Search results for 'sustainability task force'

Sustainability Task Force to discuss new “green” building requirements

30 Aug

From: MStemen
To: chicotaxpayers
Subject: FW: City of Chico STF agenda 9/11/14
Date: Sat, 30 Aug 2014 01:08:43 +0000

Take care,


From: Jessica Henry
Date: Friday, August 29, 2014 4:36 PM
Subject: City of Chico STF agenda 9/11/14

Please see attached agenda and attachments for the next City of Chico Sustainability Task Force meeting on 9/11/14. This has also been posted on the City’s website,

Have a great holiday weekend everyone!

Jessica Henry, ARM-P
Administrative Analyst II
City of Chico, Community Development
530-879-6820 phone, 530-895-4726 fax
PO Box 3420, Chico, CA 95927
411 Main Street, Chico, CA 95928

Sustainability Task Force meeting a lesson on “open meetings” law

14 Dec

Well, I’m so glad I attended Thursday nights Sustainability Task Force meeting, it was very enlightening.  In swearing in this new committee, Debbie Presson gave a very informative presentation on the Brown Act.

I will say, Mark Stemen is very businesslike, can run these meetings without the sickening banter and chit-chat that added hours. But, I will ask committee member Mike Rubio to pay attention. At 5:30 staffer Brandon Vieg noted that two members had not arrived, one of whom, Bill Loker, had notified staff that he would not be able to make it. Vieg suggested the group wait a few more minutes for Rubio.  After a few minutes, committee member Cheri Chastain pulled out her cell phone and called Rubio. She opened the conversation with the usual casual greeting banter, then asked, “Got anything special going on tonight?” Then a pause, then a snicker, and she hung up the phone. From the conversation, I got the distinct impression that Mr. Rubio was sitting in front of his boob tube, but I could be wrong. He said he was only a couple of blocks away, and would make haste in getting to the meeting.

Excuse me for all the cusswords I wrote in my notes regarding Mr. Rubio, but the agenda for this meeting, as Vieg repeated several times, was very simple, and the meeting should have been over pretty quick.  I was counting on getting home in time for the beginning of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” – one of the top ten greatest sci-fi movies ever made, and the last time I’d seen it offered on broadcast tv I was about 8 years old.  It’s one of my fave’s but I don’t have time to sit around collecting videos, so when I heard it was going to be on tv, I cemented my plans, damn the jumbling incompetency of committee members.

I’ll give Rubio this much – he was there within 10 minutes, and the meeting was called to order at 5:40. But this precedent doesn’t set well with me – like so many of these feel-good committee members, Rubio  is completely oblivious to what 10 minutes of staff time can cost.  And,  Vieg was there as a substitute, after his day should have been done, and it’s just disrespectful, okay Mike?  Presson acts like she doesn’t mind, but she makes a remark here and there that says otherwise, you know, like your friend’s mom, when she doesn’t have the nerve to tell you to go home.

Let’s just take a time out here, think about this.  I just wrote two posts regarding the Finance Committee meeting I attended earlier this week.  The whole time I sat in on that cost allocation conversation I wondered how much these meetings cost. I had heard a figure of $10,000 tossed onto the STF a couple of years ago at a council meeting – and I and some others present knew that figure was not right, because staffer Linda Herman was making over $80,000/year just in salary, primarily attending to the activities of the STF. I knew the STF cost more than $10,000 a year, give me a break. Well, Debbie Presson answered my question the other night – “In 2006, we ID’d over $750,000 [in staff time] going into boards and commissions…”  That, of course, would include her time, at $134,000/year salary plus benies and 96 percent of her pension cost. Plus the cost of lights and sewer to her office while she was actually working on those reports.

Presson, at that point in her presentation, was explaining why the meetings were stopped as of March this year, and a whole new committee was formed. Frankly, I think they were really overthrowing Schwab, who has become somewhat of a pariah on council these days. But, why argue after a purge, just get to the business of rounding up the disembodied heads and cleaning up the blood stains.

So, the meeting was called to order and Debbie Presson swore in the group  – wouldn’t it be funny, if they just had to stand there while this pretty, petite lady laid into them with a bunch of tawdry language? No, it was nothing like that – but I enjoyed it. They promised to protect the US and California constitutions, which I find highly amusing since everything about their dumb plans seems more like an assault on those constitutions.  

But it got good when Presson launched into a great presentation on the  Brown Act. Excuse me, I love this stuff, I wish I had popcorn. All these years I’ve been suspicious about various activities Downtown, and yeah, I had every right to be. The stories Presson told – here’s my fave: after she gave this presentation to a past council, one member said, “the best meetings we’ve had have been at Duffy’s.”  In Presson’s words relating that story, “I almost had a heart attack.” She didn’t tell us how she handled that one, suffice to say, I’ve heard her warn these people on various occasions, and apparently, she’s got to be constantly on watch. Which is impossible, let’s face it. That story told me, these people are only as good as we expect them to be. I’m sure, I know alot of people, several members of my own chat group, who seem to think it’s okay to violate the rules, if it’s your group that’s doing it!  Silly old rules!

The basic premise of the Brown Act, according to Presson, is that “it was designed to ensure the public has a chance to participate…to hear your deliberations…”  In other words, the public needs to know what or who influenced the decisions that are being made by our public boards and commissions. She went on, “a small group behind closed doors precludes the chances of the public being able to participate…”

Here I would like to say, these poorly noticed, badly attended meetings, by her definition, should be considered a violation of the Brown Act. It’s just so subjective, and Staff gets to make the determination when there’s been a violation. If you complain to the Fair Political Practices Commission, it’s your word against an officer of the court, great, that’s going to fly. 

Years ago, a group of connected conservatives came up with the “RDA Citizens Oversight Commitee,” which was taken in under the umbrella of city commissions. But, the city wouldn’t give them a staffer, just allowed them to have meetings, including e-mail chat sessions, without any notification process, no minutes or agendas, and no staffer attached to keep records of their conversations. But, these people were expected to be allowed to make recommendations to council regarding the spending of our then flush RDA fund. It was like a group of people found a big bag of cocaine, and thought, “wow, this is the greatest stuff I have ever had, I better spread it around my selected friends…” They just went nuts. One member of the group successfully lobbied for the use of funds to help Enloe with it’s expansion, another member unsuccessfully lobbied for an $8 million aquatic center. 

I tried to monitor these conversations, all the while screaming that it was in violation of the Brown Act. I was right, the RDA COC was eventually canned, in a very heated discussion, during which council member Dan Herbert made it very clear they had to have a staffer to be legal, and the city could not afford to appoint a staffer at that time. I was mad because they wouldn’t appoint a staffer, but I had to agree with Herbert. What the RDA COC actually amounted to was a completely inappropriate favoritism of certain members of the public. You know, like the Park Commission is run by the Friends of the Park, but at least it’s all in the record. 

The Brown Act is very simple, and Presson was very clear the other night. For example,  no majority (half or more of  the members) of a commission is allowed to have these casual conversations regarding “business that is before the committee or commission or task force” without making every formal effort to include the public. The meetings have to be at a standard time, noticed within 72 hours to the public, etc. The rules are very strict. Check this out – these are instances of violations. I’ll use the example of a 7 member committee, like the STF, with a majority of 4. 

  • Daisy Chain: Member A calls Member B to discuss business before the group. Then Member B calls Member C – at this point they are okay. But then, Member C calls Member D, and there you have it – BUSTED!
  • Hub and Spoke: A staffer (hub) calls one member of the group (spoke), that member calls another – if this conversation goes to a third member of the committee, it constitutes a majority – BUSTED!

I think these two examples illustrate how careful a board member must be, and should be. Think about it – this is how the Esplanade League tried to control the filling of the late Colleen Jarvis’ seat. They lobbied  members of council via e-mail – Scott Gruendl, Dan Nguyen-Tan, and Maureen Kirk – and got those members’ “guarantee” that they would vote to place Michael Stauffer in Jarvis’ seat. That is illegal. When I came forward with the e-mail in which they announced their clandestine activities, it caused a ruckus that resulted in Jarvis’ seat remaining empty until the next election. It should have resulted in FPPC fines for the three councilors involved, but I didn’t know I could do that at the time.  It takes a pile of paperwork, the FPPC is not exactly user friendly. But when Larry Wahl made some decisions as a Planning Commissioner without announcing that he’d taken campaign contributions from some of the principals in those actions, he was fined about $12,000.

Presson reported that at the very least, a violation could result in the invalidation of the action taken out of the illegal discussion.

She tried to assure the commissioners – it’s not a violation to have coffee together, attend an event together – as long as they don’t discuss “business before the board.”

Here’s the slippery slope for me – harken back to the Duffy’s story. You know damn well these people have inappropriate conversations, not only among themselves, but with PACS like the Esplanade League and the Friends of the Park, etc. You know damned well neither Presson nor the public at large could possibly ferret out every inappropriate conversation these people have, and I’ll add  – you know damned well issues are deliberated and decisions are made behind our backs every fucking day.

Right now I have major concerns about the Economic Development Committee. These meetings went underground sometime last fall, with talk of alternating the regular meetings, held at city hall, with every other month a meeting at a local business. When I pressed them, they assured me that those meetings would be public and noticed, but they weren’t convincing. How could the public be invited, at large, into a private business? Then staffer Shawn Tillman expressed doubt about noticing these meetings – what business owner was going to agree to that? The committee assured me I’d be noticed, but I never was. Finally, after some carping, I got this e-mail from Brian Nakamura way back on November 21:

 I wanted to let you know that due to the holidays and recent departure of Mr. Tillman we are scheduling the next EDC meeting for Wednesday December 18 and will not have the November meeting.

As of now, there is no listing on the agendas page. Of course, Presson noted the 72 hours law, and also implied that at the city of  Chico, Saturday is considered a “business” day. That only matters for deadlines, meaning, when you have an appeal to the city, you have to count Saturdays in that “15 days” you have to get your paperwork in. And it means, Presson doesn’t have to post the council agenda til Saturday before a meeting if she doesn’t feel like it. She reminded us the other night, it’s a nice thing she does sending out the agenda the previous Wednesday, she doesn’t have to.   So, I guess I have to wait until Monday to be formally noticed for this Economic Development meeting. We’ll see what happens.

Now, sorry if you were waiting to hear all about Sustainability – you actually did. See, we have to figure out – are  these Sustainability Task Force meetings sustainable?

Write those letters! Sustainability Task Force needs to GO!

23 Jan

I have finally given up trying to attend city council meetings. It finally hit me that all the real business goes on in the daytime meetings, by the time it gets to council, it’s pretty done.  As if I’m going to sit through another plastic bag discussion when I know the votes are already there.  Or, if it’s an especially contentious issue, or too complicated for their tiny minds, they kick it down the road. Right now, service fees, for stuff like, monopolizing a city parking lot for five hours every Saturday morning, have not been reviewed since “2005 or 2006, not sure…”  According to Scott Gruendl, the city is losing money hand over fist as long as we don’t update, or raise, those fees.  But our Finance Director won’t have any reports on that until March or April – she waiting for her paid consultant to get back to her.

This is how they milk us for money, they just take FOR-EV-ER to do anything. 

All the real important stuff is done behind closed doors anyway. The employee contracts are being discussed tomorrow night behind closed doors. We are not allowed in there. They are supposed to bring us some contracts to look over, but according to one council member I asked, they have NOTHING right now, they’re still hashing it out. I’ll never forget Steve Bertagna’s answer when I asked why the public is not allowed in those discussions – it would put the city at a disadvantage he said, to have the discussion public. He explained how they play the various groups against each other, and secrecy is a big part of that. 

Yeah, just like the mafia, eh? Don’t worry about it! Just like Bronco Bama’s Chicago gang-style politics. Just like Richard Daley and the Chicago cops at the 1968 Democratic Convention. 

As long as the public is held out of the conversations we will continue to have problems with our public safety salaries and benefits. It was the public safety departments that forced Vallejo and Stockton into bankruptcy. 

The contracts are the only important discussion on the agenda. The “work plan” discussion is just more crap, they keep mouthing the same things over and over and doing absolutely nothing. Right now, the only important issue we’re facing is what these salaries and the refusal of the management and public safety staff to pay more of their own benefits is doing to our local economy.  

I’m not putting aside my family dinner for one more of these meetings. I might watch on the box once in a while, but the daytime meetings are where it’s at.  If you want to have any effect, you need to watch the morning meetings and write letters ahead of the council discussion. 

In February the council will discuss the future of the Sustainability Task Force. City manager Brian Nakamura has been meeting  behind closed doors with members of the STF, who are desperate to keep their little trolley on the tracks. He and Linda Herman assure me nothing illegal or inappropriate has gone on at these closed meetings, but that’s what they say.  How are we supposed to know when we aren’t allowed in? 

We need to write letters to Nakamura and council now, telling them the STF is a giant waste of staff time.  Read the old reports available on the city website, and look at the waste of staff time – how many meetings were cancelled because members didn’t care enough to show up.   I have the e-mail conversations – Linda Herman, at $85,000 plus benefits, e-mailing for days, trying to get up a quorum. Some of the original members have quit – either frustrated with the lack of real action, or because they just got bored, I don’t know. One original member told me it didn’t take him long to figure that Ann Schwab wasn’t going to do anything “real,” like squash the college parking structure, or force people into new urban housing. He agreed with me – this is just about Ann Schwab’s resume, feel-good gestures with regulations that end up affecting private citizens without really fixing anything. 

Look along the highway next time you’re out – she’s banned certain plastic bags, what about all the other garbage you see piling up out there? 

The STF needs to go. We finally have a city manager who is trying to clean house – let’s help him! Write to Brian Nakamura and council and tell them the STF needs to go. 

That’s, and you can reach the council at

Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it ethical. Some people can’t be trusted with discretion. Sustainablity Task Force needs to GO. Are we going to have to call The Exorcist?

12 Jan

I was not able to get to last Thursday’s Sustainability Task Force meeting until the end, but I did get some answers to my questions regarding staff coverage and noticing of these meetings. Yes, Brian Nakamura is going to let this committee form ad hoc committees but he’s not going to provide staff to either notice these meetings nor supervise and take notes.

Mark Stemen, committee chair, has promised me a million times that a committee member will be responsible for noticing and taking notes. Unfortunately, it’s pretty haphazard. Stemen noticed me, very tentatively, weeks ahead, and then neglected to send the usual 72 hour notice. That’s why we have paid staff, and that’s what ‘noticing’ is really all about to me – it’s a last minute reminder, because that’s when people forget, at the last minute. Frankly, I resent the notion that they can just create these committees that allow for inappropriate interaction behind closed doors, and then expect me to step and fetch to make the meetings. 

So, believe me, I was thrilled to see Stephanie Taber sitting in the front row when I walked in the last five or so minutes of the meeting. I sent her  the following e-mail the next day:

Good Morning Stephanie,


Was very relieved to see you at the STF meeting last night. These are impossible for me to cover, I only came down last night to talk face to face with Mark Wolfe about getting noticed of the ad hoc meetings. He says Staff doesn’t have to notice the ad hoc meetings, and doesn’t plan to do so. 


I think it is outrageously inappropriate, given the excesses of the past, to allow this committee to form ad hoc committees but not provide staff to cover them, but that’s up to Nakamura. Since you are able to cover these meetings and have your connections Downtown, I’m going to leave it with you, I have other obligations.  Good luck. If you have anything that you think the taxpayers should know, feel free to send it to and I will print it verbatim with your byline.


Thanks again, JS

She responded to me and to Brian Nakamura and staff:

See Juanita’s comments above.  My gut feeling is the two (or three) “ad hoc” committees will run amok unless we have some notice so the “public” can sit in and listen.  I don’t know how admin can make that happen but as Mark W [Wolfe] can tell you we have at least one zealot on the committee that thinks all the work that has gone before is worthless ’cause the conclusions the former staff came up with is greatly flawed and the committee needs to start over.  (Specifically Neal Road methane gas capture which taints the upcoming discussions re the waste management franchise) Surprisingly Dr. Stemen tried to rein  that person in but that was at a “public” meeting – not certain he would do that if no public was present .. sorry but I’m a real skeptic when it comes to the Sustainability Committee having been in attendance many times over the last few years.  I am not suggesting that any staff needs to be present at any of the ad hoc meetings but it would be greatly beneficial if there was mandatory notice….any possibility?


Stephanie is asking for staff to keep track of and notice the ad hoc meetings, we’ll see what Nakamura says. I think the ad hoc meetings should be cut off. They should be able to do what they want in the full committee meetings. And here they are, demanding staff time to do new studies, etc. “Oh, we don’t need staff to take notes, but we want to be able to order them around…”

These ad hoc committees are exactly what Mary Fitch called them – an end-run around the Brown Act. I asked Stemen why he needs these committees and he flat won’t answer. But he admits to knowing that plenty of inappropriate stuff went down with Ann’s committee, including a $70,000 pay off to one STF member and $10,000 to another. The city got  the rest of that $400,000 PG&E “grant” (ratepayer money) to pay Linda Herman’s salary and benefits.  I have nothing against Linda, but if I’m  going to pay her that kind of money, she could get her sorry ass over here to help with the laundry or something.

Do we have to call in an Exorcist?  

No, it is not okay for commissions, committees or task forces to meet a majority of their members without Staff present to take notes, or without Staff notice to the public

29 Dec

I got off the track from the Sustainability Task Force – I was having a conversation with Mark Stemen about whether or not Staff needed to be present at committee meetings, who was allowed to notice the public, who was allowed to take minutes, etc.

I can appreciate both sides of this argument, cause I rode this merry-go-round over the old Redevelopment Agency Citizens Oversight Committee. Sure, I wanted some citizen’s oversight too, a group who was allowed to sit in on the meetings and report back to the general public, get the word out what was going on with the RDA credit card. What we got was a group of people who thought they should be allowed to give recommendations to council, but didn’t have to notice their meetings, could have running e-mail chat discussions involving a majority of their members, with no record available to the public. I wanted a staffer assigned to their group, but a “conservative” – led council under Mayor Dan Herbert declared they couldn’t afford a staffer, and, acknowledging the illegal nature of such a group, disbanded the committee. 

Of course that was a bunch of crap – that same council signed the MOU that linked salaries to “revenue increases but not decreases…”, raising salaries by 14, 19, 22 percent year after year, effectively emptying our city’s coffers and sending us into perpetual debt. Later, surviving members of that council signed the contracts that have us paying 81 – 100 percent of staff benefits and pensions. 

So now here we are – we really CAN’T afford staff to sit in these meetings. It’s really getting ridiculous. In past, the clerk’s staff kept the minutes for these meetings. The clerk’s salary is about $135,000/year, but her staffers make less than half of that.  Now that Presson’s staff has been cut down to one surviving member, Brian Nakamura is sending management staff to take notes at these meetings.  Nakamura himself, at $212,000/year, was taking notes at the Economic Development Committee meetings. He’s assigned Planning Director Mark Wolf to take notes at the Sustainability Task Force meetings. I’m not sure, but I’ll guess that Wolfe’s salary is in excess of $150,000 a year. I’m not complaining, Wolfe is a competent person – but we’re talking about a secretary’s job here, not a person who’s responsible for coordinating a bunch of citywide projects. Figure the difference yourself, more than twice the salary. 

The reasoning behind assigning Wolfe was that the STF has been placed under the Planning Department.  That makes sense, because the original notion behind the STF was to make city services and development more efficient – gee, the way things turn around, huh?

I have to give Stemen credit for trying to save the city some money. And I’m not accusing him of being dishonest or incompetent. He told me in an earlier post, “I have no argument with you over the cost of staffing or the Brown Act…If I have a beef about the Brown Act is is with the City. They are interpreting the Act in a way that says only they can notice the public, and more importantly, only they can take minutes, which is not true. ”  I disagree – that’s what Staff is for, and if they’re not doing the job correctly, they need to be replaced with qualified staffers, not usurped in a hostile takeover. 

He did relate a story about the park commission that bothers me, and reminds me of my experience with the RDA COC. “Last night at the BPPC meeting, Dan E told the members of the tree committee they could not meet without him or staff, and they didn’t have time right now, even though the committee has not met in months. Mark H asked directly if a member of the committee could take minutes, and he [Efseaff] had to admit they could, but he would prefer they not. So they won’t, and thus the key documents the rest of the City staff needs from the BPPC sit on a shelf in draft form.”

I said I’d check with Staff (ha ha) and find out. I know, that’s pretty circular, but Staff are the people we hire to keep the Book of Rules, so that’s who we consult. 

I looked at the description for the job of city clerk available at the Human Resources link on the city website:

Typical Duties: 

Serve as Clerk to the City Council; plan and direct the publication, filing, indexing, and safekeeping of all 
proceedings of the Council; record and publish all ordinances; attest and certify various City documents; 
serve as custodian of the City Seal; plan and direct municipal elections consolidated with County 
elections; serve as a filing officer for required disclosure under the Political Reform Act; serve as filing 
officer for claims and legal actions against the City; plan and direct the maintenance and safekeeping of 
all historical and official municipal records and documents on a City-wide basis; respond to a variety of 
inquiries and requests for information regarding past City Council actions and documents; direct the 
preparation, organization, printing and distribution of the agenda for City Council meetings; supervise and 
participate in the keeping of proceedings, ordinances, resolutions, and minute ordersdevelop and 
implement systems, policies and procedures; administer the provisions of various State laws, including 
the California Elections Code, Political Reform Act of 1974, Brown Act, Public Records Act and other 
applicable laws; prepare and administer the Council and City Clerk’s Office budgets; administer Oaths of 
Office to elected and appointed officials, department heads and City employees; countersign bonds and 
other evidences of indebtedness issued by the City; attend and keep a permanent journal of proceedings at 
all meetings of the City Council; coordinate City Clerk activities and work with other City departments 
and with outside agencies; select, supervise, train and evaluate assigned staff; administer the overall 
workload of the City Clerk’s Office, including review and evaluation of work products, methods and 
procedures; plan and organize special City events; supervise use of Council Chamber Building facilities; 
secure bids for official advertising in newspapers; supervise procedures for appointments to Boards, 
Commissions and Committees; perform related assignments as necessary.

I bold-faced those items I found related to this issue, but there it all is.  I’m bothered that it doesn’t say, “attend or assign staffer to attend and keep a permanent journal of proceedings at all board and commission meetings…”. But, I do see, the city clerk is the authority on the rules for record keeping, and that she is supposed to “develop and implement systems, policies and procedures,” by which to keep those records.  She’s also supposed to be the city’s authority on the Brown Act. I’ve read the Brown Act, and I really liked the presentation city clerk Debbie Presson gave at the STF meeting, so she’s the one I asked. 



 I’ve been having a conversation with some folks, including Mark Stemen, chair of the Sustainability Task Force, regarding the taking of minutes at committee meetings.


Mr. Stemen and some others believe that staff is not required at these meetings, that it is okay for a committee member to be responsible for taking minutes, as well as getting the public notice out in time. That does not make sense given your excellent presentation on the Brown Act Debbie.  I was under the impression that having these meetings without staff present and without staff notice of the pubic is a violation of the Brown Act, please correct me if I’m wrong. 


I’d appreciate it if somebody could clarify here. Apparently, Dan Efseaf told park commissioners that they could have meetings without staff, and take their own reports, but he’d rather they didn’t?  – thanks, Juanita Sumner 

She responded:

You are absolutely right. If there is a task force or commission that has been created and members appointed by the Council….staff needs to be there to provide support and information during the meetings and to ensure that not only does the agenda noticing meet all requirements but the minutes as well.  The legislative history is critical to the process. I will pass that reminder on to staff as well. 

Thank you for asking the question. 

I felt stupid for putting that off as long as I had, but it was Christmas and I don’t like to be a flea on Staff.  Not every minute, anyway. But it was as easy as asking. I’m glad I did too!  No, it is NOT okay for any city-appointed commissions, committees or task forces (and there are legal definitions for each of these) to have meetings of a majority (more than half their members) without a staffer present, or without staff notice to the public. 

I think it’s a good idea. I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but stuff gets kind of loose and fast when the public gets left out of the equation.  But, I don’t like the way Brian Nakamura seems to be using the Brown Act as an excuse not to have the meetings. He’s obviously having meetings about public policy behind closed doors – where has the Farmer’s Market conversation been going on? That is what he wants – to do business without the onerous burden of public input.  I’m guessing he’s entertaining offers for the sale of Bidwell Ranch.

Meet the Taskmaster!

11 Dec

Just when you forgot how pissed you were about the bag ban and the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and all those ridiculous edicts out of the appropriately named “Sustainability Task Force,” here they come again. But there’s been a long-awaited shake-up on the STF. If you thought Ann Schwab was a tight-assed little fascist, just wait til you get a load of new chair Mark Stemen. For years Stemen complained that the STF had no teeth, wasn’t quick enough to mandate human behavior change, and that Chico was going to perish as a result of our inaction regarding global warming. I like Mark, I think his heart is oftentimes in the right place, but he’s way too quick to place himself above the law and try to mandate the behavior of others.

Tomorrow Stemen and the other members of the task force will be sworn in, read their rights and responsibilities, and given a quick overview of the Climate Action Plan and how the city has moved, or not moved in Stemen’s opinion, to implement this plan. 

Honestly, I haven’t read the plan for over a year. It was offensive to me,  but I can’t remember the particulars. Of course, some of this stuff makes perfect sense – cut electrical usage in public buildings by implementing agreed upon efficiency standards – a no brainer, as far as I’m concerned. But, I could never understand why they still ran the air conditioning at City Hall until everybody was forced to carry a sweater. That’s changed now, but only because we’re facing bankruptcy and they can’t afford the rates they helped PG&E jack up. The whole thing has always seemed completely stupid and hypocritical to me. And now we’ve got Stemen, who’s ready to force us to do what he thinks is for our own good!

That’s the Sustainability Task Force, 5:30 pm, tomorrow (Thursday December 12) in conference room 1, at City Hall. 


Want the bums out of your recycling cans/sheds/garages/cars? Stop putting CRV in your bins, donate it to the Work Training Center

20 May

I was working in my tenant’s yard the other day, waiting for the Waste Management trucks to pick up our bins so I could bring them off the street. I don’t like to look at garbage cans, I wish my neighbors would bring theirs in more promptly.

As I was pulling weeds and cleaning up stickers and tree trash, I heard the jangling of glass coming from across the driveway at my neighbor’s house. I looked up to see a car, engine running, stopped in front of her house, and a disheveled man was standing over her open recycling bin with a ban, routing out her CRV containers.

Busted, he tries the friendly approach. That didn’t last long.

This is illegal, and it’s disgusting – as I watched him, I realized why there’s always a fine layer of litter up and down the streets of our town – he was spraying loose trash all over the place as he routed out her valuable recyclables.

Whenever I see something like that, I try to get a picture. Oftentimes that’s all it takes to make the person stop what they’re doing and leave. The man stopped and waved at me – “Hi”, he says, all friendly.

“What are you doing?” I asked, although it seemed stupid to ask. He answered me that he was trying to make a living the best way he could. I told him it was illegal to steal out of recycling cans – that’s when he started cursing, calling me a “bitch” and assuring me that many people thanked him – might even offer him a sandwich! Or a few bucks!

As he went on about how hard it is to make a living these days, I  thought of my sons, both minimally employed at tedious manual jobs, bosses unable to afford to give them more than 28 hours a week because of Obamacare and California Covered. I think of my husband, and all the years he worked on his hands and knees to support the family, saving what we could because we knew there would be no pension.

And I kept taking pictures, my hands shaking hilariously as this man called me “bitch” and asked me “what you gonna do about it?”  I told him I would call the police, and I kept my camera on him.

That’s when he got in his crappy little car, revved the engine, throwing gravel at my neighbor’s fence, and started moving toward me as I stood behind my garbage bins with my cellphone to my face.

Here he’s got his car headed straight for me, as I stand next to my garbage bins. There were pedestrians up and down the street, including a woman with two small dogs.

He made a pretty lame attempt to threaten me with his car, but it was a threat none the less.

I had an applicant for one of my apartments, I had to turn her down when I saw that she was at the time being charged with trying to run over her boyfriend with her car. That’s called “intent to commit great bodily harm,” and she was arrested and charged. I thought she would be a threat to my neighbors and other tenants, and maybe myself or my husband or kids, so I sent her on her way.  

The man swerved out into the street after he’d crossed the end of my driveway, drove a couple of doors down, screeched to a stop in the street, got out of the car and gave me the double birdy before he jumped back into the driver’s seat and took off. I had to laugh – he sure as hell didn’t stop anywhere to rifle anymore cans. I’m going to guess the car was neither his nor registered.

But I’m sick of this type of creep in my town. They are following the garbage trucks, in broad daylight, rifling through recycling bins. How does that make you feel about putting all those bank offers and credit card offers with your name on them in your garbage can?

In my neighborhood I can think of five different incidents of break-ins and petty thefts from neighbors over the last year. My kid’s girlfriend’s car was broken into, parking change stolen, garbage left in it, and then the perp took a big dump right next to the car in my private driveway, at least 100 yards off the public street.

So, I happened to have the phone number of a garbage company employee who’s been trying to help me straighten out my account (so I won’t complain about that, not now anyway…) and I called him. He asked me how it was going and I told him about the incident. He seemed concerned too – he said recycling theft is a big problem – it’s a free service, essentially, so they need the CRV to make it pay for itself. I’ve heard the garbage companies complain about this for years. Years ago, at meetings of the Sustainability Task Force, garbage company employees lobbied the city to make it mandatory for apartment complexes to have locking recycling containers.

Aside from that, he also acknowledged the problems of trash being left on the street and petty crimes increasing with the presence of the bin routers.

When I asked him what could be done about it, he suggested I report it to the cops. But, he also said, it could take them all day to come, and what good is that? I thought about reporting it online, but the website is ridiculous – you have to set up an account!

So, in total frustration, I sat down yesterday morning to e-mail Chico Mayor Sean Morgan. Morgan had just had a big public fight with local gadfly Mark Herrera  over the homeless issue, so I thought I’d find a sympathetic ear.

I told him what happened, and made two suggestions. First, Waste Management doesn’t pick up recycling in my neighborhood until after 2 pm. They are out to pick up trash around 9 am. Why not switch it the other way? Second, why can’t Chico PD pay more attention to the garbage routes on trash days – they would probably solve some “quality of life” crimes while they were at it.

Morgan, who voted along with the rest of council to impose this deal on the residents of Chico told me,

“Waste haulers pick up 5 days a week and it takes them all day to get everyone.  My bins don’t get picked up until about 3:00 (which is nice when I forget to take them down the driveway).”

Here the mayor admits that promises made by council in imposing this deal were LIES. They told us we’d have less trucks on the streets – that’s not true.  I have Waste Management trucks in my neighborhood two days in a row – they pick up my trash one day and then they get the other side of the street the next. And then Recology comes another day to deal with the church across the street.

See, the real problem is, Waste Management took the franchise knowing they didn’t have enough trucks to serve the entire town, and the city let them do that.  They have to haul the trash first, and then come back for recycling. Recology had both my bins by noon, but I am forced to deal with Waste Management.

And Morgan admits, they can’t  give us the service we had from Recology. That’s not the tune he was playing when he shoved this deal down the public’s throat.

I also suggested the police could pay more attention to the routes on pick-up days. His answer,

“Finally, next week PD team normally assigned to South Campus area is heading into the parks.  There’s only so much they can do but hopefully some of the service resistant are made to move so many times they chose another town.  California has tied our hands.  The PD can’t do much.  The DA won’t (because it’s fruitless) and the jail is full of people that should be in State prison.”

Chico PD gets over half the city budget, but they never seem to have enough officers to do anything.  That’s the sales tax increase pitch folks, don’t fall for it. No matter how much they get they just threaten to cut services if they don’t get more. 

I haven’t answered  the mayor – he went into a  ramble about his conversation with Herrera that bothered me too.  Morgan’s a fun guy to talk to sometimes, but he’s made a mockery of the office of mayor. 

Given the response I got from both Waste Management and the mayor, I’ve come up with another solution – I will be asking my tenants, and making the same suggestion to my friends and neighbors – DON’T PUT CRV IN YOUR RECYCLING BINS. If you want to make a positive difference, save it in an old bucket and take it to the Work Training Center – you can donate it, and they’ll be glad to get it. 




Again, the city fiddles while Chico burns

2 Nov

I got a notice yesterday about a “special meeting” Downtown, starting at 8 am today. A “special meeting” only has to be noticed 24 hours in advance, and as I have understood it, is supposed to be called only in the event of some sort of emergency, like a fiscal crisis, or some item that has to be executed within an immediate time frame.

The notice said only that it was a special meeting of the council and all the commissions – airport, art, architecture, planning and parks for a “Required Orientation Pursuant to AP&P 10-1”  This I only knew had something to do with the “code of conduct” for council members and commissioners.

My husband and I had a lot of work today, again – there’s going to be a storm tonight and tomorrow, and we wanted to be ready. But when my husband told me he needed to go out to Payless Lumber and Home Depot to get items to make repairs, I asked him to dump me off at the meeting, which was scheduled to run all day.  He said it shouldn’t take him more than an hour to do his errands, and I couldn’t really get away any longer than that, I had a lot of stuff to do today too. So I got cleaned up and hopped in the truck and he dumped me off at the old city municipal building.

It was a little after 10 am, the room was packed. Clerk Debbie Presson was about a third of the way through the presentation, telling the story of how Larry Wahl got nailed for $12,000 by the FPPC for violating some sort of rule when he was a planning commissioner.

This room, although very nicely restored, was not adequate for public participation in this meeting.

The staffers manning the door looked distressed as I approached – they couldn’t turn away a member of the public, but there we no more chairs. One of the clerks offered hers, and I was on it like white on rice. I wondered why they didn’t use council chambers, I’ve heard the repairs are finished over there. The “big room” at the old muni building isn’t nearly adequate for a joint meeting of council and all the commissioners, and still allow for members of the public or press.

The deputy clerk gave me a thick packet of more than 20 pages – a power point presentation for Board and Commission Orientation. Aside from the greetings and introductions, most of the information pertained to the Brown Act.

I’d seen clerk Presson do this presentation – complete with the same anecdotes – in about 45 minutes for the Sustainability Task Force a couple of years previous.

Why was this an emergency?  At some point, looking at all these people around me, I realized – they must have known more than 24 hours ahead of this meeting, most of them are employed, and would have needed a little more wiggle on the schedule. I can’t imagine telling my boss, “I can’t come in tomorrow, I have an emergency meeting to become oriented with a post I was appointed to months ago…” I saw many who had held commission positions for years, how was this meeting so “special”?

I wonder if the last minute nature of this notice was because they suddenly realized they had to notice members of the public. And since they only had 24 hours, they decided to call it a “special” meeting?

Frankly, if I wanted to nit-pick, I’d say, they only sent the notice 23 and a half hours ahead, at 8:29 am yesterday.

But, I didn’t have time to ask questions, I wanted to get to the bank. So I hustled out the door and beat a path for Wells Fargo over on Memorial Way.

As I approached the building from the corner by Morning Thunder, I noticed something didn’t look right.

Windows covered with plywood and cardboard.

When I finished my transaction I asked my teller if they’d been vandalized, and he reported they’d come to work this morning to find those windows smashed out.  He said he and other employees suspected “them,” and indicated the stretch of lower Bidwell Park right across Vallombrosa from the bank.

Right down the street from the post office annex, which recently shortened hours.

When my husband pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later and I told him about the windows he immediately asked if our security had been compromised. I felt stupid – I hadn’t asked. We drove over to Safeway to pick up some groceries. A person stood yelling obscenities in the middle of the parking lot, and we watched the Safeway security guard walk out to see what was going on. The man immediately stopped yelling and stood conversing quietly with the security guard as we entered the store.

Chico is in trouble, we need to have a “special” meeting about that.

UPDATE:  Here’s clerk Dani Rogers’ explanation about the poor noticing of this meeting:

“The agenda was not posted on the Minutes and Agendas page because there was a problem with the program that we use (Contribute) that allows us to post on the City website.  The agenda was posted on the bulletin board at the Chamber Building, the City’s designated and required posting location, on 11/1/17 before 8 a.m.”

One day I’ll do a post with all the excuses this woman has sent me – over $100,000/year in salary and a sweet benefits package and she still can’t use the software. So, all you citizens out there – either walk around 24-7 with your hands over the seat of your pants, or drive down to City Hall every day to check that bulletin board. 

Still think Agenda 21 is a big joke?

30 Oct

I don’t know how many people are aware of our city’s efforts to get “Green”.  For years I tried to cover Chico’s Sustainability Task Force, formed originally by then-Mayor and current city council member Ann Schwab.  When current chair Mark Stemen took over a few years ago, the committee went completely underground, ad hoc, no council members, no staffers to take notes – like former city staffer Mary Fitch once said, these ad hoc committees are just “an end-run around the Brown Act”.

A committee member is tasked to take “notes”, which appear every few months on an agenda, after they’ve been abridged and approved by the committee. Read those here:

The STF gave us the bag ban. They also passed an ordinance by which we have to put new toilets, new shower heads, new light bulbs and do up to $800 worth of insulation and other weatherization in our house before we can sell it. Read through those agendas and “notes”, see what other short hairs they are grasping for.  But I still had to laugh at this video Dude sent me:

Recently, local developers were told they could pay lower fees for building smaller houses in new urban type neighborhoods.

What does the average family want? I don’t know, because the average family was neither invited to nor represented at the meeting, it was just a bunch of developers and suits. Oh yeah, and Ken Fleming, who likes to talk philosophy. Ken’s a nice guy, but he lives on some planet where everybody is on Valium.

They think the smaller houses will get us out of our cars, that’s so funny.  Read the following story and don’t forget to watch the video – note, the woman is driving a Prius – didn’t she see the Audi commercial?

Go on to her campaign speech below – she’s an urban planner! 

The Sustainability Task Force also gave us our trash deal, are you happy with that? Got your postcard, telling you all the things you can be fined for? Not so funny now, is it?


Thanks Dude, for sending those videos, and reminding us to keep an eye on the Sustainability Task Force.

I made a simple request of my new garbage hauler… only I was smart enough to cc WM rep and my city mangler…

15 Sep

Did you get your postcard?

Last week Recology sent postcards to all their soon-to-be former customers here in Chico, handing us over to the city’s new designated residential waste hauler, Waste Management.

Two weeks ahead of “Live” date, the public is finally properly noticed of this deal. But there’s nothing in this post card about pending rate hikes.

“Your new service provider will be Waste Management. They will communicate any potential service day changes, if applicable. Please continue to use your current containers for weekly service until your new provider is able to exchange them. If you have any questions regarding these changes, please contact your local WM office at “

So, now Sacramento is our “local WM office”?

I wanted to get a leg up on this thing, because I already got a sniff of the new rates – I have friends who live in Paradise, where a similar deal was cut years ago with their local hauler, Northern California Recycling and Waste. Right now, my 96 gallon Recology bin, shared by two families, costs me about $26 a month. I think this is a reasonable rate for weekly pick-up. In Paradise, my friends pay about same for a 35 gallon bin.

So I expect Chico rates to go up similarly, now that the precedent has been set. I wanted to switch to a smaller bin, and I wanted get a leg up, knowing how people are – some people are already aware, and they will also be queueing up for service changes. And, when the rest of the lemmings get their first bill, I predict a general landslide of service change requests.

Over the weekend I e-mailed the address on the postcard, but here’s the thing: I cc’d Chico City manager Mark Orme,, and the Chico WM rep who has been attending the franchise meetings, Ryan West –

I also asked to opt out of the yard waste bin – which the agreement says is required, and which will be an extra charge.  

I’ve been having a “live” conversation with  Orme and West for a few months now, and West told me I could opt out of the yard waste bin.

“Exemptions will be allowed for customers residing in an HOA, Mobile Home Park or other maintained community where yard waste service is already provided or where lack of room at the residence does not allow space for the third cart.  These customers may choose not to participate in yard waste service and receive a $5.79  reduction in their monthly rate.”

We  share property and trash service, for which we pay,  with our tenants. My husband and I have always provided landscape and trash service for our rentals because that’s just the best way to make sure your properties are maintained.  We have bigger yards, compared to the new standard, with lots of trees and shrubberies. One morning’s work would stuff their little 56 gallon yard bin so full I wouldn’t be able to get it down the driveway.  We mulch the small stuff and take the bigger stuff to the city-owned compost facility on Cohasset. I think it’s about $5 – 8 a pick-up truck load, and we go a few times a year. Why would we want one of their pathetic little bins? Why would I want a third truck stopping in front of my house – I thought the whole idea was to get some of these trucks off our streets?

Besides, Neal Road Landfill manager Bill Mannell once told a gathering of the city Sustainability Task Force that customers typically use their yard waste and recycling bins as back up trash bins. I don’t know if that ‘s true, and I don’t want to find out.

I mailed off my simple request, on Sunday, and was shocked to get an almost immediate response from Orme.

Ms. Sumner,

Thank you for your e-mail.  You’ve included WM on this e-mail, which is the correct recipient and who will follow-up with you on this request.  I hope you have a wonderful Sunday. 



I had to answer him that he’d been cc’d to keep him in the conversation, no need to respond on Sunday. He responded again to tell me he understood – I worry about this guy, he should be spending more time with that little boy he brings to meetings on occasion.

But I thanked him, telling him, “we’ll see how long it  takes Waste Management to respond…”

Well, Ryan West got back to me the next day,

“Thank you for your email.  We will be happy to make the requested adjustments to your account before we create it.  Can I ask you to verify the service address in question?”

His response was followed up by a staffer who wanted to “clarify” the information I had given him.  I felt confident my needs would be met, absolutely spoiled with all the attention!

And then I got another e-mail on Wednesday. It cut-and-paste weird.

Hello Juanita,

Thank you for contacting Waste Management about your account. Certainly, once the account is switched over automatically after 10/1/2017, please contact us so we can update the changes you requested.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reply to this email or contact us through Waste Management live chat at

Thank you again for contacting Waste Management. We truly appreciate your business and allowing us to meet your waste service needs.

Jose Luis

Waste Management Customer Service

So, there’s my official response from Waste Management, from the address all the other customers were given – “once the account is switched over…”

So here’s my advice – any problems you have with Waste Management, even simple requests,  cc and Ryan West at

And remember, the Early Bird who cc’s the appropriate people will get the worm.