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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.

Don’t let the heat make you stupid – don’t fall for the threats, Vote NO on H

10 Sep

Are you worried that you’re going a little, well, CRAZY? You got that right – it’s Dog Days, and that’s when people and dogs go crazy. Go outside about 5am, there he is, Orion the Hunter, setting out across the sky, followed by his faithful dogs. I believe that’s where dogs go when they die, they follow Orion across the sky. At this time of year, Orion and his dogs are walking in the hot daylight, and you know what heat does to your brains. It makes you stupid and crazy.

Most people like to think they’re intelligent. But your intelligence is subject to many variables – alcohol comes to mind, but there are other factors that aren’t under our control. Like the weather. My two worst times of year are Dog Days and the first days of January, because the weather is bleak, and it ain’t going away. Late summer in NorCal is like this – 105, 106, 109, 112, 112, 112… Once the temps get up that high, it’s hard to get them down. Like your temper, they just keep getting hotter. I do stupid stuff, like online shopping. The other day my husband stopped me just short of ordering a troll doll.

Troll doll, close-up

Justin Taylor / Creative Commons – I had one of these when I was a kid, but my dog ate it.

In January, the cold gets in my bones, and the darkness gets in my mind, like a Stephen King story – I get sad, and I can’t explain it except that it’s cold and dark outside. I do stupid stuff, like make a whole cake and eat it. Frankly, I know it’s inevitable, so I plan for it – this year I’m going to make a chocolate souffle and eat that.

Unfortunately this is an election year, and you know, they’re ugly anyway. Add record heat, unbelievably bad air quality, and wow – what a circus.

Here’s a letter from unsuccessful council candidate and former park commissioner Jeffrey Glatz.

I was present back in 2019 when former City Ass Mangler Chris Constantin went to all the commissions and made his pitch for a sales tax measure. Glatz was in attendance when Constantin spoke to the Park Commission. Of course Constantin wailed on that the city was in dire straights, blamed the Camp Fire Refugees, and claimed a 220,000 post fire population that only turned out to be about 210,000. That Census, by the way, was done in the days immediately following the fire, alot of refugees who were living here temporarily have left, but Constantin used that tragedy to further his ends. Of course, Glatz bought the pitch, swallowed it hook, line and sinker, without ever looking at the city budget. If he had, he would see, the city is flush with funds, including a recent gift of $12.2 million in disaster relief money. He brushes off the CalPERS debt like a guy who doesn’t have the faintest notion what the hell he’s talking about.

This guy is a good example of why the commissions and boards should be eliminated. They are spoils positions, given to those who support the council members who appoint them, oftentimes financially. We don’t even get to elect these people, they’re not qualified for the positions, they’re just tools of staff.

Glatz is simply repeating, regurgitating, what he’s been told. He uses the same argument – the city is desperately poor, and taxpayers will only suffer more attrition if they don’t pass the tax.

Are you sick of the threats? Are you sick of willful subordination? Vote NO on Measure H.

“Quality of life” Measure L is a backhanded attempt to stop lawsuits against the city of Chico and relieve them of any responsibility from damages caused by their bum camps

4 Sep

I know I been yak-yakking about taxes, but city of Chico has two measures on the ballot – the sales tax increase Measure H, and “Quality of Life” Measure L. Here’s the link to the clerk’s local measures page:

https://buttevotes.net/306/Local-Measures

I’m sorry I didn’t mount a campaign against Measure L, I thought Measure H was more important. But frankly, Measure L is just a pitch for Measure H, and staff time was used to create and market it to the voters. And, ultimately, I believe it is a sneaky, underhanded attempt to get us to us to exempt the city of Chico from the current public nuisance abatement laws by allowing them to be the judge of whether there’s an infraction or not.

Let’s start with the text of Measure L.

TEXT OF MEASURE L: Shall an ordinance which requires the City of Chico be held to abide by the same public nuisance laws it imposes on private landowners by establishing a right for residents uniquely harmed by a public nuisance to demand the abatement of public nuisances by the city on city-owned public property; and requires the city to respond to the demand by abating the alleged nuisance or providing the reason for its refusal, limited to prescribed justifications, be adopted?

The biggest problem I see here is the assertion that the city is not held to the same public nuisance laws as private property owners. We already have a mechanism for holding a landowner responsible, public or private – like Karl Ory and his friends, we can take the city to court when they don’t uphold the laws. And there’s plenty of laws not being upheld around here. Look at this website – according to these definitions, Bidwell Park is not only a public nuisance but a drowning hazard and a toxic waste dump.

https://library.municode.com/ca/commerce/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT9PESAMO_CH9.32PUNUAB

One Mile, at which at least one person is found drowned each year, is unfenced and unsupervised. Read for yourself – according to the California muni code, the city is not only responsible for the nuisance but responsible for abating the nuisance. And even levying fines on itself. Interesting what you find out when you do your own research.

And how about the term “uniquely harmed“? In earlier discussions, it was revealed that a citizen has to live within very close proximity to a complaint site, adjacent, next door to it, in order to make a complaint. Meaning, if you live near a camp, and they come around to steal the water from your garden hose, along with anything that ain’t nailed down in your yard, then rummage your car, well, that camp down the street is not for you to complain about, because it’s not right next door to your house.

And then there’s this – “limited to prescribed justifications”. What does that mean? Well, according to Cornell Law School, justification is “A type of defense that exempts the defendant from liability because the defendant’s actions were justified.  In other words, a defendant with a valid justification will not suffer the usual penalty for his actions because in the eyes of the court, the defendant could not have been asked to act any differently in this situation.

Do you think this works the same way when the defendant is the court? Because this ordinance allows the city to determine whether or not the complaint is valid. Or simply, “the city disagrees that a public nuisance exists on the property…” And sit down for this one – “it is not in the best interest of the city to abate the nuisance…” What the hell does that mean? (rhetorical question)

There are so many things wrong with this ordinance, including an attempt to avoid liability, that I’m saying, just vote NO. Below is the “impartial analysis” of the guy who wrote it? That sounds, hmmmm, weird. I’ve highlighted statements that illustrate my points above, but read it for yourself – it’s an expensive campaign tool to convince us they will be accountable with Measure H. Don’t buy it folks, it’s just another bottle of snake oil.

IMPARTIAL ANALYSIS OF MEASURE L
CITY ATTORNEY IMPARTIAL ANALYSIS
Measure L asks voters to approve an ordinance revising Chapter 1.14 of Title 1
of the City’s Municipal Code (“Ordinance”). The Ordinance would hold the City
of Chico (“City”) to the same public nuisance standards as private property
ownersin the City. The conditions which exist upon private property constituting
a public nuisance under Chapter 1.14 of the City of Chico Municipal Code
(“CMC”) may also qualify as a public nuisance on City owned public property. To
accomplish the goal of increasing quality of life in the City, the Ordinance
provides a process for residents to demand abatement of a public nuisance on
City owned public property. Any resident specially injured by a public nuisance
may submit a demand to the City to abate the alleged public nuisance. Upon
receipt of the demand, the City must analyze the demand and investigate the
conditions in the demand.
The City is required to provide a response to the
resident within 20 business days of receipt of the demand.
The City’s response to the demand will notify the resident that either 1) the City
agrees to abate the public nuisance and to provide a time by which it expects
abatement to be completed, or 2) the City denies the demand to abate the
alleged public nuisance and the reason(s) for denial.
The possible grounds for denial of a resident’s demand include:

  1. The City does not own the property and is therefore not the appropriate
    party to abate a nuisance on the property;
  2. The City disagrees that a public nuisance exists on the property;
  3. The resident has not proven a special injury from the public nuisance;
  4. The City is not legally permitted to abate the nuisance; and/or
  5. It is not in the City’s best interest to abate the public nuisance.

The Ordinance does not include a monetary penalty against the City for denying
a resident demand to abate an alleged public nuisance. It further does not
provide residents an appeal process
if the demand is denied. The Ordinance may
be amended by the City Council upon a two thirds vote of the members
of the
Council, but only to further the purposes of the Ordinance.
A “YES” vote on Measure L is to adopt the Ordinance. A “NO” vote on Measure L
is to not adopt the Ordinance.
The above statement is an impartial analysis of Measure L. If you desire a copy
of the Ordinance or measure, a copy is available from the City Clerk’s office.
s/Vincent Ewing, City of Chico Attorney

Taxpayer Singalong! If you’re overtaxed and you don’t like it, JUST SAY NO!

14 Aug

Summer is winding down, and the urge to hibernate is strong. But Friday the county clerk posted her notice of measures coming up on the November ballot. I didn’t see it, so I don’t even know what letter designation the clerk gave the city of Chico sales tax increase measure. But I have had three people contact me to tell me they are ready to push back.

For now we’ll just call it, Tax Measure ?

Three people – that’s the magic number folks. See, one guy is crazy, two guys are [politically incorrect], but THREE GUYS is a MOVEMENT! (let me extend my sincere apologies to Arlo Guthrie).

Arlo says you can join the movement, if you just sing along. In this case, we need you to start writing those letters. Tell your friends. Sing it! Just say NO!

If you’re overtaxed and you don’t like it, JUST SAY NO!

Yesterday morning the tv pundits were all talking about inflation – food and energy prices are leading the charge, two commodities that most of us civilized taxpayers think of as necessities. If you’re sick of watching your grocery receipt and your PG&E and gas bills keep going up, SING ALONG!

If you’re feeling gouged and you don’t like it, JUST SAY NO!

Furthermore, you’re looking around yourself, your streets are trashed, your parks are trashed, there are encampments full of sex offenders along the trail your child takes to school – you want to know where is all the money going? SING ALONG!

If you’re sick of the excuses, and the questionable money uses, then you have to find your spine and JUST SAY NO!

A lady contacted me recently and asked me if I was going to do any “demonstrations”. People want to jump on a noisy bandwagon, wave signs, drive their cars around City Hall beeping their horns ($$$$$!), but I find those are mostly hot air and run out of gas pretty quickly. And sometimes people get to pushing and shoving and annoying little old ladies get butt-slammed by big jerk faces.

Here’s a gentle suggestion – sing this song for your council or your council representative. Tell them you’re going to vote NO on Tax Measure ?, cause you know what, as of today, there’s still THREE DAYS left on the election calendar for them to take this dud OFF THE BALLOT.

Contact council – there is still time for them to renege and pull that tax measure off the ballot

2 Aug

Yesterday I went to the grocery store and came home without two long-time staples from my shopping list – they were too expensive. I’ve watched prices go up all my life, but lately it’s been a little crazy.

I’ve been using Noxema since I was a child, it’s a good face wash, and it’s good for taking care of skin conditions like sunburn and chapping. Suddenly the price has jumped from about $3.50/jar to almost $5.00. Let’s do the math – $1.50 increase divided by the original price = 42% increase.

For Noxema?

Another item I’ve been buying for years is honey. I use it in my tea, it’s comforting. I used to buy it from a local distributor but switched to more generic brands as the price went up. I was paying $7.11 for a 32 oz bottle, and I was comfortable enough with that, even though it was starting to feel like a luxury. Yesterday the tag on the shelf said almost $11.

So I walked out of the store without two items I’ve been purchasing for years. Downsizing. I make my own skin scrub with coconut oil and sugar, I’ll just have to add some menthol oil – the key ingredient in Noxzema – and use that on my face. I already buy essential oils online for pennies per use.

We also noticed the price of our canned dogfood has gone up, again and again. Every time we buy it lately, it’s nudged up another dollar. He needs meat with his kibble, but I realized I was buying the commercial food for convenience. So, we bought a pack of chicken on sale at Raley’s and I cooked it up for him instead. I realize, now we know exactly what’s in his food, the canned stuff was always kind of a mystery. Chicken goes on sale regularly enough – and we eat it ourselves.

Like I say, I’ve watched prices go up all my life, but not usually like this. The last time I remember inflation like that was back in the early 2000’s – that’s when I stopped buying local honey, switched to generic crap brands from wherever. I had watched the local honey go up a couple of dollars over the last year, and I couldn’t see any rationale behind it. They try to tell us it’s “supply chain issues” – no it’s not, it’s gouging, and it’s permanent. We won’t see prices go down when the crisis is over – well, they’ll just manufacture another crisis anyway.

The other common thing I notice now – price of housing is going up like crazy. I remember that started happening in about 2003, and by 2008, we had foreclosure signs all over Chico. The city kept saying we needed more “starter” housing for young families, but the prices just kept going up. We all found out – it was the building industry that was demanding more housing, the unions.

That’s exactly what’s happening now – the trade unions are bitching for more building in California – they say we need “more affordable” housing, but that’s not what they’re producing.

Just making observations. The only answer I see is self-inflicted attrition. Cut your expenses, stop buying stuff you don’t need, become more self-reliant like Doug LaMalfa has been saying. And write to your city council to tell them you will not support the sales tax increase measure. There is still actually time for council to renege and pull that measure off the ballot.

Next time I’d like to go over recent budgets – the city has been forecasting doom and gloom, but our revenues are up steadily and there’s really no excuse for a tax measure.

Letter to the Editor: Patrick Newman claims our city is underfunded, I say it’s overspent

28 Jul

I saw Patrick Newman’s letter to the ER last week, the first part looked like a bitch-fight with Oroville taxpayer Steve Simpson, but I thought the last paragraph deserved an answer.

Newman opines, “Thoughts: 1) Chico police and fire are the only “fully funded” city departments – true since the beginning of Mark Orme’s tenure. 2) Like it or not, elected officials are tasked with spending money.  3) While I’m not convinced dumping more money into police and fire services will make us safer, I am aware that our underfunded city has a backlog of over $200 million in failing infrastructure – to include crumbling roads, a neglected sewage treatment plant, an under-maintained storm drain system, aging traffic signaling, etc.  4) There are flaws in any taxation scheme.  Chico can go on dithering, but the consequence will be exponentially more expensive infrastructure decline.

Wow, Mr. Newman is a pretty astute observer of city business, but he always twists things around his way. How can he say a city with a $211 million budget, 80% of which goes to salaries and benefits, is underfunded? So I wrote a letter about it.

In response to Patrick Newman:

  1. Yes, Chico PD and FD are fully funded. Public safety gets over 75% of the General Fund – proof that you can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it.
  2. Elected officials are tasked with spending money, and the public is tasked with making sure they spend it wisely. This isn’t always the case, and that is a good argument for a 2/3’s measure with specified spending goals. Instead council approved a simple majority measure that goes into the General Fund to be spent without public approval. 21% of the General Fund goes into the pensions.
  3. Our city is not “underfunded”, budgeting $28,890,000 in sales tax revenues for 2022, along with $11.5 million in property tax, $9.2 million VLF in lieu (your car registration fees) and $8 million added to your PG&E and water bills in the form of Utility Users Tax. Furthermore, the $200 million in failing infrastructure is a result of years of admitted deferred maintenance, while staff poured increasing amounts into their pension deficit – last year $11.5 million, this year over $12 million, $18 million by 2025, and so on.
  4. The major flaw in the sales tax increase measure is that it is not dedicated to any specific purpose. While staff and council have insinuated it would go toward infrastructure and services, they can’t promise that. They can promise a $12.2 million “catch-up” payment to CalPERS this year.

This is a bad measure, Vote No.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

Housing market is tanking, rent is going up – what’s the city of Chico doing? Making it worse.

22 Jul

Yep, the housing market is crashing, and rent is going up. Why? Well, here in Chico, I believe the cause is overbuilding. Walk with me, talk with me.

The city has been permitting skads of new housing, despite concerns about water, traffic, and the general quality of life. That’s their answer to demands for “affordable housing”, but no, it’s not affordable, housing is getting more expensive as we speak.

How does that happen? Well, it’s that overused mantra – if you build it they will come. More housing attracts more people. People from cities where the cost is a lot higher, and oftentimes the quality of living has sunk to unimaginable lows. So they come here with their fistful of cash and bully down other buyers. I’ve seen it.

Another reason is that alot of those people are investors, not families in desperate need of housing. Right away the investor involvement drives up demand and the price. They have the money to offer more than the average family, and they snap up new housing before it is even built. I don’t have an exact figure, but I know a lot of the houses in that new Fogarty subdivision were bought new as rentals by investors.

Who could forget the scam that significantly raised the price of housing in Chico FOREVER. Developer Tony Symmes concocted a plot with cronies to recruit “straw buyers” to buy his houses at way more than market value. On my street, a group of local investors bought an old lady’s back yard and put in seven houses, which they all immediately bought for themselves, at outrageous prices – the cheapest little house at the front went for almost $700,000. But it was all just on paper, money never changed hands, they were the investors. Then they sold the houses, using the straw prices they’d invented – one 4 bedroom McMansion sold in 2020 for $743,000, with a current estimated value at over $800,000.

Once the price of housing goes up like that, it’s never going to go down to reason again. Take a look at the prices on Zillow, I was shocked. See, council can approve the permits, but they have nothing to say about the prices. The prices are set by the market, and the market is a screaming horde out of the Bay Area. That’s what you get when you permit a Build Fest like we got now.

Have we all really forgotten the recession that fell in 2008? I remember earlier, then-council member Dan Nguyen-tan, telling me things were great – interest rates were down, he said, so people could afford more expensive houses. I remember looking at that guy with new eyes – what an idiot, how do people like him get into positions of trust? Why would you want people to buy more expensive houses, just because the interest rate was low? Because that raises not only the cost of housing, but the amount of property taxes on those homes. Forever.

And then we found out, it was VARIABLE. And they were letting people buy with no down and no payments for a year. Who would not have seen what was coming on the heels of a frenzy like that?

I had heard about foreclosure, I’d seen pictures of whole sections of Detroit, houses sitting empty and in decay, old faded For Sale signs on the dead lawns. But I’d never seen it for myself. It was shocking, sign after sign along the streets all over Chico. Red Bluff was really bad, I saw a neighborhood in which most of the houses had Foreclosure signs in front. Chico had never seen anything like it, historically, foreclosures were rare. Now they are a fact of life in Chico. We’ve way over built our housing market, and that doesn’t mean, we’ve been “housing” anybody, and housing has certainly not become more affordable.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure, rent follows the housing market – rents are also shocking these days.

Furthermore, utility rates have also gone up steadily, without any reason except the utility companies want more money. PG&E burns down a town due to lack of maintenance on a 12 cent part, and use it as an excuse to raise rates. The CPUC wrings their hands and approves rate increase after rate increase, amid stories of bribery and scandal among board members. Who you gonna call? Well, when CPUC president Michael Peavey was caught red-handed accepting bribes from utility companies, then California Attorney General Kamala Harris threw her apron over her head and said the statute of limitations had run out.

Instead of using their collective might to mount a legal protest of the rate hikes, the city of Chico takes advantage of high utility rates, imposing franchise fees on PG&E and Comcast, and a 5% Utility Users Tax on your PG&E, Cal Water, and landline bill. But have they pressured any of these companies to update their infrastructure in your neighborhood? You might have seen the maps the city consultant made, showing which neighborhoods have high fire danger – most of them! But nobody asks, how old are the transformers and electric lines?

And how’s your internet/cellphone service? Does your Cal Water taste like PV Pool? How does paying a chump fee to the city of Chico affect the quality of any of these services aside from raising the price?

City of Chico is in trouble because of poor decisions based on employee wants instead of taxpayer needs. You see them out cleaning the bum camps they created because they don’t want you to think about what they’re NOT doing. They want you to say, “hurray Staff, thanks so much for doing the job you already get well-paid for!” And pass their sales tax increase. Don’t be a dupe, your kids are smarter than that.

American Rescue Plan included a bail out of the pension system – unfortunately, the bail out system needs a bail out!

19 Jul

Well, you think you know it’s bad, and then you find out, it’s badder than you think. Very, very badder.

First I read the city’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). I found out, the pension deficit figure that comes up in conversations is only a fraction of what the city actually owes – that made me mad. Worse, I saw what the city pays out monthly in payroll contributions, and that made me sick. How can we funnel hundreds of millions of dollars a year into a failing system?

And then Dude sent me this article from Zero Hedge, and little rockets starting flying out of my ears.

https://www.zerohedge.com/personal-finance/america-just-bailed-out-bunch-pensions-taxpayers-expense

Yes, there it is – America just bailed out the pensions.

“Buried deep in the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Biden in March 2021 was a provision mandating the government to bail out ailing multiemployer pension plans.”

I knew the ARP was going to be full of pork barrel, so this does not surprise me. Like the author says, this act was jammed through quickly under cover of COVID, I’m going to guess most legislators never read it in full, not even their staffers knew what was in it. Business as usual in Washington, as well as Sacramento.

Well, here’s something I never even guesstulated – there’s a national agency tasked with bailing out the pension funds – the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. But here’s no surprise – they’re in trouble too!

 “The 25 largest U.S. public pensions face trillions in unfunded liabilities. If Americans took the time to stand back and look at the bigger picture they will see the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) an independent agency of the United States government responsible for acting as the nation’s “safety net” for failed pensions is also in trouble. When a pension fails this agency is expected to take control of its assets and dole them out to its pensioners in the coming years. The ugly truth is the PBGC is not a rock but is in need of its own bailout. 

Here’s another truth: the taxpayers pay the lion’s share of the pensions, and always have. We pay more than half the payroll amount, and we pay ALL OF THE DEFICIT. It is time for the employees to fess up and pay more, a lot more.

Or the reality is going to be this: “People are often led to believe pensions are a promise carved in stone, however, when the money is not there pensions and promises will be broken so pensioners should prepare for the pain. This is especially true in the public sector which has a history of granting pensions that are unheard of in the private sector. “

 

Chico can’t afford a general measure

14 Jul

I’ve been watching the city of Chico move toward this tax measure since about 2012. I’ve watched them make some pretty desperate pitches, always threatening infrastructure and services, but constantly siphoning money out of every fund to make increasing payments toward their own pensions. Now they claim they need more money to fix the roads, they admit the transient camps are going to continue to drain more money from the Gen Fund, and they continue to raise the police budget. But Kim Nott, for one, has said it like it is – they want us to pay their pension deficit before CalPERS and other pensions systems start going down like dominoes. It disgusts me that our elected “leaders” won’t have an honest conversation. I’ve been especially disappointed in the “conservatives” – they came in promising to clean up our town and now Reynolds is claiming to make council accountable – with your money.

So I wrote a letter about it!

Councilwoman Kasey Reynolds’ proposed “Quality of Life” initiative seeks to assure the voters that council will be accountable with their spending of the enhanced sales tax revenues. Unfortunately it shows just the opposite. City Attorney says the measure is not legal, so why are we wasting Staff time pursuing it? It’s meaningless and unenforceable, and the idea that the city would fine itself and then pay with taxpayer money is ludicrous. This is a clear example of how council and staff whittle away money that is not specifically dedicated to a certain use.

Council members and staffers have insinuated that new sales tax revenues will go toward infrastructure and services, but they can’t promise anything. Council, advised by staff, voted unanimously to put a simple majority measure on the ballot, with no restrictions on spending, no accountability, period. And a feel good ballot measure that has been declared illegal by the city attorney is supposed to make us confident these people will do the right thing with the new revenues?

Council members have admitted they did not understand the Warren settlement and were intimidated by the judge. They didn’t understand the Shelter Crisis Designation, or that they were not legally required to sign it. No voter initiative will provide accountability for incompetence. These people are not only unaccountable, they’re indemnified – any lawsuit they get themselves into, the taxpayers finance the lawyer who gets them out, even if the taxpayers are the plaintiff.

Chico can’t afford a general measure.

Sorensen and Morgan would very much like us to forget their complicity in the slow degradation of Chico – don’t do it!

9 Jul

I’m still puzzling over remarks made by Chico councilman Sean Morgan in an interview with Ch 7 KRCR. First he made cryptic remarks about who is responsible for Chico’s abysmal situation, as if he had nothing to do with it. He praised Sorensen, who as past mayor and councilman, knew the situation Chico was in and why the city was in that situation but only made decisions that deepened the abyss, hiring new employees at outrageously high salaries without asking them to pay a rational share of their pension and benefits costs.

Morgan continued to emphasize Sorensen’s long track record in the City of Chico and said that the city needs a strong leader as officials, like the chief of police, retire and the city faces challenges with administrative staffing.” He mentions that the chief just retired without mentioning that Madden was only chief for about a year and a half before his recent retirement announcement. “challenges with administrative staffing“?

I’ll guess he’s going to say we need to offer bigger salaries “to attract talent”. That is the argument by which they continue to spiral the salaries up and out of reason. And it’s a lie – they gave Madden a raise, which increased his pension and his deficit, and you see how long he stayed – a year and a half, just long enough to spike his pension.

And then, another cryptic remark about “A lot more people will get away with a lot less,” Morgan continued. “I think that some of the decision-making methods [in city administration] were handled loosely and people were given reigns that shouldn’t have been given reigns. I think Mark will do a better job of focusing on ‘that’s your job’ or ‘‘that isn’t your job’”. What is he talking about? Who is he talking about?

I’ll remind us all – Sorensen took office in 2010 and Morgan took office in 2012. Sorensen hired Nakamura and agreed to a $40,000 salary increase for the city manager position with NO CONTRIBUTION toward pension or benefits. Both Sorensen and Morgan hired Mark Orme and both voted to promote him to city manager when Nakamura left, again, requiring NO CONTRIBUTION toward pension or benefits. As elected officials, both Sorensen and Morgan were included in the “decision-making methods“, both of them were handed the “reigns” as Mayor and both also served as Vice Mayor. Yet Morgan refuses to take any responsibility for our current situation, nor does he assign any to Sorensen.

Sorensen’s appointment is obviously supposed to comfort us and convince us that the city will make wise use of the extra revenues if we will just approve the new tax they’ve placed on the ballot. And here, Morgan is very clearly threatening us with more cuts to services if we don’t pass a general tax with no restrictions on spending.

“Morgan said the move is important at a time when the city is facing a number of issues. ‘The most important thing for the city is finances,’ he finished. ‘if we don’t have the finances, we don’t have the police, we don’t have the fire, we don’t have the public works. The city has gotten much cleaner and we need to keep that happening. We need a clean, safe city for business to prosper.'”

Oh sure, we can trust Old Mark! Oh please, let’s not forget, Sorensen served with a “conservative” majority, unfettered by the “liberals”, but still made painfully bad staffing decisions that drove the city deeper into debt. He also agreed to the increasing “side fund” or “catch up” payments to CalPERS, which at first seemed sensible. The deficit went down in the beginning, from about $168 million to about $130 million. But we found out – that was at a huge cost to services – Nakamura gutted staff with Sorensen’s blessing, eliminating the lower level “worker” positions in the Public Works and Parks Departments. This was the beginning of the city’s attack on the tax payers by attrition, “the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.”

So how do our pension costs keep going up? Look at the 2020-21 Comprehensive Finance Report, page 70 – be sure to sit down. Our total pension deficit is a lot more than they’ve been telling us.

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/1_2021_chico_city_acfr_-_signed.pdf?1641834874

You see that while they were getting rid of the city’s actual workforce, council agreed to increasing management salaries without demanding employees pay any more toward their pension or benefits costs. It wasn’t until Orme was city manager and agreed to a measly 3%, then 6%, then 9% – for 70% of his highest year’s salary at retirement. That’s about $25,000 a year, and for that Morgan agreed to raise “the Skipper’s” salary to a base of $207,000/yr.

Hey, don’t you have to wonder – what was Sorensen thinking when he agreed to raise the city manager salary to $220,000 for Nakamura? Think he knew he’d be Chico city manager someday?

Another ass-backwards attempt to get us to approve this tax is Kasey Reynold’s limp-wristed initiative to “hold council responsible” for ” quality of life” issues. Another waste of very expensive city attorney time. Let’s pick that up another time.