The city is out $900,000 a year – oh look! The Nature Center owes us $800,000! Problem solved!

Tomorrow night,  the city is poised to do two completely contrary things: first they will vote to collect $900,000-plus a year off taxpayers by RAISING YOUR UTILITY TAX, saying they are broke and need the money to pay salaries. Then they will turn around and hand it to the Chico Creek Nature Center.

Okay,  it’s not THAT simple, but you can follow along. See, over 5 years ago, the city made a deal with Tom Haithcock and Dave Guzzetti and John Merz to loan the Nature Center, a PAC run by the aforementioned people and their friends, EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS to build the Taj Majal in the Park – a new “learning center” to which only Nature Center personnel hold the key. This building is not even open to the public. It is used by the NC to run a “school” by which they also suck in a good hundred grand a year, by my estimates. They’ve never been asked to show their books.

In addition, we taxpayers have been paying Haithcock’s $50,000+ salary and benefits  all these years with Community Block Grant Funding money.  This is the same pot they take out of to pay for garbage like “Artoberfest”. 

Well, the city started to cut the grant funding – down from $60-something-thousand to about $42,000 a year. So, Haithcock was faced with fundraising his own salary – like every other “non-profit” – or he could quit. If you know Haitcock, you were not surprised when he quit. He tried to go out like the Lorax, but when he stamped his foot, he just ended up standing there looking like a big spoiled brat.

Well, they hired a new front for their operation – Courtney Farrell – who is going before the council tomorrow night to ask that the loan payments be deferred, AGAIN. In the five or so years since they took $800,000 from the city pot, they have not paid one red cent, not principle or interest. But every year they take CBGF money to pay their director, because they can’t get enough support in the community to pay her salary. And benefits, yeah, she gets benefits. You pay for it.

I took my kids to the Nature Center “camp” before Haithcock took over – it was nice but not really worth the $50/week for  a half-day price tag. A full day was $80/week. That was over 10 years ago. Now they charge $135 for a week!

 Those camps were full, and in passing, I see they still get plenty of kids. But they are not being asked to present these figures – Haithcock got away with a hastily scrawled list of half-baked figures – and in his case, I think the word “baked” is applicable – he was just handing them amounts, I wonder if he even knew exactly how much the center was taking in and how much it was spending.  Nobody pressed him for his tax filings or anything like that. He just made the shit up and handed it over, and they patted him on the head and handed him 10′s of thousands of your money. 

So, here we go again. They want to raise your phone bill to hand money to their friends. 

Council to discuss ripping us off on our phones and computers

This next Tuesday, May 1, council will get a report from the city attorney of an ordinance that will allow the city to take a 4.5 percent tax on your phone and messaging devices – on local and interstate calls, text messaging, voice over internet – even PAGING.

The report is available now at this link:

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/5-1-12CityCouncilAgendaPacket.pdf

It’s there, just keep digging all the way to the bottom. They aren’t going to make it easy to read these agendas, you know. 

I’ve asked the city clerk for a cut and pastable copy so I can share the pertinent points here. In past, she’s told me, she can’t give it to me in a cut and paste version, because I might edit it when I post it! As if, I can’t edit it when I type it in – what a pile of horseshit! I don’t know why the clerk’s office plays these little games – well, yes I do – $taff doesn’t want us to see this stuff. They don’t want us to know, they’re about to rip us off for about $900,000 a year off our phones and computers.

I’ll work on getting the report here, but in the meantime, it won’t hurt you folks to go to the city website and read the whole thing yourself.

And don’t forget, it’s time to get your Utility Tax rebate. I’m waiting for my April bill from PG&E, and then I’m going in. I only have PG&E to collect, so I’m getting about $50.  That’s a trip to the grocery store, with some Shuberts money to spare.

Could we get some objective reporting down at the Enterprise Record?

 Sometimes diplomacy is the best policy. 

But I stand by this much:

Why, oh why, is Greg Welter  allowed to write “news” pieces for the Enterprise Record? 

Today’s piece is an another example of yellow journalism – that’s “news” that is slanted to make the reader have a certain opinion – only give them some of the facts, and make sure to inject plenty of your own opinion. That’s Welter.

Ironically, Maloney was recently forced to cut overtime and make assignment changes in the department that threaten to cut the legs from under Volunteers in Police Service, one of the city’s most efficient law enforcement tools.”

This is not a fact, it is Greg Welter’s opinion.  And, his language is vitriolic, trying to get people mad about the cuts to the cops.  
But it’s not really a cut in public safety – VIPs isn’t that important to public safety,  I’m sorry – they’re just out there messing in people’s business and getting in the way, giving nonsense legal advice while blowing $4/gallon gas all over town. Some of them should not drive cars, I’ll tell you that from the seat of a bicycle.
What VIPs really is, is an overtime cash cow for members of Chico PD. “Recruits” are required to attend an “academy” for 16 weeks, taught by who?  
“While there are no plans to eliminate the 16-week academy, Dye said its future could be jeopardized by a shortage of police personnel available to teach the classes. “Most of the academy classes are taught by officers, dispatchers and community service officers working on overtime,” Dye said.”
So, they’re threatening to rip the Granny cops off the streets if we keep insisting on cutting their overtime. That’s all we get out of Chico PD – threats. 
Well here’s a threat for you little PIGGIES – BANKRUPTCY! Just hold that up to them like garlic to a vampire, and watch them shrivel and run. They don’t care about “public safety,” they just care about their paychecks.  

Chico Fire Chief closes Taj Majal #5 – should be interesting!

I suggested the Chico Fire Department reorganize, instead they have turned on the taxpayers like a bad pit bull.

Oh, sure, close the most expensive and highest profile station in town – “we’ll show them!” That’s the kind of genius, integrity, and above all, loyalty, that is attracted by these salaries we been paying.

But, it’s our own fault. We elected the city council, and they made the contracts that allow the chief to make budget decisions. He’s supposed to put out fires, instead, he wields the budget ax, swinging extra wide and sloppy when his department doesn’t get the funding levels he wants.

I think Chico Fire  heard the answer to Tom Lando’s survey – HELL NO, WE WON’T PAY MORE! – loud and clear. I think they’re pretty mad about it. They think they will punish us.

I think we’ll all find just how necessary they are. Look around Folks – any burnt out houses in your neighborhood? Not lately? Not as long as you remember?

Take a look at the Chico Fire logs sometime.  When I saw them, I was amazed at the number of false alarms.  I was also amazed that when they responded to a false alarm at the EV Free Church on Filbert Ave, they spent four hours helping to clean up wet insulation from a sprinkler malfunction.

Firetrucks with crews of two to four “technicians” routinely follow ambulances, as if they are of any service.   I”ve been told they often help carry patients – WHY?  Why should the ambulance companies, who charge dearly for their services, get free escort and labor from the City of Chico, paid for by YOU?

Chico Fire performs a variety of busy tasks simply in order to look busy.  That might be okay for a $50,000 a year worker, but we’re paying too many of these people $100,000 plus to buzz around town making themselves look useful when they’re just blowing fuel out their tail pipe.

I think the chief has made a big mistake.  At a time when more and more people are questioning the salaries, overtime and pensions these “public servants” are racking up, it’s ill-advised to play these little games.  The taxpayers just might find that they can fend pretty well without Station 5.

A friend of mine suggested calling the Fire Department at their office Downtown to let them know what we all think of the closure of this brand spanking new station, built during The Boom at ridiculous expense. Do you love that tower on top – I guess that’s for the days when electronic communication breaks down and they have to light a lantern to signal the other stations. Couldn’t they have their office in that? No, they have an office Downtown, $taffed all day by people who have nothing to do with serving you – they instead serve themselves. In fact, according to the message I got when I called, they serve themselves lunch from noon to 2pm! How nice!

That phone number is 897 – 3400. There is a message machine, be firm but nice, and speak clearly.  Let them know what you think of this ploy – do they really think they’ll scare us into increasing sales tax three quarters of a cent to pay their pensions?

Tell them what I told them – I think that location would be perfect for a coffee shop and a little store!

Chico is NOT bicycle friendly

What a lame editorial in Today’s ER. “Only one fix for crash statistics”? Oh, really. Spoken by a person who uses their car like an extension of their butt.

Yes, you heard it, Chico is one of “the worst” cities  in California for bike vs car accidents. And here’s a little something else – five pedestrians died in Chico in 2010 – and you probably only heard about the lady who was mowed by a dog-wrestling pothead while jogging on a country highway with her back to oncoming traffic. Four other pedestrians were killed by cars that year – anybody got any idea who they were? I don’t remember reading about five dead pedestrians in 2010. Did the ER report those accidents? Anybody?

I ride my bike alot around town. I encounter some strange car behavior. My favorite is when they speed up to cut you off with a right turn instead of slowing down until you cross the intersection they’re after – I’ve stopped many times to avoid running into these people, and one of them almost hit my kid right in front of me.

And then there’s the red light runners. Did you know, the fine for running a red light in Chico is less than $300? But it’s $472 for riding your bike the wrong way a block – I got that from the Butte County Superior Court case index.

One bike vs car fatality I remember very well is the death of Christine Girton over at 20th and MLK Parkway. She was determined, by the experts down at Chico PD,  to have had the right of way, but this guy just gunned her down anyway. He was not charged with ANYTHING – the general attitude we got from the cops was,  what was that woman doing on a bike in that intersection? 


I feel the editor reflects the general attitude of this car-driving town in his editorial – bikes need to get out of the way. There’s waaaay too many! I feel, if the editor rode a bike once in a blue moon, or even say, read the study on which he is reporting, he might have a different point of view.

Here’s the link to that report:

http://www.ots.ca.gov/Media_and_Research/Rankings/default.asp

The California Office of Traffic Safety ranked cities by size, so that we are compared to cities with similar populations. We are ranked at  8 in the number of miles traveled by bike, out of 103 cities in our group. That means, we are not number one in the number of miles traveled by bike, but we are close to Number One in the number of bicycle accidents. Davis, California, also a  college town, has more cyclists but less accidents – go figure!

We only rank 35 out of 103 cities as to number of miles traveled by car. Look around you – we don’t have as much traffic as bigger cities, but we have a higher ranking than some in bicycle vs car accidents.

Editor heard the story and blopped out his editorial opinion that bike riders are at least as responsible for these accidents as car drivers. I say, get on your bike Editor. Ooooooo, no more drive thru coffee! No more ragin’ tunes! Just you, and the car drivers. I’d like to hear about that, I don’t need any more crap about bike riders from some phlob who uses his car like a body part.

Here are some videos of people cycle commuting in cities all around the US:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSvB6yfgkM8

Ann Schwab likes to tout her “bicycle city”.   Hah!    This is something we must not allow her to do this November, we need to remind her, CHICO IS NOT BICYCLE FRIENDLY! 

We need to take issue with the economy this November

This morning Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters tells us Stockton is not the only California city in financial distress.

Well, you don’t say!

Read more here:  http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/16/4416349/dan-walters-stockton-not-only.html#storylink=cpy 

Guess where he’s describing here:

“City officials borrowed and spent heavily … in hopes of resurrecting a woebegone downtown, and simultaneously boosted their employees’ salaries and fringe benefits.”

I know, sounds like Chico, but he’s talking about Stockton. 

How about, “was seeing a surge of sales and property taxes from a housing boom and the city’s politicians and administrators wagered, in effect, that it would go on forever.  When the bubble burst, it was left with more debts and operating costs than it could afford.”

Yep, again sounds like Chico, again, Stockton.

 Walters is describing  government entities that “have consistently overspent revenue – even when the economy was booming – with chronic budget deficits the inevitable result.”

He adds, “A number of school districts have been listed by the state as being in fiscal distress, some facing the prospect of state receivership.”

He quotes one city official talking about an “increasing deficit in the budget, terming it ‘crisis mode’ that could require privatization of some city services, layoffs of employees and new taxes to relieve…complete devastation of city services, including public safety…”
This should all sound familiar – if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve heard all this said at our City Hall over and over for the last four or five years. We’ve been going deeper into deficit and debt year after year, and now we’ve lost our credit card (they call it the RDA). 
Walters  reminds us, “there are no indications of a new boom” to save us. 
Bob Evans spoke at yesterday’s Tea Party rally, and recalled that in the year and a half he’s been on council, despite his requests to agendize the matter, there has been no council discussion regarding economic development. He, Ann Schwab, and  Mark Sorensen are working on the “Mayor’s Business Council.” This board is not listed on the minutes/agendas page but I heard Ann mention it one day in a Sustainability Task Force meeting.  But, she told me, the  only “local businesses” participating in that council are PG&E and Cal Water. 
I know Evans has been trying to bring about a discussion about how we can “help” business. I guess we need to start by defining what we mean by “help.” I don’t want to go back to the days of Big Business, running things, getting by without minding the rules, paying government off to shut-up – which is just what PG&E’s $350,000 + in grants have looked like to me over the last couple of years. I don’t see them expanding their work force in Chico, Cal Water neither.  Maybe someone can enlighten me there. 
What I have noticed, in my research regarding starting up a small business in Chico, is that this is a no-win proposition.  The city is only interested in computer tech companies, they have no interest in helping Mom and Pop. Mom and Pop are squeezed like turnips in Chico. Mom and Pop are not wanted – the government wants companies with employees – companies who pay payroll tax. Mom and Pop don’t really employ anybody – oh gee, except themselves and their kids –  so screw them. 
When I complained at a meeting, Scott Gruendl told me to go to the Butte County One Stop center, but I could tell by the look on his face he knew what I already knew –  they only offer help for employers. They don’t care about Mom and Pop either. 
If I’ve heard it once lately I’ve heard it a million times – and I believe it – small companies, including Mom and Pops, are the only hope for our economy. They don’t take much money to start up, oftentimes nothing but “sweat equity”.  They  stimulate spending locally – they offer cheap services their neighbors can afford, and they turn around and spend the money they make in their own community. When they expand, they are far more likely to hire locals than big companies who can afford to recruit outside of town and  re-locate people. 
Here is a link to the city Economic Development website:
The first thing I notice, is they list businesses that are now defunct – like Green Feet. I also question the number of employees they list for some of these companies, and wonder, do they mean, in toto? I know one of the companies they list, with 35 employees, do most of their operation in Gridley and only employ a half dozen or so in Chico. And they didn’t hire them in Chico, they brought them in.
Some of the companies I see listed as major employers depend heavily on seasonal workers, mostly Mexican nationals.  The numbers listed are only seasonal numbers, and they aren’t even locals. 
At the Tea Party rally, Bob Evans again mentioned the many companies that have left town over the last couple of years. The local papers don’t do stories  about the local economy – the bike race that didn’t bring in any tourist dollars took up the front page, no mention of the economic discussion that was taking place Downtown at the Tea Party rally yesterday. 
We have to make the economy an issue with these people.  It needs to be the biggest issue in the November election. 

Wow, where can I sign up?! City manager position sounds sweeeeeet!

Compensation
The City of Chico offers a competitive compensation and benefits program. The base salary for this position will
depend on qualifications (but is anticipated to be in the maximum range of the former incumbent who was paid
$180,500 annually). The excellent benefits program includes:
♦ Retirement: CalPERS with an enhanced retirement formula of 3% @ 60. The City pays the employer share
and 4% of the employee share. Employee pays 4% of the employee share.
♦ Medical, Dental and Vision Insurance: The City offers five different medical plans and contributes a significant
portion to the premium of the selected option. There is one dental option and the City pays 75% of the
premium. City provides the cost for vision insurance.
♦ Vacation: Will be accrued at the rate of 3.08 hours on a bi-weekly
basis.
♦ Management Leave: 96 hours annually.
♦ Holidays: 11 holidays annually.
♦ Sick Leave: Accrual at the rate of 8 hours per month.
♦ Life and Long Term Disability Insurance: City pays the premium for
both insurance plans.

Bill prohibits use of “payroll deducted funds” – union dues – for political purposes

I have been looking over the Secretary of State’s website, here:

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/qualified-ballot-measures.htm

very interesting.  A page that tells us what initiatives are headed our way on the June and November ballots.

One item that catches my eye, since we’ve been on this subject lately, is a bill that prohibits political contributions by payroll deduction, and also restricts contributions to candidates by public employee unions. WOW!

Currently, the Chico Police department, represented by the Chico Police Officer’s Association, their union,  has a contract with the city of Chico by which the city deducts union dues from police paychecks, whether or not that officer or police employee wants to be a member of the union. That union money has been used in past as the single biggest donation in our local elections, or it’s been used to manufacture election materials that pressure candidates and current council members to go along with the police department’s constant financial demands:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK9DKRUxq-o&context=C4ae7f85ADvjVQa1PpcFMuWOOzfv33Ci6RTga076UJ6acq7LlB2mE=

That video was made with money conscripted from the paychecks of every police employee and given to the CPOA, regardless of their affiliation with the CPOA PAC.  And yes, city $taff time is used to do the bookkeeping. In other words, the CPOA, a PAC,  gets public $taff time for free to handle business they should pay for out of their own funds. And they should have to pay the benefits and the pensions that go with the salaries.  Oh well. Hopefully this bill will make the whole thing illegal.

Here’s the analysis from the union members in the State Legislative Analyst’s Office:

Restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Same use restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees. Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition. Limits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government:Increased state implementation and enforcement costs of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, potentially offset in part by revenues from fines.

Does this analysis seem biased to you? How about that last part? 

 Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government:Increased state implementation and enforcement costs of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, potentially offset in part by revenues from fines.

Hmmm, this doesn’t sound right to me. In fact, it sounds like they’re saying, “you’ll spend a bunch of money trying to enforce this, because we’re not going along with it.” 

I will make some phone calls – I’d like an explanation of how they came up with that “hundreds of thousands of dollars annually…” crap. I’ll keep you posted.

You realize, the SEIU gives millions in campaign contributions – they were the single biggest contributor to the “No on Measure A” campaign – the California Nurses Union was number two? Why in the heck would nurses care when we hold our local elections? To me, that says, we were headed in the right direction with Measure A. But it also says, we need to end the union stranglehold in our state with some “right to work” legislation. This bill is a start. 

Police to “reorganize,” fire department should follow suit

We’ve been having a lively discussion about salaries and overtime in the police and fire departments. I’ve said, both departments need to be reorganized. Here’s an idea from Chico Taxpayer’s Association president Casey Aplanalp:

Letter: Be realistic about city fire costs
Chico Enterprise-Record
Posted: 04/05/2012 12:03:13 AM PDT
Retired fire apparatus engineer Todd Mead defends the system and heaps the praise on Chico firefighters. I agree that they’re well qualified, passionate and willing to endure “brutal work conditions” that include sleeping and playing video games through a 48-hour shift. Mead assures us that they’d provide professional service, even if Juanita Sumner’s home were on fire. Awesome.
Unfortunately, he presents the old false dichotomy: Either hire more personnel, or pay more overtime. That trap only works if there’s no alternative, but there is.
He invites pundits to research, so here’s what I found: Chico is locked into a five-year contract with the firefighters union, and up for another five next year. The city must renew because there’s a caveat: The union requires three years notice if the city doesn’t plan to renew, which means we’re on the hook for another $67.5 million.
The alternative is to switch to a volunteer fire department. We could keep all the stations open, maintain equipment, provide training and fire protection at a fraction of the cost. I’d volunteer, and I bet those who “will never lose their
passion for protecting our city” would too.
We need to quit listening to cheerleaders for the nepotistic firefighters union and get real.
— Casey Aplanalp, Chico

Meanwhile, Chico Police interim police chief Kirk Trostle has announced plans to reorganize the police department – about time Kirk!

According to yesterday’s Enterprise Record, Trostle claims he will “reduce Police Department overtime while adding to the number of officers available for patrol duty.”

How? Well, he’s reassigning people who have been paid full salaries and benefits for stuff like talking to the news cameras and organizing Neighborhood Watch groups. I’m sorry, I can’t believe these were full-time positions. These people will now be moved onto patrol, which is what cops are supposed to do in the first place.

Of course, he also threatens to get rid of the team that investigates traffic accidents – gee,  I didn’t know we had such a team – last I checked, Chico PD was refusing to investigate non-injury accidents anyway. This has meant people in Chico pay more for car insurance, but that has never been a concern of any Chico police chief.   This announcement is just a little jab from some people who’ve been called on the carpet for bad behavior.

Trostle is not through with his plan, and doesn’t tell us how many officers he thinks will be reassigned, but I’ve already seen more cops cars jamming around town. We’ll see if that’s an improvement in service or just lip service. We’ll see how it affects the overtime figures. He still won’t promise better service, predicting “it’s likely that responses to nonemergency calls will still be delayed.”

Well, we’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, Mike Maloney retires later this month, on his 50th birthday,  at over $150,000 a year, plus health benefits.