Tag Archives: Sutter County Taxpayers Association

Sutter County Taxpayers Association: Open Union Negotiations to the Public!

28 Oct

When Larry Wahl and Steve Bertagna were on council, and sorta friendly to me, I innocently asked them if I could attend the city employee contract talks. Larry immediately said he’d look into it, didn’t see any problem with it. But Steve told me, they couldn’t let the public in – that would compromise the secrecy they used to muscle out these agreements. Bertagna point blank told me: they play the cops against the fire employees, and if they had loose-lipped members of the public in there, the whole thing would blow! 

I’ll give Larry Wahl this much – he said he would try to get me in, but then-city manager Dave Burkland said NO WAY. Nobody else on council made a peep.

One day a couple of years ago – I blogged this – I was on my  way to a meeting in the city complex and I stumbled into the wrong room. I was fumbling with my winter wraps when a very startled Linda Dye (now retired having spiked her salary with a pre-retirement promotion) stood up and bluntly asked me what I was doing in there. Turns out, it was the cops and certain city officials, in there talking cop contract. I excused myself, saying I was looking for another meeting, she got a little more polite, but she told me to leave. 

On my way out I encountered city clerk Debbie Presson and her mate Dani Brinkley shoving a catering cart up the ramp toward City Hall, to the room where the cops were having their meeting. The cart was covered with buns and other snacks. Presson gave me a look like something went up her skirt – she didn’t want me to see what she was doing, she knew it was inappropriate for the city to cater a meeting like that. They dropped snacks at public meetings about 10 years ago, saying it was imprudent to be handing out sugary confections and free coffee,  given the city’s financial situation. 

All kinds of things go on behind those closed doors that are not appropriate, and they will hold  us out as long as we allow them to do so.

In Orange County, the city of Costa Mesa has passed a new ordinance requiring negotiations with city unions to be done in public. I wish I could get some back-up – I would be glad to make such an ordinance for Chico the focus of the Chico Taxpayers Association.

Here’s my shout out to the Sutter County folks – by the way, they sent a delegation to the CPUC PG&E rate increase hearings. Where were you? 

 

from Sutter County Taxpayers Assoc newsletter, available at their website here:

http://www.suttertaxpayers.com/

 

SCTA Says: Open Union Negotiations
to the Public!
A city in Orange County has passed a new ordinance
which is saving taxpayers money. The Civic Openness
In Negotiations ordinance, or COIN, was implemented
by the City of Costa Mesa to require negotiations with
city unions be done in public.
The COIN ordinance requires public disclosure of
traditionally closed labor negotiations between the city
and its public employee unions. COIN allows the public
to see and comment on formal proposals before the
council votes on them.
An article by Stephen Frank in California Political
Review states: “Had COIN been in place from 2000 to
2010, residents would have learned that the city’s three
public employee unions were pushing through major
increases in employee pensions. Pensions were
increased as much as 50%, and increases were
‘retroactively applied’ to each employee’s hire date.”
Costa Mesa now has a $228 million unfunded pension
debt.
A similar event happened in Sutter County. In 2004,
pensions were retroactively raised 35% without the
public being aware of the proposal before it ended up
on the county agenda. And, even worse, the item was
placed on the “consent calendar” which does not allow
public comment unless it is pulled from the consent
calendar which Auditor-Controller Robert Stark tried to
do, but was rebuffed. So here we are 10 years later and Sutter County’s
pension debt owed to CalPERS has gone from $11
million to a whopping $127 million. Yuba City
currently owes $55.3 million to CalPERS. These
debts certainly affect the city’s and county’s
ability to hire adequate levels of police,
firefighters and other employees.
Closed negotiations with county employee unions
this year gave the employees an additional holiday
– Cezar Chavez Day on March 31 — and the entire
week off between Christmas and New Years by
giving employees extra days off that week.
This year’s negotiations with the unions were
done by then Human Resources Director Karen
Ropp. SCTA has gone on record requesting that
future negotiations be done by an outside
negotiator. SCTA has been assured by County
Administrative Officer James Arkens that an
outside negotiator will be hired. SCTA is
encouraging Sutter County and Yuba City to pass
a COIN ordinance requiring that negotiations with
employee unions and organizations be conducted
in public in order to provide complete
transparency and give the public a chance to weigh in.

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

10 Oct

Well, I feel like an American – I just returned about an hour ago from the CPUC hearing on the PG&E rate hike proposal. I feel like an American with a lap full of bullshit.

What did I tell you about these judges? Here we find ourselves with one Jeanne McKinney, Administrative Law Judge, flanked by a court reporter on the one hand, another man who ran the slide show, and a giant bald headed muscle man who was there to enforce the time limit.  

Pick out the security guy.

Pick out the security guy.  He turned out to be a big pussy cat, obviously intimidated by righteous old people.

Judge McKinney introduced herself with this explanation: “My black robes show my commitment to upholding the law…”   She went on to explain the proceedings. The time limit would be two minutes  (even though there weren’t that many speakers signed up).  She promised, “I will not interrupt you,” adding, “everybody should be careful not to interrupt or speak over each other…”  I don’t know if this comes from her training in mediation, or if she’s been to a few hearings where the public has got obstreperous, but she seemed prepared for a riot, being real sweet but firm, like a kindergarten teacher with license to paddle.

I was real impressed with the turn-out, on a workday afternoon, including people who’d driven from as far away as Taylorsville. There was a delegation from the Sutter County Taxpayers Association. I didn’t get to count the attendants, but I’d estimate at least 30 concerned citizens, ratepayers, business and home owners. These weren’t angry protesters, like those who who  came to the hearing in San Francisco last week.

http://sfappeal.com/2014/10/protestors-demand-removal-of-ca-public-utilities-comission-president/

But they were concerned, very anxious, and several of them besides me even angry about the rate “changes” proposed by PG&E.  All of them agreed that the proposal was, as one woman put it, “a slap in the face,” to those of us who’d tried to conserve.

The big news  to me was the announcement, not included in the notice I received in my bill, that these new rates would mean, “high usage customers may see their bills go down and low usage customers may see their bills go up.”  Read that again – I thought it was a typo, but as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the judge read that line several times from the handout.  Our assembly passed a bill behind our backs, “lifting the cap on lower-tier rates…”  And here they come, like Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, to rip off the poor to give cheaper rates to the rich.

What outraged me – and several other speakers mentioned this too – in the handout, which the judge of course read to us almost verbatim, it  says the CPUC’s “Core Principles for Rate Design Proposals” are supposed to “encourage conservation and energy efficiency…”  As Julian Zener, former member of the Chico Sustainability Task Force, pointed out, “this [change] actually incentivizes heavy use…”  He pointed out the social inequity of such a move – social equity was supposed to be a component of the city ‘s Sustainability program, but I sure as hell didn’t see any other members of the STF at the hearing. Maybe they’ll show up tonight at the 6:30 hearing,  and report back to me?

There were other outrages – the spin of this whole thing, the confusing language, the baldfaced contradictions – we really should have been circling that building with signs, we shouldn’t have participated. We should have blocked the driveway and stopped the hearing.  Again we have handed them our tacit consent – all they need is for us to show up at the hearing, so they can say they did their legal diligence in telling us about the hike. 

But, I wanted to vent, and I hoped to see others vent as well. I was not disappointed. Patricia Miller from Sutter County Taxpayers Association was the first speaker – right away I could feel my balls swelling up.  Miller reminded us, one of the rate increase notices we’d received in our bills over the last couple of years was to pay for the fines and infrastructural repairs in the wake of the San Bruno explosion.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2014/09/02/pge-san-bruno-gas-explosion-fine/14979593/

A $1.4 billion fine – handed off to the ratepayers. Miller objected to that, and asked if we ratepayers would also be on the hook for the recent fine given to PG&E for “judge shopping” for these farcical hearings. Here’s the latest article I found – PG&E and CPUC are getting a colonoscopy from the FEDS!

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Federal-prosecutors-probing-PG-E-CPUC-e-mails-5804757.php

I sure hope so anyway. This whole PG&E scam really needs to be investigated. There’s no accountability when the judge’s “prior experience includes serving as senior counsel to an independent energy producer and handling business disputes and transactions at two San Francisco law firms.”  I love the spin – that’s just a round-the-corral-don’t-step-in-bullshit way of saying “lawyer for a energy utility.” I can’t believe they don’t have to be straighter about that, and tell us which one. This woman didn’t deserve the respect we gave her, that facetious speech about her black robes – Jeanne, honey, you should be working under a red light.  

Miller’s husband Chuck stood up next – he poked at the judge, asking her questions about the “green” energy plans Jerry Brown has put in place – have they gone anywhere? He already knew the answer – NO! But the judge just repeated that she was not there to answer questions about PG&E, just the “proceedings“.   Miller was right to bring it up – Governor Brown has mandated  33% of power be generated by “green” sources, and that has raised our rates with no real results. We’re still on the grid, we’re still paying for power shipped in from who-knows-where at what “real cost.” Judge politely answered that she couldn’t answer his questions.

Even with the outrages we were hearing, people continued to be polite. The third speaker, Paul Sullivan from Chico, complained that “raising prices on the low users – people who struggle to pay $150 bill – we feel that would be detrimental…”

Speaker after speaker complained that the new rates would be onerous for the poor.

Speaker after speaker complained that the new rates would be onerous for the poor.

Bill Brattigan came all the way from Taylorsville to attend. He joked that rate increases are good for him, he owns a solar business! Solar is getting cheaper, he says. He says, changing the tiered structure to give lower prices to the high users is hardly going to motivate people to go onto solar. He’s right – the new tier structure will reward high users, and punish low users. So why would anybody make the switch to solar? Furthermore, PG&E screws solar users – they give them 4 cents a kilowatt hour and then sell that for 35 – 50 cents. 

Several speakers complained that the pricing changes  would not be conducive to conservation, which is a core principal of the CPUC.

Several speakers complained that the pricing changes would not be conducive to conservation, which is a core principal of the CPUC.

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name of the next speaker, an 88 year old woman from Oroville, who complained that rates just keep going up, without explanation. When her bills for herself and her disabled vet son started climbing over $500 a month, folks at PG&E set her up on the CARE program – which currently cuts your bill by about 44 %.  But a few years later, they raised the maximum income, and she became ineligible, and “the bills started coming in again…”  She made a point that a couple of others had made – when they bought their house, years and years ago, they were told that they would  be paying some fees to set up infrastructure. But this woman says she’s seen housing fill in all around her, the infrastructure has been built and running for years, but those charges have not disappeared from her bills. I’ve seen many notices in which they say the charges will only last for a year and a half maybe – but my bill never goes down.  

Whose bill has gone down? Anybody?

Then this lady really dropped a bombshell – she was nervous by this point, they had  the red digital clock on the front table, ticking down the time. This lady used to work for Butte County Assessor’s office, she lived here in the 1950’s when Oroville Dam was built. She reported that the Dept. of Water Resources was talked into building all of PG&E’s infrastructure, it’s all on public property, and they pay no property taxes on this property that generates out power.  She said the assessor (gave no name) was upset that the property would be taken off the tax rolls. We all pay taxes on our homes, but PG&E pays no taxes on the property with which they generate billions of dollars a year. 

She left the podium telling everybody she’d only recently started reading “these little slips of paper” that come with her bill. Wow, did she feel taken, and encouraged everybody to be more vigilant. Thank you very much 88 year old lady, you kick ass. 

I was glad to see Julian Zener and Grace Marvin appear. Those two have really brought up some nuisance bullshit before Chico City Council – Zener was a member of Ann Schwab’s Sustainability Task Force, by which the city gave PG&E a golden ticket to screw  every resident of this town, in exchange for a $400,000 grant that was parceled out to members of the task force. I’m so sick of this corruption Downtown, I was surprise to see these two stand  up on their hind legs and bitch out PG&E. Zener pointed out the “discrepancy” between the CPUC’s stated goal of conservation and their new “rate changes”, as well as the social inequity of charging poor people more for energy than rich people. Then he pointed out a “discrepancy” between what PG&E will tell you on the phone and what they say on their website, regarding the details on solar power pricing. 

Grace Marvin described her efforts, time and expense that went into an energy analysis of her home, the lengths she has gone to to save money, the “thousands” she spent installing solar power – all for naught. Her family got WRAM’d as soon as the savings started rolling in. Remember WRAM is how they collect more money off you if you don’t use enough energy. “This doesn’t make sense,” she said, “it’s like a slap in the face.”   I must agree with her.

Mary Laprad came up to remind everybody that PG&E is a business. Businesses should roll expnses into their business operations, not pass them onto their customers. She described the rate increase notices as “continual. People who try to conserve are perennially hit with rate increases…”  If you pay attention to your bills, you see she’s right.

Beef farmer Marv Freeman (who may be a relative of mine, I will have to look him up) stood up to say PG&E drove him out of the dairy business, and now they charge him a $200 a month fee for each pump he runs to water his grass and his steers. Like me, Marv can’t just pass his expenses on to his customers, he just has to swallow these bills and go on. I can’t raise my rents just because my bills go up, and Marv can’t get more for his beef, his customers will walk away along with my tenants. He really summed it up good – “PG&E is too big to go broke, but I’m not…

Another man who came from the Sutter area was Robert MacLared. He was very nice, but reminded the judge, “No request from PG&E ever gets turned down…”  He also complained that changing the tiered rate would discourage conservation – “rates just keep going up.”

Then a local mobile home park owner, Larry Elliot, stood up in his work clothes, obviously a busy man. He had  humdinger of a problem – he has to pay his tenants’ PG&E bills, because it’s one big hook-up. He is not eligible for CARE, but has to give CARE rates to his tenants. So he is subsidizing his tenants’ power. Of course he can turn around and collect it back in their rent . Think about that Dummass, and get back to me – you can only squeeze so much out of people who can’t afford to live anywhere but a trailer park. So, they’re lowering the CARE payment from 44 to 32 percent – WHOA somebody has tied NELLY to the tracks! 

The notice I got said they were lowering CARE, but didn’t say how much.  The handout we received  said it would go from 44 to 32 percent. I think they will also close the orphanage and send a couple dozen old  ladies to a work house. 

That was the end of the public comment. The judge had kept her promise – even when speakers, including myself, went overtime, she didn’t say anything. I’m proud to say, I was the first speaker to shove that two minutes bullshit right back up her ass, and  I just ignored Mr. Ape (who was never introduced so I had to make a name for him) when he tried to eyebrow me off the podium.  After I sat down, the judge sent him out of the room to get this big red card that said “Time Up”. But the other speakers just ignored him when he’d hold it up. Almost everybody went over two minutes. 

But the hearing was  still over in under an  hour. What nerve she had to limit our comments like that, a whore of Babylon like her. I told her I wasn’t too happy about paying her pension, either, and she just sat there like she was getting an enema.

While I did see a few familiar faces, I didn’t  see one councilor or council candidate, I didn’t see my county supervisor, or any of our “local leaders.” I saw true leaders – if the public will lead, the leaders will follow.

As we were leaving I recognized former city council candidate, Chico businessman Ali Sarsour. Mr. Sarsour is a regular attendee at a lot of meetings, but he keeps his tongue. I have no idea what he is thinking, I wish he would speak up, I think he knows a lot of stuff. As we left the parking lot I noticed the bumper sticker on his car, “Democracy is not a spectator sport”.