We have stories to curl your hair today. The group called Citizens Against Government Waste issued their California Piglet book this week. The group does the work to uncover bizarre spending habits of bureaucrats in California.

Here goes! The report says that the California Bureau of State Audits found that an employee with the Franchise Tax Board made or received personal phone calls totaling 495 hours between January 1, 2003 and June 30, 2006. They estimated that the employee received $15,765 in salary for those 495 hours. The state figured that for more than a year of that time, 71% of the employee’s phone calls were not work-related.

How about a tax paid for facility called Great Park in the Los Angeles area – a 1300 acre project. The price topped $1 billion. The project includes a $5 million helium tethered balloon. A French-trained pilot earning a six-figure salary, who will use a remote control device to lower the balloon to earth. A $300,000 visitor center tent, designed to resemble an airplane hangar, which costs $74,000 a year to clean and $370,000 to staff with four people. Then, there’s a series of orange dots painted along the park’s entrance road at a cost of $14,000.

And CNN scolded Bishop for $50,000 of tax money for a mule museum?!?!

Some Piglet Book one-liners:
The Southern California Metropolitan Water District ratepayers spent millions to subsidize a local “Water Museum” then were hit with rate increases.

Ineligible prison inmates received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal benefits.

The Mira Costa College president spent six figures to investigate the theft of a $300 tree.

Here’s a Piglet Book note about Caltrans. The report says that under the most conservative estimates, the department’s large portfolio of unused land has deprived counties of at least $78 million in lost property tax revenues. The real loss, says the Piglet Book, may be closer to $300 million when one considers the state’s strong property values. The report does say, in all fairness, that current Caltrans Director Will Kempton, recognizes the problem and appears to be working on selling or cleaning up unused land.

Speaking of Caltrans, here’s a letter from retired Caltrans man, Jerry Gabriel. He takes issue with Tuesday’s letter from Stan Smith, concerned about Caltrans’ elimination of crosswalks on Main St. in Bishop.

Gabriel writes:

Your 13 Nov 2007 “Bureaucrat Beat” included an article about crosswalks. As a Traffic Engineer with over 30 years of experience in highway safety, I have accumulated a considerable amount of information on this subject.

Many folks claim to feel safer when crosswalks are marked but studies have consistently shown, over many years, that this may be one of those areas where feelings are unreliable. Crosswalks that are marked, but not protected by signals or STOP signs, present much more risk of collisions than do those that are not marked at all. This may be contrary to what one would expected, but it is true none-the-less.

In the case of Main Street in Bishop, the public servants at Caltrans are really trying to do what is best and safest for the public. It should also be noted that new, enhanced signs and pavement markings were placed at the crosswalks that do remain after the recent resurfacing project.

Over the years, improvements like traffic signal coordination and addition of a center turn lane have reduced collisions. The new crosswalk adjustments and added bike lanes also have good potential to increase safety for all.

Jerry Gabriel
Highway Safety Specialist
Caltrans (retired)

Thanks for your views, Jerry. One more perspective on Main St. As we said Tuesday, the view of motorists and pedestrians need to weigh in too, along with the Department of Transportation engineers. What a concept, public participation in government.

With that, this is Benett Kessler, signing off for Bureaucrat Beat where we await your word on our lives in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.

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