Disenfranchisement and Paratransit Services

By Driver Number 39

You don’t have to be a political pundit to know that our right to vote is under continuous attack by the forces of wealth and power. In the past the profoundly privileged relied on scaring the middle class and drumming up any class conflict except against theirs. Even the lower middle class bought the bill of goods about killing the goose that might lay a golden egg for their children.

As successive slices off the middle class have been dumped into the ranks of the working poor with fewer and fewer opportunities on the horizon for their children’s education and “American Dream” type jobs, this pitch does not sell as well.

Since the disillusioned and discouraged clearly outnumber the Top 1%, the Top 5%, and are on the way to over running and outvoting the whole top quintile, the only solution, short of a fascist coup, is to throw every legal barrier imaginable between them and the ballot box. Even outside the scramble for electoral representation the same drive to squelch the democratic process can be found, using many of the same tools of disenfranchisement.

This development was made clear locally at the NLRB hearing between Paratransit Services and the union representing the bus drivers. The main issue was an upcoming election for Paratransit employees whether to decertify the union or not. The Union was pushing for a mail in ballot and Paratransit’s attorney was arguing for an on site election. What’s the difference you say?

Paratransit has more direct access to the many replacement drivers they have recently hired. Those recent hires are still grateful to be working and have not had time to become soured by some of Paratransit’s Dickensonian behaviors, such as not wanting to give drivers time off to attend a wife’s funeral. Meanwhile, the Union has been effectively quarantined away from the replacement drivers as far as introducing them to what the Union has to offer. Although the replaced drivers are still technically Paratransit employees and can vote on Union decertification, showing up to a specific place for them during a short time period is more difficult.

The combination of a strike and lockout has left many drivers stretched thin. Some have increased their hours at second jobs. Others have job interviews out of the area that they have to be available for. More and more are taking temporary jobs to make ends meet. That is my situation.

The Paratransit attorney made the absurd argument that if striking bus drivers found it convenient to picket the bus yard and follow buses to do bus stop pickets they shouldn’t have any trouble making it to a specific location to vote. What’s so absurd about the attorney’s remark? Think about it. Hint: This was a strike followed by a lockout. Give up? Paratransit is referring to activities during the strike which were reduced to a token presence for part of the lockout then disappeared altogether. The current lockout period is when drivers have started to hurt otherwise they would not have given up the strike. Therefore, Paratransit’s reasons for opposing the mail ballot during the lockout are irrelevant.

Only the most naïve would believe that each side’s attorneys are making arguments for purely technical reasons to rack up billable hours. It’s clear that each side believes their preference will give their client at least a slight advantage or they would not be arguing the point. It was decided by the NLRB judge at the meeting that each side would be submitting their written arguments to the NLRB District Director who will make a decision next week.

Going back to my situation will take the Union’s attorney’s argument out of the realm of pure theory. As soon as Paratransit stopped talking to me in any meaningful way I filed for unemployment and began looking for my replacement job. I spent time and money to activate my guard card through Universal Protection and waited. The only post that came up was the hard to fill Calpine site. The turnover is huge due to accessibility problems that destroy cars and suck gasoline. The West side is nearly impossible to reach by bus/bike combo. In one week’s efforts to reach the East and West sides of Calpine I have had days that ran from 14 to 16 hours. I consider this a temporary job since I have no idea how I will get to work when 16% grade roads start getting snow bound. The Paratransit attorney refuses to consider this impediment to on site elections.

The movement to destroy meaningful representation in this Country progresses through a series of measures that seem reasonable on the surface. But the intent and the effect is to reduce suffrage for lower income, disabled, marginalized, and people without fixed residences.

It all starts locally with people who still have jobs with at least some representation. If companies such as Paratransit Services can implement election conditions that will trim off just a few percentage points of the “wrong” voters it could translate into total control for them and another slide backwards for more Lake County workers.

How to Ride a Nutty Bus

 

by Dante DeAmicis

I have a love/hate relationship with riding the bus. It works as long as you don’t expect too much of it. It is part of my sustainable mobility plan but it has serious limitations. As long as you accept what those limitations are you can work around them. First, if you rely exclusively on the bus you will not always get where you are supposed to be at a certain time. Some places you won’t get to at all. The reasons include: road work, breakdowns, no bike slots left, connections that can’t wait for transfers, too many wheelchair pick-ups, new drivers, drivers who don’t change route signs, you fall asleep and miss your stop, drivers who decide to make up time by skipping the part of the route where you are waiting, drivers who zone out and don’t see you waiting at a bus stop… You get the idea.

I’ve have had all these problems but there are ways around them. First, stop thinking of the bus schedule as a contract. Those times are goals that may or not be met. Do use schedules, hard copy or online, to plan your possible route and don’t expect the driver to have the entire system memorized. If you have to be somewhere try to take an earlier bus and use the extra time at your destination to do other things. Make more bus/bike trips and less bus/transfer trips. Make sure appointments know you are taking the bus so ask for time slots with wiggle room. Watch for the bus don’t just wait.  When the bus approaches the stop you are waiting at, wave your arms frantically so you are not mistaken for a homeless person hanging out.

And finally, make sure you have exact change before you get on the bus, dug out, and counted. Other wise I will have to kill you. The bus cannot take off while you are standing, rooting for change or trying to break a large bill with passengers. Its not in the schedule nor is a homicide investigation.

I’ve learned to accommodate my needs with the bus’ reality. Bus travel can be a workable marriage but a poor romance. You just have to work that in on the side.

Expedition to the Barbary Coast

By “Colonel Windenbag”

I like projects. Not home improvement type projects. I am always jotting down and occasionally developing creative, cultural, or quirky community ideas. I have boxes of them. Focusing on one to pull out of the void means a commitment. Sometime I’ll work on one for awhile, set it aside for a year or two, then come back to it if it keeps gnawing at my brain.

One of my bigger brainstorms that is back on the front burner is my “Expedition to the Barbary Coast.” It could be huge and get our boondocks more national publicity than arresting sail boaters for speedboat caused deaths. As residents know too well, we are kind of isolated here in Lake County even though we are not that far from the Bay Area. Other than a big blue spot on the map there is little to captivate the imaginations of outsiders other than tail gating a few connect-the-wine-tasting dots on the Napa Valley picture.

What if we teased out the water thing a little more. We already have bass fishing, a little sailing, but what about kayaks? Yes I know, kayaking on flat water gets old quick. What I have in mind is a kayak run with a purpose. Unlike Cache Creek which disappears into Yolo drainage ditches, Putah Creek makes it all the way to the Sacramento deep water channel. From there a group could eventually paddle down to Fishermans Wharf amid much fanfare. What’s the fanfare for? Well, we would have been promoting this event for 6 months by personal contacts with the media and interested parties along the route. I will also be making themed videos for the internet. Themed videos? Isn’t this just a long kayak trip? Oh no, it is so much more.

The Lake County segment of the trip will be turned into a scenic video weeks ahead of the downstream trip segments. There will be a mock “planning” video as well as videos of staged events, involving Lake County residents and previously recruited people along the expedition waterways. Footage will be combined in a final video after being serialized on this blog. If the local schools don’t jump on this as a way to make education relevant they’re crazy.

So what’s the hold up? Putah Creek is dangerous in parts, overgrown in others, and boring in the Central Valley stretches. I need to do a lot more research. The expedition could become an annual event involving more and more people as Lake County makes the supreme sacrifice to bring civilization to the Barbary Coast savages.

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.