Letters for January 30, 2003

Keeping the faith
This letter is in response to a letter written by Roger Graham of Paradise regarding religious organizations [“Religious tax,” Dec. 18, 2002]. Mr. Graham, have you ever researched any of these faith-based providers of social services? Well, I happened to have had one of them change my life. Once I graduated from the program, I decided to stay so I can help others, and I do not consider myself to be a “labor cost advantage.”

Let me tell you about some cost advantages. Had I not gone to this program, I was looking at 18 months in the county jail. How much do you think that would have cost taxpayers? Or what about the other successes who, because of recovery, did not spend two, three or in some cases eight years in prison? What does that cost, do you think?

I have seen many women unable to get help because we cannot afford to take them without money, nor is any help available because we are faith-based. If the president is able to make funding available to help offset the costs to keep these places open to help people addicted to drugs and alcohol, then I’m all for it!

In closing, I just want to add that while I was still out there using, I knew a lot of people who would rob you in a heartbeat. If a crack addict broke in your house and put your family at risk to steal your TV, would you be crying for the government to do something? Perhaps one of these 501(c)3 programs in the area reformed someone and prevented that from happening.

Ambroa Daniels

Selective SUVs
Your article on SUVs [“Sitting high and mighty,” Jan. 9] contained more inflammatory generalizations than a campaign speech and as little truth. To hear you tell it, all SUV owners are enraged maniacs, one acceleration away from highway homicide. This may surprise you, but SUVs are chosen for their ability to carry up to seven people, tow heavy loads and negotiate snowy conditions. What part of utility don’t you understand?

And I’m having a hard time believing that the 60-somethings I saw recently have “embraced the four-wheel-drive SUV as a symbol of their ability to defy the conventions of old age….” Nope. I’m guessing this post-baby-boom couple bought their Honda Pilot SUV for its fuel economy and reliability, something Tom Gascoyne might have considered prior to his test drive that morphed him into Captain SUV Expert. Why didn’t he “drive a mile” in a Toyota 4Runner or a Kia Sorrento? How about a Subaru Outback or a Honda Pilot?

And, for the record, the “behemoth” four-ton Tahoe mentioned in your diatribe? According to Peterson’s 4-wheel and Off-road magazine, a new GMC Yukon, the Chevy Tahoe equivalent, has a curb weight of 5,050 pounds, a mere 2,950 pounds shy of your statistic.

Credibility is based on evidence and objectivity, not conjecture and bias. Next time, do your homework and leave the name-calling to the politicians.

Kathi Montgomery

SUVs and motherhood
“Sitting high and mighty” is truly absurd, referring to SUV buyers (Hummers in particular) as “insecure and vain, lacking confidence, insecure in their marriages,” among other inaccuracies. As the parent of one of these Hummer owners, I can attest to absolute opposite characteristics. What garbage!

L. Berman

Budget handles
Can we handle the school budget shortfall by getting it into perspective? The Wall Street Journal said prices of food and goods have dropped 1.5 percent from a year ago, and one of the main rises is school tuition plus 6.2 percent.

This year teachers and people with children will get a tax refund and parents the benefit of $8,000 spent on their child’s education. We parents don’t contribute that much.

Annually unions have negotiated big increases, probably justifiable in the good years, until $89 out of $100 of our board’s budget is for people. The budget now has a small deficit, as little as 2 percent, so do we need to cut programs, increase class sizes and lay off the teachers we so badly need?

In other districts, the budget is divided into agreed percentages among the claims that are made on it: If the cake goes up or down, so does the amount each claimant gets. Let’s do that now and ask teachers, staff and administrators to take a 2 percent cut to save our school system and the jobs of their colleagues. There but for the grace of God go they! At the same time let’s create a public fund for parents to make a one-time donation of $160 (2 percent of the value they gain by state education).

Hold this money until we see how things turn out and refund it if the shortfall is less than projected. This would be fair and would enable the education of our children to continue uninterrupted.

Alan G. Gair

Wizard of debt
Your cover story [“The Wizard of Chico,” Jan.16] about City Manager Tom Lando included an interesting observation from Jim Massie, the retired chief of police. Massie explained that Fred Davis (Lando’s predecessor) would ask city councilmembers who came up with new pet projects how they wanted to pay for them. With Lando, on the other hand, when the councilmembers want something “…he [Lando] figures it’s his job to find the money.” As long as councilmembers get their pet projects and do not pay much attention to the city budget, they will be happy; but the long-term costs to local residents may be high.

Your article did an excellent job of explaining that years ago councilmembers “…thought about what was best for the community.” Today, special interests play a much larger role, and both the liberals and conservatives are beholden to the interests that support them. Clearly, Mr. Lando has a tough job in his attempt to meet the needs of both groups, each of which has pet projects.

The problem is, who cares about the majority in the middle?

Councilmembers recently had a package of special projects. Rather than set priorities, the city borrowed more money through its role as the redevelopment agency. My review of the city budget shows that the total redevelopment agency debt increased from $43,870,000 on June 30, 2001, to $56,820,000 a year later. This borrowing made the councilmembers and Mr. Lando look good but will add more than $100 million to the indirect tax buffer when interest expenses are calculated. Chico will be paying back for decades to come.

Also, Mr. Lando’s solution to the issue of the Humboldt Road Burn Dump is to borrow at least another $8 million ($16 million when the full cost of payout is calculated) to clean up the site. He has already spent more than $2 million in site evaluation. Almost all of these monies will benefit only the three wealthiest landowners in Chico. Mr. Simmons, Mr. Fogarty and Ms. Drake are currently expected to pay nothing in the cleanup costs but will benefit fully from the sale of their lands. The city owns only one acre of the 157 acres that are scheduled for rehabilitation.

The wizard appears remarkable until the future tax burdens of his actions are appreciated. The net result may be that the taxpayers will be paying the bill long after Mr. Lando’s retirement. Furthermore, the wizard may be running out of rabbits, and his desire to accommodate council members’ pet projects (without asking how they are to be funded) may have resulted in a community of increased long-term debt and extensive deferred maintenance.

Phil Smith