Lake Transit Chopping Block

As everyone knows a big chunk of transit money is grants. One of these grant pools is drying up this year. This particular pool has been getting smaller every year. Now the Transit Authority has to make cuts in service.

Most of these cuts will be lightly used routes and runs. Some routes are untouchable for the time being. Our contracted general manager will look at ridership on each run, how much money we have left, and what changes have to be made in the other routes to smooth over the gap. His recommendations will be made to the Transit Board and they will vote yes because they will not want to study the details.

In past meetings the General Manager and the Operations Manager noted which runs will be looked at hard for possible cuts. These tend to be routes to the hinterlands, 2 and 4A, and runs on popular routes that are too early or late to have more than one or two passengers on board. Regardless of the number of passengers, if these runs connect to an out of County route they can’t be cut. Otherwise another pool of money will disappear entirely.

There are a couple of special cases. One is that part of the 4A that runs to the Konocti Vista Casino. In addition to gamblers, people work at the Casino and there are two large communities nearby. Years ago, before the 4A was born, this was on the popular Route 4 line. Four was later diverted to Highway 29 outside Lakeport to express itself to Clearlake. If 4A is eliminated 4 will have to reroute its service back to Konocti Vista.

The other special case is the City of Clearlake for a couple reasons. Clearlake receives over have the system’s transit runs on three local routes. All three overlap in a large triangle area in the center of the City. Clearlake’s local area includes the adjacent town of Lower Lake where the High School and Lake County Social Services are located.

Lower Lake is served as an afterthought at the tail end of Route 10. This Route is primarily designed to serve Clearlake Park, a subdivision of extremely bad and narrow roads. Instead, most people go to Lower Lake on Route 12 which loops around town at the beginning of the Route before overlapping Clearlake’s center triangle with the other two local Routes. On Saturday the High School and Social Services are closed. Probably Route 12 could be closed on Saturday as well.

Since schedules take time to design they aren’t done for minor or temporary changes. There is a rumor that all the cuts that could be made without damaging service too much will be made all at once, even though this may be a little ahead of the curve money wise.

The good news is that during periods of forced change, opportunities arise to make other changes. Change requires a period of adjustment so managers who like things to run smoothly don’t change for creative purposes. Change is usually the result of more money, less money, or a new law. The route cuts and changes may reopen cost neutral options for the overlapping local routes in Clearlake. The overlaps produce ongoing transfer and route planning confusion.

Due to three routes overlapping many passengers could misuse transfers for return trips. That is why a rigid policy exists allowing transfers at only specific locations other than the beginning of the route. It is inconvenient and seems unfair to riders. If a passenger is adamant that they got on the wrong bus to begin with, drivers will usually relent and ask another driver to honor a transfer.

The service rule for Clearlake is that any local route change must all serve current stops every hour. By measuring the time allotted between all Clearlake stops on each of the three routes and adding these segments together you get the total amount of time to serve Clearlake. Currently it takes two full routes and most of a third to do the job. It would take a single bus an hour and 20 minutes to serve all Clearlake stops. Passengers would also feel thrashed after such a long local ride.

But I have made an amazing discovery. Using the time numbers and the limiting assumption I have found a cost neutral way to hit all the Clearlake stops every hour using only one route. This would eliminate all transfer problems and most trip planning difficulties in the City. This seems impossible given the hour and 20 minute drive time to travel to all stops. Guess how it could be done. Hint: All three local routes are intersecting loops.

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.

Sweat Shop Transit

Transit did not come to Lake County until 1995. By then contracting of normal government services was all the rage. For years contracting agencies paid enough to attract new drivers but not enough to keep them. Part of the problem was that drivers were hired part time with variable hours. People who planned to raise a family did not stay.

The last burst of effective hiring was in 2013 when a slew of new drivers were hired to replace drivers who went on strike. To accomplish this feat standards were relaxed to the legal minimum. Most did not stay long and I moved up to full time faster than I expected. Since then, even recruiting new drivers has been a problem. During most of this period full time drivers have been on mandatory 6 day work weeks. Under Affordable Care adding hours for part timers has been risky.

Although a few drivers appreciate the overtime, because otherwise they would have to get a second job, most are getting burned out with no life outside work. They are looking for other jobs or planning early retirement. This will make the driver shortage even worse.

In a market economy if you want more of something you offer to pay more. But local government funds are limited to one-quarter of one cent of the local sales tax. Lake County has a weak sales tax base. Fares are 19.2% of operating costs, a better percentage than richer counties. With starting pay dangerously close to minimum wage on January 1st (10.48 per hour) the General Manager suggested that cutting routes to pay higher wages was a future option.

At the end of 2015 the aftermath of the devastating Valley Fire created a brief reprieve. Relief funds could be used for transit if enough paperwork was filled out, a process that is ongoing after 3 months. When the check is in the mail it will amount to a new starting wage of 11.34 per hour, a smaller margin above minimum wage than before the 1st of the year. Assuming the funds materialize soon, imminent collapse of Lake County’s bus system is averted and transit returns to a mere staffing crisis.

With no strong support from local government, grant sources tapped out, and resistance from the Transit Authority to hiring people with ancient felonies there appears to be only one way to eliminate a permanent driver shortage – niche marketing to predisposed groups. I have identified two groups that the transit job unintentionally appeals to. Management ignores pitching to these groups. Probably because it will look cheesy to do so. But these groups are currently overly represented in the driver ranks so why not improve and control the process? No policy needs to be changed as far as hiring standards. This is purely a marketing approach.

The easiest and most politically acceptable group to target is the over 55 job seeker. They need to be marketed to because many have given up looking for work. Public service announcements beg employers to hire the over 55. Lake Transit will be able to present themselves as a socially responsible place to work. I’ve printed an “Over 55?’ flyer.

The second target driver group has an image problem. These are people who plan to bolt at the first better opportunity. The training and certification to drive a bus is time consuming and expensive but gives potential drivers a ticket out of town. A case can be made that driving for Lake Transit can be considered an “internship”, gaining the experience to get those high paid government transit jobs somewhere else. Drivers currently move on to greener pastures so why not add a small incentive to induce them to stay 2 years – an internship certificate, costing maybe 30 cents. Others who may not have bothered to apply if they didn’t plan to stay may sign up.

One thing these two target group approaches have in common is that they do not present the driver job as a career path to raise a family. This is a job for people who have already raised their family or plan to raise their family somewhere else. The goal is well within reach – a net gain of 4 drivers. Drivers keep leaving so if 2 leave during the target campaign we will need 6 drivers. Net gain is the key word. In a typical class of 3 drivers, one will get a better job during training or wash out, one will pass all tests but after a few months they decide they can’t handle dysfunctional passengers and quit, and one will last more than a year but maybe not as long as we hoped for.

Since transit in Lake County is not offering a career path for younger workers they have to play to focus groups. The alternative is to lose 2 more drivers and have to start canceling routes due to lack of drivers to drive the buses.

No More Bus Strikes

Lake County will not have another bus strike. Say it. Now everyone in a leadership position say it. “We will not have another bus strike. We will not allow take-it-or-leave-it scorched earth positions. We will address relevant issues and not put out a management contract that is tailored for the Lake Transit Authority to hide behind.”

During the last strike the the Transit Board held up their management contract and said “See we have a contract. Our hands are tied.” Of course, they are the ones who tied their own hands when they rubber stamped Mark Wall’s provisions. These provisions gave a mere management contractor the power to force a strike. Encouraging a contentious labor environment is not in the public interest. The elected members of the Lake Transit Authority should know this.

We have a short period of time to act before this dereliction of duty is repeated in the next management contract. Tell those Supervisors and Council people on the Board that we will not tolerate an attitude that says “Gee, too bad our vulnerable citizens are caught in a labor crossfire. It’s a good thing that, even though we are in charge, we can’t do a thing about it because of a contract that we never even looked at before it went out to bid.”

I’m sure the Transit Board is not using the contract as a cover for anti union bias or general contempt for Lake County’s poor and disabled. They just got a little lazy and now that they have seen the damage their lack of oversight has caused they will diligently fix the next management contract before it goes out to bid this Summer. Otherwise we will have to suck it up for another three years or longer.

Here is what must go into the next transit management contract to avoid future disasters.

First, and this should be obvious, we need a binding arbitration clause. This involves a competent third party that examines the facts without personal agendas. People with personal agendas will not like this. But this is Lake County residents’ bus system, in case anyone needs to be reminded.

Second, we need a wage and benefits structure that encourages bus driver longevity. Note that this does not mean a higher starting wage. A structure will create an incentive to develop as drivers and mentors here in Lake County. A wage structure says, we want drivers who will stay to develop the skills and acquire the experience to serve our most challenged citizens. A low, flat wage results in Lake County training drivers for other counties. Obviously, this is a waste of our taxpayer money as well.

Having a transit team saturated with new drivers is a public safety issue. Even Paratransit’s operation manager Wanda Gray admits that Lake County Transit has more bus damage than any other Paratransit unit. Unless this is an admission that she is hiring anyone with a pulse, we have to assume that this is the result of fewer than normal experienced drivers.

Finally, we need provisions in the management contract that prohibit management contractors from pursuing personal agendas. To ensure this, we need performance clauses with teeth. The performance clause in place during the strike was completely meaningless according to the transit tzar Mark Wall himself. Then why was it even in the contract? Was it a dumbed down version of an earlier contract’s performance clause?

Insist now, that the next transit management contract have binding arbitration, a wage structure, and a meaningful performance clause to serve the public interest and not personal philosophies. Lake County residents deserve it.

Scripts for 5 Previous Supervisor Issue Videos (Yes I know, I know. Its really too long for a blog)

Dollars For Tules (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

The focus of Lake County is Clear Lake (duh).  So obvious if there is a big problem with the Lake its a big problem for the County.

Right now the Lake’s biggest problem is these funky creatures that periodically make the water and surrounding air smell like a very scary restroom.  These party poopers go by the name “cyanobacteria.”  They aren’t algae.  Algae smells better even when its dead than dead cyanobacteria, which doesn’t smell until it dies and floats to the surface and rots.

You see, its all one big biochemistry cycle.  If the CBs didn’t bloom out of control they wouldn’t have mass die-offs and stink the place up. This smell of death is a deal killer for tourists and producers who want to film cheap B movies here.

Back to the cycle.  It’s not some science experiment that got a little manic-depressive.  Its the nutrients stupid.  Too many trips through the all-you-can-eat aquatic salad bar of wine-on-the-vine, burgers-on-hoof, and leaky septic tank nitrogen.  But the secret ingredients in this super sauce are the minerals.  Number one in this hit parade is not the number two.  It is the phosphorus.  Water washes the minerals into the Lake with a little help from the wind.  When its just a few minerals passing through we don’t get this boom and bust stink bomb.  But when the minerals pour in, especially the phosphorus, the Lake goes on crank for awhile then has an aneurism.

Why are there so many loose minerals washing off the hills?  In a word: “grading.”  Not terrorists.  Not the will of God.  Not gay marriage. Just… grading.  Everything else is a minor factor or a convenient scapegoat.  I see a hand up.  What’s grading?  That’s where you tear off the ground surface for buildings or roads.  Its worse on hills when excavating construction methods are used.

So what’s the solution?  No more building on hillsides?  No, we can still build and not have to change the name to “Slime Lake.”  But we do have to start building for the hills and the Lake and not mainly for real estate developers and spec builders.

This means no more carving into the hillsides to make a big level space for over sized cracker box houses.  On slopes, this means smaller houses, using post footings, pilings, or natural rock build-ups.

This means no more new surveyed developments on straight right-of-ways that become straight dirt roads on steep slopes.  New developments must work with government to resurvey the right-of-ways as curved, paved roads with adequate French drains.

This means, for all old paper subdivisions on slopes, new building permits should require a road assessment district for that area to control runoff or a homeowner’s association that will turn thru, non arterial right-of-ways into common areas for the middle of the block with parking lots on each end of the street.

These measures will greatly help the lake.  Still, too many minerals will be injected into cyanoville.  Fortunately nature has a solution, or had a solution, until shoreline developers and their political stooges fixed it and fixed it good.  For thousands of years tules have been filtering minerals from the Lake’s inflows.  But shoreline property owners thought the tules were weeds and made their businesses look messy.  So they tore them out with county government’s tacit consent.

Shore properties seem to attract ignorant, narrow minded investors because most new owners don’t want the tules back on their turf either. Not in my backyard.  No way.  We devastated the Lake front with government approval which means government can only mandate some changes by either holding new developments hostage or paying off the old developments with taxpayer money.

The other way, the sensible way that the Lake can get its tule kidneys back is for lake front owners to create a tule planting and maintenance assessment district around the Lake.  After all, they are the ones who will benefit the most from mineral control and a functioning lake ecosystem.

The reason County and city governments cannot reverse the damage by simply paying to replant the tules is because most Lake front owners still perceive them as reducing the real estate value of their property.  Government would have to pay the new owners the difference to make the Lake desirable again.  The difference is what those properties gained when they created the filter problem by ripping out the tules.

This is the main reason that the fixers want a sales tax to “fix” the Lake – to pay off the pigs who trashed it to begin with.  The fixers know that old attitudes have not changed around here even though most of the faces are different.  Real estate has not repented. It is the little people who should pay for their greed and arrogance.  I say, “no way.”  I say, “Hell no way.”

 

Grow Pot Not Grapes (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

Recently the County of Lake, hiding behind the skirts of the Planning Department, opened a new chapter in its relentless class war on our residents.  The victims in this latest craven attack include many truly desperate and damaged people.  This latest tedious sequel to “Reefer Madness”  is misrepresented as “The Grow Ordinance.”  Misrepresented because there are no provisions to ensure the intent of Proposition 215 is not negated by this stealth law.  Other casualties include truth, common sense, logic, civil liberties, and the neglect of real problems.  Ho hum.

Since our local  “Goobertocracy”  does not have the authority to overturn a State Proposition they put all their pea brains together to come up with a pot growing regulation that is so restrictive that it would accomplish pretty much the same thing as a ban.  Is that an unintended consequence?  No?  Then why did they shut out all input from those most affected by the ordinance?  Even though this edict was written as a planning ordinance it is enforced as a criminal misdemeanor, another throwback to an earlier era of foaming at the mouth prohibition.  We don’t do that  “moving forward”  thing in Lake County.

I know some people may think this judgement is too harsh so let me back it up with a few points for those who haven’t entirely given up on the disparaged practice of thinking.

First, there is the economics of the issue.  The high price of pot allows third-party growers to assume costs that they would not absorb if the price were much less.  The idea is to make a profit.  These costs are opportunity costs.  This means growers have to give up doing other things with their time and money to grow pot for people too impaired to grow their own.  If those other jobs or businesses paid better than growing pot most people would be doing those other things.

Its one of those free market supply and demand things conservatives are always talking about.  This means we can get to a state of equilibrium with few externalities by either increasing supply by using modern farming methods to produce bud by the bale or reduce demand by implementing universal health care and enforcing legitimate impairment issues,  i.e., do you want to keep driving?

Then there is the cost if violence associated with pot’s high artificial price and the small scale of farming, making security hit or miss. Because the market price is artificially high thieves will spend more time planning a robbery and take greater physical risks than they would to steal your TV.  If pot was as cheap as hemp is 1900 there would be no preference to steal it from people.  The non prohibition market price would net most violent criminals less than taking a low paying job.  Violence was never associated with pot before it became illegal. Violence is the price society pays due to an artificially high price.   Even the quasi legal status means police are less likely to be called, reducing the cost to criminals of committing violent acts still further.

Recently, environmental damage has come into fashion as the justification for draconian grow ordinances.  And why is this damage greater than for other agricultural crops?  Growing pot is not more inherently more destructive to the environment than, say grapes.

Unlike other crops, there is no allowable legal limit as to the amount or type of damage a pot farmer can cause so the sky is the limit for as long as the operation exists.  This inability to farm a crop in a legally regulated structure creates an incentive to make only short term and portable farming investments, resulting in more damage than if a farmer had a longer term investment to get a return from.  Because these short term investments tend to be disposable or portable neighbors will have more environmental costs extended to them since someone with more permanent investments has to worry about legal retaliation at some point.  Fly-by-night farmers of an illegal crop can simply walk away when the heat is on and still make a profit.  The current grow ordinance is more prohibitory than regulatory.  With few legal options it forces non compliance. It offers no regulatory remedy for neighbors to this problems.  It is “drug war light.”

Related to measurable environmental damage are the vaguely defined, catch-all nuisance costs.  On a first pass, a nuisance is anything that affects someone’s enjoyment of their life or property.  Since this definition is so subjective it can mean anything, the color of your neighbor’s skin to crying babies, nuisances are functionally defined by what they are not.  If a court or regulatory agency has
said something is not a nuisance, legally speaking, then it is not.  Everything else could be.

Many people don’t like the smell of pot so it could be a nuisance unless a government authority says it is not.  Other people have an allergy to sulfur.  When it is thick in the air it can cause them physical pain.  Sulfur is commonly put on grapes but the grape growers got the government to say sulfur is not a nuisance under the “freedom to farm” concept so people who are affected cannot get legal redress.  There is no reason, other than class privilege, why the smell of pot should not be treated legally the same as the stench of sulfur.

Unless you have been living in a cave you know this country is facing skyrocketing medical costs.  These costs are not caused by pot. These mounting costs are mostly caused by perfectly legal substances and legal lifestyle choices.  In spite of non medical opinions advanced by politicians and pushers of alcohol and cigarettes there are no medical costs from pot smoking that amount to more than a tiny fraction of those caused by the  “all American”  lifestyle.

Continuing to pursue the war on pot over eight decades with the weapons of ignorance, lies, and class hatred have racked up staggering costs.  Denying people time honored folk remedies when modern medicine has turned them away for economic reasons displays monumental cruelty.  Local government should be addressing the real causes of problems instead of rounding up the usual scapegoats. Real leaders should focus on those causes not on cheap publicity from beating the drum of urban legends.

Under no circumstances should holders of power be inflicting pain on our struggling residents.  “But, but I was just following national orders” doesn’t cut it anymore.  Now that our planning professionals have discredited their profession in the service of bogus reasoning all we are left with is DEA head Anslinger’s ominous warning before Congress that marijuana made white women want to have sex with musicians and Negroes. Maybe its true. It hasn’t been disproven.  Is that your reason for supporting a reefer madness grow ordinance, Lake County Candidate for Supervisor.

 

Public Access TV8 (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

Every city or county had the option of adding a free speech channel, called a PEG channel, to their cable TV contract.  These local cable franchisers could have just asked for an extra government channel but they probably would not have been able to negotiate as much money to buy video equipment for their personal use.

These public access PEG channels do not have to be publicly funded but the franchiser does have to provide a hot video jack somewhere so the public can put any video content that is legal on the cable system.  Once this channel is voluntarily established a city or county does not have the legal right to exercise any editorial control over content.  Local authorities can only establish reasonable technical standards and ration this public resource among competing users.

People often ask “Why can’t the local authorities set up community standards for what is put on the air?”  The textbook answer is  “Because the Supreme Court of the United States has defined what are free speech rights on a national level.”  In fact, there is a legal sub specialty called  “public forum law”  which regards PEG channels as a designated public forum with all the protections and privileges of the 1st Amendment, one of the foundations of our country.

In the late 1990’s the city of Clearlake included such a public access channel in their cable franchise.  They did not have to.  They chose to, but the city administrator at the time didn’t seem to understand the concept of free speech as it applied to all the people of Clearlake and Lake County.  This administrator and his political crony did make extensive personal use of this extra equipment that was squeezed out of the cable company for the purpose of free speech public access.

The County did not have any provision for public access in their cable franchise but they were given programming over ride privileges on TV8 for their Board of Supervisors meetings.  There is nothing in writing from the city of Clearlake which gives them this privilege which damages the channel’s only regular source of income, a payment from Yuba College for their Distance Learning Program.  This free over ride eliminates the college’s ability to schedule Tues-Thurs classes on the channel.  For years the County contributed nothing toward the operation of TV8.

Over the years Lake County’s TV8 has weathered almost continuous censorship attacks starting in 2004.  These attacks have taken the form of physical threats against programmers, an attempt to place a hundred dollar  “broadcast fee”  on each imported program, reduced plays or late night scheduling of political programming, and indefinite lock downs of the station by Clearlake’s administrators without any due process or coherent explanation.

A PEG Board was eventually set up, dominated by politicians and former politicians.  This board only modestly supported the station for 2 years then dropped it out of the city and county budgets entirely but continued to use the channel solely funded by Yuba College.  The PEG Board continued to operate as an illegal censorship entity using more and more elaborate subterfuges.  Operations were hamstrung, banning most volunteers and killing TV8’s internet connection even after I found a free site for storing video.

I protested the deadbeat County meeting over rides dominating the channel with with the following analogy:

 

“Say someone owns a house.  There is no dispute about who owns the house.  The owner occupies one bedroom and rents out two other rooms.   One renter faithfully pays their rent year after year.  The other renter puts down a deposit, makes one payment and then stops paying rent even though they show no intention of moving out.  Not only are they not paying rent but they monopolize the living room, denying its use to the paying renter.  The exclusive use of the living room may be an understanding reached as compensation for some private exchange with the owner.

When the deadbeat is reminded that they should be paying rent they respond arrogantly that they will make one more payment so leave me alone so I can enjoy my room and the common area rent-free forever.

The paying renter feels like they are being imposed upon.  The owner has no stomach for a fight and is ready to default on their mortgage and move out.  The deadbeat’s internal logic assumes they are entitled to squat rent free until the house is trashed and boarded up.

 

The owner of the house (TV8) is Clearlake.  The paying renter (distance learning fee) is Yuba College.
And the deadbeat (enjoying free override privilege) is Lake County.”

I sent this out August 24th, 2012.  Only one county supervisor responded, hoping I hadn’t sent it out to anyone else. I had.

Public access channels that surround Lake County have blossomed in recent years while TV8 has
withered under crushing censorship and policy sabotage.  In fact, Willits has made steady progress with less money than what TV8 scratches by on.  But Willits is not burdened by the yoke of politics.  They are run by a non profit organization.

Lake County and its cities plan to put a mandatory charge on the local cable bill to fund the channel whether the cable users want it or not. This is a very unusual move and was spearheaded by two people who were responsible for the most egregious and elaborate censorship attack on our residents’ public access channel.  This attack was demanded by an out of county organization nationally famous for intimidating weak willed or unprincipled politicians.

Rather than allow TV8 to continue under government controlled sham structures or be funded by an unpopular cable charge, the original volunteers believe TV8 should be operated the way public access channels are legally intended.  That is, the people’s voice no matter how distasteful to politicians or intolerant mobs.

An IRS approved non profit that understands the value of this critical American right is waiting in the wings to take on this responsibility.  All that is necessary is for a real leader to step forward and push the human obstacles out of the way.  Are you that leader?

 

Da Bus (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

I ride the bus in Lake County and beyond.  Unlike the typical bus rider I am in good physical shape and I have a valid driver’s license.  I get around several ways but buses are going to be a bigger part of the future transition picture for everyone whether we like it or not.  Most will not like it.

In the city where I used to live transit buses were referred to as  “The Shame Train.”  To be an American means to be independent which means driving a vehicle – everywhere.  No buses.  No bicycles.  Temporary hiatuses from the motorized world is permissible for medical or DUI reasons but the lapse is definitely  “loose a turn”  socially.  If someone says they ride the bus to save money for more important things or as part of a bus/bike combo they will be greeted with a blank stare.

In the event of reduced circumstances it is far more acceptable to beg rides, go deeper into debt to keep old Betsy chugging, and in general to become a criminal.  Necessary evils include driving without registration, insurance, license, and stealing gas from your neighbor’s car.

Still there is a slowly growing number of mostly reluctant people who are taking the bus.  In Lake County this function falls upon the Lake Transit Authority, a body made up of representatives from the County, cities, and a couple “at large” members.  All of these people would rather get multiple root canals without pain killers than ride the bus personally.

The Authority’s main job is to contract with Mark Wall or his successor to run the transit system.  This means he designs the routes, keeps the records, writes grants, and most important, contracts with a company to run the buses, preferably with drivers.  This company has to follow a few laws and abide by whatever is in their contract but otherwise it’s their show for the length of the contract.

Currently Mark Wall is the administrator for the system.  The politicians he reports to on the Authority don’t know or care about many of the details.  The company he contracts with is just management.  They hire the employees and are the first contact with the public.  They do not own the buses or facility.  They are not entrepreneurs.  They are management.  Running a transit system is a government department in some places.  But Lake County chose to run it with a contractor under a contractor.  There are advantages and disadvantages with this approach.

The advantage is the bus drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers don’t have the same generous pension or medical plans that government employees have.  Nor are their wages easily compared with our County employees.  Conveniently, the County and our two cities have a large measure of plausible denial in matters of civil rights and other laws as far as what goes on with our buses.  Finally, any union representation for drivers would be weaker than a County employee based union.

Now for the disadvantages.  The contract management company’s only commitment in Lake County is their 3 year contract.  They have invested no capital in Lake County.  They have no incentive to build our bus system or even preserve what is already here.  Unless they bring down the wrath of State or Federal officials, local politicians will not intervene on behalf of the public.  Bus users are not on their radar.

The current management company is Paratransit Services, a 501c3 company operating 6 transit systems in 3 states.  During the few years they have controlled operations they have done several things that show contempt for our bus riding citizens.

On February 17, 2011 Lake County was hit with a freak snowstorm.  Every 3 or 4 years the County gets a dusting that makes the mountain routes too slippery to run buses on.  But on this date we got hit with a real snowstorm that broke tree limbs unused to snow loads.  The County got more than a dusting.

As a bus rider I wanted to know if I could get from one side of the Lake to the other.  I called the transit number.  No answer.  I called a friend at work.  Between us we called the Sheriff, the Highway Patrol, the radio station, and CalTrans.  The lines were busy but we finally got through.  No responsible party had any information about the bus system.  We learned hours later Lake Transition had shut down completely without notifying anyone.

I complained in writing.  A day later Mark Wall had implemented a comprehensive shut down notification procedure.  A little late as many riders in poor health were left standing in the snow waiting for Cal Trans to clear a path for the buses – buses that were not coming.  If the authorities were notified they could have picked these people up or told them to go back home.  But emergency personnel did not know there was a problem for hours so the sick and the elderly were left freezing in the snow.

Paratransit offered a weak excuse that the power was out so their phone system was down.  They could have plugged a hand held right into the wall.  They could have used a cell phone.  They could have called from home after they locked the transit doors.  That is, if they cared.

After Wall Street ate Main Street’s lunch in the 2008 financial crash, Paratransit convinced the drivers to give up their annual step raises until the tap opened up again.  Since we are a poor county the starting wage for drivers is low and many will soon decide they don’t like driving a bus.  But for others there is the lure of more money over the hill calling those who have some experience.  Giving drivers higher pay as they get more experience keeps more of them driving in Lake County.  Again, the payoff to the public is greater efficiency, safety, and  mentoring by radio for new drivers faking their way through the quirks of driving a bus in our unique physical and social environment.

About a year ago we were all informed, by people who claim to know, that the recession was over.  So the drivers said “Great.  How about slipping in a few step raises on our next contract.”  I believe Paratransit said something like  “You’ll get your first step raise from us when you pry it from our cold dead fingers.”  Now the drivers realize Paratransit’s smooth words were just pillow talk and they do the strike thing. That’s just what Paratransit was waiting for.

This humble non profit manages transit systems in 3 states.  They all joined the crusade against 35 striking Lake County drivers.  Most runs were canceled for weeks as new hires replaced the old, but it was clear that Paratransit had an unlimited budget from somewhere.  The union caved and ended the strike.  But wait, Paratransit was still hiring replacement drivers in clear violation of the law.  Also, riders were paying the price of reduced route runs with drivers locked out, ready to drive.

Paratransit does not get paid for those buses that aren’t running.  This retaliation is costing them money.   Why?  What is their agenda and who are their secret backers?  And our bus riders?  It looks like losers like us take a backseat to their secret agenda.  Apparently their contract with Lake Transit Authority doesn’t prevent them from pursuing this agenda that results in sabotaging our bus service and gutting our core of experienced drivers.

I think our local politicos need to give the next management contract some pro rider direction.  Yes?

 

When The Fit Hits The Shan (video script)
By Dante DeAmicis

The motto of the Boy Scouts is  “Always Be Prepared.”  But Boy Scouts are kids who need to be reminded regularly to be prepared.  Adults naturally are well prepared, especially the leaders, right?  Wrrroooong!

Various levels of government have emergency preparedness responsibilities on paper.  The reality is much different as the focus is more on armored vehicles than food stockpiles.  At the lowest level, preparedness means to do a quick assessment of a problem and pass it up to the next level of government.  Sometimes this buck passing means nothing significant gets done.  Sometimes it means,  “help is on the way”,  from far away, way way too late.  The average person thinks an emergency response means an immediate response even if it has to be improvised in some ways.  The average person thinks there is some response capacity that they are entitled to some fair share of.  The average person has been tragically misled.

One misunderstanding about emergencies is that an emergency for you may not be the same emergency for some upstream agency that will be responding to that emergency.  In fact, at the federal level the emergency may not be your pressing problem.  It may be you and your expectations of what responders are going to do for you.

On a more theoretical level, the Transition Movement addresses a slowly evolving emergency that is gradually seeping in.  They don’t do food stockpiles either.  They are more interested in changing society’s focus from consumption in a world market economy to making what we really need locally in what may be a very long, rolling emergency.  This long term condition we are supposed to be transitioning to is called “sustainability.”

Sustainability really just means the end of cheap energy, waste, and the throwaway society.  Say “goodbye garbageman.”  Say, “Hello, more intentional, improvised, reuse type lifestyles.”  Communities will be less a bunch of atomistic individuals obsessing about their real estate value and more loose neighborhood networks for cooperation with lots of fuzzy boundaries between people, their sacred stuff, and the things they do.

The transition movement knows they need to get specific about going from here to there and selling those specifics to citizens and leaders. Government emergency preparedness doesn’t want to get specific because they are not geared to greatly expand their capacity.  The reason is because they treat all emergencies as short term so even if their response is inadequate things will eventually return to normal.  It would seem that the Transition crowd needs to develop first tangible steps beyond plans that can be implemented today by small neighborhood groups.  The local government guys need to wake up to impending game changing events that will be with us for a very long time whether we are prepared or not.  So we might as well be prepared.  There’s less suffering and fear that way for us little people.

On the other hand, the Federal Government does lots of emergency planning and they have the resources and will to carry out those plans. They are vague and secretive about some of those plans so I suspect we will not like many of them.  Remember their Hurricane Katrina response?  Not user friendly.

So we’re back to the transition guys with their  “better-transition-through-group-consciousness”  ideal.   Without a bias toward action transition will just produce theory.  And you can’t eat theory.  Official emergency preparedness is not prepared for permanent change type problems. It seems our only viable path is to always talk about the two approaches in the same breath.  When possible this means getting the two camps at the same table, starting with tabletop scenario excercises.

So much for inertia.  But who is actively opposing this critical change and what barriers are preventing forward motion?  For those trying to take first steps from the bottom up it is local and state codes, regulations, and outmoded structures that prohibit the changes we need to make to prepare for a very different world.

How will we convince theses moribund authorities that if they won’t become leaders for change in a changing world they need to get out of the way so the people, as least informed and motivated people, can get to work.  The answer is in those very fossilized regulations, specifically those regulations that place responsibility for emergency preparedness on cities and counties.  Informed groups of citizens must go to those responsible with a list of outcomes we want implemented.  If they say,  “We’ll have to study it”  we need to say,  “We already have. Let’s get’r done.”  It is people outside government who have the answers.  Government needs to start thinking of itself as a power tool for those people instead of rubber stamping everything they don’t understand as frivolous.

Still not getting through?  Still think this is all something we can dabble in or not?  Think:  Electric grid collapse.  Think:  No running water coming in….or out.  No trucks bringing food into stores everyday.  Think:  Thousands of desperate people preying on each other unchecked by police.  Not a pretty picture but denial won’t make it disappear.

What can we realistically build with what we have if we start now?  This is a world of chickens and goats, not McDonalds.  Of composting, not flushing and flushing and flushing.  Of collecting and conserving heat because the wall outlets are dead.  Of clustering together with trusted neighbors because the single family stick home is really not a castle.

Oh, and don’t worry about living your life for some future disaster that may never happen.  A slow rolling collapse is already in progress. Wishful thinking won’t stop it and not thinking will make the pain much worse.

People can do this stuff.  They used to do this stuff but they are a little out of practice.  Our leaders could use some practice being leaders as well.

 

 

 

The 8th Avenue Boys

by Dante DeAmicis

Hugging the fringe of this 10 square mile war zone is the true center of Clearlake.  One would think that Clearlake’s hub of activity would be either the 2 mile “has-been” resort strip of Lakeshore Drive or the City-Hall-to-Highway 53 escape of Olympic Drive.  But no, the City’s standard of excellence is sales tax revenue from whatever source.  Using this single minded criteria, Clearlake’s “center” is an oasis of cleared brush on the last freeway exit.  We’re too downstream to have a downtown anyway.

A two-time interim Clearlake Administrator reported that only Walmart was increasing the flow of sales tax blood into the City’s anemic coffers.  This last-stop freeway nexus also features 3 fast food joints and a Rays grocery store.

The middle drive of this cash cow boasts the biggest bus transfer site in Lake County – top of the list on Clearlake Chamber of Commerce’s “points of interest.”  Why are 50 buses a day rolling through the middle of a shared parking lot?  Because this daily transit parade route is actually an unmarked right-of-way dividing 2 parking lots.  Once the pavement ends and the howling wilderness begins, this stealth road continues on the map as “8th Avenue.”

This also explains why milling throngs of homeless are routinely rousted from the Safeway parking lot but are only moved out of the bus shelters here.  They are free to get in line with their signs as sort of a low-brow haiku show for lost Napa tourists.  (Have your picture taken with a real homeless person?)

A few years back a developer had to promise to punch this paper road through to get approval for his paper subdivision 3 miles away. For now, its a place to arrive by bus from distant lands, check your e-mail on McDonalds’ wi-fi, discuss investment strategies with the homeless, and steal something from Walmart.

Usually the only reason I hang out here, longer than to take my bike off the bus rack during the day, is to walk through the Jack-In-The-Box lobby doors before Midnight.  Everyone working at night here are required to speak 2 languages or have 3 tattoos. Management has to do both.  Its the only place in Clearlake I can sit down in a lighted room, write awhile, and charge my cell phone after 11 pm.  If I’m not quite finished when they lock the doors I have “Plan B” across the street – the secret 2-plug outlet on the closed McDonald’s flag pole.

There’s a trashy surrealism inside this “Jacks” that works for me.  Cabaret tables stand against the windows, patiently waiting for Margaritas that will never come.  The crowning touch is the stereo mini mirror balls, suggestively gyrating from the ceiling.  Weak rotating colors thrown off create a dance floor effect only bright enough for moths and mosquitoes.  No one else would notice unless they were filling their root beer cup underneath.

I asked the counter person if she really wanted me to disco in front of the fountain drinks.  It won’t be a pretty sight on the security camera.  Unfazed, “Sure, why not?”

Closing time.  I leave the lobby as the last of the homeless are leaving the pavement into the broken promise of a street that never was.  A hundred betrayed GPS navigators wail about the breach of trust with their stranded owners.  The shabby people and their dogs are grateful tonight for that broken promise unlike the many broken promises made to them.

Welcome to 8th Avenue, another poster child for the “State Map Act.”  Clearlake has an orphanage full of them.

Bus Riders Report on the 2013 Proposal

by Dante DeAmicis

Last Summer a devastating Lake County transit bus strike turned many of our compromised residents’ lives upside down.  The heart of the conflict was Paratransit Services’ determination to keep the drivers’ wage structure flat.  This means that someone who just started driving a bus yesterday would make the same pay as someone with 15 years experience.  Tiered pay rates are common in the real world.  But one can agree with this principle without adopting the Union’s linear steps.

 In the service of this agenda, Paratransit pulled personnel from five of their units in three states, spent over $100,000 of their own money, hired driver applicants that they had rejected previously, and refused to resume full bus service after the strike officially ended to starve out old Union members.  Paratransit is not paid for routes that aren’t running so pursuing their private agenda was worth big bucks to them or some private group bankrolling them.  Their guiding principle seems to be “Lake County riders be damned.”

 The proof that Paratransit had a sinister motive would be if an independent study showed that this contract management company fabricated a huge cost figure for the Union proposal in the absence of reasonable assumptions or best practices.

 The Union proposal can be wrong but still within the realm of reason.  They say their proposal would cost less than $100,000 over Paratransit’s offer.  Paratransit says it would bust the bank at 400 grand.  Lake Transit Authority’s Mark Wall has crunched some numbers that he claims mostly supports Paratransit’s position but has not been forthcoming with specifics.  I believe his figures are public information.

 This kind of discrepancy cannot be accounted for by merely choosing different but reasonable assumptions.  However, neither Paratransit or the Teamsters union have disclosed their methodology.  In addition to myself, CPA Peter Shifman and Mike Bailey, a retired Wall Street guy, have also been denied a crack at the numbers.  Its clear that if this truth gap is going to be closed the job will have to done by the public and riders directly.  The professional elites have failed us.

 This “riders” study has clearly stated assumptions that can be tightened up with specific facts that either Paratransit Services, the Teamster Union, or the Lake Transit Authority can supply.

It is the result of published bus schedules, media reports, the previous driver contract, my limited experience as a transit employee, my extensive experience as a bus rider, and hours of piece meal interviews with longtime drivers on the fly. The end result is a stitched together Frankenstudy but I believe it is based on pretty good information without political agendas.

 CPA Peter Shifman and myself agree that the whole medical issue shouldn’t have been part of the original negotiations due to the Affordable Care Act complicating the issue this year.  We should have been able to compare the Paratransit with the Union wage and benefit numbers without the largely irrelevant medical issue but this Union blunder allowed Paratransit to concoct outrageous fabrications.

 Nevertheless, the issue was in the negotiations so I had to assume a minimal level of voluntary participation on the part of the full time employees in the Union Proposal.

 My Grand Total of the Union Proposal is $151,807.02.   I turned in this report with some boring charts to the Lake Transit Authority at their February 12th meeting.

 It would seem that the Union’s estimate of their proposal was low-balled but Paratransit’s analysis was a product of magical thinking.  How could we explain the huge difference between the Union and Paratransit’s calculations?  The only place to find an answer is in the medical assumptions.

 Rather than 7 we could assume that all the other 13 eligible employees would sign up due to the $80 per month savings to them.  Additional cost: another $12,480.  Also, all employees would have to take advantage of the new spouse coverage, even if they had to get married first. Additional cost: $146,880.

Since I’m still short $88,833 of Paratransit’s 400 thousand inspiration I’ll just assume medical insurance rate increases for 40 employees and spouses (up from 7) of $2,221 per person over 3 years.   Presto: $400,000.  Not bad, since its all done with a medical plan that’s irrelevant as I type this.