Tag Archives: Mark Sorensen Chico Ca

Pensions before streets – business as usual in Chico California

3 Dec

The Finance Committee meeting I attended Wednesday (11/29/17) also included a discussion of “street urbanization fees.” The city of Chico supposedly requires developers to provide or pay for new curbs and gutters in existing neighborhoods whenever they build a new subdivision.

About 10 years ago the city approved a new subdivision in my neighborhood – in a former neighbor’s back yard – and despite the protests of our neighbors, gave the builder “variances” to just about everything in the city code. The result was seven houses where there was really only room for three or four. There is a constant turnover of residents and they all  bring lots of cars. A few days ago we noticed a giant moving van out on the street in front of the subdivision – there is absolutely no place to park a vehicle like that on their own street. In fact, there is no place for garbage trucks to turn around, they have to back out.

This was before the city even discussed “variable rates” for developers – see how they do what they want.

But no improvements were made on our main street, which has become a “feeder” or “through” street for all these little subdivisions that sprung up in Grandma’s back yard over the course of several building booms and busts.

Builder Chris Giampoli, who does a lot of CHIP housing, does not feel he should have to make those improvements when he shoves five CHIP houses into an existing neighborhood. Well, we’re not talking about the entire street, we’re just talking about curbing and guttering the feeder street where his new street breaks in. Giampoli opined that if the feeder is already crapped out, that’s from existing residents, and developers shouldn’t have to pay for bringing the street up to “current standards.”

What Giampoli and his friend Dan Gonzalez are suggesting through their “variable rates” ploy, is that existing residents subsidize their for-profit development business. Giampoli was one of five developers, along with Tom DiGiovanni, who got the permits for Gonzalez’ project at Meriam Park,  named in a lawsuit threatened by CalTrans, over subdivisions being built without fees being collected for the improvements recently made to highways 99 and 32.  According to Mark Sorensen, those developers have never paid fees toward those highway widenings, which their projects necessitated.  So beat it Chris, you been getting a free ride for too long there buddy. You couldn’t survive in the free market, like your dad did, cause you cut corners and build subsidized crap. Dan Gonzalez isn’t going to be able to sell Meriam Park without government hand-outs, and he knows it. These people expect the taxpayers to support them.

Let’s face it – developers bring people to our town, they use our neighborhoods – our town! –  to attract buyers, they should have to invest money into our neighborhoods.  We existing residents already pay for that service, it’s called “property taxes.” Our prop taxes are split 45 – 55 by the county and city,  the city of Chico gets roughly half our property taxes. What they do with it? Cause they sure as hell have not been spending my property taxes on my street.

I took this picture of my street on the way home from the meeting.

So we’ve got developers paying fees, and residents paying property taxes – why do our streets look like this?

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…

The entire street is becoming broken up and the asphalt has separated from the ground – you can hear it rumbling under your tires like old pottery as you pass over.

In Chico, as all of California, the government has been pouring the gas tax and other revenues that were supposed to be used to fix streets and roads into their pensions. At last Wednesday’s meeting, City of Chico finance mangler Scott Dowell said 15 percent of the “street and urbanization fees” collected from developers goes to “indirect costs” which he identified as “CalPERS.”  At the mention of CalPERS there were audible groans around the room, including committee members and $taff. Nobody wants to talk about CalPERS costs down there.

Sean Morgan complained the explanation “didn’t help.”  

City works employee Brendan Ottoboni said that if developers weren’t willing – in fact, I believe they have been threatening a lawsuit, given the little remarks made about letters being sent and meetings being had – Ottoboni says existing streets that are not “feeders” or do not have new projects built on them will be taken off the projects list.  Staffer Steve said they are still working with a list of projects identified in 2009, but never funded. A specific section of Rio Lindo, which Sean Morgan opined is “one of the worst streets in town,” has been removed from the list.

At this point local builder Bill Webb asked a pertinent question – “how do I get my street on the projects list…” Staffer Steve said, “of 14 projects identified in 2009 as FUNDED, 9 have been taken off the list…” for lack of funding.  “We’ve had a lot of requests for projects…” but the city only fixes streets “where there will be problems due to higher traffic” generated by new subdivisions. 

So here we are on my street, where the “current level of service” is, as one woman sitting near me described, “just crap.” My street is a very heavily used through street, new houses have been built every few lots over the last 20 years, and here’s the level of service we get from the city of Chico.

Every now and then a crew comes through and fills potholes with “slobbers” – asphalt left over from jobs in newer neighborhoods. We got that from the guy who was running the crew one day.

Here’s what a patch job like that looks like within a week.

The asphalt they plopped in this old pothole took off on somebody’s tire.

The meeting ended with arguing, it was hard to hear what motion was made and passed. I believe they voted unanimously to “send the urbanization fees to council as described…” Chris Giampoli asked Brendan Ottoboni what would happen if the “urbanization fee” wasn’t approved by council, and Ottoboni answered “our road maintenance will continue to be unfunded.” He added, “new development…new growth…they use existing roads too…they don’t pay for them currently…”

To which Giampoli responded nastily, “people will continue to complain.” I’m not sure which people he’s talking about, but I’m feeling the beginnings of another lawsuit from the development community, one way or the other. We’ll see.  Years ago, Bill Webb’s dad and uncle and a few other developers sued the city for $500,000 in fees that had not been used for what they’d been collected, and won. 

Mark Sorensen, always politically incorrect, called the discussion a “Mexican stand-off.” So, that’s what we’ve got – a stand-off between the  city and the development community, with the good citizens standing right in the crossfire. 

POST SCRIPT:  Here’s an item from yesterday’s paper:

http://www.chicoer.com/government-and-politics/20171203/city-wants-to-improve-accessibility-of-lindo-channel-area

Apparently we have an Americans with Disabilities Act Citizen Committee – mentioned in this report:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=609&meta_id=49208

a year ago, which extensively details our ADA deficiencies and how far behind we are complying with a law passed in 1990. 

I don’t know anything about this “committee” or how it was established, whether the Brown Act applies or what. I’ll have to snoop into it.

 

 

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Calling all Chico Taxpayers…

9 Feb

Lately I feel public and quasi-public workers are launching an attack on the working public to make us pay their ridiculous salaries and benefits whether they are sustainable or not. Not only are city of Chico, Chico Unified, and Chico Area Rec District asking for tax increases in November, but we’ve got a water rate increase and a garbage tax coming around the bend.  The county is also talking about getting rid of the septage ponds at the dump and making a deal to tote our poop all the way out to the city sewer facility west of Chico – if you have a septic tank, you are about to be forced  onto sewer rates.

The common denominator? Unfunded pension liabilities. I got a figure for CARD’s liability – about $1.7 million, and only for a staff of 33 employees.  I don’t have the most recent figure for city of Chico, but Brian Nakamura once quoted about $64 million. And good luck getting anything out of the school district – they’re not there to educate anybody. But I’ll guess their liability would rival the city’s. 

I never asked the county for their figure, but I know it’s bad because for years now they’ve been complaining that the dump can’t support itself. I know, these conversations are so dumb. One minute, they scream they aren’t getting enough trash, and the county has made a deal and the city is working on same deal that would force the trash haulers to bring all of our trash to Neal Road instead of taking it out of the area for cheaper “tipping fees.” Of course, cheaper tipping fees would be good for us ratepayers, but the county needs the fees to pay their salaries, and yeah, unfunded pension liability. 

But in a separate conversation they say the dump is so full they have to take out the septage ponds. Follow your tail, that’s right, just keep  following your tail…

My supervisor, who shall remain nameless right now cause I am too tempted to call her nasty names, tells me this is okay, “we’re not trying to force you on sewer.” But, I told her, if you make that deal with Chico to take our septage to the sewer facility, you are forcing us on sewer, and we’ll be at the mercy of city of Chico and their unfunded pension liability.

Ask Mark Sorensen, he wrote an extensive blog about how the city has pilfered the sewer fund into the red paying salaries and benefits for employees who have never even been on that side of town. Sorensen took that blog off the Norcal blog site after he became a council member, you can’t find it now, wonder why?  Because under Mayor Sorensen city staff has administered a system called “cost allocation” – if an employee attends a meeting in which the sewer is mentioned, their salary and benefits for that meeting are  taken out of the sewer fund. Yep, an administrative version of walnut shells and peas. Watch that pea, Suckers!

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/dan-walters/article55313690.html

Sorensen has made it clear he will not fix the pension problem, instead, holding employee contribution at 9 – 12 percent and  instituting a “step system” for automatic pay raises and promotions.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2016/01/03/public-managemen…ost-per-employee/

For that matter, the county has done nothing to turn their pension liability around. That’s why the weird conversation about the dump, they’re desperate to pay down that pension debt just like all the other public and  quasi-public agencies. They know we need trash service and septic tank owners all over the county are dependent on those septage ponds, and they’re twisting that knife.

Bernie Sanders talks about a revolution – well, you can’t have a revolution if nobody shows up. I’d like to mount a stronger campaign against these grabs, I need some help. 

Do you pay taxes? Of course you do. Do you live in the city of Chico or Chico “area of influence”? That would make you a “Chico Taxpayer.” Get involved. Bring your comments here, or take them to your various elected officials. Tell them you’re a Chico Taxpayer, and you’re fed up. 

I like to quote Arlo Guthrie here, even if he and I would probably never agree on much – but what he said in “Alice’s Restaurant” is absolutely true: “One guy is crazy. Two guys are (politically incorrect). But three guys are a MOVEMENT…”

It’s true, I’ve seen it – politicians don’t listen to one person, unless that person is a BIG donor. They don’t listen to two people. But something magical happens after that third, fourth, fifth person chimes in. Then it’s worth their attention, you might get them to actually DO SOMETHING. 

UPDATE:  I got a note from a fellow Chico Taxpayer regarding the city’s pension liability – as of December, over $99 million. This was apparently covered  in the finance report at the last council meeting, so the exact figure should be in the reports available on the city website. 

Thank you fellow citizen – it’s nice to know somebody is paying attention!

UPDATE UPDATE:  I got a note from another Chico Taxpayer asking about CARD’s staff, what kind of packages they get. I referred them to http://publicpay.ca.gov/

As I looked over the information, I see the employee packages are very inconsistent, spread out over more than 33 employees, but wow – how come some people get packages worth over $20,000 and others get packages worth less than $2,000? I don’t know how that money is divvied up, what they get for it, but I know there is no employee contribution. 

Stay Awake – there are a lot of issues to watch these next few months

8 Jan

What a week. I’ve been busy trying to stay on top of 2016.

People are still angry about the shooting in Paradise, judging from the searches I’m seeing, they want criminal charges for Feaster.  We’ll see where that goes, but it looks like the DA is just going to fall on the ball and lay there.

There are also a lot of searches and hits on information about city contracts, pension deals, etc. People finally seem to be paying attention to the CalPERS disaster, we’ll see if they come to the polls in June and November to do something about it.  If there’s one thing I’d like to see out of 2016 it would be four new faces on city council – four new faces that are not beholden to public employees. I’d like to see Sorensen, Coolidge and Fillmer sitting on that dais with their thumbs up their asses, getting voted down on everything, that’s what I’d like to see.

Did you read David Little’s editorial this morning? Sorry, I still read the Enterprise Record compulsively, it’s like the back of the cereal box, it’s just there.  This morning I was treated to a huge surprise – Editor Little taking on his old buddy Mark Sorensen over the hike in room fees at city hall. Ooooo, do I sense a little rub between the conservative factions? Little seems to be sticking up for League of Women Voters – which is weird, they’ve always been a little to the left, and I had thought Little was such a staunch conservative. Is his wife a member of the League? He acted the same way about Country Day School when his kids were students there – one word against Country Day and Little would go ape.  The guy has no objectivity if he’s got a dog in the fight.

I got a notice from CARD director Ann Willman about an upcoming Aquatic Facility Committee meeting, next Thursday, Jan. 14, 6pm, at Lakeside Pavilion. She also informed me they’d posted the consultant’s presentations for the previous two meetings on the website. Of course she didn’t give me a link I had to search the website.

I have to wonder why these meetings aren’t noticed on the usual page with the Board and Finance Committee meetings, but Willmann won’t answer me  on that. She’s determined to run this AFAC thing under the table. You won’t find any information about who attended or any remarks made by attendees. But, the consultant’s report is pretty damning – over 60 percent of the cost of this boondoggle will be salaries and benefits, and they will never come close to recovering costs through fees. This monstrosity will have to be almost entirely taxpayer supported, by people who will never even drive by the facility. You can see both of the consultant’s presentations here, but these aren’t “reports.”  

http://www.chicorec.com/About-Card/Aquatic-Study/index.html

I’ve probably missed some important stuff here, things are busy, busy, busy.   Other issues I’ve tried to keep track of are the school district’s plans to put a bond on the ballot, the city’s airport management discussion,  the city garbage deal, and the changes at the county dump, but that will take more nose to the grindstone, I’ll keep you posted. 

 

 

Public Management Contracts: “FISCAL IMPACT: The PSM Initial Proposal results in a fiscal impact of $82,994 over two years, or $9,222 average cost per employee”

3 Jan
Here's our next Book In Common

Here’s our next Book In Common

It would be so easy at  this time of year to wrap up in a shawl and retire to a rocking chair with a good book. The urge to hibernate through January is almost overwhelming. But, there’s a council meeting Tuesday, and there’s contracts on the table.

The Public Safety Management proposal is available for viewing here:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=231&meta_id=47812

Read it yourself – they want automatic raises and more benefits. Bend over and squeal like a collective pig Chico taxpayers, as if we could stop Sorensen from handing the candy jar to the employees who got him elected. Go down there and shake your fist at that bad, bad man!

Better yet – let’s put our heads together and figure out who we can find to run against Sean Morgan in 2016. Getting rid of Morgan might restore some balance to the council, right now Sorensen and his little friends are on a tear. They are going to lead us into bankruptcy if we don’t do something to curb the salaries, benefits and pensions they are handing to management employees.

I know, you want to hibernate, me too. That’s the best time to make yourself a monster pot of java and stay alert.

Kern County supervisors vote to formally oppose Cal Water rate hike – what are our local elected officials doing about it?

23 Sep
Kern County Supervisors voted unanimously today to actively oppose a water rate increase by the County’s largest water supplier, California Water Service (CWS).   The action allows the county to officially intervene in a proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission, which is considering CWS’s request to raise water rates up to 19.2% in Bakersfield and 10.5% in the Kern River Valley.

Supervisors said they believe it is unfair to expect these residents to absorb such a large increase in their water budget, particularly since CWS has not offered sufficient financial justification for the rate increases.

“More than half of Cal Water’s Bakersfield and Kern River Valley residents have low to moderate incomes or are senior citizens living on fixed incomes,” Board of Supervisors Chairman David Couch said. “This rate increase would impose a significant hardship on these people.”

Supervisors said they have many questions regarding the need for rate increases that could send water bills for CWS customers in Bakersfield to an average of $1,176 per year and as high as $1,596 on average in the Kern River Valley. The rate increases would come on top of higher water rates approved in 2013.

CWS’ proposal would raise rates incrementally over three years (2017, 2018 and 2019). Its CPUC filing claims the increases are necessary to replace water lines and upgrade facilities in the region, but Supervisors question whether CWS has been providing responsive and effective water service in return for the rates it charges, and they expressed strong concerns about the affordability of the proposed increases.

“The EPA’s recommended affordability threshold for water and wastewater costs combined is 2.5% of income, and the California Department of Public Health sets affordability at 1.5% of income,” Supervisor Couch said. “Cal Water’s current rates in the Kern River Valley already far surpass the affordable level and would climb even higher under the current rate proposal. In Bakersfield, half of Cal Water’s customers have incomes below the federal poverty level, and their water bills will be nearly 50% higher than the affordable threshold if this is approved.”
Couch said county officials will provide formal testimony in opposition to the rate increase later this year.

Rules change for public entities finance reports – how will unpaid Nature Center loan and pension liability affect Chico’s credit rating?

7 Jun

The Chico Creek Nature Center has still not made payments on the $180,000 (plus) loan they got from the city in 2009. They were forgiven the accumulated interest and penalties last year, but still would not pay the loan. When I sat in on the meetings for this item a year ago, I tried to ask questions about their books, trying to make a point that they weren’t running their lucrative daycare operation above boards, and Mayor Sorensen angrily told me, “that’s enough Juanita!” 

When I finally got ahold of their “finance report”, I found it to be some kind of high school style report – no actual figures! And, gee – they spend exactly what they take in, right down to the last zero, isn’t that convenient? But they just don’t seem to  take in enough to pay their bills. 

In this town? A daycare operation that’s not making enough money to pay it’s rent? In the private sector that would mean the end of business, but in the Chico public sector anything is possible. 

Now the center simply wants the loan forgiven, and for the city to fully fund their sketchy operation. 

This was up on Tuesday’s agenda, I couldn’t make the meeting, and now I find that item was just dropped from the agenda, no explanation. I sent a note to the city manglers and I’ll see if they reply.

In the meantime let me tell you what I suspect. Over the last three years the board membership of Chico Creek Nature Center has changed radically. Formerly run by John Merz, Dave Guzzetti and Susan Mason, the center has now been taken over by friends of Bob Linscheid, employees of Chico State and various “economic development” corps. Is that why Mark Sorensen and his minions on council are so ready to now forgive over $200,000 in loan, interest and penalties? A loan that has been hanging on the books like a big booger since July of 2009? 

Below is the excerpt from the Enterprise Record story of last week:

ER 5/31/15

The council will also be considering several options related to a loan to the Chico Creek Nature Center that is currently in default. Options include forgiving the loan with or without conditions, deferring the loan obligation until July 2016, or taking no action and proceeding with remedies in the loan agreement.

The nature center owes the city a principal balance of $181,026.95. In May 2014, the council amended the loan agreement to reset accumulated interest and penalties from July 2009 to April 2015 to zero, to adjust the interest rate from 1.8 percent to 3.42 percent annually from July 15, 2014 forward, and establish interest-only payments beginning with a payment due July 15, 2014.

However, the nature center did not agree with the terms and has not signed the agreement, which caused the loan to fall into default.

If the loan obligation is forgiven, the general fund would be required to reimburse one of the neighborhood parks funds for the current principal balance plus accumulated interest, at a cost of $205,539.71.

The staff report notes that based on the loan’s history and actions in recent years, nature center likely will never be able to repay the loan.

The nature center has requested the city either assume the loan, provide funding to the nature center for visitor services and subsidizing programs for local families, include the nature center in discussions on transient occupancy tax decisions, or become a significant funder of the center. An alternative is for the city to fund the Bidwell Park visitor information services and the center will then begin paying off the loan.

 

When I asked back in April I got this explanation  from Chris Constantin. The city has been bending over backwards for the CCNC board for over a year now. Something stinks.

 RE: CNCC loan activity

4/19/15
To: juanita sumner Cc: Mark Sorensen, Mark Orme, Frank Fields
 
Hello Juanita,

The City is undertaking a review of leases for city-owned facilities.  As you can imagine, there are quite a few with differing terms and conditions.  We will be looking to draft a comprehensive policy to guide decisions we make with City-owned property as well as leases.

As for the CCNC, the City Council in the lead up to the 2014-15 fiscal year, reset their loan to the original principal amount and changed the payment terms.

For the last several years, the CCNC would request a waiver for paying during the year, and the result would be the City would receive no payments and the loan would accumulate additional interest.  Obviously the CCNC could not pay the principal and interest of the original loan, so even if we reset the loan, there was not a guarantee that we wouldn’t be in the same situation.

To make it easier for the CCNC and to provide some payment to the City, with the change to reset the loan amount back to the original amount in 2014, the City requested an interest only amount to be paid quarterly to at least turn a non-performing loan into some revenue.  At the time of the discussion around this topic, a CCNC representative came to finance committee and the Council meetings and while there stated that the CCNC did not want to default on its obligations.

In 2014, the City Manager proposed writing off the loan completely given that this was funding that went into improving our building, but after the CCNC rep’s statements that the CCNC did not want to default on their obligations, the new option discussed above was approved.

While the CCNC did not disagree with the new option, the chose to not sign the agreement implementing the new option.  As a result, the old, original loan is still in effect.  As of today, they are in default of their original loan, and the City, as part of their lease review will deal with non-performing agreements such as this.  I’m hoping to have something out in May regarding the CCNC.

The real problem is that this unpaid loan looks very bad for Chico’s credit rating. Well, if this looks bad for Chico’s credit rating, what do they think that $94 million pension liability is doing to our credit rating? 

According to Pensions and Investments Marc Lieberman and Mark Lasee, “For many public sector retirement plan sponsors, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s new pension reporting rules couldn’t have come at a worse time. The changes, effective June 15 and encapsulated in GASB Statements 67 and 68, mandate that governmental balance sheets reflect unfunded pension liabilities. This has been met with grave concern by plan sponsors.”

Turkey makes you sleepy – try to stay vigilant over the holidays!

24 Nov

With the holiday season bearing down on us, it’s hard to think about our city’s problems, but it’s hardly a good time to go to sleep at the wheel. The employee contracts expire in December – I think that’s on purpose, Folks. They have Tom Turkey and Santa Claus running interference, so they try to get away with a lot of stuff behind closed doors.

If you haven’t seen the new employee contract proposals, look here:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=519&meta_id=42694

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=512&meta_id=42165

I’ll say, the clerk has gotten a little better at posting this stuff on time, but there’s still discrepancies – some meetings are still missing minutes, some are even missing agendas. I don’t have time to snoop into that, but I’m guessing something happened at those meetings she doesn’t want people to know about? Just asking! 

I don’t go to the meetings anymore because it’s just public theater. The real news is in the documents. I used to think it was important to go to the meetings, participate in the soap opera drama – no, that is how you give your “tacit consent.” Don’t let them hand you a pile of crap – do your own digging. I’ve had some comments lately from people who actually read this stuff, and I’ve seen links getting used to important documents off this blog, so I know SOMEBODY is paying attention. 

Thank you Somebody!

I want to enjoy the holidays like everybody else, and the city tends to shut down anyway, meetings go underground, just get cancelled. But, let’s not forget, George Washington mustered his half-starved and freezing troops to attack on Christmas Eve. The Viet Cong made their most successful attack on US troops over their New Year holiday, supposedly the most important holiday in Vietnam. Tet is probably even more significant now than it was before 1968.

So keep your ears open and your eyes peeled, you don’t want to wake up to a hangover in January.