Archive | April, 2014

Conversation with city council candidate Andrew Coolidge was too short, need to get him into the library again sometime

28 Apr

Yesterday’s chat with Andrew Coolidge was one of our messiest conversations, but you know, I ain’t in this for doilies or decorum.  Form went out the window and we just blew face for over an hour, staying pretty close to home but covering (or barely covering) every topic from the Humboldt Road Burn Dump to “Bum Park.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to nail Coolidge down on salaries, benefits, or how he would pay to fill vacancies at the cop shop.

We probably talked too long about our problems, sat and wallowed in it. That’s good sometimes – rub that salt in good! Make it sting! Our candidate summed up what he saw as the three big problems that led Chico to it’s current situation – the Humboldt Road Burn Dump lawsuit, the Downtown Plaza makeover, and then the Downtown remodel (roundabouts, bulbing sidewalks, switching parking to horizontal, etc).

Coolidge took us down Memory Lane – although, one woman admitted, she’d only lived in Chico a year, and this was all news she could use. The Humboldt Road Burn Dump lawsuit fiasco will continue to cost this city millions for the next couple of generations.  I agree with Coolidge – that whole lawsuit came out of Scott Gruendl’s first successful campaign for city council.  I liked Scott’s promises to “sweep developer influence from the city council.” I also thought it was nuts to put family housing on an old dump without cleaning it up properly. The city had permitted subdivisions, Gruendl  convinced a bunch of dummies like me he just wanted to be sure the soil was safe and any clean-up was done properly, that’s all!

I really hate being taken – I believed and agreed with him. I didn’t understand, what he was really doing, was trying to get the land cleaned up on the taxpayers’ dime so his friend Tom DiGiovanni could build in the same area. He also wanted to protect DiGiovanni’s proposed subdivision, Meriam Park. Tom Fogarty’s subdivision blocks the “viewshed” from Meriam Park, so Gruendl tried to stop Fogarty from building. By the time I realized this, Gruendl was in office, and had the collective weight of the Friends of Bidwell Park, the Esplanade League and others in his pocket. The die was cast. A “liberal” majority voted to place a  stop on the subdivision and Fogarty charged us into court, and boy, did he kick our ass.

At about the same time, council moved to adopt the Plaza makeover plan. This was also forwarded by DiGiovanni and friends – their offices overlooked the plaza, and they didn’t like it, so they wangled a deal by which they not only got a new plaza, but got paid to design it!  Initially the budget was $1.something million, but, once all these people like the Hands artist got their dick into the pie – $30,000 to this artist, and $35,000 to this landscape design guy, yadda, yadda – ka-CHING! $4 million.

Here Coolidge took it kind of personal, harkening some of us back to the days when the giant elm trees stood in the plaza. I remember being in a fourth floor office in the Breslauer Building one night, watching owls flit back and forth between those trees, as a bunch of happy people enjoyed one of DNA’s Ball’s Edge concerts. The trees were not cared for properly over the years, and were dying. The old bandstand/gazebo had been taken over by churlish teens and street types. The unmaintained sidewalks were riddled by old roots, and the lawns had deteriorated into some sort of mossy turf. It wasn’t very pleasant, but, out of respect for past traditions, the appropriate thing to do would have been, plant new elms alongside each old dying tree, and slowly remove the old trees. the sidewalks could have been torn out and  replaced, that couldn’t have cost more than a few thousand dollars. The gazebo should have been given a good going over with a hammer and nails and paint brush, and then put on a regular maintenance schedule along with the sidewalks. The only major change I would have made were the bathrooms, which, of course, the city had to turn into some sort of Taj Majal project.

I hate what they did to it, but the biggest insult is how they passed it off on us. Coolidge reminded us, they said they needed to do it to get rid of bad people who were hanging around there. Boy, we all got a good laugh out of that – you know, not a “ha ha” laugh, but one of those, “Yeah, screw me…” kind of laughs.

This led us into the Downtown remodel undertaken over the last few years. I sat in on meetings in which they planned that remodel, not really to fix the perceived Downtown “parking problem,” but to get state grant money to cover city salaries. This was when Scott Gruendl and the others were first letting on that we had a money problem. But not really. To hear Gruendl claim now that city staff led him on – oh, pish-posh Scott, you dirty stinking liar. I was there the day you used the marker pens to try and explain the city’s fiscal difficulties on the big tablet. “Let’s not use the red pen,” you giggled nervously, “we don’t want to scare people...”

Into kicking your lousy doughy butt out of office, Scott, is that what you didn’t want to scare us into doing?

Chico Chamber and DCBA were also hip-deep in the plans, because their staff depend on city money to pay their salaries. They came up with the propaganda about the “parking problem” to try and drum up support for this mess. They developed this campaign – “Make Downtown a Destination, Not a Drive-thru!” What they didn’t consider is, people use cars to get to their destination. What they also didn’t realize is, Downtown is a major intersection for getting across Chico. That used to be considered good for retail – why in the hell would they divert that traffic, and create a ghost town?

What kills me is now, none of them realize how much they screwed their own pooch by going along with that remodel – the really poorly engineered traffic circles, the diagonal parking, the raised meter fees – these are insults to shoppers, who have headed in droves to the malls and the websites. The Chamber and DCBA got just what they asked for – a destination, for street freaks and criminals. Again, the liberal council and their handlers accomplished exactly the opposite of what they told us they would do – they actually made a perceived problem even worse!

At this point we fell into chatter. We talked about blame, and I tried to steer the conversation toward solutions. The biggest concern among the group was how street people seem to have taken over the Downtown area, and somewhat in other areas of town. Some agreed that the “R-Town” security force that was hired over the holidays was successful in cleaning up the undesirables, but, the result was, they moved into the areas directly around Downtown, and then as soon as the private security was gone, new ones moved into their place. I would agree, we’ve got more now, and I’ll predict, more moving in over Summer. News spreads, people find out, our law enforcement doesn’t do it’s job here, it’s alot easier to move in and set up your little scam.

I tried to stay silent, as a couple of others haggled with Coolidge about the role of Chico PD, their contracts, etc. Coolidge would not make any statement regarding the contracts, and when Michael Jones asked him whether or not he’d take campaign contributions from CPOA, he waved his hands as if to say, “I’m not touching that one!”

I was relieved when Coolidge brought up what I feel is the root of this problem – the county Behavioral Health Department is underfunded and understaffed, with a revolving door director position that has been mostly vacant over the last few years. When I checked the salary last year, it was about $58,000 – about half the usual management salary down at the county. Now, they’ve raised it to just over $100,000, more on par with other management, and last time I checked they were  advertising for a new director.

So what? Well, when the police get ahold of a person in any sort of mental “state” not considered normal, they are supposed to turn them over to County Behavioral Health Department over on Rio Lindo. Unfortunately, this facility is only open Monday through Friday 9 – 5?

Now, Coolidge agreed with me that this is the problem, but there it ended. The conversation flew off again before I could talk to him about what I had learned over the last couple of months. We talked about why the plastic bag ban is stupid, but not what to do about it. We talked about improprieties in the voting process, unfair treatment of conservative candidates on campus, and flits and bits of other issues, but nothing about solutions.

Coolidge wants to hire more police but did not elaborate on how he would pay for that. He wants to encourage and help small businesses through “a mired and slow” permits process, but we were not able to follow that subject all the way either. I don’t think an hour was enough, I think we need to pick this conversation up again sometime in the next six months!

Next up we have James Gallagher, District 3 assembly candidate, and Andrew Merkel, Butte Co. Dist. 2 supervisor candidate, on May 11, at noon and one, respectively. Hope to see you there!


Nakamura alludes to some mysterious consequences in not forgiving Nature Center loan, but won’t elaborate

22 Apr

Well, I sure as hell called that one! Yes, Brian Nakamura recommended the $206,000 (and counting) owed by Chico Creek Nature Center be WRITTEN OFF!

Like Mark Sorensen added sarcastically, “Yeah, what’s another $200,000?”  Sorensen, for the record, said he was against writing the loan off, the committee giving a split recommendation to council. Our boy Randy Stone wants to FORGIVE AND FORGET!

A loan taken in 2008, on which there have been no payments since 2010.  For a daycare center that can’t make money in this town? You have got to be kidding. 

Oh yeah, the Nature Center, they’re just such an asset to the community. Brian Nakamura knows this, he says, because he attended their nature camp! Huh? I thought that was just for kids? And, by the way, camp hasn’t even started sign-ups for this year, so when did he attend camp? 

Something I’ve learned about Brian Nakamura, is when he talks, you need a tape recorder, cause he goes all over the place, saying all kinds of stuff, starting to insinuate dire consequences, but mumbling unfinished sentences into his shirt collar. This morning, he started to say something about some kind of bad legal situation we would be in if we didn’t forgive this loan – I’m just  guessing – it has something to do with auditing books, and stuff not looking quite right. Funds out of balance.  Like, “hey, where did you put that $206,000?” “Me?! I thought YOU had it!” 

I didn’t press him on it, because Mark Sorensen had already yelled at me and cut me off before my three minutes was up because I suggested we wanted to see the financial records for the center. I also suggested that the city get an organization on that city-owned property that was accountable for their finances. Later Sorensen asked the center director if they had an audit firm or if they did their books internally. Wow – that’s what I suspected – Sorensen, who voted a year ago to defer the loan payments, has not only never seen the books, he doesn’t know anything about them. A man who not only owns his own lucrative business but manages another entire town.  What a fucking idiot.  Sorensen is way too quick to hold up his hands and deny any responsibility for this mess.

Director Caitlin Reilly responded that they have a CPA file a form 990, which she says is available to the public. I told her I’d be contacting her for that, and she said it would take her a  couple of days to scan and send it. Oh yeah, she has sooooo much to do down there!  That must be a regular whopper of a file. Full of bigger whoppers, I’m guessing!

This on the heels of Nakamura’s Garbage Tax. That’s another post folks. 


Robin Hood Nakamura wants to raise our garbage rates so he can forgive a $206,000 debt for Chico Creek Nature Center

21 Apr

At tomorrow’s Finance Committee meeting they will discuss raising your garbage rates so they can “forgive” over $200,000 in loan, interest, and late fees to the Chico Creek Nature Center.

A quick read of the consultant’s report regarding the new garbage tax will tell you, the city is adding a pimp charge to your garbage bill – but no, you won’t get anything more in return. The “additional services” they are talking about are all services the city is supposed to perform already. They will turn these duties, like street sweeping and leaf pick-up, over to the haulers, in return for an exclusive contract for Waste Management and Recology to split down the middle.

This is a sweet deal for both haulers – we will all be forced to “subscribe” to service, even if we don’t need it.  You know there are single people and childless couples all over town who bust a gut to produce a shopping sack full of trash per week, who do not have garbage service at their home.  They throw their trash away at work, in that big dumpster out back, or they take it to the grocery store when they shop – why not, that’s where most of it came from. When they eat out, they leave their trash at the restaurant. 

There are also neighbors who share trash service, which seems like the answer to those whiners who complain about too many trucks on the street.  Why not talk to your neighbors? Agree between yourselves on a common carrier, share cans whenever possible.  Unfortunately, that will be doable under this new franchise agreement. 

As for those “additional services,” street sweeping sounds great, but leaf pick-up is something we all pay for that disproportionately benefits landscape businesses. Every week my neighbors’ landscape providers come around, mow, and then blow everything right into the street. In Fall it’s absolutely impossible not to notice, there are mounds of leaves in front of houses that do not have one tree in the front yard. The program has very simple rules, one  of which is, no back yard leaves. But who supervises any of this? People should be cited for depositing their yard waste in the street, but here we ALL pay to have it picked up, free of charge. To hell with the leaf pick-up program. 

Read the list yourselves – they’re talking “X-mas tree pick-up.” I’m sorry, I don’t use “X-mas trees,” and I certainly don’t leave them laying in front of my house in the street. Why should I pay for those other jackasses? 

But we will, we will pay and pay. The consultant says our rates are “artificially cheap,” compared to nearby towns. Well, that’s because, they’ve all instituted the same scam already. Get ready for your bill to go up, $15, $20, maybe as much as $30 a month. 

One thing I see in looking at this report, our rates are artificially low not because we don’t have all these rainbow services, but because we have a current agreement that forces the haulers to use Neal Road Landfill. I am soooo conflicted here. Neal Road Landfill is a dinosaur, I don’t care what Mike Crump says. Recology owns a much more modern landfill in Wheatland – but get this – people in Wheatland and the surrounding area pay Rocology $52/month for a 96 gal tote, compared to our $24/month. Well, excuuuuuse me! Sustainability, my  friends, is for the rich.

I’d like to see our service remain same, keep the provision that the trash be kept here in Butte County, and a fund be set up immediately for the modernization of Neal Road Landfill. They talked about that somewhat at Sustainability Task Force meetings, but they’re really not serious about it. That’s because Neal Road is run by the county now, public workers are just not as motivated as private industry workers, let’s face it. They turn everything into a salary trough, where service becomes the last priority after paying their unfunded pension liability. 

Aftr they talk about putting the screw to us simply because they can, City Mangler Brian Nakamura will recommend further deferral, possibly even forgiveness (excuse me while I enjoy a solid chorus, in four part harmony, of “I TOLD YOU SO!”) of the Chico Creek Nature Center’s loan. This loan was originally $185,000 in 2008 but has metastasized into about $205,000 due to unpaid interest and late fees. And, the money was originally stolen  from the development fund, now over $9 million in deficit. Nakamura is recommending that the city forget about the extra $20,000-something in interest and fees and switch to an interest-only payment plan, until such time as this shaky little organization can pull it’s head out of it’s ass and start paying it’s bills. He also has the city attorney look into forgiving the loan!

Which provokes an interesting question: can the forgiven Nature Center loan be written off by the city as bad debt, or will the city have to repay the Development fund out of the General Fund? 

This on the heels of over $500,000 in losses through the home loan program, “written off” at last week’s council meeting. They’re just handing our money out like candy down at City Hall!  This is why they want to triple our garbage rates? 

Tune in next time, for another exciting installment of “Runaway City!” starring Jon Voight as Brian Nakamura, and Eric Roberts as Mark Orme. 






Hemet Taxpayers Association eliminated health benefits for council members and instituted term limits

19 Apr

Back in 2010, the Hemet Taxpayers Association asserted themselves and actually got two ballot measures passed – at more than 75 % approval.  It cost them about $7,000. I know, I’d rather buy my own ice cream truck for that kind of money, but it might be worth it to pass the hat around for something like this: (from  City of Hemet Ca,      under Municipal Code )

(See Sec. 2-36. Salary of members)

Initiative measure limiting health benefits for elected officials. The city shall not pay for, fund, or otherwise contribute to, the premiums, charges, fees or other costs of health benefits made available by the city to elected city officials either during their term or after their term of office. This measure shall only affect city officials elected to office after October 1994. Nothing in this measure shall prohibit the city from making health benefits that are generally available to other city employees also available to elected city officials during or after his/her term of office, provided that such health benefits are provided at the sole cost of the elected city official. City ordinances, resolutions, or policies, or portions thereof, in effect as of the date referenced below, that are inconsistent or in conflict with this measure shall be deemed repealed and no longer of any effect to the extent necessary to harmonize such documents with this measure. This measure shall take effect at the conclusion of the general election held on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, and shall continue thereafter.

(Ord. No. 142; Code 1984, § 2005; Ord. No. 1521, § 1, 6-13-95; Ord. No. 1576, § 2, 1-23-98; Ord. No. 1618, § 1, 6-27-00; Ord. No. 1672, § 1, 8-13-02; Ord. No. 1715, §§ 1, 2, 5-11-04; Ord. No. 1764, § 1, 7-11-06; Res. No. 4369, § 2, 7-27-10 (passed by voters 11-2-10))

(Sec. 2-37. Initiative measure establishing term limits for elected officials.)

During their lifetime no person shall serve, whether by means of election or appointment, more than three terms of office as a city councilmember, as the treasurer, or as any other elected city official. This term limit shall be applied separately to each different type of elected office held. A partial term of office shall be considered to be a full term where more than one-half of the regular term of office has been served. This measure shall apply prospectively, taking effect as to terms commencing in 2012 and thereafter.

(Res. No. 4368, § 2, 7-27-10 (passed by voters 11-2-10))

Chico City Council race kicks off next Sunday, April 27, with Andrew Coolidge, Chico library, noon to one pm

19 Apr

Next Friday we have our first city council candidate coming in to the library for a chit-chat – Andrew Coolidge. You may remember Coolidge from 2012.

As I scan over my drafts file, I see plenty of city of Chico  issues I haven’t had time to talk about – a back page story about California’s looming pension liability, a letter from a Chico man suggesting we set another tax on ourselves to fund more cops, a chart showing that Cal Water gives public agencies like cities a flat water rate while the rest of us are on meters, an article about a pile of bad home loans recently written off by the city, BK Brook’s letter about the problems at Chico’s long neglected sewer plant, an editorial from a man who has never attended an airport commission saying we need to “get better commercial service at the airport…” , and then an interesting report about how claims against the city – for stuff like falling tree limbs and injuries/tire damage due to broken sidewalks and potholes – are UP.  Have you looked at Bidwell Park lately? You are taking your life in your hands walking into Bidwell Park – the trees need to be trimmed along the driveway, or somebody is going to be seriously injured.

We need to make sure these candidates are not riding on a cloud of air. What do they know about the real issues? Has Coolidge read the employee contracts? What does he think about paying benefits and pensions on people that make three, four, five times the median income? Months ago Coolidge made a public statement about the water rate increase – what has he done since?  Has he contacted the Ratepayer Advocate or the CPUC, does he have any news of our rate case, has he written a letter of protest? Has he attended an airport commission meeting – how many? Has he attended any meetings Downtown, which ones? Does he know how much money has been taken from the sewer fund to pay pensions and benefits? Does he understand that our sewer has reached capacity, and there are concerns about our water table falling, but our city keeps handing out building permits?

So far we have two city council candidates lined up, Coolidge and Joe Montes.  I don’t know who else is running because Debbie Presson won’t post the filings – she’s waiting until after the June primary, because she’s just plain lazy and incompetent. I’m curious about measures or initiatives that might be on the city ballot, so if I get a chance I’ll go down to her office and ask to look at them. In the meantime, let’s give Coolidge a good vetting, that’s next Sunday, April 27, from noon to one pm, Chico Library at First and Sherman Aves.


We pay for Goloff’s rehab, like we paid for the surgery that supposedly hooked her on the meds. We need to dump health care benefits for city councillors

18 Apr

Chico Taxpayers Association would like to thank former mayor Mary Flynn Goloff for finally acknowledging that she has a substance abuse problem. But, I’d like to temper that with a good kick in the pants for having the nerve to sit up there for eight years high as a kite. 

Furthermore, I’d like to ask the other six council members and various close members of $taff how they could let this go on for almost eight years. In fact, when Goloff gave indications last year that she was unfit to serve, her cohorts on council voted to “forgive” the meetings she’d missed without any question as to why she’d missed them. Now we find out, as I suspected, she was in re-hab that time too. 

The last time I checked, Mary was receiving $21,000+ worth of health insurance from the city, for which she paid two percent of her salary as city councilor. Her salary is about $8,000, so she is paying less than $200 out of her own  pocket for a very nice policy. That policy not only paid for the rehab visits, but for the hip surgery she claims put her onto the meds. 

Yeah, I have a bad hip, wow. It started when I was carrying my first child, it got so bad, I could hardly walk.  It’s turned into “osteo arthritis”, which, as described by the doctor, means to me, “rotten bones.” I have taken  calcium supplements all my adult life, starting when I was working out at a gym. I’ve stayed physically active, toting my kids on a bike, making my errands by bike, swimming, hiking, biking, and snowboarding. See, it’s that Catch 22 thing – exercise helps the pain of arthritis, but it heaps it on too. The doctor recommended that I stay active, and he gave me some pain pills that would take the paint off Old Ironsides. I took one dose and laid awake all night cradling my gut like a screaming newborn.

Surgery? I’m sorry, I don’t have an insurance policy paid by the taxpayers – I have the bronze plan, or I have Medi-Cal.  No surgeon would return my calls, EVEN IF I were stoooooopid enough to think surgery would fix it. Right now they’re playing a commercial on tv – call a lawyer if you received a certain hip implant. And then there’s that episode of Rockford Files, where Abe Vigoda plays this old mobster who is having his hit men knock off every person who was involved in his botched hip replacement surgery, from the pharmaceutical salesman to the nurses to the doctors who did the surgery. I had to laugh at that episode, but it’s not really funny – this stuff really happens. And Mary just dragged us into that scam – we paid for her surgery, now we have to pay to get her off the painkillers “necessitated” by the surgery?

The only comfort I get out of  Mary’s statement is that she “has no plans to run again.” If only that was a promise.  

What we should do is form a PAC and put an initiative or measure on the 2016 ballot, ending health insurance for city councilors. We should also institute term limits – that would probably also take a ballot initiative or measure. I mean, do you really think any of the people currently sitting up there would voluntarily institute either provision? You think Mark Sorensen is so squeaky clean? Ask him why he takes the most expensive insurance policy offered and pays about $100 for it. I’ve asked him point blank, and he won’t answer. 



Chico Tea Party to host councillors Sorensen and Morgan, ass city manager Orme – “Chico’s role in economic development and how Chico can grow it’s way out of debt.”

17 Apr

Chico Tea Party meeting Tuesday 4/22/14 @ 7pm.

The Chico Tea Party Patriots will be holding a symposium. The topic will be the city of Chico’s role in economic development and how Chico can grow its way out of debt.  Mark Orme assistant city manager along with Sean Morgan and Mark Sorensen will be guest speakers.

The meeting starts at 7PM– at Marie Callenders 1910 East  20th Street, Chico. Doors open at 5:45 for those who want to order Dinner and visit before the meeting.


Check us out on Facebook at “Official Chico Tea Party”

Check out for more details on what tea party patriots are doing today.

Chico Tea Party Patriots

236 East Ave., Ste. A
PMB 112
Chico, CA 95926-7239

Utility Tax Refund forms now available on city website

17 Apr

Wow, I am surprised this year to find the finance department has already posted the Utility Tax Refund application. In years past, I’ve had to remind them, but this year they got it up at least two weeks early.

I hope you have all saved your bills – PG&E, and water for most people I assume, and if you still have a “land line” phone, they’ll get you there too. So, I save all my bills, and I march Downtown one day in June to collect. I usually get at least $50, even as low as we keep our bills here.

We’ve finally turned off our heater, so we can enjoy a few months of low bills before it gets hot enough to tip the air conditioner thermostat. But I’ve already heard air conditioners around our neighborhood. Save those bills!


Nakamura is dumping the fire department – in 2017!

14 Apr

Tomorrow night city council will discuss serving a three-year notice to the fire department that they will be considering a contract with Cal Fire. You may be asking the same question I am – why did they just approve new contracts with the fire department, with a proviso that says we have to give them three years’ notice before we dump them? This is not a sincere move on the part of Scott Gruendl or Mark Sorensen, it’s election year pandering.

Look there it says, “recently completed negotiations…” meaning, weeks ago. Why did they go through with the contracts at all?

REPORT IN BRIEF: The City of Chico recently completed negotiations with its nine (9) bargaining groups. One
outstanding issue, pertaining specifically to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Local 2734, that
essentially binds the City, is Section 5.7, a contracting out provision. The City Manager believes this section
adversely affects the City’s ability to consider alternative service delivery options in order to evaluate the costs related
to salaries and benefits. Thus, in light of the City Council’s desire to treat all bargaining units respectfully and equitably
in future negotiations, the City Manager recommends that the City provide the attached notice of intent, which
becomes effective April 16, 2017.

Experience is what counts in the Assessor’s office

13 Apr

Today’s session with Butte County assessor candidate Diane Brown answered all my questions about the assessor’s race – including, why would such a highly skilled non-partisan position be filled by the fickle public?

Brown’s opponent Al Petersen had already led us into this conversation, telling us how important it is to have an assessor who has an eye for detail and a good relationship with the public to keep the rolls accurate and up to  date.  Diane Brown took it further, driving in the need for experience in this leadership role. 

Petersen and Brown are former co-workers at Butte County assessor’s office, Petersen having left a  few years back to take a position with the Sutter County assessor. Al is a very polite guy, I didn’t want to get into it with him about why he left Butte County as an employee to drive all the way to Sutter for a job, I figure, there are a million personal reasons. But he and Diane still have a very good rapport, and that made for one heck of an informative conversation.  I’ll say, they both know their job and are really serious about this position. 

Diane led right off telling us about the function the office, picking up where we left off with Al. With a staff of about 38 people, the office is responsible for identifying taxable properties and their owners, assessing taxable value of everything from bare land to new construction, commercial properties, residential remodels and rebuilds. The maps must be updated to reflect changes in parcel boundaries and subdivisions. 

Assessments, she says, are based on recorded documents, inspections, and objective market values. Of course, market values have been falling over the past years, there are plenty of houses currently over-assessed. Brown explained that these homes can be enrolled in the Proposition 8 program. Prop 8 allows the assessor to adjust the base value of a house when it becomes “upside down”. The home remains in this program until either the market recovers and the home becomes worth more, or the house adjusts down to true market value. There are currently about 22,000 houses enrolled in the Prop 8 program.  Brown says anyone who thinks their house is over-assessed should certainly contact the assessor’s office.

Properties can also qualify for a variety of exemptions. For example, if your home is damaged by some accident – even if it was your own fault – you can get exempted from paying taxes on all or part of the house until it has been repaired. Also, home improvements that are made to accommodate a handicapped individual are exempt from re-assessment. In fact, a handicapped person may sell their home to move to a more accommodating home, and keep the tax base from their previous home. I’m sorry if my explanation is simplistic – if you want all the details, contact the assessor’s office.

I’ll tell you what, the conversation was flying fast and over my head alot of the time. There’s a lot to this job, that’s for sure. Complicating matters, Brown says the manual by which assessments are made is woefully out of date and hasn’t been updated because the position of Standards Officer has been vacant since 2005. The county has made cuts to stay on budget, but there is a position Brown says she would very much like to see filled. 

She is left to rely on her experience both in assessing and in training new assessors. There are a myriad of complicated rules and regulations – she used the exemptions as an example – something as simple as noticing a handicapped sticker on a car at a house getting a remodel would tell an experienced assessor that this household may be eligible for an exemption. 

“My training and experience make me the best candidate for this job,” Brown asserted.  Sue asked, how long would it take to bring a person who is not experienced up to speed in this job. I immediately thought of the Wilmar 8 – a group of female bank employees who went on strike back in the 80’s, one of their complaints being, they were regularly made to train outside male workers promoted over them. 

Diane explained that the state will grant such a person a temporary assessor’s certificate, which is good for one year. During that time this person must receive 24 hours of training regarding  all the stuff Diane told us about at this meeting. This would make them qualified to be hired as an assessor, but Diane says, a new hire would still require at least a couple more years of intensive training to be qualified as an “advanced assessor,” able to go out on their own and make their own calls. But, at the will of the capricious mob, they’re qualified to head the office? Weird, so very, very weird.

I wonder if the public is up to hiring somebody for this job, most of us having a slim to nothing hold on the qualifications. But, Diane reminded me, this person needs to be accountable to the public. “An assessor has to be able to work under a lot of pressure,” she said. County officials might want the assessor to over-assess, bring in more revenues for the county. These people could put an obscene amount of pressure on an individual who was beholden to them for a job. That’s why the assessor has to be accountable to the voters. 

Why me? she asked rhetorically.  She went on to detail her 30 year relationship with Butte County. Starting in the assessor’s office in 1983 as a clerk typist, she educated and worked her way up to appraiser in 1989 (slightly different than assessor, an appraiser only fixes value, assessor figures in all the exemptions and rules that go into setting the tax), was one of the first office staffers to be sent out to do field work, and one of the first women to work in the mountains. She has worked at all the local offices, trained new employees, and, as an advanced assessor, has assessed all sorts of properties – residential, commercial, ag, etc. 

What would Diane do as head of the County Assessor’s office? Again she mentioned the out-of-date manual. She would like that to be updated, asap. This would require the hiring of a new Standards Officer. The assessor’s office has been run very frugally under Fred Holland, who actually returned money to the General Fund the last few years. That’s like putting your children on diets to save money – not a good idea if they’re not actually fat. Maybe we need to ask our county supervisors to fill that position. 

There is quite a little gaggle running against Diane and Al for this job. Diane said it – “Let’s face it, this position pays a lot of money.” Al told us, the assessor is only required to be in the office, physically, two days a year! Those are the days he has to deal personally with the auditor. Bill Connelly and Virgle Gage have absolutely no qualifications, Connelly has already made statements indicating he will be completely dependent on staff. Rudy Rindelsbach is a realtor.  His knowledge of realty may come in handy for him, but he, like Connelly and Gage, will still have to be “brought up to speed” on all those laws and exemptions.  Again, leaving staffers who are hired instead of elected to run the shop.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not accusing county staff or CAO Paul Hahn of anything, but like Diane said, a boss can put undue pressure on employees, it’s better to keep the safeguards in place. 

Diane Brown seemed firm in her conviction that “the taxpayers deserve somebody who can step in there the first day of work without any training…the taxpayers deserve better.”

So, there it stands – of a field of five candidates in which we have two that are qualified and three that may just be in it for the $123,000 a year paycheck. You decide. 

Thanks to Diane Brown for coming in on a Sunday and thanks Al Petersen for coming in to round out the conversation. I think it is very much to both of their credit that they come out to engage the voters.

And thanks to everybody who came down to enjoy sandwiches with me for Taxpayer Appreciation Day!