Archive | May, 2015

CARD Aquatic Facility Advisory Committee discusses feasibility study – consultant to “re-interpret” old survey, run public workshops

14 May

Chico Area Recreation District is moving forward with plans to build an “aquatic center”, looking for a consulting firm to conduct the required feasibility study. Their Aquatic Facility Advisory Committee (AFAC) is currently working on the “Request for Proposal”, first step in the bidding process . The proposals should include plans for “a public process, market analysis, facility programming, a business plan, as well as exploring funding mechanisms and potential partnerships. Services may also include a site analysis, schematic design alternatives and associated construction estimates.”

Reading over the “Anticipated Scope of Work,” I get frustrated. Most of this stuff study could be conducted by CARD staff, especially “Research and document existing aquatic facilities in the region …” A college intern could get that information through the use of a computer and telephone. Why they need to spend $30,000 on what amounts to a basic English class research assignment is beyond me. In fact, CARD staffer Rob Hinderer told the committee that all the demographics information required in the study is available online.

 Looking at other feasibility studies online – including an article that used a couple buying a home as an example – you see it’s just a common sense matter of deciding if the project is a good idea. But consultants are also hired to sell the project – it’s the way they present it, they way they lead the conversation, they don’t ask us if we want it, they tell us why we want it. 

 (From Wikipedia “feasibility study”) Market research study and analysis. This is one of the most important sections of the feasibility study as it examines the marketability of the product or services and convinces readers that there is a potential market for the product or services.[citation needed] If a significant market for the product or services cannot be established, then there is no project.

 Here’s a swimming pool feasibility study from Otto Township Pennsylvania, 2009. Look at the survey – the answers to the questions were provided

I looked at Otto Township, Pennsylvania, on Google. It’s a  small town, for sure, but it looks like less than 1 percent of the town population participated in the study. That’s not a study, that’s called “giving tacit consent.” All the consultant had to do was run the workshops, prove they were adequately noticed to the public, and provide some numbers for attendance. I don’t know if Otto Township got their project, but this is basically how CARD will go about running their aquatic center up our ass.

Here’s something interesting – they are asking potential consultants to “re-interpret” the old mail-in survey done by another consultant two years ago instead of conducting a new survey. Apparently they didn’t like their previous consultant’s findings that “there is no support for this project in the community.”   So, they will pay the new consultant to come up with findings they like out of the same survey. I posted that survey before, I’ll dig it out and do some interpreting of my own – the questions were very leading, including threats that our kids would fall into drugs if we didn’t build them a fancy new Taj Majal swim center. 

I would encourage people to attend the committee meetings, attend CARD board meetings, and write letters to the CARD board and the newspapers, but I would not encourage participation in the workshops unless you plan to be very vocal in your opposition to this project. Otherwise you are just a body in a chair, and they count you in favor.

One of the items listed on the request for proposals is to fix Shapiro Pool. I think they’re just including this option because they’ve had so much stink from the public since they announced Shapiro will be closed for good at the end of Summer 2015.  They originally said that Pleasant Valley pool would also be closed, but that was not mentioned at the meeting. CARD staff says it will cost SOMEWHERE between $275,000 and 1.65 million to fix Shapiro Pool. What’s with that range? There was no explanation. This is just more crap to get the public to approve a new tax of some sort.

What I’d like to know is, why is there no “pool fund” in CARD’s budget? If you’ve been to either pool, it’s obvious they haven’t spent money on maintenance for years. The money has been going into their salaries, benefits and pensions – for which they pay nothing – like water going down a gopher hole.

I’ll try to post the entire draft later  – I have a paper copy, I’ll figure out the best way to post it on the blog when I get a chance.

Lou Binninger: Governor Jerry “Shut Up” Brown’s statewide water reduction mandate is a boon for privately held water companies

13 May

I got my Cal Water notice Monday, I assume you all did too. I’ve been too mad and really, too busy, to write about it, but here’s an article from Lou Binninger. I don’t agree with Binninger that water is being “wasted” on fish. I think that’s misplaced, but he’s right about the pensions – that’s the real story in these rates hikes, and no other media source is covering it. Cal Water management do not pay anything toward their outrageous pensions. I’m not sure what the lower tier workers pay, if anything. Like public employees, these “quasi-public” workers get 70 percent of their highest year’s salary at age 55, and we pay for it. 

When the court recently ruled that utilities can’t charge more for their product than it actually costs to produce it, the state came up with “penalty charges” that seem completely unrealistic. That’s because Jerry Brown is insane – I’m no shrink, but he seems to have a notion of “grandiosity,” or what we lesser humans call a “superiority complex.” To the point that he has no regard for people he doesn’t know personally. The Moonbeam would probably approve a plan by which everybody making less than $50,000/year was made into Soylent Green and fed to those making less than $100,000/year. All presided over by public employees making $150,000 plus benefits.

We need to get rid of Brown, and then go about dismantling these hog agencies he set up, based on embezzlement through our utility bills. 

Cal Water Profits from State Water Mismanagement

By Lou Binninger

Beginning June 2015, Cal Water Service (CWS) is requiring Marysville customers to reduce their water consumption by 24% compared to their 2013 usage or face financial penalties. The recent CWS mailer attributes the reduction to  Governor Jerry “Shut Up” Brown’s statewide water reduction mandate. The CWS penalty / surcharge will be twice the per-unit-cost for the highest quantity tier, up to an additional $10 per CCF (1 CCF=748 gallons).

Water activist Connie Walczak says the problem is that most Marysville customers were already conserving in 2013 because water became unaffordable. Cutting back another 24% using 2013 as a baseline may be impossible to attain. It appears that Gov. Brown and Cal Water’s hatchet approach rewards bad water use behavior. Those already conserving in 2013 are allotted less water before a penalty than water wasters. The mailer explains the rules and how to file an appeal. Other restricted uses of water will bring a $100-a-day fine.

Cal Water Service (CWS) prides itself on serving Marysville for more than 80 years. Until recently, it was a wallflower monopoly with little presence in the community. They once provided a state-regulated product that was affordable. Rates went up slightly over the years, but in 2011 residents were stunned by a 53% increase. Bills spiked. Landscapes dried up. CWS justified the increase because the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) agreed. However, the CPUC, created to be a watchdog of monopolies for the consumers, is now under investigation for corrupt practices favoring egregious rates for big utilities. Commissioners have hired a law firm specializing in criminal defense.

In 2013, CWS applied to the CPUC for another 47% rate hike. If successful it would have been a 100% increase since 2010. That caught the attention of East Marysville resident Connie Walczak. Walczak filed the first rate complaint ever with the CPUC against CWS.

After rejecting Walczak’s complaint, the commissioners granted an over 10% increase along with additional fees and adjustments, a 63% bump in rates since 2011. Private water companies are a cash cow for investors and CWS is one of the most successful. CWS has paid dividends to stockholders 279 quarters in a row. CPUC granted them a $45 million increase in revenue in 2013. Net income in 2014 was $56.7 million.

In 2014, their top 5 executives received a total of nearly $7.5 million not including benefits. The CWS President / CEO collected $2.8 million.

CWS employees are generously rewarded with top salaries, ‘Cadillac’ health insurance policies, retirement plans, school tuition subsidies and many get company vehicles. CWS recently constructed new corporate digs in San Jose and a Marysville office. All improvements and benefits are incorporated into the rates. Like all utilities they are guaranteed a profit by the CPUC.

As water usage goes down Cal Water’s revenue and profits are insured by a WRAM charge (Water Revenue Adjustment Mechanism) that will increase. It is listed on your bill along with the service line cost, usage charge, CPUC fee and Public Purpose Programs. Under Brown’s state water doctrine consumers will pay more for less while millions of gallons of water each day are wasted on fish.

More information can be obtained from the mailer, calling Cal Water 530-742-6911 or attending a meeting Wednesday, May 27th, 5:30pm at 130 D St., Marysville.

CARD Aquatic Center Advisory Committee meeting to discuss bids from contractors – Monday, May 11, CARD center, 6:30 to 7:30 pm

8 May

I FINALLY got a notice from CARD staff that there will be an Aquatic Center Advisory Committee meeting, and gosh-golly-gee they will let me attend. Aw shucks – should I get a shave and a haircut? I feel like a debutante!

These meetings are open to the public, it’s just that, well, they don’t tell the public about them, when they are, who’s there, what they discuss. That is so legal, it’s sickening. So I’m telling you – CARD center, 545 Vallombrosa Ave, Monday May 11, from 6:30 to 7:30. They will be discussing the “Draft RFP”. I had to look this up online – ” The Draft RFP (DRFP) is not a formal solicitation tool, rather it is used to gather comments and suggestions from potential offerors.”

I’m going to guess – they’re taking bids? From design contractors? They’ve seen some design proposals, but those were informal. Now they want to take actual bids. It would be a very  good meeting to attend. They’ve put a time limit on it, so try to show up a few minutes before 6:30 so you don’t miss anything.

PG&E to remove 70 trees along Comanche Creek; Neal Road dump expanding

8 May

Wednesday afternoon I attended the Local Government Committee meeting.  I’ve told you about the garbage franchise discussion, but there was a lot of interesting stuff at that meeting.

About the hottest topic around town right now is PG&E removing 70 trees from the area between Estes Road and the Midway, along Comanche Creek. I only know what I heard – Chico City Manager Mark Orme reported he’d just met with PG&E at the site when he arrived at Wednesday’s meeting. This will be interesting to watch – the same people that just sat there while PG&E jacked our rates to cover their pensions are going to war over the removal of trees. It’s amazing to me what it takes to get people off their dead asses.

That conversation I overheard because Orme felt it necessary to update the various members of council as they arrived for the meeting, including Mayor Mark Sorensen.

Once the meeting was up and running, minutes had been approved, and we heard reports on the garbage franchises from county and city staff, we got a report on a dump expansion. The county will expand the dump at Neal Road to include an “aerobic” composting set-up. They’re negotiating on the property right now, I have no idea how much they are going to spend on this. Paul Hahn was very enthusiastic about revamping and modernizing the dump to collect electricity from methane gas and other wonders, but it all depends on rate increases for customers, that’s the bottom line. And it will depend heavily on Chico – the county is lobbying Chico to force haulers to take Chico trash to Neal Road, this is a huge point. The dump can’t make it without Chico’s trash. According to Mark Orme, everything about the city trash deal is “still in negotiation.” He’s like a cat watching a gopher hole.

What this new expansion will mean, as far as I can tell, is we will be able to dump our food scraps in with our yard waste.  The state is pushing us always to reduce the amount  that  goes into the actual dump. Up until now, the haulers have asked us not to put food scraps in our yard waste bins, for good reason. Food scraps, especially if they include MEAT scraps, don’t compost the same as yard waste, they draw flies and rats and other pests, etc. It has to be sorted, by somebody. It stinks. So, we’ve been asked to put our plate scrapings in the trash, and it’s added to the mountain that was once a canyon. 

Now Mannel says, they will ask customers to put their food scraps in the yard waste bin, and hire people to sort it out by hand.  Mark Sorensen seemed to have a problem with this – he was hung up on the “manual” aspect of this job. See, Mark doesn’t get his hands dirty. He might talk alot about “farm boys,” but he’s never been one. When this topic of sorting out food waste came up at a morning meeting last year, he wouldn’t even discuss it. He said, “those aren’t the kind of jobs we want…” He wouldn’t even hear the woman who came forward with the proposal.

At a time like this, we’ve got Mark Sorensen picking and choosing what kind of jobs we want around here? 

When I asked Mannel about having customers sort their food scraps into an extra bin – alot of people, like me, compost their own food scraps anyway. He indicated this was not an option – he said, “People treat all cans as garbage cans.”  Meaning, the customer cannot be trusted to do the right thing? I couldn’t argue with him, I’m not privvy to what other people put in their cans. I had a conversation years ago with a woman who ran the campus food recycling program – she said she didn’t take table scraps because they included stuff like meat and cigarettes, and she felt uncomfortable asking minimum wage college kitchen staffers to pick through people’s leavings. Mannel has no problem with dump employees sorting through a mish-mash of yard waste and food scraps as it streams by on a conveyor belt. I’m sure they’d be equipped with safety gear. As a housewife it’s no biggee to me, it’s every day life. Sorensen seemed genuinely disgusted with the idea. I see it as “green jobs.” 

So, we’ll keep an eye on the dump, it should be interesting.

The next item of interest was the new Behavioral Health Center, I’ll  pick that up when I get a chance.




Talking heads discuss garbage tax

7 May

Yesterday I attended the Local Governments Committee meeting Downtown. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole meeting but stayed long enough to satisfy my curiosity about some issues I’ve been trying to follow. 

In attendance were county supervisors Maureen Kirk and Larry Wahl, Chico council members Mayor Mark Sorensen, Mayor of Vice Sean Morgan and better-never-than-late Reanette Fillmer. There were staffers from the city and the county, including county administrator Paul Hahn and city manager Mark Orme.

These meetings are for staffers to provide updates to representatives of various county and city entities of ongoing issues like the nitrate compliance plan and the garbage franchise.  They are open to the public and the public should try to attend – a good overview of what’s going on, shorter and more to the point than council meetings.  I’m sorry, I mistakenly said they are held monthly – it’s every three months, which is a good schedule, not too often, not too seldom. They include minutes from previous meetings so you can stay up on the conversation.

Yesterday Hahn and Orme both gave reports on their respective garbage franchise efforts. At the county, Hahn made it clear that the main concern is getting enough trash to keep the dump operating, so the franchise includes a provision that trash must go to the Neal Road Landfill. This was a question because Recology owns and operates a dump in Wheatland where they are currently taking Chico’s trash. Trash  from the county now goes exclusively to Neal Road. 

Hahn went on enthusiastically about how they need that money to modernize the dump. I’ve seen improvements at the dump the last few years so I’m willing to believe him. I also appreciate his frankness – he complained, and other county staffers like Bill Mannel complained about Waste Management. They said  their phones “rang off the hook” for about two weeks with complaints about the new trash service, “mostly Waste Management.” Waste Management has no call center in  California – you WM customers knew that already – it’s in PHOENIX! If you’ve had that problem with WM for years, maybe it’s a comfort for you to know they treated your $200,000/year County Administrative Officer like shit too.

And frankly, for an overpaid pencil pusher, Hahn is a very nice and approachable man, that kind of pisses me off. 

The county had  all  kinds of problems with WM, but the one that got people really upset was the change  from weekly recycling and yard waste pick-up to bi-monthly pick-up. After all these years they’ve been telling us we need to recycle and sort our yard waste, they cut service? I can’t believe they thought that would be okay – this whole thing is a Repo-Man grab between the county, the haulers, and the customers, fighting over nickels and dimes because the county is so desperate to keep the salaries paid. That’s why the dump has no money, the are management heavy out there. 

Another problem was private roads. Garbage trucks shred even  paved roads, so a lot of people in Forest Ranch and other rural communities don’t want them on their private roads. The haulers won’t go on a private road anymore without a signed release, they don’t want to be responsible for what their oversized trucks do  to private roads. Bill Mannel says there’s a conundrum here – if the county forces the haulers onto private roads without the release of liability, they will be legally responsible for the roads. But, county money cannot be used to fix private roads. This is also a problem in Chico – I have two private driveways shared with neighbors who bring trucks right up to my gate. I asked Orme about this and he pretended ignorance – there’s private driveways all  over Chico, do people know their rights regarding the damage these trucks are doing to their private property? 

It was refreshing to hear these people talk straight about the problems the average person has every day.  And we have no clout, we have to depend on these happy wanderers to protect us.  Talk about “up Shit Creek without a paddle.”  At least the county is not making service mandatory, they just want whatever trash is picked up to go  to their dump. I don’t think that’s unreasonable – ever follow a garbage truck for 60 miles up Hwy 70? That’s unreasonable. 

Chico City Mangler Mark Orme made it clear that the city’s franchise agreement is about money for the city of Chico. When I asked him if service would  be mandatory for city residents, he wormed  around (I’m going to call that, “Orming”), saying this was still in negotiation with the haulers. But he added, many municipalities require trash service, and the way he said it leads me to believe that’s what he wants. When I asked him about a subsidy for low-income, he said that was in negotiation too.

I wish  I were a lawyer, but I do know, if they try to shove mandatory service on us, they have to have the low-income subsidy,  just like Obamacare. 

I don’t like Mark Orme. He’s out for his own gain, he doesn’t give a crap about this town. 

After the garbage franchise report they went on to discuss a few other interesting topics – I’ll get back to you on those, time to get to work. 

Local Government Committee – a good meeting for an overview of local government activities – today, 3:30, City Hall Conference Room 2

6 May

Today I will try to make a 3:30 meeting of the “Local Government Committee” – made up of representatives from the various local agencies, city council,  county board of supervisors, CARD, etc. Staff presents reports on issues like the solid waste franchise agreements and other activities of these taxing entities. I’ve realized, if you can’t attend every meeting, this is a good way to keep an eye on county and city business.

At the last meeting in February, for example, they talked about the lack of any kind of mental health facility – like I’ve said, the cops pick up these people around Chico, and have no place to take them but Enloe Hospital. As far as I know, Enloe does not receive compensation for these people.  Enloe constantly complains about uncompensated patients – well, there you have it. Chico PD won’t arrest these people because they don’t want to be responsible for the hospital bill, so they are free to wander out as they please. 

The county has been discussing a new location for a 24 hour facility since the old facility on Rio Lindo was shut down (don’t know when that was). The law says the building has to be in a residential area? Zoning? Not sure, but so far, neighbors have harpooned an attempt to place it on Pillsbury.  Now staff has a location at Cohasset and Rio Lindo “that meets the residential requirements and is in better location surrounded by various facilities and business that serve the public. The County is negotiating with Enloe Hospital for a parcel split. There will be an approximate 120-day escrow period prior to the County obtaining State licensing for the facility which is expected to accommodate 10 residents and have 24 hour staffing.”

So, they are buying land from Enloe? How much will they pay? I’ll have to ask, they will be giving another update today. 

Mark Orme will talk about the city waste hauler franchise – he says they will be ready with that in July. When I sat in on the consultant’s report, he said the deal would have to include mandatory service for all city residents to make it practical for the hauler, but when I asked Chris Constantin about a low-income subsidy he said he couldn’t answer yet. I’ll see if they have that answer today.

Here’s the link to today’s agenda, and a link for the minutes from the February meeting.

Manhattan Institute: California Crowd-out – How rising retirement benefits costs threaten municipal services

3 May

International Workers Day: take a minute to tell your overlords how you feel about their salaries

1 May

If you work for a living, today is your day – Happy May Day.

Traditionally a celebration of Spring and fertility, this day has come to be known as International Workers Day.

Today is a good day to note, most of the wealth in this country is owned by people who never turn a finger.  I’m not a socialist, but I do feel, a small proportion of the people in this country have used criminal means to confiscate public money for their own gain.

Did you know, according to statistics released by the Social Security Administration, 52 percent of all Americans make less than $30,000/year? And, among those who have a job, 40 percent make less than $20,000/ year. 

Who makes over $100,000 in Chico? Public employees. Most of the management at the city of Chico and the county of Butte make well over $150,000/year, some over $200,000 – PLUS BENEFITS.

Who sets their salaries and benefits? Well, they do.  In Chico, city manager Mark Orme negotiates all the contracts, including his own. Council goes with Orme’s recommendation on everything, that way they don’t have to think or be responsible. There’s a city clause that says we can’t hold councilors liable for anything they do. Anything.

It was a previous city manager who set us up for this – Tom Lando engineered that long-ago “Memo of Understanding” that attached city salaries to revenue increases “but not decreases…”  It was a “conservative” led council that signed it. That memo resulted in 14, 19, 22 percent raises for staff over the next couple of years, taking Lando’s salary from about $65,000 a year to over $150,000. Orme is making over $200,000, just in salary.

Dear departed Fred Davis had his finger in it too – ever wonder how that old bird got one of the biggest pensions this city has ever paid out?

Name Employer Warrant Amount Annual
ALEXANDER, THOMAS E CHICO $8,947.23 $107,366.76
BAPTISTE, ANTOINE G CHICO $10,409.65 $124,915.80
BEARDSLEY, DENNIS D CHICO $8,510.23 $102,122.76
BROWN, JOHN S CHICO $17,210.38 $206,524.56
CARRILLO, JOHN A CHICO $10,398.98 $124,787.76
DAVIS, FRED CHICO $12,467.78 $149,613.36
DUNLAP, PATRICIA CHICO $10,632.10 $127,585.20
FELL, JOHN G CHICO $9,209.35 $110,512.20
FRANK, DAVID R CHICO $14,830.05 $177,960.60
GARRISON, FRANK W CHICO $8,933.56 $107,202.72
JACK, JAMES F CHICO $9,095.09 $109,141.08
KOCH, ROBERT E CHICO $9,983.23 $119,798.76
LANDO, THOMAS J CHICO $11,236.48 $134,837.76
MCENESPY, BARBARA L CHICO $12,573.40 $150,880.80
PIERCE, CYNTHIA CHICO $9,390.30 $112,683.60
ROSS, EARNEST C CHICO $9,496.60 $113,959.20
SCHOLAR, GARY P CHICO $8,755.69 $105,068.28
SELLERS, CLIFFORD R CHICO $9,511.11 $114,133.32
VONDERHAAR, JOHN F CHICO $8,488.07 $101,856.84
VORIS, TIMOTHY M CHICO $8,433.90 $101,206.80
WEBER, MICHAEL C CHICO $11,321.93 $135,863.16

When they dumped that MOU, they started paying the “employee’s share” of benefits – the cops have only recently agreed to pay anything, for years they paid nothing toward their own pensions. Only in the last two years have they agreed to pay at all, and now only 12 percent. Come on – 12 percent toward pensions of 90 percent of $100,000+ salaries, starting at age 50?

Management and other employees pay only 9 percent, even Constantin and Orme, who make over $200,000 in salary. We pay the other 91 percent. Wow, that’s like  taking your boss to lunch! Every day! At Johnny’s! 

So, if you bend and sweat for a living, take orders, do stuff that is beneath your dignity just to put a roof over your head, take a minute to turn toward Downtown and extend your middle finger. I’ll be doing that at NOON, let’s try to coordinate, maybe we can levitate City Hall.