Regulation Clearlake Style

   Clearlake City Hall does not create much original content.  They administer even less.  The original City Code was a boiler plated Lake County Code.  New laws or ordinances tend to be boiler plated versions of other cities’ ordinances or “me too” copies of Lake County regs.  Therefore, large chunks of Clearlake’s working documents are not understood or agreed with by staff or council.  Some provisions lay dormant for years until an opportunity arises to use them as an ad hoc club for some unrelated purpose.

   For some reason poor little Clearlake decided they needed a massive expansion of local taxi regulation.  As a taxi driver I took a personal interest.  To start with, I wanted to know why a few struggling drivers needed a big city regulatory structure when the existing regulations were not being administered or enforced by the police department.

   Normally when a sweeping new regulatory scheme is proposed the existing companies are brought into the process.  This is because the economic effects may not be known to those creating the regulations.  There is a block of data that only the companies themselves can provide.  Unless a city or agency is completely indifferent to the harmful effects of a given regulation they should be interested in this data.  Clearlake was not.

   Since the drivers, companies, and the public were not brought in at the beginning of the process, the announcement of a first reading of new taxi regulations caught those affected by surprise.  For unknown reasons this was a very fast tracked item.  Since I was a literate driver contracting with the only functional cab company, we engaged the City.

   We got a copy of the draft ordinance and demanded a delay so we could respond.  I went line by line through this massive tome while the owner did a lengthy online search to see what city or county birthed this beast.  Margie Huit found a perfect fit for the wealthy suburb of Woodland, a city six times larger than Clearlake.  Their taxi regs were an exact duplicate of what the the City Administrator was trying to shove down our throats.  They did not even delete the absurd references to theatres and railroad stations, terms which will never be uttered in the same sentence with Clearlake.

   Margie and I then went on a road trip to study Ukiah’s taxi regs and scheduled a meeting with the City Administrator, Police Chief, and the Police Lieutenant who would be enforcing these edicts, which includes shaking down the companies and drivers for fees.

   Ukiah is Lake County ‘s nearest neighbor, has only a few more people than Clearlake, and was recently voted the most livable city in California.  We got copies of their ordinance as well as all the “to do” lists from the Police Department, then talked with staff.  Ukiah’s regulations are more extensive than Clearlake’s existing ordinance but within the realm of reason.  And unlike the cribbed-to-impress Woodland ordinance, was written in plain English.

   The owners of the other two taxi companies in town are disfunctional on several levels.  Our so-called representatives on the City Council are mere rubber stamps for the City Administrator and do not raise any issues that would expose their severe learning disabilities.  This meant Margie and I were bucking the City alone.

   I came to our meeting with my written analysis and Margie came with Ukiah’s ordinance and associated documents as an alternative. We also wanted to know why this was being rammed through since they were not even administering the old ordinance.  None of our concerns were addressed in a meaningful way, including telling us what the real agenda was.  We were nobodies, peasants, insignificant, and therefore irrelevant.

   I did prove that our police did not understand the big city boiler plate either.  One of their implementations required all taxis to be sequentially numbered and those numbers listed on each car’s annual permits.  I pointed out that as cars are taken out of service the new sequential numbers would not match up with each car’s permits.  Over time, it would be impossible for anyone to be in compliance.  This section and the railroad reference were the only changes we could get.  There is no stigma in being unreasonable but looking stupid sticks to your face.

   To delay the steamroller longer Margie had to hire a lawyer to write a couple fast and dirty letters.  It was all she could afford.  But it did force the City to send those letters and my articles to the City’s attorneys.  The City’s bottom feeders knew we couldn’t bankroll a legal battle so they called our bluff with absurdities, asserting they could copy any city’s ordinance they wanted without even knowing everything in it and without collecting any cost or market data.  So there.

   Before the final reading the Administrator thought she could weasel out of responsibility for this travesty by declaring her only motivation was to comply with DMV, PUC, and group risk sharing requirements.  So I went to my computer and checked.  She lied.  In fact, the PUC explicitly stated they do not regulate taxis.  I also spent $200 for a data set from the taxi and limo association. Throughout the struggle I wrote about ten articles of various types.

   The City Council did not care that I proved the Administrator was a liar and I was the best informed person in the room on the issue. The crushing regulations passed unanimously.  As promised, I quit a month later.

   A year went by, Margie and her drivers were hounded for fees, licenses, and a tripling of insurance requirements.  Modifications to taxis and drug tests were demanded.  Some of these fees were supposed to pay for police to administer the ordinance but they never inspected the cars or delivered the ID’s that were paid for.  It turns out the police did not know how this new “live scan” requirement in the regs worked either.  Margie was told to get a special Department of Justice number before having the drivers live scanned but it turns out that’s the police’s job.

   The other companies did not have these problems.  They waited to see if they were forced to comply.  If they were hit with enforcement provisions they said they would just go out of business.  After about eight months City Hall’s famously short attention span ran out and the threatening letters to do still more, ended.  I found out that another taxi owner has been telling new hires that Clearlake has no taxi regulation.

   This is how regulation works in Clearlake.  You pay lots of money to do business in an area that’s poor and crime ridden while getting nothing in return.  That is why Clearlake is a true city of industry…. the industry of fleecing marks.

2014 Supervisor Race (part 1) “Dollars For Tules”

“Report From the Meth Lab” produced a series of video editorials on various local topics.
Lake County Supervisor candidates were invited to respond on video. The intro for the series of four is on the “Dollars For Tules” video only.

Lake County Supervisor Race Upgrade

In Lake County the hot election to watch this year is the District 3 Supervisor race. Hot is a relative term.  In Lake County “hot” is luke warm anywhere else.

The reason local power scrambles are such snoozers is the lack of real time media events.  These could be either hosted events or spectacles produced by the candidates themselves.  We are lucky if we get an occasional recorded “talking heads” word salad.

Not only is the public bored by such orchestrated tedium, the candidates themselves can barely stand it, begging off appearances for the least excuse or no excuse at all.  My own candidate video project focused on 5 local issues.  I videotaped an editorial on each one then invited candidates to schedule a time for me to video their responses.  The final product would be stitched together into one program.  What could be easier for a candidate?…  Advance topic notice. No time conflicts. Unedited video exposure.  The result:  Out of six candidates, three didn’t answer me.  One said “catch me if you can.”  An inspiring list of two participated.

Maybe to get active interest from the public and participation from candidates we need to focus on America’s highest value – entertainment.  This means no more candidates sitting stiffly on stage while a host asks beauty pageant type questions off cards from the same group of gadflies and wanna be pundits.

How would I shake things up?  We need some right brain thinking here.  First on my list is a poetry slam where the candidates move and groove their qualifications and make the issues flow.  This could be followed by a weekly videotaped “whistle stop” bike ride tour around the District. Someone who has let their body go to Hell would probably let the County go to Hell.

Tired of candidates who haven’t done their homework?  How about a game show to test candidates’ nuts and bolts knowledge of government procedures and pressing issues.  Winner gets an endorsement with a point total.

What we don’t need is another slate of obstructionists with tunnel vision.  Make candidates reveal how three-dimensional they are with a talent show.  Or show the public they really have nothing to hide with a clothing optional hot tub discussion at Harbin.  For once, our future leaders can start out in hot water.

And for the dramatic two person races we can reasonably take the truly high road.  Have speech forensics teachers select an important single local issue for a structured “Yale Debating Society” style debate to be scored by judges according to debate rules. Candidates should have at least a month to research and prepare.

But for this election I think the only thing that can be done is to parody the characters who imposed themselves on our ravaged attention spans.

2014 Supervisor Race (part 1) “Dollars For Tules”

Video

“Report From the Meth Lab” produced a series of video editorials on various local topics.
Lake County Supervisor candidates were invited to respond on video. The intro for the series of four is on the “Dollars For Tules” video only.

Scripts for 5 Previous Supervisor Issue Videos (Yes I know, I know. Its really too long for a blog)

Dollars For Tules (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

The focus of Lake County is Clear Lake (duh).  So obvious if there is a big problem with the Lake its a big problem for the County.

Right now the Lake’s biggest problem is these funky creatures that periodically make the water and surrounding air smell like a very scary restroom.  These party poopers go by the name “cyanobacteria.”  They aren’t algae.  Algae smells better even when its dead than dead cyanobacteria, which doesn’t smell until it dies and floats to the surface and rots.

You see, its all one big biochemistry cycle.  If the CBs didn’t bloom out of control they wouldn’t have mass die-offs and stink the place up. This smell of death is a deal killer for tourists and producers who want to film cheap B movies here.

Back to the cycle.  It’s not some science experiment that got a little manic-depressive.  Its the nutrients stupid.  Too many trips through the all-you-can-eat aquatic salad bar of wine-on-the-vine, burgers-on-hoof, and leaky septic tank nitrogen.  But the secret ingredients in this super sauce are the minerals.  Number one in this hit parade is not the number two.  It is the phosphorus.  Water washes the minerals into the Lake with a little help from the wind.  When its just a few minerals passing through we don’t get this boom and bust stink bomb.  But when the minerals pour in, especially the phosphorus, the Lake goes on crank for awhile then has an aneurism.

Why are there so many loose minerals washing off the hills?  In a word: “grading.”  Not terrorists.  Not the will of God.  Not gay marriage. Just… grading.  Everything else is a minor factor or a convenient scapegoat.  I see a hand up.  What’s grading?  That’s where you tear off the ground surface for buildings or roads.  Its worse on hills when excavating construction methods are used.

So what’s the solution?  No more building on hillsides?  No, we can still build and not have to change the name to “Slime Lake.”  But we do have to start building for the hills and the Lake and not mainly for real estate developers and spec builders.

This means no more carving into the hillsides to make a big level space for over sized cracker box houses.  On slopes, this means smaller houses, using post footings, pilings, or natural rock build-ups.

This means no more new surveyed developments on straight right-of-ways that become straight dirt roads on steep slopes.  New developments must work with government to resurvey the right-of-ways as curved, paved roads with adequate French drains.

This means, for all old paper subdivisions on slopes, new building permits should require a road assessment district for that area to control runoff or a homeowner’s association that will turn thru, non arterial right-of-ways into common areas for the middle of the block with parking lots on each end of the street.

These measures will greatly help the lake.  Still, too many minerals will be injected into cyanoville.  Fortunately nature has a solution, or had a solution, until shoreline developers and their political stooges fixed it and fixed it good.  For thousands of years tules have been filtering minerals from the Lake’s inflows.  But shoreline property owners thought the tules were weeds and made their businesses look messy.  So they tore them out with county government’s tacit consent.

Shore properties seem to attract ignorant, narrow minded investors because most new owners don’t want the tules back on their turf either. Not in my backyard.  No way.  We devastated the Lake front with government approval which means government can only mandate some changes by either holding new developments hostage or paying off the old developments with taxpayer money.

The other way, the sensible way that the Lake can get its tule kidneys back is for lake front owners to create a tule planting and maintenance assessment district around the Lake.  After all, they are the ones who will benefit the most from mineral control and a functioning lake ecosystem.

The reason County and city governments cannot reverse the damage by simply paying to replant the tules is because most Lake front owners still perceive them as reducing the real estate value of their property.  Government would have to pay the new owners the difference to make the Lake desirable again.  The difference is what those properties gained when they created the filter problem by ripping out the tules.

This is the main reason that the fixers want a sales tax to “fix” the Lake – to pay off the pigs who trashed it to begin with.  The fixers know that old attitudes have not changed around here even though most of the faces are different.  Real estate has not repented. It is the little people who should pay for their greed and arrogance.  I say, “no way.”  I say, “Hell no way.”

 

Grow Pot Not Grapes (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

Recently the County of Lake, hiding behind the skirts of the Planning Department, opened a new chapter in its relentless class war on our residents.  The victims in this latest craven attack include many truly desperate and damaged people.  This latest tedious sequel to “Reefer Madness”  is misrepresented as “The Grow Ordinance.”  Misrepresented because there are no provisions to ensure the intent of Proposition 215 is not negated by this stealth law.  Other casualties include truth, common sense, logic, civil liberties, and the neglect of real problems.  Ho hum.

Since our local  “Goobertocracy”  does not have the authority to overturn a State Proposition they put all their pea brains together to come up with a pot growing regulation that is so restrictive that it would accomplish pretty much the same thing as a ban.  Is that an unintended consequence?  No?  Then why did they shut out all input from those most affected by the ordinance?  Even though this edict was written as a planning ordinance it is enforced as a criminal misdemeanor, another throwback to an earlier era of foaming at the mouth prohibition.  We don’t do that  “moving forward”  thing in Lake County.

I know some people may think this judgement is too harsh so let me back it up with a few points for those who haven’t entirely given up on the disparaged practice of thinking.

First, there is the economics of the issue.  The high price of pot allows third-party growers to assume costs that they would not absorb if the price were much less.  The idea is to make a profit.  These costs are opportunity costs.  This means growers have to give up doing other things with their time and money to grow pot for people too impaired to grow their own.  If those other jobs or businesses paid better than growing pot most people would be doing those other things.

Its one of those free market supply and demand things conservatives are always talking about.  This means we can get to a state of equilibrium with few externalities by either increasing supply by using modern farming methods to produce bud by the bale or reduce demand by implementing universal health care and enforcing legitimate impairment issues,  i.e., do you want to keep driving?

Then there is the cost if violence associated with pot’s high artificial price and the small scale of farming, making security hit or miss. Because the market price is artificially high thieves will spend more time planning a robbery and take greater physical risks than they would to steal your TV.  If pot was as cheap as hemp is 1900 there would be no preference to steal it from people.  The non prohibition market price would net most violent criminals less than taking a low paying job.  Violence was never associated with pot before it became illegal. Violence is the price society pays due to an artificially high price.   Even the quasi legal status means police are less likely to be called, reducing the cost to criminals of committing violent acts still further.

Recently, environmental damage has come into fashion as the justification for draconian grow ordinances.  And why is this damage greater than for other agricultural crops?  Growing pot is not more inherently more destructive to the environment than, say grapes.

Unlike other crops, there is no allowable legal limit as to the amount or type of damage a pot farmer can cause so the sky is the limit for as long as the operation exists.  This inability to farm a crop in a legally regulated structure creates an incentive to make only short term and portable farming investments, resulting in more damage than if a farmer had a longer term investment to get a return from.  Because these short term investments tend to be disposable or portable neighbors will have more environmental costs extended to them since someone with more permanent investments has to worry about legal retaliation at some point.  Fly-by-night farmers of an illegal crop can simply walk away when the heat is on and still make a profit.  The current grow ordinance is more prohibitory than regulatory.  With few legal options it forces non compliance. It offers no regulatory remedy for neighbors to this problems.  It is “drug war light.”

Related to measurable environmental damage are the vaguely defined, catch-all nuisance costs.  On a first pass, a nuisance is anything that affects someone’s enjoyment of their life or property.  Since this definition is so subjective it can mean anything, the color of your neighbor’s skin to crying babies, nuisances are functionally defined by what they are not.  If a court or regulatory agency has
said something is not a nuisance, legally speaking, then it is not.  Everything else could be.

Many people don’t like the smell of pot so it could be a nuisance unless a government authority says it is not.  Other people have an allergy to sulfur.  When it is thick in the air it can cause them physical pain.  Sulfur is commonly put on grapes but the grape growers got the government to say sulfur is not a nuisance under the “freedom to farm” concept so people who are affected cannot get legal redress.  There is no reason, other than class privilege, why the smell of pot should not be treated legally the same as the stench of sulfur.

Unless you have been living in a cave you know this country is facing skyrocketing medical costs.  These costs are not caused by pot. These mounting costs are mostly caused by perfectly legal substances and legal lifestyle choices.  In spite of non medical opinions advanced by politicians and pushers of alcohol and cigarettes there are no medical costs from pot smoking that amount to more than a tiny fraction of those caused by the  “all American”  lifestyle.

Continuing to pursue the war on pot over eight decades with the weapons of ignorance, lies, and class hatred have racked up staggering costs.  Denying people time honored folk remedies when modern medicine has turned them away for economic reasons displays monumental cruelty.  Local government should be addressing the real causes of problems instead of rounding up the usual scapegoats. Real leaders should focus on those causes not on cheap publicity from beating the drum of urban legends.

Under no circumstances should holders of power be inflicting pain on our struggling residents.  “But, but I was just following national orders” doesn’t cut it anymore.  Now that our planning professionals have discredited their profession in the service of bogus reasoning all we are left with is DEA head Anslinger’s ominous warning before Congress that marijuana made white women want to have sex with musicians and Negroes. Maybe its true. It hasn’t been disproven.  Is that your reason for supporting a reefer madness grow ordinance, Lake County Candidate for Supervisor.

 

Public Access TV8 (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

Every city or county had the option of adding a free speech channel, called a PEG channel, to their cable TV contract.  These local cable franchisers could have just asked for an extra government channel but they probably would not have been able to negotiate as much money to buy video equipment for their personal use.

These public access PEG channels do not have to be publicly funded but the franchiser does have to provide a hot video jack somewhere so the public can put any video content that is legal on the cable system.  Once this channel is voluntarily established a city or county does not have the legal right to exercise any editorial control over content.  Local authorities can only establish reasonable technical standards and ration this public resource among competing users.

People often ask “Why can’t the local authorities set up community standards for what is put on the air?”  The textbook answer is  “Because the Supreme Court of the United States has defined what are free speech rights on a national level.”  In fact, there is a legal sub specialty called  “public forum law”  which regards PEG channels as a designated public forum with all the protections and privileges of the 1st Amendment, one of the foundations of our country.

In the late 1990’s the city of Clearlake included such a public access channel in their cable franchise.  They did not have to.  They chose to, but the city administrator at the time didn’t seem to understand the concept of free speech as it applied to all the people of Clearlake and Lake County.  This administrator and his political crony did make extensive personal use of this extra equipment that was squeezed out of the cable company for the purpose of free speech public access.

The County did not have any provision for public access in their cable franchise but they were given programming over ride privileges on TV8 for their Board of Supervisors meetings.  There is nothing in writing from the city of Clearlake which gives them this privilege which damages the channel’s only regular source of income, a payment from Yuba College for their Distance Learning Program.  This free over ride eliminates the college’s ability to schedule Tues-Thurs classes on the channel.  For years the County contributed nothing toward the operation of TV8.

Over the years Lake County’s TV8 has weathered almost continuous censorship attacks starting in 2004.  These attacks have taken the form of physical threats against programmers, an attempt to place a hundred dollar  “broadcast fee”  on each imported program, reduced plays or late night scheduling of political programming, and indefinite lock downs of the station by Clearlake’s administrators without any due process or coherent explanation.

A PEG Board was eventually set up, dominated by politicians and former politicians.  This board only modestly supported the station for 2 years then dropped it out of the city and county budgets entirely but continued to use the channel solely funded by Yuba College.  The PEG Board continued to operate as an illegal censorship entity using more and more elaborate subterfuges.  Operations were hamstrung, banning most volunteers and killing TV8’s internet connection even after I found a free site for storing video.

I protested the deadbeat County meeting over rides dominating the channel with with the following analogy:

 

“Say someone owns a house.  There is no dispute about who owns the house.  The owner occupies one bedroom and rents out two other rooms.   One renter faithfully pays their rent year after year.  The other renter puts down a deposit, makes one payment and then stops paying rent even though they show no intention of moving out.  Not only are they not paying rent but they monopolize the living room, denying its use to the paying renter.  The exclusive use of the living room may be an understanding reached as compensation for some private exchange with the owner.

When the deadbeat is reminded that they should be paying rent they respond arrogantly that they will make one more payment so leave me alone so I can enjoy my room and the common area rent-free forever.

The paying renter feels like they are being imposed upon.  The owner has no stomach for a fight and is ready to default on their mortgage and move out.  The deadbeat’s internal logic assumes they are entitled to squat rent free until the house is trashed and boarded up.

 

The owner of the house (TV8) is Clearlake.  The paying renter (distance learning fee) is Yuba College.
And the deadbeat (enjoying free override privilege) is Lake County.”

I sent this out August 24th, 2012.  Only one county supervisor responded, hoping I hadn’t sent it out to anyone else. I had.

Public access channels that surround Lake County have blossomed in recent years while TV8 has
withered under crushing censorship and policy sabotage.  In fact, Willits has made steady progress with less money than what TV8 scratches by on.  But Willits is not burdened by the yoke of politics.  They are run by a non profit organization.

Lake County and its cities plan to put a mandatory charge on the local cable bill to fund the channel whether the cable users want it or not. This is a very unusual move and was spearheaded by two people who were responsible for the most egregious and elaborate censorship attack on our residents’ public access channel.  This attack was demanded by an out of county organization nationally famous for intimidating weak willed or unprincipled politicians.

Rather than allow TV8 to continue under government controlled sham structures or be funded by an unpopular cable charge, the original volunteers believe TV8 should be operated the way public access channels are legally intended.  That is, the people’s voice no matter how distasteful to politicians or intolerant mobs.

An IRS approved non profit that understands the value of this critical American right is waiting in the wings to take on this responsibility.  All that is necessary is for a real leader to step forward and push the human obstacles out of the way.  Are you that leader?

 

Da Bus (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

I ride the bus in Lake County and beyond.  Unlike the typical bus rider I am in good physical shape and I have a valid driver’s license.  I get around several ways but buses are going to be a bigger part of the future transition picture for everyone whether we like it or not.  Most will not like it.

In the city where I used to live transit buses were referred to as  “The Shame Train.”  To be an American means to be independent which means driving a vehicle – everywhere.  No buses.  No bicycles.  Temporary hiatuses from the motorized world is permissible for medical or DUI reasons but the lapse is definitely  “loose a turn”  socially.  If someone says they ride the bus to save money for more important things or as part of a bus/bike combo they will be greeted with a blank stare.

In the event of reduced circumstances it is far more acceptable to beg rides, go deeper into debt to keep old Betsy chugging, and in general to become a criminal.  Necessary evils include driving without registration, insurance, license, and stealing gas from your neighbor’s car.

Still there is a slowly growing number of mostly reluctant people who are taking the bus.  In Lake County this function falls upon the Lake Transit Authority, a body made up of representatives from the County, cities, and a couple “at large” members.  All of these people would rather get multiple root canals without pain killers than ride the bus personally.

The Authority’s main job is to contract with Mark Wall or his successor to run the transit system.  This means he designs the routes, keeps the records, writes grants, and most important, contracts with a company to run the buses, preferably with drivers.  This company has to follow a few laws and abide by whatever is in their contract but otherwise it’s their show for the length of the contract.

Currently Mark Wall is the administrator for the system.  The politicians he reports to on the Authority don’t know or care about many of the details.  The company he contracts with is just management.  They hire the employees and are the first contact with the public.  They do not own the buses or facility.  They are not entrepreneurs.  They are management.  Running a transit system is a government department in some places.  But Lake County chose to run it with a contractor under a contractor.  There are advantages and disadvantages with this approach.

The advantage is the bus drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers don’t have the same generous pension or medical plans that government employees have.  Nor are their wages easily compared with our County employees.  Conveniently, the County and our two cities have a large measure of plausible denial in matters of civil rights and other laws as far as what goes on with our buses.  Finally, any union representation for drivers would be weaker than a County employee based union.

Now for the disadvantages.  The contract management company’s only commitment in Lake County is their 3 year contract.  They have invested no capital in Lake County.  They have no incentive to build our bus system or even preserve what is already here.  Unless they bring down the wrath of State or Federal officials, local politicians will not intervene on behalf of the public.  Bus users are not on their radar.

The current management company is Paratransit Services, a 501c3 company operating 6 transit systems in 3 states.  During the few years they have controlled operations they have done several things that show contempt for our bus riding citizens.

On February 17, 2011 Lake County was hit with a freak snowstorm.  Every 3 or 4 years the County gets a dusting that makes the mountain routes too slippery to run buses on.  But on this date we got hit with a real snowstorm that broke tree limbs unused to snow loads.  The County got more than a dusting.

As a bus rider I wanted to know if I could get from one side of the Lake to the other.  I called the transit number.  No answer.  I called a friend at work.  Between us we called the Sheriff, the Highway Patrol, the radio station, and CalTrans.  The lines were busy but we finally got through.  No responsible party had any information about the bus system.  We learned hours later Lake Transition had shut down completely without notifying anyone.

I complained in writing.  A day later Mark Wall had implemented a comprehensive shut down notification procedure.  A little late as many riders in poor health were left standing in the snow waiting for Cal Trans to clear a path for the buses – buses that were not coming.  If the authorities were notified they could have picked these people up or told them to go back home.  But emergency personnel did not know there was a problem for hours so the sick and the elderly were left freezing in the snow.

Paratransit offered a weak excuse that the power was out so their phone system was down.  They could have plugged a hand held right into the wall.  They could have used a cell phone.  They could have called from home after they locked the transit doors.  That is, if they cared.

After Wall Street ate Main Street’s lunch in the 2008 financial crash, Paratransit convinced the drivers to give up their annual step raises until the tap opened up again.  Since we are a poor county the starting wage for drivers is low and many will soon decide they don’t like driving a bus.  But for others there is the lure of more money over the hill calling those who have some experience.  Giving drivers higher pay as they get more experience keeps more of them driving in Lake County.  Again, the payoff to the public is greater efficiency, safety, and  mentoring by radio for new drivers faking their way through the quirks of driving a bus in our unique physical and social environment.

About a year ago we were all informed, by people who claim to know, that the recession was over.  So the drivers said “Great.  How about slipping in a few step raises on our next contract.”  I believe Paratransit said something like  “You’ll get your first step raise from us when you pry it from our cold dead fingers.”  Now the drivers realize Paratransit’s smooth words were just pillow talk and they do the strike thing. That’s just what Paratransit was waiting for.

This humble non profit manages transit systems in 3 states.  They all joined the crusade against 35 striking Lake County drivers.  Most runs were canceled for weeks as new hires replaced the old, but it was clear that Paratransit had an unlimited budget from somewhere.  The union caved and ended the strike.  But wait, Paratransit was still hiring replacement drivers in clear violation of the law.  Also, riders were paying the price of reduced route runs with drivers locked out, ready to drive.

Paratransit does not get paid for those buses that aren’t running.  This retaliation is costing them money.   Why?  What is their agenda and who are their secret backers?  And our bus riders?  It looks like losers like us take a backseat to their secret agenda.  Apparently their contract with Lake Transit Authority doesn’t prevent them from pursuing this agenda that results in sabotaging our bus service and gutting our core of experienced drivers.

I think our local politicos need to give the next management contract some pro rider direction.  Yes?

 

When The Fit Hits The Shan (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

The motto of the Boy Scouts is  “Always Be Prepared.”  But Boy Scouts are kids who need to be reminded regularly to be prepared.  Adults naturally are well prepared, especially the leaders, right?  Wrrroooong!

Various levels of government have emergency preparedness responsibilities on paper.  The reality is much different as the focus is more on armored vehicles than food stockpiles.  At the lowest level, preparedness means to do a quick assessment of a problem and pass it up to the next level of government.  Sometimes this buck passing means nothing significant gets done.  Sometimes it means,  “help is on the way”,  from far away, way way too late.  The average person thinks an emergency response means an immediate response even if it has to be improvised in some ways.  The average person thinks there is some response capacity that they are entitled to some fair share of.  The average person has been tragically misled.

One misunderstanding about emergencies is that an emergency for you may not be the same emergency for some upstream agency that will be responding to that emergency.  In fact, at the federal level the emergency may not be your pressing problem.  It may be you and your expectations of what responders are going to do for you.

On a more theoretical level, the Transition Movement addresses a slowly evolving emergency that is gradually seeping in.  They don’t do food stockpiles either.  They are more interested in changing society’s focus from consumption in a world market economy to making what we really need locally in what may be a very long, rolling emergency.  This long term condition we are supposed to be transitioning to is called “sustainability.”

Sustainability really just means the end of cheap energy, waste, and the throwaway society.  Say “goodbye garbageman.”  Say, “Hello, more intentional, improvised, reuse type lifestyles.”  Communities will be less a bunch of atomistic individuals obsessing about their real estate value and more loose neighborhood networks for cooperation with lots of fuzzy boundaries between people, their sacred stuff, and the things they do.

The transition movement knows they need to get specific about going from here to there and selling those specifics to citizens and leaders. Government emergency preparedness doesn’t want to get specific because they are not geared to greatly expand their capacity.  The reason is because they treat all emergencies as short term so even if their response is inadequate things will eventually return to normal.  It would seem that the Transition crowd needs to develop first tangible steps beyond plans that can be implemented today by small neighborhood groups.  The local government guys need to wake up to impending game changing events that will be with us for a very long time whether we are prepared or not.  So we might as well be prepared.  There’s less suffering and fear that way for us little people.

On the other hand, the Federal Government does lots of emergency planning and they have the resources and will to carry out those plans. They are vague and secretive about some of those plans so I suspect we will not like many of them.  Remember their Hurricane Katrina response?  Not user friendly.

So we’re back to the transition guys with their  “better-transition-through-group-consciousness”  ideal.   Without a bias toward action transition will just produce theory.  And you can’t eat theory.  Official emergency preparedness is not prepared for permanent change type problems. It seems our only viable path is to always talk about the two approaches in the same breath.  When possible this means getting the two camps at the same table, starting with tabletop scenario excercises.

So much for inertia.  But who is actively opposing this critical change and what barriers are preventing forward motion?  For those trying to take first steps from the bottom up it is local and state codes, regulations, and outmoded structures that prohibit the changes we need to make to prepare for a very different world.

How will we convince theses moribund authorities that if they won’t become leaders for change in a changing world they need to get out of the way so the people, as least informed and motivated people, can get to work.  The answer is in those very fossilized regulations, specifically those regulations that place responsibility for emergency preparedness on cities and counties.  Informed groups of citizens must go to those responsible with a list of outcomes we want implemented.  If they say,  “We’ll have to study it”  we need to say,  “We already have. Let’s get’r done.”  It is people outside government who have the answers.  Government needs to start thinking of itself as a power tool for those people instead of rubber stamping everything they don’t understand as frivolous.

Still not getting through?  Still think this is all something we can dabble in or not?  Think:  Electric grid collapse.  Think:  No running water coming in….or out.  No trucks bringing food into stores everyday.  Think:  Thousands of desperate people preying on each other unchecked by police.  Not a pretty picture but denial won’t make it disappear.

What can we realistically build with what we have if we start now?  This is a world of chickens and goats, not McDonalds.  Of composting, not flushing and flushing and flushing.  Of collecting and conserving heat because the wall outlets are dead.  Of clustering together with trusted neighbors because the single family stick home is really not a castle.

Oh, and don’t worry about living your life for some future disaster that may never happen.  A slow rolling collapse is already in progress. Wishful thinking won’t stop it and not thinking will make the pain much worse.

People can do this stuff.  They used to do this stuff but they are a little out of practice.  Our leaders could use some practice being leaders as well.

 

 

 

TV8 Bunco Financing

By Dante DeAmicis

When public access TV8 was formed it was never meant to be used as a legal designated public forum.   Eventually the uninvited public showed up.  That’s when the yoke of censorship appeared.

Since we didn’t seem to be going away, one Lake County Supervisor hatched the idea of a “joint powers authority” to “fund” the station. This was not something pushed by the original volunteers. We smelled a rat.

In the first year, the Authority contributed a small amount for TV8 from Lake County and the city of Clearlake.  The second year, the Authority “forgot” to submit a budget to the two local governments in a timely manner.  So TV8 got nothing.  The third year, Clearlake said the use of City Hall’s old vending room for the station was their contribution to the Authority.  This was the station’s location before the formation of the Authority.

The County simply forgot that the purpose of the Authority was to fund the station.  Very reluctantly, the County Supervisors passed a final “emergency grant” of 5 thousand with the warning that the station will never see another dime from them, though they kept their rep on the Authority and programming over ride privileges, which threatened our distance learning fee.

At the December 9, 2009 meeting of the Authority, the PEG Board reinvented itself as a stealth censorship committee.  Three Board Members revealed that they got complaints about the “conspiracy videos” on the channel.  These were also the most popular videos, judging by the contributions they generated.  The Authority’s import limitation subterfuge trashed TV8’s programming and viewer contributions.  Now we had nothing except a “distance learning fee” paid by the local community college.

With programming gutted and funding from government and the public cut, the PEG Authority looked for a new source of income.  They decided that implementing a provision in the new state franchising law was the way to go.  It allowed a fee to be placed on cable bills to fund PEG channels.

The PEG Authority decided that to collect this fee they would have to axe the channel’s internet connection.  The problem is, we live in an internet world.  Fewer and fewer people will settle for scheduled video content.  They want to see video on their schedule.  The internet is not the wave of the future.  It is entry level reality of the present.  Cutting TV8’s internet to squeeze a few dollars from cable customers is like getting rid of your baby because it keeps dirtying up its baby clothes.  But the baby clothes are worthless without the baby, even if now you have Spring fresh baby clothes.

More important, intentionally reducing your functionality and assets to qualify for a check you would not otherwise qualify for smacks of a bunco scam, especially since the Authority freely admits in its meetings the reason for pulling the station’s vital internet connection.   If someone crashed into a tree to collect a disability check or burned down their house to cash in on their fire insurance or murdered their spouse because their life insurance made them worth more dead than alive, most people outside Lake County would say these people don’t deserve anything but jail.  But PEG Board members are shameless and our government councils seem to accept TV8’s lucrative mutilation as just another form of creative financing.

I’m certain the PEG Authority would look at my analogies dumbfounded.  “What’s the problem?  The guy who hit the tree really is disabled. The house is really is burned down.  And the spouse really is dead.  They earned their checks.”  Maybe by Lake County standards.    I don’t think continuing to foster a faker culture will make Lake County a better place to live or visit.  Trading a dead beat PEG Board straight across to get our internet back would be a smarter move.

The 8th Avenue Boys

by Dante DeAmicis

Hugging the fringe of this 10 square mile war zone is the true center of Clearlake.  One would think that Clearlake’s hub of activity would be either the 2 mile “has-been” resort strip of Lakeshore Drive or the City-Hall-to-Highway 53 escape of Olympic Drive.  But no, the City’s standard of excellence is sales tax revenue from whatever source.  Using this single minded criteria, Clearlake’s “center” is an oasis of cleared brush on the last freeway exit.  We’re too downstream to have a downtown anyway.

A two-time interim Clearlake Administrator reported that only Walmart was increasing the flow of sales tax blood into the City’s anemic coffers.  This last-stop freeway nexus also features 3 fast food joints and a Rays grocery store.

The middle drive of this cash cow boasts the biggest bus transfer site in Lake County – top of the list on Clearlake Chamber of Commerce’s “points of interest.”  Why are 50 buses a day rolling through the middle of a shared parking lot?  Because this daily transit parade route is actually an unmarked right-of-way dividing 2 parking lots.  Once the pavement ends and the howling wilderness begins, this stealth road continues on the map as “8th Avenue.”

This also explains why milling throngs of homeless are routinely rousted from the Safeway parking lot but are only moved out of the bus shelters here.  They are free to get in line with their signs as sort of a low-brow haiku show for lost Napa tourists.  (Have your picture taken with a real homeless person?)

A few years back a developer had to promise to punch this paper road through to get approval for his paper subdivision 3 miles away. For now, its a place to arrive by bus from distant lands, check your e-mail on McDonalds’ wi-fi, discuss investment strategies with the homeless, and steal something from Walmart.

Usually the only reason I hang out here, longer than to take my bike off the bus rack during the day, is to walk through the Jack-In-The-Box lobby doors before Midnight.  Everyone working at night here are required to speak 2 languages or have 3 tattoos. Management has to do both.  Its the only place in Clearlake I can sit down in a lighted room, write awhile, and charge my cell phone after 11 pm.  If I’m not quite finished when they lock the doors I have “Plan B” across the street – the secret 2-plug outlet on the closed McDonald’s flag pole.

There’s a trashy surrealism inside this “Jacks” that works for me.  Cabaret tables stand against the windows, patiently waiting for Margaritas that will never come.  The crowning touch is the stereo mini mirror balls, suggestively gyrating from the ceiling.  Weak rotating colors thrown off create a dance floor effect only bright enough for moths and mosquitoes.  No one else would notice unless they were filling their root beer cup underneath.

I asked the counter person if she really wanted me to disco in front of the fountain drinks.  It won’t be a pretty sight on the security camera.  Unfazed, “Sure, why not?”

Closing time.  I leave the lobby as the last of the homeless are leaving the pavement into the broken promise of a street that never was.  A hundred betrayed GPS navigators wail about the breach of trust with their stranded owners.  The shabby people and their dogs are grateful tonight for that broken promise unlike the many broken promises made to them.

Welcome to 8th Avenue, another poster child for the “State Map Act.”  Clearlake has an orphanage full of them.