No On “V” – The Deadbeat Subsidy

Measure “V” is the latest in a long series of attempts to subsidize residential roads. Since Clearlake was incorporated in 1980 there has been no effort to continue past road assessment districts for roads serving private property. The proponents of Measure “V” have made no effort to mitigate the regressiveness of this sales tax. This is in spite of the fact that California has still not replaced all of their “temporary” cuts in SSI payments made during the real estate bubble crash. Saying people can pay more who are living below official subsistence is like saying people who are anemic can give a little more blood. As the 5th poorest county in California there is a lot of anemia here.

Its all well and good to say these are “public” roads even if they are all in residential neighborhoods. But in reality people think of the road in front of their house as “their” road – even some proponents of Measure “V.” When neighbors of a previous mayor wanted to ban transit buses serving the Senior Center from turning around in “their” neighborhood the Clearlake City Council complied. This public action in deference to private property forced transit buses to make a partially blind U-turn in front of the senior complexes until an emergency agreement could be signed to use Walnut Grove’s property.

Yes, I know something about the buses. When the Lake Transit operations manager says the Clearlake roads tear up the buses she’s right. But she’s leaving out the fact that experienced drivers will have every rut and pothole memorized, slowing down or swerving around them. Due to high standards and low pay most drivers are qualified but relatively new. They don’t stay around long enough to know every bump on a first name basis. And don’t forget that in order to run as many routes for the money as possible Lake Transit buys the cheapest buses which fall apart faster.

It should be no surprise that the Measure “V” Committee meets weekly at the local realtors office. Obviously, if there was a road assessment attached to property it would be a little more difficult to sell depressed lots and houses. This is not surprising since many other local business people are reluctant to pay their bills also. The Business Improvement District was a structure created by the State Legislature in 1994 just for places like Clearlake. The businesses would have total control. The catch is the businesses within the district would have to pay the full assessment.

One goal that should be everyone’s priority is the health of the Lake. Worse than aquatic weeds and algae are the cyano bacteria blooms. These are the outbreaks that smell like sewage. They are unbearable and instantly empty out the lakeside motels and eateries. One of the critical factors is the balance of certain minerals running off into the Lake. More grading causes more sediment run offs.The Measure “V” proponents promise more grading for “The Avenues.” Any questions?

No one is disputing that a ten year sales tax will only make a tiny down payment on an abandoned road system that started out at the bottom in 1980 and went down hill from there. A previous Clearlake mayor quoted $1,000,000 per mile to pave roads. The voter’s pamphlet notes that Cearlake has 63 miles of paved roads and 49 miles of dirt roads. If half of the paved roads needed repaving that would require over 31,000,000. The added several million per year to grade 49 miles of dirt roads is money down the drain and into the Lake. The road job is huge and only assessment districts will generate the kind of money to get the job done, paid for by the people who will benefit the most.

Going back to Clearlake incorporation day, they designated every road as either a “Clearlake road” that they would assume the responsibility for maintaining or a non Clearlake road where the residents were on their own. Often these roads are side by side. Originally there was a difference in condition but the City has not kept up with the road obligations it assumed. Clearlake was not ready to be a real city that provides promised services. And now the people who should be whipping out their checkbooks want the minimum wage and fixed income crowd to pick up their slack. Oddly, local politicos in unguarded moments refer to them as “the wrong kind of people.”

Now I know what Chamber types who think everyone is economically stupid have been saying. Everyone will benefit from anyone’s improved road. But renters aren’t stupid. They will see their rents go up if their rental units become more valuable due to road paving. One City employee amazingly said he liked the idea of visitors paying for our roads. Half of Clearlake’s sales tax comes from Walmart. News bulletin: People are not coming to Clearlake to shop at our Walmart. They have their own Walmart….without the cyano bacteria blooms.

Clearlake could be a tourist mecca if the self anointed leaders didn’t cling to the defeatist strategy that any necessary infrastructure improvements must be paid for by the State, the Feds, the poor or we’ll do without. Frederick Douglas once said that “you can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” I think that explains why a former part of a Bay Area county would now rather be associated with the proposed goober State of Jefferson than a vibrant community of possibilities for 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.