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Interesting comments from readers

21 Jun

I get comments from people that deserve another look sometimes.

Yvonne asked me what I think about Newsom’s mask order and “other dirty deeds.” Thanks Yvonne, a quick search led me to some answers to questions I already had, and then more questions.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-20/gavin-newsom-n95-masks-byd-chinese-company-california-legislature

The question it answered for me is how California went from a $5.6 billion budget surplus to a $54 billion deficit just over the span of about three months of shut-down. Remember folks, we’re talking BILLIONS here. I don’t think most people could count to a billion in three months, but here Gavin Newsom went through $60 billion plus faster than prune juice through the guts of an 80 year old man. A billion off to China for substandard COVID masks, sheesh, I’d hate to see the governor’s credit card bill.

https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2020/05/07/california-faces-54b-budget-deficit-1282926

Legislators are asking Newsom’s staff for the details of the deal, but they won’t tell. Furthermore, the KN95 masks manufactured by the Chinese are not exactly top rated. In April the FDA updated their recommendations, “limiting the use of certain KN95 masks as suitable NIOSH alternatives in a healthcare setting…” The reason is that these masks have the over the ear straps instead of the tighter fitting around the head straps.

So, Newsom spent a billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) on masks that are not the first choice of the FDA, and then won’t tell us the details of the deal.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m still processing the new order that we all have to wear masks. I’ve read all the recommendations, and the N95’s are the only ones I would trust if I were truly afraid of this disease or thought I was in danger of spreading it. In fact, if I believed that, I would stay home. But I don’t believe it. I think this order is more about controlling people than controlling any disease. I will wear a bandana around my face when required to get into a food store, but I can shop online without a mask and that’s going to stick.

I got a comment from Robyn, who took offense to my use of the phrase “bum camp” to describe a place where people who do not contribute anything to society sleep, defecate, urinate, and accumulate large piles of trash, despite laws to the contrary.

I was appreciating this page until I read your term ‘bum camps.’ That’s horrendously insensitive towards human beings. Poverty is not a crime. Stigmatizing our most impoverished only fuels crimes against them.

I think it’s horrendously insensitive to trash the park and other public spaces that are supposed to be for all of us. Transients stigmatize themselves – their stigmata is their absolute refusal to comply with norms the rest of us have agreed to live by. Like, don’t shit and leave garbage on the ground next to a water way. Don’t leave needles on children’s playgrounds. Don’t set up camp in my neighborhood and then creep up to my house in the middle of the night to steal my catalytic converter or rout out my recycling bins.

Crimes against them? The only crimes I hear about against the transient population are assaults and robberies perpetrated by other transients.

Somehow she relates all this to racial injustice and police brutality.

By the way, a 1 or .5 percent sales tax, which is a highly contentious issue for so many people of privilege, is not the issue at hand nationally or globally. Racial justice and police brutality is. It would’ve been nice to see something about that here. Absence is silence, which is complicity with racism and white supremacy. But your “bum camp” comment already indicated your stance.

Here this nice lady is telling me what I’m supposed to talk about on my blog. Do I go to her house and tell her what to write in her diary? She tells me I’m racist because I want to discuss what’s on my mind. I’m a white supremist, because I don’t like people shitting on the ground in the park? Where does she get that?

It’s not okay for me to talk about a tax on “Chico Taxpayers Association” but it’s okay for her to tell me my concerns are not important because my skin’s not the right color – okay Robyn, I get it. When will these people learn how NOT to start a conversation?

Joe sent me some good comments related to the current unrest.

Is defunding police how streets are repaved? Don’t think so.

Good question. From what I understand, these people are not calling for the elimination of police services, but want a portion of the public safety budget to go to other agencies, unspecified. I don’t think the protesters understand how public agencies budget money. They don’t see how much money is poured into these public agencies – the Butte County Behavioral Health Department, for example, gets almost $100 million a year, but we still have old, mentally ill people and drug addicts dying on the streets, and we have a problem with police who don’t know how to handle either. The protesters need to come up with more creative answers than “throw money at it!”

Like Joe says, these agencies just use this angst as the basis for tax measure after tax measure, threatening to cut services if they don’t get more money, more money, more money. “Council’s dog/pony show, sales tax 101, promotes an immoral, unfeasible and regressive grab for people’s money, regardless of timing. “ Yeah, people are hurting right now, including local businesses – hardly a time to encourage people to shop less or shop online.

Here Joe suggests a harsher course than I’ve suggested so far, but I agree when he says, “California Rule be damned.

Best course of action: ALL city workers take a 50% pay cut and totally fund their retirement. California Rule be damned. Money would then be there to REPAVE the streets and address homelessness, lighting and crime.

The California Rule is a blatant taking. It’s like having some bum walk right in your front door and stuff his mangy fist in your cookie jar, take all your cookies, and then declare you have to buy more. The CA Rule says, point blank – the pension deficit will be paid before anything else. That’s what’s happened to our public programs, our streets, our park, The California Rule.

According to Joe Matthews in Zoccalo, “The California Rule is the misleading moniker we’ve given to our most troublesome legal precedent: public employees are entitled to whatever pension benefits were in place when they started work.” Matthews adds, “By requiring ever-escalating retirement benefits that force cuts in public services, the California Rule has effectively made a lie out of every significant guarantee in the state constitution, from balanced budgets to speedy trials.

In other states, Matthews says, “only pension benefits already earned by actual work are protected. California is one of only 12 states that have protected the right to earn future pension benefits for work not yet performed.”

 Joe expresses the frustration I feel, especially when I talk to a person like Robyn. “What’s a citizen like me to do? I don’t protest, pillage, rape, burn or kill!

Robyn, I wonder if you have an answer for Joe? Let him eat chocolate, you say?

If you see more revenues coming in to your city, and you keep wondering why your roads are looking like crap, and you believe you’re not getting the type of services you should be getting, it’s the pensions

30 Apr

Thanks Dave, for sending me the link to this ongoing discussion about the Pension Time Bomb.

Robert Kiyosaki, entrepreneur, author, and radio show host, just published his latest book (co-author Ed Siedle)  in January, “Who Stole My Pension? How You Can Stop the Looting” .

In this five radio part series, he speaks with his co-author, Ed Siedle, and his local city council member Sal DiCiccio (Phoenix, AR) how public pensions are ruining our economy.

Kiyosaki states what should be obvious, “This pension thing is very suppressed, people don’t know much about it. If you think COVID is big, the pension failure will be bigger.”

Yes, we’re being misled as to the enormity of the problem by public $taffers that put their own interests first. Chico City Manager Mark Orme and his Ass City Mangler Chris Constantin, along with “Services Director” Scott Dowell, have walked a tight rope – they tell us we need more revenues but they won’t say why. Even when they tell us that revenues have been ahead of budget, they keep saying we don’t have enough money to maintain infrastructure.  If you pay attention, you see what Kiyosaki and his guests are saying – the city gets more revenue every year, but it’s just never enough.

Phoenix AR council member Sal DiCiccio says it very plainly.  “If you see more revenues coming in to your city, and you keep wondering why your roads are looking like crap, and you believe you’re not getting the type of services you should be getting,  it’s the pensions. Every city and state is on the same plan. Phoenix is a growing economy but we still have crappy roads because more and more money is being sucked into government pensions.”

Regardless of whether you live in a “right to work state“, DiCiccio explains, the unions  elect all the politicians, putting millions into elections every year.  In Chico the biggest donors are the Chico Police Officers Association  and the Service Employees International Union – SEIU was the biggest single contributor to CARD’s ill-fated Measure A, and CPOA president Jim Parrott ran the campaign pac. 

DiCiccio says “We’re becoming a pension machine, and they’re making the cities unliveable.”  Next time we’ll talk about why. And  get ready for the next installment in Kiyosaki’s series – “Kentucky Fried Pensions.” You  can see more at his website, 

https://www.richdad.com/radio

Brown Act suspended, public cut out of meetings, Chico is not ENGAGED!

5 Apr

Here’s an article from the Yuba-Sutter Territorial Dispatch that I can’t find in the Enterprise Record:

Parts of Brown Act suspended

https://www.eterritorial.com/16582-parts-of-brown-act-suspended

On March 17th, Governor Newsom issued the second of two Executive Orders conditionally suspending certain Brown Act provisions to allow local agencies to hold public meetings “virtually” through teleconferencing, without any physical gathering of people. (The first Executive Order had required agencies to provide at least one physical location from which members of the public could participate in the meeting. The March 17th Order eliminated this requirement.)

Legislative body meetings must still be publicly noticed in accordance the Brown Act, and the agency must provide a means for the public to observe the meeting and provide public comment electronically or telephonically. (For example, livestreaming the meeting and accepting comments by email, similar to a webinar, or allowing the public to dial into the meeting conference call and be “unmuted” during public comment.)  The opportunities for public observation and participation must be included in the meeting notice, and the agency is also required to establish a process for receiving and resolving any requests for reasonable accommodation to allow accessibility to persons with disabilities.  These provisions will remain in effect “during the period in which state or local public health officials have imposed or recommended social distancing measures.”

The Executive Order admonishes public agencies to “use sound discretion” in applying these provisions, and counties would be well-advised to defer controversial matters that are not time-critical until normal Brown Act meetings can be resumed.

This is just a news release – the Territorial Dispatch has suspended a lot of their publishing operations, but still managed to put this out. Meanwhile, the ER continues to pump out stuff like this:

Coming face-to-face with our newsroom reality | Editor’s notes

Again, Wolcott brags about his staff. He references back to the Camp Fire, as if he knows anything about the Camp Fire that somebody else didn’t tell him. Got any real news Mike? Got any journalism down there? 

Meanwhile Chico manager turned coronavirus czar Mark Orme continues to run city business under the CVBS radar. 

Is the public concerned with the April 7 agenda? Doesn’t look like it – here’s the latest post from Chico Engaged!

“derek bow at April 04, 2020 at 9:56pm PDT

this is great info thanks so much for this! oahulifecoach.com”

This is a spam ad in response to a post about suicide prevention, which is not on any upcoming agenda.  The whole post is full of spam. Look for yourself. 

https://chico-ca.granicusideas.com/ideas/march-for-the-22

When you look at the site you’ll see most of the latest posted “ideas” are spam ads for stuff like “work at home”, hair care, window cleaning, you name it. Are we really supposed to believe this site is an appropriate or practical way to reach our council representatives? 

Write to your council and tell them the meetings need to stop until the CVBS is officially over. Tell them to take control away from Mark Orme, who is using CVBS to keep the public OUT of the conversation. He doesn’t want to hear what we think of his pension or his sales tax increase measure. 

Mayor Ann Schwab ann.schwab@chicoca.gov

Vice Mayor Alex Brown  alex.brown@chicoca.gov

scott.huber@chicoca.gov

karl.ory@chicoca.gov

kasey.reynolds@chicoca.gov

sean.morgan@chicoca.gov

randall.stone@chicoca.gov

A conversation that needs to be had before November – WHO will pay the pension deficit?

14 Feb

Here’s a NO on A letter that merits further discussion – this is a conversation that needs to be had. 

Before we hand CARD $3 million a year with Measure A, here’s why we’re smarter not to. First, we have a massive pension debt and no solution yet. I’m willing to vote higher city taxes this fall to help with that, but not to launch CARD on a spending spree for new toys – the main one being an aquatic center we didn’t all want. But about $3 million a year in new money should get that done in a few years, so why a permanent parcel tax? And why is CARD putting the money into a $36 million bond? Bonds mean one hell of a spending spree ahead, and losing a third or more of the money on interest payments. It’s kind of like how we’re funding pensions, except CalPERS and the unions never mentioned how much we’re about to lose by the state and them not paying it up front like we were told. Tricky thing dissembling.

There’s one more problem. The reason we don’t already have an aquatic center is that the city council wouldn’t buy CARD one. Council members have to think when it comes to what city agencies want and what our taxes can cover. If Measure A fails that will keep happening. I like that. We don’t even know what all the toys are CARD will start throwing money at once nobody can get in its way anymore. CARD will be a pretty hefty sow by the time it shows up at city council overextended again.

— David P. Smith, Chico

 

A line that I find very disturbing is, “I’m willing to vote higher city taxes this fall…”

 

Why the hell would you do that, Dave?  

And then he says, “It’s kind of like how we’re funding pensions, except CalPERS and the unions never mentioned how much we’re about to lose by the state and them not paying it up front like we were told.”   He assumes we all know how the pensions are funded, and what he means by “how much we’re about to lose by the state…”  I don’t think very many people really understand how we fund the pensions. Nor do I believe the average voter/taxpayers is aware how much CalPERS has lost in the stock market through bad investments. But the part that really interests me is “them not paying it up front like we were told.”

Thanks Dave, cause this is the conversation that needs to be had. 

First of all, the pensions are funded through payments made by the public agency and supplemented with stock market investments. Unfortunately, CalPERS made big, stupid promises, saying they could fund more than 50% of the pensions through investments. They amassed a lot of assets – a high rise building in NYC? – and began building a portfolio, promising a 7% return. 

But,  CalPERS investments have never held up to their promises because they continue to make bad investments. They have been lucky to get 3%. So, their investments end up costing money.  Some of these investments have been made inappropriately.  In fact, in 2015, “a federal grand jury indicted two former top officials on fraud, conspiracy and obstruction charges.”

https://www.cnetscandal.com/2015/11/ex-calpers-official-villalobos-commits.html

A CalPERS executive and a board member were found to have been taking bribes to buy poorly performing stocks. 

“Villalobos, collected tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street firms for steering CalPERS business their way.”

“At the center of the investigation was the role of placement agents, the middlemen or intermediaries hired by private equity firms and other financial institutions to win CalPERS business. The investigation came during a rough financial stretch for CalPERS. Its investment portfolio value had plummeted nearly $100 billion, to $169 billion, during the recession.”

Guilty as hell, Villalobos committed suicide before he could be sentenced. His partner was convicted and went to prison.  Since then, CalPERS claims to have cleaned up their act, but their portfolio continues to do badly. So they hired an “assassin” – a guy who comes in and cleans up the mess.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/nothing-is-sacred-for-new-calpers-pension-leader-2019-12-11

In his first week, Mr. Meng surprised staffers by introducing himself to employees from the most junior to senior level. Over the next few months, he was taken aback by how little some staffers knew about the fund’s investments, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Meng concluded some lacked information he thought needed to be routinely monitored.

So there’s corruption and incompetence here, not surprising. What would surprise me is to hear that some management was fired, possibly even investigated. What would surprise me even more would be CalPERS actually making money instead of pouring it down the toilet. 

Unfortunately, CalPERS corruption and incompetence only add up to half the conversation.  

Here’s the conversation that still needs to be had.  Who should pay the deficit?

Right now, the taxpayers are picking up not only the monthly payroll amounts, but the semi-annual deficit payments as well. Here’s how that pencils out – I’ll use CARD as an example.

The agency pays 14% of the cost of it’s management pensions. The employees pay 5.5 to 8% of the 14%.  It works like this:  for a $100,000/year salary,  the agency pays (100,000 x .14) $14,000/year, total. This is a management salary, management pays 8%, so that employee would pay (14,000 x .08) $1,120/year. For a pension of 70%, or $70,000/year. That base figure goes up with cost of living increases, based on the Consumer Price Index. 

The agency only pays 14%, the other 86% is the deficit. As their stock market returns continue to disappoint, CalPERS demands more money. That money has been taken from CARD’s General Fund, by way of a “Pension Stabilization Trust”. Money that would have been better spent maintaining district facilities. 

Meanwhile, CARD employees continue to receive above market salaries and pay pennies on the dollar for very generous pension packages.

CARD General Manager Ann Willmann told us at her “informational meetings” that she has personally met with CalPERS officials and “begged” them to change the employee shares. Really? She should be talking to the board, because that’s who negotiates the salaries and the shares. City of Chico pays different shares than CARD, so these contracts are obviously negotiated in house.

What can we do?  The problem we need to solve is, the public is left out of the negotiations. We have no real representation – not in Chico, where too many pensioneers are on our council and various boards. For example, of the five members of the CARD board, two are public pensioneers – Tom Lando, former city of Chico manager, and Tom Nickell, former CHP officer.

I believe these people have a conflict of interest between their own benefit and the public benefit. I think it behooves them to keep approving the salary increases, because that means the agency pays more into the pension fund.  It is obviously in their best interest to keep making the deficit or “side fund” payments, or CalPERS would have gone bankrupt by now and they would be out their nice pensions. In fact, Lando is one of the top five pensioneers in Butte County, having retired at about $134,000/year, with COLA, he’s now getting over $155,000 in annual pension payments.  I’m not sure about Nickell, but I sincerely believe Lando is pressing this tax measure not for CARD, but for CalPERS. He has put $6,000 of his own money into Measure A – you have to spend money to make money, folks.

I also think Lando has been on the CARD board long enough, and needs to step down when his term is up in November. That’s not likely.

Here’s my solution.  I am hoping some competent and honest candidates come forward for CARD board in November. I think a good candidate would  be a local business person who has experience with CARD. Somebody who doesn’t have financial gain to be made. Somebody who understands finance on a basic level. Somebody who has a long stake in the community, whether business or family. And, somebody who has the support of their family, because there are some minor inconveniences involved, like monthly meetings, “special” meetings, and excursions to various district facilities.

I don’t think that’s a complete list, and I didn’t mean to leave anybody out.  I would say, if you are interested in  filling a position like  this, the first thing you’d want to do is attend meetings. Familiarize yourself with the website, and be sure to contact staff with any questions. Read agendas and reports. Read the minutes of past meetings. Read the budgets, not just the most recent, but past budgets to compare. That’s all on the website. I can also give you information I’ve got from staff that’s not on the website, feel free to ask. 

CARD board is doable. It’s not an expensive election, the meetings are short. And, if you are interested in getting involved, CARD is a good start. THINK ABOUT IT!

 

 

 

 

 

City of Chico double ends us on our utilities, collecting Utility Tax on our total bill while adding franchise fees to our rates

31 Dec

If you watch the government steadily over time like I have the last 50 or so years, you see the contradictions and the outright lies. My favorite of late was Obama’s promise that we would not lose our health care providers under Obamacare.

So when Chico City management started repeating their Big Lie about the Camp Fire evacuees all landing on Chico  like a plague of locusts, I knew it was really all about pushing for the sales tax increase. In fact, at a Finance Committee presentation of the proposed measure, Ass City Mangler Chris Constantin actually said we should put it on the March ballot so we could “take advantage of the population influx.” He not only acknowledged then that the evacuees would be temporary, he also predicted that the economy would tank soon. That’s another blog.

But CARD got their parcel tax (Measure A) on the March ballot before the city could decide what to do with theirs, and knowing they would be stupid to have two tax measures on one ballot, the city decided to wait until November. That gives them more time to campaign anyway, since they can’t campaign for the measure once it has  been submitted and accepted for the ballot by the county clerk.

Brian Nakamura made the mistake of using taxpayer money to produce and distribute flyers promoting the city of Rancho Cordova’s tax measure, and that got him the can, so his former cronies will not make the same mistake.

http://www.kcra.com/news/rancho-cordova-faces-formal-campaign-mailer-complaint/28980752

So staff has to be creative, they need to create financial problems and then convince the taxpayers that they need to pay more money to solve them. They don’t want us to find out the real truth about city finances – whole funds are in arrears because they’ve been siphoning off money to pay down the pension liability. Look at the budget here,

Click to access 2019-20CityAnnualFINALBudget.pdf

and push “Control F” on your keyboard. Then type in the words, “pension” or “pension liability”, look at it for yourself if you don’t want to take my word for it. Then type in “gas tax” and be further outraged. 

I think you will see stuff that inspires you to write your own letter to the editor, here’s mine.

NOTE: Here’s a further irony I was not able to address in 250 words – they add a franchise fee that increases your rates, and then they use that total to figure the 5% Utility Tax. Sock it to me BABEE!

After a year of Chico staffers complaining that the Camp Fire evacuees were “straining” our services, we find a $20,000,000 “boost” in city coffers. Where did that come from?

Staff reports sales and bed tax were up, way up, during those months after the fire. Staff didn’t mention Utility Tax or the franchise fees that are tacked onto our utility bills. The city adds a 5% Utility Tax to your PG&E, Cal Water/sewer, and landline bills, taking $7,051,581 last year. With rate increases and new development, that goes up about $50,000/year. Think what a temporary population influx meant.

 A letter writer mentioned the trash tax or “franchise fee”.  The city also collects franchise fees from PG&E and Comcast. Last year the city added $1,102,674 to our trash bills and expects to collect about $1,600,000 in 2019-20. They tacked another $757,192 onto our PG&E bills and $899,942 to our cable tv bills. 

Shouldn’t these funds be used for street maintenance?  Last year staff used almost $400,000 in Comcast fees to remodel council chambers. These hidden taxes go into the General Fund, where they are available for any whim of council.

Council created the ordinances by which these taxes are added to our utility rates, and council can lower or eliminate them.  Ironically, they also created a “no price gouging” ordinance, but proceeded to make profit from the tragedy.  Let them know how you feel about that by claiming your annual Utility Tax Rebate, available from May 1 to June 30. Email the clerk at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov for details.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

Dave Howell: Chico ranks 50th worst financial risk out of 471 California cities

14 Nov

Dave Howell has been telling us about the CAFR – a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, a set of U.S. government financial statements comprising the financial report of a state, municipal or other governmental entity. Out of 471 cities of similar population, Chico was ranked 40th worst financially. 

Read more about CAFR here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_annual_financial_report

Thanks for writing Dave, and I hope more people will chime in.

Of 471 cities, the state auditor ranked Chico 50th worst for financial risk. Chico is at high risk in four pension and OPEB categories. The most recently available CAFR indicates Chico has over $200 million in liabilities, most of that for CalPERs which assumes an unrealistic 7% discount rate.  Chico has runaway employee costs that must be reformed.Instead, council member Scott Huber criticizes council member Sean Morgan for not supporting a tax increase. Yet Morgan like the rest of the city council voted to move the sales tax increase forward. Tax increases will not solve runaway unfunded liabilities. The city council knows this which is why they will use the revenue from the sales tax to take on hundreds of millions in new debt resulting in future tax increase demands. Of course the PR firm the city is paying our hard-earned tax dollars to didn’t mention any of this to the registered voters they contacted for their survey used to word the ballot measure.

Instead of reforming runaway city employee costs, Huber, Morgan and the rest of the city council put us on a path of ruinous debt and future tax increases. This in a county with a 21% poverty rate where bureaucrats and other city employees can retire in their fifties with multi-million dollar pensions.

This is what happens when a clueless citizenry doesn’t hold an incompetent and corrupt city council accountable and is yet another example of how democracy is failing in our country.

Dave Howell, Chico 

These letters writers can smell a rat, even at the sewer plant

16 Oct

Sometimes I’m afraid that if I let my guard down for one minute the liars will win. There are more of them, and they get paid. I’m talking, of course, of our Downtown city $taff and their specious claims that the Camp Fire evacuees overran our town and are causing all kinds of “strain” on the system, necessitating a sales tax increase.

I’ll tell you this, I heard Chris Constantin tell a group at a Finance Committee meeting that we better jump on board with this increase while we have the Camp Fire refugees in town – he was talking about them like they were a herd of exotic cash cows, hardly a strain on the system.

I haven’t had a chance to look at last year’s sales tax revenues, but I’d bet my last $5, they’re way up, along with Utility Tax revenues. 

But both city manager Mark Orme and his partner in crime, Public Works Director  Eric Gustafson, have been pandering to the media with the repeated lie that the Camp Fire victims are causing all the city’s problems – Gustafson again crying about the sewer. The sewer is barely over half capacity, read the story again. And, look around you – the city has permitted new homes and apartments all over town – and that means permit fees and new property taxes.  And more money paid in sewer fees. 

Like letter writer Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, I know the truth to these claims – it’s the money. Staff not only wants a sales tax increase, they want to raise sewer fees on everybody. To pay for their fucking pensions, is the thing. 

And, as both writers point out, City of Chico staff was begging Paradise to hook up to our sewer system – what happened to that? Paradise opted out – and now the city of Chico has to come up with some other scheme to prop up a sewer fund that has been siphoned off to pay pensions for years. Along with the road fund, the park fund, and every fund on the city books. 

Thank you Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, for speaking up! We all need to start screaming at the top of our lungs – no tax or rate increase until the city manager and his staff are out, and new employees are hired who pay their own pensions.

In the Sunday E-R was an article that stated our sewer system is being “strained” by the population spike caused by the Camp Fire. If I recall, before the Camp Fire, there was talk of Chico treating ALL of Paradise wastewater because we had enough capacity at our treatment plant to do so. What happened, in the meantime, that our system is now being strained by the influx of 20,000 people from that same area? Is it just because of the “sudden influx”or are there other factors involved?— Jim Hertl, Chico

PUBLISHED:  

Jim Hertl brings up an interesting point regarding the “strain” on Chico’s sewer system. Even after the Camp Fire, the Paradise town council brought up the subject of sending our waste to Chico. Thankfully they opted to go with our own treatment plant. That would mean jobs for our people and give us control over our sewage.

Jim, I think the answer to you question can be summed up in one word: Money.

— Linda McCann, Paradise

Measure K lawsuit successful in district court, will move on to appeals court (at the taxpayers’ expense…)

14 Sep

Sorry, busy busy – I received GREAT NEWS about the Yuba County Measure K lawsuit, and I forgot to post it. 

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs – 

Accordingly, for all of the forgoing reasons, the Court grants judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on their first and second causes of action seeking to invalidate Measure K because it failed to garner the required two-thirds vote required for enactment of a special tax.

What happens next – later that day I received a note from my  friend Connie – 

“At a BOS meeting yesterday, they voted in CLOSED SESSION to appeal the ruling. That gave the voters and taxpayers no opportunity to voice their concerns etc.”

Yes, the Yuba County supervisors voted to spend MORE TAXPAYER MONEY to fight a court ruling. Like I told my friend Connie, studies show appeals don’t have a very high success rate, only about 17% of these lower court decisions are actually overturned, it seems most appeals are thrown out without hearing due to procedural errors. But the taxpayers will pay for all that – I hope they remember all this at election time. 

The city of Chico will not make the same mistakes Yuba County made. City Asst Mgr Chris Constantin has repeatedly warned city staffers, as well as elected and appointed officials, that the city can’t put any specific purpose on their planned sales tax increase because that would require a 2/3’s vote of the public.  And I think their surveys have shown very clearly that they will be lucky to get 51%. 

Their campaign so far, like CARD’s, has been to point out the failed state of our city infrastructure, the public safety concerns, and our growing population, telling us there’s not enough money to go on from here.

The answers to theses claims are as follows:

  1. our city infrastructure has been neglected while they’ve raised their own salaries and paid their pension deficit with our money
  2. public safety is at an all-time low because the city has declared a “shelter crisis designation” to get in on the gravy train of “the homeless industrial complex” 
  3. our population is growing because the city keeps approving development. And now they’re talking about buying water from Paradise to take the pressure off our ground water supply? Why do they continue to approve subdivisions for which there is no water?  Because if they stopped approving all this new development they’d lose all those developer fees and the resulting new property taxes. 

Our city staff are a bunch of junkies – money junkies. I know public workers – they tend to spend money just like the agencies they work for. The new job requires a bigger, fancier house and lifestyle (watch “Fun With Dick and Jane”, the old version). These people are as over their heads as the economy. They can’t stop making more money, they’re up to their necks in debt. 

So while we raise a glass to the folks who fought Measure K, we better be getting ready to fight our own battle. 

 

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.