A house divided

Oroville mayor, council races spur supporters to ‘malicious’ levels

Janet Goodson and Chuck Reynolds, apparently friendlier than some of their supporters, await the Oroville city candidates forum Oct. 4 at the State Theatre.

Janet Goodson and Chuck Reynolds, apparently friendlier than some of their supporters, await the Oroville city candidates forum Oct. 4 at the State Theatre.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Janet Goodson is no stranger to Oroville politics. After moving from Sacramento in 2009, she worked to improve Southside, culminating in the community’s annexation into the city in 2015. The next year, she ran for City Council; Goodson finished second of 11 in the race for three seats.

Now she’s Oroville’s vice mayor, seeking to become mayor—an elected office. Incumbent Linda Dahlmeier opted not to seek a third term; instead, Goodson faces newcomer Chuck Reynolds, a business owner whose family has lived in town for generations.

This campaign, and the challenges to three incumbent council members, has grown particularly pitched. The mayoral race featured dueling charges of sign-stealing and revelations of decades-old criminal records … in September alone. Goodson, who’s black, says she’s endured racial denigration. Council candidate Bobby O’Reiley, who had criminal charges unearthed in the same media reports as Reynolds, told the CN&R he’s received death threats—some posted on social media.

“Today’s social climate and political climate is very contentious,” Goodson said, “to the point of being mean-spirited … I ran two years ago, and never would I have imagined the atmosphere would be[come] so volatile, extremely malicious.”

She and her opponent apparently don’t harbor animosity. Reynolds, after a candidates forum Oct. 4, and Goodson, by phone Oct. 9, both said they get along personally despite differences idealogically. Should Reynolds win, he’ll have to work with Goodson, as her council term runs through 2020.

“I think what’s going on is there’s some overzealous supporters on both sides that are trying to show their support, and sometimes it gets a little out of hand,” Reynolds said. “I don’t know [that] she personally knows her overzealous supporters; I know I don’t personally know all of mine. But there’s momentum in this campaign.”

Goodson said Reynolds “is absolutely correct” that she has not sanctioned dirty-trick politicking. Noting that she “can only be responsible for the actions of Janet Goodson,” she added that “we cannot dictate what someone else is going to do.”

Goodson called for unity in her closing statement at the forum: “It does not matter whether you are Democrat or Republican or decline-to-state, or whether you’re black, brown, white or Asian, rich or poor—what matters is we all work together, for the common good of all.”

The precise nature and cause of Orovillians’ divide is complicated.

Like many California cities, Oroville has battled budget problems throughout the decade, exacerbated by escalating pension liabilities and the loss of redevelopment funding. The fiscal picture turned so bleak that City Hall no longer opens on Fridays and staff shrank by a third following layoffs and a hiring freeze instituted four years ago. Insolvency looms.

Enter cannabis.

State legislation legalizing marijuana for recreational use and in commerce created an opportunity for municipalities to regulate cannabis and reap tax benefits. Oroville began exploring this option last year.

Dahlmeier and Councilman Scott Thomson, a pastor, oppose legalizing cannabis. The other five council members consistently voted to advance legalization proposals. Those include Goodson and three up for re-election: Jack Berry, Marlene del Rosario and Art Hatley. Their challengers, along with O’Reiley, are former council members Cheri Bunker and David Pittmann, Oroville Chamber of Commerce CEO Eric Smith and energy specialist Ricky Gabriel; the latter didn’t attend the forum.

The process has created a rift on the dais (see “Council vs. mayor,” Newslines, July 19). Dahlmeier and Thomson—plus like-minded citizens, including candidates—have accused the majority of railroading cannabis. The five chose to decide the matter via council vote rather than ballot measure, and they’ve raised eyebrows by seeming to accelerate their Planning Commission’s review of ordinances (see “Stutter step,” Newslines, Aug. 9).

Reynolds said his stance isn’t simply about cannabis. He claims the incumbents have eroded trust in city government. Meanwhile, O’Reiley and other challengers charge a lack of transparency.

“I’m not anti-anything other than against the law,” Reynolds said, noting that the federal government considers cannabis an illegal drug, contrary to state law.

“A contributing factor for me getting involved in this race was when they took the vote away from the people. They had the opportunity to go back to the ballot, where marijuana had been voted down in this town seven times. I think that’s a pretty good indication of how people want to live.”

A majority of city voters, 55.7 percent, did reject Measure L, the failed Butte County initiative on medical marijuana cultivation and commerce, in November 2016—but, in the same election, 51.7 percent supported Proposition 64, the state initiative legalizing cannabis.

Goodson says her role on the council transcends individual beliefs. Hatley and Berry said likewise at the forum. None stated a position about cannabis itself.

“I do not have the luxury of weighing in on my own personal opinions,” Goodson said emphatically. “We were asked to explore all viable opportunities to generate employment opportunities, explore economic expansion, increase our tax base and generate revenue—period.”