American Rescue Plan funding being spent on a complete remodel for Downtown Chico, while needed road projects stay on the “wait-and-see” list

14 Sep

Monday (9/12/22) I attended a City of Chico Internal Affairs Committee meeting. The agenda items were discussion of the city’s COVID Emergency Declaration (yes, still in effect), outdoor dining, and Kasey Reynold’s request to discuss “quality of life” under the Warren vs. Chico settlement.

I feel Reynolds is illegally using staff time on that last mention – she is not allowed to use staff time to discuss ballot measures once they have been lettered and placed on the ballot. This is an obvious campaign ploy for both her re-election and Measure H as well. She’s trying to convince us that she’s fighting for us, and can be trusted with that one cent sales tax increase. But I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer and pursue the matter, so I’ll just say, I won’t be supporting Reynolds in November. She’s too willing to bend the law for her own ends.

The more interesting items were the COVID emergency status and outdoor dining conversations. Yes, the city of Chico is still in a state of emergency, and that bugs me because it gives the city manager emergency powers – he can allocate money, hire people at salaries he determines, and many other questionable acts. Just think, Bill Dauterive in charge during the hurricane. Former and disgraced manager Mark Orme hired a new police chief, and created three new positions, at salaries well over $100,000/year, in his position as Emergency Services Director, before he got the boot for being derelict and irresponsible.

So now former city councilor and one time mayor Mark Sorensen has been hired as city manager and given the same Emergency powers. Why are we still under this emergency? Because the city has actually turned it into a windfall of funding. Just last month Chico received another $12.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The city had already received $22.1 million directly from the ARPA in 2021, plus another $1.7 million of the county’s ARPA funding.

While the budget shows that some of that funding has been used to bring Park Avenue and Mulberry Street up to 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act standards, over $3 million went to the building and establishment of the pallet shelters, which staff has predicted will cost another $1.5 million, minimum, to maintain and operate, ANNUALLY. Other money went to “affordable housing” – almost 1400 units. Unfortunately the housing sales and rental markets continue to be shaky, rent and prices continue to go up. Furthermore, the city has failed to address rising utility rates, recently announcing a 60% increase in city sewer rates. Furthermore, they intend to tie sewer rates to water consumption, which is a grab, plain and simple.

This city is flush with money, the problem here is clearing in the spending.

Which brings me back to the meeting. There was a short discussion of the Emergency Act, really short since members Deepika Tandon and Mike O’Brien did not show up. O’Brien tried to participate by phone, but since he did not advise staff that he would be “virtual,” they had not sent him the agenda or reports. So he sat there making decisions based on what he heard at the meeting – he just went along with Reynolds – Aye aye Captain! There was no explanation for Tandon’s absence, in fact, both staff and Chair Reynolds seems to be surprised and even a little miffed.

Reynolds called for the committee to send a recommendation to end the State of Emergency, noting that Butte County had ended their state of emergency in April. But she was hardly very enthused about it. Her attitude seemed to be, “we’ll see what happens,” when council takes up the matter at their next meeting. I got the general feeling that nobody really wants the emergency to end, including Downtown merchants, especially bar and restaurant owners. They have been enjoying PPP loans, and the city has made them alot of promises out of that American Rescue Plan money.

The city has even stated they will allow the use of outdoor dining space, whether permitted or not, to continue for another 180 days after the end of the emergency. Later in the conversation staff made it clear they intend to make parklets a permanent addition to Downtown despite the end of the emergency. They’re using their emergency powers to make changes that will affect our town and our budget long after people have forgotten COVID.

There’s the other issue. According to staffer Brendan Vieg, the city has been pretty “lax” in the permits process. They have allowed various restaurants, bars and coffee shops around town to establish outdoor dining areas on their own property without permits, which is against the law. They’ve also left it up to the ABC to enforce the liquor serving laws – I know, what a free-for-all – drinks served to people curbside, in keg cups, in their cars. The whole thing was surreal. And, now we find out, it was completely unsupervised.

Those restaurants who established their outdoor dining areas without permits, without health and safety inspections, without fees, will still be allowed to operate those outdoor areas as long as the emergency order persists, and for at least 180 days after. Again – without health and safety inspections. Vieg says the city will rely on people to complain.

Meanwhile, other establishments were encouraged to take over parking spaces directly around their business property. The city has placed really ugly cement buttresses – “k-rails” – along the street to allow space for revelers who don’t want to party inside. Not only are they ugly – in the words of one Downtown business owner, “unattractive and dilapidated…” They look like they’ve been used on freeway construction sites, they’re tagged, beat up, and really bring that look of urban ghetto.

But that’s not the real problem for me – they make it onerous to walk or ride a bike Downtown, totally unsafe. I wouldn’t even take my car Downtown when traffic is busy and people are getting slobbering drunk at these wonderful sidewalk cafes the city has established. It’s just not safe, they only allow about a butt’s width to walk on the sidewalk, if you’ve ever had kids, you know that’s not family friendly. Downtown sidewalks, once subject to No Smoking ordinance, have become “the smoking area” for private businesses. And it doesn’t look like anybody is doing any cleaning.

This seems outrageous to me – to claim that pricey bars and restaurants in one small section of town are deserving of American Rescue Plan money to enhance their private business corridor. The city is pandering for the sales tax these places produce. Without considering how much of the budget goes to the problems they produce – last budget shows over half goes to the cops, and I’d say most of their job is rounding up the bums and the drunks. Two problems that are exacerbated and perpetuated by dumb decisions on the part of one council or another.

Business owners attending the meeting mostly Downtowners, not only wanted to see the emergency extended, but they want the ARPA to be spent on redesigning the cement buttresses, to make them trendy and attractive. And PERMANENT.

In June 2021, the Council allocated $300,000 in one-time American Rescue Plan funds toward the design, construction, and implementation of temporary parklets in the downtown area. The purpose of the project was to replace the existing K-Rail parklets with safe, aesthetically pleasing parklets, and allow for continued use of outdoor dining in an effort to continue to provide a safe dining experience for local residents and visitors.

Yes – the city already allocated $300,000 to Galloway and Associates Architects to design pleasing looking buttresses. Yes, that would be the firm owned by Matt Galloway’s dad, which is why Matt Galloway signed the “Argument For” Measure H, cause he, like the rest of the supporters of Measure H, have direct benefit to gain from it.

What’s a parklet? Here are some images I found online that look like the pictures Macarthy showed at the meeting.

Looks trendy and expensive to me. In fact, according to Ass City Mangler Jennifer Macarthy, “$300,000 does not begin to cover it…” They will be asking for more ARPA money to spend making Downtown into a restaurant zone. That might be nice for those of you who can afford to throw down $200 for family meal, but most of the taxpayers who pay for this stuff don’t even go Downtown. While the elite meet and dine at our expense, we’ll be grinding our teeth and our tires around the rest of a town that hasn’t seen street maintenance for the last 20 years. And according to Macarthy, the general public has already lost 42 parking spaces to this effort to make Downtown more Uptown.

Get ready to lose more parking Downtown – “A maximum of fifty percent (50%) of the number of normally required parking spaces may be occupied or otherwise rendered unusable by the placement of temporary seating and other features associated with the temporary use. Such maximum may be increased or decreased at the discretion of the City’s Public Works Director based on unique site conditions.” A couple of Downtowners commented that there is no comprehensive code for such approvals, it’s completely up to the director to make the call as he chooses.

This is how they spend “emergency” funding, and they tell us we need to pay higher taxes if we want them to maintain our streets?

Well, there’s more, while I’m at it, let me tell you about what I saw at City Hall the last couple of visits I’ve made. You all remember when I ky-yied about the nearly half-million dollar remodel of City Chambers? Paid for with Comcast ratepayer funded grants, that job was originally estimated at about $225,000, but ended up costing almost $400,000 because of just plain incompetence.

That was in 2018. When I visited the City Hall building next door in August of this year, I discovered the building is being remodeled. A staffer told me the third floor, once a public reception area and clerk’s office, is being made over into high-tech conference rooms. Like the huge, fancy ones they put in the old Muni building just a few years ago, at who knows what cost. They really went tits-out with fancy paneling and flooring at the Muni building, they spent a bunch of taxpayer money on that building, which isn’t even used for much of anything. Most of the time that two story building sits empty, but I’ll bet the lights and ac are still running.

So, the city is broke, too broke to maintain the streets, or the sewer, or the parks, but still has enough money to do a complete remodel of Downtown and City Hall. Wow, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I just rolled off a turnip truck.

We’re not turnips, and I won’t be squeezed for more turnip juice. Tune in tomorrow, I would like to tell you about some other stuff I’ve been doing, next time, on This Old Lady Goes to Town.

POSTSCRIPT: Doug Roberts, you sell-out, I hope you are haunted by the hook-handed one for the rest of your lousy beer mopping life.

3 Responses to “American Rescue Plan funding being spent on a complete remodel for Downtown Chico, while needed road projects stay on the “wait-and-see” list”

  1. bob September 14, 2022 at 4:03 pm #

    Clearly the American Rescue Plan was the American Boondoggle Plan…or the American Feed The Special Interests Plan.

    They’re using our money for ice rinks and “parklets” while the streets fall apart. And of course they are spending our money on trying futilely to fill the ever expanding pension sink hole.

    And most people couldn’t care less or our blissfully ignorant, just the way our local rulers want it. And the same people who don’t care or don’t know will be stupid enough or ignorant enough to vote for their tax increase, too.

    • Juanita Sumner September 14, 2022 at 8:46 pm #

      I was very disappointed to see two Downtown merchants, interviewed by ch 12 news, admitting they know the city spends money poorly but they will support the tax because the city needs the money? It’s this kind of enabler that has allowed our town to sink into disgrace.

      • Juanita Sumner September 15, 2022 at 2:25 pm #

        Ha ha, I’ll add something funny – the reporter from Ch 12 reposted her story, and the guy who commented yesterday that he’d support the tax asked for his name to be removed!

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