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

29 Jun

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

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

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

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

Note that word, “consultant”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.chicorec.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://nielsen.cssrc.us/

https://ad03.asmrc.org/

Dan Walters: local government officials throughout California have been thumbing their noses at a state law that prohibits them from using taxpayer funds for political campaigns

27 Jun

In February I read that the FPPC, under new chairwoman Alice Germond, is trying to expand it’s powers to prosecute government agencies who misuse public funding to finance tax increase campaigns. In March the request went to the legislature, as reported here by Dan Walters.

https://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/2019/03/03/fppc-sets-sights-on-illegal-use-of-tax-funds-in-campaigns-dan-walters-calmatters-commentary/3022610002/

Walters says, “State law very clearly and specifically makes misuse of taxpayer funds for political purposes illegal, but the FPPC has no power to enforce the law. That’s up to local prosecutors and the state Department of Justice, but as the FPPC report concluded, ‘The Enforcement Division is not aware of any actions brought by state or local prosecutors related to those cases.’”

Of course, it seems pretty simple – why would a county employee – like Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey – bite the hand that pays his salary? Would it even be worth contacting Ramsey to report this? Not sure.  The school district is the major offender here, although, in the last bond election, they put up a sham “citizen’s committee” to do their campaigning – a committee that did not have public meetings, keep records, or disclose their membership. 

The city of Chico and Chico Area Recreation District, meanwhile, have both spent 10’s of thousands of public dollars – CARD has spent nearly $100,000 in the past few years – to hire consultants to put forward their tax campaigns. Ramsey must be too busy chasing pot farmers to pay attention. When I looked at his website to see how to file a complaint, the only form that popped up was for pot patches.

Mike, I think you should read a newspaper once in a while. Dan Walters has been talking about this issue for over a year now. 

So, I took some advice from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and wrote a letter to CARD, who has been the most egregious offender so far. I used a form letter at their website for inspiration, but I don’t use form letters, I write my own. Form letters look stupid and put up, and are easier to ignore. I made sure to ask that my letter be made part of the public record, and I included not only the manager Ann Willmann ( annw@chicorec.com ) but the entire board – tlando@chicorec.com, mmcginnis@chicorec.com, tnickell@chicorec.com, mworley@chicorec.com, and ddonnan@chicorec.com

Please Note: I would like this email to be part of the public record.

To Ann Willmann, CARD General Manager, and members of the board, Tom Lando, Mike McGinnis, Tom Nickell, Michael Worley and Dave Donnan. 

I believe Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) is illegally using taxpayer dollars for political advocacy. The Political Reform Act prohibits public agencies from spending public funds in support of or opposition to ballot measure campaigns. 

CARD has hired EMC Research to advise them in placing a tax measure on an upcoming ballot. A quote from their website:

https://www.emcresearch.com/what-we-do/#Political

“Great campaigns don’t just happen. That’s why we offer a full suite of political research and predictive analytics to help your candidates, organizations and ballot measures succeed.” 

CARD has paid EMC to conduct a survey.  EMC’s website makes it clear that they use demographics to shape the outcome of their surveys in order to sway public opinion in favor of passing tax measures. This is an illegal use of taxpayer funds. I have contacted the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and they tell me they have successfully sued agencies for this misuse of public money. The FPPC also requires these expenditures to be reported as campaign donations. 

Below I’ve provided links to a couple of recent articles from Cal Matters and the San Jose Mercury News that provide further details and resources.

Thank you for your anticipated responses, Juanita Sumner, Chico Taxpayers Association 

I included the following links to a couple articles Dan Walters has posted:

Finally, a crackdown on misuse of taxpayer money

Walters: California should crack down on misuse of taxpayer money

Yes, these two local agencies are illegally using taxpayer funding to put forward tax increase measures, but unless we call them on it, nobody else will. We have to get this issue out into the newspaper, and then we need to start a serious letter writing campaign to Ramsey, and then maybe the Grand Jury, asking that the city and CARD be investigated. 

In the meantime, write your own letter to Ann Willmann and the CARD board to let them know how you feel about a government agency that breaks the law. 

Throw the bums out!

5 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CARD consultant admits a tax measure might not succeed, will take lots of “education”

29 May

Chico Area Recreation District has hired a consultant, EMC, of Oakland, to help them put a new  tax measure on the 2020 spring ballot. EMC recently conducted a survey of 405 district “likely voters” (meaning, picked and chosen)  and brought the following conclusions to the CARD board at their May meeting.

https://www.chicorec.com/files/1117523aa/Survey+Results+Presentation.pdf

“A parcel tax measure may be feasible for the March 2020 ballot but a bond measure would be a significant challenge.” Furthermore, “Initial support for a parcel tax for local parks and recreation is near the two thirds threshold needed to pass.”

Keep that word “initial” in mind, I’ll get back to that.

“Given the survey findings and the current community climate following the Camp Fire, we recommend that CARD begin an extensive public outreach and engagement effort before placing a measure on the ballot. Informational communications are essential to the community’s understanding of the need for revenue, particularly funds to maintain park programs and safety.”

You may have read that the majority of survey respondents indicated “public safety/safe parks and playgrounds” as their main concern. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media from disgruntled parents – a very common complaint is the play fields their kids’ sports  teams use are becoming illegal campsites, littered with trash, poop, and used needles. CARD has also complained about criminal activity and vandalism at various playgrounds, such as broken glass littering the skate park – bottles and trash thrown over the security fence after closing. 

In order of importance, survey respondents ranked “Reducing crime and homelessness in parks, providing clean, safe parks and recreational programs, and upgrading park safety features would be important components of a parcel tax measure.”  A graph on page 6 makes it very clear – of topics “Homelessness, Public safety, Housing, Street and roads, Public education, Jobs and the economy, Parks and recreation,” 63% of respondents ranked “Homelessness” (whatever that means…) as a “very high priority“, while only 22% ranked “Parks and recreation” as same.

Looking at that list, I only see one category that has anything to do with CARD, “Parks and recreation,” so, if you believe in the results of a survey of less than 5% of the population, carefully chosen to reflect the desired results, you would think very few people in this town give a rat’s patoot about CARD. Doing the math, I find that figure to be 89 people, which is a little more than 1% of the total population of Chico.

There’s doublespeak in this report. They start off saying there’s enough support to pass this tax, but here they reveal it will really take some convincing. They also remind the board, such a campaign needs to be “privately funded“. I love the words, “make sure the voters understand…” 

A parcel tax measure would be vulnerable to opposition. Therefore, a successful measure would likely require a well-coordinated, privately funded outreach effort to ensure that voters understand how additional funding would reduce crime and homelessness in parks, provide clean, safe parks and recreation for local residents, and help maintain the Chico area as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.”

And there you see them listing the priorities respondents chose from their carefully worded survey options, using what the people want to hear, just like Joseph Goebbels. That’s exactly the intention of these surveys – they aren’t out to get your true opinion, they’re out to get you to say what they want, and believe it’s your own idea.

What’s the anecdote to brain washing? 

These are good …

but the truth will set us free! On page 12 of the power point presentation, there’s a graph showing that initial support dropped off as respondents were given “information.” Parcel tax support went from 67% to 59% over the course of the interview, opposition went from 36% to 44%. It shows similar results for a bond. 

The survey questions are provided in the report, give it a read, see how they twist the “information” their way. On page 9, for example, they lead us to believe there would be ” NO money for salaries.”

That is true for a bond, which is restricted to use for facilities, not “operating costs (salaries and benefits)” But a parcel tax is different – they can spend the proceeds of a parcel tax any way they want. 

And here’s the thing – since 2013, CARD’s pension liability has almost doubled. Next post I’ll talk about WHY, and how much money has been diverted from “provid[ing] clean, safe parks and recreation for local residents, and help[ing] maintain the Chico area as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family”  toward staving off the pension tsunami.

 

City franchise fees amount to a shake down of the ratepayers – now they want a sales tax increase? Tell them NO! with a Utility Tax Rebate Form

17 Feb

I got an answer from City of Chico Administrative Services Officer Scott Dowell regarding PG&E franchise fees – the amounts I had seen in the old news story from Ch 7 were not supposed to be added up:

Ms. Sumner:

The amounts reflected in the article totaling $609,017.71 for the combined PG&E Electric and Gas Franchise fees were received in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

They are included in the total amount of $649,760.70 reflected on the budget summary for the General Fund 001.  The difference between the two amounts is other PG&E adjustments paid to the City from prior year adjustments.  The $649,760.70 may be found on page 17 under object code 40404 at the following link from the City’s website:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2014-15CityAnnualFINALBudget_000.pdf

So, the totals I saw added up to $609,017.71, but the city also received an additional $40,000 or so from the previous year. I want to blaspheme right now – this whole thing is so confusing, how are we supposed to keep track?

By fiscal year ending June 2017, the total had gone up to $690,768.

This fee is based on a percentage of PG&E’s total take for the year, and then pasted right back on to our bills like a big booger.

It’s not like they hide it, not exactly.  Look at your bill, page 2, which lists “Your Electric Charges Breakdown” (I don’t find one for gas charges). Besides “Generation, Transmission and Distribution”, you are charged for “Electric Public Purpose Programs” (which I believe fund low-income programs for other customers), “Nuclear Decommissioning” (I believe this pays costs of taking down disabled nuclear plants), “Competition Transition Charges” (???) and then there’s “Taxes and Other”.

“Taxes and Other”. I did the math – that does not include the Utility Users Tax, which is a percentage of your total usage charges, including “Taxes and Other”. 

There are other charges listed – more hidden taxes – like the charge for bonds issued by the Department of Water Resources.  But what I’m looking at right now is how much money the city of Chico steals from ratepayers through these hidden fees. These fees are tacked onto our bills. No matter how we try to conserve we are hit, our bills go higher and higher. The city does nothing to curtail PG&E’s insatiable rate increases, because they stand to make a direct profit.

But they still need a sales tax? Next week they will raise developer fees, which is why Butte County/Chico have become less affordable to live in, according to the most recent housing affordability figures:

https://www.car.org/aboutus/mediacenter/newsreleases/2017releases/2qtr2017affordability

Butte County is included in the list of 29 counties where housing has become less affordable over the past year, despite developers who’ve used the “housing crisis” to wedge in their sub-standard subdivisions. High density developers have been after the city of Chico to let them build without paying fees, but their housing just keeps getting more expensive anyway. 

Here’s what you can get in Doe Mill – with no yard – for $422,000.

https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-search/Doe-Mill_Chico_CA

Builders have been making the argument that we need more housing to make houses cheaper – really? How come they just keep getting more expensive? According to this index, less than half the residents of Butte County can afford a “median priced” home.

https://www.car.org/marketdata/data/haitraditional/

They list the median price at about $299,000. Have you seen a house selling for $299,000 in Chico? Cause when we were looking for a house for our kid, anything less than $300,000 was in a neighborhood where you would want to park your car in your living room at night and push your dresser up in front of your bedroom door.  Even in my old neighborhood, a 3 bedroom house down the street just went for over $360,000. Do you really think the city of Chico, starving for money, is going to do anything that will cut their property tax revenues? All that crap about building more to bring down the cost of house is just LIES.

The city of Chico is desperate for revenues. You know how junkies are – they will lie through their teeth to get money, lie, cheat and steal.  A city can pass “measures” and “initiatives” at council meetings without so much as a peep from the public, especially a lazy, stupid public. The city of Chico takes advantage of our stupidity and laziness to siphon funding through the utility companies, the developers, business owners – anybody who wants to do anything in the city of Chico must participate in the shake-down. And they go along because all they have to do is pass the buck on to YOU.

So now we have a select group of business owners and publicly employed hawkers telling us we need to pay a sales tax increase? Answer them with more than a million in franchise fees we pay through our Comcast and PG&E bills. 

And then gather up your utility bills and add up the amounts listed as “Chico Utility Users Tax”. They are listed on PG&E, Cal Water bills, and if you still have a landline, your phone bill. But you have to look through these bills, sometimes the UUT charges are listed separately and have to be added up. PG&E lists them in with each electric and gas charge separately, look carefully. 

Most people in Chico qualify for the Utility Tax Rebate – a family of four making $47,000/year or less qualifies. Here’s last year’s application form:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/UUTREFNDApplicationPageOneTwo_CombinedFILLABLE4-13-16.pdf

Applications for 2017/18 will be available in late April, or I’ll e-mail the Finance Office and remind them. You have May and June to turn it in, and I usually drop mine off to avoid paying postage on a stack of utility bills – yes, they want alllll your bills! But they will send them back – I’ve been doing this for over 5 years now, and I’ve always got my bills back with my check. 

When we didn’t know, we might have considered ourselves victims, but now that we know, if we don’t act, we’re idiots. Sending in your UUT rebate application is a way of telling them you’re sick of their constant wheedling and poking, lying, cheating and stealing.

 

 

 

Ralph Nader: “If you don’t turn on to politics, politics will turn on you” – let’s put the “public” back in “public meetings”!

2 Jan

Well Happy New Year to you!

Here’s a resolution for you – attend a public meeting this year – make that TWO!

Here is the agendas page for City of Chico meetings:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas.asp

There are three kinds of “committees” – those made up of elected officials, those made up of official appointees (spoils committees) and there’s one that’s made up of staffers – the Maps Committee. That’s a fairly new committee – I’m guessing, they either got in trouble for making these decisions behind closed doors or some rule changed and now they have to make these meetings public. 

Let’s face it – these meetings are only “public” if the “public” attends.

Chico Area Recreation District has a whole new website – you  gotta wonder, why? Their old website was fine, everything was available from the home page – now I had to search for information about the board, and I had to e-mail manager Ann Willmann to ask where to find the agendas. 

You also  gotta wonder, how much did the new website cost? 

Take a good look – this website is going to cost you a new bond or assessment on your home in 2018.

http://www.chicorec.com/board-of-directors

In 2018 let’s put the “public” back in “public information,” “public meetings” and “public participation.” 

UPDATE:  I was kind of shocked to receive this response when I e-mailed CARD manager Ann Willmann yesterday (1/2/18) about agendas for upcoming meetings:

 Sorry I missed you. I am currently out of the office until Monday, January 8th. The CARD office is  closed 12/25-1/5/18. I will be checking email occasionally during the break and will respond to emails as needed. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season. Ann 

 

So, does this mean, parks and playgrounds are going unattended? Are CARD workers currently laid off, being designated “part time,” and living through the holidays without pay?  Or does it mean, the actual workers have to work while management gets two weeks off, with pay?  Either way it’s costing us. 

Willmann e-mailed me later yesterday, from wherever. 

Hi Juanita, agendas for our regular meetings are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting date. I’m sorry you are not finding the new website more user friendly, thank you for the feedback. I did make a few adjustments to better communicate when the agendas will be posted.  Thank you, Ann

And yes, she’d made that notation on the website. I’m not allowed to ask too many questions at a time, or I would have asked, “One meeting a month – don’t you think you could get those agendas up more than three days ahead?” 

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.