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A Shredder's got to live 

Shhh. Please don't make a sound. I have to be very quiet so I don't get kicked out of these new digs. The Westfalia van I'd been living in since rents shot up has sprung a leak, and now I'm here. I'm just warning you. I may not have as many items in bold in this column. They're too loud.

I can't tell you where I am--just that I can only stay here from 5:30 at night to 7:30 in the morning, but that's a small price to pay, particularly since I'm not paying any price.

I really don't have a choice. As you'll see in Kai Beech's piece this week on page 7, rents around here have shot up recently, apparently because all those people who've had their homes foreclosed on still have to actually live somewhere. Plus, I guess since nobody's buying homes, they're planning on renting until the market bottoms out in, say, 2525. If man is still alive.

Gee, with all those businesses closing and such, you'd almost think there's a recession going on around here. Luckily for all the folks who run local government (and who squat in government offices, not that I'd know anything about that), the recession seems to not apply to the offices listed in the blue section of the phone book.

So thanks to whoever dropped off the annotated copy of a year-old newsletter from the SLO Property Owners Association.

At the risk of reading tea leaves in inkblots, I'm fairly certain that the point this person wanted to emphasize was this: Neener, neener, told ya so!

The group--which lists Mayor Dave Romero, SLO Councilmen Andrew Carter and Paul Brown, and Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee as former board members--emphasizes an eat-your-vegetables approach to government finances. In this particular issue, Leslie Halls, who was then the group's leader, and may still be for all I know, predicted in the weeks before city voters went to the polls to approve a sales tax increase, that the money would probably end up going to hiring new employees and paying employee benefits.

"This is," she said, "a classic government strategy to get more funding cut services whine and cry to convince the voters to give more money to restore services get the funding, hire more people, then repeat the process ad nauseum."

It was dropped off, I'm guessing, in reference to last week's news that the city of SLO had budgeted about a million bucks in raises for a few dozen top officials and managers, and that members of the City Council wouldn't deny that it was coming from the new sales tax money, which was billed to voters as a way to provide money for stuff like street paving, emergency services, and flood protection efforts.

I don't know what to make of the fact that Romero, Carter, and Brown all voted for the raises. Maybe it's easier to root for lean government from the outside, where you don't have all those managers, police chiefs, and fire officials looking up at you with those pleading puppy-dog eyes, talking about buying shoes for the kids.

The folks over at the SLO Board of Supervisors know those looks well. They voted to add an extra $455,000 in annual raises to managers and department heads who work for the county. And that's just the latest boost--it's a 6-percent hike meant to mirror the raises the supervisors gave themselves. In all, according to a county report, they've granted $3 million worth of raises this year to managers and "confidential" employees, bringing the total salary paid to this group to $49 million.

The same morning the most recent raises were announced, the board discussed the findings from its most recent survey of how people think the county government is doing. Let's just say it doesn't look like the raises were exactly merit pay. In fact, let's not say much at all. This whole column is getting a tad too loud, and I think I just heard footsteps out in the hall. I'll just whisper this next part, and you just blink if you understand me.

According to the latest "Citizen's Opinion Survey," people seem to still think SLO County is a safe, healthy place to live, but they aren't so sure about the job the county is doing. Asked to rate county services for land-use, planning, and zoning, they gave a score of 34. That's on a 100-point scale, so it's, what, 70 percent? Or 60 percent? No, that can't be right. I got a 34 out of 100 on my last math test, and the teacher said I failed.

Those 34 points are no better than they gave in 2003, and are below the norm for other counties in the state. Services for poor folks ranked 35 out of 100. And how is the county doing on affordable housing and health care? Even worse: 13 and 29 percent, respectively. So when you have a heart attack after seeing what rent on a two-bedroom apartment is going to cost you, you're basically screwed.

People who responded to the survey also rated the county's efforts as below average on "overall direction" and "overall quality of services," with both questions just eking out a bit more than a 50 percent rating.

In other words, there's higher pay to be had around here for those doing a pretty mediocre job. I'm not going to tell you where I'm spending the night, but I just may try to stay around for a while. Feels a lot like paradise. Now if only I had a cheeseburger.

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