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.

Lake County Transit Strike – The Big Issue

by Dante DeAmicis

They say that if you don’t get the big things in first, you won’t get them in at all.  Wage step increases are the big issue for both the transit drivers and company management.

Previous contracts, in Lake County and elsewhere, have had annual step increases per year of service in addition to any cost of living increases received.  But that was then and this is now.  As a result of my short transit survey I learned that agencies that used to have annual pay-step increases are reducing the number of steps.  The operative word here is “reducing.”

The philosophy behind step increases is that you retain people long enough to become experienced while not paying them more until they are more experienced. This future promise also attracts stable people who want to settle down and raise families in one community with one employer.  As an extra bonus, steps also pull in a few people from out of the area who already have some experience but who have to start at the beginning wage.  Such a deal for management.

Realistically, this “Why not the best?” practice may no longer be possible in a burned out economy, even though the Wall Street perpetrators have gone back out to play.  But we are not a basket case yet.  Second best is still an option.  Other agencies admitted they recently reduced the number of steps but they exist at longer intervals.  Their organizations still value experience and will pay as much as possible for it.

Our current corporate management for Lake County transit places no value on experience whatsoever.  The previous managing company did but this company does not. They have the outlook of a contractor who could be gone with the next contract.  An experienced crew of drivers that will remain after they are history benefits the community but does not add any feathers to their nest.

The incentives of a company who are tunnel-visioned on a contract expiration date could be over ruled by the Lake County transit agency who sees the big picture and takes a longer view.  Rather than leave all driver contract details to the contracted company, Lake Transit could specify certain minimums they want to see in labor contracts that affect the stability of the agency.

People in the real world know that annual pay steps are a fond memory.  This does not mean some pay steps cannot still serve Lake County’s best interests, replacing and holding on to as many levels as possible.  Someone who wants to take a leadership role might suggest looking at how many steps and at which anniversaries will deliver the most experience bang for the buck.

It may make sense politically for a transit agency to assume a mantel of neutrality. But when their contracted company pursues a scorched earth, line in the sand policy because it serves their narrow interests for a short period then political leadership needs to put neutrality on the back burner for awhile.

Personally, I’m not all that interested in step raises.  I planned to drive for 3 years and retire.  A fixed wage of “10 something” is fine for a poor, older person with no family to support.  The question that I’m asking Lake County transit leaders is  “Am I a major recruitment focus or should a function that our compromised residents depend on be served by a broader base of employees?”

Lake County Transit Follies

Percentages, Paratransit, and Jethro Bodine

by Dante DeAmicis

 Jethro Bodine on the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show used to regularly brag “I’m a graduate of the 5th grade.” The running joke of course was that graduating from the 5th grade is no kind of education at all. Don’t be so sure.

 After the 5th grade a student is ready to dive into percentages according to the core curriculum. However, this basic operation can still be daunting to the director of a transit company. In a written response to Teamsters Local 665 Randy Grove wrote “Only 2 employees are over the 10 – year point (with Laidlaw seniority)…..Two out of 39 = .05% . Not even 1%!!” OK, now I’m scared. I hope most people are too, after reading this underlined, double exclamation pointed math rebuttal by Randy Grove.

 NEWS FLASH!! Two out of 39 is closer to 5% not .05%. Lest one think I’m making a big deal about an errant decimal point creeping in, he emphasizes “Not even 1%!!” Time to trade in a few “!!!!” for some math lessons Randy.

 The cost of the Union demands is about a hundred grand according to the Union and a half mil by Paratransit math!! I haven’t seen the algorithm from either party that would settle the matter. But I would be a little suspicious of this organization’s strained relationship with numbers.

 Since Paratransit has such difficulty with percentages I would like to offer my services as a non striking, locked-out employee. One legitimate point Paratransit makes is that you can’t compare the wages of small counties with large counties, implying that Lake is a small county. So what counties should we be comparing Lake County to? How close is close for comparison? That discussion follows.

 I obtained the population ranking of California’s 58 counties. Lake is number 40. Looking at the two counties ranking above (Yuba – 39, Mendocino – 38) and below (Tehama – 41, Tuolumne – 42) Lake County would be a good start. But the percentage difference of the two counties greater than Lake (35.8%) is more than the gap below Lake (14.4%). So we have to drop down 3 counties to get the same range below as above. The new additions are San Benito – 43, Calaveras – 44, and Siskiyou – 45.

 Now its time to get on the phone and call these places about their starting wages for transit drivers. The other issues can wait for another article.

 Yuba is actually combined with Sutter County as a transit agency. The person would only say “around 10 dollars.”

 Mendocino is the highest paid of the 7 agencies I surveyed – $14.28 per hour.

 The San Benito person had no idea what the starting pay was because they contracted with MV. Another call and I found out that MV was negotiating but its “10 something” now.

 Tehama was a Paratransit Services operation and I got a very frosty “We don’t give out that kind of information” after I told the speaker I was a driver from Lake. Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide. More information means better understanding between people.

 Tuolumne got me a “$13 a few cents either way.”

 Calaveras was the most interesting. They start at an even 10 but jump to $12.60 after 1 year.

 Siskiyou was the only competitor for the high water mark at $14.14 per hour.

 Because some of the numbers were soft and Calaveras had that weird structure that was hard to shoehorn in, I could not get an average. I did come up with a reasonable way to make up something for Tehama. Nationally, areas that are all rural and include the poorest areas in the country pay an average of $10.27 per hour for transit drivers. Another web site said Tehama paid 2% above average. (There’s those darn percentages again.) This gives us (Surprise) $10.48 per hour, the same starting pay for Lake drivers.

 I’m going to make a judgment call and say Calaveras’s huge jump after the first year is more significant than the 48 cents they were shy of my fictitious Tehama number. This makes Calaveras the median out of the 7 agencies I compared Lake Transit to. If this massaged median were Gospel, Lake’s first year people would start a little lower than now, at $10 per hour. Then everyone would bump up to $12.60 per hour with no further pay steps. Ah, equality.

 To be fair, the Union negotiator could also use a little brushing up on percentages. Even though they were mostly concerned with putting back the old step raises and other issues they left the two tenths of 1% difference between what was asked and what was offered on the table. This comes to between 2 and 2.5 cents per hour. Not an issue worth arguing about let alone striking over. But the public just sees the two bigger percentage numbers without realizing the difference wouldn’t be significant in a third world nation. The Union should have pulled this distracting demand off the table.

An Evening at the Archive

Libraries tend to have an image problem. They are dominated by books which move too slow in the Hi Def Digital Age. The information superhighway of the internet only has a few pull out rest stops at libraries on the way to serious destinations.

One library is different. The Internet Archive at Funston and Clement in SF is attempting to store the worlds media in digital form. They want to be thought of as the Alexandrian Library 2.0… Alexandrian Library – The Sequel… The Revenge of the Alexandrian Library.

 The “Evening at the Archive” reception, tour, and lecture on May 31, 2013 was a bibliophile’s banquet. But I also felt like a digital media pilgrim to a high tech media Mecca. In a merging of the traditional with cutting edge, all the machines and racks of blinking lights are housed in the pew studded Christ Scientist Church building bought 3 years ago.

 This is not some obscure geek project. There are 40 employees at the Funston headquarters and 100 people worldwide, downloading, scanning, and converting their little hearts out.

 The Archive has a room in the Library of Congress and a presence in 30 other libraries. There is a back up digital library on the East Coast in case California falls into the ocean and partial back ups in Holland and Alexandria – site of the original repository of world knowledge.

 After hard copy is digitized it gets put to sleep in rows of climate controlled cargo containers in Richmond, CA. I can relate since my library is in a cargo container. I should point out that hard copy includes old movies and 78 rpm records. This part of the Archive operation suggests more of the railroad car community of Fahrenheit 451 than the ancient Library of Alexandria.

 So, is anyone using this public data dump now? Yup, three million users per day, and for good reason. They may have started with books but they expanded 5 years age to dozens of worldwide TV channels, public access video, plus whatever digital movies or old VHS tapes people want to send them. Four PEG channels automatically upload all their video content to Archive.Org, including the public access powerhouse – Humboldt Access, right in our backyard. John Hauser is the developer for the Humboldt Access link of the project.

 The word “archive” may suggest dust and cobwebs blanketing seldom retrieved copies of the Harvard Classics and the Best of the Beverly Hillbillies, but remember, they are a legally recognized library which means they can copy new stuff and “lend out” (download) one user at a time for each copy that they buy.

 For the most part, new videos are uploaded by producers using the “creative commons” form of ownership – 10 million videos from You Tube alone. Copyright experts on staff troll for public domain content and identify it as such. People can directly upload their videos to Archive.Org. This is a great option for localities whose public access channels have vaporized their internet upload capability for political reasons.

 Those of us who are not techies got a little dazed by some of the specialized jargon. Words like “petalbytes”, “metadata”, “H264 format”, and “Frictionless downloads using torrents” (Wha…Who) rolled off tongues as easily as “Have a nice day.”

 For those who can handle the gritty details one of the Power Point lectures is on “http://goo.gl/PNGmQ”. Another location for the full strength version of the day can be found on the Community Media Archive wiki at “http://goo.gl/Wx5m8”. Knock yourself out.

 Even though a lot was over my head in the lectures my attention was riveted by a display at the reception. There, behind the cheese cubes and strawberries, was a huge banner made up of hundreds of video thumbnails. The clips were extracted from a high drama project released on October 11, 2001. This was the 911 project. The Archive realized the importance of 911 as a historical event immediately and began sampling everything on TV, including foreign channels, every 10 minutes for the first 24 hours on September 11, 2001. Downloading international news continued at the Archive for the next 7 days. Check out this accomplishment at “www.archive.org/details/911”.

 The First Amendment Foundation was critically involved in this release somehow even though they expected swift and severe retaliation. They survived and the Archive established themselves as the library on steroids. After the Patriot Act, librarians across the Country stood up against a government who demanded all records of who checked out what books. Less inspiring were cowardly local officials, such as in Lake County, who crippled public assess stations for showing too many 911 videos on no more authority than secret e-mails.

 The 911 project was instrumental in revealing how media opportunists used video from a 1990’s Palestinian celebration to show Palestinians dancing in the street after 911 to drum up hatred. This is why we need video feeds into a library and not just books. That is also why only principled people should be managing public access stations.

 Information is a weapon in the battle for truth and justice. A few whistle blowers like Ellsberg and Snowden have direct access to information. The rest of us need the arsenal of Archive.Org. Cruise their site or give them a call at 415-561-6767.