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California Dreamin' is turning into a real nightmare

August 08, 2010|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

Recently, as a result of my karma, I found myself on a plane headed to California for a week's visit. It was an unexpected trip, and I often look for some residual reason for ending up somewhere that I had no real intentions of going in the first place. This was one of those trips.

While growing up with the rest of the baby boomers, I can remember some very good music back in the '60s. One of these vintage songs in 1965 was "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas. It made you want to sing along - you know, "all the leaves are brown..."

I remember another comforting verse of that song which said, "I'd be safe and warm/if I was in LA".

Well, there must have been some truth to the song, because a lad by the name of Robert Rizzo sought a little comfort as the city manager in the town of Bell, Calif., located just west of Los Angeles.

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The city of Bell has a population of around 38,000. To put this figure in perspective, this population is very near the same size as the City of Hagerstown proper.

Now if the story ended there, it would be just plain dull - but there are some more tantalizing details as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Within the city limits of Bell, the annual salary for a regular person living and working there is around $24,800. It is a very poor place to live by many standards.

Like most cities, unemployment is becoming a problem and the city is adding some debt to its budget.

Normal stuff and normal reading, huh? Well, here is where it gets interesting.

One morning, the citizens of Bell learned that Robert Rizzo, the city manager for this little community, has an annual salary of almost $800,000.

It was further reported that he has been receiving 12 percent annual increases for some time and, oh by the way, when he decides to retire, he will receive in the neighborhood of $600,000 a year.

What a revelation it must have been to the citizens of this tiny community struggling each day to make ends meet! Who's been paying his salary, they must have wondered. It gets even better.

The assistant city manger of Bell has an annual salary of $376,000, while the police chief's annual salary is $457,000.

The mayor sees nothing wrong with the salaries.

You can almost imagine what the associated costs of benefits and pensions are for these few elite political representatives.

As I thought about this little city of Bell, I wondered about the other 480 cities and towns that make up California.

What kind of future does the city of Bell have in consideration of the present?

If you let your mind roam a little, you could ask the same question about your own neighborhood, about California, about our country.

I believe America does a great many things right. Unfortunately, I also believe we do a great many things wrong as well.

The city of Bell is one pathetic example.

California, as a state, has an unemployment rate around 12.6 percent; its current deficit is beyond $20 billion and many have some serious concerns about the state's pension obligations.

Republicans refuse to raise taxes and Democrats refuse to cut spending. Will California become America's economic example of Greece?

Will you have to bail them out?

People are getting a little edgy. The people in Bell are "outraged."

On my long flight home, I sat next to a lady from Burbank who was leaving California and moving back East to Florida.

She spent several hours telling me about all the bad things about California and why she needed to move back East.

"It was almost like a nightmare out there," she said.

I couldn't bring myself to mention the Mamas and Papas song.

I guess the notion of "California Dreamin'" is something best left to 1965 - perhaps it was a better time to dream back then.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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