Press Democrat 4th Estate Sale

by Dante DeAmicis

The obit for the dead tree media read, “Lake County Transit Workers Call Off Strike” by Glenda Anderson, August 15, 2013. My name is Dante DeAmicis. I have been substituting for Herb Gura’s Law Show for the last two weeks. My two main topics have been the local transit strike and the lack of critical media at the local level.

The Press Democrat’s article on the end of the transit strike has provided me with an excellent example of the latter issue. A critical reporter would have asked chief operating officer Christie Scheffer, why is service not being restored on the next day? I doubt you would have gotten a meaningful answer from Paratransit Services.

A critical reporter would have then sought another knowledgeable source and learned that Paratransit’s emergency plan, approved by Lake County Transit Authority, called for resuming full service in two phases. Paratransit was short two replacement drivers from their hasty training program, requiring them to take back the two senior Union drivers to implement Phase 1.

Full service could have been resumed immediately by simply declaring the emergency plan now null and void. All slots remaining in Phase 2 to restore service could have been filled by the old drivers immediately. Instead, Paratransit was allowed to pretend that the emergency was ongoing and continue to train every replacement employee that made it through the door. This was done for reasons that had nothing to do with getting the buses running at full strength. This could have been done the next day if they simply acknowledged that the strike was over. I repeat: Every single bus route run that did not operate after August 16th was 100% due to Paratransit malfeasance.

Finally, a critical reporter would then have asked for examples of the “variety of issues” that Paratransit was working out over the 5-day legal maximum. A good redirect might be “What situations are those 5 days meant for and is Paratransit using that grace period for those reasons?” If the same question was then asked of the Union drivers, the Press Democrat’s ace reporter would have heard that Paratransit is misusing an unneeded reorganizational period to shoot as many wounded and strip as many dead as time allows.

Here’s some illuminating analogies to illustrate how ridiculous Paratransit’s unquestioned statements look to a critical person:

* If someone was qualified to give First Aid to an accident victim and a doctor arrived soon after, would the First Aid responder be justified in not letting the responding doctor take over because they have started First Aid?

 * Say a mudslide completely closed a freeway and the highway department temporarily allowed traffic to detour around the slide on a nearby creek bottom. Should the highway department allow this practice after the slide is cleared because off road yahoos prefer to tear up the waterway?

 * And lastly, pay attention to this one, what if a developer with government contracts was told a new heritage oak ordinance was taking effect in 5 days, and he used those 5 days to hire 30 day laborers in town with chain saws to cut down every big tree on properties he controlled? Should the local government give the waste maker more of the people’s money? `

Once again, I thank the Press Democrat for providing a shining example of why community radio and local activist blogs are the survivors of and successors to our late great newspapers.

Big Read, A Critical Review

by Dante DeAmicis

 The Big Read has begun. As a bibliophile I am not impressed although its origin is interesting. The money comes from the National Endowment for the Arts as a matching funds grant. The NEA farms out the selection of the book list and awarding of grants to “artsmidwest.org.” Lake County’s Department of Education is running Lake’s Big Read in connection with the Literacy Task Force. Strangely, although a long list of non profits are also eligible to apply for a Big Read grant, school districts do not qualify.

Arts Midwest developed a process to select a short list of novels and a little poetry. Each grant recipient creates their own process to select one book off the list and start receiving program materials to create activities for the school year. Lake County decided that “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan was just the fuel to fire up our sluggish reading practices. This was Lake County’s second selection since the program began in 2006.

Officially the national program begins this month but Lake is waiting until October to kick theirs off.  According to the National Big Read site, some other recipients are rolling out events for September. Oddly, a majority of these locales have selected “True Grit” from the short list. Fast on the draw I guess. Our Ed Department is trying for a flashy start with an October 5th Joy Luck Club book launch at the Tallman Hotel. It appears to be pitched to educators.

The whole Big Read list is a head scratcher. Does anyone think many of these anointed titles would have been listed by precocious 7th to 12th graders? I recall “Soul On Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver was hot with my grade school peers. We won’t see something that relevant showing up on a government reading list unless it’s a “Banned Book” list. Consider such a list a worthy substitute for the Big Read List.

I know I’m being grumpy but it’s because of the inherent thinness of fiction compared to non fiction. Ideas and concepts are few and far between in novels and obscure in poetry. Themes of any density or currency tend to be absent amid the filler of fiction. It’s hard to talk meaningfully about nothing.

Officially, eligible books don’t have to be novels and collections of poetry or short stories. The Big Read list is a “literature” selection. Literature refers more to a style than a genre. My Webster defines the term as “Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value.” When writers in the sciences or humanities wish to sell books to the general public they employ many literary devices. By using conversational language and minimizing professional jargon they can reach the same people that fiction authors appeal to. The difference is substance in the same literary package.

This isn’t a complaint from some fringe group demanding that their canon be enshrined instead of a more top-down filtered one. Look around a bookstore (or a book catalog) and see what is worth thinking or talking about. If reading books is not promoted through works that are both concise, meaty, and compelling then the effort will fail.

Looking around my library, which has been dubbed “a meth lab” by the City, I see several possibilities to compile rip-your-eyeballs-out reading lists. How about a “Civil Liberties” or a “Transition/Sustainability” list? In spite of literacy boosters best efforts to turn the written word into safe and proper fare for coffee klatches, I think their goal should be to wake people up, clue them in, and motivate them to actually do something while they still can.

We have been given the best hook to snag attention by the Department of Homeland Security’s attempt to cage our library records. Bingo. I give you the “Homeland Security Book Review Club.” Trouble making readers will meet to discuss and write up their reviews of annoying books, sending the reviews to the media and a copy to Homeland Security “for their files.” The Club’s motto: “If they’re not interested in it, then we’re not interested in it.” When reading was popular it was also dangerous.

Over the Hill

By Dante DeAmicis

 First a word about the “transition lifestyle.” Transportation is a big part of our lifestyle, is it not? Currently, the focus of American mobility is the car. Cars are great. But a truly sustainable lifestyle would push them off front and center. A few should have cars and us occasional users would pay them for going-my-way rides. Renting cars for rare distance, multiple stop junkets should be part of the plan. Bottom line, transition needs to work transportation into lifestyles and away from guilt trip tokenism.

 There’s nothing like killing two birds with one stone. Since I started adding the hills to the flats on regular bike trips. I’ve gotten stronger, healthier, and have lost what little taste I had for junk food. The second bird here is sustainable medical care. There is nothing more sustainable than not breaking something to begin with. Especially when it’s now obvious government and the corporations are only interested in medical triage.

 I live in Clearlake. My regular hills trips, which have gotten easier and easier, are to Kelseyville and Jerusalem Grade road. I usually take the bus one way on the Kelseyville run due to large cargo hauls. Clearlake Oaks is less than 10 miles by back roads but there is a small mountain issue. When my coffeehouse hang out opened a second shop there, over Sulpher Banks I went. My time from Catfish Coffeehouse by Redbud Park to Catfish 2 next to Shannon Ridge Wine Tasting was 52 minutes. I am four months from 60 and have never “worked out” a day in my adult life.

 Once hill riding becomes more like fun and less like special rendering you start seeing possibilities with different eyes. Transportation becomes like life should be – more of a journey than a destination. Sometimes a journey can enrich bystanders. A historical bike trip to Lake County suggested itself to me. Our one promoted cycle event, the Konocti Challenge, is self contained within the County. In planning hill trips one fact stands out – hills show no respect for county boundaries.

 Most attempts to bring a railroad to Lake County never got beyond printing stock certificates. Two efforts from the South got to the surveying stage. I’ve been researching, even finding the proposed Lake County segment on a 1910 map. I still need to clear up which railroad this was as well as spend a day in Napa researching that part of the survey. Of course if we were to create a cycle event shadowing the old aborted railroad project we would be under no obligation to keep the original boring name of the railroad as the name of the bike tour. Langtry Limited or Konocti Kannonball anyone?

 People are shocked, shocked I say, when I tell them I chose a bicycle centered lifestyle, augmented by carpools, transit, rentals, taxis, and good old walking. Surely, I must have gotten a DUI, have a temporary mechanical problem, or are severely impaired physically or mentally. Sportsters are given a pass if they display the full assemblage of neon spandex and accessories. That’s not me. I do mostly working runs. Even the sustainability crowd aren’t convinced, who are nursing a beater until they can buy a hybrid.

Report from Driver 39

By Dante DeAmicis

 This just in from the Lake Transit Economics Department: Lower Wages are good for Lake County. On September 1st we will know how many 11 to 12 dollar an hour drivers have been axed for $10.48 an hour replacement drivers. Inquiring minds want to know, “How is paying lower wages going to help Lake County?” Its simple, by making it harder for people here who have to work for a living we will be encouraging these people to leave and be replaced by bon vivants who have independent means, preferably from Napa. This follows the real estate credo: “The only good buck is a fast buck.” No doubt the Transit Authority knows where their bread is buttered and has signed on to policies that have made Lake County the booming metropolis that it is today.

 There will probably be a net increase in that high-roller EDD money pouring into the County. Since the State is struggling to stay afloat, it makes sense to the goober brain trust to get as many people on unemployment as we can while the money is still there. The strategy of replacing working people with recipients of meager unemployment checks is related to General Cornwallis’ tactic of firing cannon on his own troops during the American Revolution. Not only did it ensure a win, it cut down on food costs.

 Many non bus riders have had a hard time wrapping their mind around transit issues except when someone puts a bus stop sign in front of their house and Jesus tells them to take a hacksaw to it. The problem is that Transit Authority meetings lack the entertainment value of a Clearlake City Council meeting. News coverage about buses is a total snoozer.

 First off, taking a Paratransit guy from Washington and a Teamster guy from the Bay Area does not make them interesting just because you put them in Lake County, churning out official statements. Instead, I recommend that local media ignore the suits and focus on Operations Manager Wanda Gray and senior driver and organizer April Allen. If there’s going to be a fight, we want it to be an all local, high-powered bitch fight. Randy and Ralph look terrible on video.

 Next, since the the TA is where the big money is, the meetings have an obligation to be exciting since money is supposed to be exciting. Oh, Board Member Chuck Leonard does what he can with his rabid anti-unionism and open disgust with poor people in general. But one man can only do so much without a foil. There are two at-large seats on the Board. I certainly wouldn’t advocate replacing Chuck for the frivolous reason that he only represents the upper crust of Lake County’s day-old bakery. No, since its all about entertainment I recommend replacing the other at-large Member with a slogan chanting union goon. Someone like former union organizer Tim Williams might create some sparks with the old union buster.

 Have we forgotten anything? Oh yes, the children. There is an educational opportunity here to include them in the controversy. We just might have the local equivalent of Jeff Foxworthy’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” The “Are You Smarter than a Bus Rider” version would feature local elementary school kids pitted against Paratransit business wonks. These are the guys who said 2 out of 39 was “.05%.” Second guess: “Well, not even 1%, no wait, I’d like to buy an exclamation point.”

 I hope the kids don’t humiliate them too badly.

Randy’s Big Score

By Dante DeAmicis

On August 14th the Lake Transit Authority met to approve Paratransit’s plan to ramp up to full service with replacement drivers. Most of the drivers showed up to offer an alternative to this out-of-state carpetbagger’s scorched Earth program.

Like the carpetbaggers of Reconstruction, Paratransit brings no capital of their own to Lake County. They are not entrepreneurs as they simply administer programs already in place, financed by grants and a quarter cent of the local sales tax. Paratransit’s cut of this gets sucked out of Lake County and pumped into the State of Washington. The drivers’, mechanics’, and office workers’ part stays local.

The drivers realized going into the meeting that the fix was in and the Board was going to defer entirely to transit head Mark Wall. I’m certain that no one else on the Board knew precisely how to interpret the Authority’s contract with Paratransit. One public speaker said it was a lousy contract. No one on the Board disagreed.

The pleas of emotional riders and drivers touting the value of experience on our war-zone roads bounced off Mark Wall’s armored contract like marshmallow bullets. The Teamsters at this point were ready to fall back on plan “B” – binding arbitration. Assuming there is still a union after the replacement blood bath, this would put the ball in a true third party court.

Why wouldn’t Paratransit jump at this option favored by our local State legislators? After all, they have done nothing but ridicule the Union’s spread sheet skills, using innovative “Randy math” to do it. But Paratransit guards their numbers as if they were diamonds, tossing out a mysterious cost figure for the peasants to bow down to. Lake County’s educated citizens don’t pray to that mountain.

I hope the Transit Authority realizes that three of their members around the Lake are up for reelection next year. Skirting responsibility by saying “the contract made me do it” isn’t going to cut it. How can Paratransit be induced to accept binding arbitration and full disclosure of their payroll figures when their contract doesn’t say they have to? The answer is not in law. It is in politics.

I have seen how things get done when a real leader wants to get something done but officially can’t push the issue. The leader may have a conversation with another Board member first to test the waters. The leader will then attempt to catch the person to convince, as if by chance, in public. The message will appear to be friendly and casual to anyone who overhears. But at the same time, the leader is talking a very different message that is conveyed with body language, eye contact, and facial expressions.

This is how I envision things working for the buses if anyone cared. The leader catches Randy in the country club steam room and sits down casually next to him. After awhile he says “I sure hope this transit thing works out soon without any fallout I have to deal with.” Nothing else said on the subject but the body language kicks into overdrive.

What message is Randy supposed to hear with his eyes from this leader? The message, effectively delivered, is “You better end this mess now or you can take all your ill gotten gains from now until the end of your contract and enjoy them in Hell. Because you will never squeeze another dime out of this poor county as long as I am on the Board.”

That’s what a real leader would do. Do we have such a creature on the Transit Authority?

EDD to Lock Out Redoubt Challenge

EDD to Lockout Redoubt Challenge

by Dante DeAmicis

Alright, I suckered you in. This is another Transit Strike article. Excuse me. “Strike” is the wrong word. As of this writing it is now a “lockout” since the drivers have voted to return to work.

My Lockout Redoubt Challenge began with my notification for an unemployment eligibility interview.

I was locked out by the Great Randy himself long before the Union strikers were and filed accordingly on August 3rd.

The interview scheduled for August 27th is a monkey wrench that will delay benefits. The notice had all kinds of union references which have nothing to do with me. I thought “I need to write one of my incisive articles to clear this up before the interview and send it to EDD.” Silly me. I found out there is no way to get information by e-mail or FAX to EDD before an interview. Maybe someone confused me with the strikers, ya think?

There was a small chance that the Lakeport EDD office had a back door FAX to their phone temple in San Diego and could place my missive in a file with my number on it before the interview. So on the 7:05 Clearlake to Lakeport bus I went, with my bike. A replacement driver was behind the wheel. He was pretty good. He only made one mistake at Kitts Korner, rubbed a curb, and forgot to turn on the stop request.

The EDD was mostly empty. The hoards of locked out bus drivers had been processed the previous Friday. My hopes were dashed when the clerk confirmed that there was no way to contact the phone center before an interview. I was just going to have to wing it on the day of the Inquisition. Now it was time for the Lockout Redoubt Challenge. I knew it compared poorly to our Konocti Challenge but even they started as the “Peddle Around the Puddle.”

EDD launch time was 9:16 a.m. I should note that I am not one of those neon spandex-ed out riders who weigh out every gram of weight they carry. My cargo list included two knapsacks with two computers, my usual complement of papers and books, and enough consumer electronics to sponsor a space mission. Not an energy bar in the load.

Leaving Lakeport I zig-zagged through farm country, around Finley, and up to the 24 hour store in Kelseyville (9:57). Now I’m on my usual Highway 29 route. Up to Kitts Korner (10:39) where I slammed down a lemonade to start the last official leg to the finish line at the Lock Out Redoubt in front of Lake Transit (11:21), for a Lock Out Challenge record of 2 hours and 5 minutes. The sign pumping crowd went wild as I turned for my victory lap, leading a field of none back to the coffee shop.

Expect to see more Lock Out Challenges around the Lake with enthusiastic sponsorship by Corporate America. It could be the tourist attraction of the future.

Sales Tax A-Go-Go

Sales Tax A-Go-Goan image of author as the Mad Hatter
by Dante DeAmicis

Last Thursday Clearlake City Council voted 4 to 1 to continue their class war against our poorest residents in the service of real estate interests by sending a whooping new 1% city sales tax to the ballot. This would be in addition to the present 1/2% City sales tax – a legacy of the old Measure P.

It has been a recent tradition to slap a sales tax before the voters each election in Clearlake. No other local funding devices are ever considered. Self appointed, self anointed leaders of the goober pack generally hail from the real estate crowd on the South shore. Their dream is a bigger and better Measure P which also mandated that 63% of the City budget had to go to the police department. Most municipal functions are performed by special districts or private companies. The city of Clearlake is a life support system for a police department.

The limitations of such myopia was even made clear by interim City Administrator Robert Van Nort in 2006 when he reported that nothing was going to improve in Clearlake until Measure P was reformed. The response from the Goobertocracy, then and afterwards, was total silence. Reform? Naw, we got more sales taxes to push.

The Council proved that inconvenient facts are not inconvenient at all if you ignore them. New subdivisions have their roads paid for by developers and tack it on the house prices. In Clearlake’s land rush era people once could buy paper lots in howling wildernesses. Then buyers either formed assessment districts to pave a few roads or bounce around on dirt roads. Assessment districts had a term limit and a point was reached where a majority of land owners did not see the benefit of renewing the assessments.

The result was large tracts where people were living in near third world conditions, courtesy of real estate developers. Clearlake and parts of North shore became poster children for the State Map Act. This law defined an allowable subdivision as something more than abstract lines drawn on a land sale map. Roads that were not major arteries were now considered property related and property’s responsibility. That’s why the new rules require new developers to pay for roads.

These matters are too ethically complex when politics only means “we want it, we need it, and we don’t think anyone can stop us.” The shameless ones see no problem in dinging people who have already taken major hits in their safety nets after the crash of the real estate casino. Placing bets was more important than paying bills in the bubble years, now they want renters to stake them in the streets.

For the Council, the issue is never one of fairness or efficiency. The whole point is to be on the side with juice in Clearlake and you will be rewarded. What’s the reward for declaring open season on those who have nothing and no way to escape? For a part-time councilperson, who is expected to have other means, you get a free $2100 per month health plan. Meanwhile, their tax targets have to take their MediCal chances with the “Deadbud” house of horrors.

The latest sales tax also kicks off money for Code Enforcement. In the context of Clearlake’s class war the word “code” is also a code. The necessary goals of code enforcement should be focused on clear and present dangers to health and safety. In the past they have also been used to pursue social goals often at the expense of civil rights and sustainable practices. The only extra scrutiny that can be justified is on absentee lot owners. If one is not a resident they cannot claim the rights of a resident.