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CARD propaganda blitz amounts to a lot of false claims

15 Aug

Chico Area Recreation District is hosting a series of informational meetings about their tax proposal over the next month. The first meeting was held this past Tuesday evening. It was short and very informative, I hope more people will take 45 minutes or an hour to attend one or more of these meetings.  It’s a perfect opportunity to ask questions. All meetings are scheduled at the CARD Center on Vallombrosa.

  • August 21, noon
  • August 28, 7pm
  • September 5, noon
  • September 10, 8am

Tuesday’s meeting started at 6 pm and was over shortly before 7pm.   CARD manager Ann Willmann gave a power point presentation. It was a good look at the coming propaganda blitz CARD is about to unleash.

Willmann shared some interesting general information.

• Created in 1948 (71 years ago)
• Encompasses over 250 square miles, beyond City of Chico city limits
• Population served is 121,000
• Operated separately from the City of Chico
• Oversight by an elected 5-member board of directors

I didn’t know those first three things, so here already I learned something by going to a public meeting. But it didn’t take long for Willmann to get into the full-on pitch.

What CARD Does  –  Provide parks & recreation facilities. Enrich our residents’ quality of life. Promote health, wellness, learning and fun. CARD is one of the most utilized agencies in our area,with our parks, facilities, and programs serving thousands of people annually.”

Beyond, “provide parks & recreation facilities,” none of that can be proven. Frankly, I’d liked to have seen a number besides “thousands” of people served annually. “one of the most utililized agencies in our area…” Well, prove it. There are no attendance numbers in the budget reports either. Are they including agencies like law enforcement and public safety, the road department?

I think a common misconception about CARD is that they are responsible for all the parks in town, not true. The city owns all of Bidwell Park. CARD leases the Nature Center from the city, and is responsible for maintenance on that specific property. I don’t know whether they own or lease the ball fields under the same type of agreement. But, I found the following claims to be a stretch.

Our parks:
Reflect the quality of our community.  Oh, that’s not good. Many of our parks are in pretty disgusting condition.

Improve property values.  I think this is highly disputable. When you look at real estate listings, parks and other public attractions like schools and churches are considered problematic. Especially when security and lighting are lacking, as has been one of the main complaints about CARD  facilities. Another complaint has been lack of upkeep, which damages curb appeal for any home.

Contribute to education.   I do notice,  since they took over the Nature Center, “day camps” have been their biggest source of income.

Reduce crime.   That’s funny – Terry Cleland said transients were stealing out of the dugout at ball games. CARD will have to keep working on this one.

Attract businesses and create jobs  Attracts businesses? CARD uses tax dollars to subsidize programs that drive local businesses out of the market. For example, Off the Wall Soccer, a longtime popular indoor sports facility, went out of business last year after CARD renegged on a promise not to compete with OTW’s special 7 man teams. CARD already had an outdoor program, why move in on a local business? Because they can undercut anybody with the guarantee of tax dollars. CARD is a very big competitor for private daycare facilities, and even the local wedding industry.

Creates jobs? CARD provides poverty positions, in fact, most of their workers earn less than $30,000/year, get no benefits, and rely on AFDC and Medi-Cal to fill in the gaps. A few years ago, they cut their part-time workers to 28 hours or less to get out of paying Obamacare.

Willmann shared the results of CARD’s recent survey, here are the “priorities” listed by respondents:

• Reducing crime and homelessness in parks by
providing security guards to patrol parks
• Providing clean, safe parks and recreational
programs for all Chico area residents
• Upgrading parks with lighting, security,
parking, and other safety features
• Improving and maintaining park bathrooms

• Repairing/updating aging recreation centers,
playgrounds, sports fields, swimming pools,
and facilities that promote active and healthy
living and maintain recreational programs for
seniors and youth
• Ensuring accessibility of parks and recreation
for persons with disabilities
• Renovating/expanding parks, trails, and
recreation areas, and completing parks under
construction

Here Willmann went on the defensive, listing “challenges”

• Aging Facilities + Reduced Funding =
Deferred Maintenance
• Continue to address safety needs
• Upgrades needed to aging parks and
facilities
• Create and maintain health-related
programs for all-youth to our seniors
• Discussions and studies have been
conducted
• Financial impacts out of our control
• Fees collected are not enough

Aging facilities? Willmann said most of our  facilities are over 35 years old, that’s not true.  DeGarmo Park, Humboldt Skateboard Park, the Disc Golf Course at 5 Mile, Oak Way Park – these are just some of the facilities that have been built recently. Wildwood Park is only about 25 years old. Reduced funding? Look at the budgets, available here, and tell me they haven’t been getting more money every year:

https://www.chicorec.com/district-budget

What’s true there is “deferred maintenance.” They’ve allowed facilities that should have been easy to keep in good working condition while they’ve paid more and more into their pension deficit, raised management salaries, and  taken on costly new liabilities like the rotten and aging Lakeside Pavillion and Nature Center. One of the top complaints listed in the survey was dirty bathrooms. But look at the budget, do some serious reading – they pay more for pensions every year, with employees only now being asked to contribute anything, and it’s still less than 10%. 

I was really shocked when she listed the Camp Fire as a challenge. 

“Reduced property tax base for the County means a reduction in property taxes for all public agencies. In 2019, CARD lost over $200,000 in revenue”

This was reported immediately after the Camp Fire, by city of Chico mismanager Mark Orme. But, as Orme reported, the state immediately announced they would “backfill” these lost revenues up to three years after the anniversary of the fire. So, CARD didn’t really lose $200,000 as Willmann tried to claim Tuesday night. Private homes within the Camp Fire burn area are already being rebuilt, some of them beyond their original footprint, which means they will be assessed for more within three years than they were assessed before the fire. 

Willman also claims that “Future tax reductions are expected, and plans are being made to adjust expenses.” What future tax reductions?  I’m calling bullshit on this one. There is currently a building boom going on in Chico, with more houses approved for the immediate future. That means more, more, more property taxes to maintain and upgrade current facilities,, not to mention, developer impact fees that pay for new parks. 

And finally she claims “We have seen an increase in participation in already impacted programs due to the increase in our local population.”

Oh, not this one again. Look around you  folks – the college students are back in town, families are getting  ready for school to start, but have you been held up  in any of the hellish traffic  jams that occurred in the weeks following the fire? Have you waited more than 5 minutes at a grocery store check-out? No.

When a woman asked from the back of the room if Willmann had any statistics to back up this claim, Willmann quickly answered, “No.” Furthermore, “we just noticed this increase…” 

I’ll have to stop here, I’ll pick up the rest of the meeting tomorrow. Things got kinda hot when the guy next to me brought up the pension liability. 

 

Is CARD trying to get me kicked off the letters page?

9 Aug

I read Terry Cleland’s letter in response to my complaints about the CARD survey, and their siphoning of money out of facilities and programs to pay  their pensions. The first version the paper printed Wednesday was 500 words, and kind of rude, referring to me as “Sumner”, insinuating I’m just some naysayer who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then that version disappeared – in the time it took me to feed my dogs and  get my own breakfast it was gone. 

The next day (yesterday), a new version appeared, a lot shorter, and even a little more polite, but still insinuating I don’t know what I’m talking about. That was weird, but here’s what I’m guessing – Cleland didn’t intend that first letter for print, it was a complaint to the editor. He was trying to get the ER to stop printing my letters, was what I  was reading. In past, David Little has told me about complaints he received about my letters, including requests to “ban” me from the letters section. 

One night a few years back, when Steve Visconti was CARD general manager, my husband and I attended a board meeting at which Visconti asked the board, “what are we going to do about Juanita Sumner’s letters?” I was sitting right there, they all knew me, so the board sat silent while Visconti wandered along trying to convince them that they needed to get “somebody” to respond to me.  Nobody ever has, until now. Cleland made an unsuccessful bid for CARD board last fall, maybe this is his way of keeping his foot in the door. 

When I emailed editor Mike Wolcott Wednesday about the disappearance, he said he’d been out of the office and didn’t know anything, but he’d check the next day (yesterday). He never got back to me, but there was the new letter yesterday morning. 

If I were a petty bitch, like Terry Cleland, I’d email Wolcott and say something about the fact that Cleland was allowed to pull one letter and get a new letter posted at the top of the heap the next day. I’d complain about the weeks it has taken these people to run some of my  letters,  which I’ve had to resend and resend. But I know it does no good to complain to these people – so I just wrote a response to Cleland. Yep, I’ll resend it if I have to!

In response to Terry Cleland’s letter (8/8/19):

Over half of Chico Area Recreation District’s $8,900,000  budget comes from property taxes and vehicle license fees. Over half the budget goes to salaries and benefits. Less than 35 fulltime employees have managed to accrue over $2,500,000 in pension liability because they pay less than 10% toward their own pensions. That liability has grown by almost a million dollars since 2015. 

CARD has spent more than $100,000 on surveys, proposing new facilities, but each consultant has told the board there was not support for a tax measure. The respondents made it clear in this last survey that they just want the existing facilities to be better maintained and safer.

I have the 2015 consultant’s report that suggested basic repairs for Shapiro Pool – repairs necessitated by years of neglect, including replacement of a dysfunctional sanitary filter pump.  The total cost would have been about $550,000. Instead, Staff recommended and the board agreed to close the pool and make a $400,000 payment toward their pension liability.  As of 2016, Shapiro Pool, once a popular summer destination for hundreds of children, is “non-operational until further notice”.

Right now Chico is undergoing another building boom, generating millions in new, permanent revenues. If CARD were not so management top-heavy they would have more than enough funding to fulfill their mission. Instead, I have sat at meetings watching them cut workers’ hours to avoid paying for healthcare.  I watched as they cut a popular children’s program while approving a “side fund payoff” to CalPERS. That’s self-service, greed and mismanagement.

 

 

Those letters don’t write themselves

5 Jul

Reno celebrates the 4th

I’m on the road for the holiday. Spent the 4th in Reno where the casinos do rooftop displays and the university does a big show at their stadium.

Nevada’s nice, gas is cheaper ($3.19/gal), but there’s no place like home. California is where I was born and I don’t believe in running from a fight.

Do you realize,  former Chico city manager Tom Lando has been trying to get a tax measure on the ballot since 2012? Why? Because he gets over $135,000/year in pension, and if CalPERS fails he loses it. He knows CalPERS is in deep financial trouble, so he has been trying to get a tax transfusion. He has not only lobbied the city to put a full cent tax measure on the ballot, but as a board member of Chico Area Recreation District  (CARD) he’s trying to talk the other board members into a parcel tax measure.

Both measures would be general measures that only require 51% voter approval,  meaning they would go into the general fund to be used for salaries,  benefits,  and the “pension stabilization trust. “

I know, you hear the city saying they will fix the streets and hire more cops, but that’s a lie. Not only did the city establish a “pension stabilization trust” and commit over a million dollars a year to it, but top management now recieve a special 401K in addition to having 90% of their pension paid by the taxpayers. Read their contracts,  available at the city website (Human Resources page).

CARD tried to use a new “aquatic center” as bait originally,  but after their recent consultant survey,  they promise cleaner parks and more security.  See how they change their tune, say whatever the voters want to hear? Well look at their budget, available on their website,  and see how much money they siphon into their pensions while they tell us they didn’t have enough money to maintain Shapiro Pool. They ignored a local contractor’s report and instead of doing much needed maintenance to save the pool they dumped $400,000 into their pension deficit fund. According to the contractor’s report,  they could have saved Shapiro Pool for about $500,000. And he made it clear the problems were due to years of neglecting simple maintenance.

Good lesson in civics for your kids, eh?

So now’s the time to write letters to council  and the CARD board, tell them they will have to get that money out of $taffers like city manager Mark Orme, who makes almost $300,000 a year in total compensation but pays less than $20,000 toward 70% of his $225,000 salary at age 55.

Speak now, or forever hold your hands over the seat of your pants.

 

So you thought we dumped the king in ’76?

1 Jul

Already July!  Fourth of July travelers are on the highway – I wonder if they noticed, the gas tax went up today. 

Something nobody seemed to get about SB 1 – the gas tax increase instituted by the state legislature in January 2018 – is that it allows the legislature to raise it at will, no input from the voters. 

Honey, that’s called TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. 

It could get worse – in May, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 was ordered for a third reading, not yet scheduled.  ACA1 lowers the voter threshold for [the following italicized portions have been added to the original text] “Bonded indebtedness incurred by a city, county, or city and county city and county, or special district for the construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, or the acquisition or lease of real property for public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, ”  from 2/3’s to 55 percent voter approval.  

Why? Because it was hard to get 2/3’s approval from the taxpayers. So they are changing the rule. What kind of crap is that? Should the legislature be able to just change the constitution without a vote of the people?

Furthermore, do you really think it’s okay for 55 people to tell the other 45 that they must pay a tax for programs they don’t want to support? I think that’s mob rule, and it’s divisive. A community should agree on stuff, not be subject to the loudest bullies in the group. 

Here’s the text of ACA 1

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200ACA1

The bar at the top of the page includes the history of the bill, current status (waiting for a third reading), and who voted how. So far it’s been through the Assembly Local Government Committee, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. I don’t know where it goes next, but I’m watching this page. 

So, this week, when you are trying to enjoy various events, try to remember why we celebrate this holiday. Do some homework, learn something about the process by which they steal your money and ruin your community. 

I’ll tell you what my family did to start the week off right – we watched “Vice”, the 2018 movie about Dick Cheney. Sure, it’s silly and fantastic in places, but it tells, factually, how our government works, and why we have to be on top of our politicians. 

And then we watched the Nixon movie, “Dick,”  which is the best telling of the Watergate story I have ever seen.  I was 12 years old when the Watergate story broke in the newspapers, I remember that was the first time my parents didn’t know all the answers. People were stunned, because they knew nothing about how much power the president really had.  They thought we dumped the king back in ’76, but they were wrong.

Happy Independence Day Everybody!

 

 

Lawsuit against Yuba County sales tax increase Measure K goes to court in August – watch and learn

30 Jun

Bob reminded me yesterday that the citizens’ lawsuit against Yuba County’s tax measure K will be heard August 26. The plaintiffs contend that the county ran the sales tax increase as a simple measure requiring only 51% voter approval when it was promised as a special tax for public safety, requiring 2/3’s approval. The measure did not receive 2/3’s approval of the voters.

Here’s the latest information from the Territorial Dispatch, including a sworn statement from legal counsel, stating she saw Facebook postings and letters to the editor that prove the county was promising the voters the money would be earmarked for public safety. 

https://www.eterritorial.com/45-local-news/15304-yuba-county-served-with-opening-brief-measure-k

This is a good read, because we may be headed down the same road with either the city of Chico or Chico Recreation District, who are both planning to run revenue measures in 2020. 

But here’s something she missed – 

https://ballotpedia.org/Yuba_County,_California,_Measure_K,_Sales_Tax_(November_2018)

From the description printed in the voter pamphlet, the “impartial” analysis of the Yuba County Counsel: A YES vote on Measure K means the County will enact a transactions and use (“sales”) tax within the unincorporated areas of the County of Yuba of 1% on gross retail sales receipts of tangible personal property for 10 years to use for funding the County’s public safety/essential services needs.

Right now the issue in Chico is misuse of public funds to run campaigns – read yesterday’s post. But, I think they will try to pull a similar stunt with the city’s sales tax – tell us it’s for one purpose, probably public safety, and then run it as a general measure. They think the public is stupid.

Are you stupid? Well stand up on your hind legs and let them know you don’t buy it. Write those letters now!

Chico City Council

  • Mayor Randall Stone – randall.stone@chicoca.gov
  • Vice Mayor Alex Brown – alex.brown@chicoca.gov
  • Karl Ory – karl.ory@chicoca.gov
  • Kasey Reynolds – kasey.reynolds@chicoca.gov
  • Scott Huber – scott.huber@chicoca.gov
  • Ann Schwab – ann.schwab@chicoca.gov
  • Sean Morgan – sean.morgan@chicoca.gov

Don’t forget the “.” between the first and last names.

Chico Area Rec Board (CARD)

  • Tom Lando – tlando@chicorec.com
  • Mike Worley – mworley@chicorec.com
  • Tom Nickell – tnickell@chicorec.com
  • Dave Donnan – ddonnan@chicorec.com
  • Mike McGinnis – mmcginnis@chicorec.com

Government Code Section 8314: It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity

29 Jun

Happy Saturday there atcha. But remember, evil never sleeps, and that means The Government. 

I got a response from Ann Willmann saying my letter to the Chico Area Recreation District Board would be in next month’s agenda – that meeting is scheduled for July 18 at 6pm. 

In the meantime, I’ve done more reading into the illegal use of not only taxpayer money, but any resources, including telephones, computers, office space, etc. How could I have forgotten, my good friend Stephanie Taber, who got in trouble for using then county supervisor Larry Wahl’s office computer for correspondence regarding the ill-fated Measure A? 

From Dan Walters: Government Code Section 8314 is unambiguous, declaring, “It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”

Note that word, “consultant”.

I know, Dan’s a journalist, not a lawyer, so I looked up Code Section 8314

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=GOV&sectionNum=8314.

Straight from the horse’s mouth – (a) It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.

From Section (b) – (3) “Public resources” means any property or asset owned by the state or any local agency, including, but not limited to, land, buildings, facilities, funds, equipment, supplies, telephones, computers, vehicles, travel, and state-compensated time

Wow, look at that – (c) (1) Any person who intentionally or negligently violates this section is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each day on which a violation occurs, plus three times the value of the unlawful use of public resources. The penalty shall be assessed and recovered in a civil action brought in the name of the people of the State of California by the Attorney General or by any district attorney

So how does CARD get away with using staffers and all their “resources” to float a parcel tax? Because you people are letting them do it.

Seen the CARD website lately? “See how your neighbors benefit from CARD!”

https://www.chicorec.com/

I asked Willmann how much these videos cost but she has not got back to me yet.

In this Los Angeles Times story from 2008, the author describes the use of everything from hats and t-shirts to professionally made videos used by various public agencies to promote their tax measures.

http://www.caclean.org/problem/latimes_2008-10-25.php

“In the run-up to this year’s election, the city of Lynwood posted a five-minute video on its website discussing Measure II, a proposal to retain a local utility users tax.”

“Lynwood’s website contains a five-minute video of Mayor Maria Santillan discussing Measure II, which would lower the utility tax rate from 10% to 9%. Meanwhile, Pico Rivera’s website features five taxpayer-funded mailers on Measure P, the proposed 1-cent sales tax hike.”

Unfortunately the FPPC does not have power to prosecute for illegal use of taxpayer resources. But, the FPPC does require that any money spent on any kind of political campaign be reported on campaign expenditure reports. They’ve prosecuted other agencies for failure to do so. The important point here is, if they don’t report, the FPPC can fine them, and if they do report, that’s evidence that they illegally spent money on a political campaign. 

This issue is muddled, the worst part being, we are depending on public agencies who benefit from tax increases to uphold the laws other public agencies are breaking. We have to tell people like Mike Ramsey and Xavier Becerra that we want this practice to stop. It’s not just our town, and we’re not the first people to figure out what’s going on. 

“But although such practices can provide a winning formula on election day, they can also produce a political backlash.

Three years ago, the Ventura County district attorney produced a 38-page report on efforts by the Ventura County Transportation Commission to pass the half-cent sales tax known as Measure B. Although the report concluded that no criminal prosecutions were necessary, it described the agency’s use of public funds — including $273,000 for postcards and voter opinion polls — as improper.

Earlier this year, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission warned that many government agencies are “pushing the limits with public outreach programs clearly biased or slanted in their presentation of facts relating to a ballot measure.” The FPPC is weighing a new rule that would define any public money used to communicate about a ballot measure as a political expenditure, unless it provides a fair and impartial presentation of facts.

Taxpayer advocates have lodged their own protests, saying public dollars are being used improperly to effectively secure more taxpayer dollars. “The brochures are so decidedly one-sided that they cannot be judged as objective,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.”

Today the FPPC is pressing the legislature for the power to prosecute in these cases. Contact Jim Nielsen and James Gallagher and let them know, you want prosecution for these agencies. 

https://nielsen.cssrc.us/

https://ad03.asmrc.org/

Throw the bums out!

5 Jun

Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) recently hired another consultant to run yet another survey trying to get the voters to tax themselves. As usual, the survey was leading and suggestive – but here’s something new – it didn’t produce the results they were looking for. Instead of a fancy new sports complex, the respondents made it clear they want their existing parks cleaned up and properly maintained and they want the transient camps gone. 

I mentioned in a previous post, if you read the comments on various social media sites, or if you happened to read former CARD board member Terry Cleland’s recent letter to the Enterprise Record, you hear complaints of transient camps at soccer fields, transients stealing from snack bars and even personal  belongings from the participants. 

When my son played travel sports, we found ourselves in towns all over California, like Oakland. The manager at the facility in Oakland told us to park and stay within two blocks of the facility, and to report “anything weird…”  Is that what’s happening to Chico? 

But Cleland’s letter sounded a little too in line with suggestions the CARD consultants have made – every  consultant they’ve had has told them, get members of the public to speak for you. As a former CARD board member and a candidate for the board in the recent election, Cleland would be the perfect dupe to put their tax proposal out there, as if it came from the mouths of babes.  Well, here’s my response – let’s talk about a real solution to the transient problem – throw the bums out!

Chico Area Recreation District wants a new tax to provide security at playgrounds. Terry Cleland detailed the problem in his letter, and the Editor has written of families who are moving out of Chico because of this situation.  We have a serious criminal transient problem in our city.

Here’s why.  78% of the nearly $74,000,000 Butte County Behavioral Health budget comes from “intergovernmental revenues” –  money received from other cities and counties to “provide beds” for their mentally ill and drug addicted transients. 

In 2016 BCBH director Dorian Kittrell told me the county received $550 a day for each “client” they took in from cities and counties all over California that do not offer services. He explained in a budget memo that these “intergovernmental transfers” are the main source of funding for BCBH. Transfer patients are held for 45 days, and then released at their own recognizance from either the Chico or Oroville BCBH facility. Many are given prescription medication. They are offered rides to various shelters, but are not required to enroll in any program.

This is a legal form of getting rid of transients – just send them to a mental health facility in another town. Unfortunately, Chico has become that other town.

Our once incredible Bidwell Park, CARD playgrounds, retail areas, the college district, and lower income neighborhoods, are becoming overburdened by this practice of human dumping. We don’t need new taxes or more services, we need to tell our county supervisors loud and clear – stop the transfers.