Maureen Kirk: “I think the county is headed in a really good direction”

17 Feb

Yesterday Maureen Kirk came down to the library to talk to a feisty little group. I know coming to the library on Sunday makes Maureen happy – she gets a real kick out of seeing all the people waiting for the doors to open. I know she will describe that scene every time the subject of library funding comes up in Oroville. 

Maureen and I were both anxious to talk about the county Behavioral Health department, a subject brought up previously by Bob Evans at our last get-together. Bob described what I had found over the last couple of years of snooping – this department is very important, a central piece in our current Downtown vagrancy problems, but over the last few years, underfunded and with a revolving door director position.

This department is responsible for taking charge of people who are found to “be a danger to themselves or others,” including everybody from suicidal teens to homeless people found incapacitated either by alcohol or mental infirmity. Most of the problem, from what I’ve seen, is alcohol. The police regularly deal with people who are too drunk to get up out of their own filth, and out of basic humanity, these people are picked up. During the weekday, regular business hours, they are transferred to the staff at the center on Rio Lindo. But, after 5pm and on weekends, they are taken to Enloe Hospital, and left with the nursing staff in the Emergency Room.

If you’ve been to the ER on a Friday or Saturday night, with your baby’s earache or your parent’s heart attack or whatever, you might have seen what I saw – a bunch of young nurses trying to deal with a pissed off old man covered in his own excrement. 

When we talked about this subject Downtown, the general consensus was that these folks are dangerous, too dangerous for Fire Department staff to handle. But okay to hand over to ER nurses at Enloe? Nurses who have to deal with everything from sick babies to elderly with breathing problems to drunken college students? 

So, I was anxious to hear what Maureen had to say about this situation. She had good news – the Behavioral Health department has received a grant, and they’re hiring a new director. What I found when I looked over this situation was a $58,000 director position that was often unfilled, supervising skads of interns, who made less than $10,000. I met one of those interns at the meeting Downtown, she was very young. She said there will be a meeting later this month in the Behavioral Health Department, “setting priorities.” I’ll try to get to that and let you know. 

While this news sounds good, I worry, what will happen when the grant runs out? We made it clear that this department needs to be fully funded in future, it’s not some kind of luxury, it’s a necessity.

Supervisor Kirk said she feels generally positive about the county, although, one of the biggest frustrations they’ve had is trying to fight the CARB (California Air Resources Board) regulations. CARB’s mandate for retrofitting trucks, she feels,  is completely onerous for farmers and small trucking companies. She echoed Evan’s comments – these regulations are “job killers”. I agree, we don’t have nearly the bad air quality that necessitates these restrictions in places like Fresno. Whenever my family travels south, we notice – the air stinks like car exhaust. I’ll take dirt plumes and wood smoke any day of the week.

Kirk did not agree with Evans on the State of Jefferson issue. Although she understands the frustration of dealing with the rest of the state, she put her finger on a key problem – we don’t have the economy here to sustain ourselves independently of LA. Farming is important, sure, but it doesn’t compare with the tech and retail money that floats into the state by way of LA and Bay Area companies. While Evans felt we might rattle the idea around, get the rest of the state to give us a little more respect, Kirk feels the idea is impractical, and doesn’t see the board taking it up anytime soon. She says we need to work on our economy here.

The subject that makes me warm to the idea of state separation is water. Maureen thanked me for  bringing up the issue of the Cal Water rate hike to the board, and felt they were right to respond to the Department of Ratepayer Advocates. Bill Connelly had come in, and he added, the Oroville people had also contacted him about the same time, and because of their efforts, the DRA had recommended dropping the increase from about 30 percent to about two percent. I have to take Connelly’s word on this, I have not been able to get any info. I will get ahold of the Oroville people and ask them for the news. 

Water is considered a commodity by some, Connelly warned us, we need to keep an eye on our water deals.  I don’t understand the situation with Lake Oroville, except, we don’t own that water, it’s owned by a water district down south. Connelly and Kirk tried to explain that sitch, but it wouldn’t fit in a nutshell. They say some progress has been made in getting the Palmdale water district to pay more of the expenses for storing and pumping the water, but I don’t really understand. This is an issue we should all try harder to wrap our heads around, but it’s hard to get the information without sitting for hours in meetings.

We also talked Economic Development. The county has an economic development team, headed by Jennifer Macarthy. They’ve recently stopped giving consultant Debbie Lucero money for her financial wizardry, saving the county about $30,000. The city also dropped Lucero, who used to run Artoberfest, making outrageous claims about raising bed tax totals, etc. That was good news, I’m tired of these leaches. But, there’s no good news on the job front so far, we’re still sitting back waiting for employers to figure out what a great area we have here.

I tried to get a conversation going about what the problem is, but that went over like a Led Zeppelin.  I can think of a number of problems, starting with the cost of housing, especially in Chico.  The guy who owns Wizard Manufacturing came into a city meeting last year and asked the council to do what they can about keeping wages down. I don’t think he means, force people to live in poverty. I think he means, do something about the outrageous cost of living in this area, which is fed by the salaries in Downtown Chico. Nobody gets that, I get so frustrated. 

Another criticism we’ve had is the internet service is poor here, and companies like AT&T and Comcast are holding out for government money to fix their aging infrastructure. Yes, my AT&T service sucked, and they told me, my house is too far from their transfer station. My landline would go out too, and they’d have nothing but excuses. My Comcast service is better, but only compared to AT&T.  I say, tell them we won’t renew their licenses or permits to  operate here until they put some money into their sagging and neglected infrastructure, but I’m a bitch.

These are problems we will have to deal with before we get any jobs here, and it will have to be a joint effort between the county and city of Chico.

Maureen will be hosting Town Hall Meetings in Forest Ranch and Cohasset. At the Forest Ranch Community Center, on Feb. 26, from 3 – 4pm, she’ll be joined by Brian Dahle, District 1 Assembly, covering the foothills east of Chico. She’ll be in Cohassset on March 19, at the Community Association building, time to be announced (Maureen thinks 6pm). 

I’d like to thank Maureen Kirk and the other candidates who have supported this series, even coming in early to put out chairs. We had assessor candidate Alan Petersen and 3rd assembly candidate Ryan Schohr, Bob Evans, and Bill Connelly, all out there to engage the voters. Thanks All, for supporting Democracy.

Our next speaker will be Second District County Supervisor Larry Wahl, March 9, at noon, and then on March 30 at noon we will have Ryan Schohr, who wants to take up Dan Logue’s assembly seat. Please join me in welcoming these candidates who are working hard toward Election 2014.

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