In a polarized America, what could divide us more even further? Unfortunately, Riverside County CA has created a fresh way. In a press release dated April 10, they announced they have added a feature to their mobile app to report violations of COVID-19 related state and county public health orders. They call it the COVID-19 Response. I call it the Bat Flu Fink Feature, or BF3.
Fewer regulations. Lower permit fees. Faster permit approvals. A talented workforce. These are a few of the reasons businesses gravitate to one city over another. They are also the key reasons why in the past eleven years, over 13,000 California businesses have left the state for friendlier destinations in Nevada, Texas, and beyond.
Cauliflower Chickpea Patties. Zucchini & Tomato Lasagna. Crispy Tofu Nuggets. What could make these vegan entrees any less appetizing? A city ordinance that says all movie theatres and sports venues are legally required to serve gag-worthy Vegan dishes like these, whether patrons want them or not.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”
– Nat King Cole
“I have a fireplace in my kitchen that I light every night, no matter what.”
— Alice Waters
“We thought of this as a doable way of trying to get our wood-burning emissions in the Bay Area ratcheted down over time.”
— Wayne Kino, Director of Compliance and Enforcement, BAAQMD
Clashes between evangelical Christians and the gay community are hardly news. Because I think people’s private lives should be private, nine times out of ten, I take the side of the gay community.
There’s a lot not to love about a compost bin: The smell. The fruit flies. The general ick factor. The Seattle City Council has a response to your concerns: Get used to it or else. A little background: In 2009, Seattle passed an ordinance that said every resident, whether a single-family homeowner or apartment dweller, must practice mandatory composting or pay fines. The city delivered 13-gallon composting carts to every homeowner, and currently force them to pay a $5.15 a month pickup charge. They also offer a 96-gallon bin for $9.90/month.
If you think the Federal government has no business managing your healthcare, here’s another takeover you won’t love: Community Choice Aggregation, or greenwashing, as it’s called by its many critics. In either case, it means that local politicians will force you to buy electricity from an unproven new utility company run by… local politicians.
Last night, the Cotati City Council predictably voted to jump on the Sonoma Clean Power train with absolutely no consideration of what a train wreck it could become. The grim fluorescent-lit chambers, which typically have three or four citizens attending, were filled with supporters of this Renewable Energy Credit scheme (REC) from all over the county. To date, only one city of eight in the county, Windsor, had decided to join. Others were wise enough to see that SCP is not ready for prime time, and either voted not to join, or delayed their decision till the facts are clearer.
Very few facts were mentioned by SCP supporters at the meeting. Many emotions were. They ranged from clear contempt for capitalism to teary-eyed hopefulness for a greener future. Even though David Rabbitt, President of the Board of Supervisors, and the city councils of Rohnert Park, Petaluma, and Cloverdale have all voted against SCP and the Press Democrat has raised serious questions about its viability.
What was the biggest concern for the city council? Not the flawed climate change assumptions on which the plan is based. Not the question of what experience the management of the Sonoma County Water Agency has with the complexities of running an electric utility. Not the intrinsic unfairness of forcing customers to convert to SCP automatically unless they “choose” to “opt out.”
As appointed council member turned elected council member turned appointed mayor Mark Landman spelled out clearly, the real question for Cotati was the size of the vote their 1.8% of potential SCP customers would get them in the Joint Powers Authority. I’ve seen buzzards fight over roadkill in much the same way.
From Landman’s preamble, and Vice Mayor Dell’Osso’s weak impersonation of an official performing due diligence, it was clear which way the council was heading, so I left before the cheers and hugging from all the green people. But for those few in this area who still enjoy a side order of facts with their main course of opinions, here is an item from the FAQ section of SCP’s website:
Q. How will SCP help Sonoma County build more renewable energy projects?
A. SCP will develop a detailed plan for renewables later in 2013. The plan will include specific goals for feed-in tariffs, net energy metering, power purchase agreements, Community Solar, project financing pools and other approaches to encouraging renewable energy development. We expect that in 2014, SCP will contract with other public agencies and larger private projects to buy long-term energy supplies, and that by 2015, SCP will provide financial incentives, including a feed-in tariff or a similar program to directly purchase energy generated from local renewable energy projects at favorable rates….
There’s more, but you get the idea. One more time, we’ll just have to pass this monstrosity to see what’s in it.
McAllen, TX is a bit of an anomaly. In a red state, this town of 129,000 just across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico, typically votes Democrat. It is the 20th largest city in Texas, but has the 12th largest retail sales in the state, largely due to shoppers from Reynosa, with its population of close to a million. In the city’s school district, six of its seven commissioners have clearly Hispanic surnames, which may have created the cultural climate that led to this disturbing incident: In September 2011, Brenda Brindson, a 15-year old Texas high-school sophomore, was thrown out of her third-year Spanish class and given an F because she refused to stand and recite the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance as part of a class assignment.
Last week, the weedy little town of Cotati attracted national attention, thanks to three Cotati police officers who were caught on video kicking in a citizen’s door and tasing one of the three residents. It has gone viral on YouTube, with over 250,000 hits.
A casual survey of Facebook comments to the story shows that 60% think it demonstrates pure fascism, 30% think the residents deserved to be tased, and another 10% are withholding judgment since the entire story isn’t clear. I’m pretty much in the latter camp because a lot of questions remain.
What is clear is the way Cotati city staff has paralyzed this little town economically for years. The city’s various shopping centers set a county record for vacancies, from 40% – 70%. Every year, city staff claims that attracting new business is a top priority. But the city imposes anti-business regulations that set new standards for hostility. Recently, a local deli owner wanted a permit to build a small patio outside his door. Months after he applied, a design review committee told him they would make an exception to their rule and allow him to plant three California poppies.
Any private sector employee who micro-managed this way would be promptly sacked. But in Cotati, anti-productivity is rewarded. Seven Cotati staffers have a combined salary/benefit package that totals $1,171,994. They are responsible for a city of 6,800 and City Hall is closed Fridays. City Manager Dianne Thompson receives $213,577 in salary and benefits, plus a leased Prius. To help her manage a total of 32 employees, including ten police officers and five dispatchers, she has a $237,000 Police Chief. She also has a $169,000 Finance Director, a $177,000 Public Works Director, a $138,000 Community Development Director, a $133,000 Assistant City Manager, and a $105,000 Deputy City Clerk. Not counting the police department, these five assistants supervise a total of 11 workers who actually drive trucks, fill potholes, and send out sewer bills.
Cotati’s most egregious mistake was spending well over a million dollars to create a Downtown Specific Plan that would, among other things, revitalize a blighted four-block stretch of downtown. To implement this pipe dream, it would cost $73 million, which they hoped would appear as Federal grants. While the city waited for Stimulus money that never came, they made it nearly impossible for any local business to build anything new in the area.
Oliver’s Market planned to build an $18 million retail complex on Old Redwood Highway that would have been a major improvement to the area. The city’s reaction? After Oliver’s spent nearly $4 million on land and plans, the city proposed to turn this five-lane street two-lane byway, with two roundabouts, only 600 feet apart. The owners walked away from their $18 million project, ensuring that this high-visibility location will be a weedlot for years.
Most recently, the city manager attempted to award a 15-year garbage contract to Redwood Empire Disposal, and excluded rival bidders from the process. Perhaps she was too busy managing all her managers to review multiple bids. At least one local company that was interested in bidding was snubbed, and has collected signatures for a ballot referendum that could cause a civic black eye. The signatures were verified by the Registrar of Voters, but the $105,000 Deputy City Clerk has just declared their petition is invalid because of a technicality.
All this leads to three questions: How indifferent can a city manager be to the citizens who pay her salary? How long will the city council rubberstamp her decisions? Most importantly, when will the voters notice?