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Camp Fire a year later – quite a turnaround from gloom and doom to prosperity for City of Chico

26 Dec

Remember claims made by City of Chico staff that Camp Fire evacuees were causing financial problems? Here’s a story from as late as May –  6 months after the fire – claiming that the evacuees were still overwhelming city services. 

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/05/10/state-population-estimates-based-on-new-housing-contruction-not-occupation-but-mark-orme-still-claims-he-has-hard-numbers-on-camp-fire-evacuation/

“Last week, the state Department of Finance released the figures, with Chico having grown by 20.7 percent as of Jan. 1, 2019. The population as of the new year was 112,111, according to the state, up by an estimated 19,250 people from a year earlier.”

As you should know by now, city of Chico is planning to put a sales tax increase on the November 2020 ballot. Like CARD, which has put a parcel tax titled “Measure A” on the March ballot, the city of Chico cannot openly campaign for their sales tax after it has been assigned a ballot title. So, like CARD, the city of Chico must do their campaigning now, with the help of the local fishwrap known as the Enterprise Record.

The ER went willingly along with city management, printing article after article about this imagined population boom. I said it then and I’ll say it now – where the hell are they? We just went through Christmas – why weren’t the roads around the mall shut down with all these displaced people? I drive in rush hour traffic almost every day – where are the commuters? Where the heck are all these new people? 

Of course, the evacuees left their mark alright – “The city saw $2.5 million more in sales tax revenue than they had budgeted for, Dowell said, and approximately $700,000 more in transient occupancy tax fees.”

Not to mention, “ approximately $500,000 in fire and police department costs have been reimbursed — as well as $3 million from the state government in recovery funds”

 But if seeing isn’t believing, here’s the data that tells us the lion’s share of the evacuees have gone.   “‘Those two [ sales and occupancy tax]  relate to what we can tell is a boost,’ [city finance director Scott]  Dowell said, ‘but we’ve actually seen those — particularly the occupancy tax — dip.’”

Furthermore, read Steve Schoonover’s article posted below –  Butte County Population Dips More Than 10,000 – quoting the same agency (Dept. of Finance) that “estimated” the population BOOM after the fire, Schoonover reports, “The latest report, from 2018 to 2019, Showed Butte’s population dipping from 227,353 to 216,965. That’s a loss of 10,388 people, or 4.57 percent of the population.”

Now think folks – you’ve heard about the upcoming US Census 2020. Remember US Census 2010?  The federal government does it’s best to actually COUNT people. What a concept. I remember the census worker who hounded us about our neighbors. I read stories in various news sources about census workers hounding people literally to death. Now THINK – have you seen or heard from any Census Workers since 2010?  No, they’re still looking for workers, the census doesn’t begin until 2020.   So where does the Dept. of Finance get these numbers? Read this, from the actual Dept. of Finance news release:

“Changes to the housing stock are used in the preparation of the annual city population estimates. Estimated occupancy of housing units and the number of persons per household further determine population levels. Changes in city housing stock result from new construction, demolitions, housing unit conversions, and annexations. The sub-county population estimates are then adjusted to be consistent with independently produced county estimates.”

I didn’t have to count. I saw what happened to Chico in the weeks directly after the fire and I watched as people fled the area over the following months. I personally know people who never even went  back to look at their burnt out lot, and I can’t say I blame them. They spent a month or two in Chico gathering their wits, and then they were scattered to the wind. As is reported in Schoonover’s article below.

Now the city of Chico admits they actually made profit off the fire. But you know they are still planning to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot. In fact, Scott Dowell mentions another one of his dog-and-pony budget presentations coming up in March.  “Dowell said his staff will start to work on budget items for the 2020-2021 budget when they get back from the holidays in January. Additionally, the city will host a public meeting to learn the ins and outs of the new budget on March 12.”

Uh-huh. That ought to be interesting. 

I cut and paste the articles into the blog because I know a lot of you don’t have a subscription to the Enterprise Record and may not be able to see this stuff. Which ought to be illegal, because the ER is very obviously running a propaganda blitz for the city, not to mention CARD. 

PUBLISHED:  | UPDATED: 

CHICO — Financially, the Camp Fire hit the city of Chico hard in 2019, despite never physically crossing into the city’s territory. Despite that, the budget is actually doing OK, said Scott Dowell, Chico’s administrative services director.

The city of Chico did not make any substantial changes to the budget following the Camp Fire, and approximately $500,000 in fire and police department costs have been reimbursed — as well as $3 million from the state government in recovery funds, Dowell said.

Of course, “we’re still processing, we’re still living it,” Dowell said, of the aftereffects of the Camp Fire.

Because the city’s fiscal year runs from July to June, the most recent numbers available are from June 30, Dowell said. But those numbers show Chico with a significant surplus: More than $20 million.

That’s a big turnaround from 2013’s budget, when the city was facing bankruptcy.

Two of the biggest factors for that surplus are directly related to the Camp Fire: Sales tax and hotel tax, also known as the transient occupancy tax.

The city saw $2.5 million more in sales tax revenue than they had budgeted for, Dowell said, and approximately $700,000 more in transient occupancy tax fees.

“Those two relate to what we can tell is a boost,” Dowell said, “but we’ve actually seen those — particularly the occupancy tax — dip.”

A lot of that surplus hasn’t been designated to a use by council yet, but of the $3 million given by the state, half went toward new communications technology that will help the Chico police and fire departments better deal with emergencies in the long-term. The city has also considered putting in a new intelligent traffic system, which would replace the current technology that has been in use, in some cases, since the 1960s.

Dowell said his staff will start to work on budget items for the 2020-2021 budget when they get back from the holidays in January. Additionally, the city will host a public meeting to learn the ins and outs of the new budget on March 12.

“We’re doing far better than we were 6 years ago, but we have a ways to go,” he said.

 
 Butte County Population Dips More Than 10,000

Butte County lost more than 10,000 residents due to the Camp Fire, according to estimates released last week by the state.

That was according to an annual report by the Department of Finance that calculates county populations from July 1 of one year to July 1 of the next.

The latest report, from 2018 to 2019, Showed Butte’s population dipping from 227,353 to 216,965. That’s a loss of 10,388 people, or 4.57 percent of the population.

Part of the loss — 142 — came because that many more people died than were born in the county.

But the state estimates 10,411 residents left Butte County for elsewhere in the United States. It attributes the change to the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018, that killed 85 people, and also destroyed 6.5 percent of the housing supply in the county.

The outward flow was partially offset by 165 people immigrating here from other countries.

The population loss by numbers and percentage was the highest of the 58 counties in the state.

Conversely, the counties surrounding Butte had inflated growth rates, all far above the state average of 0.35 percent.

Sutter was the fastest growing county in the state by percentage, adding 2,243 people, or 2.21 percent. Most of that — 1,364 people — consisted of people moving in from elsewhere in the United States, most of them likely from Butte County.

Glenn County was No. 3 by percentage, adding 442 people, or 1.54 percent. The state estimated 365 of those people were “domestic migrants,” a category that would include those displaced by the fire.

By comparison, between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, Glenn grew 0.48 percent.

Tehama County grew by 1.12 percent, adding 725 people. Yuba County also grew 1.12 percent, adding 866 people. Colusa grew 1.00 percent, with 223 new residents.

Even Plumas County, which has been losing population since 2016, was in the plus column this past year. It added 156 people, a 0.83 percent growth rate.

As a state, California added 141,300 between July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2019, for a total of 39,959,095, one of the lowest growth rates since 1900, according to a Department of Finance press release.

More people left the state for elsewhere in the United States than migrated here, with 197,594 moving out. However births outpaced deaths by 180,786, and 158,118 people immigrated to the state from other nations.

Butte County population dips by more than 10,000

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.

 

 

Why let a lie stand just because the liar keeps repeating it?

9 Jul

Joseph Goebbels – “ If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Well, here it is, July, and looks just like the average Chico Summer. As soon as school gets out, the college students “go home,” the school employees take their kids on vacation, and this town looks pretty dead.

Even with those 19,000 extra residents!  What the heck has happened to all the Camp Fire evacuees? Remember last November? Traffic backed up, lines out the door at local grocery stores, laundromats overwhelmed. Now what? 

The city of Chico and local media still claim 19,000 evacuees have settled in Chico. That is a total crock of you-know-what. Look around you NOW folks, where the hell are they? 

So, when I read another false claim in the Chico News and Review, I had to say something. They’ve made all these claims, and all they have to base it on is a press release from the state. The State Department of Finance made ESTIMATES – look that word up, would you? They based these estimates, not on the number of displaced Camp Fire refugees,  but on “changes to the housing stock”. The press release cited “new  construction, demolitions, housing unit conversions, and annexations.”   Apparently, if you build it, demolish it, convert it, or annex it, they assume more people have moved to your town.  They don’t have census data, they just ASSUME. 

On this “science”, the city of Chico, with the help of a lazy local media, bases their claims that they need more tax money to deal with crapped out streets and a serious public safety crisis. 

The real problem with our streets, as Mark Orme admitted at a Finance Committee meeting earlier this year, is that $taff has “kicked the can down the road” on maintenance of our streets.  And, the biggest public safety problem are transients, who camp illegally in our public spaces, and then fan out into town during the day to illegally panhandle, shoplift, and predate our neighborhoods while we’re at work all day.

Many of these people are brought here by way of Butte County Behavioral Health Department “transfers” from other cities and counties all over California.  Behavioral Health Director Dorian Kittrell told me the county gets $550 a day for each of these people, who are put on a 45 day involuntary hold at the county psychiatric hospital, and then turned out on their own recognizance in Oroville and Chico. 

I’m sick of the made-up numbers the city is using as an excuse to raise taxes, so when Melissa Daugherty over at the News and Review repeated the city’s fake numbers and opined we might need a revenue measure,  I had to write her a letter.

Wake up – real numbers don’t end “000”. 

Chico Police Chief claims Chico has grown by “19,000” since the Camp Fire, the editor uses the figure “almost 20,000”, but still no real numbers.

In April city manager Mark Orme was using his “10 – 15,000″ number, based on ” nonregistration, couch-living, trailers parked on streets”.  But to date, there is still no actual count, only “estimates”.

According to the state press release, these numbers are based not on actual population  but on new construction.  “Changes to the housing stock are used in the preparation of the annual city population estimates.  Estimated occupancy of housing units and the number of persons per household further determine population levels. Changes in city housing stock result from new  construction, demolitions, housing unit conversions, and annexations.”  Everything’s “estimated”. Then they even “adjust” the numbers “to be consistent with independently produced county estimates.”

I don’t support the recall either, but I’m tired of hearing the city and the media make claims based on fake numbers. Our town is a mess right now because people are not doing their jobs, but expecting to be paid into perpetuity.

Read more at chicotaxpayers.com

I originally sent this letter June 28. I used a figure I’d heard police chief O’Brien use on the Ch 7 news – he said “16,000,” whether it was a mistake on his part or not. Daugherty, who is very argumentative, thin skinned, and unable to take the slightest hint of criticism, immediately came back at me saying the chief had told council “19,000”. I told her I disagreed, but since I couldn’t find a clip of the story I’d seen, I edited the figure to please her and sent it back. She neither responded nor printed my letter. 

So I just resent it yesterday. We’ll see if Little Miss Thin Skin will remember she’s a “journalist” and print it.  

A lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it

17 Apr

Al Franken wrote a really funny book years back, before he became a politician, you might want to check it out –

It’s not balanced, or fair, but it’s sooooo true! And it’s not just “the Right,” either. They all lie. Have you heard about the latest attempt to keep voters from knowing the truth about tax measures? 

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/bond-issue-transparency-still-under-assault/

Dan Walters:

“Two years ago, in a rare display of support for transparency in government finance, the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown required local governments and school districts to tell voters how proposed bond issues would affect their property taxes.

That would seem to be just common sense and good government, but local officials complained that Assembly Bill 195 would be too difficult to implement. Their real motive, however, was a fear that telling voters that their tax bills would increase might discourage them from voting for the bonds.

It’s a good thing we have Dan Walters, because our local media have fallen in with city staff and council to run their tax measure campaign, both the tv news and the daily running at least a story a week about how we need a tax measure to fix all the problems brought about by years of poor management and self-service. I finally had to ask ER reporter Laura Urseny where she got the numbers regarding how many Camp Fire evacuees are still residing within the Chico City limits.

I covered that here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/04/12/orme-estimates-10-15000-refugees-living-in-chico-based-on-nonregistration-couch-living-trailers-parked-on-streets/

I knew they didn’t have any numbers, or I’d have asked, “how many people from the burned areas already drove into Chico five or more days a week to their job, already shopped in Chico regularly, already used Chico roads and services?”  I already know the answer – probably more than half the people – more like two thirds – in the affected areas already came to Chico, drove our roads, used our retail sector, our post office, and other services, on a regular basis. 

But a lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it. So I wrote the following letter to the ER.  

Stories in this newspaper claim the city of Chico “has absorbed many displaced Camp Fire victims.” When I asked one reporter for a specific figure, she paraphrased the city manager as follows.

“He [Mark Orme] said he doesn’t have hard numbers from FEMA because of nonregistration, couch-living, trailers parked on streets etc. He said  the city is still using the  10,000-15,000 estimate.”

A FEMA map shows a great many of the roughly 20,000 evacuees have spread out around Butte County, California and the US, with no figures for Chico.  Staff is simply using numbers that suit their purpose.  To date, Staff has used their “estimate” to excuse poor road conditions, crime problems, housing shortage and cost, and now a “$5-6,000,000” roundabout.

Staff admits they have deferred road maintenance in Chico since long before the Camp Fire. The city’s welcome mat for transients is the source of our crime problems. The short-lived boom in the Chico housing market immediately following the Camp Fire has been over for some time – there are 247 listings on Trulia. The proposal to place FEMA housing near the Eaton Road interchange has been abandoned.

Staff is pressing for a tax measure using Camp Fire evacuees as bait. Dan Walters points out “the underlying real reasons, such as to cover rapidly increasing employee pension and health care costs.” Chico’s pension deficit is over $130,000,000.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “despite bull market, pension plans in miserable shape…”

Staff needs to fess up, and pay their own pensions. 

 

Chico recreation board says it’s better off regarding pensions – huh?

6 Jun
I was pretty shocked to read the following story in the Chico Enterprise Record.
Chico Enterprise Record posted 5/31/18
by Laura Urseny

CHICO  — The Chico Area Recreation and Park District is concerned about unfunded pensions, but its directors say it is in a better position than most public agencies.

During a 2018-19 budget discussion Wednesday, the directors of the special district talked about the future of pensions.

It has roughly $1.7 million set aside in its pension reserves, while its total pension liability – as of April – was about $2.4 million. That pension obligation changes regularly, noted CARD General Manager Ann Willmann.

Willmann told the board that $1.7 million is in reserves – but in “spendable, unassigned” cash. Nevertheless there are some options. While board members agreed they weren’t interested in touching that reserve, they did talk about the possibility of paying off fully or in part its CalPERS obligation.

That would get rid of a regular payment, along with interest charges, saving the recreation district money, Director Tom Lando noted.

Should CARD pay off part of its liability, it could lower its payments and lengthen the amortization period, Willmann noted.

Yet  Lando noted that he thought the reserve should be left is, in fear the state could change what happens with pensions – by discounting or changing liabilities – and that money would be lost to CARD.

Willmann has been involved in a number of state-level pension discussions, and regularly reports to the board on pension discussions, especially as it pertains to the financial disasters that unfunded pensions are causing public agencies and governments.

The CARD board has lamented not being able to set aside more for deferred maintenance and equipment repair, so there was a short discussion whether directors wanted to use reserve funds for that, but the board agreed with Lando not to touch it.

The public hearing on the preliminary budget is planned for 7 p.m. June 21 at the Chico Community Center, 545 Vallombrosa Ave.

 

A better position than most agencies? Well, that’s pretty subjective. Here’s what Ann Willmann told me just a year and a half ago after a presentation from their Mattson and Isom auditor:

 

AW

Ann Willmann
Reply|
Wed 12/21/2016, 8:20 AM

Council approves another $25,000 toward chambers remodel as Coolidge chuckles at complaints about street conditions

12 Mar

I’ve been seeing great letters to the Enterprise Record lately and decided to get back in the saddle. The media spin on the city chambers remodel really pissed me off – shills! So I wrote the following letter about the conversation I had with $taff regarding same – they just took another $25,000 for the project and council had the nerve to laugh about our complaints that they aren’t fixing roads.

Watch that here – jump ahead to Item 4.5 – and be sure to pay attention to comments made by Andrew Coolidge and laughter from other councilors at the end of Presson’s  report.

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=721

Here’s Presson’s written report:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=720&meta_id=58377

Remember, this money came out of the pockets of everybody who uses Comcast. Isn’t that a SCREAM!?!

On March 6 Chico City Council approved a Budget Modification and Supplemental Appropriation, transferring $25,000 in available PEG (Public Education and Government) funds to cover additional costs associated with the Council Chamber Technology upgrade. 

This project, a complete gutting of council chambers for replacement not only of “technology” but new seating, carpeting, paneling, etc, started late last year and has run over Staff’s original estimate of $343,287.67.       

 PEG fees are paid by Comcast customers as required by city ordinance 2368, passed by council in 2007,  a fee of one percent of  gross revenues added to our bills, in addition to the existing franchise fee also paid by Comcast  ratepayers.

According to Staff interpretation, PEG funding is restricted to  “equipment purchases, upgrades, or a capital project such as this current project…the city is responsible for ensuring the general public has access to the Public Access Channel…”  

The new seats, carpeting and wall paneling are included, according to clerk Debbie Presson, because “unexpected things came up …we didn’t even have a diagram of what was going on in there… once we started tearing into the wall…” 

Then council had a big laugh – the very idea that this money would be used to fix city streets had them all in titters. 

Yes, how funny – they passed an ordinance adding a fee to our Comcast bills, and now they spend it as they please. What next, a sales tax increase? 

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

That’s $343,287.67 for the chamber remodel and it came from Comcast ratepayers

31 Jan

I  received the following response to my inquiry about the money for the city chambers remodel from city clerk Debbie Presson:

Hi Juanita,

 The technology upgrade project currently underway will cost $343,287.67 and is funded solely by PEG fees.  PEG (Public Education and Government) fees are paid by Comcast, our current cable provider, as required by their franchise agreement. The City is responsible for ensuring that the general public has access to the Public Access Channel (Channel 11) which is used for educational and local government programming, including City Council and Commission meetings.  The PEG fees are restricted funds and can only be used for equipment purchases, upgrades, or a capital project such as this current project.  Staff costs or department operational costs are strictly prohibited from being paid for by these fees.

Debbie Presson

Wow, she speaks as though it’s money from Heaven, FREE MONEY!

Double Wow, $343,287.67 – let me put that into perspective for you – a brand new three bedroom house on my street just went on the market for $360,000 this week. An entire, brand new house.

And just in case you aren’t seeing it, let me put a cup of coffee under your nose – Comcast isn’t paying for this, Comcast ratepayers are paying for this. 

Listen Pollyanna, you don’t think Comcast is a charity, do you? No, they pass the franchise fee on to the customers, just like Waste Management passes their city franchise fee on to the customers.  PG&E, Cal Water and any other utilities who want to operate here pay franchise fees too – excuse me – YOU pay it, in addition to the Utility Tax you see on your bill. They should have to spell that out on the bill, but who will demand that? Your legislators? Don’t wait up. 

I also wrote a note to the folks at Ch 7 news – they reported the chambers hadn’t been remodeled in over 40 years. I won’t say “lie”, but that’s misinformation – my husband put carpet in those chambers roughly 25 years ago, and they got new IT including a new big screen tv for the council to watch themselves during the meetings, only about 10 years ago.  I’m guessing the record would show, they’ve put thousands a year into gadgets for the chambers. 

But our local media is lazy and stupid and believes whatever  $taff tells them.