Promises, promises – while they’re re-imagining Downtown and hooking Paradise up to our sewer plant, what has the city of Chico done for you lately?

27 Feb

Last time I was talking about actions the city of Chico has taken over the past 10 or so years that have led us to the situation (I’m being nice) we’re in today. That means a lot of things to a lot of people, and that’s why the conversation isn’t really going anywhere. I choose to focus on actions that have raised the cost of living in Chico while lowering the quality of life. I left off with the Trash Tax, so that’s where I’ll pick up.

Brian Nakamura came here not only to trim payroll, he came with plans to increase the city’s payments to CalPERS. He told us we had about a $198,000,000 pension deficit, and that was tanking our credit rating and leading to all kinds of calamity. Behind closed doors he steadily increased payments to CalPERS, taking the money out of every department fund. Funds went into arrears, and staff started telling us projects were years behind because there was no money.

Nakamura’s Howdy Doody solution? Well, we’ll just make the garbage companies pay for street repairs – after all, those big trucks are ripping up the streets! Nakamura also claimed he had numerous, steady complaints about “all these garbage trucks on the streets” – as if it was a public safety concern. The city had permitted those big trucks, if you’ve lived in Chico more than 15 years you watched them go from the size of a small delivery truck to the behemoths that troll our streets today. Public works director Fritz McKinley told attendees of a morning committee meeting that the trucks were not only big, they were speeding. (McKinley, by the way, got the can without explanation not long after)

I asked Nakamura for proof of those complaints, whether emails or letters, he ignored me. His solution was to limit trash haulers with a franchise agreement. The companies would vie for the right to serve us, and they’d have to pay the franchise fee – wake up Turnip Head, that means, YOU PAY IT.

The process was questionable, by the time it was done, Nakamura had left Mark Orme in charge. I remember, at one meeting, Orme tried to talk committee members into seeking compulsory trash service for everybody, but the consultant said they’d have to offer low-income subsidies. Recology manager Joe Matz declared loudly as he left the meeting that “service rates are going to triple…” There was an under-the-table arm-wrestling match over where the trash would go – at that time, the Butte County dump was complaining they weren’t getting enough trash (meaning, dump fees) and Recology wanted to take the trash to their own new, state-of-the-art dump in Rocklin.

Butte County won – Waste Management got the residential contract, Recology got commercial and some residential, and ratepayers lost not only their right to choose haulers but their right to have any say in rate increases.

I’m a landlady, I save my bills. I still have years of Recology bills – year after year, $18 a month, with a slight variation called the “Fuel Surcharge”. Sometimes that even went down. Under the franchise deal, rates naturally went up – you really didn’t expect a private enterprise like Waste Management to give you charity. And up. At this point, less than 10 years into this deal, my rates have doubled. I used to get a 96 gal bin for myself and my tenants for only $18/mo, including a 64 gal recycling bin. Now the same bins are $36.

I’ll tell you what else – we go to the dump a few times a year, and the dump fee has only gone up $2 in the same amount of time.

It’s not the cost, it’s the shakedown – the city collects millions in franchise fees a year, just for the privilege of doing business here. And now the state is demanding the sorting out of food waste – let’s talk about that later.

I’d like to finish up with what happened to the trash tax. Here’s a post I made in 2017, showing the funds were clearly no longer being used to do any kind of street maintenance, instead going right into the pension deficit like everything else.

Read that, it’s shocking. Here’s a quote I just pulled out, from a conversation about what to do with the franchise money that had been promised to fix the streets – “Stone: [admits the streets are bad]  I’m kind of comfortable dedicating for a year some amount…I’m uncomfortable about dedicating this long term, I don’t like to tie our hands…” He doesn’t want to tie his hands to keeping promises, is what he’s saying. Promises mean nothing to these people. Stone later denied to me that there had been any promises to use the money for the streets, but wow, David Little remembered the same promise. Where’s Little now? Sucking off the teat, as far as I’m concerned.

Most recently, we have a new sales tax that will go to securing new debt (I’m guessing, Pension Obligation Bond), and we have a sewer tax that will go to completely remodel Downtown and then pay for the hook-up to Paradise. But what have we really got? Look at the street in front of your house – that should tell you what you haven’t got.

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