Thanks Larry Wahl, for coming in to speak to Chico Taxpayers – we don’t always agree, but we know we can get a good conversation out of Larry

10 Mar
Larry Wahl came in to act as guest chair of today's Chico Taxpayers' Association meeting

Larry Wahl came in to act as guest chair of today’s Chico Taxpayers’ Association meeting.

A sturdy crowd came out on a dreary day to greet Larry Wahl, second district Butte County supervisor, at the Chico library. I love the rain, but it does seem to make folks want to stay inside, at home, where they feel comfortable and secure. I can’t knock that, but I’m grateful to the hardy souls who joined us today with some good questions and banter.

Larry was eager to hear what everybody was thinking, starting out with a brief statement about some of his priorities, and a general statement about the fiscal health of Butte County. Two of his priorities, he said, have been public safety and job creation. He also pointed out that the county is in good shape, “we have spent less than we have brought in, we have a surplus.”

Wahl supports the principles of the Tea Party, he said – limited government, and individual and economic freedom. Two rules for fiscal health:

  1. don’t spend more than you have
  2. if you think you need to spend more than you have, refer back to Rule #1

Al Petersen pointed out the problems the city of Chico has had with spending, and asked Larry what he thinks the county has done differently. Here Wahl praised Butte County finance officer Greg Iturria for keeping the supervisors abreast of the county’s finances, explaining the bookkeeping in everyday language, and giving regular, up-to-date reports. As all of you probably remember, we had to scream for that from the city of Chico, and it wasn’t just Jennifer Hennessey who dragged her feet about it.

As for salaries and benefits, Wahl said there’s been improvements, with employees paying more of “their share,” although he wasn’t sure of the actual percentages. They pay more than city employees, I believe. He says this has not come about without “some turmoil,” and that negotiations are constant.  But, things are working out, and the county is slowly paying down their pension obligation while maintaining an $18 million surplus.

Jim asked what was the county’s biggest problem, and the supervisor immediately answered “the marijuana thing.”   He pointed out environmental impacts, as well as complaints from neighbors, some of whom have reported harassment from growers. There are over 3,000 parcels in Butte County with more than 40 plants, Wahl says, and he believes most of them are operated by the cartels, “guarded by non-English speakers who are told to shoot on sight.” This is much of his concern over public safety, and he’d like to see more sheriff’s officers and code enforcement officers, he says.

There are currently a referendum and an initiative being prepared for submission to the county clerk by a group opposed to the marijuana ordinance recently passed by the board of supervisors. I’m confused on these terms, and there was confusion in our conversation yesterday. I don’t think a solid 30 percent of the American voters understand anything, frankly. So, I googled it. 

From dictionary.com: referendum – the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.

From the National Congress of State Legislators: initiative – the process that enables citizens to bypass their state legislature [and, in this case, the County Supervisors] by placing proposed statutes and, in some states, constitutional amendments on the ballot.

These terms are similar in that they require a certain percentage of the voters to sign a petition, which would enable the voters to bypass the lawmakers. 

Wahl reports the proponents of these measures must gather a minimum of 7500 signatures, on each petition. The referendum, if passed by the voters, would cancel the ordinance passed in January, and the initiative, if passed, would adopt “reasonable restrictions on the cultivation of medical marijuana…” and that’s all I got because little Miss Candy Grubbs does not load the documents so that they are cut and pastable. You can see the rest of  that initiative here:

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/pdf/medical_marijuana_cultivation_and_harvest.pdf

I must say, it took some guts for those people to sign,  but I’m not surprised.  I been noticing, more people are ready to come out in support of marijuana as the board of supervisors just keeps making their claims and the restrictions they want to put on private property. Alot of non-smokers I know are looking at it like an assault on private property rights, and they believe it’s just another excuse to get code enforcement on your property. They also wonder how much $taff time = $$$$ has gone into this windmill tilt? I can guess the answer to that – at least, 10’s of thousands, probably over $100,000.

The county admin officer, Paul Hahn, makes over $200,000, in salary alone. His time alone probably racks up to alot more than $17.  Larry complained that we need more sheriff and code enforcement employees – so why spend money continuously tweaking this ordinance when you could hire more code officers to enforce it? The things Wahl complained about – environmental degradation, a woman being threatened at her mail box – those things are already against the law, and having more officers to take complaints would certainly be the way to better serve the public, than sitting in meetings masturbating money out the door. 

 We’ll see what happens. I notice the signature gatherers were out in force for a couple of weeks, now I don’t see them anymore, so I’m guessing they have more than enough signatures to qualify. These people are professionals, I’ve talked to them – they were definitely checking for voter registration, correct addresses, etc, because they don’t get paid for slugs.  A friend of mine told me a couple of weeks ago he saw a gatherer at Butte College being swarmed with people wanting to sign – “you couldn’t even get near the guy.” There was a signature gatherer set up at the library for the last month, whenever I was there I’d see him get at least one signature – every time I was there, somebody would walk up to the guy and say, “I’ve been looking for you…” And these were older people, entrenched voters, library patrons.  I watched one 35-ish woman sign right in front of her junior high age kids. No, she did not look like the “potheads” we been hearing about on the news, nor was she carrying a piece, ready to “shoot on sight.” She seemed like a perfectly nice lady to me, but, Larry Wahl seems like a perfectly nice man to me, so who am I to judge?

Helen Harberts does not come off to me as a very nice lady. It really got me when she  called local gadfly Stephanie Taber a “flatliner,” which implies to me, a flat line on a hospital monitor. I thought that was pretty nasty, but par for her tactics of trying to bully people with different opinions. The idea that she thinks she is allowed to stalk and harass people who are practicing Democracy is very troubling to me, and I just hope I don’t find out that Larry Wahl has been financing her efforts or encouraging her in any way.

It’s bad enough he admits, he’s encouraging Butte County clerk-in-disgrace Candy Grubbs to check every single signature instead of the usual sampling method used to save staff time. I  guess that’s his right, and I will remember to do so in future when there’s a petition I don’t like worming it’s way around town.  But, she’s only got 30 days to check the petitions, and the usual process is to do a sampling. That’s how the city of Chico does it, but Wahl says he wants Grubbs to check all 7500 signatures – or check until she certifies 7500 signatures out of the 14,000 or so expected to be turned in. I guess that sounds right and all, but we’ll see if she can pull that off in 30 days (250 a day including weekends?), with her complaints of being short on staff, and assuming the other little chores she has for staff to do don’t get in the way.

Speaking of staffing, Michael Jones asked Larry, as a former Chico city council member, what he thought of the idea of Cal Fire taking over the duties for the Chico Fire Department. Larry said he thought Cal Fire does a great job, but would have to see more information as to reorganization. Of course, he predicted, Cal Fire would need to hire more people. I think that would take care of a lot of the fire department employees, that is, those who are willing to work for a lower salary and pay more of their own pension and benefits. He also answered Jones’ question about the city contracting with Butte County sheriff to eliminate Chico Police department – yes, this is possible, and plenty of towns around the state are doing it. 

NOTE: Mike posted a great proposal for Cal Fire to take over services for city of Chico here –

http://chicopolitics.com/?p=662

As for the city’s financial problems, which started with contracts signed back in the early 2000’s, Larry cited “check kiting” and “a shell game” as how Chico had run it’s finances over the past few years. Nobody had the nerve to ask Larry what he thought he’d done to contribute to that downward spiral over his tenure on council, but I heard him telling Kelly Skelton (thanks Kelly!)  after the meeting that  he was regularly voted down “6-1” on financial issues. I know he admitted to me he’d approved the MOU that attached city salaries to “revenue increases but not decreases,” but he also voted to throw that out when it became apparent just how that mechanism was working to drain city finances into the pockets of city management. The salaries that resulted were never turned around, and that’s where we are today.  And, unfortunately, when they dumped the revenue-attached salaries, they agreed to pay almost all the pensions and benefits, especially for management. That sleigh ride is going to land us in bankruptcy, you just watch. But, I don’t know the details, so I certainly can’t lay it all on Larry. Maureen Kirk, current District 3 super, also approved those agreements.  So did Scott Gruendl. Mark Sorensen has approved his share of bum deals as well. 

At least, given his claims about county finance officer Greg Itturia, it seems like Wahl has learned alot from the city of Chico’s problems.

At this point I launched into my diatribe about how we got to fight the water rate increase. Larry asked me to forward the information to Paul Hahn, and he’d try to interest the board in writing another letter before the CPUC makes their decision – I’ll  get on that today, even though I got a thousand things to do, my husband is poking me right now to get off the computer and go out to do some errands, check our rentals for storm damage, etc. I think I will clone myself, I heard they can do that now. 

Toward the end of the meeting we talked about The State of Jefferson proposal, and why proponents think it will benefit the state. Ruth reminded us of all the commissions, including the Air Resources Board, that not only cost millions in salaries and benefits, but place onerous restrictions on our lives and livelihoods, like the new requirements for trucks to be retrofitted with a smog filter. I’ve read some pretty bad reports on those filters – they don’t work, they interfere with the efficiency of the vehicle, and in one story, the bus drivers in Vacaville have to drive on the freeway just to get  their filters properly working – these filters don’t work for slow-moving vehicles like busses, the vehicle has to achieve a certain speed in order to heat the filter enough to burn off the particulates. That’s really how this dumb filter works – it just burns the stuff so hot, it’s supposed to vaporize it. That is so stupid I can’t believe it.

CARB and it’s requirements have been a big problem for Butte County, all three of our county supervisor speakers, candidate Bob Evans, and supers Maureen Kirk and Larry Wahl have all agreed, these onerous restrictions are hurting business in Butte county. Larry went so far as to say, the bigger corporate companies are profiting because the restrictions are putting the mom and pops out of business. I agree. 

Ruth and her husband Tom have been working hard to get information out about the State of Jefferson proposal, they’ve got some good answers for your questions. Here’s a youtube video of proponent Mark Baird, speaking to a Chico audience. 

Here’s another link

http://jeffersonstate.com/

Supervisor Wahl wants a discussion of supporting the SOJ proposal, but says the other four board members are dead set against any kind of discussion? I’m with Larry, and also agree with Bob Evans – we need to discuss this separation of the state, one way or the other, and we need to show the South we are fucking serious about dumping their lousy asses. 

Just as we were getting into some serious details, our time was up, we had to vacate the room for the next group. Our next date is March 30, we have Ryan Schohr, who Larry has endorsed for Third District Assembly. We’ll pick it up there. 

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5 Responses to “Thanks Larry Wahl, for coming in to speak to Chico Taxpayers – we don’t always agree, but we know we can get a good conversation out of Larry”

  1. Casey March 11, 2014 at 5:58 am #

    Juanita, thank you for another brilliant synopsis! I gleaned more clear information from your report than from actually being there!
    Wahl did mention, during his preamble speech, the importance of adhering to the US Constitution…and for some reason I held back a burning question: Which Constitutional Amendment ratified drug prohibition? We all know the answer. There isn’t one, and drug prohibition in America is unconstitutional.
    On the topic of pot, Wahl is a fantastic environmentalist, and that is good. But if the sheriff’s office knows exactly how many illegal grows there are, then it follows that they know exactly where they are too. So then if it’s illegal, and they know where they are, why then haven’t they cut them down and made arrests? I can’t believe the official hype. Outdoor growers don’t even put plants in the ground until the beginning of May.
    By the way, I understand that over 13,000 signatures have already been gathered. Wahl’s whole career, and his challenger, will hinge on one single issue: pot. And that is unfortunate, because Wahl is a good, non-corrupt individual, he’s fiscally responsible, and I respect him, but his pot crusade is his folly and his downfall.

    • Juanita Sumner March 11, 2014 at 6:07 am #

      Thanks Casey, I do worry that my synopsis is out to lunch, I have gotten something wrong, etc.

      And yes, I agree – it would be ridiculous for this to be a one issue – POT! – race. As Larry discussed yesterday, there are other issues facing the county, and I’d like to hear more about those. We didn’t even get to talk about Behavioral Health, and that seems like the key to Chico’s Downtown transient problems, and Enloe’s situation as well.

      I’ve tried to get Andrew Merkel to come in by the way – he told me to contact him in April, but it looks like we’re booked through May, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to squeeze him in before the June primary. I’m curious to see what he knows about the other issues before the county.

  2. F.O.T. March 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    While there are many issues with the FD contracts there is something I’ve never seen before. The taxpayers pay both ends of medicare which equals 2.9% of payroll. Every other city contract I’ve ever looked at the employees/city pay their equal share of 1.45%. That the FD employees do not do so amounts to a 1.45 increase in compensation. More importantly, what that tells me is that past city management & council members were trying to hide the true cost of contracts – and were in stealth mode. After reviewing the contracts I can assure you the FD is getting away with much more than the 1.45%.

    In case you have noticed, the paid leave portion of those same contracts has increased to the point it is beyond obscene. Claiming employee give-backs while increasing vacation hours, which leads to more overtime costs, is hardly a concesion. It is a calculated end-around of taxpayer concerns.

  3. F.O.T. March 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    Have you seen the CalPERSs actuarial reports? From June 30, 2006 – June 30, 2012, the Chico tax payer unfunded liability has grown from 32 million to over 106 million dollars. Even though the tax payers cost has increased 3X (times) the original cost of the pension plans already, the cost is expected to grow an additional 50 percent of payroll over the next few years. In other words, the cost is escalating rapidly and at the same time the unfunded liability has increased dramatically.

    Have you reviewed the CalPERS actuarial reports?

    • Juanita Sumner March 15, 2014 at 5:21 am #

      Yes, I’ve read the actuarials, but I couldn’t explain it like you did – Thanks! I just knew, the taxpayers were being asked to pick up more and more of the bill. Thanks for explaining the details.

      We need to dump our fire and police departments, and I’m guessing there’s a way to do that they aren’t telling us, just like they don’t tell us these details you’ve splattered out.

      I hope you’ll write a letter to council, and the newspaper, with the same stuff you brought here.

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