Archive | November, 2015

No Kidding – our city is headed for deep doo-doo

29 Nov

I sent the letter below last Saturday, I had to resend, although Dave Little excused himself – “just a lot of letters in the queue”  Sure, okay, at least he printed it before this item goes to council.

There’s another Finance Committee meeting scheduled this coming week. They will pick up the conversation they left in the “workshop” I’m speaking of below. This time they will talk about how developers have got off without paying sewer fees, and how the sewer fund has been in arrears for years. From the staff report, available here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/12-2-15FCAgendaPacket.pdf

“For over a year, City staff have highlighted the impact of reduced revenues received from development for sewer capacity fees. As a result, the City’s general sewer operating account has picked up the significant annual loan obligations required to pay the state for the capacity expansion made to the sewer treatment plant.”

Yeah, I’ve been following this conversation – what they don’t mention is, like the Private Development Fund, the Sewer Fund has been dipped into to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for people who have never even been in the neighborhood (where property owners complain they are being eaten by flies from the poorly managed plant, staff admitting they dump raw sewage in the Sac River during heavy rainstorms…)  They don’t mention the constant tug-o-war going on between the sewer operation and M&T Ranch – both suck water out of the river for operations, which has left City of Chico leach lines “on the rocks” on several occasions, leading to millions in repairs paid by taxpayers.

Our sewer plant is a disaster, but city of Chico keeps trying to hook more people up, cause they want those fees to pay – you got it – the Pension Liability.  Now they are holding a carrot out to Paradise? Wow, this is just getting surreal. 

So, I’m just glad Little finally decided to run my last letter, I already feel another one forming in the old Brain Pan.  I wish you folks would write too. Our biggest question being – all these years you been letting the developers off, you been charging private homeowners by frontage – meaning, the length of your property that meets the street. Developers pay a flat rate – why not homeowners? Here we been subsidizing development for years, and the fund is still RED.  

$taff has been embezzling. I realize, the developers have been getting a better deal than we have, but we all been taking a screwing from $taff. 

My letter, run this morning:

A consultant’s report given to the city Finance Committee says homeowners pay about 130 percent of the true cost of building permits while for-profit developers pay less than the cost of services they receive  from the city. But this is not the entire reason for a $9 million deficit in the private development fund. 

Consultant Chad Wolford explained, while we cut our workforce heavily, we failed to cut “overhead” – that is, the management positions that take most of our budget. 

Next door, the Internal Affairs committee tackled the subject of civility as I watched our mayor attack a local developer who came to the podium to question the allocation of a $6 million pension deficit on the private development fund. Mayor Mark Sorensen listed two other options – “keep moving in your direction…racking up a million dollars a year in debt…” he told Pete Giampoli.  Sorensen’s other option was to take the money out of the General Fund, already empty because of such transfers. 

The unspoken option is  cut management positions. One recently hired finance department employee, salary over $100,000, attended the meeting for no apparent reason.  He gave no report, sat in the audience, and left the building several times during the meeting. 

This is why we’re in trouble – we have too many redundant positions, getting over $100,000 in salary and paying little toward their benefits. Most of our management employees are longtime CalPERS participants who pay less than 10 percent of their pension premiums. 

Juanita Sumner, Chico

Cal Water being generous with ratepayers’ money

29 Nov

From today’s Enterprise Record:

Water provider brings blessings to families

On behalf of the families who are living and changing their lives at our Esplanade House Program, the Community Action Agency would like to express its appreciation to California Water Service for its generous donation of $3,000. Because of their commitment to community, our families get the opportunity to receive holiday food baskets.

Many of our families have been separated from their extended families during the holiday season. The joy brought by simply providing a holiday meal is immense. Our families are amazing as they work to overcome poverty, addiction and mental health issues while increasing their self- sufficiency and bonding with their children.

Thanks again to Cal Water for blessing our families over the holidays.

— Thomas Tenorio, Chico

Tom Tenorio is with Esplanade House. As much as I feel we need Esplanade House, I have not liked the management for a long time. I think they squander money on salaries that could get more families in, but that’s difficult to assess since they don’t post their salaries and they get very defensive when you ask.

I’ve seen Tenorio at meetings. At the Local Governments Committee meeting he made a little speech that didn’t say anything, just made the meeting longer, about what a great community we live in.

Does he have any idea what he’s talking about? Does he realize, that $3,000 came out of our bills? Does he pay his own water bill? Does he have any idea what the Esplanade House pays for water?  Does he think for 30 seconds what water rates are doing to families right now? The utility companies are impoverishing whole communities to pay pensions for people who make salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Having met Tenorio on various occasions, I’d say, he’s carrying a bowl of jello between his ears.  He’s another one of those snout-nosed trough dwellers who gets a salary for “caring” about the poor, but doesn’t have any concern for the people who pay for all this generosity until they end up on the street. 

28 Nov
Here's a good tip for a Winter cold - throw some lemon sections in a cup, add a teaspoon of honey and some hot water.

Here’s a good tip for a Winter cold – throw some lemon sections in a cup, add a teaspoon of honey and some hot water.

 I am stuck inside with a cold today so thought I might go over this “Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2016.” 

http://www.oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0101%20%28Affordable%20Healthcare%29.pdf

I’m not a lawyer, but this is mostly plain English. A little repetitive – gotta cover all the bases. I see a limit of 25 percent profit over “costs” and a demand for refunds to patients who are found to pay more than 25 percent over “costs”. The operative word here being, “costs.”  We have to trust the hospital to tell us the true cost of their services?

What I like about this bill is “Public Availability of Charge Setting Methodology.” 

“Public Availability of Charge Setting Methodology. (a) Within 210 days of the end of a hospital’s fiscal year ending on or after January 1, 2018, a hospital shall report the following information to the department: (1) Total patient care expenses; (2) Total private payer patient care expenses: (3) Actual qualifying losses: (4) Qualifying expenses: (5) Reasonable and allowable costs in each of the categories set forth in paragraphs (1) and (2) of subdivision (k) of Section 1339.616; (6) Qualifying reimbursements; (7) Revenues received in each of the categories reflected n paragraphs (1), (2), and (3) of subdivision (l) of Section 1339.616; (8) Total charges; and (9) Any refund made pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 1339.611. (b) The department shall make the information provided pursuant to subdivision (a) available to the public upon request.”

Now we already have the Patient’s Bill of Rights, which is supposed to be posted in plain sight of any patient who is brought into the hospital. It says, among other things, you can ask what the services are going to cost you – their price – and they have to tell you. That’s how I found out a room at Enloe was about $7,500/day when my husband was sick. I wondered, at what they pay nurses these days, how they could justify that.

 

I found out, prices are already available on the State of California website:

http://www.oshpd.ca.gov/Chargemaster/default.aspx

The Chargemaster is a list of services and prices charged at a hospital. Just type in “Enloe” and you will find information dating back to 2005. Don’t be intimidated – I was confused as to the descriptions given the various services. I just had to look until I saw something I understood. “Boarder” or “Room” obviously refers to a room charge, with different charges for different levels of care.  A “CCU” or “Critical Care Unit” – is listed at $12,883. That’s per day. And that does not include a lot of stuff – read on – some of these charges are per minute.

I did see an item I recognized – a special kind of baby bottle called a Haberman Feeder. The nipple is made to mimic the function of the human nipple, and is supposed to be easier for new babies, particularly those born with any kind of mouth issues or general weakness, to get their nourishment. They also claim to keep babies from swallowing too much air and suffering colic.  I found these bottles on line, priced between $27 and $36. Playtex has similar bottles and sells “starter kits” with five bottles each for about $22.

The hospital charges $66 for one Haberman Feeder.  That’s almost 100 percent mark-up – more if you get the sale price, or say, buy them by gross, like Enloe does. And why not Playtex? Playtex has been making these specialty bottles since before I was born, and offers all kinds of choices ranging in price. Why the spendier bottle, and why nearly 100 percent mark-up? 

This is why we need some legislation to control the prices hospitals are charging. I’ll have to finish reading the whole measure, but so far I like what I’m seeing. 

 

 

 

Can we save Enloe Hospital? Interesting new measure, “Fair Hospital Pricing Act,” heads for 2016 ballot

28 Nov

I know it’s not even Christmas yet but Election 2016 is coming around fast.  Because of low turnout in the last couple  of elections, fewer signatures are required on petitions, and we might expect a record number of measures up for our approval or disapproval.

Reading Dan Walther’s column recently I found this measure posted – “The Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2016.” 

http://www.oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0101%20%28Affordable%20Healthcare%29.pdf?

What a mind-blower – State data reflect that private hospitals operating in this State, on average, charge patients 325 percent above the actual cost of providing health care, and some private hospitals charge more than 800 percent above the actual cost of the care provided.” 

Furthermore, “patients who are uninsured and underinsured often pay far more than insurers and health care service plans. The result is that unreasonably high hospital charges disproportionately affect uninsured and underinsured individuals and families.”   Yes, contrary to many liberal claims, the uninsured are not leeches, but end up paying more than the insured. 

The first question that enters my mind is, where does Enloe stand here? Closer to the 325 or the 800? 

What I know about Enloe is that 10 years ago they were charging $7,000/hour for ER treatment, and charging for entire hours instead of real time – meaning, if you came in at 11:30 and left at 12:15 you paid for two hours. Rooms were $7500/day, and that’s for half the room, private rooms were more.  I have that ER charge on paper, a total of $15,000 in charges for about a 55 minute visit to the ER.  I got the room charge from a woman in the billing department – I remember how she had a hard time spitting it out, I could tell she was shocked by the price herself. 

That was 10 years ago, I can’t find that information now. You have to go down there, they don’t have a phone number you can call and you won’t find anything on their website. They are very evasive about their pricing, that is, until you wake up from surgery and there’s a hospital rep sitting next to your bed, telling you he or she is there to “help you” figure out how you will pay your bill. A friend of mine is hooked for life – told he had cancer, what could he do? They attached his house, now he will pay that half-million dollar hospital bill on his mortgage for the rest of his life, after having paid his mortgage down to less than $30,000 before the incident. I don’t want to ask him if he feels lucky to be alive as he hauls it out to go to work at 6am, 8 – 10  hours on ladders, pushing 60 years old, knowing he has nothing to leave his kids but bills.

Another friend of mine got a call at work out of town that his father was ill and being taken to Enloe. He was at the hospital within four hours – his dad already owed $17,000 and had not even got a diagnosis of any kind.  The old man wanted to go home, the doctors told my friend they couldn’t tell him anything unless the old man  stayed the night. Whammo – $35,000 by noon the next day.

My husband racked up almost $80,000 in charges over a weekend.

Yeah, I know – anecdotes. Well, I bet you could get similar “anecdotes” from just about anybody who has two dimes to rub together to pay for a doctor. Thanks to Obamacare, my family is no longer welcome at the hospital, we don’t have insurance. There is no more “deal” – in past, if you could pay 10 percent within 30 days, that was it. That’s what the insurance companies pay, but they get a lot longer than 30 days. Now you must have insurance or you can be refused service. You  can’t even get into Immediate Care without your SSN, I don’t care if you’re waving a fistful of hundred dollar bills.  Obamacare is a disaster for the working class.

Here we call it “Covered California,” which is a crack-up after the report I read recently that says nobody is signing up, so California is hardly “covered.” My family was hit for $800/month, with a $12,000 deductible – who would buy that?  We could actually have taken a subsidized plan – The Bronze Plan, which I like to call “The Mr. Shit Plan.” That plan will not even get a person into Enloe, I’d say, you better head for O-ville, stat!

A friend of mine who worked at Enloe Hospital in a higher level position told me CEO Mike Wiltermood, whom he knew personally,  “makes about a million dollars.” He wasn’t exaggerating, that’s the normal compensation package for these people who do nothing to serve the patient. For years I tried to get Wiltermood to tell us his salary – he would not answer, instead attacking my credibility, telling people, “consider the source…“, meaning, me.  Consider the source? Of a question? Why can’t he answer? Cause  he does make “about a million dollars,” that’s not uncommon in a business where the customer is typically charged 325 to 800 percent of the cost of service. That gross overcharge pays Wiltermood’s salary, benefits and pension.  

I have not finished reading “The Fair Pricing Act,” but I will study it. These measures are tricky, it’s essential to read this stuff. It’s also a good idea to check out the people behind it. 

All I could find on Roberta B. Johansen, the woman who sent the initiative to the Attorney General for review, is that she backed “The Economic Recovery Tax Relief Act” in 2005, which, among other things, sought to eliminate tax loop holes for wealthy people and lower state sales tax. I have no idea whether this measure made the ballot, or,  if so, how it did, but that’s something we know about Roberta B. Johansen. She’s also a generous donor to UCSF hospital. 

This will take more snooping, but I think it’s worth it. Like the measure says, “Excessive hospital charges are a leading cause of bankruptcy and financial distress among uninsured and underinsured individuals and families. “

The poor management of Enloe Hospital undermines the health of our community, physically, financially, and spiritually.  We need to take our hospital back, maybe this is one way to do it. 

In loving memory of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Chiapella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Chico discusses filing for ‘Party’ status in Cal Water rate increase case; let’s encourage them to go all the way and file for ‘Intervenor’ status

25 Nov

The agenda for next week’s city council meeting (Dec. 1) includes a proposal for the city to file for “Party Status” in the rate increase case filed by Cal Water last July.  Here is an excerpt from the report:

California Water Service Company (Application No. 15-07-015) California Water Service Company (“Cal Water”) filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission to increase rates and consolidate the Chico district into a proposed “Northern Region.” This memorandum seeks City Council authority to become a party in the pending application.

Cal Water provides water service to the City and its residents. Cal Water is requesting water rate increases for years 2017, 2018 and 2019. The proposed increases are 19.1%, 1.6%, and 2.8% respectively.

The proposed rate increases would impose a significant burden on the City, as a customer of Cal Water. The rate increases would also impose an undue hardship on City residents. As a Cal Water customer and on behalf of its residents residing in the Chico district, the City has an interest in minimizing the proposed rate increases.

In addition, Cal Water is seeking to consolidate its Chico, Oroville, Marysville and Willows districts as the proposed “Northern Region.” The proposed consolidation affects City and its residents because the City is one of the districts to be consolidated. If consolidation is granted, Cal Water requests rate increases of 20.3%, 1.7% and 2.4% for years 2017,2018 and 2019 respectively, for the combined Chico and Oroville districts within the Northern Region. lf consolidation is granted, the City, as well as Oroville residents, will shoulder an even higher burden than that which is requested in Cal Water’s general rate increase.

Although Butte County has joined as a party, the City’s specific interests are not adequately represented. The City’s participation will be relevant and beneficial to the proceeding.

CONCLUSION / RECOMMENDATION It is recommended the City Council direct staff to file a Motion of City of Chico to Become a Party

“Party Status,” unfortunately, just means the city, along with the county, are on the notice list of events in the eventual raising of our rates. In order to make a formal protest, they must file as “Intervenors,” but I can’t seem to convince them of that.

Please write to council and the supervisors and ask them to take that further step. Be nice – you get more flies with honey than vinegar. 

Chico City council can be reached by way of the clerk’s website – 

http://www.chico.ca.us/city_council/home_page.asp

Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk was the first one to respond to my request, she went through a really onerous and ridiculous filing system to get on the Party List right away. Then she asked the board to do so.  She even went to a Chico city council meeting and sat there waiting through a long agenda to make a case for the city to do something.  I sat at home in my snuggies that night, yelling “Go Maureen! Yeeeee-haw!” into my computer screen.  

The CPUC rep that contacted Supervisor Kirk even admitted it would be good to have a lawyer’s assistance in filing the paperwork. I don’t even know if an individual can file for Intervenor status, that’s really a job for the entire board of supervisors. 

Reach them here: 

http://www.buttecounty.net/boardofsupervisors/Home.aspx

Nextdoor: interesting news source, seems to be working for some people

24 Nov

Nextdoor, described as the “private social network for neighborhoods,” is an interesting news source. Since I joined a few weeks ago, I’ve seen a lot of interesting stuff that hasn’t shown up in the newspaper.

First there was the “bnb” conversation – “Airbnb” is a website through which you can rent your home out like a hotel. One woman brought up her concerns for her mid-Chico neighborhood, but was quickly struck down by other “neighbors” who turned out to be renting their own homes through Airbnb.  In the course of that quick but “snarky” conversation, I noticed, people seem to have forgotten past conversations about making it illegal to rent out second units in certain neighborhoods, a “disorderly events” ordinance, and most recently, the “social host” ordinance, which allows Chico PD and Fire Dept to assign “response” charges to the owner of a property at which an out-of-control  party took place. Those conversations got downright nasty at times – all stemming from neighbor complaints about rentals.

It is actually illegal to rent a second unit in the neighborhood directly surrounding the college without owner occupation of the property – the city made that ordinance a few years back. Not long after the “bnb” conversation, a woman complained on Nextdoor that the second unit next to her was being “rented illegally,” but she couldn’t get any response from city code enforcement. 

Here’s what’s creepy – within a couple of days, another neighbor posted a response to that woman, saying three code enforcement officers had been over to check out her rental, and found everything was perfectly legal. She gave her name and contact information, encouraging the plaintiff to contact her with future concerns. 

The second unit owner was very nice about it, I think the first woman was way out of line.  This is what Nextdoor has been criticized for – the Big Brother thing. Some neighbor groups have actually been accused of racial profiling and harassment. 

What also caught my attention about that post was – three code enforcement officers? City code enforcement?  Responding to a complaint about a rental? But we have a homeless camp at the median between Park Avenue and Cypress/Pine Streets that goes unattended for weeks. When they finally clear it out, the bums just move farther down the creek bank, you can see the piles of garbage as you motor over the bridge. 

Well, here’s an interesting post from Nextdoor, just posted yesterday, by a man named Ron from the “North  Chapman neighborhood”:

Today, over 300 pounds of trash and metal were removed from a former transient camp right in the middle of our residential neighborhood. The camp was on a vine-covered vacant lot and was first noticed about three months ago. With the help of many neighbors, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, and the Butte County Code Enforcement Division, the transient residents were encouraged to move on. When the camp was cleared numerous bicycle parts were recovered, confirming our suspicion that the site was being used to ‘recycle’ stolen bicycles.

This is posted to encourage others with unwelcome transients camping/squatting in their neighborhood to use the resources available and fight back. I am not unsympathetic to the homeless issue here in Chico; however, a residential neighborhood with children and families is not a suitable destination for those who steal, exchange stolen property, and use illegal drugs.

Thank you to all the North Chapman Neighbors who supported our effort.

Looking at the map provided by Nextdoor, I see the area is in the county, technically, but right in the middle of urban Chico. It’s a part of town the city of Chico has tried to ignore for years, manufacturing a phony story about neighbors who don’t want to be annexed, but never being able to provide any written proof of that assertion. The police seem to think they can’t cross the creek to enforce the law. And it takes the sheriff three months to do anything but “encourage”.

I’ve been on Nextdoor for almost a month, and this is the first I’ve heard of this situation. I don’t know if Ron’s group is working offline, what he’s been through trying to get law enforcement to pay attention to this matter. But, I know there’s homeless camps in the park right alongside my neighborhood, and despite a short-lived high-profile fling at One-Mile, the cops aren’t doing anything about it.

We do see them roust bums at the CARD center once in a while – CARD board member Tom Lando has made requests of the city to pay special attention to the CARD center. That center is used for community classes, children’s and other programs, and people are finding human land mines and garbage piled up around the buildings.  They complain of passed out drunks on the lawn and portico, even sprawled out on benches. Nobody seems to rent that building for private affairs like weddings anymore – in years past, you’d see it decked out almost every good weather  weekend.  The CARD board now has most meetings at their new headquarters at California Park. This is the reason behind the new rose garden – it will have a fence and locking gate, and only be available for paid events, in an attempt to keep bums, as well as the general public, off the CARD property. Because Chico PD  could not enforce the vagrancy laws, despite salaries averaging $100,000 with 88% of their benefits paid by the taxpayer.

Chico PD monitors Nextdoor, and it seems they are responding to certain complaints, even those made casually in conversation. I also find it a good news source – even if there isn’t much chatter in my neighborhood. A lot of my immediate neighbors have joined, but I haven’t seen crimes mentioned. There’s a gal who will watch your pets for $15/day. There’s a lady looking for a plumber, another woman selling a ceiling light. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the woman bitching about her neighbor’s rental – that is to be expected on a site like this. The Airbnb conversation got kind of rude, and I recognized a guy who has come to this blog in past under an alias and tried to bully me. I  felt he was bullying the woman, and she ended up “closing” the conversation. If it were me, I’d have charged right back at him, but the lady was polite and felt the conversation had run it’s course.

I haven’t seen any of these stories on the tv or print media, but I’m guessing there’s at least one reporter lurking in the shadows. You have to give personal information to sign up – I was asked for my social security number or a credit card to verify my address. I refused and was allowed to request a post card be sent to my house with a secret code number. This supposedly proves I’m really a “neighbor.” Unfortunately they mis-addressed it.  The way they sent it, there are five neighbors who could claim my identity if my mailman hadn’t figured it out. So much for security, but at least I didn’t have to compromise my SSN or my credit card. 

We’ll see when the local media finally picks up on this. I notice the Ch 12/24 news shamelessly cherry-picks the daily newspaper, using the same whole phrases from the newspaper stories. 

 

 

 

 

 

Enterprise Record running the tax increase campaign? I thought newspapers were supposed to be objective

23 Nov

It seems  the Enterprise Record is running the campaign for a local tax increase – read Laura Urseny’s “Biz Bits” column for Sunday:

“Former Chico airport commissioner Karl Ory certainly brought a surprise to last week’s City Council meeting. During the public comment period over the AvPORTS proposal to manage the Chico airport, Ory suggested that airport improvements might warrant a bond measure.”

I know Ory has been beating this horse, can’t figure out what his interest is. Maybe somebody out there can fill me in. 

“AvPORTS — and others — have suggested that the terminal at the Chico airport is too small, given airline industry trends toward larger planes to carry more people. Sky-West used to fly in with a 30- seater, but nowadays the planes that might come to Chico — if commercial service ever returns — could be in the 100- seat size. AvPORTS suggested a larger terminal with a larger area for the Transportation Security Administration processing is needed.”

Chico couldn’t even fill the 30-seater, is the reason Sky-West is gone. Why in the hell would they send in a bigger plane? 

“One criticism was that Chico has no way to pay for the improvements. A counter was that no airline was going to come to Chico without those improvements.  Ory suggested Chico could turn to a bond for a public vote to pay for capital projects at the airport. Ory is a retired Chico airport commissioner and retired city councilman.”

Here she forgets to mention, the airline wants a subsidy to cover their losses when they can’t fill the planes – like $200,000/year!

Then she seems to be playing the Devil’s Advocate. “But this is one of those suggestions that raised eyebrows. We wonder if the community would vote to tax themselves for airport improvements, when a smaller group wouldn’t even fly out of Chico to help support commercial air service here.”

But here she comes again with that bond stuff.

“Since then, I’ve heard from another airport advocate who didn’t automatically dismiss the idea of a bond.”

She’s talking about Tom Lando, I’d bet my last $5.  Maybe Lando is finally getting a thin-skin about being tagged with this tax increase.

“Why such a thing might warrant community support, he explained, was because the airport benefits many in Chico. Benefits include the transportation for residents and businesses, as well as jobs. The advocate pointed out that large companies in considering a new location would consider getting in and out of Chico via commercial service important.”

Lando is also a member of the CARD board, as well as member of the Aquatic Facility committee. He listened to the consultant say that not having an airport was a bad indicator for the success of the Olympic style swim center CARD is pushing.  If we can’t support an airport, how could we support this aquatic facility? Lando and friends are even proposing a sports stadium for Chico, all to be built with a bond.

What neither Urseny nor Lando is talking about is how big of trouble every public entity around here is in over their unpaid CalPERS liability. You just read here, the city has assigned $6 million in pension debt to the Private Development Fund – that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  That’s what a bond would really be about, and then, in a couple of years, like Chico Unified, they’d be telling us they need yet another bond to actually improve the airport. Same old story. I hope you kids are paying attention.

Recently I’ve noticed our local media has fallen to yellow journalism. We don’t really have a newspaper in this town. I know, I’m just a blogger – internet gossip monger? But these people are supposed to uphold some sort of journalistic integrity. They are supposed to work for the public at large, not the government, or the corporations. 

Aside from the rather loose rules set before me by Word Press (for one, you have to publish, something, somewhat regularly, or they will take your blog away!) , I am free of corporate and government influences. I will continue to work in 2016 to inform you and be a tack on the chair of the Overlords. 

POST SCRIPT: And today (11/25/15) Dave Little has foisted an editorial – he’s actually mad because Chico isn’t “stepping up” to “save the airport”

Mr. Little, you need to step aside, and let a real journalist save the newspaper

Private developer fund deficit due to $6 million pension liability

19 Nov

What a day I had yesterday, started it off with that Finance Committee workshop Downtown.  I was on my bike, bouncing through the park by 8:20, the air was damp and smokey and my muffler was wrapped around my head. When I rode home about an hour and a half later, the sun had warmed up and the day positively sparkled. I was home by 9:45 and off to work. All day I thought about what I heard at that meeting, and it really pissed me off.

Hey, do any of you remember that story out of Manton, just east of Red Bluff, about a group of school kids waiting for their bus one morning, witnessed a fight between a bear and a cougar over a deer carcass?  I can’t remember how that played out, who got the carcass, but the kids described it as quite a sight.  Well, yesterday I got to watch our mayor, Mark Sorensen, and one of our long time local developers, Pete Giampoli, go at it over a $6 million pension deficit. 

A couple of days ago I was complaining about the report for this meeting –

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2015/11/14/consultant-report-if-we-stopped-subsidizing-new-development-we-could-get-a-whole-nother-cop/

So yesterday I went to the meeting to see what the developer community had to say about it. There they were – Webb and Giampoli, and a few others, an old realtor named Doug, the usual suspects. I’ve watched Bill Webb get older,  but I am still waiting for him to grow up.  I know they read the consultant’s report because they carried it up to the dais and referred to various entries, questioning this and that. I know they are pissed because  the report makes them look like leeches – taking services from the city for which they pay less than the average homeowner. The homeowner has been subsiding the developers – when we put a new roof on our house, we pay about three times what they pay for the permit.

The real stinker –  ‘cuse my pun – is sewer connects. You probably know the homeowner pays thousands – our neighbor paid about $17,000 – just for the hook-up. Just to tap into the trunk line that runs past your house. Meanwhile, I got Tom Lando to admit, at that same time, about 2003 – developers were paying $3500 per unit. Why? Because developers are not made to pay for the trunk line to be laid, but the homeowner is expected to pay for that. That’s why the homeowner is charged by the “frontage” of their lot, the actual street length of their property. So, if you have a wide shallow property, you will not only pay more than the developer, you’ll pay more than your neighbor with the same size lot, but his is narrow and deep. Get what I’m saying?  Homeowners have been taking a screwing for years, while developers have oftentimes skipped without paying any fees. The city has been “deferring” fees – so the developer does not have to pay until his job is “built out”, or finished to the last lot. How long you think it’s going to take them to finish Meriam Park?

Ever hear of the Winchester Mystery House? That lady wasn’t crazy – check the records, she never paid one dime towards permits for that mess. As long as she kept building something she didn’t have to pay.

Developers have enjoyed a sweet hayride in this town, all the while telling us of the benefits they provide. They provide jobs – well, at least as long as the boom lasts. They provide housing – at inflated market prices that will fall in a few years and leave people all over town in foreclosure.  They destroyed our housing market over the years from 2005 – 2007, and the city went along with it for the one time fees. They might have thought property tax values would go up, but that was short lived. As foreclosures swept our town, property values went plummeting. A house on our street that originally sold for almost $600,000 last sold for less than $400,000.  Families were ruined.

 Over that period, city council signed an MOU attaching city salaries to revenue increases, “but not revenue decreases”, and salaries Downtown roughly tripled.

A couple of these developers tried to tell the city, the business has up-turns and down-turns, and the city should have responded to the downturns by cutting expenses Downtown. Frank Fields and Sean Morgan were quick to bring up the lay-offs, but forgot to mention – new positions have been hired since, and salaries have been raised. Morgan even made a creepy speech about how “the people who were responsible for this (our current financial morass) are gone now, you don’t see them around town anymore….”

See, he’s afraid to say, “Dave Burkland”. For your information, Sean the Idiot, I just saw Burkland at Mangrove Safeway the other day. He looked right at me and my husband with that “oh GOD!” look. He lives out off Hwy 32, west of town, in a great big nice house, and hauls in over $100,000 in pension a year. Wow, he’s so punished!  Hennessy pulls down a great salary in Temecula and her family still lives in a posh pad in North Chico. Unless she is caught literally stealing, she will enjoy a pension of over $100,000 for the rest of her life.

Morgan makes this speech at almost every meeting, reminding everybody that our new, fiscally conservative council is on the job! But, guess what – they’re not.

First I listened to Fields lay out the kind of mess we’re in – over $6 million pension deficit, just in the Private Development Fund. Yeah, remember that cost allocation Bullshit I told you about – well the developers got their introductory lesson yesterday. Yes, through the magic of cost allocation, the city can dip into funds to pay salaries and benefits and pension for employees who have nothing to do with that fund – they were at a meeting one day where that fund was discussed…

The developers railed, they said the cost study must be wrong.  Mark Sorensen became impatient – I’ll say it – bitchy.  He really attacked Pete Giampoli, telling Giampoli he wanted a specific point from that cost study that was wrong. I know Giampoli wanted to say, “the part where we have to pay the pensions”, but you know what, Pete Giampoli doesn’t have the ganas to say “shit” when he has a mouthful. I think “Giampoli” is the Italian equivalent of “peindejo.” 

Here I sat, like Little Black Sambo – watching the tigers fight. They both suck as far as I’m concerned, but I have to agree with the developers on this pension liability crap. And then, Consultant Chad Wolford moved up to the microphone to tell them both to put their peckers back in their pants.

I like Chad, he’s funny. I could tell he’d dealt with these developers personally, he used first names. I could tell he was slightly insulted by the cracks about his cost study, he assured us that the study was completely objective. He also pointed out he’d answered all their questions previous to the meeting – “in every case the critics had not read the study or had not listened to me when I explained it…”

The study involves the “actual” expenses – and, sorry, that includes the pensions – related to the services they receive – for example, plan checking. Through cost allocation, they’re not only paying for the employee who comes out to the job site and handles their plans, they’re paying for the maintenance and utilities for his office space at City Hall, they’re paying for the assistants who help that employee by making copies and coffee, they’re paying for the janitress who comes through to clean the coffee pot and empty the trash cans. 

And, since they laid off so many of his co-workers, plan checker man  told us, he’s “in the field all day and in my office until 7 o’clock at night…”  That’s Overtime sweetie, and they allocate that.

Sure you pay for that in private enterprise, but Giampoli reminded us – in the private sector, there’s competition to keep prices and salaries reasonable, affordable. The city has quite the monopoly here, and they get to make the rules. And they charge more for these services than the county charges, without any apology. 

Chad was not hired, he reminded us, to decide whether salaries or compensation were fair, he was there to tell us what those expenses were and what were our options for cutting the divide between revenues and expenses. He’s nobody’s friend, he has no dog in this fight. I bet if he did have a dog in this fight, it would have no hind legs.

http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/price/frog.htm

As I listened to the consultant I realized I was running out of time – I promised my husband I’d be home by 9:45 so we could get a jump on our work day. He was home oiling and sharpening his chain saw, rounding up all the rakes and loppers, getting ready to spend a sunny afternoon clearing brush and cleaning up tree trash with our son. I was looking forward to a day of running between burn piles with a pitchfork, cause I’m a weirdo.  I started toward the front door of the chambers, pulling on my jacket and digging my hat and scarf out of my bag. I lingered in the front entry to put away my notebook, and I heard Chad saying something about the “real problem,” so I got my notebook back out and stood listening by the door.

He explained very plainly that when city management went through two rounds of cutting workers from the payroll, “you didn’t reduce the cost of overhead”. He doesn’t mean, the PG&E bill. He said, “management salaries, compensation and pension.”  The mayor and his “conservative council”  laid off all the worker bees, but they didn’t lay off any management. In fact, they hired more management and raised management salaries. 

Right now, our management employees are all veterans of the CalPERS system. As such, they are not subject to the new legislation that forces public employees to pay half their expenses – they pay 9 percent of pensions of 70 percent of their highest year’s earnings at age 55. 

Frank Fields made it very clear – the private development fund deficit is “largely due to pension obligation.”  They’ve emptied the General Fund making transfers, now they want the developers to pay more.

And not just the developers – they did not, in front of me, address the problem of homeowners paying so much beyond actual cost. 

PS:  Now you might want to read the conversation I had about a year and a half ago with Mayor Sorensen, in which he says I made up the pension deficit. That Mark, he’s a crack-up.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2014/03/04/2508/

PSS: The consultant made a remark that stuck – he included city council as “overhead“, and actually mentioned that we could cut our city council. That’s true – a lot of towns operate fine with five, we have seven. I don’t have a current figure, but last time I checked, the mayor gets a $9,000 “stipend,” the other councilors get almost $7,000 each, and then they get health insurance packages ranging from about $8,000 to over $20,000 (Sorensen was taking a $21,000 package last time I checked, in addition to whatever he gets as city manager of Biggs). Cutting two councilors would mean a minimum savings of two $7,000 stipends and two $8,000 health insurance packages – $30,000/year.

 

Commercial air service is dead in Chico – when will the city start paying attention to the real airport users, the tenants?

15 Nov

Laura Urseny’s story on the airport in today’s ER was no surprise for anybody. While she tried to insert “a glimmer of hope”, she had to admit, it looks like the end for commercial service in Chico. 

I have to give her some credit – she actually sought out a couple of airline executives and put the question to them, and the second guy took her seriously enough to give her a good answer.

Last week I chatted with Jude Bricker, senior vice president of planning for Allegiant.

He said there’s not much interest in Chico. Actually, none.

Bricker went through issue after issue that Chico faces. Airlines are flying bigger planes, roughly in the 150- seat capacity, for cost efficiency. Chico would be hard pressed to fill that, even once a week, he said. Chico had issues filling the 30- seater that SkyWest flew in three times a week. “ We’re not in active negotiations (with Chico) and have no plans for service,” he told me.

What could we do to interest an airlines, I asked. A subsidy program or other incentive was the first thing he mentioned, and then some way to assure the airlines that passengers would come.

He mentioned Sacramento’s closeness as a hefty black mark against Chico.”

There it is – they’re using bigger planes now, just like I’ve said. Those planes not only need 150 passengers to fill them, they need a bigger runway to fly out of here. Chico has not updated their runway like Redding did only a few years ago. That’s how Redding stayed in the game. Chico was busy pilfering the now-red airport fund to pay down the pension deficit. 

And then there it is, these giant corporations want a subsidy to locate here.  Yes, the taxpayers would have to pay these airlines to come here to serve less than 20 percent of the population.  Even then, they only offer service once a week, and there we are again – if they don’t meet the needs of the public the public will go to Sacramento. 

Yes, there is an international airport an hour and a half down the road – Hellllloooooo!

Why Urseny or anybody would continue to pursue commercial air service out of Chico is beyond me. Selfish? Just plain stubborn? Desperate?  Yes, there is an elite little crowd here who expect the taxpayers to foot their luxury bills. 

Urseny keeps trying to prop up this horse cadaver, at first telling the reader about “a glimmer of hope”. In the end she admits, “wouldn’t it have made a great column for me to announce some positive airline news?”  So, now she’s making up news to make herself happy? How about reporting on what’s really going on at the airport – the tenants are complaining that the city is giving them poor leases. These are the people who keep the airport there at all, and the city has treated them poorly for years, giving them crap buildings, forcing them to make their own repairs, but giving them no assurance they won’t be kicked out for higher-paying tenants or have rent raised on themselves when they undertake those repairs. 

How many people would rent a house that needs a new roof, when the landlord told them they’d need to fix the roof themselves? I don’t think that’s legal. But the city let the Aero Union building fall to complete crap – one reason they left – and now the city will have the museum people raising the $200,000 necessary to fix the roof. 

Hey, have a good time out at the Air Museum, but I wouldn’t linger in there too long. 

 

Consultant report: if we stopped subsidizing new development, we could get a whole ‘nother cop!

14 Nov

Next Wednesday the city has scheduled two concurrent meetings – a Finance Committee workshop starting at 8:30 am and an Internal Affairs Commission meeting starting at 9am.

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/11-18-15FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/internal_affairs_committee/11-18-15IACAgendaPacket.pdf

You might recall councilwoman Tami Ritter changed the time of the IA meeting from 8am to 9am because she can’t get her big ass out of bed, through the shower and coffee shop drive-thru before 8:45 am. 

Both of these meetings hold items of interest to me. I question their scheduling these meetings concurrently but where’s that going to get me?  At the Finance Committee workshop they will discuss how developers have been getting away without paying fees for years, putting the Development Fund as much as  $9 million in the red for years. I had to print that figure in red, I mean, $9 million dollar deficit? How does that happen? 

Well, it happens when you don’t collect the fees, but you continue to pay city employees to do work for developers. There’s a whole department full of salaries up in that building devoted to for-profit developers. 

This problem was highlighted about 10 years ago when Cal Trans threatened a lawsuit against the city for not “dedicating” funds for widening of Hwy’s 99 and 32 while they permitted subdivisions all over town that were obviously going to strain our roadways. Tom Lando, then city manager, argued that the state should  pay for the widening, but Cal Trans showed without effort that the strain was coming from five specific subdivisions the city had approved, including Meriam Park – “a city within a city…”

I sat in a meeting where former city employees told us  these “planned communities,” like Westside Green over on Nord, were going to take the quality of life in our town on a one way ride. At that time most of our major roads had an ‘A’ or ‘B’ rating for travelability,   $taff said they were moving quickly toward ‘C’ and would never return. 

Ultimately Chico was ordered to dedicate funds, but in a conversation I had with Mark Sorensen about a year ago, he said the city had never collected the funds from any of the developers named in the suit. It looks like they still haven’t. Read the report I cut-and-paste from the agenda:

Specific Fee Category Results.   The analysis revealed that 70% (412 I 590) of the current fees for New Construction (a count of plan check and inspection fees combined) are less than the full cost of providing the services, thus providing a subsidy to fee payers. The remaining fees (30 %) are currently set equal to or higher than full cost. In other words, if the City elects to set all fees to recover full cost (and no more), some of the current fees would increase, and others would be reduced.

Read on – “new construction” means new homes and commercial buildings – 70 % of building activity going without paying fees!  “The remaining fees” are homeowners doing remodels, etc to their existing homes – we’ve been paying fees “set equal to or higher than full cost…”  It says there, “some of the current fees would increase, and others would be reduced.”  

Well, let me add a suggestion – they ought to have to give us our fucking money back, homeowners have been ripped off to pay for the big boys.

Read on:

Overall, since the annual volume of new construction permit activity applies more heavily to those fees that are currently under-charged (subsidized), the City would experience an overall increase in annual revenue in New Construction fees of approximately $ 260,000. A pattern of over- and under-charging for individual fees is very common for building studies. Wohlford Consulting normally finds that New Construction fees under-recover the cost of services for smaller project sizes and over-recover for larger project sizesparticularly at the extremes of the range. The existence of an overall deficit or surplus in New Construction fees depends on the mix of projects among sizes, but it most commonly results in an overall deficit or potential increase in revenues if fees are set at full cost for all project types and sizes. This latter result is evident in the Chico Building analysis. The results for the Miscellaneous Commercial fee category also show a mix of subsidized and surplus fees, but the overall revenue result is different. Although a large majority of fees by tally (71% or 132/185) are currently under-charged and subsidized, enough volume of activity occurs in the over-charged fees that the net result is an annual surplus of $48,000 and a cost-recovery rate of 114%. In particular, overcharges in the group of fees for small remodels or renovations (Fees# 12-17 in the Building results) offset all of the subsidized fees in the Miscellaneous Commercial fee category. In other words, the fees for small remodels and renovations are partially funding a variety of other fee services. As a result, if the City sets fees at 100% of full cost in this category, some fees would increase and others would decrease, but the net revenue would decrease by approximately $48,000 per year. A slight majority (53% or 45/85) of fees in the Miscellaneous Residential fee categories are currently set at or above full cost. The annual fee activity volumes for those categories result in a net surplus of $ 44,000 and a cost-recovery rate of 131% when compared to full-cost-recovery fee levels. Even though two of the three general Building fee categories present a revenue surplus, the funding deficit in New Construction is large enough that the net effect of all of the categories combined (New Construction, Miscellaneous Commercial, and Miscellaneous Residential) is an overall subsidy of $169,000. This subsidy also represents a potential annual revenue increase of $169,000 if the City sets fees at the full-cost-recovery levels. 

And let me remind you, Franklin Paving, one of the “big boys”, was probably the biggest single contributor to Mark Sorensen’s recent campaign. Look at the reports for Mike Maloney’s PAC, I ain’t got time to school you again on that.

Meanwhile, in the room next door, the Internal Affairs committee will be discussing an ordinance written almost specifically for the protection of our adorable City Clerk, Badge Bunny, and Best Pinner Ever!, Debbie Presson – a new Code of Conduct Policy that does not allow council members to go to the public with their concerns about staff. 

So there you are, I know you can’t make it. I’ll keep you posted.