Archive | June, 2015

How far will people be pushed in this drought?

29 Jun

ER letter writer Daniel Courtice of Chico complained recently that even though his household had used less than their budgeted water amount, they got no “credit” in their “water bank.” He reports, “We put buckets in our shower, tubs in our sink, flush our toilets much less, take navy showers and our lawn is half dead” but received no kudos in their subsequent bill.

“I contacted Cal Water to discuss this discrepancy and was told that during the first month no one was getting credits for the water bank.” 

He asks “We all need to do our part in this drought crisis but how is this right that Cal Water is not living up to the agreement that was promised at the community water meeting?”

I had seen in my notice, they wouldn’t be giving that credit up until the July bill. My husband called it – use all you can until the end of May, or they’ll cut you off that much more next year. He was right.

I wonder if Courtice knows about WRAM – the “water rate adjustment mechanism” by which water companies manipulate the price of water each month to cover costs. If we use too little water, they are allowed to charge more to cover their salaries, pensions and benefits – “fixed costs”.  They explained exactly how much they needed to fund their salaries and pensions – hundreds of thousands of dollars a year –  in the first notice  I received, I think, three years ago?

  I can’t fault Courtice, Cal Water sends so many of these GD notices, who in their right mind is able to keep up with all the twists and turns. 

I am on pins and needles waiting for my next water bill. It better be good, is all I’m saying. We already led a pretty water wise existence, but we’ve cut back further. For one thing, we filled our Intex pool every June, and now that’s gone. We’ll see if that even makes a blip on the radar. 

It’s always frustrating to see how far people will be pushed before they get mad about something that’s not right. Cal Water posted big profits this year.

According to Yahoo Finance in the April 29, 2015 article, “California Water Service Group Holding (CWT) on Wednesday reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.”

Furthermore, “The San Jose, California-based company said it had profit of 3 cents per share.  The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of three analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 2 cents per share.”

How can they post a profit and still collect a WRAM charge every month? How can we let a for-profit corporation control our water?


Koyaanisqatsi – life is out of balance around here

24 Jun

I get a report from Word Press about how people get to my site – what search terms they use.  Lately there has been a lot of curiosity about various members of city council and  staff.

Of course Sean Morgan and his wife have been a subject of interest, since Morgan complained that his wife got a parking ticket Downtown recently. He admitted she’d violated her parking meter, and that her front license plate was missing, but he complained that the parking enforcement “specialist” hired by Downtown merchants are being overzealous. 

My husband wonders how Morgan could be so stupid as to make such a complaint publicly. I told him, you just have to come to a meeting, this behavior would not surprise you if you’d been watching the guy. He’s a total idiot. He thinks being elected to public office gives a person some sort of deference, a special privilege above and  beyond the rights of the common and ordinary Joe and Jane Citizen. He’s very demanding, like a spoiled  child. 

At least Morgan is stupid enough to let himself out of the bag – you know they all feel that way. Something about the recycled air in the city chamber just gets to their brains, something about those fancy chairs gives them a pair of brass cojones. At a time when the people need to lead, we sit in the peanut gallery, throwing tomatoes at these clowns.  Koyaanisqatsi.

Then there’s Chris Constantin, spelled various ways. Whenever I get a lot of searches for a person like that, it seems they are looking for a new job, but that’s just my past experience. To think what that guy has accomplished since he got here – cutting staff down to a skeleton crew, rearranging our finances to accommodate unprecedented salaries for himself and his cronies, making the 9 percent employee share of pension cost look like some kind of taxpayer victory, and taking a $43 million budget to $109 million over the course of a year, at the same time telling us around every corner we’re in a precarious financial condition.

Where did he get another $50 million for this new budget? Koyaanisqatsi.

Another common search is “plastic bag ban,” “single use bag ban”, etc. I know that’s not just Bob, people are pissed off one way or the other on that issue – we’ll see who’s got enough piss and vinegar to tip the boat one way or the other. I won’t say I’ve gotten over it, but I don’t have much energy to put into it – like Bob, I am pretty sure the ban will hold up. The overwhelming propaganda – the island the size of Texas made up of shopping bags, blah, blah – added to the average Californian’s poor education and lack of motivation,  will hammer the last nail in that coffin. 

But who knows – 35 years ago environmentalists were likening the use of tree pulp in making shopping bags to The Holocaust, now you see them flowing out of the grocery stores just like the old days, and it’s okay because they cost 10 cents a piece. Koyaanisqatsi. 

CARD finally found a solution to Obamacare – outsource labor costs to a consultant (long time public contractor Greg Melton) who can keep his staff small enough that he does not fall under the Obamacare laws. Over a year ago, the CARD board voted to cut part time workers’ hours to 28 hours or less to avoid having to pay healthcare under Obama’s new 30 hours is full time ruling. Meanwhile, some 30-odd full time employees enjoy full benefits and pension, for which they pay nothing out of their own salaries. Koyaanisqatsi. 







CARD chooses new general manager (Ann Willman), cuts her salary to $100,000/year – really?

20 Jun
This article from the Enterprise Record says new CARD General Manager Ann Willmann’s salary will only be $100,000/year, but also says Hayne’s salary was only $105,000. Why is the state controllers office reporting a salary of $124,000/year, plus benefits?

Sorry, I haven’t been going to these meetings, this report is from a month ago. I’m still waiting for CARD to get back to me with some questions I’ve had about the Aquatic Center Advisory Committee, I’ll try to get to the July board meeting.

CARD picks new manager, approves bocce ball

Chico >> A new general manager, a restructuring on hold, and a tentative go-ahead on bocce ball at the Dorothy Johnson Center all made it through the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board’s approval in less than an hour.

During the Thursday night meeting, the board came out of closed session to announce that Ann Willmann of Chico had been hired as CARD’s new general manager. Willmann previously worked at CARD, but left in 2013 to become the general manger at Feather River Recreation and Park District in Oroville.

Willmann joined CARD in 2006 as a recreation supervisor, then left to take on the FRRPD top position. She will start with CARD on July 6 at an annual salary of $100,000, plus benefits. Board members, some of whom had worked with Willmann previously, congratulated her and welcomed her back.

“Welcome,” said interim General Manager Steve Visconti, who spent 15 years as GM before his retirement and worked closely with Willmann.

“It’s like coming home,” she told the board.

Visconti will return to his retirement, which he started in July, then interrupted to serve as GM after previous General Manager Jerry Haynes resigned in February, citing differences with the board. Haynes was hired at $105,000 annually.

With the permanent general manager coming on in a little over a month, the board tabled the idea of restructuring until Willmann was on board. The board seemed to support Visconti’s suggestion of doing away with a vacant position of superintendent of parks and facilities to create a new manager over both the parks and recreation programs. Willmann said she was good with the idea of an assistant general manager or the new position, but wanted to examine the structure a little more.

The board unanimously approved the concept of a professional service agreement with Melton Design Group, and directed Visconti and board attorney Jeff Carter to draw up the agreement. CARD would tap Melton Design Group when additional services were needed by the special district. Visconti noted that Melton was already working on the proposed rose garden and had helped with the proposed aquatic center.

Bocce ball supporter Debra Cannon got tentative approval for her citizens group to look into putting two bocce ball courts at the Dorothy F. Johnson Center on East 16th Street, which CARD owns. However, the board directed that the Chapman neighborhood be asked for input on the courts through a public meeting or hearing before giving final approval. Representing a group of citizens supporting bocce ball, Cannon said the group was good with using the Johnson center lawn, and asked for approval of a shade structure over the courts, with lighting for the courts that would not disturb the neighbors.

While CARD offered the location, the bocce group will have to raise money to put in and maintain the courts. They estimated construction at about $100,000.

The game is similar to bowling on a sand court.

Contact reporter Laura Urseny at 896-7756.

Orme should have to hire his own assistant and pay for it out of his own salary

18 Jun

Mark Orme says he has been working without an administrative assistant and wants to hire one. 

He can’t seem to afford a babysitter either – in all the years I’ve been attending these meetings and all the single mothers I know who work for the city, Orme is the first employee I’ve seen bring his kid to work. The wife was out of town with the other kid, he said, so he had to leave work to pick up kid Number 2 at school before he could make a Local Gov Committee meeting. The boy was perfectly well behaved, but needed his dad’s attention now and then – wouldn’t you? I think it’s inappropriate for a guy who makes that kind of money to bring a little distraction to work with him, but that’s my point of view. 

Here’s my other point of view – this guy is part of the team that fired all the lower level employees – you know, the workers? – to give himself and several other suits big, BIG raises.  He’s making almost $200,000/year in salary alone, I think he should have to be his own secretary. I mean, come on, you’d expect a guy that makes that kind of money to come with a couple of clones.  For what we pay that guy, we should really get at least 2 and a half people. The least he can do, is take his own notes, answer his own phones, pick up his own lunch.

Or, he can hire somebody out of his own salary, and pay that person himself. 


Will California voters overturn the bag ban? Maybe this issue will piss people off enough to raise voter participation in 2016

15 Jun

From Ballotpedia:

The California Plastic Bag Ban Referendum is on the November 8, 2016 ballot in California as a veto referendum. If the measure approved by the state’s voters, it would:[1][2]

  • Ratify SB 270 (2014).
  • Prohibit large grocery stores and pharmacies from providing plastic single-use carryout bags on July 1, 2015, and small grocery stores, convenience and liquor stores on July 1, 2016.
  • Allows single-use plastic bags for meat, bread, produce, bulk food and perishable items.
  • Mandate stores to charge $0.10 for recycled, compostable, and reusable grocery bags.
  • Exempt consumers using a payment card or voucher issued by the California Special Supplemental Food Program, a public assistance program, from being charged for bags.
  • Provide $2 million to state plastic bag manufacturers for the purpose of helping them retain jobs and transition to making thicker, multi-use, recycled plastic bags.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance is leading the campaign to repeal SB 270.[3]

This measure is a veto referendum; this means that a “yes” vote would be a vote to uphold or ratify the contested legislation – Senate Bill 270 – that was enacted by the California State Legislature, while a “no” vote is a vote to overturn Senate Bill 270.

Read more here:

Good idea – Secretary of State wants to give all voters mail-in ballots

13 Jun

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has proposed an idea that I’ve been thinking of for a long time – let’s  send all voters a ballot that they can either mail in or drop off at their polling place on or before Election Day. Let’s have fewer polling places, but keep them open for a week or so before Election Day, so people have plenty of opportunity to turn them in if they tarried over the mail box. 

They’ve  tried this idea in Colorado, and early reports indicate they’ve raised voter participation while cutting election costs.

Our last election turn out was so bad – a record low 31 percent across the state – that it lowered the threshold by which measures can qualify for the ballot in 2016 – the signatures required to put a measure on the ballot are based on the turnout in the previous election. So, get ready for a lot of reading in 2016, many of them tax proposals. 

In the Los Angeles Daily News,

Daniel Borenstein says, “Our voting system in California, like most in the nation, is predicated on an antiquated notion.  It assumes that on Election Day we walk to the neighborhood polling place — perhaps a school, a fire station, a church or nearby garage — wait in line to sign a register, step into a little canvas and wood-framed booth, and then mark our ballots.”

Those days are gone, he says, and I agree. Chico is not a small town anymore. How many of your neighbors do you know?  I’ve often wanted to take a straw poll at a public place – “Name your city councilors…name two of your city councilors…did you know Chico has a city council?”

Still, a vocal minority has always resisted mail in ballots. Some people complain they don’t get returned. Well, more of them got returned in the last election than got used at polling stations – in all of Butte County, only 15 percent of registered voters walked into a polling place to case a vote, the rest were returned by mail. 

Butte County actually had a good turnout – 54 percent, compared to 39 percent state wide. I believe County Clerk Candace  Grubbs said participation was up from last year.

Enterprise Record editor David Little has in past complained that people in Butte County request mail-ins but don’t return them by mail – who cares how they get back in, as long as they are returned on or before Election Day. He’s complained that mail-ins delay the vote count – how? They are received before or on Election Day, or tossed. How would that hold up the count  any more than the boxes received from the polling stations?

One thing I like about Padilla’s idea is having polling stations open for a week or more, staffed with people who can answer questions about these measures. I would also like to see a very aggressive ad campaign that would start as the ballots are mailed out. I’d like to see the clerk mount a few billboards at election time, besides her own campaign ads. 

I think there’s people who would like to keep turn out low. I know when we tried to change the local election to June, there were some ugly loudmouths who made it clear they wanted to do that to keep college students out of the elections. That was sad, because there were many of us who believed separating the local elections from state and federal elections would help voters focus more closely on our issues.

I think there are plenty of people who would rather keep elections quiet, keep people uninformed, so a highly self-interested minority can run our town. I also believe there are a lot of people who live outside of Chico but register at addresses within the city limits. I know the liberals outed the owner of Payless Lumber when he registered to vote at his business, but I wonder what a quick survey of the voting rolls would turn up? I can’t help but wonder if the county clerk would notice people registered at 400 West First Street, or 411 Main Street? 

Who is really in charge Downtown?

9 Jun

I had e-mailed my question about the Nature Center loan (essentially, why was it pulled from last Tuesday’s agenda) to city obfuscators Mark Orme, Chris Constantin and fiscal bulldog Mark Sorensen. I got a response from Constantin. 

Hello Juanita,

 The City believes that there is an opportunity to renegotiation [sic] the loan and lease agreements with the Nature Center to avoid needing to write-off the loan.  The promising development is the reason why the item was pulled, and the City decided not to entertain a write-off of the loan at that meeting.

 Chris Constantin, MPA, CIA, CFE, CICA, CLEA

Assistant City Manager

Excuse me, this is always my immediate mental response to an e-mail from Chris Constantin – “What? Can you just tell us what the hell is going on?!”  

That’s why I call them names here, like “mangler” and “obfuscator”, because they won’t just talk about this stuff straight with the taxpayers, they try to wiggle out of a direct answer. Brian Nakamura was one of the best I’ve ever seen – he would contort his way through half sentences, acting as though he was under some brutal torture, and never finish what he was saying.  And nobody in the room was rude enough to say, “spit it out Brian, what the hell are you saying?”  I know my place – I get asked to shut up when I am too curious with these people, I really have to hold back. If you ask more than one question at these meetings, even on separate topics, they treat you as though you are trying to be difficult.

I notice the Enterprise Record editorial this week is getting at the same point – they are being too coy these days Downtown. Dave Little is blaming it on staff, as if the council is getting the same treatment as the rest of us. 

Ex city manager Dave Burkland and finance director Jennifer Hennessey acted the same way. At first the press said nothing, the council said nothing, but when the financial shit finally hit the fan, they were throwing their pointy fingers  around  so fast they almost got them caught in the fan blades. 

So now we have another little melodrama – according to the ER,  staff has now gone insubordinate on Sorensen and the conservative majority. Little accuses them of hiring without council oversight – including the promotion of Constantin to Assistant City Manager. Hey, you know, judging from Mark Sorensen’s reaction to the pulling of the Nature Center loan discussion from last Tuesday’s agenda, that action was a complete surprise to him. Was it? Is staff just wheeling their own deals these days? 

And Little accuses our lawyer consultant of putting up the back of his hand to protests from citizens. Well, as a person who’s seen the back of Little’s hand, I’ll say, nya nya nya. But he’s right, at least our former legal team answered our questions, even mine. Sorensen hired this new team – or did he? 

Rules change for public entities finance reports – how will unpaid Nature Center loan and pension liability affect Chico’s credit rating?

7 Jun

The Chico Creek Nature Center has still not made payments on the $180,000 (plus) loan they got from the city in 2009. They were forgiven the accumulated interest and penalties last year, but still would not pay the loan. When I sat in on the meetings for this item a year ago, I tried to ask questions about their books, trying to make a point that they weren’t running their lucrative daycare operation above boards, and Mayor Sorensen angrily told me, “that’s enough Juanita!” 

When I finally got ahold of their “finance report”, I found it to be some kind of high school style report – no actual figures! And, gee – they spend exactly what they take in, right down to the last zero, isn’t that convenient? But they just don’t seem to  take in enough to pay their bills. 

In this town? A daycare operation that’s not making enough money to pay it’s rent? In the private sector that would mean the end of business, but in the Chico public sector anything is possible. 

Now the center simply wants the loan forgiven, and for the city to fully fund their sketchy operation. 

This was up on Tuesday’s agenda, I couldn’t make the meeting, and now I find that item was just dropped from the agenda, no explanation. I sent a note to the city manglers and I’ll see if they reply.

In the meantime let me tell you what I suspect. Over the last three years the board membership of Chico Creek Nature Center has changed radically. Formerly run by John Merz, Dave Guzzetti and Susan Mason, the center has now been taken over by friends of Bob Linscheid, employees of Chico State and various “economic development” corps. Is that why Mark Sorensen and his minions on council are so ready to now forgive over $200,000 in loan, interest and penalties? A loan that has been hanging on the books like a big booger since July of 2009? 

Below is the excerpt from the Enterprise Record story of last week:

ER 5/31/15

The council will also be considering several options related to a loan to the Chico Creek Nature Center that is currently in default. Options include forgiving the loan with or without conditions, deferring the loan obligation until July 2016, or taking no action and proceeding with remedies in the loan agreement.

The nature center owes the city a principal balance of $181,026.95. In May 2014, the council amended the loan agreement to reset accumulated interest and penalties from July 2009 to April 2015 to zero, to adjust the interest rate from 1.8 percent to 3.42 percent annually from July 15, 2014 forward, and establish interest-only payments beginning with a payment due July 15, 2014.

However, the nature center did not agree with the terms and has not signed the agreement, which caused the loan to fall into default.

If the loan obligation is forgiven, the general fund would be required to reimburse one of the neighborhood parks funds for the current principal balance plus accumulated interest, at a cost of $205,539.71.

The staff report notes that based on the loan’s history and actions in recent years, nature center likely will never be able to repay the loan.

The nature center has requested the city either assume the loan, provide funding to the nature center for visitor services and subsidizing programs for local families, include the nature center in discussions on transient occupancy tax decisions, or become a significant funder of the center. An alternative is for the city to fund the Bidwell Park visitor information services and the center will then begin paying off the loan.


When I asked back in April I got this explanation  from Chris Constantin. The city has been bending over backwards for the CCNC board for over a year now. Something stinks.

 RE: CNCC loan activity

To: juanita sumner Cc: Mark Sorensen, Mark Orme, Frank Fields
Hello Juanita,

The City is undertaking a review of leases for city-owned facilities.  As you can imagine, there are quite a few with differing terms and conditions.  We will be looking to draft a comprehensive policy to guide decisions we make with City-owned property as well as leases.

As for the CCNC, the City Council in the lead up to the 2014-15 fiscal year, reset their loan to the original principal amount and changed the payment terms.

For the last several years, the CCNC would request a waiver for paying during the year, and the result would be the City would receive no payments and the loan would accumulate additional interest.  Obviously the CCNC could not pay the principal and interest of the original loan, so even if we reset the loan, there was not a guarantee that we wouldn’t be in the same situation.

To make it easier for the CCNC and to provide some payment to the City, with the change to reset the loan amount back to the original amount in 2014, the City requested an interest only amount to be paid quarterly to at least turn a non-performing loan into some revenue.  At the time of the discussion around this topic, a CCNC representative came to finance committee and the Council meetings and while there stated that the CCNC did not want to default on its obligations.

In 2014, the City Manager proposed writing off the loan completely given that this was funding that went into improving our building, but after the CCNC rep’s statements that the CCNC did not want to default on their obligations, the new option discussed above was approved.

While the CCNC did not disagree with the new option, the chose to not sign the agreement implementing the new option.  As a result, the old, original loan is still in effect.  As of today, they are in default of their original loan, and the City, as part of their lease review will deal with non-performing agreements such as this.  I’m hoping to have something out in May regarding the CCNC.

The real problem is that this unpaid loan looks very bad for Chico’s credit rating. Well, if this looks bad for Chico’s credit rating, what do they think that $94 million pension liability is doing to our credit rating? 

According to Pensions and Investments Marc Lieberman and Mark Lasee, “For many public sector retirement plan sponsors, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s new pension reporting rules couldn’t have come at a worse time. The changes, effective June 15 and encapsulated in GASB Statements 67 and 68, mandate that governmental balance sheets reflect unfunded pension liabilities. This has been met with grave concern by plan sponsors.”