decisions and we suffer the consequences ourselves, that’s the private sector. 

But CARD is a public agency, it’s not their money to spend, and they need to be more accountable to the taxpayers. So I asked Willmann for a PL report on the Pavilion.

She doesn’t have one.

Hi Juanita, we don’t have specific reports for the income at Lakeside Pavilion. Our facility revenue is posted to two accounts. Indoor Facilities or Outdoor Facilities. If you have a specific request regarding Lakeside, I am happy to send you the information. I would just need a date range you are interested in. Thanks, Ann

Oh my god. Really? I realize, public agencies don’t pay taxes. But, 

“Your P&L also tells the tale of how profitable your business is or is not, and the timeframe of your major profits and losses. If you’re in a seasonal business, you know that certain times of the year are lucrative and others slow. Those operating businesses not especially subject to seasonal ebbs and flows can determine a company’s most and least profitable quarters via examining the P&L, and figuring out the circumstances. Regular review of your P&L tells you what areas of your business generate the most profit and which generate the most costs.  It also allows you to look for trends that may not be apparent until you see them in black and white.”

Well, duh!

And the Pavilion isn’t the only facility they own. Given their style of book keeping, how are we supposed to know what they’re doing?

CARD is not held accountable by the taxpayers, that’s the problem. They operate in a pretty slipshod fashion, spending money with no limits because the taxpayers are always there to bail them out. 

And that’s just what they’re looking for in the revenue measure they are trying to put on the 2020 ballot. Or worse, a mailed assessment, in which only property owners vote and the amount of property owned determines the “weight” of each vote. 

How do you find out what they’re up to? You have to attend meetings, held each mid-month on Thursday at the CARD center on Vallombrosa. They don’t keep real minutes, and those aren’t even posted with any regularity, so if you want to know what’s going on – and let the new board know what you think – you must attend a meeting sometime. They’re easy – starting promptly at 7pm and over usually by 8pm. 

https://www.chicorec.com/board-meetings

Or just bend over, put your hands over your eyes and ears, and close your mouth. 

“Special meeting” of city council, held at Cal Park Pavilion on Saturday at 8:30am in a dumping storm – think they really wanted anybody to show up?

6 Feb

I’ve signed up for various city meeting agenda notifications, and the other day I got a notice for a special city council meeting. It bugged me so much wondering what they were up to, I got out on the highway in a howling rainstorm to drive up to California Park Lakeside Pavilion to find out.

It just seemed weird. Saturday before the Super Bowl, weatherman making winter storm warnings, and they decide to have an 8:30 am meeting at the Pavilion.

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, following Mayor Stone into the  building. I found the rest of council and various staffers making their greetings and chit chat in one of the small meeting rooms that line the main hall. A big blue sheet was hanging on one wall next to the viewing screen. Three tables were set up in the middle of the room and a line of folding chairs was set along one wall.

A man immediately walked up and admired my rain boots. I must admit they are very attractive, and practical too. We introduced ourselves. His name was Scott Winter, and he said he would be running the meeting. His business, he said, was “Human Performance,” or, “how to get people to show up.”

So, I had to ask him, it just popped out of my mouth – if you want people to show up, why would you have an 8:30 am meeting on a Saturday in a howling storm at an out-of-the-way building with  little or no notice to the public?

Dammit, no wonder I can’t make friends or influence people, my mouth has no damned kill switch.

He looked shocked, and then recovered, saying he needed a room that would accommodate “everybody”, as well as his big blue sheet – he gestured toward the wall with the big blue sheet.

Well sheesh, there’s walls all over council chambers, and that accommodates hundreds. There are two meeting rooms at the city chambers that are at least as big as the room they used at the Pavilion.

The meeting got started, Winters showed a video of another consultant who talked for about 15 minutes about “collaboration,” and how you have to let your defensive down to be constructive when working with a group. 

After the video Winter handed out a sheet of questions each person was supposed to ask themselves about their own defense mechanisms. 

And then, Winter handed out sheets of sticky sided paper, several sheets for each council person, and asked them to list their goals for council in the coming year.

Suggestions ranged from “more enjoyable council meetings” to “more money for the city” and “house all homeless” Some of the suggestions were repetitive – that’s what the big blue sheet was  for – Winter hung the sheets of paper on the sheet and the group went about trying to put the suggestions in groups.

Meanwhile, we members of the public sat along the wall, being told we were not allowed to participate. 

Wow, this guy sure knows how to get people to SHUT UP, not sure if he really wants to get them to SHOW UP.

By about 10am the consultant and some members of the group started to get a little peevish. Not everyone was cooperative, I won’t say who, but I could tell Winters was  getting impatient. Nothing was being accomplished, and several members of council expressed confusion over what they were being asked to  do, and what was meant by some of the suggestions on the board. Most were vague to the point of stupid.

Winter had to get on his soapbox and remind these people, they have lost the trust of the public, been sued for Brown Act violations, and needed to start being more transparent. That, apparently, was the dilemma that necessitated a “special meeting.” 

At this point I had to leave – my time is worth something. I wasn’t being allowed to contribute, the public had been let in out of legal necessity. And I’d heard plenty.

I had to wonder, what is Scott Winter’s time worth?

So I wrote a note to staff and asked – Winter got $3,000 for his day playing little children’s games and calling a bunch of brats on the carpet. Another $472 for the room at the Pavilion. 

Why was this a “special meeting”? Why not schedule and notice a regular workshop? Winter told me it was because he is very busy, but his friend Mark Orme had called him in Poland to tell him it was really important so as soon as he got home they’d made arrangements for the meeting. I didn’t ask him why the Pavilion, I think it’s pretty obvious they didn’t really want anybody to show up.

 

 

The city has mounted it’s revenue increase offensive, it’s time to put them on the DEFENSIVE

3 Feb

I’ve heard that the best offense is a good defense.  Well, wouldn’t  it follow that the best defense is a good offense?

Wake up Folks, City of Chico staff are running a blatant revenue increase campaign – and that includes rate increases.  You realize council can raise your sewer rate, and can approve increases in your garbage rate. They stand mute when PG&E and Cal Water raise rates because that means more Utility Tax.

As far as I’m concerned, the citizen/taxpayer/ratepayer is under attack. The city is telling us we have to pay more money if we want even the most basic service.

They’ve already raised our garbage rates, telling us we’d get better street maintenance.  When I repeated that to former councilmember Mark Sorensen he narrowed his eyes and smiled at me like a snake and told me,”we said ‘roads’, not ‘streets'”. That’s right, they used this year’s revenues from the garbage franchise deal to pave Cohasset Road at the airport, not the “street” in front of your house.

Because they’ve “allocated ” all the money from the street maintenance fund to the “Unfunded Liability” and”Pension Stabilization” funds, 903 and 904.

So, I wrote a letter about it.

“City of Chico staffers continue to use the local media to run their revenue increase campaign. They are determined to raise revenues, whether by tax or rate increase, to pay off their growing pension deficit.

Recently city staff toured a local reporter through Chico’s water treatment plant, pointing out the floating mounds of human waste for shock value. They report an average of a million gallons extra waste per day is being pushed through the facility since the Camp Fire evacuation. According to Action News, “Chico Public Works is now working on a rate analysis to determine if a rate increase should happen…”  even though they admit the sewer plant is still only a little over half capacity.

A system that’s only running a little over half capacity is not incurring additional expenses.  It’s all about the pensions. More than a year ago city staff alerted council that sewer funds were being run into deficit by salaries, pensions, and benefits.  In fact, as of last June, the cities of Chico and Paradise were still discussing a years old proposal to send Paradise sewage to Chico Water Pollution Control Plant, a deal that would have meant millions in new revenues for Chico.

The city didn’t get their millions from Paradise, so now they want a rate increase for everybody in Chico.  A rate increase is a clever ploy, as the ratepayers don’t get to vote. You will have to contact your council members and tell them what you think.”

Juanita Sumner,  Chico