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City of Chico and County of Butte continue to exacerbate the transient problem

17 Jul

My husband likes to get out with our old dog for a quick walk in Bidwell Park before the heat sets in. He took this picture at a campsite off Bryant Avenue this morning.

Yes that is a very well established campsite along Chico Creek. I presume the man is just asleep but if you’d been watching the news lately you might want to poke him with a stick to make sure.

This guy took over a picnic spot that is supposed to be for day use only. 

Look hard – right behind this guy there is a picnic table. And it’s taken him a few days unmolested there to gather all that crap. And I’m not using the word “crap” loosely, I’m guessing there is human waste in the bushes.

Remember the “Occupy Movement”?  Well here it is folks. 

The other day I read about the new “Harm Reduction Center” being opened at Mangrove and First Avenues. 

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20170710/harm-reduction-legal-center-for-homeless-opening-in-chico

“With the help of Butte County Bar Association, homeless service provider Stairways Programming is opening a harm reduction and legal center this week at 1112 Mangrove Ave. It will provide free legal help and therapy to those who are homeless or living in poverty and struggling with severe mental illness or substance use disorders.

“Attorneys will volunteer their time, offering pro bono work 1-4 p.m. every Monday. During the center’s other hours of operation, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Stairways will provide case management and therapy, and trainings for service providers on methods used at Stairways such as de-escalation, said Stairways Executive Director Michael Madieros.

“’Here’s a chance for them to meet with an attorney, get advice … and start to feel good about the justice system and like somebody cares,” Madieros said. “And when they do show up in court, they feel positive.’”

What I’m hearing is another bum magnet opening up within a mile of one of my rentals, just blocks from the retail centers where I (have done) a lot of my shopping for years. Mangrove shopping center is becoming a bum camp, not to mention that alley that runs  behind Cash and Carry between Palmetto and First Ave. And now this. 

“The new program will also serve as a harm reduction center, operating on a model that Stairways Programming has been using for quite some time. It will provide a space in which those who are experiencing homelessness can learn about and understand the harm they may be creating for themselves and their community by their behaviors, and how they can take small steps to be safer.”

Harm reduction? Stairways has been using this model “for quite some time” ? Well, Mike old buddy, it’s not working.  And here’s why.

“The ultimate goal for those abusing substances is abstinence, Madieros said, but it isn’t the starting point. One of those small steps may be teaching someone how to dispose of needles correctly.

It’s about helping people up, rather than pushing or forcing them, he said.

According to the Oakland and New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition, the philosophy meets drug users where they are, accepting that legal and illegal drug use is part of reality and its effects should be minimized rather than ignored or condemned. The conditions of people’s drug use, such as childhood trauma or mental illness, must be addressed along with the drug use itself, which is where therapy and case management plays its part.”

“legal and illegal drug use is part of reality and it’s effects should be minimized rather than ignored or condemned”? These people are mollycoddling junkies.  Is it part of reality to allow people to commit crimes to support their drug habit, and for shills like Madeiros to take advantage of the system for their own profit? Yes, Madeiros receives quite a nice salary for “managing” Stairways. Then there’s “CFO” Megan Harriman, another salary.  Stairways receives funding from various public agencies, including Butte County. 

But they still want us to volunteer, not only our time, but money and supplies. 

When this story popped up there was the usual criticism on Disqus, and Madeiros was quick to come back with a response.

“Harm Reduction is the model of treatment. Stairways provides emergency services to anyone in need but our commitment to Chico is we only provide services and programs to people from Chico. This is not a safe space this is a place people can come and start being accountable for their lives and actions. 
Looking forward to your donation!”

But when I chimed in to ask about site supervision and for a look at Stairways financial reports, I got no reply. 

I don’t know if they received city money for this enterprise, but I know the city had to permit the use of the building, and I’m wondering if the neighbors were asked for input as is the normal routine. 

I have to laugh – the city refuses marijuana dispensaries, but allows these centers to open all over town without any supervision or input from the neighbors. They wait til problems develop, and then they don’t do anything to fix it. 

But it’s Butte County Board of Supervisors who keep approving more and more “beds” and “centers” that bring these creeps flocking. You can start with Chico supervisors slambert@buttecounty.net, mkirk@buttecounty.net, and lwahl@buttecounty.net. 

Engage your “leaders” regarding the transient problem

9 May

After I posted the picture my husband took in Bidwell Park I sent it to Mayor Sean Morgan with this note:

Mayor Morgan,
>
> I am sending a photo of a mess my husband and dog walked into Friday morning in middle Bidwell Park, along the Fitness Trail. I don’t know the station numbers, but I think this bears investigating. A cursory walk through the area between the freeway and Manzanita Avenue would turn up many illegal camps. You will see small but well established trails leading back into the blackberry vines and other non-native, overgrown brush, where you will find trash piles and oftentimes occupied camps. My husband has encountered people in tents right on the main trail.
>
> We’ve reported these camps in past, this very spot has been cleaned within the last six months by the alternative custody program.
>
> This is disconcerting given Chief O’Brien’s recent revelation that bicycles are being stolen to fuel heroin habits. We see other articles in these trash piles, oftentimes bike parts, stuff that looks like it’s been taken from people’s garages  – even a real estate sign in one pile. We’ve found poop tied up in those bags the city provides to pick up after dogs, piles of them. We’ve found the little caps that go on syringes at places like Cedar Grove and along the Fitness Trail. This is our neighborhood, where we live, our adult children live, and where we have rentals. We wonder why illegal camping is being allowed in a park that traverses a large area of town, and is so overgrown, a criminal can disappear through a gate and into the bushes faster than a jack rabbit.  These people are predating our neighborhoods, and public works department staffers have told us the campers have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and must be given notice before they can be kicked out. They are not required to take their garbage.
>
> How ironic.  These people are practicing illegal Search and Seizure in our homes while our families are at work and school, but they get Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights by pitching a tent in the park.
>
> Having heard/read your comments regarding the parklet for Starbucks (and I wholeheartedly agree with the latest decision), I know you must be as disgusted as I am with what’s going on  in Bidwell Park. My family and my tenants need to hear you have a plan to do something about it. All we hear is how the city doesn’t have enough money to fix roads and clean the park, but the pensions get paid no matter what.
>
> Thanks, at your convenience, for your anticipated response, Juanita Sumner

He responded fairly quickly and it seems we are in agreement about the problem.  

Juanita,

Disgusting picture to be sure.  I am frustrated by the transient issue and short of throwing all the service providers out of town (which I’m told won’t work) I’m short on plausible solutions.  Our police Target team and Park Rangers break up camps on a regular basis only to see them started again. 

 I am forwarding your email to Chief O’Brien who I know will forward it to Target.  The camps will move then pop up again (leaving trash, debris, and worse).

I believe making Park Rangers fully fledged police officers will have some effect but not a magical one.  Until we stop protecting the people taking advantage of our community we’ll continue down this slippery slope.  The Governor says they’re not criminals and the Sheriff can’t house them.

Regarding the pensions: you nailed it.  Illegal not to fund CalPers (which can’t seem to earn a decent return to save it’s life) while we can’t keep up on street maintenance in our town.  Municipalities in California are in for a rude awakening (one we avoided once) as sales tax revenue disappears (lost to the internet) and pension cost rise.  In Chico we’re doing all we can to hold pensions and salaries in check without losing valuable safety officers.

We do have some things coming (not tax increases, those are on someone else’s agenda) and I expect to see some improvement soon, but if the majority that runs this state doesn’t realize how they’re killing it, there won’t be much left to fight for soon.  BUt fight we will.

Thanks for letter and continued vigilance.

-Sean

Well, there he acknowledges the problem.  Since he offered no solutions I offered him some of my suggestions.

Thank you for your courteous reply,

I think the first thing you can do is reject the “continuum of care” coordinator – this position is nothing more than a grab for more federal money to house more of these people in our county/town. [The city of Chico has been asked to approve and provide funding toward this position, which requires matching funding to get the grant.]

Also, I don’t know where you live in town, but you might consider running for county supervisor. Both Kirk and Wahl have consistently voted to fund the Behavioral Health programs that are bringing these people here.  I think they’ve had their term and they need to step down, time for somebody new give that office a whack.  [Both Wahl and Kirk are up in 2018 and maybe Morgan could do a better job as county supervisor than he has done as mayor – he would have more authority to defund Behavioral Health.]

I’ve worn myself out reporting these camps to the police and public works department. Eric Gustafson told me these people have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in our park?  I’m also tired of hearing we don’t have enough money to deal with this stuff. We’re paying people to tell us they don’t get paid enough to work. The spot I showed you has just been cleaned by the alternative custody program, but they don’t go far enough. They need to remove non-native, dead, and overgrown vegetation.  We’ve talked to these people – they’re not real workers, my own kids could run circles around them. They stand around yakking, looking for the first passerby to stop and talk to.  [They aren’t supervised.]

I’m glad to see Dan Efseaff get the boot, we need to get rid of more management do-nothings. He once  told me he had brought the Salt Creek crews in and the work we saw was great. He said these crews cost about $100 day, but he couldn’t afford to bring them in again?  [See the link below for professional services these crews provide.]

http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Conservation_Camps/Camps/Salt_Creek/

No more Alternative Custody Service, let’s get the real crews into the park and you’ll see how many hobo camps they find buried in there. I grew up here, I remember the Bidwell Park of the 1960’s, and it’s a disgrace how bad it’s got just in the last 5 or so years since Nakamura gutted our work force to give management bigger salaries. You and council must figure out how to get rid of these overpaid suits and get more workers in here on the same budget. Good luck.  [I didn’t want to remind Morgan, but he and Sorensen stood by and cheered as Nakamura cut positions and quietly raised management salaries.]

thanks again, Juanita  

I have not received any response to my second e-mail, and neither Chief O’Brien nor the Target Team have contacted me about the homeless camp I pictured. 

Please engage these people – sean.morgan@chicoca.gov – mark.orme@chicoca.gov – michael.obrien@Chicoca.gov  – and let them know how you feel about this situation.  Send pictures, that seems to get their attention.

Tom Wolfe called it “Mau-mau’ing the Flakcatchers”.

Let’s stop calling them “homeless” – let’s call them what they are – “transient criminals”

7 May

My husband found this abandoned (?) campsite in Middle Bidwell Park. This is a spot that was cleaned by the city’s alternative inmate program earlier this year.

Try as I might, I can’t discourage my husband from taking my old dog for a morning walk in Bidwell Park, about two blocks from our house. She needs the exercise, so does he.   I can’t stand the sight of Middle Bidwell Park anymore, I won’t go. Badges and I stay home and do yard work before the heat sets in.  

Friday, walking near the Fitness Trail, they found another pile of trash/campsite.  These are usually concealed from the heavier used trails by the dense overgrowth of non-native plants, shrubs, small trees, but it doesn’t take much investigation to find them – my husband usually stumbles in when he is trying to avoid other dogs. Biscuit isn’t one to back down, and if another dog gets aggressive, there’s going to be vet bills. So, my husband keeps his eyes open, and whenever he sees what looks like Trouble heading up the path he herds Biscuit onto some smaller side trail. These usually lead right into some hobo camp or another.

The city staff knows this, they really don’t try to find these camps. They don’t want to engage these people. They want to walk through life with their little knapsack full of our taxes on their back without upsetting anybody’s apple cart.  I’m getting tired of reporting this stuff, they always act like it’s the first thing they heard about it. “Geeshy Sakes Ma’am, well, cornsakes and sech, we’ll get out there in a humdinger!” 

I sent the pictures I took at Home Depot to Chico ER Hotshots, but they didn’t see fit to print them. I know, they have so many important pictures of the sun going down over the after bay. 

Recently the Downtown Starbucks applied for a “parklet” – “essentially… an upgraded, beautified curb space outside Starbucks with bicycle parking and seating for the public, not just customers…” (Chico ER)  Council had originally approved the idea, but Mayor Sean Morgan brought it back for reconsideration “because of concerns about how the area will be managed and maintained.”  At last week’s council meeting, Morgan and the others reneged on the parklet, Morgan opined it was “‘maybe not the best time’ because of what is happening with homelessness in the city and downtown.” (Chico ER)

I’ve heard Morgan and other councilors complain loudly about the “homeless” problem. Andrew Coolidge told a gathering of Chico Taxpayers that his family called Downtown Plaza “bum park”. 

First of all, let’s call it what it is – it’s not a “homeless” problem, it’s a “transient criminal” problem. Second, let’s talk about the rest of the city for a change, it’s not just about Downtown. Bidwell Park is a Hobo Jungle. “Quality of life”crimes are becoming prevalent all along the Bidwell Park corridor. The police have admitted we have a bicycle theft problem “fueled by heroin addiction.” We’ve had two transients die in public places, frequented by children. I’ve seen discarded syringe caps at Cedar Grove many times, that seems to be a really popular place to shoot. Why isn’t the city addressing this problem? 

Because, according to Eric Gustafson, city of Chico Public Works chief, these people have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

How do you feel about that? You know if you left your car in a parking place Downtown without paying the meter you’d get a ticket, eventually it would be towed.  

Why do these people have more rights than us? Because there are too many public agencies that make money off these people. 

I’m sending this picture to Sean Morgan and the rest of council, city mangler Mark Orme, and my county supervisors. I’m going to ask them who is responsible for cleaning this up. 

Caper Acres – four years later, nothing new

20 Mar

Closure of Chico’s Caper Acres is frustrating for city, parents

By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer

POSTED:   07/31/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT

 
Conrad Nystrom of Chico celebrates Father’s Day with his sons Sam and Roman at Caper Acres in…
 

CHICO — The public and the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission weighed in this week on the budget-prompted closure of Caper Acres playground in lower Bidwell Park.Several parents spoke to the commission Monday voicing “disappointment” and “frustration” in the surprisingly quiet way the closure came about, without public input or brainstorming.

And commissioners themselves, still noting Chico’s budget woes, hoped to talk over the matter more. The fact that there was no Park Commission meeting in June, when budget strategies were discussed by the City Council, was a sore point.

Early in July, the city announced Caper Acres would only be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because of staffing issues. A diminished city staff couldn’t handle cleaning bathrooms, mowing, safety repairs and other actions.

But last week, a local cleaning business called ServPro said it would take over other kinds of park maintenance for free so city staff could attend to the playground. It opened to a six-day operation Tuesday, with the traditional Monday closure continuing.

However, ServPro can only handle the free maintenance through Oct. 1, and a group of local volunteers has started to meet to figure out alternatives for keeping the playground open.

Mom Abigail Lopez, one of the organizers of Caper Acres Volunteers, said she hopes the city can embrace volunteers as do local organizations like the Humane Society.

From a meeting on Saturday that Lopez organized, other ideas surfaced, like a Bidwell Park summit to share ideas.

Acting Park Commission Chairman Richard Ober commended the volunteers on Monday, and asked the matter be placed on an upcoming agenda so “volunteers’ work could be supported.”

“I want to know why the Park Commission and public were not able to weigh in on the closure,” parent Liz Gardner told the commission. She also asked for budget specifics.

Later, Park and Natural Resources Manager Dan Efseaff said he had lost $500,000 from his budget, and has been exploring cutbacks, including ideas about abandoning lawns or pulling down old structures that need to be replaced. He emphasized that it was “an exercise” and not a plan.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” Efseaff said.

Chris Boshazy, representing Service Employees International Union, noted the work — especially tree work — still had to be done, and should be done by city employees, not private tree companies.

The city has set aside $100,000 for contract tree work.

“That $100,000 could hire back someone,” he told the commission. “This is city employee work.”

Boshazy also said the Park Commission had more power than it realizes, handing them copies of the municipal code and job duties.

“The last few months have been extremely frustrating, the way decisions were made and how cuts were made, and the lack of role of the community,” Ober said, asking for a discussion at a future meeting.

“We haven’t been asked as a community to dig deeper into our pockets,” Ober said.

Other topics that came up in regard to Caper Acres included a user tax, asking participants in large events in the park to donate a dollar to Caper Acres, and participating in the Annie Bs fundraising program.

Parents also wanted to find a way so that donations could go straight into a dedicated Caper Acres fund, rather than into the city’s General Fund.

Efseaff noted that Caper Acres has been on the Park Commission’s work plan for several years, with features desperately needing update and replacement.

Reach Laura Urseny at 896-7756, lurseny@chicoer.com, or on Twitter @LauraUrseny.

CARD survey heavily led, questions close ended – when did 28 percent become “overwhelming support”?

17 Mar

I was surprised to find the CARD board meeting well-attended last night, but I think more people, including city staffers and commission members, were there to hear the discussion  about CARD taking park impact fees from developers. I went to hear the consultant’s report regarding the assessment survey.

Survey? 400 people in a town of over 80,000? I know – but let’s look  at it anyway.

The consultant also spoke of significantly leading respondents, even asking them to choose between pitches at one point.

DSC00215

Can you believe that? The callers actually read these to the respondents and asked them, which one of these pitches would make you want to tax yourself and your neighbors?

Of course, respondents were chosen by demographics – they called people who lived close to various parks, for example, and found those people would certainly support a tax!   

They also reported a very real confusion between CARD parks (ball  fields, playgrounds and neighborhood parks) and Bidwell Park, owned and maintained by the city of Chico.  I think they will try to play that confusion to their advantage. 

I will post more of the survey later.

CARD meeting next week chock full o nuts

12 Mar

Chico Area Recreation District board will hear from their consultant Thursday. EMC ran a phone survey last month regarding a bond or assessment for CARD.  I would like to ask them for a copy of the results, we’ll see what they say.

CARD board will also be discussing taking over the city’s park impact fees on development. 

That’s Thursday March 16, 7pm, at the CARD center on Vallombrosa. 

$28 million-plus in salaries and another $12 million-plus in pensions and benefits – why does our town look like SHIT?

5 Mar

The Enterprise Record, a propaganda rag that masquerades as a newspaper, ran the following op-ed the other day, as though it was a news story.

Caper Acres needs you

Renovation project a public, private partnership

By Dan Efseaff and Shane Romain

Humpty has not quite fallen, but Caper Acres needs to be put back together again. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be enough, but the citizens of Chico will be able to, and we need your help.

About 60 years ago, members of the now Chico Women’s Club started hatching ideas for a children’s playground w ithin Bidwell Park. After 13 years of fundraising and construction, the efforts of the club with the support and generosity of the Chico community resulted in the official opening of Caper Acres.

Children walked through the castle-like entrance for the first time, the iconic fairy- tale themed playground transformed the world into a magical place where imaginations blossom. Generations of children have had that same experience over the years.

Caper Acres has lost some of the sparkle since its last remodel in the mid-’90s. Recent storms provided dramatic images of the destruction of the Crooked House, yet there’s been a steady crescendo as decayed and unsafe play structures are removed.

Now is the time to recapture that same community support and dedication to bring Caper Acres back to a place where children and their families can create lifetime memories. Your help is needed to make repairs and move forward with the renovation.

The city’s recent financial crisis and the loss of park staffing added to the challenges of the maintenance and critical upkeep of Bidwell Park. We must confront our aging infrastructure. The list is long: Roads, restrooms, trails, fencing and playground equipment that are either decades old or engineered for a smaller population are failing. While deferring maintenance can save money in the short term, the costs mount over time.

For example, our daily safety inspections and repairs of Caper Acres sometimes take hours each day, just to open the gates.

Updates to the park’s facilities will make them safer, more enjoyable, and more cost effective to maintain. The renewal also allows people of all abilities to enjoy this jewel. The new features will help capture the next generation’s imagination and prove to be practical from a cost and maintenance standpoint.

In 2013, the city Parks Division, Chico State University students, and local landscape architecture consultant Melton Design Group collected citizen input to improve Caper Acres, increase safety, and reduce maintenance costs. Public meetings with community members, interviews with teachers and students, moms and dads, citizens and staff, and most importantly, the children that enjoy Caper Acres, produced great ideas.

Multiple generations of Chicoans remember moments in the park presided by Humpty Dumpty and wanting to keep the dream of Caper Acres alive. The effort yielded a beautiful rendering of ideas in the Master Renovation Plan that the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission and City Council approved in 2014.

The renovation plan provides the broad concepts to improve drainage and landscaping, replaced damaged and impractical materials with low maintenance ones, add new features such as a zip line and a Monkey Face climbing structure, and much more.

While the city will provide some funding and staff to oversee the work, in reality the Caper Acres renovation is a community venture with broad support. The phase plan will help us match implementation needs with community resources that have been generously offered.

To make the plan a reality, we will rely on community donations. We have already begun some work. Over the last two years the Parks Division has been able to apply received donations toward the Caper Acres renovation. Those funds have been and are being utilized for a variety of items such as the repaired footings of the Bird Cage, added needed fall material, and removed the aged and hazardous Bunker Hill Mine.

How can you help with Caper Acres?

You can attend the Caper Acres Fantasy Fun Run on May 13. Join us for a volunteer day. Donate to the Parks Division. Buy a Caper Acres brick. Greet other park visitors and garner support. All of these types of efforts help us move forward.

As we embark on this journey, we will share milestones and provide opportunities for public input so that we can continue improving our efforts. We also report our progress to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission. Interested citizens can get on our mailing list.

For more information and ideas on how you can get involved please email parkinfo@ chicoca. gov or call the parks office at 8967800. Dan Efseaff is the city’s parks and natural resource manager. Shane Romain is parks services coordinator.

I had to answer, so sent the following to the ER letters sections – the appropriate page for opinions such as the above.

According to publicpay.ca.gov, City of Chico Park and Natural Resources Director and Park Services Coordinator make  a combined $236,000 in total compensation.   That’s $118/hour, based on a 40 hour week, for two employees to tell us they don’t have enough money to maintain the park. (“Caper Acres Needs You”, 3/3/17) 

According to city Public Works Director Erik Gustafson, the Butte County “Alternative Custody Service” is available for $100 a day and has been used to clean restrooms, perform vegetation removal, and clear illegal encampments. I wonder why this program is not employed for clean-up and repair at Caper Acres. 

The Park Commission has discussed more citations for illegal camping and other violations, “which could add to the park revenue…” while deterring illegal activities.  In 2016, 444 “warnings” were issued to illegal campers, while only 76 were cited. City manager Mark Orme explained to me that “one of the reasons for the high number of warnings is that, in many cases, the occupant moves on and removes items…”  Gustafson told me the city believes these campers are protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, which pertain to a person’s rights within their home.  

 Welcome to Sanctuary City. 

Juanita Sumner, Chico? CA

I had a little trouble finding these positions on the public pay website because the titles were mis-spelled in the story – the database is spelling sensitive, you have to spell it exactly  right. Whoever was responsible for this story added an ‘s’ to “Park”, I had to drop the ‘s’ before the database would spit it out. Look for yourself, it’s a shocking read. Then look  at our town – does it look like a town that pays out $28 million plus in salaries, with another $12.5 in pensions and benefits?

With a payroll like that, we should be able to eat off the streets, instead, we can hardly drive on them!