About two years ago I was asked by my local city councilman Larry Wahl to serve on the city of Chico “sustainability task force”. I was initially enthusiastic, but the talk soon turned away from alternative energy solutions that I embrace, to getting a city wide inventory of carbon emissions. The task force, chaired by Vice Mayor Ann Schwab didn’t seem the least bit interested in solutions, but focused on tallying carbon emissions in town. That effort didn’t make a lot of sense to me then, since it gained the city nothing.
Now I know why, it was a prelude to taxation followed by wanton spending. They had to inventory to know how to tax. The “greenhouse gas” report they issued on September 2nd of this year had a number of oddball fees, taxes, giveaways, and edicts, such as a city wide gasoline tax, and even free electricity handouts to city employees for sustainable commuting. All of this while we are in an economic downturn and city financial crisis. This is why I can no longer support Ann Schwab, even though I worked with her.
There is a backstory to my involvement with this, but first things first, here is a copy of the sustainability task force “work plan” from September 2nd.
The local newspaper also did a story on the preliminary report, but not on the work plan from the link above.
Most important to note is that while my name is on this report, I had no hand in it whatsoever, as I was unceremoniously booted off the task force on December 20th, 2007 by vice mayor Schwab who sent me a letter advising of my termination. The reason? Attendance. But this goes to show how messed up things are with this task force, as they could not even get my termination straight and had me listed as a member 9 months afterwards.
For the record, there is little in this report I agree with and my name should not be on it. Two weeks ago I sent an email to Vice Mayor Schwab and the City Clerk Debbie Presson asking that my name be removed. No response.
When I was on the task force I had the distinction of being one of the few people that actually walked the talk, as I had put solar on my home and a local school, plus I drive an electric car (though I’ve since upgraded to a newer model electric).
No matter, I wasn’t well liked because I really didn’t want to play the carbon emissions tally game, preferring solutions instead. So I’m not surprised that Schwab booted me off when she had the chance.
The task force was made up of a few people like myself, that ran businesses in town, but the vast majority were city employees, university employees, and other publicly paid people. The meetings were on Mondays in the middle of the afternoon. People like me that run businesses found it hard to attend, because with us lost time at work means lost revenue, City and university employees don’t have those problems. Prior to my dismissal, another local businessman, Lon Glazner, voluntarily left because he had the same issues.
OK, enough about why my name is on the report, and why it tends to be public employee centric rather than more representative of our community makeup.
First there is the cost: $30,000 which went to a university employee (already on the public payroll) to produce this report. Another consultant fee in the same cozy city-university sustainability circle of friends. They did no outside bid advertisements that I’m aware of, they just picked the university “sustainability guru” to do the job.
Let’s look at some of the suggested “community reduction” actions in this report presented by Schwab and her task force:
- A suggestion to pay city employees to give up their parking spot.
- Require energy audits on residential units at the time of sale.
- Increased fees on waste disposal.
- A local gasoline tax to generate local revenue.
- Forcing a lights out policy on local businesses after hours
- Free electricity and free parking for city employees that drive electric vehicles
- Free or reduced cost electricity and parking for citizens that drive electric vehicles
You can find these items in Appendix C of the report, near the end under “Community Reduction Measures” which are designed to meet a carbon emissions target.
Here’s an interesting graph from the consultant’s report:
I don’t know about you, but spending 30 grand for information telling us that cars are the biggest source of CO2 in or city of Chico?. Shocker. No worries, we’ll attack that problem. On page 39 of the September 2 Greenhouse Gas Report there is this gem: “By implementing a local gas tax, the City could generate revenue to put toward sustainability projects”.
Yep, tax and spend. Darn those evil cars driven by irresponsible citizens.
The task force also favors doling out taxpayer money for “sustainability”, page 42: “For employees who own electric vehicles, the City could provide prime parking locations that offer free electric filling stations.” and for the public, page 39: “Electric fueling station-provide free or low-cost electric fueling stations for EVs.”
I drive an electric car. I’d gladly pay $1-3 per hour for park n’ charge. Vice mayor Schwab not only misses this dirt simple revenue opportunity, she wants to give away free electricity during a city budget crisis.
Just yesterday the state of California announced it was already 10 billion in the hole this year, and our county government announced it was 10 million in the red. Chico’s own sales tax revenue has been falling, and the city budget has been in the red for at least two years now, and there has been little substantial movement by city leaders to really solve the problem.
From my friend Lon Glazner’s Commission Impossible blog, here is a recent memo to all city councilors about the current tax revenue situation:
This isn’t news, as city sales tax revenue has been sliding for quite awhile now and the City of Chico’s budget has been in the hole and will likely continue to be:
Image: The city General Fund and Parks deficit in red without transfers away from road and transportation improvements. Money from a gas tax we all pay has been transferred away from roads to cover the costs of other spending. If you wonder why bike routes are planned but not built, or why roads and traffic issues take so long to address, here is the culprit.
Source: Commision Impossible 10/22/08
For those reading that don’t live here, the business climate of our town is getting grim. Departments stores, restaurants, and other local businesses are closing almost daily due to the economic climate. The trickle down effect from state budget cuts will also affect the city’s largest state funded employers soon, such as Chico State University, and the Chico Unified School District.
So with the city budget headed for a certain train wreck, and the state economy in a shambles, I am absolutely gobsmacked that Schwab and her sustainability task force are suggesting gasoline taxes and free electricity giveaways at the same time. Then there’s the idea that businesses should be forced to turn out their lights at night. Saving energy is a fine idea, but at the expense of inviting crime into an unlit business?
This shows a level of disconnect that only a bureaucrat could muster. And, it’s why I strongly recommend that people reading this don’t vote for Schwab, but choose a city council candidate that has some business sense.
I’m all for efficiency and alternate energy ideas that are cost neutral or revenue generators, but the reality is those things aren’t being considered.
Public giveaways, new taxes, and visions of a sustainable future won’t solve the budget problems, sensible management combined with spending cuts and plans that will enhance the local business environment will.