Archive | May, 2015

Out and About: here is a nuts and bolts discussion about switching from local fire department to Cal Fire

30 May

Well, I’ve been reading the Cal Coast News every day lately because it’s better than our local media. Today I found this story from a couple of weeks ago regarding the “Five Cities Fire Authority”, formed through a “Joint Powers Agreement” to serve a group of small communities in San Luis Obispo County. 

Residents are complaining that the JPA is costing them a lot more than they expected, and fees are again being raised. They were told this arrangement would save them money, but it’s going hundreds of thousands over budget, and people are wondering if they should sign a contract with Cal Fire. Here’s the discussion we’ve been trying to have, with nothing but a lot of “what if’s” because local leadership won’t have a real discussion in front of the public.

And, this is interesting to me – they’re only a few hundred thousand over budget, and people are concerned. Money problems tend to turn into a million dollar mountain around here before anybody even bothers to look for the gopher traps.

http://calcoastnews.com/2015/05/should-the-five-cities-fire-authority-be-abolished/

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Cal Coast News – funny story about San Luis Obispo council workshop reminiscent of some Chico meetings I’ve attended

29 May

http://calcoastnews.com/2015/05/slo-city-council-a-bizarre-reality-show/

This story is hilarious, and it reminds me of the recent local government comm meeting during which it seemed Mark Sorensen and Sean Morgan and Larry Wahl were bitch fighting about library funding. Supervisor Maureen Kirk had asked for an explanation about the CBG funding process. Sean Morgan complained like a little child that the library supporters called him a “terrorist,” while Mark asked him several times to get back on topic as he and Larry Wahl made little snide remarks back and forth. Mark said testily to Morgan, “your point?” several times. Maureen apologized for bring up the subject!

Our meetings are like a reality show too, I wish more people would come in to watch this stuff. I can’t possible write down everything I see and hear at these meetings, you really have to attend one to see how these people diddle your tax dollars. 

I really like the Cal Coast News – they cover stuff better than our local media.

 

City Staff holding park hostage

29 May

Thanks Michael Jones for blogging this obvious ploy on the part of city staff – Sorensen seems to be going along with it:

http://chicopolitics.com/2015/05/28/why-do-they-hate-us-so-much/comment-page-1/#comment-1480

Chico just dodged a bullet!

28 May

In the last 48 or so hours, before I could even blog it, a top candidate for Chico police chief has been outed as an ass in his hometown and taken his name out of the running here in Chico.

The whole thing reminds me of Brian Nakamura. This  Steve Gesell guy from San Luis Obispo apparently lied to his bosses and staff, like Nakamura, telling them he wasn’t considering employment elsewhere, when he most certainly had put  in an application for chief of Chico PD. Furthermore, it now looks like he was trying to get out of SLO before a full investigation of personal use of his city expense account.

Cal Coast News has been on this guy’s ass for a while now. Gesell has been taking his family on city business trips and using his city expense account to pay for weekends in Disneyland and other family vacations. CCN also got ahold of inner department memos indicating Chief Gesell had been running a traffic ticket quota system, offering such rewards as pizza for the cop who brought in the most speeding tickets. While this might sound like an aggressive safety policy, it’s also known as a “speed trap” and it’s illegal.

So, when Gesell came under all this criticism, he started looking for another job, submitting an application here in Chico sometime between January and February, according to Chico city staff. Meanwhile he assured the city council back in SLO that he had no such intentions. 

We’ve been through this before with Brian Nakamura, who left Hemet for Chico after telling his bosses the same bullshit story. And then he packed up his carpet bag and  left Chico spinning like a revolving door, his Hemet buddy Mark Orme walking into the position and his other buddy Chris Constantin moving right into the Ass Mangler position. Chico was just their ticket to a higher salary, a step up on the pension ladder. Who knows how long they’ll stay. 

In San Luis Obispo, it looks like Gesell really played himself a hand. He made it look like the city was trying to fire him, and he got a lawyer and fought it until they handed him a $120,000 severance package. He had intended to leave the entire time. Scott Gruendl just played the same hand in Orland, when it looked like the county supervisors had caught on to his years of substance abuse and were about ready to fire him. Gruendl turned it into retirement! At 70 percent of his $103,000 (old figure) salary, for the rest of his life. Plus benefits for further trips to rehab! 

So, as I was reading all this last night, I was thinking, “oh my good geeshy sakes, Sorensen and the rest of those jackasses are going to hire this guy, just like a slightly different group of jackasses hired Nakamura!” Times like this I just want to pack up and call the realtor, get the hell out of Dodge City before the trash truck rolls in to clean up the mess. I start talking SELL! My husband, the Bitch  Whisperer, always reminds me, “we been through this before, we’ve seen ’em come, and we’ve seen ’em go, and we’re still here.” Sure, paying higher taxes on everything,  but we’re still  here.  

At least Melissa Daugherty was on top of this:

https://www.newsreview.com/chico/chief-concerns/content?oid=17230361

Daugherty also points out, he’s almost 50, which points to a pattern – they come here to spike and retire, it’s been one chief after another lately. 

Well, it didn’t happen. Here’s the latest story on Steve Gesell:

http://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/former-san-luis-obispo-police-chief-removes-himself-from-consideration-for-chico-job/

and

http://calcoastnews.com/2015/05/gesell-contemplating-run-against-joe-arpaio/

What kind of person picks up his family and moves to Arizona to run against a local sheriff?  Please note, before this all went public, this jackass was “the top candidate” for Chico police chief. 

UPDATE  I find it interesting that the link to Action News has been disconnected, but a subsequent story naming Mike O’Brien with no mention of Gesell is still up for viewing. Call me a conspiracy freak, but I think the city is trying to pretend they never had anything to do with Gesell, and certain local media outlets are playing along. You can read more at calcoastnews.com

We need to tell our public employees to pay their own pensions – NO MORE FREE RIDERS

26 May

Did you know, the California State Teachers Retirement System has come up short some $74 billion? That’s B-B-B-BILLION!

I wondered when we’d hit the B-word.

CalSTRS is the CalPERS for teachers. $74 billion. Just for teachers. 

That is the “unfunded pension liability” we been hearing about. I remember when Brian Nakamura started feeding us that word, like a little bit of cod  liver oil. We should thank him, really, except, I don’t think  most of us were paying attention.

This unfunded pension liability, which I will from here on refer to as “The Big Li”, is the amount of money our public workers have been  contractually guaranteed in retirement, that hasn’t been paid for yet. As Dan Walters explains, CalPERS (and CalSTRS), by way of legislators who also receive pensions, sold the California taxpayers a big wad of hooey.  

“The more egregious error was the cowardly failure of politicians to pay for the benefits they were so eager to provide, pretending that high-flying investment earnings would cover them with no cost to taxpayers. The classic example was Senate Bill 400, the 1999 measure that sharply expanded pensions for state workers – retroactively. Then-Gov. Gray Davis and legislators found political cover in assurances, later proven false, from CalPERS that the new benefits would cost taxpayers nothing. That scenario was repeated hundreds of times in cities and other local governments as unions pressed their governing boards to match the state. But CalPERS’ assurances collapsed when its investments were hammered in the recession and it raised mandatory contributions to cover its losses.”

Months ago Walters told us about the CalSTRS mess, and predicted it would hit the schools hard.

“Ignoring pensions’ long-term costs has consequences, as illustrated by what it’s taking to close a $74 billion shortfall in the State Teachers Retirement System. Governors and legislators dithered for years as the gap widened by millions of dollars a day. Finally, however, Assembly Bill 1469 was enacted this year, boosting contributions into STRS by school districts, teachers and the state to close the gap over 32 years. However, because of the long delay in confronting the issue, and the decades-long closure plan, covering a $74 billion gap will actually cost $237.7 billion, according to a table drawn up by STRS. And school districts will pay over 70 percent of it as their pension costs ratchet up from 8.25 percent of payroll to 19.1 percent. By design, the payments will phase in slowly, thus softening the political impact. School districts will see only a tiny increase this year but by the end of the decade, the STRS chart shows, they will be paying nearly $4 billion a year extra into the trust fund, and the bite will eventually climb to as much as $9.4 billion a year. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators have overhauled school finance to sharply expand per-pupil spending, particularly on poor and ‘English-learner’ students.”

Teachers only pay 8 percent of their own pensions,  so that burden is going to fall heavily on the “school districts” – meaning, local taxpayers.  I’ve read nothing about this in Chico Unified agendas, or seen anything in the local  papers, but here’s a recent article from the LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-schools-pensions-20140521-story.html 

The article details the progression by which school districts will pay more, at the expense of students. 

“To make matters worse, officials said, the highest contribution rate takes effect after the expiration of a temporary tax increase that is now boosting school revenues.

The school districts will just be the first entities to go. This will play  itself out in city chambers and county meeting halls all over the United States. This pension scam has been going around like the infamous Pyramid Scam for a few decades now. 

I haven’t sat in on a discussion about the city of Chico’s Big Li since Nakamura left, so I wrote a note to city finance staffer Frank Fields, asking for a current figure. The figures I received:

  • $51.8 million for miscellaneous employees
  • $47.8 million for sworn police and fire

About $99 million total – Nakamura gave a figure around $98 million. 

That is the money we owe to people like ex-city manager Tom Lando, who takes a pension of about $149,000/year, but we haven’t paid it into CalPERS. CalPERS allowed public entities to go along for years without paying, as explained above, and now they are demanding we up our ante. When I started looking into this issue the total payment for the city, including city and employee contributions, was less than 20 percent of the total cost of the pension, and now it’s over 30. Employees who were paying NOTHING to 9 percent, are now paying 9 to 12 percent, but management and public safety workers have been given generous salary increases to cover their payments – how stupid is that? We – the employer – are paying a bigger percentage of the pensions, as well as  bigger salaries. We pay one way or the other, while management and public safety, particularly,  are lining their pockets. 

They will ask  us for tax increases. We have to be firm but polite, cause they have the guns, but we have to tell them to buck up and stop being leeches and pay their own fare.

NO MORE FREE RIDERS.

 

People in county still complaining about Board of Supervisor’s trash franchise deal – don’t be left out of the discussion about Chico’s deal

25 May

In today’s Enterprise Record a letter writer complains about the new garbage franchise deal rolled out by Butte County last month.

Butte County residents were told this new contract between waste providers and the Butte County Board of Supervisors would be beneficial both environmentally and in road wear and tear. We were also assured prices and services would stay consistent, despite our choice as consumers being stripped.

Not surprisingly, our lack of choice has created the ideal situation for Waste Management to do what they please.

The issues began with our first bill — environmental and administrative fees were tacked on. At first they tried to placate individuals but with more and more complaints, they finally started crediting everyone’s accounts. Waste Management also wanted the right to use my long driveway, despite the fact that they wouldn’t be picking up my trash while they were up there. What?

The most current issue is Waste Management has decided to discontinue recycling services to the rural areas of their district, namely Cohasset. As the landfill isn’t getting any smaller, it’s hard to believe this idea is favorable for anyone. My bill was to cover trash and recycling.

I was incredibly happy with my choice in years of service from a local company, and am now incredibly dissatisfied with my forced use of a substandard corporation. At what point will the Board of Supervisors begin making decisions that are in the best interest of Butte County residents?

— Rebecca Finn, Cohasset

This echoes complaints I read about in the Forest Ranch newspaper, as confirmed by County Administrative Officer Paul Hahn at the Local Government Committee meeting earlier this month. Hahn  said they had “phones ringing off the hook” with complaints for over a week.

Hahn and other staff members also confirmed that most of their problems were with Waste Management. Hahn advised Chico City Manager Mark Orme that WM does not even have a call center in California. How could they possibly deal with complaints about billing and service, or lack thereof, from out of state? Hahn said even he was given the runaround when he tried to call WM on the phone.

Orme keeps answering questions about Chico’s deal with “it’s still in negotiation,” even though he has also said he expects to have the deal in place by July. When I pressed him about whether Chicoans would have mandatory service, he would only say “that’s the way they do it in many other municipalities…”  He also made it very clear this deal is to get revenues for the city of Chico, they’ve completely dropped that bullshit about wanting to do any “right thing.” Mark Orme will tell you, the right thing for rate payers to do is shut up and continue to pay for these onerous pensions.

The county staffers also said they had a lot of problems with private easements. A private easement is a road that is on one or more people’s private property, used by folks who live along it by agreement with the owner. There is oftentimes a written agreement in the deeds to the connected properties that the easement is used for “ingress and egress” of the appointed residents, and also any utility companies that have property like phone or electric poles installed on the easement.

Trash trucks are usually not included in easement agreements. Trash trucks, according to Ask.com, weigh about 64,000 pounds, or “32 short tons”. Compare that to your average family SUV, weighing in at about 4300 pounds, or just over two tons. Trash trucks, especially when driven at high speeds, literally trash roads, even paved roads. That was part of the conversation regarding the Chico trash deal – former City Mangler Brian Nakamura said the city would get all this extra money out of the haulers to fix our streets. Ex city staffer Fritz McKinley confirmed at a meeting shortly before he was canned that trash trucks were responsible for a lot of the damage to our roads. But, for years the city has allowed the haulers to use bigger and bigger trash trucks without charging them a big enough franchise fee to cover the damage. You see and feel the results all over town.

The problem with private easements is that neither the hauler nor the city (nor the county) will take responsibility for the damage, the property owner is left to deal with the enormous gouges and sinkholes left by these behemoths as they speed in, beep-beep-beep their U-turn, then roar back out onto the public street, leaving a big old crevice where the dirt/gravel private driveway meets the crumbling asphalt of the public right-of-way.

This is the same with city owned alleys. 

County staffer Bill Mannel told the assemblage at  the Local Gov Comm that the county is not allowed to use any road funds to repair private property, so they couldn’t force these people to allow the trucks onto their private driveway. This may mean that others along that private drive can’t get front door service, are forced to take their trash out onto the public right-of-way, leaving it all night because we never know what time the haulers will show up the next day.

This is a problem all over Chico, but Orme seemed completely oblivious when I brought it up. He doesn’t care, all he cares about is getting money to pay the salaries and CalPERS payments. We have at least a $64,000,000 pension deficit, and CalPERS wants that money.

Pay attention to this conversation – don’t be like the dummies in Forest Ranch, who all showed up to bitch and moan after the deal was already done. Write to Orme, express your concerns NOW.

That’s mark.orme@Chicoca.gov

California’s “water crisis” an “opportunity” for publicly traded companies

24 May

My friend from Marysville sent me this article that made me so mad – I hate being right all the time. Yes, it’s true, according to investment site smallcappower.com – California’s “water crisis” has become “an opportunity for these publicly traded companies.

http://www.smallcappower.com/posts/california-s-water-crisis-22-05-2015

“California Water Service Group(NYSE:CWT), meanwhile, has seen its revenue rise 2% between 2013 and 2014 to US$597.5 million, while reducing total operating costs from US$491.05 million to US$488.93 million.”

Of course there’s a hearing this Wednesday (city chambers) about the new fines that will be imposed for those of us who use “too much” water –  this scheme rewards PIGS by basing your “allowance” on your past usage. If I do attend, it will be to see if any of our elected city or county representatives show up. I was able to get our county supervisors to write a couple of protest letters about last year’s rate increase, and that might have affected the outcome (increase reduced from proposed 38 percent to 20 percent). I would like to see our local electees work a little harder to protect our interests, but instead I see them increasing our garbage rates to get money for salaries and benefits. Not a good sign.

I would like to ask the Cal Water representatives where the fines will go – a court just ruled that utility companies can’t profit by charging more than it actually takes to provide their service, so where should these fines go?  They can’t go into the company’s profits, or be paid to their shareholders – shouldn’t this money stay right here in Chico, to be used for rebates and  other incentives to save? 

In some cities, water customers are offered financial help to re-landscape their yards, buy rain water storage tanks, etc. The city of Santa Cruz recently offered very nice rain barrels at a $100 discount:

http://www.rainbarrelprogram.org/santa-cruz

Here in Chico, Cal Water will give you a “water conservation kit” which includes an adjustable hose nozzle, two low-flow shower heads, three faucet aerators, and some toilet leak indicator tablets. I priced the contents on Amazon.com and it looks like maybe a $50 value. You are allowed one kit per service address every three years.  

We picked up the kit for one of our rentals we were turning over – I was not impressed. The stuff was pretty rinky-dink chintzy – plastic parts, not long for this world. We already had all the items except the toilet leak indicator tablets, all better quality old stuff we’ve had for years, with real metal and rubber parts, made to last a long time. I predict these kits will not last the three years you are required to wait for a new one! 

I realize, you know too – Cal Water is not sincere about wanting us to save water – why would they be? They’re a FOR PROFIT operation, profiting off our most basic of needs. They want us to use plenty of water, and they will stick us whatever we do. 

When will you find your hind legs Chico?