Strap yourselves in, this is complicated

22 Jun

There has been so much to talk about lately, it’s hard to know how to start.

I’ve been having a conversation with Chico Area Recreation District director Ann Willmann about rental policies for CARD facilities. CARD owns a lot of stuff, not just play fields, but buildings that are supposed to be available for public use, with a fee schedule. One such building is the CARD Center, appropriately located near the center of Chico and also near the center of the recreation district’s legal boundaries.  Besides housing CARD operations, the CARD center had been a popular place for private parties, mostly weddings, as well as public events like the “Pancakes for Peace” fundraiser held for many years by the Chico Peace and Justice Center. In fact, for many years, the center parking lot was packed for some or another event every good weather weekend from early Spring to late Fall. I had friends who got married there, it was affordable to working people.

A few years ago I noticed the center wasn’t being used as much.  I also noticed it was a meeting place for the homeless – all along Vallombrosa between Mangrove and Arbutus, every public green space was covered with a little encampment of creepy people, laying filthy and half naked with scroungy dogs, drinking, acting generally scurvy.  Yeah, at the last wedding I attended at the CARD center, there were a bunch of homeless people milling in the crowd, they were really drunk, they went down to the creek and went skinny dipping as the bride’s family tried to usher the guests back into the building.

That whole area got really bad. The post office annex closed between 10pm and 7am, citing “security concerns.”

A year or so ago, CARD board member Tom Lando made a public appeal to Chico PD to help keep the vagrants from camping, crapping and generally carousing around the CARD center.  I don’t know how far that went because quickly thereafter the board made a unanimous decision to move CARD meetings to California Park Lakeside Pavilion. California Park sits at the outermost edge of the district, and the pavilion is located deep within this bastion of private property, loud red “NO TRESPASSING” signs displayed prominently on any patch of grass not directly connected to a private home. I don’t know when exactly the board purchased the pavilion, but I would have loved to be at the meeting to hear how they rationalized the purchase. I’m going to guess somebody made a pitch about how much they could make renting the place out for fancy weddings.

Which would seem to be a breach of the district’s policy and mission, to provide affordable recreation options and facilities for everybody. They have also cited concerns about some projects in past, saying they didn’t want to compete with private businesses. How does the pavilion fit their mission?

“Fancy” just isn’t a word for Chico. Chico has long been an anti-snob town, a place where jeans and work shirts have been considered far more stylish than three piece suits and Ferragamo shirts. But we’ve got a new class of people here in town – public workers who make more than five families put together.  These people have been pushing a “class up this burg” movement. Tom Lando is one of the people behind this push – as retired city manager, he makes one of the biggest pensions that adds up to our city’s 90 million dollar plus pension deficit.

Lando has cried aloud that Chico doesn’t have a fancy sports stadium. He said he ran a survey that said taxpayers would support such a venture, but he wouldn’t publish the results for the rest of us.  Lando wants a tax of some sort to pay for this stadium. He once said, it wouldn’t add up to more than a dollar on the average lunch tab.

Wow, would somebody do that math for me? He’s saying, the tax increase would amount to a dollar on the average lunch tab? How much does he pay for lunch?

People like Lando think Chico needs to grow up and be fancy.  They want richer people to move here, to pay higher property taxes, to support their pensions, is what.

I’d say, they all need to grow up, and pay for their own retirement at age 55 on 70 – 90 percent of their highest year’s income.

Lando was also the guy who brought in the Memo Of Understanding that linked city salaries to “revenue increases but not decreases.”  Then council-member Larry Wahl told me he signed that MOU because he didn’t understand it.  Council proceeded to approve all those subdivisions that are still taking a giant crap all over our local economy. With that late 90’s building boom, Lando’s salary went from around $60,000 to over $100,000 in just a few years. But when things went bust, none of those salaries went down, due to the simple but legally binding wording in that two sentence memo. Today the city manager makes about $200,000/year, and pays only 9 percent toward his own pension.

And that’s what happened when the public  became aware of the MOU during that hot and heavy two or three years that bankruptcy was breathing down our collective neck.  Yes, it was outrageous – I wish people would pay attention more often. But, the public was lulled back to sleep with the following agreement – sure, we’d hold the line on the raises from now on, but the city would pay a whopping share of the “employee share” of pensions and benefits. For many years, it was the entire share for management and public safety workers.

You remember that whole conversation, don’t you? How there was the “employee share” and the “employer share”, and the “EMPC”, or, “employer-paid member contribution”. That means, we paid their share, get that? For those employees we were paying not only “our” share but theirs as well. Only the last couple of years has management and public  safety begun to pay toward their own pensions. At first, only 4 percent, now 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Excuse me – big fucking deal – why aren’t they paying the 50 percent mandated of new hires?  Excuse me again – did I say 50? I say, they pay it all themselves, and if they’re real good, we start picking up a small percentage.  But this practice of getting something you didn’t pay for – ENTITLEMENT – has got to stop.

According to Ann Willmann, her friends are ENTITLED to rent publicly owned facilities under her supervision for less than the public would pay.

Bill Cosby, the comedian, used to tell long, involved stories, and then say, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one…” There is where I will have to leave you for today, I’ll try to get back asap.



2 Responses to “Strap yourselves in, this is complicated”

  1. Jim Matthews June 23, 2016 at 5:52 am #

    Notice how the new Rose Garden features a fence around the back area of The CARD center.

    • Juanita Sumner June 23, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks so much for bringing that up – there are so many pieces to this story, I hadn’t got it all in the box yet.

      The rose garden fencing is a direct result of the homeless problem. They talked about putting Mrs. Warren’s roses all over town, even the airport. Even she complained about the extra money CARD tacked on to her original $100,000 donation, asking her to up her ante to $125,000, offering to match it. But, she had asked for fencing around the rose garden to keep out, well, she wouldn’t say exactly who she wanted to keep out. I would have told her that she could do it in her own back yard, but if it’s on public property it’s public, period. The whole rose garden thing was inappropriate, and CARD used it to their inappropriate advantage.

      I see it was busy in the very beginning, but I haven’t seen anything going on there lately, it’s just another boondoggle. And there’s nothing to keep the creeps from lounging around the outside of the fence. That whole corridor is in trouble, and this isn’t going to be good.

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