How Many Lower Lake Teachers Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb

Monday I found the Post Office closed for Columbus Day. It was not really Columbus Day but Mondays are the dumping ground for days off disguised as holidays. This is the most bogus of all phony American holidays since it celebrates the “discovery” of the West Indies. In three attempts Columbus never landed anywhere that would become part of the United States. Don’t tell the Post Office that others previously landed on our continent or they will want those holidays off too – celebrated on a Monday.

This year I’m grumpier than usual about this insult to those living in the real world. Native Americans have tried to get schools to hijack Chris’s day for Native American Day for some time. But this year it comes on the heels of a Lower Lake High School teacher’s demand that reluctant students join in worshiping the United States flag. A teacher new to Lower Lake High School decided to make all parts of this religious ritual mandatory. Those students who stayed seated were heretics and would be burned at the grade book stake. One silent protester was a Native American.

The protesting students acted much smarter than my past approach of going thru accepted channels. In 12 years of civil rights violations by local government bodies this has yielded me zero results. Leilani Thomas and another student went right to network TV and the ACLU. They didn’t waste time complaining to the administration who hired this teacher. Nor did they did they write a letter to the local “Goober Gazette.” Local media being another black hole for dealing with civil rights abuses. Within hours all national networks and a dozen internet blogs had picked up the story. I was impressed.

The Konocti Unified Schools Superintendent received an informed media assault as her first hint that something was amiss in the public relations department. The student had gone nuclear by recording the barely articulate jingoism of the teacher and we still don’t know what that teacher taught, probably “Mindless Obedience 101.” The recording of an ignorant teacher’s babbling was more serious than the civil rights violation itself, which most goose-stepping Americans were in favor of. In fact, sixty percent of the internet traffic was supporting the teacher’s action against Leilani’s silent protest.

The transcript starts out with the teacher saying, “Here’s the deal.” Then what follows is a very raw deal. The teacher sarcastically offered the student a chance to redeem herself by submitting a written argument in an “essay form” to validate her action. There’s an interesting catch. If your writing skills are poor then you have no civil rights. It sounds like the old literacy tests for blacks voting in the deep South. I know, people protest “Bad analogy. People should be literate to vote.” But petty tyrants gave whites a different test and their goober friends no test at all. I wonder what kind of civil rights essays this teacher is capable of writing – complete with legal case references.

Wait! The recording gets better, almost comical. Dissing the student’s reasoning that the flag does not conjure up warm fuzzy feelings in her for what happened to her ancestors by mobs waving it, the teacher responds, “Like why? Why, because here’s the thing; those people, those people, they’re not alive anymore. Your ancestors.” Such a profound exponent of penetrating incite and inspiring eloquence by a teacher must be defended in our public school system. Having sewed up the Donald Trump vote with this irrefutable reasoning, teacher then spoils it with an argument containing two false assumptions and one honking contradiction.

Paraphrasing: the Lower Lake Cicero explained that the flag represented the military and they “risked their lives for us.” Remember, in her previous breath this guide for the next generation trashed a student for arguments based on experiences of past generations. Now she is demanding that students stand up for generations of mostly dead military personnel. If you don’t think this is a clear contradiction then maybe you should be teaching school in Lower Lake.

I don’t know what college this credentialed embarrassment got her degree from but the flag does not represent the military. It represents this country’s civil society of which the military is subservient to, even though oddly, people in the military are on vacation from our democratically created body of laws. Their laws are called the Code of Military Justice.

The second false premise is that the military risks their lives for us. Who’s us? Were the hundreds of indigenous peoples that were mowed down and dispossessed by our military part of the teacher’s “us” group? What about the dozens of times our military went abroad in the blatant service of corporate interests (especially the banks), crushing popular movements in the process. Back home our military “ancestors” sided with ranchers against farmers and brutally suppressed the “Bonus Army” of veterans. The last time our military “risked their lives,” front and center, “for us” was the War of 1812. But what have they done “for us” lately?

The Super went into damage control mode even before she had caught up with all the facts. The traitorous students were moved to another class – probably “Watch Your Ass 101.” A one sided statement was issued that stated the teacher was being disciplined and that students don’t give up their civil rights when they enter the school grounds. This is not quite true but extra civil liberty restrictions on students must follow the Tinker Standard, a Supreme Court guideline that I’m certain the flag worshipping teacher knows nothing about.

The brushfire is still smoldering even though one school board member says the issue is over. There is still the remaining problem of a Konocti Unified High School principal and a department head that had agreed to hire this ignorant teacher after a lengthy interview. We need to look at the school administration’s bigger agenda and criteria for hiring teachers. Maybe we should look at the standards for hiring principals. This needs to be done before we vote on the local school bond in next month’s election.

Back to Columbus Day. Dump it. No we will not take away a day off from the lucky few. We will replace it with another far more important and neglected holiday. That day, which should be far more revered in our schools and respected by Americans everywhere is Bill of Rights Day – December 15th. It is recognized by Presidential Proclamations and used to be noted on calendars. Although some teachers and principals may disagree, I would trade a flag for the Bill of Rights any day of the week.

Konocti Challenge Century

bri-5948Two days ago I rode in Lake County’s big cycling event hosted by the Rotary Club. Its one of the few attractions that have steadily grown in this poor county. This year I decided to take on the hundred mile version. Since I’m a local, I know all the pieces of the course. Its only the “Century” versions of courses that are compared in cycle magazines. This one compares quite well.

This is another item on my recent retirement to-do list checked off. The Thursday before the Challenge I reentered the world of performance poetry at the Ukiah Writers Read. Actually it wasn’t a performance event since I was the only poet performing with memorized material. To be truthful, I ventured to Mendocino County to introduce my style to Mendocino’s Poet Laureate. This style might be called dramatic reading. My girlfriend calls it “yelling at people.”

A dozen years ago I rode the 65 miler in the same event. This one circles the Lake as close as possible. It’s probably not unfair to say this shorter route is for tourists of mixed abilities who are going to do other things while they are here. It is of limited interest to serious cyclists unless they are recovering from injuries or are in decline.

The reputation of hundred milers being for athletes was made clear when the 65 and 100 routes diverged in Lower Lake. Up to this point I was passing my fellow geezers and the overweight. After they pulled away at the split to complete the 65er the only bikes I saw were a couple dozen buffed people whizzing by who left late.

Since I’m local, the terrain is familiar to me. I ride around the County and over to Napa all the time. The only source of dread was the upcoming 3.5 mile steep grade between Anderson Springs and Whispering Pines on Highway 175. It was painful. But I still had wind and power in my legs so I couldn’t stop. There were other long or steep grades but no more long AND steep grades. I rolled in at 5pm just as the BBQ was starting.

So now I have the minimum credentials to muse on thematic rides I would like to develop. The Rotary has shown no interest in inter county rides. But I can imagine three rides with a historical context or regional appeal. I see a way to add dramatic and video elements to these promoted rides.

First a little history. Lake County never had a railroad coming in to it in spite of many stock selling attempts for the purpose. The only effort that actually stuck a shovel in the ground was the Bay Cities Company that planned an extension from their line in the city of Napa, thru Conn Canyon and Pope Valley then up to Lower Lake. Bay Cities hired 50 people to survey the entire route and actually built a trestle over the creek in Napa. With the invention of the freight truck in 1910 this promising effort was shelved.

There are existing roads that come within a half mile of the planned tracks. The name of this near miss railroad spur wasn’t fixed. For future fictional dramatic purposes I have baptized it the “Konocti Kannonball.” This would also be a good name for a bike run route. Hopefully I’m not the only one who sees the train theme spinoffs.

My second fantasized foray over the County line slides between the East side of Mendocino out of Willits and the West side of Lake County, thru Redwood and Potter Valleys, over to Blue Lakes and Scotts Valley, Hwy 29 to Bottle Rock, then screaming down stream on 175 to Middletown, ending at the brewery on the bus 3 line. Unlike the Konocti Challenge which emphasizes the Lake Chamber pushed spots, this route shows off more of what the locals like and connects with more hip Willits. I call it “The Backstreet.” I am a firm believer in “Mendo-Lake” wide projects to expand opportunities.

For something completely different, I am researching a mountain bike run out of Lakeport, over the Cow Mountain Recreation Area to Talmidge, East of Ukiah. I don’t even know if its possible for anyone not of extraordinary ability to complete this run. As soon as the dirt road pulls away from Scott Creek it becomes “Eight Mile Grade Road.” This sounds bad. In the spring I plan to hike the route before I ride it. This could be the ultimate “bad boy” ride with a gritty anti Chamber of Commerce attitude. I call it the “Escape From Lake County” route.

A screenplay will be forthcoming.

Retirement Grand Opening

My last day of working in jobs was August 6th. The next day was the soft opening of my retirement. I figured I needed at least two weeks to assess the damage to my life from unrelenting six day work weeks and make basic repairs. These are mostly maintenance disasters on my knoll and a couple past due filing issues. My dog noticed my increased presence and walk time right from the start.

The official Retirement Grand Opening of my retirement will be on Wednesday, August 24th at the Starry Plough Irish pub on Shattock in Berkeley. This is the longest running slam poetry venue in Northern California. Every Wednesday is slam poetry night. Slam poetry will be one of my top five ongoing projects in a dumpster load of one time and intermittent projects. I’m developing a concept called “race horse slam” to take this performance poetry to the next dramatic level. All I need is time. Expect to see more blogs and video at “”.

It was such a pleasure to be able to accept a writing project. The old State Granges have been destroyed by an evil corporate conspiracy. Someone familiar with my work asked me to write a melodrama using former Grange members as actors that will point up and satirize the battle that took place. I can videotape the performance and post it on the internet for all the displaced former Grange members to see.

What are the other ongoing projects? There are videoed/dramatic bicycle and kayak runs. I am still in good shape. I will be writing a series of plays and screenplays. Creating a GPS resource of local movie locations and background actor lists to make me the goto person. I will replace the dry book club format with a video publicized “Homeland Security Book Review Hour.” And lets not forget my ongoing writing research in my “meth lab” library, named after the justification used by our rabid police for a warrantless raid.

Before my bus driving gig and after my stint as a taxi driver I struggled in this poor county. Jobs are few and mean. Finding employment had to compete with fighting hoards of homeless tweekers and politically motivated police attacks. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to work, repel thieves, fight City Hall, and pursue creative interests. Fortunately, by retiring early I added 50 hours per week to attend to the latter three’s time demands.

The knoll should be somewhat presentable as a work and show place next week. Not everything will be installed but I should have a visually interesting video location for creatives to visit. I’m certain code enforcement won’t appreciate the knoll’s artistic potential. But that brings up my civil procedure course project that I will be resuming soon. I also have to catch up on filings for my non profit – “Cache Creek Performance.”

In addition to regular treks to Berkeley, I can now hit the monthly open mics at the Catfish Coffeehouse and the last Thursday Writers Read in Ukiah. Upcoming annual events include the Fringe Festival in San Francisco and the Konocti Challenge bicycle tour around Lake County. I spent three years watching these happenings from the sidelines. Six day work weeks are not compatible with activities that are not planned around your work schedule.

The week before I retired I wrote two ballot arguments against a local sales tax. I now have time to participate in debates to defend my position. A previous version of the tax failed with no opposition. They deleted the clear sticking points but now they have official opposition – me. I could not have resumed my role as an involved citizen while being sidelined in a demanding job. From this point on there will be no more free ride for local goobers who think the City is their entitled cash cow and litter box. I will be responding.

My only regret is that most of the people I knew in Silicon Valley have dropped off the radar physically, mentally, and politically. This happens to many people in old age, whenever that begins. But too many people from my crowd have died or lost function before they reached official geezer status. Its probably just as well I moved to a fringe county where someone can reinvent themselves in a slow but evolving scene.

In spite of the time stress, it was good to finish the succession of jobs at the top of my game. A transit driver has to certify their ability, background, drug use, and social skills. Many of my former acquaintances and family could not do this. I left the world of work as a success at my job. Now it is time to complete my success as a life.

Last Bus Out

Yesterday was Bastille Day. Tomorrow I will be giving three weeks notice at the transit company, not to take another job but to live a different life. I chose this date last March. This is the second time I have moved up my departure date from the universe of jobs. I was not ready to go full-time last September but my number came up early due to the rapid attrition rate. I did not have time to prepare for the rains or install my new system of perimeter alarms – still in their boxes. Clearlake is a high crime area.

In January I had been working six day weeks for four months, doing damage control from the rains the best I could, when I was hit with another nasty burglary, losing a bicycle, a moped, and my precious kayak. That really hurt. I decided to finish the year, earning one paid vacation and a 20% vested in the company plan. I simply had to get my life back as soon as possible. These six day weeks are only for people who live to work. They are not for people trying to keep a writing and performance career from going completely cold.

Two months later in March, Spring had arrived along with police raids on my knoll. It was a spill over from pot farm frenzy down the road. Of course there was no warrant and no apologies – not even for impounding my dog. What could I do? I had no time to shop for a lawyer. I was too busy working six day weeks with nothing open on Sunday. I could have filed papers myself if I had the time to finish my civil procedure course. But I didn’t. These stupid six day weeks forced me to kiss the jack boots of our masters like a good little peasant. Police have no respect for working people.

I decided the next day after I posted my “Pot Police and Pirates” blog to quit as quickly as possible. Forget the vacation and the 401. My tight calculations meant trading money for time. Leaving in early August meant I would have just enough time to rebuild for Winter. At this date, Social Security would give me $1179 per month. I prepared a budget based on this number. I won’t be eating out often or buying much equipment or supplies.

I would have liked to drive the bus for a couple more years, maybe more part time. The problem is work is supposed to add more to your life than than it takes away. Retiring from jobs early so I could get serious about my work reminds me of not being able to begin my true education until I left college. Professors would sometimes hint that the real deal was outside class.

Future plans for a third act promises an interesting show for my useful life. Let’s see, I have a succession of one hour plays to write and produce. There’s the changes in slam poetry performance and judging I want to popularize. My experiments in dramatic video editorials have annoyed so many people I simply have to do a lot more. I’ve got a couple full length plays and screen plays in mind but I won’t make a habit of these old school genres.

I suppose everything else would fall under performance art. Everything would be put on video from puppets, found art crafts, to themed bicycle, kayak, and run events, to videotaped radio shows, cheesy video and parody contests to rustic and medieval salons. There are no limits when you have your health and lots of time.

Maybe I’ll get my teaching credential back and offer to teach a killer economics class. I can’t do that driving a bus six days a week. This will be after I finish my civil procedure course so I won’t have to worry about getting sand kicked in my face anymore by small town goobers.

A bus driver continues to build skills through experience after their official training ends. Many things can only be learned or discovered by doing them over and over. This human capital represents value added for the company and the public. When drivers are forced to leave the result is lost investment in human capital and value for the passengers. The drivers who are forced to leave often have to preserve their own human capital in their personal life. People have values and interests outside work that require maintenance.

Mismanagement of driver hiring and retention has damaged both Lake Transit’s and the drivers’ human capital. In my case, I’ve waited as long as I could to prevent total disaster.

Argument Against Measure “V”

During the past 10 years Clearlake has received two infusions of State road bond money and a Federal stimulus package. It was all spent on our major road arteries. This money could only be used for CalTrans designated roads that benefit everyone – even people without cars. To spend public money that primarily benefits private property would be enriching specific individuals at public expense.

Before the 1970’s developers were not required to put in roads of any kind. Neighborhoods had to form Road Assessment Districts to build and pay for their own roads since they received most of the benefits. The paved roads you see in Clearlake Park and several other areas in Clearlake were paid for in this way.

This fair and commonsense way of paying for residential roads ended when Clearlake incorporated. From this date on there has been no serious effort to form neighborhood owned and controlled road assessment districts. We are told by local leaders that we should not bother because they are diligently working on ways to subsidize private property.

The proposed one-cent sales tax will take exactly that amount from sectors it is now being spent within. That means a reduction of jobs. It will regressively hit the lower half of incomes the hardest. Only extraordinary measures can reduce the regressivity of sales taxes.

Residents that are already below Federal Poverty Level Guidelines should not be paying the road bills of property owners. Out -of-County trash lot owners will never pay a penny of local sales tax. Neighborhoods that pursue the proven solution of assessment districts will make absentee owners pay their share.

There is a City Hall belief that tourists will come here to spend sales tax money in a city that has not invested in infrastructure first. This is magical thinking.

My Transit Union Goon Experience


Lake Transit is run by a contractor chosen by a three government “Lake Transit Authority.” That contractor then contracts with a labor union who represents the rank and file employees. On July 1 the labor contract was to expire. January 1, 2017 the contractor’s contract was to expire. The bus workers chose me to work with the negotiating committee for the labor contract.

Contractors are not like entrepreneurs. They do not have their own capital at risk. They can pack up and leave by not bidding on the next operations contract and have lost nothing. The buses, yard, equipment, and transit infrastructure are publicly owned capital. This reduces the contractor’s incentive to settle labor issues quickly. A contractor can lowball their contract bid and tell workers a raise in pay or benefits is not in their budget. Strike if you want to. We don’t care. This makes unions look ineffective.

This year is a little different. CalTrans, who has the final word on all matters transit, has put the LTA and the contractor on a strict timeline to create a new operations contract. This is due to the many contract extensions that were granted. The first speed bump date is July 11th. This is when the LTA’s draft Request For Proposals for a new operations contract must be sitting on CalTrans’ desk. To write this draft RFP all current costs must be listed, including labor. If there is a union their contract has to be put into the package but apparently is not binding on the new contractor.

I decided early on in the labor negotiations that I would only contribute my document research from CalTrans, my unique experience of going to all the LTA meetings, and quoting its general manager whenever possible. Just mentioning his name causes contractors to avert their eyes. The Union rep would keep the long formal process chugging along. Other bus workers at the table would pound on specific proposals.

After the third negotiating session it was clear nothing else was coming over from the other side of the table. Moving numbers around the columns and changing wording was not even inching us forward. Up to this point, the “progress” was the Union throwing out things from their original proposal. What was left was a few minor changes in conditions and trying to get a raise in some part of the three year contract.

The contractor was adamant that the money drivers got from the Valley Fire disaster funds was our raise for the rest of the year even though they did not pay any of it. At an earlier LTA meeting I pointed out that this infusion only covered most of the new minimum wage increase of one dollar. New drivers got an increase of 86 cents. So they were still further behind the minimum wage gain. The LTA’s manager, Mark (avert your eyes) Wall thought the difference between the minimum wage and starting driver pay should be two dollars.

So now its Tuesday morning, day 5. The Union committee decides that since the contractor wanted to wrap things up today we would oblige by giving our Best and Final Offer. Unlike three years ago when the drivers got their butts kicked, the contractor is under some pressure from the LTA to meet a deadline because the LTA is under pressure from CalTrans to move on their calendar.

So the contractor and Union committees face off across the table. The Union hasn’t budged since yesterday and says “Hey guys, how about your Best and Final offer so we can take it to our members tonight along with a strike vote.” Predictably, the contractors tensed up and asked for a brief recess. When they came back their fake smiles had vanished. Then they alternated between lecturing us as if we were naughty three year olds and accusing us of violating the National Labor Relations Act, without examples, and seemed to be on their way to charging us with crimes against humanity when we decided to break for another Union paid for lunch.

After lunch more trees had been sacrificed at the copy center. The contractor had made progress in wages that they might never pay because they would not start until after the operations contract had been awarded. Starting drivers would still start at $11.34 an hour till January First. On the First they would get $2.50, maybe. If the current contractor does not bid they won’t pay it. And a new contractor would technically have to agree to sign on to the Union agreement.

During break, the Teamster guy asked us what we thought and if the membership would vote for this contract. He thought that since the present contractor did not seem likely to put in a serious bid for themselves that this was probably the best we could get. I thought most would follow his lead but any drivers likely to quit soon, because of the mandatory six-day weeks caused by the driver shortage, probably would vote against the contract. The rest of our committee voiced concerns that the members were too tired to go out on strike. Lucky for low ball contractors, until we get too tired to drive and quit.

Sure enough, that night the members voiced their disappointment with different shortcomings of our thin work but still voted for the contractor’s meager three year contract offer which may end up back on the table with a new contractor. I wonder if the serfs felt this way – new Lord, same field to plow.

Meanwhile, the relentless march of the CalTrans procurement schedule leading to an operations contract award begins July 11 and ends with an award November 9th. The CalTrans approved RFP is released to potential bidders August 5 but I really need to see the draft that CalTrans sees July 11 so I can pitch a fit if a performance clause is not in it. An operation that is on forced six day work weeks for over a year is not fully staffed. When qualified drivers quit due to burn outs and melt downs, the money spent on training and increasing driver experience levels go down the drain.

What would such a staffing clause look like? I suggested a trigger of a three driver shortage over three months. This would be the indicator of a systemic fault. When both of these conditions exist continuously the contract should require a written explanation from the contractor of why this is an extraordinary glitch, how it is being fixed, and why they should not be fined for non performance. Mark Wall is simultaneously planning route reductions based on a grant shortfall. He doesn’t need the additional headaches from another low ball contract. I will now avert my eyes.

Who Will Drive My Bus?

As you know, we live in a market economy. Any attempt to buy something by paying less than the market price for a good or service results in a shortage or just plain no-takers. The alternative to making a better offer is to go to a slightly different market where your price may be accepted.

The obvious choice is to consider lowering quality, which tends to reduce price. In the case of transit drivers this may not be feasible to do on paper due to government regulations. Changing the paper is always a possibility but that takes a lot of work and creativity.

I have been proposing several recruiting strategies that appeal to niche markets. These will take a lot of effort and any one strategy won’t be very productive. The likely result of not changing our bus driver hiring practices will be canceled routes due to staff shortage.

The regular meetings of the Lake Transit Authority is a good first stop to make recruiting suggestions. In recent meetings I have suggested implementing a two year internship program that would enhance drivers employability for other jobs. The over 55  market is already well represented in driver ranks but we need to outreach to those who have given up in an otherwise disinterested market for older workers.

As the situation gets more desperate I have recommended raiding Napa for bus drivers with materials showing that the lower pay in Lake County would be offset by cheaper housing prices. Tighter definitions of background checks would allow expungement assistance by an auxiliary group. Many crimes would still be beyond expungement.

In a more innovative vein, we could hire a flex person with the guarantee of full time status after one year of reliable service. We could also take a big gulp of reality and acknowledge that many people need two part time jobs to survive but its hard to coordinate work schedules. The offer of a negotiated, fixed schedule would pull in a couple drivers who already have a part time job. And yes, flexibility needs would limit the number of fixed schedule drivers possible.

Another barrier to hiring two-job people is scheduling for only a few hours nearly every day. We have lost several quality people due to this practice. This reduces the chances of going to another job on those days. It would be more attractive to driver applicants to offer full day scheduling to accommodate work at other jobs on other days.

These measures require ongoing staff time and thinking outside the employment box. But another obvious step to recruiting does not. There needs to be a more effective job listing in CalJobs, the interlinked goto job board maintained by EDD. However the Paratransit notice for drivers is not optimized for keywords like “driver” or “bus” or “bus driver.” A short list of Clearlake “driver” jobs does not include our bus driver position. Job openings at the Lake County site only pop up in a complete dump of all job openings within 10 miles of the bus yard. Most people will not wade through pages of irrelevant listings.

The text of this elusive job notice could be rewritten also. Remember, qualified applicants are not lined up outside the door. If the pay offered is not top tier you need to sell the job to applicant buyers. There seems to be resistance to making effective pitches to potential drivers. Maybe someone who understands how the market system works needs to take over the driver recruiting job.