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Recent Upper Bidwell Park fire shows the city is not doing enough to stop illegal camping in the park

17 Jul

Last week’s fire that closed most of Upper Bidwell Park, indefinitely, should not have come as a shock to anybody, least of all City of Chico Parks Director Linda Herman.  

Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2018 6:00 AM
To: Linda Herman <linda.herman@Chicoca.gov>; Theresa Rodriguez <theresa.rodriguez@Chicoca.gov>; Shane Romain <shane.romain@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: Sean Morgan <sean.morgan@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: Illegal camping at Peregrine Point disc golf course

Hi Linda,

Does the city’s Declaration of a shelter crisis mean that people are allowed to camp in city-owned parks?

My husband and I walk our dogs almost daily at the Peregrine Point disc golf course on Highway 32. There’s a man who’s essentially living there out of his vehicle, he’s been there almost every day that we have gone up for over a month now. He’s there very early in the morning, we’ve caught him in his underwear.

We’ve also noticed that the trash has been overflowing on several occasions. Then the other morning (July 5) we found that the post at the trailhead had smoke coming out of it – we believe there was an unextinguished cigarette in it. We poured an entire  bottle of drinking water in it, and that seemed to put it out. We drove by later and there was no longer any smoke coming out. We believe if we hadn’t done anything it could have started a serious fire , the metal post was extremely hot. It was before 8 a.m. and the illegal camper was the only other person there.

We can see that The Outsiders group has been taking care of their responsibilities, putting chips on the trails and at the tees. We see less litter on the actual course then we have seen in past.

But we’ve also seen a lot of broken car window glass in the parking lot, and we see this illegal camper there regularly. We’ve also found a site a ways up the old Humboldt Road where someone has obviously been camping. There’s a small Fire Ring, indicating they are actually having campfires. There’s also soiled toilet paper on the ground at that site.

I took pictures. 

we no longer feel confident walking out of sight of our car. We’re usually out doing our rentals, we have tools in the back of our truck we can’t afford to lose.

What is the city planning to do about the problem of illegal camping and thefts out of vehicles in our public parks?

Thanks , at your convenience, for your anticipated reply, Juanita Sumner

Herman’s response was prompt:

From: Linda Herman <linda.herman@Chicoca.gov>

Date: 7/9/18 4:20 PM (GMT-08:00)

To: Juanita Sumner <nag.mom@hotmail.com>

Cc: Sean Morgan <sean.morgan@Chicoca.gov>, All Park Rangers <all-park-rangers@chicoca.gov>, Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>, Erik Gustafson <erik.gustafson@Chicoca.gov>, Michael O’Brien <michael.obrien@Chicoca.gov>, Shane Romain <shane.romain@Chicoca.gov>

Subject: RE: Illegal camping at Peregrine Point disc golf course

Hi Juanita,

Thank you for providing this information.  We were aware of previous campers in the Cal Trans right of way up the road and with the assistance of CHP have moved them along numerous times.  However, we did not know there was a camper directly at Peregrine Point parking lot.  Thank you for also putting out the fire, which is very scary!

The Senior Ranger went up there today but did not see this vehicle.  We will also increase the frequencies of Ranger visits to see if we can catch him.  I will also let the Outsiders know to let us know if they see any suspicious vehicles/activity and to call Police Dispatch if there is an emergency.

In addition, the Rangers and the Chico Police Department Target Unit have been working hard to increase patrols to address the continual, overwhelming encampments and illegal activity that occurs in Bidwell Park and the other City parks and greenways.   

Again, thank you for alerting me to this individual.  We very much appreciate your efforts, and for helping to be more eyes and ears out there for us.

Linda

Linda Herman

Park & Natural Resource Manager

City of Chico

I wasn’t surprised that Herman and staff were unaware of the camper – all an illegal camper has  to do is be up and around by 8 am and the ranger can’t do anything. And no ranger or other staffers are coming by at night, or before 8 in the morning, or they’d have caught him red handed, walking back from the portable toilet in his skivvies. 

And I think we caught him putting his cigarette butt in the metal post at the trail head. We walk the course frequently, and he’s the only other person we see there at that hour of the morning. 

I responded to Herman, telling her that just that morning we’d been to the course, and in the time it took to walk from the parking lot to the point somebody had turned out the trash can, obviously looking for recyclables, and left the contents on the ground around the bottom of the can. It wasn’t an animal, it was a person. We’ve seen other campsites, with fire rings and ash, along the old Humboldt Road, and we realized somebody could be lurking out in the bushes along the road. We felt lucky our truck hadn’t been broken into.

I also told her we were pretty disgusted with the condition of the park, and asked her if she’d like to take a walk in Lower Park near my house. She accepted, and that was the last time I spoke to her before I heard the news about the fire.

Something I wanted to bring up in my e-mail was that the only maintenance we are seeing at Peregrine  Point is the trail maintenance agreed to by the Outsiders, the local group that got the course set up all those years ago, and made an agreement to maintain it at their own expense. But as far as I remember, that agreement just covered the course itself – the trails that lead to the various tees and baskets, the area directly surrounding the tees and baskets, and the old growth Blue Oak trees along the course. The Outsiders have been spreading bark and setting up netting to protect the trees, it looked like they had groups up there frequently judging from the work that was done. Somebody had been weed whacking the grass along the trails. 

But all around the disc course the grass was left to grow waist high and die. The old growth trees, some of their branches laying on the ground, didn’t stand a chance in that situation. When I walked the course yesterday morning with my family I could see whole stands of old trees that are caput. The big gorgeous oak tree that met visitors at the top of the trail head  leading into the course had caught fire and been pushed over by a bulldozer.

The fire destroyed a lot of the fixtures that have been installed by the Outsiders over the years.

The fire was not a surprise to me, but still a shock. I just can’t believe the way the city has allowed the park to degrade, and then let campers in. They say this fire started at Alligator Hole, at 10 pm Thursday. The park road is gated at sunset. Anybody up there with fire at 10 pm is an illegal camper. 

Remember that old saying – “for every one you see, there’s 10 in the floor boards”

Herman admitted they are aware of the campers along Humboldt Road, “the Cal Trans right of way”, so how could she not know there are others camped in the park below the canyon rim? That’s either incompetence or willful neglect.

Not long ago the park commission told rangers either get used to carrying a gun or look for another job. I believe a couple of them quit but the rest are now sworn officers and carry guns. Why aren’t they out on the Upper Park Road at night searching out illegal campers? How much time are they spending in Downtown Chico now that they are part of the police department?

This isn’t the first time there’s been a substantial fire in the Upper Park, in the same area where I’d reported illegal campers. My husband and I had been observing an entrenched homeless camp on the other side of Hwy 32, within site of the highway and the new subdivision, just below the new Cal Water storage tank. We’d reported it to the police, Officer Zuchin had responded. But again and again we’d drive by and there was the camp, a blue tarp shade structure strung from the oak trees, a big pile of burned over wood, and a trash pile that looked as though it had been accumulating for years. We could see bikes and trailers full of crap. 

Within a couple of weeks a fire started there above Yosemite, just below the illegal campsite, between highway 32 and Humboldt Road. The cause of that fire was never reported. Same with several other fires that have sprung up along Hwy 32 above Chico, including this fire that burned into Upper Park.

0925171119

Here we are just above Humboldt Road.

The trails that were burned in this fire last Septemeber have not been reopened, and as far as I can see they are not performing rehabilitation. 

So, excuse me if I cancelled my walk in the park with the park director. Herman actually spoke up at one morning meeting, telling the assemblage the city needs to pass a revenue measure. At that moment I couldn’t decide whether I admired her honesty or whether I was disgusted with her point blank greed. 

I’ve fallen onto disgust, at this point.

 

 

 

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Dan Walters: state budget full of transportation “boondoggles” – here’s a local example

13 Jul

Here is yesterday’s column from Dan Walters, describing a state transportation agency that has millions in budget but provides NO benefits to taxpayers.

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/legislature-may-erase-embarrassing-boondoggle/

A few months ago I wrote a post about the rail agency he mentions, which is working with the local agency, BCAG (Butte County Association of governments) to land grant funding.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2018/01/23/bcag-proposes-spending-millions-for-bus-lines-that-are-predicted-to-have-a-40-percent-return-on-fares-how-about-fixing-our-streets/

This is an example of what really happens with SB1 funds. Repeal SB1, repeal the gas tax, repeal the misuse of our tax dollars.

YES ON PROP 6.

Gas tax repeal has a number – YES on PROP 6!

11 Jul

Here’s an interesting article from New York magazine.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/07/prop-6-california-gas-tax-ballot-fight-will-be-expensive.html

 

Road bond money could be allocated to other funds

29 Jun

Well, it seems David Little is out of town and Enterprise Record associate editors Steve Schoonover and his wife Laura Urseny have “lost” my latest letter to the editor.

The ER is what passes for journalism in our town, supposedly a “conservative” newspaper, and today they’re running a push piece about how great city finance manager Scott Dowell is for stealing a million dollars out of who knows where to pay down the employees’ pension deficit. Without one word about where the money came from.

There was no reporter at the Finance Committee meeting the other day, they get their information straight from Dowell and print whatever he tells them, without question.

Attend a Finance Committee meeting sometime and listen to Dowell describe the allocation process – there is no such thing as a budget. When city $taff overspends they just get another fund transfer.

The money from a road bond would be up for grabs to pay the pensions, just like all the other funds.

Write those letters.

City chambers still being remodeled – what happened to those Hooker Oak benches?

28 Jun

New sheet glass doors installed in city chambers – as part of a technology upgrade?

I went down to City Hall to take in a Finance Committee meeting yesterday morning. I hadn’t been at the chambers for a month or so and I was shocked when I entered. The lobby had got a major remodel. For no reason I can figure. 

I’m sorry these pictures are grainy, but I think you can see what I’m talking about. Go down and take a look for yourself.

Fant-cee schmant-cee!

 

Here you see there’s nothing wrong with the old brick paneling.

And two brand new faux (?) leather sofas? 

The first thing my son said when I showed him this picture was “What happened to the old Hooker Oak benches?”  Good question Boy O!

Yeah, what happened to the perfectly good benches that had been made out of chunks of the old Hooker Oak, which the city sold to a furniture maker? And I believe they bought the benches back from same furniture maker. They were beautiful, and part of our city’s heritage. 

City clerk Debbie Presson told me the chamber remodel – complete with new everything – was paid for with franchise fees from our Comcast bills.  Yes, you pay extra for cable so city staffers can treat themselves to Taj Majal surroundings. Presson reported the remodel was necessitated by necessary technical upgrades. Once the job started, they had trouble finding the wires, apparently, and the entire chambers had to be torn to pieces and replaced with high-end paneling, flooring and furniture. 

But she didn’t tell me that would include further renovations to the lobby. I wonder if she had to ask council for another supplemental allocation – a couple of months ago she had to go to council for permission to spend $25,000 more than the original estimate.

You realize, there are working people in our town who live on less than $25,000? 

I went to the meeting, as I explained yesterday, to hear what they were proposing in the way of a bond on our homes, supposedly for street improvements. Given the way Presson rationalized a complete, high end remodel of chambers over a little bit of rewiring, I’ll tell you what, they will rationalize spending that bond money any damned way they please.

 

 

Council refers revenue bond measure to Finance Committee, Finance Committee cancels all upcoming meetings until September. What do you think that means?

27 Jun

This morning I attended the monthly City of Chico Finance Committee meeting because council has directed the committee to vet a bond measure for “street improvement.” Council member Mark Sorensen made the suggestion in response to councilor Karl Ory’s suggestion that the city put a sales tax increase on the November ballot. 

In her column in the cat box liner known as “Chico News and Review,” editor? Melissa Daugherty suggest the vote “went along party lines,” and the “conservatives” voted down Ory’s suggestion. What a laugh – there aren’t any conservatives on Chico City Council. 

It comes down to common sense – the voters have made it pretty clear they will not support a sales tax increase. More important, local business owners are screaming NO! – Chico retail is already suffering death by a thousand cuts, who needs a sales tax increase?!

Funny this suggestion comes from Chico Chamber of Commerce – until you look at their membership – mostly non-retail!

So Sorensen suggested a bond measure and sent it to the Finance Committee for discussion.

Except there won’t be any discussion of this measure until September, because Administrative Services Director (formerly known as Finance Director) Scott Dowell talked the committee into cancelling the July and August meetings. 

I’ll say for Morgan, he wanted to have the July and August meetings, he said the public would want to be in on the  discussion. But he sat there while Dowell essentially cancelled the meetings. Committee member Randall Stone seemed to go along more willingly with the cancellation. Committee chair Mark Sorensen, who suggested the measure in the first place, was absent because of an “emergency situation” in Biggs, where he yanks down over $100,000/year plus publicly paid benefits as Biggs’ city manager. 

You know how it is, you can’t have your dick in two places at once.

You realize, that means the discussion goes behind closed doors. In fact, while they wouldn’t discuss the bond measure at today’s meeting – they’re not allowed to discuss stuff that’s not on the agenda – Assistant city manager Chris Constantin tried to take it up after the meeting had been adjourned and almost everybody had left the room. Constantin immediately pulled Mayor Sean Morgan aside and started whispering, essentially, what did Morgan want? Morgan started to suggest that Constantin bring forward all possibilities for funding road work in Chico, and Constantin was telling him that he will be working with the public works department to come up with a figure. 

“It will be at least $100 million…” was the last thing I heard Constantin say aloud as I pulled my chair and my notebook up to the table. Constantin lowered his voice to almost inaudible and turned his back to me. I moved closer and asked, “is this a private conversation? Am I allowed to listen? I thought by the way you were whispering you don’t want me to hear what you’re saying?”

At that point Constantin turned to me and assured me it was not a private conversation. But the conversation ended, and Constantin left the table to approach Chamber of Commerce maven Jolene Francis. From what I could overhear, he was asking her how they would switch from a sales tax increase measure to a bond measure. But I was in a hurry to go  back to work, so I let it go.

This is how they run our town behind our backs. I’m pretty certain they would have talked about the bond a lot more today if I hadn’t been there – there was no other member of the public present except for pro-tax cheerleader Stephanie Taber.

I’ll tell you what was also funny – Dowell’s finance report was nothing but KUDOS! Budget right on schedule! Revenues up three percent! $11 million more in cash flow than last year! Sales tax revenues up 6 %! Kinda makes you wonder – why would we need a revenue measure?

But you have to read between the lines. Most of the report was about supplemental allocations and budget transfers – the budget means nothing, they spend money however they want. When they can’t pay salaries in one department they just  steal the money from another department. That’s why there’s no money to fix the streets, and the sewer fund is so flat the city is actually entertaining a hook-up with Paradise – 20 miles east of Chico, in the foothills.

Before he was elected to City Council, Mark Sorensen blogged about all the money the city was stealing out of the sewer fund to pay pensions – you won’t find that blog online anymore, and you won’t get Sorensen to talk about the sewer fund.

Dowell also announced, last year was a record year for parking fines! But he opined, fiscal year 2018/19 won’t bring in as many parking revenues. He said, “I’d like to believe people are becoming cognizant of the laws…”

You know the only place they enforce parking is Downtown? But they still have record parking fines? I was reminded of a trip I took Downtown to deal with PG&E. As I stood in the pee-stinking Downtown PG&E office, I watched a family park their car, put change in the meter and walk into the building. They were setting up PG&E for their college kid. The woman watched as a parking attendant walked up and placed a ticket on their windshield. She expressed disbelief as her husband went out to see what that was about. He approached the attendant, and then he got in his vehicle as the attendant took the ticket off his window. He moved the vehicle slightly, got out, watched the attendant walk away, and came back inside. She had informed him that his vehicle was a few inches out of the parking space, and when he’d protested she’d offered to let him fix it. So he moved his car about an inch, I mean, I couldn’t even see any distance, and she tore up the ticket. He was really angry about it, but afraid to disagree with a woman who could give him a ticket out of spite. 

The parking laws have not changed Downtown, it’s the method of “enforcement” that has changed. The private parking enforcement  company that the city hired is paid based on how many tickets they hand out. That’s incentive. I don’t know how this is legal, but the chief of police in San Luis Opispo had to leave his job because he offered his patrol teams pizza as a reward for tickets.

The problem we have here is a city who knows they are acting illegally but waits for some citizens’ group to pony up money for a lawyer to call them on it. They’re absolutely desperate to get money to pay down the pensions, because most of our council members are pentioneers, or are married to pensioneers.

We will assume that the city will have a bond measure ready for either the November ballot or a special election in an upcoming year. We need to let them know – especially those who are running in November, we could recall anybody who supports this revenue measure. The Reform California people successfully recalled the legislator who put the gas tax – SB 1 – on the legislative agenda. 

We also need to let them know, we can come up with a measure of our own – to dump the Utility Users tax. That’s $7 million a year they tack onto our PG&E and Cal Water bills. They add unknown amounts to our bills with their shake down “franchise fees.” 

Write those letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gas tax repeal will be on November ballot

26 Jun

The gas tax repeal petition has been cleared for the November ballot. The initiative doesn’t have a number yet but I’ll keep you posted.