Archive | January, 2017

Thank a Teacher! California taxpayers will pay $153 million more a year for school district pensions

30 Jan

Thanks Bob for this article from the Sacramento Bee.

“CalSTRS will consider lowering its official investment forecast in a move expected to require higher contributions from state taxpayers once again for the teachers’ pension fund. The cost to the state could be an additional $153 million starting with the next fiscal year.”

 

I didn’t know this was legal:

Three years ago, the Legislature agreed to raise contributions to CalSTRS by billions of dollars a year. Assembly Bill 1469 affected the state, local school districts and teachers themselves. For example, the annual contributions from school districts is growing from $2 billion to $6 billion, although the increases are being phased in over several years.

The 2014 law does give CalSTRS some latitude to impose higher rates on state taxpayers without going back to the Legislature for permission. According to the staff report, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for the new fiscal year includes an additional $153 million for CalSTRS, bringing the annual contribution to $2.8 billion.

No matter what Chico Unified said about crumbling classrooms, rot, mold, asbestos, old computers – it’s the pensions folks, it always has been.

Bidwell Park, once an asset, now a liability

26 Jan

Almost 15 years ago, my family bought this old crapper near Bidwell Park.  It had extensive rot, termite damage, needed a completely new roof – but, that was our business when we were young, buying old houses for cheap and working to make them into homes.

We went through all our permit inspections, and moved in. It was two years before the assessor came over to inspect – I believe he waited for the “McMansions” that had been permitted down the street to be built out, so he could use them in evaluating our house.

He showed up in my yard, with his clipboard. He asked to be let in the house, but I told him he’d have to come over when my husband was home – he was asking me technical questions I couldn’t answer, and some of the questions seemed inappropriate.

One thing he told me was that Bidwell Park would figure prominently in our assessment. Living so close to such a jewel was considered a great asset at that time. Oh yeah, Old Fred, he stuck us goooooood!

We have had a good life here, raising our kids in the house up front, and then moving into the little apartment we built over the garage since my husband retired and our kids moved off to their own homes. We have tenants up front now, raising their kids in the same house where we raised ours, how appropriate for us.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the park is neither a jewel nor an asset. I’ve spoken at length here about illegal camping, vandalism and theft in the Bidwell Park corridor. Well, here’s why – my family has invested everything we own in this part of town, and we’re watching our assets devalued every day by their association with Bidwell Park.

The other day one of my tenants who also lives within this neighborhood asked us to put up more security lights in her driveway. These lights aren’t free, the cheapest crap on the market is about $30, and we have to maintain them, including provide batteries.

But I don’t blame her, she’s only a  couple of blocks from the CARD center, where a young woman overdosed herself on heroin the other night. She’s only a couple of blocks from Mangrove Plaza, a transient hot spot.  There have been car break-ins within doors of her house. One of her near neighbors just dramatically pruned a row of shrubs because transients were using his hedgerow, right outside his front windows,  for a toilet.

To think, when I’ve advertised that rental, I’ve used Bidwell Park, Mangrove Plaza, and the Downtown area as selling points. Now I don’t know what to say – “15 minute walk to Bum Town!”

So I’ve tried to do what good citizens are supposed to do – I’ve reported the same stuff I’ve been posting on this blog to Chico PD, who sent me to the public works department. I was told I was a good citizen and my reports of crime are appreciated, but that’s where it stopped. Now I find the system is set up to encourage camping in the park. This old post by local blogger Jack Lee just about sums it up:

http://www.norcalblogs.com/postscripts/2014/04/01/camp-sites-okd-bidwell-park/

Here’s what happens when you report illegal campsites in Bidwell Park:

Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 8:43 AM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>; Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: illegal campers in lower park

 

 Hi,  Yesterday  I reported an extensive and well-established illegal camp located along the “Fitness Trail”, between Stations 3 and  4 and the park road, to a park division employee. She told me she would alert park rangers. I saw five tents, an e-z-up, and mounds of trash.  As of this morning, it’s all still there, and there’s more trash. Is the city actively pursuing citizen’s complaints about illegal  camping? 

 Juanita Sumner

 

From: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 9:58 AM
To: Juanita Sumner
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk; Mark Sorensen
Subject: RE: illegal campers in lower park

 

Ms. Sumner,    Again, thank you for your reporting of this.   As additional follow-up, I can tell you that the Park Rangers did engage with this group yesterday, after the report was received.   Additionally, the Rangers have engaged and ticketed this group of illegal campers several times over the past week.  The Park Rangers are coordinating with the Police Department for follow-up today for this specific illegal encampment.  

Respectfully,
Mark

 

Sent: Sunday, January 1, 2017 4:24 PM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>; Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: Thanks

 

Hi Mr. Orme,   When we went to Bidwell Park this morning  to inspect the illegal campsites we reported to you last week, we were happy to see the trash piles we’d encountered the past few days had been collected. Thank you for your quick action on this illegal campsite, I believe a quick response is necessary to discourage repeat offenders. We walk in that area and other areas of the park every day and will continue to notify you of any illegal activities we see anywhere on city property.

 Thank you for your due diligence to this matter, which is, of course, central to keeping Chico a beautiful city.

 Juanita Sumner

From: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Sent: Sunday, January 1, 2017 7:55 PM
To: Juanita Sumner
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk; Mark Sorensen
Subject: RE: Thanks

 

Thank you for your follow-up Ms. Sumner.   Much of the credit goes to City staff for their effective approach.  However, the best means of allowing staff to succeed is for aware and willing residents to inform the City of these types of issues – so many thanks to you. 

 Have a good evening,

Mark

Sent:Wednesday, January 18, 2017 6:33 AM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>
Subject: Re: Thanks

Hi,    Yesterday morning walking in Bidwell Park, my husband found a group in a tent, right on the main trail there near Bryant and Vallombrosa. As he stood on the trail taking a picture a woman confronted him. He told her he’d be calling the police – when he came back that way the tent and occupants were gone. I do have pictures of the tent  posted on my blog.   I’m beginning to question the safety of walking in Bidwell Park in broad daylight. We live only about two blocks away. My tenants constantly worry about their car being broken into since our neighbors had a break-in across the street. My son who lives at another one of our rentals nearby had someone break into his car to rifle his glove compartment, and then use the car as a block while they defecated in the driveway off my son’s front door.  His neighbor, a retired law enforcement officer and former director of Torres Shelter, had her car broken into several months ago – window smashed out.  We believe the park is central to these problems, that these people are sheltering in the park and then predating our neighborhoods. 

  I know you guys discussed more staffing at Chico PD last night – when can we expect regular, morning and evening sweeps of the park?

 Thanks, at your convenience, for your reply – Juanita Sumner

LATER that day…

Ms. Sumner,

 Thank you again for your input.  I’ve cc’d the Police Chief and Public Works Director over Operations on this e-mail, as they may have additional feedback to give.  I can tell you that staff is evaluating every opportunity to move forward with an effort to deal with this situation more aggressively.  One potential program we are working on is furthering the bond between our public works team and the Police department.  They already have a great working relationship, but we’re looking at a creative approach to securing an even smoother ability to deal with these park issues.  It will roll out during the budget process.  As for now, the Police Department and Public Works will continue to monitor and conduct sweeps on a regular basis…although not as often as staff would like to be able to do, simply due to resource constraints. 

Have a great day,

Mark

Here’s where Police Chief Mike O’Brien and Officer Scott Zuchin came into the conversation. O’Brien contacted me on January 18.

“Both the Rangers and our Police Officers move campers out of the Park, but it is helpful to have the specifics as to when and where.  I am including Interim Lieutenant Scott Zuschin in this email and would ask that you reach out to him specifically with the specifics of the camping sites.  I/Lt. Zuschin oversees our Target Team, as well as coordinating with our Rangers in dealing with issues in our city parks.  I will have him coordinate to address these issues.”

The conversation went completely off track at that point because I had cc’d Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk, and she brought up concerns about her own neighborhood, Cal Park. I casually mentioned to her that I’d seen a tent off Hwy 32 near Cal Park. That got Zuchin off on the wrong track from the get-go. Zuchin responded to Kirk’s concerns, 

“Greetings… The Target team linked up with realtor Tamara Lambert-Valencia from Coldwell Banker DuFour to address the encampment issue near the water tower located inside the new Oak Valley subdivision two weeks ago. This camp is no longer an issue. Target will continue to work with the realtor and developer as crime and safety issues arise. Please give me a call. I can arrange a neighborhood meeting with the Target team to discuss your questions and concerns.”

I was stupid enough to argue with a cop – I had to tell him I’d just seen the dam-ned tent the previous day. At this point I started to detect a little impatience on his part.

Please be more specific then. We may not be speaking about the same location. You may attach photographs to your email if that helps.

I responded with clear directions to the tent, which was set up next to a little creek running alongside the new water tower and subdivision below it. I didn’t get any follow-up. When I sent him photos of a homeless encampment in Bidwell Park the next day, I didn’t get any response.  I realize it was Saturday.   I had complained to O’Brien that there is no way to report illegal camping online, and we’re told the phone is for emergencies, so he gave me Zuchin, who’s only available Monday through Friday 9 – 5. 

So I forwarded that request to Mark Orme the following Monday, asking for follow-up. I told him the campers were still there as of that morning. This was January 23. Orme did not respond to me personally but forwarded my request to Public Works staffer Erik Gustafson.

“Copy, I’ll forward to Rangers right away and have them connect with Sgt. Zuschin for notification status.  Thanks, Erik”

Later on Monday I heard from O’Brien.

“We are looking at Wednesday to have this resolved…PD and Parks are in contact to make it happen.”

By Tuesday, my husband had already noticed, the transients had moved their tents, leaving mounds of trash, including bike parts. I got another note from Gustafson,

“Good Morning.  Wanted to let you know that notice was posted at this particular location yesterday 1/24.  Per our notification terms, they have 48-hours to remove themselves and their property.  If cleanup is needed it will take place on Thursday 1/26.  This location will be included with several others and will be managed by a City Park Ranger, but performed by the inmate Alternative Custody Services (ACS) program.”

48 hours notice? I asked about that.

Thanks for the update.  I read the city code, camping without a permit is illegal. Could you give me a simple explanation, why we have to give these people 48 hours to vacate, especially when there is evidence of criminal activity, like bicycle parts laying all over the ground?  I would appreciate it if you could direct me to the written laws that cover this.

 Gustafson explained, “Good Morning.  The 48-hour notice is used for un-occupied encampments and is intended to give a short amount of time for folks to collect and remove their personal property.  It’s an internal policy based on City Attorney recommendation.  The City Attorney reviewed several cases that had been brought against larger Cities and recommended the notice term.  The term is intended to remove items in a timely fashion while still observing the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. “

Here’s the Fourth amendment:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Could anybody explain to me how the above protects someone from being ejected from an illegal campsite? Where does it say you can’t give somebody a ticket for an illegal activity? I’m not a lawyer, but I would say a ticket is proof of probable cause, and notification that your stuff is going to be seized if you refuse to leave or remove your belongings. In fact, the city could put signs up in these areas, saying that camping is illegal and personal belongings left on the premises will be seized and held for 30 days. That would cover the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Instead they warn these people again and again, cops pretending they don’t recognize the same person they warned for the same offense as little as eight hours previous.

Of course, this rule doesn’t seem to affect clean-up of abandoned sites. Look at some of the pictures I’ve posted – how do you decide, what’s trash, and what’s personal belongings? This all seems very discretionary to me.

Here’s the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, which was the only section that applied even remotely to this situation: 

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Yes, it goes back to due process.  The essential problem here is that the city does not have “No Camping” signs or signs which explain the penalties of the ordinance. As far as I know, the city has no penalties for public camping, public defecation/urination, nudity, drug use on city property – none of it. 

In other words, Bidwell Park is open for camping. It’s a de-facto bum camp and they aren’t going to do anything about it.

When I get up the nerve, I’ll contact the assessor’s office and ask them when they will start giving exemptions for properties within close proximity to Bidwell Park.

Bidwell Park and Playground Commission aware of “transients dismantling bicycles and other unsavory activities…” but what have they done about it?

25 Jan

I found this three year old report from the Bidwell  Park and Playground Commission,

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/BPPC_AgendaandReports_13_1028.pdf

In 2013, rangers reported 98 “warnings” for illegal camping in the park but only 54 citations.  The first thing I hear is, the rangers aren’t looking hard enough, or they’d have at least 365 warnings. The second thing that occurs to me is, why so few citations? And, I have to ask – what happens with a citation?

So I wondered if the commission is still hearing these reports. I looked at their website here

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/bidwell_park_playground_commission.asp

and looked over agendas and minutes of recent meetings. I found they’d just had a short conversation about it at their October 24 meeting.

Butte County Homeless survey. Commissioner Reddemenn asked how the Park Rangers are dealing with the transients in the park dismantling bikes and other unsavory activities. [Staffer Dan] Efseaff replied we are getting more cooperation from PD and are trying to focus on area and look at our approaches. Reddemann asked what to do if she witnessed possible criminal behavior. Efseaff; call PD.

I will write a note to the commission and ask them what’s being done about the entrenched encampments in my neighborhood stretch of Bidwell Park. I think what the city needs to do is get bulldozers in there to clear out non-native, overgrown, and dead vegetation. And that’s just a start. 

The park looks like a hobo camp, therefore it has become a hobo camp.

New twist on Robin Hood

24 Jan
thumbnail_0124170827a_resized

Can you see what’s wrong in this picture?

This was left behind in the areas where we have found illegal campers in middle Bidwell Park. They seem to have moved their tents to a new location, and left their garbage.

The first things that catch my eye are the bike parts. Of  course garbage is also disgusting, but there’s more going on here than littering.  Is Bidwell Park, like Lindo Channel, a sprawling no man’s land of criminal activity? 

The tents had been moved to different, but not new, locations. These well-worn paths usually lead either to an occupied tent or a pile of garbage.

thumbnail_0124170817a_resized

These muddy, beaten paths lead into the tangled mess of non-native overgrowth, frequented by transients.

This is a crime problem –  criminals who can pick up and move anytime they want, move in and out of your neighborhood in the dead of night, and disappear into a jungle of a park that runs the entire breadth of town. 

 

 

Two deaths in a week, city still stalls on dealing with illegal campers

24 Jan

I know some people would like me to stop complaining about illegal camping in Bidwell Park, but that’s what it takes to get the police to do anything about it – constant complaints.  

After city manager Mark Orme told me “the best means of allowing staff to succeed is for aware and willing residents to inform the City of these types of issues – so many thanks to you,”  I have made two more reports of illegal camping in the same spot in the last month. The response isn’t so friendly after the first complaint. Orme does not address me personally anymore, instead cc’ing me as he forwards my complaint to the public works and police  departments.

Erik,

 FYI – for the Park Rangers knowledge too.  Thanks.

Mark

 Mark Orme

City Manager

For the Beautiful City of Chico 

Then Erik Gustafson from public works chimes in – Copy That!

Copy, I’ll forward to Rangers right away and have them connect with Sgt. Zuschin for notification status.  Thanks,

cid:image001.jpg@01D1BB5F.B7302CD0

Erik Gustafson

City of Chico | Public Works Director – Operations

(530) 894-4202 Office  –  (530) 895-2634 Fax

Website | Contact Us

cid:image002.jpg@01D1BB5F.B7302CD0

I just love the way these guys sign off an e-mail!

Police chief’s not so fancy, he’s just “Mike”.

All,

 We are looking at Wednesday to have this resolved…PD and Parks are in contact to make it happen.

 Thanks,

 Mike

But the chief’s response kinda took the air out of my balloon – I reported this Saturday, and they won’t be taking care of it until Wednesday?

Meanwhile, we’ve had two drug overdoses on public property within a week, this latest girl found at the CARD center, only 20 years old. 

People think I don’t care, but I am sorry for that girl. She’s been arrested twice for possession of narcotics and even petty theft, charges dropped? Who is really to blame for this problem? 

As of Friday, 1/20/17, CARD has poured $1700 worth of labor into Rose Garden mess

22 Jan
I posted this picture

I posted this picture about two weeks ago.  Workers were already trying to make repairs.  Just imagine what the current storm is doing to this mess.

When I saw the mess Chico Creek had made of the new rose garden at the Chico Area Recreation District center on Vallombrosa, I immediately wondered what the repairs were going to cost. It took me a couple of weeks to get a complete answer out of Director Ann Willmann.

Hi,

I would like a final cost figure on the rose garden, including everything from the first planning to the last installation.

I would also like a cost estimate on the repairs necessitated by recent flooding of the garden.

thank you for your anticipated cooperation, Juanita Sumner

She responded quickly but did not answer my question.

Good Morning. I am in receipt of your email and will send the information once it has been compiled. Thank you, Ann

Almost a week later she came back with some information.

Dear Juanita, the total cost of the Rose Garden was $368,000. The cost to CARD was $218,000 due to the donation from Marilyn Warrens of $150,000.

 The repairs have been completed with supplies we have on hand. The only expense will be replacement of some native plants and decomposed granite at approximately $400.

 Thank you, Ann

I felt her response was incomplete and wrote back to ask for clarification.

Thanks for your response,

I understood CARD would match Mrs. Warren’s contribution, was the extra $68,000 discussed by the board? 

The supplies you had on hand cost money at some point, and then there’s labor. How do those factors affect total cost of repairs? 

thanks for your patience in answering my questions, Juanita Sumner

This time she responded a little more quickly.

Hi Juanita, in regards to the cost of the supplies, the dirt used was donated several years ago and has been at a park site and is used as needed. The base rock that was used was left over from the development of DeGarmo Park. I do not have a price they paid for it at that time. The total staff wages were approximately $1,700.

 Addressing your budget question, yes the board did approve an additional $70,000 towards the project at the December 2015 meeting.

 Thank you, Ann

Has Willmann never had her car repaired? She knows labor is part of the cost of anything. And look at the jobsite – they were probably premature in making repairs,  when my husband and I rode by the other day, more sand had  washed out of the fence, and the irrigation was still hanging in the air. That’s what $1700 worth of CARD labor looks like? 

And yeah, the board approved another $70,000 in funding for this project last December. Your money, my money, our money – nobody called me, did anybody call you?

CARD to run phone survey in late January, early February, trying to convince us to tax ourselves for their pension deficit

21 Jan

Run in the Enterprise Record, 1/22/17

At their November 16, 2016 meeting, Chico Area Recreation  District Board authorized  $28,000 for  EMC Research of Oakland to conduct a community engagement survey.  Consultant Ruth Bernstein said a phone survey would be conducted in late January or early February. Callers will not mention CARD, nor that CARD is seeking an assessment or bond on property owners.  Bernstein told the board the survey will “build community support for your vision,”  identifying  “what they want…then you know what to say about yourself…”  

CARD has spent nearly $100,000 on revenue measure consultants since a 2012 survey came back negative. Consultants have told CARD repeatedly, they need to build their image in the community to get the public to tax themselves more for this agency. This survey is part of a campaign to convince residents CARD could give them whatever their hearts desire if only they’d agree to tax themselves more. 

CARD already gets about $3.8 million – roughly half their budget – from property taxes. They spend almost $800,000 on retirement and health benefits for less than 30 employees. Management, protected by “PERS PEPRA”, only pay 2 – 6.25 percent of their benefits. According to their auditor their pension deficit increased by $54,480 this year, now $1,758,200.  At the current rate of employee contribution the auditor reported the pension deficit “will never go away.”  

If you receive a call from this consultant, be sure to ask a few questions of your own.

Juanita Sumner, Chico