So much for public safety – city of Chico doesn’t take Americans with Disabilities Act too seriously

13 May

Bureaucracy gets a deserved bad name because it sucks up a lot of money and resources without producing anything.  Here in Chico we spend 10’s of millions – I’ve lost track of our total budget – on salaries, health benefits and pensions, but our streets are broken to pieces, our park is in disgrace, and public buildings all over town are in disrepair. Former public works manager Ruben Martinez reported a few years ago that instead of having a regular schedule of maintenance for city fixtures and facilities, the department just waited  for things to break.  This he called, “Failure Maintenance.”

Think about that. Say it a few times, and think about it good.  It sounds like the City of Chico is maintaining failure.

 I was telling my friend Jim how the city of Chico has bottomed out the gas tax fund – a cash register rings Downtown every time you gas your car in the city limits – paying salaries and benefits of people who have nothing to do with fixing our streets. Jim reminded me that the gas tax is supposed to go toward repairing streets, so I was telling him about “cost allocation.” This is the legal process by which they move money from one fund to another, “allocating” funds to pay for salaries. Here’s a simple example – if they have a meeting about the sewer facility, every body at the meeting gets their salary for that hour or two out of the sewer fund, everybody from the clerk to the city manager.  They even “allocate” an amount appropriate to pay for the PG&E  in that room for the duration of the meeting.

I first heard this many years ago – remember Jennifer Hennessy? She delivered the news to the Finance Committee, which included Mayor Mark Sorensen at that time, very casually and matter of factly, as if it was okay. Since she left in a hail of insults, her replacement, Chris Constantin, and his replacement, Frank Fields, have made it administrative policy. Moving peas under walnut shells is now the official finance policy of the City of Chico, CA.  Before he was mayor, Mark Sorensen complained they’d bottomed out the Sewer and Development funds the same way. Now you don’t hear him saying much about the red ink all over the city books, cause they juggle them so fast nowadays it’s just a blur of pink.

The other official policy Downtown is, they only fix stuff if they can get grants for it. In fact, as we have seen with the plans they made up for Esplanade, they will fix stuff that doesn’t need fixing just to get the money. And here’s the real sticker – they have to match that grant money with city funds. So, as in the case of the Downtown remodel undertaken over the last five years, with all the bulbing of the sidewalks and the traffic circles, ended up costing about 4 times as much as if they’d just fixed the sidewalks and put the ADA compliant access points at the intersections like the feds told them to do.  But, oh boy! We can get all this extra money to pay down our pension deficit if we put traffic circles and switch parking from parallel to angle parking!

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed about 1990. Intended to make our streets and public building more accessible to people with “mobility issues” like wheelchairs, the ADA is pretty simple – if a competent wheelchair jockey can’t navigate a section of sidewalk, it’s not ADA compliant. Cracks, buckling around trees, potholes in sidewalks or streets – these don’t just prove challenging for people with disabilities – try getting a stroller out there, you find out quick, there’s whole parts of town that aren’t doable.  

And then there’s the liability. There’s a section of sidewalk across the street from my house with a buckle in it. It’s not much, it’s hard to see, but when I occasionally kick that buckle with my foot, it hurts all the way up my spine to the back of my head. Think I should talk to a lawyer about that?

I don’t remember how many years ago the city was told the Esplanade was not ADA compliant, but they’ve taken that and turned it into a gazillion dollar remodel, with over sized traffic circles and other changes necessitating the removal of many huge trees.  In the drawing I saw, the traffic  circle in front of Bidwell Mansion looks as if it will send cars right through the front doors of Northern Star Mills.

Protest led council to shelve the traffic circle plans, but only until 2017, just after the upcoming election. Wow, that’s not obvious. You’ve got Cheryl King whooping up a war dance, she’s got a basket to put your head in, so you postpone your decision until after the election. Gotta hand it to Sorensen, he knows how to handle the liberals. He won the Farmer’s Market battle, and he’ll win this one, just watch. 

Meanwhile, what about the ADA? Are they going to fix Esplanade at all? There’s miles of busted up sidewalk, and other liabilities that just need to be fixed. What about complaints about speeding? The  cops have made a big deal of patrolling it – as if it’s a big effort on their part to do their jobs, we’ll see how long it lasts.

Jim sent me a picture of ADA compliance in his neighborhood.  

Speaking of ADA, they put in these handicapped access a few years ago in my neighborhood. Nobody uses them, cars block them off, and they are full of dirt and water.

Jim says, “Speaking of ADA, they put in these handicapped access a few years ago in my neighborhood. Nobody uses them, cars block them off, and they are full of dirt and water.”         

2 Responses to “So much for public safety – city of Chico doesn’t take Americans with Disabilities Act too seriously”

  1. Jim Matthews May 14, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Traffic circles and roundabouts are NOT ADA compliant. Cities have been sued because of this. To make them compliant they need to install special pedestrian crossing lights. However the plan they had for The Esplanade didn’t include these.

    • Juanita Sumner May 15, 2016 at 4:56 am #

      Thanks Jim, I only have my suspicions, I haven’t had a chance to do much research.

      I know how to use traffic circles, and I know the difference between a proper traffic circle and the ones they build here. I used my first traffic circle in Bakersfield. It was huge, had two lanes, and was a breeze. I was freaked out when I saw it but I just drove right through it. A lady who was unsure of herself was driving around in the inner lane, but who cares – when she finally decided which way she wanted to go she just pulled into the outer lane and made her turn.

      The traffic circles here are a joke because they squeeze them in where they are not appropriate. One tiny little loop, and everybody, from the 80 year old in her Prius to the 19 year old in his F-350 is supposed to jam into it at the same time. And I’m supposed to jump right in there on my bike, or push my tot out there in a stroller. Really?

      Even the “proper” circle I encountered in Bakersfield made no accommodation for pedestrians. It was used as a freeway interchange, I assume they assumed there would be no pedestrians?

      I’ll never forget when I encountered Mark Sorensen in the Manzanita Circles on his bike. He pulled right into traffic, as I navigated my F-150. It was terrifying, I could barely see the seat of his pants over my hood. I thought, “If I sneeze, the mayor is a grease spot…”

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