Tag Archives: Chico Area Recreation District

It’s Christmas, and Chico Area Recreation District has got their hand in your stocking!

17 Dec

Busy busy Christmas time – I wonder if anybody is paying attention to what CARD is doing.

I will be out of town Thursday night for a family affair, but the newly installed CARD board will finally be having a truly public discussion about putting a tax on the 2016 ballot to build an aquatic center for Chico Aqua Jets. That is, if the public bothers to show up.’

The alternative is, fix Shapiro Pool, which has suffered from just plain neglect for years. They’ve let Shapiro turn into a shit hole so nobody will care when they close it and take all our money to build their Taj Majal aquatic center.  So  far CARD has paid my kids’ old hockey coach (and you sucked as coach Greg) an undisclosed amount (somewhere, they say, between $10,000 and $18,000 per design) for three designs. They used money from their budget – at a meeting last year they said their budget was so overimpacted they had to lay people off and cut employee’s hours to avoid paying health benefits, but now they come up with somewhere between $30,000 and $60,000 to draw some sketches for an aquatic center that hasn’t been approved? 

I’m sorry, but if Melton’s designs are anything like his “commitment” as a coach, they aren’t worth the paper they’ve  been printed on.

See, this is the utter malfeasance that is Chico Area Recreation and Tax Sucking District. Nine thousand of you approved of this by voting for longtime incumbent Jan Sneed, so just suck it up and get out your own checkbooks, I ain’t paying. 

They say it will serve the public – I sat through earlier discussions, when the 30 or so people behind this move discussed how they would get the public to approve of such a tax. The lion’s share of this building will go to Aqua Jets, but the center will offer classes to children and the elderly. This will bring in some revenue, but longtime board member and former chair Ed Seagle admitted the center will “never pay for itself.” 

Legislative changes in the tax assessment process have made it easier to get these taxes passed – lowering the voter threshold from two-thirds to 51 %. Now 51 % of the public can shove a tax up the asses of the other 49 – wow, that’s not Democracy, that’s mob rule. That’s a G-Snatch! 

When I wrote a letter to the ER a couple of years back, talking about this discussion, former CARD director Steve Visconti actually brought my letter up at a meeting, right in front of me, and told the group they had to do something to counter my letter! He wanted to get a letter writing campaign going to discredit me, but I never found out where that went. It certainly didn’t make it into the newspaper. You’ll note that there has never been any real popular support for this center, only people with kids in Aqua Jets.

That’s the pattern of late – tax the poor to pay for fancy crap for the rich. Take note of the cop contracts – public safety workers are the new One Percent, with their lesser court made up of other public workers. Public workers who collect big salaries to “manage” – the manager of the local mosquito abatement district makes over $100,000/year, and pays less than 5 percent of his own pension and benefits. He just “managed” to put a open-ended assessment on your house – when was the last time you had any notice from Butte County Mosquito Abatement, that they would be doing any work in your neighborhood? Never? But look at your property tax bill – there it is. 

See, there’s this scam – if you could collect $1 from everybody in Chico, that would be over $80,000.  That’s twice the median, or normal, income, but it doesn’t seem like much when it’s just a dollar from each person, does it?  That’s how it works for all these agencies, CARD, BCMVCD, CUSD – they don’t do anything for most of us, but they can put a tax on your home to pay their salaries and benefits. And it’s a lot more than a dollar a year. 




Chico Area Recreation District needs more public scrutiny

28 Jun

I’ve become so busy in my personal life, I’ve had trouble staying afloat of all the discussions. I’m sorry, I’ve let myself become distracted with conversations that don’t really matter, except from the point of view that we pay for this stuff with public dollars. 

Colleen Jarvis made a good point with me one time, I guess I should tie a string around one finger to remind myself – pick your issues, and stick with them. You can’t fight everything.

I got frustrated with CARD because they so easily pushed me off by the forehead. I repeatedly asked to be noticed of aquatic center board meetings, and I repeatedly got left off the notice list, even though Steve Visconti cheerfully thanked me for my interest. At one point he even told me they hadn’t had any meetings yet, even though the agenda for that week’s board meeting listed a report from a meeting of the committee. He just looks you right in the face and denies stuff, he’s incredible.

You might also have read, he’s retired.  On 70 percent of his $117,000/year salary, with fully paid benefits and pension. Incredible. CARD employees pay NOTHING toward their own retirement, not even the 9% currently required of city and county employees. 

I got frustrated because nobody else seems to give a rat’s diddly, except maybe the aquatic center nazi’s who’ve been stalking the blog.   There were about 30 people at the last committee meeting I attended – Aqua Jets parents, school district employees, and the manager of Aqua Jets. These people made it clear they want the public to pay.  Oh yeah – their kids’ private swim club has a PUBLIC benefit! Former CARD manager Jerry Hughes gave them a quick informational lecture on some bills that were headed for the state legislature that would lower the voting requirements for passing bonds from 2/3’s to 55, even 51 percent. I tried  to keep tabs on those bills, it was just about impossible. I’m sure one or more of them passed in one form or another, and we’re going to be hit with multiple tax measures on the 2016 ballot.

Something CARD is not publicizing is that three of their board members are up for re-election this year – hey, did you know you elect your CARD board? I can’t find any information about that, except that Jan Sneed, Ed Seagle  and Herman Ellis’s terms are all up this year, with Lando and Worley up in 2016. This is the board that okays these management salaries and allows CARD employees to get away paying NOTHING toward their own health benefits and retirement. 30 full-time employees suck up a $5 million+ budget, with most of the real work being done by seasonal employees who make less than  $10,000/year, no benefits what-so-ever.

A highly placed city employee told me recently, Tom Lando still runs a lot of stuff around town. Lando has made it plain he wants a sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot and he’s got more people banging that drum. As far as I can tell, all public employees/retired public employees, like ex-county worker Patrick Newman. Of course they watch out for their own benefit, what else is new. 

I once thought of running for CARD board, but I’d have to see a lot more people showing interest in turning that agency around. Completely, upside down, shake all the junk out of it’s deep pockets, get our rec scene back on track. There’s no excuse for the way CARD has mis-managed OUR resources to line their own pockets. 

CARD board meetings are usually held around the middle of the month, on a Thursday, I think 7:30. It would be great if people would show up or write letters to the board and tell them they need to use the opportunity presented by Visconti’s retirement to wangle a new contract for the District Manager position, make all the management employees pay their own  benefits and pensions. 

Here’s the link:


CARD has allowed our public swimming pools to sink into disgrace while they paid their own benefits, now propose a fantabulous gazillion dollar aquatic center

24 Mar

CARD is still promoting the idea of a gazillion dollar aquatic center, and they’ve got “news” reporter Laura Urseny running their propaganda.

I get a kick out of Urseny – when I don’t attend the meetings, it takes her a couple of days to get the story in the paper, but when she sees me there, she posts that story the night of! If I accomplish nothing more that putting a match to the seat of her oversize drawers, that’s enough for me.

Too bad I can’t make a real news reporter out of her. She’s a propaganda hag, at best. The story she popped into the paper might as well have been dictated to her by aquatic center committee chair Jan Sneed.  Urseny posted two stories last week about what rotten shape Shapiro Pool is in, without once  telling us why. As if, rust just happens, things just fall apart, there’s no stopping expensive equipment from deteriorating. For at least 20 years the staff at CARD has neglected the equipment at the two public swimming pools in town, and now it’s rusted and falling apart, leaking like a sieve. In fact, the pool at Pleasant Valley (next to Bidwell Junior High) has been leaking for about 20 years. I sat listening to a pool company rep telling a life guard it would cost about $2500 to fix it, but the CARD board rejected his bid and watched Aqua Jets go to In Motion Fitness as a result. 

For the last 20 years CARD has been nothing more than a salary trough. The Board of Directors is nothing but a “look at me!” position, these people don’t really run the agency. The director runs the agency, along with the Finance Director, and they’ve both managed to shovel themselves some pretty good bling – salaries in excess of $90,000 and $110,000 plus fully paid benefits packages. CARD employees do not pay ANYTHING toward their own pensions, but still collect 70 percent at age 55 like other public employees. Steve Visconti will retire soon, on 70 percent of $112,000/year, having paid NOTHING toward his own retirement or benefits. 

Urseny saw me at the meeting, so she tells her readers “[Maintenance Director Jake] Preston added that CARD doesn’t have the money to fix Shapiro or build an aquatics facility, although it looked at a tax measure but backed off the idea.”  Preston whined a lot about the Americans with Disabilities act, but it became clear, they’ve used that as an excuse not to update the pools at all.  The showers at Shapiro are not only not ADA compliant, they’re disgusting, get in there with some Comet and a scrub brush Jake.  The bathroom at PV only had one toilet stall for all those kids, and they’d use it to change their clothes. The line would back up to the front gate. 

CARD gets over $2.5 million a year, just from the county, our property taxes. Where does that money go? Well, last year they took $400,000 out of their General Fund and made a back-payment on their own pensions because CalPERS was threatening them with higher fees. That’s where the money has gone. 

And let’s not forget – both pools are owned by the school district, which has allowed CARD to run them into the ground. Here they’ve built all kinds of junk on the campuses with that Measure A money (promised to build a third high school), but not one word about the swimming pools they’ve allowed to rot. 

Laura Urseny is not interested in the truth, she’s just interested in keeping her byline. According to the aquatic center committee spokesman, they have not got any sponsors yet, all these months and they’re still “identifying partners.”   And, according to Preston, Shapiro Pool has been operating at a loss for years. It’s been a mess since my kids were little, we went once and never went back. 20 years ago it looked like they’d abandoned it. It was a popular target for vandalism. Most of the kids in both pools were there as participants in CARD daycare programs.  Maybe they should realize – the public doesn’t support the pools we have now, CARD does not maintain them – what will change if we invest millions into a fancy new aquatic center that will be dedicated to the use of a private club? 

I’ll try to keep an eye on this, I  can’t believe they’ve given up on floating a bond or assessment. The survey they floated last year should prove they are willing to lie and distort to get our money. 

Aquatic Center efforts go underground

18 Oct

I came away from last night’s CARD board meeting feeling like they aren’t going to fully discuss their aquatic center plans in front of me because I’ve criticized them publicly. I also saw something last night that tells me, these kind of people serve on these boards to forward their own interests, CARD doesn’t really serve the community. It serves the board members’ friends.

We sat through an audit report from Mattson and Isom. The woman reminded me of a school  teacher, she was very professional and cheerful.  I won’t pretend to understand or care. Of course she found everything in order – as long as they keep records of where the money goes, an auditor doesn’t care that they spend it all on their own salaries and pensions.  She was speaking as an auditor, not a person who pays for it out of her property taxes. Of course she gushed all over the board at the end of her report and told them how thankful M&I is to get their business, leaving as they moved along to the next item.  

The bottom line was, CARD revenues are down because the board has cut programs and cut staff, but they have continued to make the payments to CalPERS for benefits and pensions. Two of the board members, Tom Lando and Ed Seagal, are CalPERS pensioners, and Herman Ellis receives a pension through Cal State Chico. The conflict of interest seems obvious to me.  But the board moved right along to “Unfinished Business.” 

A regular item on this list, the Humboldt Skate Park is of constant concern down at CARD. From the time it was built, we’ve seen that it was poorly planned, never should have been done. It’s too small, stuck in a corner of town where no kids live, and destined to be a homeless hangout. It’s concealed by that stupid fence so people can do drugs, ride bikes, even cars! and vandalize, without the scrutiny of the non-interested cops or the unknowing public.  I’s closed due to vandalism at least twice a year, for weeks at a time. It has a bigger maintenance budget than larger area parks.  

Maintenance superintendent Jake Preston showed photos taken from the internet of “brawls” and even of a small car being driven inside the gated fence.  Board member Jan Sneed reported that she went into the skate park and had a conversation with some “hardcore skaters” who told her they’d “beat up” any high school kids who tried to use the skate park.  Instead of having these losers arrested, she says they need to  be part of the committee to figure out what to do about the problems. 

Does she think this is Mayberry RFD? 

Maintenance director Preston laid out four possibilities: 

  • leave the park as is
  • close and eliminate the park
  • give it back to the city of Chico
  • create a positive atmosphere with some supervision and even programs

I was surprised when about half dozen members of the established “skate community” attended the meeting, three of them stood up to talk about ways the park could be improved. Two of them agreed the park was too small. All three agreed with Jake Preston that the park is in a horrible location. They all blame the “bums” for the drug and alcohol use, the syringes and other paraphernalia that litters the site, and the constant reek of pee. They also pointed out that the best skate parks are private and charge a small entrance fee.  They said they drive regularly to Sacramento and San Jose to pay to skate. 

The board listened attentively and respectfully to these people. One thing I’ll say about CARD meetings is, the speakers are treated better. The board members don’t go on with their bullshit philosophy for hours on end, these meetings are very businesslike. But, I also noticed a distinct difference between the way they treat the skate board park and how they later treated the  folks who want an aquatic center.

For the skate board park, they want to “create ownership” – have some non-profit take it over. For one thing, bless his heart – Jake Preston is sick of the Humboldt Skate Park. I don’t blame him. He’s being made to be a babysitter for druggies and creeps who want to hide in that fenced yard where the cops can’t see them doing deals and shooting up. Preston clearly does not want to be responsible for the skate park anymore, and neither does the board. They want to hand it off to some bunch of dummies like the Outsiders, who took on the frisbee golf course at Five Mile.  These groups can then apply for grants to do the maintenance, and CARD washes their hands of it. 

That sounds great until that group falls apart. These facilities always end up degrading with time and neglect, and turn into a problem again. And, the skate park is poorly designed, too small to be safe, and tucked away into a corner where everybody admits – the homeless have “owned” that spot since before I was born. When I was a kid, that’s where “Bidwell’s indians” used to sit around and get drunk all day along the creek. 

But that discussion ended with Ed Seagle’s suggestion to start a “Chico Skate Board  Club” to pay for some supervision of the park.  Charging a membership fee to get in, and demanding membership cards would “get rid of the riff raff,” he says. As for the “money issue,” Seagle mentions contacting local businesses, “so we don’t have to spend any money…” on a CARD owned property. Wow, great Ed, thanks for your support. The discussion ended with the formation of another committee to continue studying things – more study?    Jake Preston handed his card to the skaters as they left the room.

And then it was off and running to the aquatic center discussion, which was a whole new ballgame.  They talked about the 15 people who signed up for the committee (only one had signed up at the Sept 23 meeting), but argued over that being too many – “we’ll never get anything done with that many people,” opined one board member. Director Steve Visconti suggested the list be paired down by having each applicant submit “a letter of intent,” with information about themselves and their interest in the project. Oh? Pick and choose, eh? This committee is starting to sound kind of exclusive.   They talked about wanting more “stakeholders” on board – they only have one right now – and I’m guessing, that’s the Aquajets manager who was the only one to sign up at the Sept 23 meeting.  Aquajets are considered a “stakeholder,” but not a member of the general public? They want people with some sort of credentials, is what I get. How about this – I  can bring my cancelled tax payment checks? 

At one point in the conversation, Jan Sneed, one of the longest running members, declared that the board needed to decide whether or not CARD would take an active part in this aquatic center promotion before there was any further discussion. She seemed to feel they were violating some rule.  So, they voted unanimously to support this project.  

While they refused to talk about funding, Visconti mentioned that the next step would be for CARD to pay an artist to come up with drawing of the proposed center.   Here we go – CARD money! This is not appropriate, as far as I’m concerned, but they also chose to pay about $40,000 for a survey that they aren’t listening to. The survey indicated the public would not support an aquatic center, but Laura Urseny indicated in her article in yesterday’s ER that they still intend to pursue a bond. They refused to talk about that last night, I believe, because I was sitting right there. 

Ed Seagle did make a remark about finding a “stakeholder with deep pockets,” but that didn’t even get a response. Instead they opened the meeting to public comment, and of course the first “member of the public” to stand up was former CARD director and board member Jerry Hughes. First Hughes argued that they should have another publicly noticed meeting, try to get more members of the public “to commit”. But, he also detailed past attempts at “getting the public to commit.” Failure 40 years ago, failure 20 years ago, and he still insists we “need” an aquatic center. He ignored the results of the recent survey, which indicated, not enough support.  Two public swimming pools that CARD has refused to maintain, a skate park they are trying to pawn off on somebody else, but we NEED an aquatic center? The people have spoken again and again, but Hughes and his friends, mostly Aquajets grandparents who remember how many times this effort has failed but refuse to see why, still insist we need this ridiculous money pit.  There is NOT sufficient interest in swim sports here to build a fucking Taj Majal aquatic center, get over it!

Hughes and another speaker tried that old tack – “what an economic boon to Chico!”  One woman claimed a swim meet in brings 3,000 people to town. I don’t want to call her liar, but I would like to see some numbers on that from a more reliable source, like local hotels, restaurants and gas stations. Maybe she meant, several meets over a year? 

Here Ed Seagle broke in,  admitting, in a very frustrated tone, “The reality is, most pools barely break even…”

But Seagle had a bad case of double speak last night.  He acts like he’s uninterested, but went ahead and voted to form a committee of Sneed and Worley to oversee the citizen’s committee, and at a future meeting, they will vote to pay for the artist’s rendering.  I’ll drop a note to CARD staff, let them know I want to be noticed of these meetings.

I’ll try to keep an eye on this effort, you should too.

I find it weird that the skateboard park, which is already an existing problem, is left to “new ownership,” but this aquatic center rainbow is getting a  conceptual drawing, a  citizen’s committee, and according to the story in yesterday’s ER, a bond measure on the 2016 ballot.

When my kid’s hockey club went to CARD, asking for a spot in the facility they planned for DeGarmo Park, they told our kids NO – it’s bad for Cal Skate! They said it would be directly competitive with a local business. But here the aquatic center isn’t competition for In Motion? It isn’t going to negatively impact the school swim teams? What about PV and Shapiro pools? Will CARD close those pools due to inability to maintain them? They’re already in such bad shape that the school swim teams “are forced” to use In Motion Fitness.  This conversation was completely different than the conversation they had with our hockey club.  And completely different than the skateboard park discussion.

Why aren’t we screaming “MISMANAGEMENT” ? I sure wish the rest of you would get some letters to the paper on this. I think we could beat it down before any CARD money is spent on it.

NOTE:  I e-mailed CARD manager Steve Visconti and he has placed me on the notice list for the aquatic center committee. I’ll keep you posted. 

Aquatic Center? Bullshit – pensioneer Jerry Hughes is just trying to get more money for CARD to pay to CalPERS

25 Sep

Monday night I attended a meeting called together by former Chico Area Recreation District General Manager Jerry Hughes, who also served quite a number of years on the CARD board after he retired from the manager position.  Hughes and his friends at Aquajets want an aquatic center, and they want the general public to pay for it through a bond or assessment on our homes.  But it was pretty clear – while they claim they will offer programs for the public, Aquajets private swim club will obviously be the main user of this facility.

And, one thing that hasn’t been talked about before the public – it looks like they will abandon Shapiro and Pleasant Valley pools altogether, having neglected them for so long they are now in need of major repair and ADA updating.  Staff tried to make it sound like it’s all because of ADA compliance – well, shouldn’t a public facility be ADA compliant? And shouldn’t they have been keeping up with the laws all along, instead of siphoning out all the money to pay their salaries, benefits and pension? 

I’ll tell you the funniest thing I saw that night – the little room was pretty packed, at least 40 people attended, at least 10 or 15 of them stood up to proclaim they wanted a pool, but I tell you what – no matter how Hughes and current General Manager Steve Visconti cajoled them, they mostly slipped out of that room without signing the list to be on the vetting committee.   As the room emptied, Hughes announced there were only two names on the list, one of which he was putting on it himself.

It’s official – the more money people have the more taxes they expect to get. You’ve seen this Downtown – our police department reminds me of this black bear I saw at the San Diego zoo – paw out front, mouth open – give me MORE!

Most of the people in the room were affiliated with Aquajets. I looked over the Aquajets website – you have to have quite a bit of dough if your kid wants to swing with this crowd – it’s not about your kid’s talent for swimming, if that’s what you think. It’s about raising enough money to pay their manager, a fellow named Brad.  Brad was the only one who willingly signed up for the committee. Boy, was he willing. 

Brad mentioned USA sports, a nationwide membership organization  that consults their fee-paying members –  local sports teams – and helps them get started. Brad said, that as part of Aquajets membership in this organization, they get consulting in these matters.   But former Chico Olympian Haley Cope Clark said, point blank, “we don’t want to let the public know right away about USA’s involvement…” She didn’t explain that, so I will – it means, Aquajets is taking over this project, period. Sorry, nudie girl, the public needs to know that point right off the bat.

The Aquajets are a non-profit with a paid director – why haven’t they garnered sponsors the way my kid’s hockey team did and build their own facility?   This NEVER came into the conversation.

Of course, Hughes was foxy – he never mentioned the bond or assessment – that was out of the conversation. But he made it clear, they want the public to pay for this thing, and they need to come up with an argument why we should. Cope and some others stressed the need to convince us that the place would be used for swim lessons and water safety training. Yeah, just like PV Pool, where we paid for stuff like that, having been dragged out at 7am on Saturday morning to stand in a line that snaked around the PV parking lot, to sign up and pay for the lessons, only to  be told at least once a session that we would not get our lesson that day because Aquajets was  commandeering the pool. 

Some old timers in the audience impatiently demanded to know, “why this effort didn’t go through in 1986″.    A couple of older Aquajets parents recalled that the public complained then about paying for something that would be used exclusively “by rich people.”  Well, duh, old man, how do you feel about welfare?  They didn’t seem to get that connection, expressing disgust, shock and embarrassment that the people of Chico were not willing to lay down money from their own kid’s college fund to pay for a tribute to rich people’s spoiled kids.  

The board discussed an aquatic center in 1986, and here’s the story Hughes told about it. “We had the meeting on the wrong night – Friday,” he explained.  He said, “people who didn’t want this to happen (the aquatic center)”  went out to bars at Happy Hour and dragged in a mob that shouted down the board. The board, he said, was intimidated by this mob and the discussion was ended. Never to be resurrected until now? 

I’ll say this – what a bullshit insulting story. I can’t stand being treated like an idiot.  Name names Jerry. Who “didn’t want this to happen”?  Who brought in a mob to disrupt a public meeting – that’s against the law.  And here’s the hum-dinger – you let this mob disrupt your meeting, tell you what you are allowed to discuss, and then you never attempted to agendize this issue again? 

Again, bullshit story. I was raised by a Texan Honey, you gonna have to do a little better than that!  Is this just a preview of what they are willing to pull out on anybody who opposes this Taj Majal idea?

At least maintenance director Jake Preston  continued to remind the audience, beyond paying to build this thing, they have to maintain it in the future. This is the dynamite point as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think Aquajets is big enough to support this thing, I  don’t even know how consistent their membership is, they don’t give out any information like that on their website. You never read about their events in the paper, nothing about fund raisers or anything like that. They expect to use this thing almost exclusively, but I sure don’t see them being able to maintain it.  Visconti also voiced his belief that rec programs shouldn’t pay for themselves. This is a man who expects the general public to keep him like a fat whore.

Read the article below, from less than a year ago, when Hughes and Mark Sweany stepped down from the CARD Board of Directors. They mention a bond, knowing that the RDA is history. Sweany expresses the opinion that CARD is not good at handling debt? So, they need a bond to pay off projects they’ve built, like the $900,000 they sunk into building and landscaping the CARD center back in 1975. I remember people being floored at spending that kind of money building one building. They made it a Taj Majal, looks like some rich guy’s hunting lodge in there with all the wood paneling and stone work.  Done on a piece of city property leased by CARD, that building is sadly underused. I think the fees are too high – when a friend of mine had a wedding there, she paid $400 for four hours, and you have to clean the place yourself, so she had to throw off her shoes and she and the groom and their families had to spend the last hour cleaning up  the joint. Of course everybody pitched in, but we all thought the time was a little short, and the money a little high. That was about 20 years ago. I have no idea what they charge now, I’m guessing it’s onerous, but I put in a request for information, we’ll see.

I think CARD is horribly mismanaged. They spend all their money on salaries, benefits and pensions for the staff who pay none of their own expenses. Then they cut hours on their employees, part time employees, so they are not eligible to get benefits. Finance director Scott Dowell says they will have to make more cuts when Obamacare takes effect next year (for businesses).  More cuts? How about cutting Dowell’s $96,000 a year salary. How about getting rid of Visconti all together – he doesn’t do anything but host meetings. The reports he gives are all made up of information he gets from Dowell and the other subordinates – why do we need to pay him $112,000 year, plus ALL his benefits and pension? 

These questions never game up. The whole evening was just an idea session about how they could get the public to pay for this thing. 

Below Hughes and Sweany discuss ” the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”  I find it ironic that they’d already strayed from their mission by that time, and become a salary trough.

Toward the end of the meeting, Hughes discussed timing on this thing. They don’t think they can put a bond on the 2014 ballot, because they’re waiting for the dirt to settle on a series of constitutional amendments that are slithering through the state legislature right now, amendments that will lower the voting threshold for local tax measures from 66 2/3 to 55 percent.   Hughes said that if these amendments are successfully implemented over the next few months, they might put a bond or assessment on the ballot for 2014, but more likely they will shoot for 2016. 

These people have been plotting and planning to throw their financial malfeasance off on the public for the last couple of years as they’ve systematically jacked up their salaries. Don’t forget  – Hughes gets a pension for his years as manager, but I’m guessing, it’s chump change compared to Visconti’s $112,000/year. Still, Hughes knows, just like Tom Lando, that continued payment of his pension depends on agencies like CARD continuing to make their $300 – 400,000 a year in pension payments, as well as the occasional half-million dollar interest payoff.  They can’t do that without more taxes from us.



Chico recreation directors talk about their multi-year spans

By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer

POSTED:   12/16/2012 10:34:17 PM PST
Click photo to enlarge

Mark Sweany (left) and Jerry Hughes prepare for a CARD board meeting on Nov. 15.(Jason…

CHICO — Two longtime directors on the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board said they didn’t run for re-election in order to make room for new voices.But both were proud of their legacies on the board, which honored them in November for their service.

Jerry Hughes served on the board for four years, but had been the recreation district’s general manager for nearly 20 years before that. He held the gavel as chair for the past year.

Mark Sweany served for more than 16 years, and said it was “time for a life. CARD was an easy branch of government, but politics can be all-consuming.”

Both said they ran for their seats because they thought they could help out.

When he was hired for the CARD general manager’s position in 1972, Hughes already had been involved in recreation for the city of San Jose since 1957.

Of his accomplishments, Hughes mentioned construction of the Chico Community Center at 545 Vallombrosa Ave., where CARD’s office is, along with classrooms and a general hall that are busy with weddings, assemblies and meetings.

Hughes said he helped facilitate meetings with neighbors who might have opposed the community center, but gave it their support. Hughes felt the effort resulted in a stunning, landscaped building in 1975 for $900,000.

Community Park, off East 20th Street, was another project that turned an empty field into the biggest developed park in Chico at the time.

Hughes recalled many meetings and phone calls that resulted in the trade of numerous government- and privately-owned properties that would leave Chico with a big field to develop into a park for the community, as well as for nearby Chapman School.

What he really appreciated about the project was the large community support — from volunteer workers to city hall cooperation.

Sweany was initially attracted to CARD because of the community effort to create an aquatic center.

Sweany said he was always interested in how projects were funded.

“That’s the key with any small local government, you can’t run up a huge amount of debt.”

CARD is a special district, funded in part by a portion of property taxes within the Chico area.

Sweany says the board is always looking at ways to save tax dollars, such as privatization of some recreation-linked tasks like landscaping and maintenance.

The financial future of CARD, with redevelopment funding disappearing and talk of a bond issue still in the early stages, is an area Sweany said needs watching.

“CARD is good at not incurring bad debt — projects it’s invested in like a big lawn mower, lighting at Hooker Oak ball field, solar panels at Community Park — have been wisely made. “It would be nice to wipe out debt completely.”

Happy with the way DeGarmo Park has developed, Sweany said there’s “a long way to go” on the park next to Shasta School, off The Esplanade.

Sweany notes it’s not only the cost of creating a project, but what further costs are in terms of replacement and maintenance.

“It’s not about building the building. It’s got to have staff, be maintained …”

Asked about advice for the new board members, Sweany said, “They need to be careful what they think their income is. There’s a danger of losing property tax money. With the housing inventory as it is, there’s less property tax coming to CARD. That and money from programs are the biggest income streams.

“If property tax drops, there will be some serious questions to ask,” Sweany said.

Hughes said, “Honor the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”

Sweany said he feels the need for a second dog park should be considered. CARD opened the first dog park in Chico at DeGarmo.

Hughes and Sweany both recognized the staff.

“Sometimes we take them for granted. They’re tremendous,” Hughes said.

As general manager, Hughes said he was afforded extra insight into what the staff goes through, not to mention the efforts put in by volunteers and board members.

“Our staff made us look good,” Sweany said. “It’s an amazing group of people. Sometimes there’s conflict between labor and management. Even when we all weren’t in agreement, everyone pulled together for the community,” Sweany said.

Chico voters only had two choices to replace Hughes and Sweany, electing Tom Lando and Michael Worley for the posts. They will be seated this month.

Additionally, retired Chico State University administrator Herman Ellis was appointed by the board to fill the post left vacant by former board member Fred Brooks, who resigned after the election deadline had occurred.

Here’s what’s really behind the park closures – more than 21 retirees get over $100,000/year in pension, ex-fire chief gets over $200,000

13 Jul

The following is available at this link:


Name Employer Warrant Amount Annual
ALEXANDER, THOMAS E CHICO $8,947.23 $107,366.76
BAPTISTE, ANTOINE G CHICO $10,409.65 $124,915.80
BEARDSLEY, DENNIS D CHICO $8,510.23 $102,122.76
BROWN, JOHN S CHICO $17,210.38 $206,524.56
CARRILLO, JOHN A CHICO $10,398.98 $124,787.76
DAVIS, FRED CHICO $12,467.78 $149,613.36
DUNLAP, PATRICIA CHICO $10,632.10 $127,585.20
FELL, JOHN G CHICO $9,209.35 $110,512.20
FRANK, DAVID R CHICO $14,830.05 $177,960.60
GARRISON, FRANK W CHICO $8,933.56 $107,202.72
JACK, JAMES F CHICO $9,095.09 $109,141.08
KOCH, ROBERT E CHICO $9,983.23 $119,798.76
LANDO, THOMAS J CHICO $11,236.48 $134,837.76
MCENESPY, BARBARA L CHICO $12,573.40 $150,880.80
PIERCE, CYNTHIA CHICO $9,390.30 $112,683.60
ROSS, EARNEST C CHICO $9,496.60 $113,959.20
SCHOLAR, GARY P CHICO $8,755.69 $105,068.28
SELLERS, CLIFFORD R CHICO $9,511.11 $114,133.32
VONDERHAAR, JOHN F CHICO $8,488.07 $101,856.84
VORIS, TIMOTHY M CHICO $8,433.90 $101,206.80
WEBER, MICHAEL C CHICO $11,321.93 $135,863.16

Total Amount for this Employer
$219,835.11 Monthly
$2,638,021.32 Annually

This list is not up to date – for example, it doesn’t include recently retired city manager Dave Burkland. Burkland retired at $180,865.44, and will recieve 70 percent of that salary in retirement – about $130,000.

These people paid little or nothing toward this retirement, we the taxpayers pick up most of the tab, now, as when they were employees. Right now we pay over 20 percent, while most Chico employees pay 4 percent to nothing. Only the classified staff pay their full share, and they’ve been mowed like spring hay.

We’ve been paying as little as 20 percent of the cost of these pensions.  CalPERS is going bust because they didn’t collect enough money to float these pensions – they told cities, counties, the state itself, and quasi-public entities all over California they’d be able to get most of the money by playing the stock market. That has been a disaster, and now they can’t pay the pensions they’ve guaranteed. They’re saying,  somebody needs to pay more, they don’t care who. They have handed the city of Chico, what was the latest total – a $46 million bill? That is the  unfunded pension tidal wave that is really busting Chico’s balls – not the payroll for emptying the garbage cans at the park.

You can cut and paste this post, print it out, and hand it out to friends, or e-mail it.  I’d be very happy if people would pass this information around, this is really what’s behind the park closures.

Monya Jameson, CARD Rec Superintendent: “We need more ‘worker bees’!”

6 Jun

Today I attended the CARD budget work session to find out that a balanced budget is not necessarily a good thing, not when you balance it by carving your expenditures with an ax. 

Like CARD board member Tom Lando, I was left asking myself, “why would they cut the programs that are actually bringing in revenue?”  Because none of the management are willing to give up their fat salaries and benefits to hire more of the part timers that actually do the work. 

For me the hour and twenty minute meeting boiled down to the last half hour or so.   After Finance Manager Scott Dowell explained the ax-carving that brought the budget back from Outer Space, and the horrors of a flat economy that waited ahead, Monya Jameson, Superintendent of Recreation and Community Services, painted an even bleaker picture. She described the shaving down of the programs for which CARD is supposed to exist, then ended her report by asking the board to re-fill the Senior Recreation Supervisor position they’d left open in order to balance the budget, saying, “I cannot continue to teach a program and manage a department.” 

Jameson started out talking about how various programs under her supervision had grown in the last seven to eight years, bringing in more participants and revenues. In 2005 the “net” program revenue was $210,110, with 27,512 participants in the programs. By 2012, participants had more than doubled, to 58,240, with revenues increasing to $324,540. All this time, staff hours only increased from 14,120 to 21,230.  So, participation more than doubled, and staff hours didn’t double – that is a little out of whack.

Now, due to a new federal law lowering the number of hours worked to qualify for health benefits from 40 to 30, CARD General Manager Steve Visconti is not allowing part time staffers more than 27 hours without approval. Part timers are the bulk of CARD’s work force. They not only mow lawns and stripe ball fields, empty trash cans and clean up vandalism, they supervise after school programs, teach swim lessons, and other activities with hands-on involvement with our children. So, Jameson says, she having to cut the participation in the more popular programs – programs that have “just exploded” over the past year. The “Junior Giants” program, for instance, grew from 300 kids signed up last year to 575 this year. Jameson only has two staffers, one full-time, and one part time to supervise that many kids? She will have to cut that program, and others, “looking at impacting about 555 kids”. 

“We need more ‘worker bees’!” she complained.

I don’t entirely sympathize with Jameson. She gets a $79,900 salary, with pension and benefits paid, while her part time “recreation leaders” and “recreation directors” – the people who actually work with the kids – make less than $10,000 – some less than $1,000 a year – with no pension or benefits. If Jameson would pay her own $5477 share of her pension premium, she could hire another part timer. The employer’s share is over $9,000, and she gets another $10,000 + in “health, dental and vision.” 

In fact, something Jameson didn’t discuss that showed plainly in her Power Point Presentation, was that management positions, just in the recreation department, more than doubled over those years between 2005 and 2012. Of course she didn’t have the figures for salaries and benefits over the same period. 

Dowell and Jameson, along with Superintendent of Parks and Facilities Jake Preston, were doing their best to paint a bleak picture for CARD, with property tax takings, their mainstay, flat-lining.  $112,000/year General Manager Steve Visconti howled about the $350,000 they’d been promised out of the dissolution of the RDA – they were lucky to instead received $80,000, and he wasn’t going to bite the hand by complaining about that, he said. In past years they’ve gotten $90,000 – after the RDA rabbit math, that’s $270,000 to be paid by our grandchildren at a date later announced. 

But nobody wanted to talk about Employer Paid Member Contribution. CARD employees do not pay any of their own share.  The funny thing is, most of their employees are part timers  making less than $5,000/year with no benefits. CARD spends about $4.7 million of it’s reported $6.5 million in revenues on salaries and benefits, most of it for only 30 employees. 

Well, I’d like to talk about this meeting further later, I’ll get back to it. 



What is Tom Lando up to?

5 Jun

Last night we reached a new low with the council’s decision to move forward on the eminent domain of a private property for a bike lane. The worst part is, the owners say they’d go along with these plans if there was adequate compensation being offered, but the city stands by it’s ridiculous offer and holds a club up to the Douglas’ if they don’t agree.

Again, I’ll remind everybody – Tom Varga has admitted this acquisition will allow the city to apply for grants.  Mark Sorensen has said, “As far as the Grant revenue to fuel capital projects salaries… I believe that has at times been too much of a motivating factor.”  And the city is greedy – if they paid for the Douglas’ sewer hook-up, that would probably eat a good deal of the grant they’re after. 

I’m glad Sorensen voted NO on this item, but I don’t know if he sincerely didn’t want to eminent domain this family’s private property or whether he knew it would carry anyway so voted NO for the pleasure of his peanut gallery.  He had expressed a desire for the bike trail to be completed. Like Stephanie Taber said, they should have had all the properties secured BEFORE they started the trail. I believe Varga did it this way on purpose, to pressure any of those hold-outs who didn’t want to go along.  

But I’m not going to get distracted with that item right now. I feel like we need to be looking ahead. This bike trail fiasco went through the approval process years back, I don’t feel like going back through that process, or the bag ban. Let’s just remember who voted which way in a year and a half, when these people are up for re-election.  

What worries me now, is our finances, and what our city “leaders” are planning to do about the lack there-of.  Brian Nakamura and the New Kids on the Chopping Block – Mark Orme on bass, and Chris Constantin on drums –  are on the “Your City’s Up Shit Creek” Tour, with an appearance at City Chambers, this Friday, noon to 1:30. This event is being hosted by the city, as well as the Chamber, the DCBA, and the Chico Stewardship Council.

Yeah, I’d like to be there, but my family has already moved our plans to accommodate a financial opportunity for my son and a CARD budget meeting.  I hope somebody will go down there and fill us in. 

I will be at CARD’s budget meeting Thursday, 3pm, at the CARD center on Vallombrosa. The story in today’s ER says they have a balanced budget, with expenditures actually falling short of revenues – HOLY SHIT! Stop the press!  I’ll try to get photos of he momentous occasion.

Although, I am perplexed – if they can stay within their budget, why this panhandling lately? First they try to get us to agree to some sort of assessment or parcel tax, and when that doesn’t go over, board member Tom Lando tries to shove a SALES TAX HIKE onto the agenda. That’s what he said at the last meeting, that he wanted to discuss a sales tax initiative. The agendas aren’t very descriptive, there’s no report, so I’m going to the meeting to see exactly what comes up in the discussion. 

I could see a link here, excuse me for having a rubber brain. Lando has his fingers in several pies – he is a board member and past president at the Chico Chamber, and also a board member at CARD. As past city of Chico manager, he also consults extensively Downtown. This meeting Friday, sponsored by the city, the Chamber, the DCBA, and Bob Lincheid’s friends at the Chico Stewardship Council, just reeks of a campaign to get us to raise our own taxes. We need to pay attention to these people, because I’ve found, leeches do not like sunshine.



Randall Stone invited to June 2 CTA meeting to discuss city’s fiscal issues

19 May

Chico Taxpayers Association is planning our next meeting for June 2, and we have asked city councilor Randall Stone to come on down and try to answer some of our questions regarding the city’s current financial fiasco. 

No, Mr. Stone and I are not exactly chum buddies, this is strictly business. I know, we’ve gone pretty WWE in past, but we both promise to stick to the issues for this little Q&A. 

I hope people will have some good questions ready, I don’t want to waste this man’s time. If he enjoys himself, maybe we can get him to come back again, and maybe we can get others to come in to speak on these issues. We need to get a conversation going, we need some give and take between the elected and the electorate. City council meetings are a joke. We get three minutes, if the mayor’s of a mind to give it to us, and then councilors get to babble on forever, making personal attacks on speakers and spreading their bullshit unfettered. This meeting is going to be a conversation.   I’m hoping that Mr. Stone will take away at least as much as he brings to the table. 

This Tuesday night, council will be approving the management contracts. Management will be getting an extension of the same sweet deal that’s brought the city to bankruptcy. No, they haven’t used the “b” word yet, because three of them are up for re-election in less than two years. But, it’s hovering, like food poisoning at a potluck party.

No matter how bad they say it is Downtown, management won’t pay their own share. They will continue to pay less than half their “employee share,” 4 of their 9 percent. While we continue to pay the other 5 percent, in addition to our 15  percent. Next year our share goes up to about 22 percent – CalPERS is screaming like a junkie – we tried to make them go into rehab, but they said no-no-no!

Why should they? Their daddies on council think they’re just fine! 

Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense to you – it probably wouldn’t make sense to you to go out into your yard and eat a pile of dog crap either.  

One question I’d like to ask Councilor Stone is why council goes on paying the “EPMC” – employer paid member contribution – the “employee’s share.” I have not been able to get a straight answer on that one from anybody. At the first CARD meeting I attended, I asked CARD board president Ed Seagle why CARD employees pay NOTHING toward their pensions – CARD (we) PAYS ALL OF IT! I asked Seagle WHY, and he gave me that line about “attracting quality employees.”  That’s it, that’s all they’ve got.

Of course, Seagle, like so many of our local elected officials, is a trough dweller himself, having held positions in the state trough, all the way to Fresno, for his entire career. Right now he’s holding down a spot at Chico State – aren’t you glad your kids are being educated by these people? What Seagle could best teach our kids, is how to get their hooks into that trough and surf it for life. Of course a guy like him is not going to shake the boat by demanding that his $112,000 a year manager pay his own pension share, that would be mutiny!

Same for our beloved council. Most of them are in the trough, including Mark Sorensen, the boy who’d like to be perceived as holding his finger in the dike.  I never saw anything like Sorensen’s sudden transformation from a private sector business owner to a public employee. He took the city manager position in Biggs, in addition not only to his duties on council but in addition to running his business where he earns “somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000 a year,” according to his Form 700. Wow, talk about a full plate, excuse me Mr. Piggie! Both those public positions come along with health care packages, and the Biggs position comes with a pension, paid mostly, I’m guessing, by the fine orchard dwellers in Biggs.

Sorensen has got some explaining to do after Tuesday night, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve invited him over to join our meeting, but you know, some people are thin-skinned to criticism. If you want anything out of Sorensen, you have to coddle him, and I don’t do coddling, or windows. 

If we don’t want our town to go on the trash heap with Stockton and Vallejo, we need to do a little finger pointing. We NEED to assign blame, I’m sick of letting people off to do it again. There’s an election in 2014, and we have a chance to change the course our city has been on for too long. Sorensen would like everybody to believe he’s on board, in fact, I believe he expects to be appointed Captain of the USS Shipwreck in a couple of years. But I’ll tell you what Mark – you’ve been signing the contracts all along. How do you explain that? 

The other question I’d like to ask Randall Stone is, will he support the sales tax increase measure being planned right now by Sorensen’s mentor, Tom Lando?  I’m afraid to ask Sorensen.

CARD consultant says bond is a No Go, so Lando suggests CARD pursue a sales tax increase!

17 May

Despite the weird experience I had Monday at the CARD finance committee meeting, my husband and I rode our bike down to last night’s regular board meeting to see what CARD’s consultant had to say about the survey run a couple of months ago.  

CARD was testing the waters for a bond or property assessment, insinuating they would build a new aquatic center and gymnasium when what they really need is a bailout to pay their pension premiums. CARD employees get the same CalPERS deal as the rest of the public sector, and they pay NOTHING toward their own benefits. We the taxpayers pick up their entire “employee share”. Of course, that’s for the management who have benefits and pension – most of the people who actually do the work to keep your parks open and somewhat clean are part time workers with neither benefits nor pensions.

At Monday’s meeting, board member Jan Sneed loudly ranted at me that I was accusing CARD of being dishonest – yes, I am. Read the survey for yourselves – where does it mention the $397,000+ CalPERS side fund payoff, over $350,000 of which came out of the now-empty capital projects fund?  They try to tell us they’re going to build an $8 million aquatic center off of a $20 – $52 assessment?  Maybe Sneed would like to explain why the pension fund pay-off is left out of the survey paperwork?

I guess that’s because these survey people like to, as the consultant from SCI Consulting Group  put it, go at it “blind.” Meaning, they make no attempts to educate the survey respondents, they just ask them leading questions. When I’ve studied the consultants that do these surveys, I’ve found, it’s not set up to find out what people really want or think, it’s set up to lead people into wanting or thinking what the client wants them to want  or think. Got that? It’s part of the consultant’s job, not to gauge a community’s willingness to pay more taxes, but to make them think they’re willing to pay more taxes.

From their website, http://www.sci-cg.com/index.html

“SCI is proud of our industry leading success rate with new ballot measure for funding public agency capital improvements and services.

Part of their service includes “implementing a comprehensive strategy for clearly communicating the issue to the public.”

So, I wish I’d thought to ask this consultant (actually, a very nice woman name of Melanie Lee), “why did you throw up all that stuff about an aquatic center and gymnasium instead of being honest about wanting the money for pensions?” I would think that question kind of answers itself, but Ms. Lee is a professional analyst and very honest and forthcoming – I think her answer would have been interesting.

I did hear what I wanted to hear – she reported that the results of the survey were disappointing. For one thing, they sent out 10,000 surveys and only got about 1800 back. I’d call that a wash, but I remember past surveys that have run with less than 500 respondents, so I won’t discount this one. I just kind of wonder what CARD spent on it, is all – just to send a giant wad of tree pulp to the land fill. 

But for another thing, the surveys that were returned indicated there’s little support for any kind of leech on our property taxes, whether it be a parcel tax, or an assessment. Both came back with less than the recommended amount of support to pursue a ballot measure. 

Ms. Lee also summarized the remarks people made at the end of their surveys – bad economy; recent passage of Measure E, prop 30, and other tax increases; and “government spending”.  

And before she left, she offered the board some great advice –  spend the next couple of years “maintaining and improving the park district”. In the meantime, open up a dialog with large property owners and apartment dwellers – the groups who least supported the idea of a tax.   Above all, she reminded them, “a good campaign starts years ahead.” 

With that Ms. Lee gathered her stuff and headed out the door. Before she was even out of the building, Tom Lando moved that the board consider having the CARD attorney “look into” a “sales tax measure.”  It was as if he missed the consultant’s last words – “the economy, other tax increases, and government spending.” Is he deaf? Dumb? Or really, really smart? 

He brought up the survey he’d run over a year ago, when he wanted the city council to put a sales tax increase measure on the local ballot. He said at last night’s meeting, he’d got over 60 percent approval.  And I guess that sounds accurate – the idiot majority passed Prop 30.

I’m assuming Lando was afraid to run his sales tax increase on the same ballot with Prop 30 – so he thinks waiting two years is going to do any good? Prop 30 raised sales tax to 7.5 – now what, 7.75? 8? 

I know, that doesn’t sound like much. So I have to remind you again what it pays for – for example, the general manager of CARD makes over $112,000 in salary, and we still pay his entire “employee share.” They bottomed out the coffers, of our tax dollars, to pay their pensions. To me, that’s stealing. They’ve stolen from the funds that were supposed to pay for the upkeep and replacement of public facilities to enrich themselves. 

I know my comments weigh heavily on the staff down at CARD, I’m sorry, they think I’m just a bitch. Well, I’d be an idiot to put up with what they’re doing. Steve Visconti, in his closing remarks, wanted to make sure everybody knew, the results of that survey “in no way reflect the way people feel about CARD…just bad timing…”

Then he went on to laud “staff”, meaning himself, I believe, for a recent award from some award givers regarding their website and the transparency of their agency. I must admit, Visconti and finance director Dowell have given me answers to my questions and also documents I’ve asked for. But never once in these “public” conversations has the true reason behind this tax grab come up – they keep talking about needing money to “fund this” or “fund that.”  And when I’ve brought it up in letters to the papers, I’ve gotten attacked. That’s not transparency, that’s a cloud of suspicion, as far as I’m concerned. 

As the meeting was ending up, Lando made one last forceful pitch, even a motion to have his sales tax measure idea brought to agenda, or at least agendized for a committee. I’ll keep you posted – their next meeting is June 5.