Check the mail

No wonder the state is so broke. Back in January this column reported some of the expenses our local Assembly members—Rick Keene, R-Chico, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale—rang up during their rookie years in office. Those costs included fees for vehicle leases ($3,850 and $2,189, respectively), fuel to drive to work and around the districts ($3,462 and $3,548), vehicle maintenance ($665 and $153) and a per-diem allowance when in session ($28,279 for both). Last week we got the second part of our request for how much it costs us to keep these guys legislating in Sacramento. Last year, Keene spent $5,109.18 for postage (ranking him 14th out of the 80 Assembly members) and another $51,366.33 on “communications,” or bulk rate postage (placing him 20th out of 80). LaMalfa, on the other hand, spent a much more modest $3,201.51 for postage and $52,820.17 on bulk rate mailings, edging Keene for the 19th spot. Postage, we figure, is for holiday greeting cards and bulk rate is used for those meaningless surveys they send every once in a while asking if constituents would rather have a balanced budget and more disposable income or a welfare state that encourages poor people to drive Lincoln Continentals and eat filet mignon for breakfast. Anyway, it’s nice they stay in touch.

In other expenses, Keene’s district office on Humboldt Road cost us $25,385.80 in rent, maintenance and utilities last year (ranking it 60th). I can understand that; rent’s not cheap around here. And it’s even higher, apparently, in Redding, where LaMalfa ran up $31,851.74 for the same expenses (54th place). And to their credit, neither one of these guys spent a single dime of taxpayer money on out-of-state travel. But here’s the rub. Last year, not including staff salaries, Keene spent $118,119.23 of taxpayer money in expenses. And this year he’s signed a pledge with Americans for Tax Reform “to oppose (and vote against/veto) any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Something’s gotta give.

Have you noticed the big brass roof (or is it copper?) that adorns the crow’s nest atop the still-being-remodeled Diamond Hotel in downtown Chico? I admit, I didn’t read the front-page story that ran a few weeks back in the Enterprise-Record most likely explaining what that thing does and what it’s made from. At first I thought it was a bell that would ring every 15 minutes announcing the time and driving all the townsfolk nuts. Now, with the blue tarps removed, I see it is an observation tower looking out over the roofs of the business district. Owner/re-modeler Wayne Cook might want to install a couple of those quarter-operated binoculars that look like parking meter heads. You know, the kind they have planted at the edge of the Grand Canyon or on the river bank near Niagara Falls. Cook could recoup some of the money he’s poured into the hotel renovation and maybe have enough eventually to purchase the old municipal building.

Who wrote the editorial in the Feb. 27 E-R, the ghost of Sam Walton? For those who didn’t see it, the editorial defended Wal-Mart’s right to expand its Forest Avenue store into a “supercenter” without a full environmental-impact report, which the E-R laments could cost the company $100,000 and delay the project by up to a year. “It was unfortunate that the public wasted the Planning Commission’s time by broaching issues unrelated to the environmental review process,” the E-R wrote. Yeah, maybe, but that is what public input is all about. And look what happened. Four members of the commission did the right thing and voted for the EIR. Like other public agencies, the commission is charged with doing what is best for the community. The editorial also notes that had this been some company other than Wal-Mart the council chambers would have been empty. Well, they were last summer when Wal-Mart tried to sneak this thing through. This time around, with plenty of publicity, the matter was well-attended. And look what happened. Four commissioners—a majority—voted for the EIR. The editorial ends by saying, “we’d rather see Wal-Mart expand on Forest Avenue than build a superstore at the gateway to Chico, where Sunset Hills Golf Course sits now.” Hey, don’t get your hopes up.