A few years ago the local chapter of the Building Industry Association, representing five local builders, threatened to sue if the city didn’t investigate whether the Building Department overcharges local developers for such over-the-counter services as plan checks, related legal research, facility overhead and other help specific to development. The answer to that question, according to a report by Maximus Consultants, was yes, the department does overcharge developers by some 125 percent. However, the findings also showed that other city departments that service developers did not fully recover their costs in the user fees they charge. Still, the council recently voted to repay the overpayments—estimated to be somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000, says City Manager Tom Lando.

This raised the question: Who gets the money—the developers or the homeowners? The argument for repaying the homeowners seems pretty strong, because whenever the subject of development fees is brought up, builders inevitably say those fees are simply passed onto the home buyers, and therefore jack up the cost of new homes. But when the council made noises that it was going to give the money to the homeowners, the builders cried foul. “We are going to refund the money to the builders,” Lando said this week. There is one provision that the city be held “harmless” if local homeowners decide to sue the builders over this one. “The development industry found out from other counties that using standard methods for calculating fees does not meet California law,” Lando explained. Lando said the period involved in the agreement goes back about three years and that finding the home owners of record did present a daunting task. The five developers are Tony Symmes, Pete Giampaoli, Greg Webb, Rocko Ritchie and Drake Development. I suppose we can now expect to see the cost of new homes dip a bit, right?

Mike Efford “retired” on Aug. 1 as the city’s police chief, just three years after he was hired to replace the popular Mike Dunbaugh. The fact is the chief was bought out and paid $71,778.37 in severance pay. Of course, with deductions that amount was reduced to something closer to $50,000. The Chico City Council voted in closed session earlier this year to give Efford the going-away gift, even though he hasn’t gone away yet; he agreed to hang on through Halloween and until a new chief is hired. Many of the rank-and-file cops are reportedly less than pleased by the hefty paycheck Efford received, saying in effect that Efford is being rewarded for his ineffectiveness. (One source I talked to said there was hope among the councilmembers that the recent raise approved for police officers would keep the Police Officers Association from going to the media with news of Efford’s severance pay. And, in fact, it was not the POA who contacted me.) Right now Efford is also working as the interim police chief at Butte College. He’s working two days a week at Butte, which normally pays a full-time chief between $74,956 and $83,053 per year. At the same time, the city is paying him $30 an hour as a part-time chief—about $20 less than he was receiving before Aug. 1. A source inside the city said that Efford’s connections with the California Highway Patrol—he is reportedly friends with Commissioner D. O. “Spike” Helmick—is an asset to the city in that we will receive significant CHP Halloween help. And that alone helps rationalize the $71,000 severance pay, the source said. That and the fact we’ve got a police chief working at about two-thirds the normal rate and at about half the hours.

I’ve also learned that on July 1, 30 days before he became a part-timer, Efford used his annual $600 uniform allowance to buy a Palm Pilot, even though he already has a city-issued one. And last year Efford reportedly used that uniform allowance to purchase a handgun, another item that is issued to cops by the city. That was reportedly the first time a Chico police officer has ever used his uniform allowance to buy a gun, and it did not sit well with many in the department. City Manager Lando said Efford’s purchases do not violate city policy. Efford is also rumored to be using his city-issued vehicle to drive to Butte College on the days he works there. Lando said he’d asked the chief, who assured him he was not doing so. Soon after Efford came to town from Sonora, he quit the Catholic Church and joined the Neighborhood Church, the huge gold-domed structure south of Chico and just east of Highway 99. Efford reportedly told a few people that he was joining that church in part to build a power base with fellow Neighborhood Church parishoners and City Councilmembers Dan Herbert and Rick Keene. Apparently that base wasn’t strong enough to keep him in the chief’s office.