Archive | June, 2018

Road bond money could be allocated to other funds

29 Jun

Well, it seems David Little is out of town and Enterprise Record associate editors Steve Schoonover and his wife Laura Urseny have “lost” my latest letter to the editor.

The ER is what passes for journalism in our town, supposedly a “conservative” newspaper, and today they’re running a push piece about how great city finance manager Scott Dowell is for stealing a million dollars out of who knows where to pay down the employees’ pension deficit. Without one word about where the money came from.

There was no reporter at the Finance Committee meeting the other day, they get their information straight from Dowell and print whatever he tells them, without question.

Attend a Finance Committee meeting sometime and listen to Dowell describe the allocation process – there is no such thing as a budget. When city $taff overspends they just get another fund transfer.

The money from a road bond would be up for grabs to pay the pensions, just like all the other funds.

Write those letters.

Advertisements

City chambers still being remodeled – what happened to those Hooker Oak benches?

28 Jun

New sheet glass doors installed in city chambers – as part of a technology upgrade?

I went down to City Hall to take in a Finance Committee meeting yesterday morning. I hadn’t been at the chambers for a month or so and I was shocked when I entered. The lobby had got a major remodel. For no reason I can figure. 

I’m sorry these pictures are grainy, but I think you can see what I’m talking about. Go down and take a look for yourself.

Fant-cee schmant-cee!

 

Here you see there’s nothing wrong with the old brick paneling.

And two brand new faux (?) leather sofas? 

The first thing my son said when I showed him this picture was “What happened to the old Hooker Oak benches?”  Good question Boy O!

Yeah, what happened to the perfectly good benches that had been made out of chunks of the old Hooker Oak, which the city sold to a furniture maker? And I believe they bought the benches back from same furniture maker. They were beautiful, and part of our city’s heritage. 

City clerk Debbie Presson told me the chamber remodel – complete with new everything – was paid for with franchise fees from our Comcast bills.  Yes, you pay extra for cable so city staffers can treat themselves to Taj Majal surroundings. Presson reported the remodel was necessitated by necessary technical upgrades. Once the job started, they had trouble finding the wires, apparently, and the entire chambers had to be torn to pieces and replaced with high-end paneling, flooring and furniture. 

But she didn’t tell me that would include further renovations to the lobby. I wonder if she had to ask council for another supplemental allocation – a couple of months ago she had to go to council for permission to spend $25,000 more than the original estimate.

You realize, there are working people in our town who live on less than $25,000? 

I went to the meeting, as I explained yesterday, to hear what they were proposing in the way of a bond on our homes, supposedly for street improvements. Given the way Presson rationalized a complete, high end remodel of chambers over a little bit of rewiring, I’ll tell you what, they will rationalize spending that bond money any damned way they please.

 

 

Council refers revenue bond measure to Finance Committee, Finance Committee cancels all upcoming meetings until September. What do you think that means?

27 Jun

This morning I attended the monthly City of Chico Finance Committee meeting because council has directed the committee to vet a bond measure for “street improvement.” Council member Mark Sorensen made the suggestion in response to councilor Karl Ory’s suggestion that the city put a sales tax increase on the November ballot. 

In her column in the cat box liner known as “Chico News and Review,” editor? Melissa Daugherty suggest the vote “went along party lines,” and the “conservatives” voted down Ory’s suggestion. What a laugh – there aren’t any conservatives on Chico City Council. 

It comes down to common sense – the voters have made it pretty clear they will not support a sales tax increase. More important, local business owners are screaming NO! – Chico retail is already suffering death by a thousand cuts, who needs a sales tax increase?!

Funny this suggestion comes from Chico Chamber of Commerce – until you look at their membership – mostly non-retail!

So Sorensen suggested a bond measure and sent it to the Finance Committee for discussion.

Except there won’t be any discussion of this measure until September, because Administrative Services Director (formerly known as Finance Director) Scott Dowell talked the committee into cancelling the July and August meetings. 

I’ll say for Morgan, he wanted to have the July and August meetings, he said the public would want to be in on the  discussion. But he sat there while Dowell essentially cancelled the meetings. Committee member Randall Stone seemed to go along more willingly with the cancellation. Committee chair Mark Sorensen, who suggested the measure in the first place, was absent because of an “emergency situation” in Biggs, where he yanks down over $100,000/year plus publicly paid benefits as Biggs’ city manager. 

You know how it is, you can’t have your dick in two places at once.

You realize, that means the discussion goes behind closed doors. In fact, while they wouldn’t discuss the bond measure at today’s meeting – they’re not allowed to discuss stuff that’s not on the agenda – Assistant city manager Chris Constantin tried to take it up after the meeting had been adjourned and almost everybody had left the room. Constantin immediately pulled Mayor Sean Morgan aside and started whispering, essentially, what did Morgan want? Morgan started to suggest that Constantin bring forward all possibilities for funding road work in Chico, and Constantin was telling him that he will be working with the public works department to come up with a figure. 

“It will be at least $100 million…” was the last thing I heard Constantin say aloud as I pulled my chair and my notebook up to the table. Constantin lowered his voice to almost inaudible and turned his back to me. I moved closer and asked, “is this a private conversation? Am I allowed to listen? I thought by the way you were whispering you don’t want me to hear what you’re saying?”

At that point Constantin turned to me and assured me it was not a private conversation. But the conversation ended, and Constantin left the table to approach Chamber of Commerce maven Jolene Francis. From what I could overhear, he was asking her how they would switch from a sales tax increase measure to a bond measure. But I was in a hurry to go  back to work, so I let it go.

This is how they run our town behind our backs. I’m pretty certain they would have talked about the bond a lot more today if I hadn’t been there – there was no other member of the public present except for pro-tax cheerleader Stephanie Taber.

I’ll tell you what was also funny – Dowell’s finance report was nothing but KUDOS! Budget right on schedule! Revenues up three percent! $11 million more in cash flow than last year! Sales tax revenues up 6 %! Kinda makes you wonder – why would we need a revenue measure?

But you have to read between the lines. Most of the report was about supplemental allocations and budget transfers – the budget means nothing, they spend money however they want. When they can’t pay salaries in one department they just  steal the money from another department. That’s why there’s no money to fix the streets, and the sewer fund is so flat the city is actually entertaining a hook-up with Paradise – 20 miles east of Chico, in the foothills.

Before he was elected to City Council, Mark Sorensen blogged about all the money the city was stealing out of the sewer fund to pay pensions – you won’t find that blog online anymore, and you won’t get Sorensen to talk about the sewer fund.

Dowell also announced, last year was a record year for parking fines! But he opined, fiscal year 2018/19 won’t bring in as many parking revenues. He said, “I’d like to believe people are becoming cognizant of the laws…”

You know the only place they enforce parking is Downtown? But they still have record parking fines? I was reminded of a trip I took Downtown to deal with PG&E. As I stood in the pee-stinking Downtown PG&E office, I watched a family park their car, put change in the meter and walk into the building. They were setting up PG&E for their college kid. The woman watched as a parking attendant walked up and placed a ticket on their windshield. She expressed disbelief as her husband went out to see what that was about. He approached the attendant, and then he got in his vehicle as the attendant took the ticket off his window. He moved the vehicle slightly, got out, watched the attendant walk away, and came back inside. She had informed him that his vehicle was a few inches out of the parking space, and when he’d protested she’d offered to let him fix it. So he moved his car about an inch, I mean, I couldn’t even see any distance, and she tore up the ticket. He was really angry about it, but afraid to disagree with a woman who could give him a ticket out of spite. 

The parking laws have not changed Downtown, it’s the method of “enforcement” that has changed. The private parking enforcement  company that the city hired is paid based on how many tickets they hand out. That’s incentive. I don’t know how this is legal, but the chief of police in San Luis Opispo had to leave his job because he offered his patrol teams pizza as a reward for tickets.

The problem we have here is a city who knows they are acting illegally but waits for some citizens’ group to pony up money for a lawyer to call them on it. They’re absolutely desperate to get money to pay down the pensions, because most of our council members are pentioneers, or are married to pensioneers.

We will assume that the city will have a bond measure ready for either the November ballot or a special election in an upcoming year. We need to let them know – especially those who are running in November, we could recall anybody who supports this revenue measure. The Reform California people successfully recalled the legislator who put the gas tax – SB 1 – on the legislative agenda. 

We also need to let them know, we can come up with a measure of our own – to dump the Utility Users tax. That’s $7 million a year they tack onto our PG&E and Cal Water bills. They add unknown amounts to our bills with their shake down “franchise fees.” 

Write those letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gas tax repeal will be on November ballot

26 Jun

The gas tax repeal petition has been cleared for the November ballot. The initiative doesn’t have a number yet but I’ll keep you posted.

 

We have to watch the city of Chico for the illegal use of taxpayer money to promote their revenue measure

24 Jun

The other day I was saying we need to watch the city of Chico for signs they are spending taxpayer money to push their revenue measure – here’s an article about the state of California using public funds to defeat the gas tax repeal:

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2018/06/19/gas-tax-opponent-sign-controversy/

“Under California Government code, officials cannot spend taxpayer money  ‘..to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters. ‘   according to California Government Code 54964.”

I’ve seen the signs, and it’s obvious they are part of a campaign to defeat the repeal. The projects they are trumpeting about are band-aid patch jobs. Take Chico, for example. A year ago the Enterprise Record reported, “Chico’s obsolete, deficient bridges need attention.” 

https://www.chicoer.com/2017/08/12/chicos-obsolete-deficient-bridges-need-attention/

Many of the city’s bridges are no longer functional, and a few have deficiencies needing attention, according to Caltrans inspection reports from 2016.”

The article describes the condition of the old Guynn Avenue bridge – “The narrow Guynn Avenue bridge over the Lindo Channel in Chico features rusted metal, crumbled railings, and grape vines climbing up the girders.” The reporter, observing a truck with a trailer crossing the bridge, adds, “ The bridge creaks and shakes under even the lightest loads. ”   He also says the bridge will be replaced, but not when.

I don’t remember hearing anything about that bridge being replaced, but I do remember city public works staffer Brendan Ottoboni  saying at a recent meeting that they were dropping a whole list of projects because there was no funding.

Right now the city is undertaking 4 inch scrape and slop jobs on higher visibility roads like Cohasset and Esplanade. The contractor, Rene Vercrussen of Knife River Construction, says these jobs are being paid for with gas tax proceeds.  Why not replace some of the bridges listed in that story?  I know for certain the bridge between East First Avenue and Floral is in similar condition to the Guynn Avenue bridge, and the same goes for the bridges on Pine and Cypress at Humboldt. 

I believe they are working on Cohasset and Esplanade because they will be seen.  I realize, those roads are heavily used, but tell that to somebody who has to cross one of those bridges every day to get to work, get their kids to school, and get groceries and other supplies. 

And, I believe those “repaving” jobs are not being properly done, we’ll see if they last until the election. 

The Repeal California people have a good argument to make about the use by the state of public funds to promote a tax measure. State staffers are spending thousands of dollars on signs that promote the use of the gas tax, that’s obscene when you consider these high-profile projects are a drop in the bucket. 

I believe the city of Chico will pull the same sort of stunts – they want not only to keep the gas tax increase but float a local bond measure for street improvements.    We have to call them on it. 

Get more information about supporting the gas tax repeal at 

http://www.reformcalifornia.org/

 

While other counties send out mail in ballots to raise voter turnout, Butte County Clerk sits on 32 percent turnout twiddling her thumbs

22 Jun

The most distressing result of the June 5 election was a dismal 32 percent turnout.

I always wonder, who registers to vote, sits through a month long media blitz, fields a steady stream of campaign junk in the mailbox, but doesn’t vote?

And that leaves me with, who does vote? (And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last…)

I also have to ask, what’s Candace Grubbs doing about it?

Because in Sacramento, Nevada, San Mateo, Madera and Napa Counties, the clerks are experimenting by sending mail in ballots to all registered voters.

“The hope is that the number of people voting will increase.”

Candace Grubbs has been our clerk for over 20 years now, and despite her reassurances, I think she’s lost any passion she ever had for public service. In the last election she announced ballots being thrown out because she didn’t like signatures, ballots being “lost”, unreadable, etc. I had complaints from voters who did not receive ballots, even after receiving pre-election materials such as the state voter guide. When they contacted Grubb’s office they were told they’d receive new ballots that never arrived. Finally they were told they needed to drive to the clerk’s office in O’ville.

Talk about creating a hostile environment. When I questioned her about it she went up my ass.  (see Nov. 2, 2016)

Of course she ran unopposed in this latest election – which one of her underlings would have the nerve to run against her?

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Grubbs to do anything to raise voter turnout  – she complains she can hardly handle 32 percent.

What we need to do is find a new candidate for clerk in 2022.

 

City mounts it’s tax increase campaign

21 Jun

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – the Chico City Council is at it again. I’m pretty sure, the public has let them know, they will not vote themselves a sales tax increase. So, Mark Sorensen, “fiscal conservative,” has pulled a bond out of his ass – a special use bond! For street repairs!  A measure that can be passed with 51 percent of the vote!

Sorensen has balls of brass these days – you can actually hear them click together when he walks – because he has announced he has no plans to run for re-election. Good plan Mark!

Somebody should remind Sorensen that his tenure as councilor has coincided with the most incredible downward spiral any town has ever seen. But we’ve got work to do folks, no time for finger pointing.

Unless it’s your middle finger – go ahead and point that in the general direction of city hall every morning when you get up. Better yet – do what I did – write a letter to the Enterprise Record. That’s letters@chicoer.com  Cut a few words and send it to the News and Review if you like – that’s chicoletters@newsreview.com

The city of Chico is running a tax increase campaign in the form of quick-fix, highly publicized road repairs. First, city officials want to stop the November repeal of SB 1, the “gas tax”. Furthermore, they want to put their own revenue measure on an upcoming ballot.

Contractors are scraping 4 inches of old asphalt, chewing it up, mixing it with tar, and spreading it back over major thoroughfares like Esplanade and Cohasset Road. That’s nothing but a patch job – those roads need to be scraped to the base and completely resurfaced, as were East and Palmetto Avenues, back in the 1990’s. Those are still among the best roads in Chico. Meanwhile, the “resurfacing” job the city did on Vallombrosa last year is already crumbling to pieces, with major road hazards.

The city of Chico has deferred maintenance on roads in favor of paying pensions. On June 19, council voted unanimously to put $1 million (from where?) into a fund that can’t be used for anything else but paying the pension deficit. City Finance Director Scott Dowell set it up so that “We can’t use the (funds) for operations. There’s value there. If we had dollars available there’s a temptation to use it for needed things.” 

At the same meeting, council referred the concept of a “street maintenance bond” to the finance committee.

Here you see their real priority – fund the pensions. The road work they are doing now is nothing but posturing – it will be over as of November 7.

Repeal the gas tax.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

What we need to watch for Folks, is any indication they are spending taxpayer money to push this initiative. In the meantime, write those letters!