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!


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

  1. MIchael Jones April 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Juanita it was lovely coming to another of your well-hosted events. I thought is was a fun meeting with Andrew. He is smart and quick-witted, and handled the challenge well. But we do need to pin him down to specifics more, I think it would help his campaign. I do like how Joe Montez has made some specific commitments relating to public employee unions.

    • Juanita Sumner April 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

      Yeah, I’m glad we have until November on this one.

  2. alpetersen2014 April 28, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Wow, i was so blissfully ignorant and naive as i think back on how the events unfolded. We all had 2nd thoughts about the purchases, and lawsuits, building up to exorbitant amounts. I suppose my worry still would not have stopped the spending. i think you summarized it well. Sometimes i think this campaign is doing the same thing to my budget but it is not loans, only savings. My naturally cautious nature reminds me to keep the limit similar to a reasonable college education. (besides, my odds are better than the other candidates). A lesson learned the hard way. Al Petersen

    • Juanita Sumner April 29, 2014 at 4:42 am #

      I think the council is malleable – the people have to turn up the heat and apply the pressure.

      I tried to tell people about those projects. Tom DiGiovanni called me a liar and tried to get David Little to stop running my letters to the editor. Several people asked David Little to stop running my letters, but it didn’t matter – the general populace of our town is like a big fat sleeping giant – too stupid or too lazy, sorry to be mean, but it’s not that the public hasn’t been told.

      You’ve run a gentleman’s campaign Al, you’ve done everything right. I meant what I said earlier – it’s going to be a tough run between you and Diane, but it’s one of the first campaigns in years in which I’ve had to make a tough choice between two candidates. Oh Al, you’re making me THINK! Stop it! 🙂

      On that note, I have just signed up Virgle Gage, in the interest of being fair, we’ll give him a listen on May 25, right after Joe Montes at 1pm. I don’t want to lead Mr. Gage on, but if he wants to speak to our group, we’ll give him a welcome.

  3. Jim April 29, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Somehow everybody forgets that the City DID clean up the plaza, BEFORE the remodel! They removed the diseased trees, fixed up the lawn, repaired the walkways and removed to cover from the gazebo.

    It looked really nice, here are photos:

    They should have, and could have left it at that, and saved us $4M. But they didn’t.

    • Juanita Sumner April 29, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Thanks so much Jim, I’m so glad to get these pictures. Great slide show, really brings it back.

      Some people say they like the plaza better now, I have to disagree. The old plaza was traditional, a simple gathering place in the city’s center, open to the citizens. The new plaza is too generic, over trendy, and already out-dated and hokey looking. Way too much cement, a heat generator, while also creating run-off – the old plaza acted to absorb a lot of rain during a good dumper. And have you ever tried to use those benches on a hot day? Butt roast! I think they made them that way to keep people (the wrong kind of people!) from sitting on them. Anybody who sits on a park bench for more than a half-hour lunch break is considered blight.

      Unfortunately, there are too many people in this town that think only some citizens should be allowed to gather, and that they should have to spend money in order to hang around Downtown. Those type of folks think they can pick and judge others by appearance, clothing, make of car. So, they threw the baby out with the bath water.

      The street people didn’t forceably take the plaza, it was handed to them by certain Downtown business and property owners who wanted to make Downtown more exclusive. Voila – that’s French for, “vous killed zee Golden Goose, vous fat-heads!”

      • Michael Jones April 29, 2014 at 10:12 am #

        Park Director Beardsley forced the project through without proper consultation with the Park Commission. The Grand Jury looked into it and , as I recall, said he was somewhat exceeding his authority. He and Lando got away with that type of behavior, and that arrogance carried over and led to the city staff essentially looting the treasury of 20 million we didn’t have to pay staff wages and benefits. I resigned from the Park Commission in protest for Lando free-lancing on an issue he had assured the Council that he would do the opposite. Gruendl would remember my little drama.

      • Juanita Sumner April 29, 2014 at 10:15 am #

        Thanks Michael, further pieces to the puzzle.

        You know, a current staffer I talked to says Lando still runs a lot of stuff, Downtown, at the county, at the college. He’s on the CARD board. I feel he’s just watching out for his own interest – his own pension. He knows he has to keep those Cal PERS payments rolling in or he’s out with yesterday’s rubbish.

      • dispo2014 April 29, 2014 at 11:54 am #

        I thought Lando should have reprimanded for issue I alluded to. After resigning from Park Commission, I reapplied so that I could bring up the issue again. At the interview by the Council of all the applicants for boards and commissions, Jarvis said the first interviewee should be…starting with “J”. Oh, that was me, Jones. Then she said why would I reapply after resigning? I said it wasn’t really the forum where she wanted me to say. She said oh yes she did. So I chewed out Lando for misleading the Council, right in front of all the applicants for boards and commission and most of the top staff. Schwab was there applying for Park Commission. The 3 conservatives voted to reappoint me, and agreed that staff disses the policy makers sometimes. But the liberals could not admit to themselves that their city manager would promise one thing in a public meeting and do the exact opposite. Most unfortunately for the City, me and the conservatives have been proven correct. Schwab’s blind belief in the superiority of public employees and bureaucratic processes has brought us to the edge of bankruptcy. So I’m chewing out Lando again. He negotiated unsustainable contracts with for the employees, he let Park Director Beardsley go wild with overbuilding in Bidwell Park and the Plaza. He set the culture that the staff is superior to the elected and appointed policy makers. For example, under Lando public record requests were responded to rapidly, except by the Finance Dept who would flat ignore even simple requests. How did that work out? Then the City Attorney said the Charter could be ignored re monthly financial state of the city report. Then looting. Am I ranting? Well, the Grand Jury came to the same conclusion regarding Beardsley in around 2005 or so. And the Grand Jury agreed again on the Finance Department topic, was it last year (or 2012)? And we’ll have to see what the new Grand Jury says about city finances this year. I like Nakamura and Constantin; trust yet verify.

      • Juanita Sumner April 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

        I would say “looting” is a good word. I’ve used “embezzlement,” but I think there’s a very narrow legal definition there.

        I feel the same way about Nakamura. He’s raised his own salary and now he’s adding a tax to garbage service to pay for his own salary and benefits. I think it’s just the beginning, I really expect him to propose a sales tax increase in 2016. We’ll see.

        My uncle was born and raised in Vallejo, served on city council from 1957 to 1965. He says, they really put that city on the road to Perdition when they signed a charter amendment giving the city manager executive powers.

  4. Dave Waddell April 30, 2014 at 4:20 am #

    The guy’s running for city council and “he’s not touching” a question about whether he’ll take money from one of the city’s most powerful special interest groups?! Transparency, anyone? Fail!

    • Juanita Sumner April 30, 2014 at 5:17 am #

      Thanks for saying that, I’m sorry for being too polite. Coolidge needs to get more specific on a lot of stuff. He was very evasive, I’ll say that. That was an hour of cat herding, is what it was Dave. You better show up next time, I need some help here.

    • dispo2014 April 30, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      candidates this year can expect to be asked whether they will do as Joe Montes has done and refuse contributions from (Chico) public employee unions.

      • Juanita Sumner April 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

        Thanks for holding the line Michael. I will try to keep a firm line too.

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