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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.

The pension deficit is the difference between what public employees expect to get and what they are willing to pay into it

5 Apr

Well, anybody who saw my last post and then saw my letter in the News and Review can see that I had to edit dramatically to get my letter in.  When I sent my original letter to the address I’ve used for years, it was sent back, rejected for size? And I was told to use the form letter mechanism on the N&R website, which only allows 150 words. Snip, snip, snip – I still got my point across, and it was a good exercise. 

Write those letters folks! When do I find the time? When I’m so pissed off I can’t sleep. Writing letters to the editor will save your teeth, believe me!

I sent the following letter to the Enterprise Record two days ago, watch for it, and write your letters too. Just yesterday Dan Walters ran a column about the spending of taxpayer money to pass revenue measures that will only end up being squandered on the pension deficit –

https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article228799774.html

so people are thinking about this subject. Write now!

And don’t just write to the papers, forward to the city manager mark.orme@chicoca.gov and CARD general manager Ann Willmann annw@chicorec.com

Chico Area Recreation District board and staff have spent over $100,000 on consultants to help them pass a revenue measure  but have yet to show the taxpayers that they can be trusted with money.

In 2014, CARD staff reported a pension deficit of $1,700,721 .  Only five years later, that deficit has ballooned to $2,800,000, despite nearly $1,000,000 in “side fund payoffs”.  

CARD staff announced they have “set aside” another $1,700,000 for payment toward the  deficit, having admitted they have deferred maintenance to various facilities for years, including Shapiro Pool, which was closed permanently last year.

CARD only started asking employees to pay toward their own pensions in 2013, but management staffers pay 6% or less, with the general manager paying only 2 percent of an $108,500 salary.

CARD staff describe the pension/unfunded liability as “What we owe to CalPERS because of the difference in their guesses.”

Wrong.  The pension deficit is the difference between what employees expect to get (70 percent of their highest year’s salary at age 55) and what they want to pay for it (less than 10 percent of their salary). For example, the general manager pays $2170/year toward a pension of  more than $75,000.  That is not sustainable.

CARD staff have used taxpayer revenues to enrich themselves while ignoring their mission. Now they tell us we need to pass a revenue measure, or they will further defer maintenance, close facilities, and cut programs. At the same time offering a grandiose new sports facility south of town? Let the board of directors know how you feel about that, at annw@chicorec.com

 

Maybe we just ought to call it “Willmann Pavilion”!

10 Feb

Last Saturday (Feb. 2) I attended a “special” meeting of Chico city council. The most “special” thing about this meeting, besides the $3,000 consultant who ran it, was the location – Cal Park Pavilion? Not only is this facility remote and out of the public eye,  the city paid $472 for less than eight hours in a shabby little meeting room when they’ve got newly remodeled rooms available not only at city hall but at the old municipal building just down the street. 

For Pete’s sake – they just poured almost $400,000 of Comcast ratepayer fees into new IT, carpet and furniture for the council chambers. But they decide to convene out at Cal Park, on a stormy Saturday, instead of their centrally located, newly refurbished chambers?

I asked the consultant why the weird location and he said he needed a space to hang his blue display sheet – about 5′ x 7′ – and plenty of room for the attendees – 7 council members, about a half dozen staffers, and maybe a dozen members of the general public. 

I didn’t press him, or ask staff, cause they just lie.  The real reason was they didn’t want the public in there watching, seeing what is done with taxpayer funds, and how stupid and self serving council members are. 

Another question it raised for me was the way CARD uses Cal Park Pavilion. They paid a million bucks for the building, rotten roof and all, but with interest payments totaling almost $100,000 a year, they’ve hardly touched the principal. They poured several hundred thousand dollars more into repairs, including fixtures that serve no functional purpose that were either added or removed at the suggestion of the contractor. The contractor made fun of the outer looks of the building, referring to The Flintstones, and the board approved a $75,000 cost overrun. It’s not their money, and that’s how they spend it.

You don’t spend that kind of money on a facility that has no return value. Park Pavilion was supposed to be a money-maker for CARD, hosting weddings and other private affairs. It’s a  beautiful site, the big room is nicely done with huge windows overlooking a well-kept private lake. You’d think people would be lining up to use it.  When CARD rented it to a “non-profit”group that is looking into building a grandiose new recreation center south of town, I asked CARD staff about the rates.

Staff response: “It is a $500 deposit that is refundable to you. For a Saturday it is $3400 separate from the deposit and for a Friday or a Sunday it is $2800 separate from the deposit. We can do an hourly rate which is the same deposit and has a minimum of 8 hours and that is $225 per hour.

Lakeside is $225 Per hour weekdays and weeknights. There is no discounted rate for this building.”

No discount? But Every Body Healthy Body only paid a total $500 for a 5 hour rental of the big main room – essentially the entire building, tables, chairs, dishes, the Whole Shebang. Just a couple of years later, the side meeting room is almost as much? 

Who decides the rates and who gets a discount? Director Ann Willmann. I asked her about the discount rate for EBHB, knowing one of the members of that board, Brad Geise, is a long time associate of Willmann’s through Aqua Jets. Willmann’s kid was in Aqua Jets, Geise was the director of Aqua Jets, and Aqua Jets has used CARD facilities, so I know she’s pretty chummy with the guy.  She responded as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Hi Juanita, I authorized the $100 hr/fee. As CARD’s general manager, I have the discretion to adjust facility rental rates for use by community agencies and organizations particularly when they have objectives and purposes similar to and compatible with those of CARD. If there are no pending inquires for use of a facility or no programming taking place, we would recognize the opportunity for some revenue where otherwise there would have been none.”

So what’s she’s saying, is she gets to give her friends discounts, but the rest of us, who pay the bills by way of our property taxes, get no discount. Hey, why don’t you call up, and ask her, what dates is the Pavilion not being used, and ask for a discount rate for your kid’s wedding on one of those dates? 

You won’t even find rates on the website, you have to ask Staff. Which leads to special people getting special prices, is what I’m hearing.  What I’m also hearing is nobody wants to use the goddam thing unless they know Ann Willmann and expect to get a discount. 

https://www.chicorec.com/lakeside-pavilion

When was the last time you attended or even heard of a private function there – a wedding, company party, a business convention even? The only functions I’ve heard of were the EBHB party (complete with catering and table service) and this recent “special” council meeting. 

CARD offers programs there, like free movies for the residents of Cal Park, exercise classes, stuff like that. But I’ve never known anybody who participates in those programs, so I don’t know how well attended they are. 

Frankly, I think the Pavilion is an expensive train wreck, losing money, losing money, losing money. I don’t know who decided to buy it in the first place, but they spent way too much money on it, especially given the extensive dry rot they found throughout the building. They’re still paying the interest on the loan. 

I looked at the budget available at CARD’s website for reports on the Pavilion but only found one reference to $3,000 spent on “maintenance”. I assumed CARD staff is responsible for keeping track of these figures in some form of “Income statement, Statement of income, Financial results statement, Earnings statement, Operations statement,” or what my loan officer at Wells Fargo referred to as a “profit/loss report.”

https://www.cardfellow.com/blog/guide-to-profit-and-loss-statements-pls/

My husband and I are landlords, we’ve done profit/loss statements every year for our taxes, on each separate rental. We have to keep track of all the expenses, and all the rent – we even have to report any money we withhold from deposits, and account for every dime. We also have done PL statements anytime we’ve wanted to get or refinance a loan.

I’ll tell you a little secret – my husband and I went through the whole refinance obstacle course a couple of years ago, turning over document after document, answering many snoopy questions. We were finally turned down because our rents aren’t high enough. They said our debt/income ratio was out of whack, that we should raise our rents and call them back in a year. 

But it was a good exercise for us as business owners – we keep our rents low to keep good tenants, so we’ve started keeping a keener eye to expenses. We decided to sell a rental because it was getting old and the expensive repairs we’d made when we bought it were starting to need to be made again.  For example, at the rents we were charging, we never would have recouped the expense of another new roof. We’d also been replacing old windows one at a time for years, but were down to the big, pricey windows that would have to be done when the house was vacant, maybe even require permits. We had to make a business decision to suit ourselves and our kids, so we sold to a family that could afford to dump a bunch of money into repairs and remodeling. Losing the rental income was a shock, but we had to realize the repairs would have driven us further into debt. We make these decisions and we suffer the consequences ourselves, that’s the private sector. 

But CARD is a public agency, it’s not their money to spend, and they need to be more accountable to the taxpayers. So I asked Willmann for a PL report on the Pavilion.

She doesn’t have one.

Hi Juanita, we don’t have specific reports for the income at Lakeside Pavilion. Our facility revenue is posted to two accounts. Indoor Facilities or Outdoor Facilities. If you have a specific request regarding Lakeside, I am happy to send you the information. I would just need a date range you are interested in. Thanks, Ann

Oh my god. Really? I realize, public agencies don’t pay taxes. But, 

“Your P&L also tells the tale of how profitable your business is or is not, and the timeframe of your major profits and losses. If you’re in a seasonal business, you know that certain times of the year are lucrative and others slow. Those operating businesses not especially subject to seasonal ebbs and flows can determine a company’s most and least profitable quarters via examining the P&L, and figuring out the circumstances. Regular review of your P&L tells you what areas of your business generate the most profit and which generate the most costs.  It also allows you to look for trends that may not be apparent until you see them in black and white.”

Well, duh!

And the Pavilion isn’t the only facility they own. Given their style of book keeping, how are we supposed to know what they’re doing?

CARD is not held accountable by the taxpayers, that’s the problem. They operate in a pretty slipshod fashion, spending money with no limits because the taxpayers are always there to bail them out. 

And that’s just what they’re looking for in the revenue measure they are trying to put on the 2020 ballot. Or worse, a mailed assessment, in which only property owners vote and the amount of property owned determines the “weight” of each vote. 

How do you find out what they’re up to? You have to attend meetings, held each mid-month on Thursday at the CARD center on Vallombrosa. They don’t keep real minutes, and those aren’t even posted with any regularity, so if you want to know what’s going on – and let the new board know what you think – you must attend a meeting sometime. They’re easy – starting promptly at 7pm and over usually by 8pm. 

https://www.chicorec.com/board-meetings

Or just bend over, put your hands over your eyes and ears, and close your mouth.