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No Kidding – our city is headed for deep doo-doo

21 Dec

This is a repost from November, 2015.  

I sent the letter below last Saturday, I had to resend, although Dave Little excused himself – “just a lot of letters in the queue”  Sure, okay, at least he printed it before this item goes to council.

There’s another Finance Committee meeting scheduled this coming week. They will pick up the conversation they left in the “workshop” I’m speaking of below. This time they will talk about how developers have got off without paying sewer fees, and how the sewer fund has been in arrears for years. From the staff report, available here:

“For over a year, City staff have highlighted the impact of reduced revenues received from development for sewer capacity fees. As a result, the City’s general sewer operating account has picked up the significant annual loan obligations required to pay the state for the capacity expansion made to the sewer treatment plant.”

Yeah, I’ve been following this conversation – what they don’t mention is, like the Private Development Fund, the Sewer Fund has been dipped into to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for people who have never even been in the neighborhood (where property owners complain they are being eaten by flies from the poorly managed plant, staff admitting they dump raw sewage in the Sac River during heavy rainstorms…)  They don’t mention the constant tug-o-war going on between the sewer operation and M&T Ranch – both suck water out of the river for operations, which has left City of Chico leach lines “on the rocks” on several occasions, leading to millions in repairs paid by taxpayers.

Our sewer plant is a disaster, but city of Chico keeps trying to hook more people up, cause they want those fees to pay – you got it – the Pension Liability.  Now they are holding a carrot out to Paradise? Wow, this is just getting surreal. 

So, I’m just glad Little finally decided to run my last letter, I already feel another one forming in the old Brain Pan.  I wish you folks would write too. Our biggest question being – all these years you been letting the developers off, you been charging private homeowners by frontage – meaning, the length of your property that meets the street. Developers pay a flat rate – why not homeowners? Here we been subsidizing development for years, and the fund is still RED.  

$taff has been embezzling. I realize, the developers have been getting a better deal than we have, but we all been taking a screwing from $taff. 

My letter, run this morning:

A consultant’s report given to the city Finance Committee says homeowners pay about 130 percent of the true cost of building permits while for-profit developers pay less than the cost of services they receive  from the city. But this is not the entire reason for a $9 million deficit in the private development fund. 

Consultant Chad Wolford explained, while we cut our workforce heavily, we failed to cut “overhead” – that is, the management positions that take most of our budget. 

Next door, the Internal Affairs committee tackled the subject of civility as I watched our mayor attack a local developer who came to the podium to question the allocation of a $6 million pension deficit on the private development fund. Mayor Mark Sorensen listed two other options – “keep moving in your direction…racking up a million dollars a year in debt…” he told Pete Giampoli.  Sorensen’s other option was to take the money out of the General Fund, already empty because of such transfers. 

The unspoken option is  cut management positions. One recently hired finance department employee, salary over $100,000, attended the meeting for no apparent reason.  He gave no report, sat in the audience, and left the building several times during the meeting. 

This is why we’re in trouble – we have too many redundant positions, getting over $100,000 in salary and paying little toward their benefits. Most of our management employees are longtime CalPERS participants who pay less than 10 percent of their pension premiums. 

Juanita Sumner, Chico


Here’s why the price of housing will never go down in Chico – houses will get smaller, but the price per square foot is going to keep climbing

20 Dec

Thanks Dude, for this article from –

CalPERS has decided to raise the stakes by $50 billion, and critics are saying they are investing in “bubbly stocks”. As defined by Wikipedia, “a bubble occurs when investors put so much demand on a asset that they drive the price beyond any accurate or rational reflection of its actual worth.”

In past CalPERS has failed to bring in anticipated returns because they’ve made bad investments, first based on bribery, and later, on philosophy – buying stock in “green” companies that failed miserably. I believe those “philosophical” investments were also based on bribery or other influence but that hasn’t come out yet.

Here in Chico CalPERS failure will determine the cost of our housing market, since developers/homebuyers are expected to pay for the salaries, health benefits and pensions of Downtown $taffers. Last night council deadlocked over fees – Mark Sorensen correctly stating that there is no data to support lower fees for high density builders, and Karl Ory throwing up that ages old argument that has led us on the BOOM and BUST trail again and again – we need more housing for the “workforce.”

15 years ago, it was, “more starter housing for young families.” They change the words but it’s still the same – more profits for developers, more fees and property taxes for the city.

This city has suffered two big BUSTS in my adult lifetime. I learned about the economy when, in 1989, my family bought an entirely over-inflated house. Within three years prices went through the floor again, and when we tried to sell we couldn’t even get what we paid. Families all over town, like us, were paying over-inflated mortgages and property taxes, which means no “discretionary” income.

In the early 2000’s the market was flat and the developers turned to their friends in elected positions – like Larry Wahl and Dan Herbert – to campaign for “starter housing for young families”. They wanted lower fees – Dan Herbert almost went into tears complaining about the $17,000 in fees he’d just paid to build his new house, he just kept repeating that over and over at the council meeting. 

That campaign led to the biggest building BOOM in Chico history. But wait! Prices didn’t go down! Houses went from the$90,000 range to over $300,000 within eight months. 

And of course by 2010 the BUST rolled in, with foreclosures all over town. Foreclosures never went away, we still have many foreclosures in Chico.  Right now Zillow is listing 68 foreclosed homes. Over the past two years I’ve lost five neighbors to foreclosure, while one foxy old bastard next door actually re-bought his own house at auction, reducing his mortgage debt by about $100,000. 

That should tell you, some of these housing prices are just made of air…

The BOOM we are experiencing now has all the hallmarks of the previous BOOM – housing prices up sharply, sales quick and high over the Summer. I sold a home this Summer because I saw that, and I wanted to unload before the prices hit rock bottom and stayed there for years to come. We essentially sold the place at Open House, within the first two weeks, for asking price. I had feared the realtor had asked too much, and was surprised at the full price offer.  They were ready to jump through hoops for us to get the house, they were almost annoyingly pushy. 

Two realtors I spoke with when I was selling told me uneasily they expect a BUST by Spring 2018. Already I’ve noticed sales are slowing, but  that just might be a Winter thing. We’ll see.

CalPERS is going to take California down. 






Pensions before streets – business as usual in Chico California

3 Dec

The Finance Committee meeting I attended Wednesday (11/29/17) also included a discussion of “street urbanization fees.” The city of Chico supposedly requires developers to provide or pay for new curbs and gutters in existing neighborhoods whenever they build a new subdivision.

About 10 years ago the city approved a new subdivision in my neighborhood – in a former neighbor’s back yard – and despite the protests of our neighbors, gave the builder “variances” to just about everything in the city code. The result was seven houses where there was really only room for three or four. There is a constant turnover of residents and they all  bring lots of cars. A few days ago we noticed a giant moving van out on the street in front of the subdivision – there is absolutely no place to park a vehicle like that on their own street. In fact, there is no place for garbage trucks to turn around, they have to back out.

This was before the city even discussed “variable rates” for developers – see how they do what they want.

But no improvements were made on our main street, which has become a “feeder” or “through” street for all these little subdivisions that sprung up in Grandma’s back yard over the course of several building booms and busts.

Builder Chris Giampoli, who does a lot of CHIP housing, does not feel he should have to make those improvements when he shoves five CHIP houses into an existing neighborhood. Well, we’re not talking about the entire street, we’re just talking about curbing and guttering the feeder street where his new street breaks in. Giampoli opined that if the feeder is already crapped out, that’s from existing residents, and developers shouldn’t have to pay for bringing the street up to “current standards.”

What Giampoli and his friend Dan Gonzalez are suggesting through their “variable rates” ploy, is that existing residents subsidize their for-profit development business. Giampoli was one of five developers, along with Tom DiGiovanni, who got the permits for Gonzalez’ project at Meriam Park,  named in a lawsuit threatened by CalTrans, over subdivisions being built without fees being collected for the improvements recently made to highways 99 and 32.  According to Mark Sorensen, those developers have never paid fees toward those highway widenings, which their projects necessitated.  So beat it Chris, you been getting a free ride for too long there buddy. You couldn’t survive in the free market, like your dad did, cause you cut corners and build subsidized crap. Dan Gonzalez isn’t going to be able to sell Meriam Park without government hand-outs, and he knows it. These people expect the taxpayers to support them.

Let’s face it – developers bring people to our town, they use our neighborhoods – our town! –  to attract buyers, they should have to invest money into our neighborhoods.  We existing residents already pay for that service, it’s called “property taxes.” Our prop taxes are split 45 – 55 by the county and city,  the city of Chico gets roughly half our property taxes. What they do with it? Cause they sure as hell have not been spending my property taxes on my street.

I took this picture of my street on the way home from the meeting.

So we’ve got developers paying fees, and residents paying property taxes – why do our streets look like this?

This is the “pedestrian right-of-way” down my street. Every now and then I look in that pothole, make sure there isn’t an old lady or a jogger with a stroller stuck down in there…

The entire street is becoming broken up and the asphalt has separated from the ground – you can hear it rumbling under your tires like old pottery as you pass over.

In Chico, as all of California, the government has been pouring the gas tax and other revenues that were supposed to be used to fix streets and roads into their pensions. At last Wednesday’s meeting, City of Chico finance mangler Scott Dowell said 15 percent of the “street and urbanization fees” collected from developers goes to “indirect costs” which he identified as “CalPERS.”  At the mention of CalPERS there were audible groans around the room, including committee members and $taff. Nobody wants to talk about CalPERS costs down there.

Sean Morgan complained the explanation “didn’t help.”  

City works employee Brendan Ottoboni said that if developers weren’t willing – in fact, I believe they have been threatening a lawsuit, given the little remarks made about letters being sent and meetings being had – Ottoboni says existing streets that are not “feeders” or do not have new projects built on them will be taken off the projects list.  Staffer Steve said they are still working with a list of projects identified in 2009, but never funded. A specific section of Rio Lindo, which Sean Morgan opined is “one of the worst streets in town,” has been removed from the list.

At this point local builder Bill Webb asked a pertinent question – “how do I get my street on the projects list…” Staffer Steve said, “of 14 projects identified in 2009 as FUNDED, 9 have been taken off the list…” for lack of funding.  “We’ve had a lot of requests for projects…” but the city only fixes streets “where there will be problems due to higher traffic” generated by new subdivisions. 

So here we are on my street, where the “current level of service” is, as one woman sitting near me described, “just crap.” My street is a very heavily used through street, new houses have been built every few lots over the last 20 years, and here’s the level of service we get from the city of Chico.

Every now and then a crew comes through and fills potholes with “slobbers” – asphalt left over from jobs in newer neighborhoods. We got that from the guy who was running the crew one day.

Here’s what a patch job like that looks like within a week.

The asphalt they plopped in this old pothole took off on somebody’s tire.

The meeting ended with arguing, it was hard to hear what motion was made and passed. I believe they voted unanimously to “send the urbanization fees to council as described…” Chris Giampoli asked Brendan Ottoboni what would happen if the “urbanization fee” wasn’t approved by council, and Ottoboni answered “our road maintenance will continue to be unfunded.” He added, “new development…new growth…they use existing roads too…they don’t pay for them currently…”

To which Giampoli responded nastily, “people will continue to complain.” I’m not sure which people he’s talking about, but I’m feeling the beginnings of another lawsuit from the development community, one way or the other. We’ll see.  Years ago, Bill Webb’s dad and uncle and a few other developers sued the city for $500,000 in fees that had not been used for what they’d been collected, and won. 

Mark Sorensen, always politically incorrect, called the discussion a “Mexican stand-off.” So, that’s what we’ve got – a stand-off between the  city and the development community, with the good citizens standing right in the crossfire. 

POST SCRIPT:  Here’s an item from yesterday’s paper:

Apparently we have an Americans with Disabilities Act Citizen Committee – mentioned in this report:

a year ago, which extensively details our ADA deficiencies and how far behind we are complying with a law passed in 1990. 

I don’t know anything about this “committee” or how it was established, whether the Brown Act applies or what. I’ll have to snoop into it.




Team Chico Police meeting

12 Nov

Thanks Jim for attending this meeting and sending us this report.  If only more people were willing to attend meetings, maybe we’d be able to force change in the way things work (or in Chico, the way things don’t work)  . Thanks for speaking up Jim.

Wednesday November 8th I went to the Team Chico Police public safety meeting held at Round Table Pizza on Pillsbury. It was mostly a PR type event, several officers and the Chief were there. They talked a little about better security around your business and home. Video cameras were strongly recommended as a deterrent. I have had them at my house for over 10 years.

The Chief said that they will be fully staffed in the coming months with the inclusion of the three park rangers.  So I asked what full staffing means and is that enough. The Chief said that full staffing is what the City Council has approved in the budget, and he gave a political roundabout answer to my second question.


They promoted use of the Nextdoor app and the Chico PD app. Be sure to note the serial number of bikes, since that can make a big difference when they stop a transient. The officer said they often run the serial number of the bums bike. Unless there is a report of it being stolen they can’t do much. Same with all your personal property, note the serial number and take photos.


They also asked to call the non-emergency number to report any suspicious activity; 897-4900.  They asked to call the non emergency number to report nonemergency suspicious activity. You will still need to fill online reports of theft.


Several people made comments about how the bike path is a big crime problem. One apartment manager asked if the bike path could be closed. The Chief said that we would have a very hard time closing the bike path with the pro-bike attitude in Chico, he wants more TV cameras to monitor the problem areas. However he noted that they don’t have the staff to monitor the cameras in real time.


Overall I felt like it was a less fulfilling than I expected, however I’m not sure what I expected.


Jim Matthews

I boldfaced the non-emergency number because that is big news to me. For the past year or so Chico PD has encouraged the use of their online reporting mechanism, and I’ll tell you right now, that sucked. The citizen was expected to log in, give personal information beyond their name and address, and select a password – oh gee, we all need more passwords cluttering up our lives!  The online reporting scheme sent a pretty clear message to citizens from Chico PD – “We don’t care about your petty problems…”

I guess it’s okay to report a theft online – it’s already happened, and then I assume I’d have a copy of the report. 

I don’t know about cameras, they can  be expensive, and they don’t stop crime, they just get a furry picture that might or might not be identifiable. I see more of them around town, we’ll have to see if that brings up the number of arrests. 

Good question Jim – how much staffing is enough? They’ve given those numbers in past, based on population, and we’ve always been within three officers of full staffing. A question I would like to ask is, will the chief take a pay cut and be willing to pay more of his own pension to guarantee full staffing?

Nextdoor was a disappointment for me – for one thing, they asked me for my social security number to sign up, when I wouldn’t give that, I was sent a post card with a code number to sign up. That’s security? And after I’d already been signed up for weeks, they sent me a notice that said I had to agree to let them mine my personal information and monitor my online activities so they could sell that information to advertisers.

The entire time I was on Nextdoor, I saw more people’s comments directed toward selling some sort of service/products than I saw comments exchanging information about crime. My next door neighbor uses Nextdoor to advertise parties at which she sells stuff like cosmetics and housewares, and my ex-tenant uses it to sell Avon. 

Only a couple of neighbors used it to report stuff like, shed broken into, package stolen at Christmas time, etc. One person posted every “suspicious” person who walked by his house, but that wasn’t helpful. 

All the police “app” amounts to is faster access to the online reporting mechanism. Just put 897 – 4900 on your speed dial!

Sure, record your serial numbers, take pictures – if only for your insurance company, cause the cops aren’t going to get your stuff back, that’s laughable. I don’t own a $2500 bike, so who cares, right?  Most of the stripped bikes I see are less than $150 bikes, and they’re all over town. There’s one hanging in a  tree out at the new subdivision on Hwy 32 East.

Anybody out there with a story about a cell phone or other small electronic device or cash stolen out of a car or house and returned by Chico PD? These people steal stuff that fits in their pocket.

Speaking of what what a “pro-bike” town we are, did Chief have any statistics on how many law abiding citizens actually use that bike path that runs alongside North Valley Plaza and Pillsbury?  It has never been safe, I was accosted there 30 years ago, and I’m sure many people have bad stories about that section of the trail. If it’s going to be allowed to remain, then we should have cops on bikes. All the trails in town should be covered by cops riding in teams on bikes. Having bike trails that are not patrolled by police is just setting up a special highway for criminals to access neighborhoods and then get out quickly.  But Chico PD won’t do bike patrol, and if they do, they want extra pay, like they  get extra pay for speaking Spanish or taking a canine in their car. 

The cops don’t seem so “pro-bike”, I have to wonder where the chief gets that bullshit. I’m guessing he’s got a can of it under his desk. 

I’m sorry to make fun, but this meeting is no different than meetings I have attended in past. They’re telling us crime is our problem, they just come along to take a report afterwards. 


Chico PD make contract demands tonight, here’s a sampling

7 Nov

From tonight’s council agenda (I boldfaced stuff that sounded interesting to me):

Below are the proposals from the Chico Police Officers’ Association to the City of
Chico. MOU Article refer to the existing MOU.
1. Three-year MOU effective January 1, 2018 through December 31,
2. No COLA or other unit-wide salary increase for length of MOU.
3. Canine Pay. Article 5.10 and 5.7
a. Compensation: Add alternative assignment for Canine
Officer of 10% (Article 5.7D)
4. Specialty Assignments. Article 5.7
a. Traffic Sergeant: Add a Traffic Sergeant assignment at 10%.
(Currently no one is assigned to this position.)
b. FTO Sergeant: Add FTO Sergeant assignment at 5%. (This
assignment would only be paid when there is someone in
the program.)
5. CPOA Time Bank. Article 2.5(A).
a. Add an additional 100 hours to the Union Time Bank on the
city each year such that these hours are not backfilled.
6. Salary Schedule Correction. Article 5.1 and Exhibit B. Remove the
bottom pay step for Sergeant. (Step D or Step F depending on
when employee hired.)
7. Minimum Staffing on Patrol Teams with Mandatory Overtime.
Create a mandate for minimum staffing to protect citizens and
improve officer safety.
a. Mandatory Overtime to only cover sick leave, bereavement,
Administrative leave, and Training
i. A Days – Current Staff (8) Make minimum (6)
ii. A Swing – Current Staff (8) – Make Minimum (6)
iii. A Graves – Current Staff (7) – Make Minimum (5)
iv. B Days – Current Staff (8) – Make Minimum (6)
v. B Swing – Current Staff (8) – Make Minimum (6)
vi. B Graves – Current Staff (7) – Make Minimum (5)
vii. C Swing – Current Staff (6) – Make Minimum (5)8. Holiday Hours. Article 6.1 and 6.2.
a. City shall provide hours towards the employee’s Holiday
Time Bank equivalent to the employee’s regular work shift.
9. Sick Leave Accrual Rate. Article 6.4(A)(2)
a. Employees shall accrue sick leave in the amount of ten CIo)
hours per month.
10.Alternative Assignment FTO Clarification. Article 5.7
a. An employee who is assigned on a temporary basis to Field
Training Officer shall receive 5% Alternative Assignment pay
for the time the employee worked such assignment.
11.Education Reimbursement. Article 6.8(1)
a. Provide up to $1,500 per fiscal year for reimbursement of
approved educational programs and training.
b. Cap of $15,000 per fiscal year.
12.Medical Insurance Opt Out. Article 6.3 and Exhibit C
a. Increase payment to employees opting out of City’s medical
insurance plan to $500 per month into the employee’s
medical flexible spending account or deferred compensation
13. Fitness. Article 6.8(H)
a. Add language to MOU allowing employees to work out
during their regular work schedule at the CPD fitness facility
and while maintaining availability for service and subject to
supervisory approval.


CARD, city $taff agree on one thing – it’s time to run a revenue measure!

4 Nov

Yesterday [11/3/17] I went out early to attend a meeting of the ad hoc committee formed between Chico City Council and Chico Area Recreation District to divvy up local parks, including Bidwell Park. 

There’s a lot of funding involved in these parks, and this was essentially a grab by CARD to get some of those revenues. The last thing CARD director Ann Willmann asked before she left the meeting was when she would start seeing the $$$$ from the neighborhood parks they were about to take over.

Ad hoc meetings do not have to be noticed to the public, but for some reason the news ran a story saying this meeting would begin at 9 am. There was no agenda posted either on the CARD website or at the city website, so I had to trust the news. When I arrived at the city building just before 8:50 I was glad to see the agenda posted alongside the door – it said 9 am. I went to a lot of trouble to push though my chores and get down there on time, and hey, my time might not be worth $139,000/year plus benefits but it’s worth something.

The Enterprise Record reporter and another woman, who told me she was at the meeting to see “if I still have a job” were waiting at the door when I arrived. As time went by and nobody came to let us in, we began to speculate. 9:00 came and went, so the reporter went over to the city office to inquire about the meeting. At 9:10 we were told that the meeting notice was wrong, the meeting didn’t start until 9:30, and someone would be along to open the door for us. 

Later, when councilor and committee member Karl Ory walked in a few minutes after 9:30, he looked around at the gathering and said, “I thought we agreed on 9:30?” Committee members and staffers all laughed. 

Like Lawanda Page says in “Friday,” “Well…Fuck You!” The way they treat the public down there is just gob-stopping. Our inconvenience doesn’t mean Jack Shit to $taff.

I’m sorry to be coarse, but these people treat me like garbage, and I get sick of it. 

Let me cut to the chase – the meeting started at 9:30 and by 9:45 the words “tax”, “assessment” and “tax assessment” had been used by staff or CARD representatives three times. Two staffers, Linda Herman and Eric Gustafson, said in so many words they want the city to pursue a revenue measure, and Tom Lando, CARD board director, made it clear, again, that he also wants a revenue measure. 

Herman said at one point, “I believe we have a united front for a tax [measure]…that’s better than going at it from opposite sides…”

It sounded as though CARD has already decided on a mailed assessment, but hasn’t made the formal announcement. I’ll try to attend the next CARD board meeting, usually held around the 15th of each month, and get more clarification on that.

The rest of the meeting was a jawdropper, the way these people wheel and deal behind closed doors, the stuff they say. I can’t write that fast, but the notes I was able to get are stunning. 

These people are not out to protect our interests, that’s for sure. I’ll cover it more when I get another chance to sit down. 




Still think Agenda 21 is a big joke?

30 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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