Lost Dogs and Trump Supporters

A week ago I lost my dog. Lost, sounds like I misplaced her somewhere. Actually I became certain she was stolen. My personal experience has been that if she got tangled in her lead line she would slip her collar and escape. After running around for an hour she would come home. That didn’t happen this time.

This time the whole thirty foot lead line was missing off the dog run and Ruby was nowhere to be found. At first I decided that she must have gotten her lead line tangled in the surrounding brush on my knoll. Dragging a chain, she couldn’t have gone more than a hundred yards without getting hopelessly tangled. I just had to spend a couple hours circling out from my property calling her name until I found her. I did this and still no Ruby. To me the only other reasonable possibility was, she was stolen.

Even though she was a popular color of pit bull she was a spayed aging female. In addition to this glitch in the theft theory nothing else on the property was stolen or disturbed. It looked like someone took the only safe, non alarmed route to the hill top and bee lined it to Ruby and unhooked her lead line. This event would require prior knowledge or advance surveillance of my activities. This further narrowed down the possibilities in my mind.

After thrashing thru the brush for two days my mind started imagining suspects. A long time friend who was forced to give up Ruby, a few neighbors who seen me walking her on the backside of my knoll, and a crazy looking guy on an illegal ATV who roared thru the neighborhood everynight probing everyone’s access roads. I fantasized that he noted my comings and goings from all points. The motive: He had a market for fresh meat to train fighting pit bulls to tear dogs apart. This is the stuff that goes on in normal minds at wits end.

People started responding to Facebook notices of Ruby’s disappearance. A volunteer dog finder spread the word further. Several photos turned up of dogs similar to Ruby but not Ruby. I continued to walk the neighborhood, putting up lost dog notices as I went. They included a reward and pictures photoshopped by my girlfriend. I was loosing hope and felt like I was just going thru the motions because I had no power to do anything else. There was a short list of suspects in my mind.

How would government or an organization that has government’s ear handle this problem? Based on recent events, they would tap the phones and search cell phones and personal records of everyone in the area and who fit the profile of all hypothetical suspects. That is, as long as at some time or some place at least one person who fit one of the profiles committed a dog napping. Remember, at this point there was no actual proof Ruby was stolen. Then they would put a bunch of pins on a map and respond with devastating force, destroying all possible suspects along with neighbors who made the bad choice to live near a future target who may someday commit a hypothetical crime by one unsubstantiated method or another.

On day seven I checked the kennel again and put up my last signs on the fringe of my neighborhood. Then I went to the coffee shop and speculated about whether tactical nuclear weapons should be an option. After a couple hours my phone rang. “We have your dog.” Ruby’s journey over the last week was nothing like anything I deduced must have happened based on the facts. Apparently my facts weren’t all the facts. Even though I had first hand information I did not have most of the information about canines or people.

Ruby was glad to see me but also had been enjoying bed and breakfast treatment with a family who was still grieving over the recent death of their dog. They refused the reward and gave me the collar and leash from their dog to lead Ruby home. It made me sorry I had fantasized about reducing these five square blocks of doublewides to smoking twisted wreckage. I was certain the dog thief was there somewhere and would strike again and again and again until someone put a stop to them. Sure, a few thousand innocent people would die but that’s the price we pay, actually they pay, for dog freedom.

So what does this have to do with Trump voters? They seem like lost dog owners too. In fact they sound like people who have lost several dogs. They have a little first hand information and have been given an analysis of who is to blame by people who have not lost dogs. Many of these analysts have benefited magnificently in the past by advising owners who lost metaphorical dogs. I can relate. Aren’t you glad I don’t have access to 20 aircraft carrier groups and cruise missiles?

Public Access Transition

Since the late 1970’s the principle electronic public media has been channels on cable TV. But they were an option that most cable franchisers did not ask for, according to a survey by the Alliance for Community Media. From the beginning the goal has been to allow local content from the public without social or political considerations. Other alternate media included underground newspapers, low power community radio, public broadcasting tv and Pacifica Radio.

By the late 1980’s political and economic changes shifted the relevance of various alternative and public media. The financing of public broadcasting, as opposed to public access, became dominated by corporate sponsors. In the 90’s the internet gradually replaced much alternative print media. Even though video options on the internet increasingly replaced cable video the internet itself never provided much community centered media. The internet was better at dispersing media than connecting people, especially in community. Those communities that used the cable public access option still had a better source of local and public media. Cable use was declining but so was print media, which kept cable public access relevant.

From the beginning, political entities in and out of government occasionally tried to censor legal content on public access channels, which enjoy the legal status of a “designated public forum.” Over time a number of political and economic innovations sucked money away from the public sectors and transferred it to commercial entities. Local government budgets became tight and the perceived essential services were going to be fulfilled first even if other functions could survive on a pittance. At the extreme, there are several problems with this reasoning as well as a couple of solutions.

Not all public access channels were well funded. Many did not receive any general fund money or an entitled part of the cable franchise fee. Public support often consisted of free rent in an unused part of a public facility. This was the case in Lake County. TV8 was a single channel access station created by a provision in the city of Clearlake’s cable franchise. There was never any intention to turn over day to day operations to a qualified non profit. It was bounced around from one public space to another. It was financed solely by a $5400 per year Distance Learning Program fee charged to Yuba College. Even though it was never a budget burden this did not prevent the most egregious violations of civil liberties by government authorities who locked out volunteers under flimsy pretenses.

The bottom line is that there is a critical need for an independent, public, and local media if communities are going to be vibrant and inclusive. But the technology and funding are going to have to change. If public media advocates step forward to make the transition then politicians need to help the transition to the next step forward in community media. Especially since it won’t cost much.

The Alliance for Community Media has been working to make the the technical transformation of public access from a cable dependent media to internet based platforms where existing cable access channels will become “nodes” of local content. The internet is now more accessible to more people than cable tv. Many subscribers have switched to satellite tv where public access is not an option. A media platform or portal could be an upgraded blog site. The Premium version of WordPress costs $8.25 per month.

Linked videos on the public platform could be stored on YouTube, Vimeo, or Archive.org.  Each “division” of this new local media platform will have its own page on the platform. Probably these separate pages would be edited by non profits with the homepage edited by the sites overall administrator. The three public access stations in Mendocino and the one in Trinity are owned by non profits. My own non profit which is currently parked is Cache Creek Performance. I naively intended it to operateTV8. There are several low cost live streaming services that charge by the month or data use to make local media more of a real time experience.

With many production programs being usable on a good laptop, the only resource missing is space for a studio. This is where thinking outside the box is critical. Why pay rent on space that is not used most of the time? If lighting and sound equipment can be put in portable packages, a studio can be anywhere – meeting rooms, restaurant stages, coffee shops, churches, government chambers. I’ve used them all. And let’s not forget the great big outdoors. There are schools with small performance areas open to the public (Lower Lake High School) as well as non profits who might like to trade temporary shooting space for publicity.

How do you make the public aware that this is the new goto public media? First, everyone on the site needs to plug the site and everyone else on it while they still can. Second, sponsor or cosponsor events and contests. Obviously the first contest should be “The Best Name for This Platform” contest. I would be interested in sponsoring a new type of Slam Poetry competition, especially if I could get Mendocino’s Poet Laureate Michael Riedell on board. There are clubs who are always looking for speakers. We need to speak to them. When something new happens on the platform, such as its initial formation, we need to send out press releases.

What can local government do to help transition to the new public media? They can make a commitment to the future. Rather than simply let declining public access channels crash and burn a positive response would go something like: “The days of paying for centralized facilities along with technical staff are coming to an end. We will work with a broad base of media advocates by providing an insurance umbrella, offering more use of public buildings for media functions, especially for storage of valuable equipment, and establishing a jack location for existing public access channels to link to the new platform.” The future is only scary if you do not prepare for it.

Lake County Identity Crisis

Many years ago Lake County used to be part of Napa County, giving it the status of a San Francisco Bay Area county. It was hard to get to in those pre CalTrans days. Around the time that Lake County broke off, another nearby county was breaking up. This was the county of Klamath on the Coast. It was too small and poor to pay its bills, which were a lot fewer back then. The disappearing county became parts of Humboldt, Trinity, Siskyiou, and the new county of Del Norte. Counties can die when there is a good reason.

A case could be made that Lake County should be divided up between its functional neighbors for the good of the residents. After the grinding poverty the best reason for Lake to split at the Putah Creek and Cache Creek Watersheds is the fact that it doesn’t know who it is and is constantly at war with change. The exception is the chamber marketing people who throw all their cash at convincing a skeptical world that we really are part of the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino “Wine Country.” Sure, out of county wineries are all too happy to take advantage of Lake’s lax environmental regulations for their satellite vineyards but their wineries and tasting rooms stay at home along with the jobs.

Mendocino has a second identity along with Humboldt as the “North Coast”, sometimes referred to as the “Emerald Triangle.” Mendocino generally works well and its county seat Ukiah is convenient to the North half of Lake County. Mendocino has a rim of surrounding communities that boast a strong cultural and community identity. Lake County has little of this. Lake County has a small group of mean spirited, small minded opportunists that love being big fish in a small pond. This leadership class does not see itself as public servants. Their motto is “To the victor goes the spoils.” In this oppressive climate the best and the brightest go elsewhere, if they can afford it.

But even myopic victors need an identity. And the Lake County goobertocracy has chosen the Neanderthal State of Jefferson movement as their inspiration. Its Board of Supervisors were unanimous in spite of this endorsement being in opposition to most of their constituency. After a series of devastating fires caused a billion dollars in aid to pour into beleaguered Lake, the ranting about California and support for Jefferson quietly died. No doubt the fires of secession are still burning in the goobers’ black hearts. So I’ve created a litmus test for NorCal gooberness.

In 1996 there were two interesting California State Propositions – Pot Proposition 215 and the 2/3 Tax Approval Prop 218. These were hot topics and tended to split along liberal and conservative lines. But not always. What if a county tended towards local control and personal freedom. Then they would favor both. In Northern California no county who complains about over regulation has any business voting against 215. This means no “State of Gooberstan.” People who have the can-do spirit will vote against easy taxation also. I don’t begrudge true goober supervisors voting their class war values but their votes should mirror the values of their bosses – the people.

The boundaries of this fantasized goobertopia are constantly shifting, depending on political realities. In the most optimistic version of Jefferson we get a rim of Oregon counties to the North, which has nothing to do with what our California Legislature does, to a Southern frontier of Mendocino, Lake, Yolo, El Dorado and Alpine Counties. A more realistic boundary target consists of about 13 counties, bypassing the hard sell middle Sierra region and Delta Counties. For some unfathomable reason the hard core redneck enclave still includes Mendocino and Humboldt Counties which has far more in common with those sinners in the Bay Area than with Donald Trump voters.

Looking at the 1996 results, a “no” on 215 and a “yes” on 218 says “break out the banjos, load up the squirrel shooters, and stomp the flag burners, yeah ha!” These counties include, coming down from the Oregon border, most of the central and Northeastern counties down to Sierra but not Nevada Counties.They do not include Lake or Trinity, obviously corrupted by Mendocino and Humboldt next door. News is slow getting back to Goober Headquarters. Maybe they think Goobers are the chosen people and they can ignore everyone else. But hey, Lake County Supervisors have a disconnect with the people who pay their salaries also.

Lake County was a 53 percent yes vote on 215 and a 65 yes on 218, along with six other double yes counties in the expansion zone of Greater Gooberstan. This is the hard core goober resistance movement, plus the single liberal “yes on 215, no on 218” county of Yolo. Other sympathetic counties have backed off on a Jefferson endorsement due to the embarrassing hypocrisy of biting the hand that is feeding them. Five of the seven double yes counties I would call the “non goober, local control” federation. But the other two, Humboldt and tiny Alpine, had “super” double yes majorities. I would call those two the libertarian counties.

Bottom line is Lake County is not State of Jefferson country in spite of what our grumpy, head-in-the -sand leaders want to believe. Since we are the “local control group” we should be part of the North Coast/Emerald Triangle network. I really want to join and I’ll always have regular connections in the Ukiah Valley within Mendocino. But in spite of my rustic rural sensibilities, minimal cultural and political functioning demands that my serious focus has to be on the Bay Area. I have a limited “push out” identity that I described as “The Wedge” in a blog but I am committed to identify Lake as Bay Area, in opposition to the deep denial of the Jefferson tribe and the wine country clique.

In order to intellectually identify with an area you have to have a good physical connection with your chosen homeland. Most of Lake County is poor. Buses to the North, East, or the Coast are minimal or non existent. But thanks to an amazing bus system gradually built up since 1995 we not only have four buses a day to the nearest functional city of Ukiah but Lake Transit also sends four express buses a day, six days a week to the South and the big, exciting world beyond. Here’s how it works.

Bus 3 leaves Walmart in Clearlake going to the Northernmost Napa County city of Calistoga. From here you have two choices. Our transit drivers will give you a free transfer to the Napa Vine Route 10 as far as the city of Napa. Your second option, and this is where “the world” comes in, is to pay a few bucks and get on the 29 Express (Monday thru Friday) and blow thru South of Napa. For pure fun, jump off at the Vallejo dock and take the ferry all the way to San Francisco, or stay on the 29 Express and go all the way to the North El Cerrito Bart Station. Now you are a light rail ride away from all East Bay cities, San Francisco, two international airports, the Central Valley, and Amtrack.

This month I’m going to the Napa Film Festival, a law conference in Oakland, and catching the slam poetry venue in Berkeley, all made possible by Lake Transit’s Route 3 to the Bay Area and civilization. Lake County is isolated only if someone wants to be isolated.

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.

 

How Many Lower Lake Teachers Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb

 
Monday I found the Post Office closed for Columbus Day. It was not really Columbus Day but Mondays are the dumping ground for days off disguised as holidays. This is the most bogus of all phony American holidays since it celebrates the “discovery” of the West Indies. In three attempts Columbus never landed anywhere that would become part of the United States. Don’t tell the Post Office that others previously landed on our continent or they will want those holidays off too – celebrated on a Monday.

This year I’m grumpier than usual about this insult to those living in the real world. Native Americans have tried to get schools to hijack Chris’s day for Native American Day for some time. But this year it comes on the heels of a Lower Lake High School teacher’s demand that reluctant students join in worshiping the United States flag. A teacher new to Lower Lake High School decided to make all parts of this religious ritual mandatory. Those students who stayed seated were heretics and would be burned at the grade book stake. One silent protester was a Native American.

The protesting students acted much smarter than my past approach of going thru accepted channels. In 12 years of civil rights violations by local government bodies this has yielded me zero results. Leilani Thomas and another student went right to network TV and the ACLU. They didn’t waste time complaining to the administration who hired this teacher. Nor did they did they write a letter to the local “Goober Gazette.” Local media being another black hole for dealing with civil rights abuses. Within hours all national networks and a dozen internet blogs had picked up the story. I was impressed.

The Konocti Unified Schools Superintendent received an informed media assault as her first hint that something was amiss in the public relations department. The student had gone nuclear by recording the barely articulate jingoism of the teacher and we still don’t know what that teacher taught, probably “Mindless Obedience 101.” The recording of an ignorant teacher’s babbling was more serious than the civil rights violation itself, which most goose-stepping Americans were in favor of. In fact, sixty percent of the internet traffic was supporting the teacher’s action against Leilani’s silent protest.

The transcript starts out with the teacher saying, “Here’s the deal.” Then what follows is a very raw deal. The teacher sarcastically offered the student a chance to redeem herself by submitting a written argument in an “essay form” to validate her action. There’s an interesting catch. If your writing skills are poor then you have no civil rights. It sounds like the old literacy tests for blacks voting in the deep South. I know, people protest “Bad analogy. People should be literate to vote.” But petty tyrants gave whites a different test and their goober friends no test at all. I wonder what kind of civil rights essays this teacher is capable of writing – complete with legal case references.

Wait! The recording gets better, almost comical. Dissing the student’s reasoning that the flag does not conjure up warm fuzzy feelings in her for what happened to her ancestors by mobs waving it, the teacher responds, “Like why? Why, because here’s the thing; those people, those people, they’re not alive anymore. Your ancestors.” Such a profound exponent of penetrating incite and inspiring eloquence by a teacher must be defended in our public school system. Having sewed up the Donald Trump vote with this irrefutable reasoning, teacher then spoils it with an argument containing two false assumptions and one honking contradiction.

Paraphrasing: the Lower Lake Cicero explained that the flag represented the military and they “risked their lives for us.” Remember, in her previous breath this guide for the next generation trashed a student for arguments based on experiences of past generations. Now she is demanding that students stand up for generations of mostly dead military personnel. If you don’t think this is a clear contradiction then maybe you should be teaching school in Lower Lake.

I don’t know what college this credentialed embarrassment got her degree from but the flag does not represent the military. It represents this country’s civil society of which the military is subservient to, even though oddly, people in the military are on vacation from our democratically created body of laws. Their laws are called the Code of Military Justice.

The second false premise is that the military risks their lives for us. Who’s us? Were the hundreds of indigenous peoples that were mowed down and dispossessed by our military part of the teacher’s “us” group? What about the dozens of times our military went abroad in the blatant service of corporate interests (especially the banks), crushing popular movements in the process. Back home our military “ancestors” sided with ranchers against farmers and brutally suppressed the “Bonus Army” of veterans. The last time our military “risked their lives,” front and center, “for us” was the War of 1812. But what have they done “for us” lately?

The Super went into damage control mode even before she had caught up with all the facts. The traitorous students were moved to another class – probably “Watch Your Ass 101.” A one sided statement was issued that stated the teacher was being disciplined and that students don’t give up their civil rights when they enter the school grounds. This is not quite true but extra civil liberty restrictions on students must follow the Tinker Standard, a Supreme Court guideline that I’m certain the flag worshipping teacher knows nothing about.

The brushfire is still smoldering even though one school board member says the issue is over. There is still the remaining problem of a Konocti Unified High School principal and a department head that had agreed to hire this ignorant teacher after a lengthy interview. We need to look at the school administration’s bigger agenda and criteria for hiring teachers. Maybe we should look at the standards for hiring principals. This needs to be done before we vote on the local school bond in next month’s election.

Back to Columbus Day. Dump it. No we will not take away a day off from the lucky few. We will replace it with another far more important and neglected holiday. That day, which should be far more revered in our schools and respected by Americans everywhere is Bill of Rights Day – December 15th. It is recognized by Presidential Proclamations and used to be noted on calendars. Although some teachers and principals may disagree, I would trade a flag for the Bill of Rights any day of the week.

My Transit Union Goon Experience

 

Lake Transit is run by a contractor chosen by a three government “Lake Transit Authority.” That contractor then contracts with a labor union who represents the rank and file employees. On July 1 the labor contract was to expire. January 1, 2017 the contractor’s contract was to expire. The bus workers chose me to work with the negotiating committee for the labor contract.

Contractors are not like entrepreneurs. They do not have their own capital at risk. They can pack up and leave by not bidding on the next operations contract and have lost nothing. The buses, yard, equipment, and transit infrastructure are publicly owned capital. This reduces the contractor’s incentive to settle labor issues quickly. A contractor can lowball their contract bid and tell workers a raise in pay or benefits is not in their budget. Strike if you want to. We don’t care. This makes unions look ineffective.

This year is a little different. CalTrans, who has the final word on all matters transit, has put the LTA and the contractor on a strict timeline to create a new operations contract. This is due to the many contract extensions that were granted. The first speed bump date is July 11th. This is when the LTA’s draft Request For Proposals for a new operations contract must be sitting on CalTrans’ desk. To write this draft RFP all current costs must be listed, including labor. If there is a union their contract has to be put into the package but apparently is not binding on the new contractor.

I decided early on in the labor negotiations that I would only contribute my document research from CalTrans, my unique experience of going to all the LTA meetings, and quoting its general manager whenever possible. Just mentioning his name causes contractors to avert their eyes. The Union rep would keep the long formal process chugging along. Other bus workers at the table would pound on specific proposals.

After the third negotiating session it was clear nothing else was coming over from the other side of the table. Moving numbers around the columns and changing wording was not even inching us forward. Up to this point, the “progress” was the Union throwing out things from their original proposal. What was left was a few minor changes in conditions and trying to get a raise in some part of the three year contract.

The contractor was adamant that the money drivers got from the Valley Fire disaster funds was our raise for the rest of the year even though they did not pay any of it. At an earlier LTA meeting I pointed out that this infusion only covered most of the new minimum wage increase of one dollar. New drivers got an increase of 86 cents. So they were still further behind the minimum wage gain. The LTA’s manager, Mark (avert your eyes) Wall thought the difference between the minimum wage and starting driver pay should be two dollars.

So now its Tuesday morning, day 5. The Union committee decides that since the contractor wanted to wrap things up today we would oblige by giving our Best and Final Offer. Unlike three years ago when the drivers got their butts kicked, the contractor is under some pressure from the LTA to meet a deadline because the LTA is under pressure from CalTrans to move on their calendar.

So the contractor and Union committees face off across the table. The Union hasn’t budged since yesterday and says “Hey guys, how about your Best and Final offer so we can take it to our members tonight along with a strike vote.” Predictably, the contractors tensed up and asked for a brief recess. When they came back their fake smiles had vanished. Then they alternated between lecturing us as if we were naughty three year olds and accusing us of violating the National Labor Relations Act, without examples, and seemed to be on their way to charging us with crimes against humanity when we decided to break for another Union paid for lunch.

After lunch more trees had been sacrificed at the copy center. The contractor had made progress in wages that they might never pay because they would not start until after the operations contract had been awarded. Starting drivers would still start at $11.34 an hour till January First. On the First they would get $2.50, maybe. If the current contractor does not bid they won’t pay it. And a new contractor would technically have to agree to sign on to the Union agreement.

During break, the Teamster guy asked us what we thought and if the membership would vote for this contract. He thought that since the present contractor did not seem likely to put in a serious bid for themselves that this was probably the best we could get. I thought most would follow his lead but any drivers likely to quit soon, because of the mandatory six-day weeks caused by the driver shortage, probably would vote against the contract. The rest of our committee voiced concerns that the members were too tired to go out on strike. Lucky for low ball contractors, until we get too tired to drive and quit.

Sure enough, that night the members voiced their disappointment with different shortcomings of our thin work but still voted for the contractor’s meager three year contract offer which may end up back on the table with a new contractor. I wonder if the serfs felt this way – new Lord, same field to plow.

Meanwhile, the relentless march of the CalTrans procurement schedule leading to an operations contract award begins July 11 and ends with an award November 9th. The CalTrans approved RFP is released to potential bidders August 5 but I really need to see the draft that CalTrans sees July 11 so I can pitch a fit if a performance clause is not in it. An operation that is on forced six day work weeks for over a year is not fully staffed. When qualified drivers quit due to burn outs and melt downs, the money spent on training and increasing driver experience levels go down the drain.

What would such a staffing clause look like? I suggested a trigger of a three driver shortage over three months. This would be the indicator of a systemic fault. When both of these conditions exist continuously the contract should require a written explanation from the contractor of why this is an extraordinary glitch, how it is being fixed, and why they should not be fined for non performance. Mark Wall is simultaneously planning route reductions based on a grant shortfall. He doesn’t need the additional headaches from another low ball contract. I will now avert my eyes.

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.