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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.

 

 

 

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City financial officer gives a much different figure for utility franchise fees – ???

16 Feb

City of Chico “Chief Administrative Officer” Scott Dowell finally gave Presson an answer to my question – how much money does the city of Chico receive in franchise fees from PG&E. 

I had found an article from Ch 7 news in Redding:

http://krcrtv.com/archive/pge-pays-millions-to-northstate-counties

detailing payments to Chico, Butte County, and other local cities and counties, it  reported a much larger figure – in fact, three figures that added up to over a million dollars for fiscal year 2011-12.

 Chico$ 407,735.25 $ 201,282.46 $ 609,017.71 

Dowell came back to me with $690,768. 

Hmmm. Not sure what to think, I responded with the figures from Ch 7 and asked him where I could find this information in the budget.

Look Scott, I’m not calling you a liar, I’m just asking, why the difference in figures? Maybe he’ll come back and tell me how these franchise fees are based. The article indicates local agencies collect more in franchise fees every year, but maybe that was some kind of sunset thing, and the sun went down on it. I’m willing to give a person the benefit of the doubt.

Gee willikers –  maybe Ch 7 screwed up and gave three years’ figures? 

We’ll see what he says – I’m not expecting an answer before next Tuesday. 

Gas tax petition gaining momentum – time to defund the special interest programs that are ruining our state

24 Jan

I’m glad I went to that meeting yesterday, because it relates to some other stuff I’ve been reading in the news. 

First of all, Dude sent me this article over a week ago:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-jackson-california-poverty-20180114-story.html

“Guess which state has the highest poverty rate in the country? Not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia, but California, where nearly one out of five residents is poor. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income.”

I’ll buy that, because that’s what I’m seeing all around me – more than 1 in 5 of my friends are having money problems, and few of them have been living fast or fancy – they’re having a hard time paying their new PG&E, Cal Water, and Waste Management rates, which are going up hell-bent-for-leather compared to their wages. My kids are working jobs at reduced hours because their employers cannot afford to pay the still-required health care premiums for employees working 28 hours or more a week. 

While you might want to blame welfare recipients, read on:

“Self-interest in the social-services community may be at fault. As economist William A. Niskanen explained back in 1971, public agencies seek to maximize their budgets, through which they acquire increased power, status, comfort and security. To keep growing its budget, and hence its power, a welfare bureaucracy has an incentive to expand its “customer” base. With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy. Many work in social services, and many would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls.”

And then there’s the pressure on the middle income families who have to drive to work – The Moonbeam’s answer to poverty was higher taxes on cars and gas.  There’s no limit when you are spending other people’s money. Luckily a group has come up with a gas tax repeal petition:

http://act.reformcalifornia.org/petitions/cartax/html/gen/

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-gastax-repeal-20171127-story.html

“We need to stop the car and gas tax hikes because, number one, it’s hurting working families,” said Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council and now a talk radio host who has helped spearhead the repeal. “Secondly, the money is being diverted time and time again from road repairs and road expansion to any special interest project the politicians have.”

 

Yes, any special interest project – like a busline to Sacramento that  takes an hour longer than driving your car, that will still cost $24 round trip (and screw you if you miss that 4:55 bus), and will still have to be 60 percent subsidized by the taxpayers, even if they get the ridership required by the grant program. 

Read this again, “With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy.”

Including the staffers at BCAG, SRTA, SJJPD, and a bunch of other special districts around the state. BCAG has a $1.5 million dollar payroll to meet, for 12 staffers – whipping out my handy calculator, I see that’s $125,000 per staffer. 

Public compensation drives up the cost of everything, from housing to food to gas to daycare to medical care and so on.  The private sector family living on $40,000 or less has to compete with these people for homes, groceries, everything – in a town with so many publicly employed residents as Chico, the seller or merchant is able to charge top dollar for everything.

This is how these stupid special projects affect our quality of life. Tell your county supervisor you don’t want to participate in this bus line to nowhere, it’s not too late, the grant applications haven’t been accepted yet. 

Why do people ignore a problem until it’s too late to do much about it, then expect to complain? Trash deal has been in the works since 2012 – now people want to bitch about it?

5 Jan

I just got my new 2018 Waste Management bill for three months (32 gallons) of $59.70, up about 55 percent from previous bills of $38.55. I realize there is always a bit of inflation but 55 percent? By chance, did the city hire the negotiator from the Pentagon’s F35 program for the Waste Management contract?

I also read that pot was legal in California in 2018 but our City Council decided that a retail pot store was not appropriate for our fair city. How am I supposed to relieve the anxiety of opening my Waste Management garbage bill? I’m very unhappy with our City Council.

— Geoff Bartels, Chico

You know how I love to say “I told you so.”   

That’s not really true – it drives me nuts, trying to get people to pay attention to an issue when there’s still time to stop the bulldozers, but they give me that same old tired bullshit – I’m sorry, I have a life! Why don’t you get one Juanita?

But of course, later, they  get to whine and complain about it.

Somebody read one of my old posts on the subject yesterday, from 2014. At that time, Joe Matz of Recology was saying rates would triple, and the city was looking at requiring service for everybody. If you wanted to haul your own trash they wanted to inspect your vehicle, etc, which was tantamount to requiring a hauler’s permit.

When Juanita raised her scrawny little fist and said, “If you require service the city will have to provide a low-income subsidy…” 

To which the consultant answered, “She’s right.”  He smiled at me across the room. It wasn’t the consultant’s fault, he was very truthful about the whole thing.

OOO! The bulldozers had to stop and listen! You’ll notice, service is not required under this deal, and you can still take your trash to the dump without a hauler’s permit. Which means, neighbors/relatives/friends can still share cans to save money.

Just think if there was four more Juanitas.  Or at least four more people who went to these meetings and raised a scrawny little fist?

And here’s what I’ll  tell Geoff – read the Waste Management website – you can opt out of yard waste service and save almost $6 bucks a month. My family, who share service with our tenants, also opted for a smaller bin. Our son has moved away to college and our tenants don’t have much trash either – we realized we didn’t need that 96 gallon bin anymore.

Once I made those changes in our account, the rate is still about $5 more per month. No, I’m not happy about that. But I wish people who complain would educate themselves – the real problem at this point is the city wants to use the new revenue to pay down their pension deficit instead of fixing the streets like they said they would. That’s where we need to hit them, and hard.

In fact, public works director Brendon Ottoboni says the road/streets fund is tapped, and they are almost 10 years behind on necessary projects. When developer Bill Webb asked at a recent public meeting how a person could get their street on the projects list, Ottoboni again said there’s no money for fixing any more streets.

thumbnail_20171129_095754

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

Want to have some fun? Write to council member Randy Stone, who recently declared the deal was working cause we have less trucks on the streets.

randall.stone@Chicoca.gov

Really Randy? On Wednesday I have a Recology truck on my street, servicing the “commercial enterprise” known as the Evangelical Free Church. On Thursday my bins  are picked up by Waste Management. On Friday Waste Management picks up the bins on the street that intersects my street. So, I get a minimum of seven trucks a week running up and down the street in front of my house.

How about another picture.

thumbnail_20171129_095932

The asphalt is almost completely separated from the base here.

But here’s another funny fact – my street is not considered a  “feeder” by the city of Chico, because there is no new subdivision on my street, so my street will never be on the “projects” list – ask Ottoboni about that.

brendan.ottoboni@Chicoca.gov

Letters to the editor of a newspaper that reaches less than a third of local residents isn’t going to cut it. A few months ago council member Ann Schwab suggested a complaint line for garbage customers so they wouldn’t have to write to the mayor. Why not write to the mayor?  He approved this deal too.

sean.morgan@Chicoca.gov

Don’t forget the chief engineer – city mangler Mark Orme

mark.orme@Chicoca.gov

If you’re going to complain, make it count. 

 

 

City of Lancaster issues a resolution in support of the Statewide Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse

2 Dec

Larry Grooms of the Water Rates Coalition sent me this news from the city of Lancaster in Southern California. 

See other news at their website here:  https://www.waterratescoalition.com/updates

RESOLUTION NO. 17-58

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA, IN SUPPORT OF A STATEWIDE COALITION OF COMMUNITIES, UNDER THE WORKING TITLE OF COALITION TO END WATER RATE ABUSE, CALLING FOR THE INTRODUCTION AND PASSAGE OF STATEWIDE LEGISLATION TO REFORM THE RATEMAKING PROCESS FOR INVESTOR-OWNED, FOR-PROFIT WATER UTILITIES IN CALIFORNIA

WHEREAS, the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Water Division regulates 113 investor-owned water and sewer utilities, servicing 16% of state residents, with 95% of that number being served by 9 large water utilities, each serving 10,000 or more connections, with annual revenues of $1.4 billion; and
WHEREAS, these investor-owned, for-profit water utilities charge water customer rates that are often three to five times higher than those charged by publicly-owned utilities, often directly adjacent to privately-owned systems; and
WHEREAS, in its rate cases, the CPUC is charged with protecting both the fiscal stability of the for-profit water utilities and the interests of ratepayers; and
WHEREAS, the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates consistently favors the interests of investor-owned utilities over the interests of California residents and ratepayers; and
WHEREAS, this institutional and systematic imbalance has resulted in excessively high water rates, annual double-digit rate increases in water bills, and financial hardship to residents and homeowners throughout the state; and
WHEREAS, over the past decade, many cities and communities, including Lancaster, have sought relief for their residents through the CPUC, legislature, and/or courts, at significant cost and with little meaningful success.

NOW, THEREFORE, THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA, DOES HEREBY RESOLVE, DECLARE, DETERMINE AND ORDER AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. That the Lancaster City Council supports statewide legislative reforms to the CPUC ratemaking process to achieve fair, equitable, and financially affordable rates for California customers of investor-owned, for-profit water utilities.

SECTION 2. That the Lancaster City Council supports the statewide Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse in its efforts to achieve fair and equitable protection for the rights of all ratepayers served by investor-owner, for-profit water utilities through legislative relief and/or class action litigation.

SECTION 3. That the goals of the Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse are consistent with the Lancaster City Council’s more than two-year-long effort to pursue equitable and fair relief for its residents served by the investor-owned, for-profit water utility, California Water Service Company.

PASSED, APPROVED and ADOPTED this 14 th day of November, 2017, by the following vote: Unanimous

Look at the WRC website link – State Senator Scott Wilk and Assemblyman Tom Lackey have written a letter questioning rate increases and WRAM – the “water rate adjustment mechanism” by which Cal Water punishes us for conserving too much. 

We’ve been asleep here ever since Cal Water’s bid to stick us in a district with Marysville and Oroville – raising our rates to cover their long-neglected infrastructure – was overturned by protests from the cities involved. Yes, City of Chico actually raised a finger to that maneuver, although, the public was never allowed in on that conversation.

 My family and our tenants have drastically cut our usage but our bills are still higher than they were two years ago. 

So, it’s time to write to your state representatives and ask them to join in on this inquiry. Quote the letter from Wilk and Lackey, and add some figures from your past water bills. 

Assemblyman Jim Gallagher – https://ad03.asmrc.org/

Senator Jim Nielsen –  http://nielsen.cssrc.us/

Still think Agenda 21 is a big joke?

30 Oct

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

https://chicotaxpayers.com/?s=sustainability+task+force&submit=Search

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

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

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

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

http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20171025/NEWS/171029818

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

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

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-10-28/prius-driving-ny-legislator-fakes-ptsd-panic-attack-get-out-minor-speeding-ticket-vi

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

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

 

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

PG&E seeks to charge ratepayers for fire fees

28 Oct

From the San Jose Mercury News:

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/26/pge-pushes-for-ratepayers-to-pay-millions-in-california-wildfire-costs/

In a 30-minute meeting on Oct. 17, Meredith Allen, PG&E’s senior director of regulatory relations, told Travis Foss, an adviser to PUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, that PG&E and other California utilities are in “an untenable situation,” according to a record of the meeting that PG&E sent to the PUC as required under state lobbying rules. PG&E should not have to pay “a disproportionate” share of the costs of wildfires because of the growing risk and a tough insurance market, Allen argued.

The utility companies want ratepayers to pay instead of their shareholders.

A share of PG&E stock is worth about $57 today, having reached a three year high of $70.63 a share just last month. Then the wildfires hit, and PG&E was found liable. 

http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/PG-E-cited-for-late-maintenance-work-more-often-12303697.php

California regulators auditing Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s work in the field cited the company for late repairs and maintenance jobs far more frequently than any other electric utility in the state, according to documents made public in the wake of this month’s deadly Wine Country fires.

This isn’t the first time PG&E has been found to be negligent of their infrastructure. Up in the hills that means dead trees standing right under and alongside power lines, here in Chico it also means un-maintained gas lines. 

http://www.krcrtv.com/news/pge-emergency-repairs-underway-for-gas-leak-in-chico-dam/11441480

“Emergency repairs” for a leak they’d known about for a year?  Read this recent article from CNBC –  look at all the fires that have been caused by PG&E negligence, and the bills PG&E has received.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/13/pge-plunges-on-concern-its-power-lines-may-have-started-california-wildfires.html

Shareholders got nervous, causing the stock price to “plummet” to $57.  But, shares have risen steadily despite the “plummets”, worth $10 more than they were in 2013. Why are shareholders nervous? Because they’re afraid they will have to pay.

Of course, in the San Bruno deal shareholders were awarded $90 million? This article is confusing:

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/04/21/court-oks-90-million-pge-san-bruno-explosion-settlement/

Why do we allow utilities to be publicly traded for profit? That seems to be the whole problem, one court declaring PG&E “placed profits ahead of safety…” the San Bruno disaster having been caused by ” a combination of PG&E’s shoddy maintenance, flawed record-keeping and the PUC’s lazy oversight, according to an official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.”

The utility companies should be run strictly for the benefit of the ratepayers. 

Recently I heard from a group in Silicon Valley that has “united in supporting non-partisan, bi-partisan legislative reforms in how consumer rates are set for investor-owned water utilities.”

They have recently put up a website:

https://www.waterratescoalition.com/

I’m glad to hear from these people, I’m glad somebody is still fighting these outrageous utility rate increases. I also find the Lucerne group is still having meetings.  Here’s their facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/LucerneFLOW/

As you can see, we in Chico are not getting as badly screwed as other towns, but my bills continue to inch up, even though I’ve drastically reduced my water usage. 

It’s time to get on board and fight.