A place on the dais

Oroville City Council candidate wants to be first to represent newly annexed Southside

Janet Goodson is a member of several grassroots community groups and co-founded Southside Vanguard, which facilitates quarterly meetings with community members and public officials.

Janet Goodson is a member of several grassroots community groups and co-founded Southside Vanguard, which facilitates quarterly meetings with community members and public officials.

Photo by Ken Smith

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The race to fill three openings on the Oroville City Council this November is just gearing up, but candidate Janet Goodson already made history when she registered to run in April. Goodson became the first resident of Oroville’s recently annexed Southside to seek a seat on the panel.

After decades of discussion and many unsuccessful attempts, stewardship of the formerly unincorporated and long-impoverished area south of Wyandotte Avenue was transferred from Butte County to the city of Oroville last year in two separate parcels, granting area residents the right to vote in city elections and run for City Council. The newly incorporated area is home to about 3,000 residents and is notable for its diversity.

“This has been an underserved, disadvantaged community for quite some time,” said Goodson, a community organizer who works as a behavioral health counselor for Youth for Change. “There’s quite a large disparity between this neighborhood and the rest of the city.”

Goodson was quick to note her primary job would be to represent the city as a whole, but she said the recent annexation makes the upcoming election a “historic opportunity” for Southside, where she has lived and worked with numerous grassroots organizations since moving to Oroville from Sacramento in 2010.

“With annexation came the right to vote, but now we need representation; we need to take the next step forward so that our community can be recognized and that disparity can be minimized,” she said.

To accomplish that goal, Goodson said she’ll focus her campaign on public safety issues, including new sidewalks, curbs, road improvements, proper drainage and proper lighting. Crime is also a concern, she said, with long response times in an area where “we hear gunfire on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis.”

Law enforcement in South Oroville was a primary concern while the city and county hammered out the details of annexation. Officials at both levels worked out timelines for the transfer of various services, with policing responsibilities changing hands from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to Oroville Police Department over a four-year period.

Goodson praised the efforts of Oroville Police Chief Bill LaGrone to initiate new policing policies, such as the creation of a Municipal Law Enforcement Services unit that allows OPD’s fully sworn officers more time to dedicate toward investigations, felonies and violent crimes. To date, the department has hired nine municipal officers whose duties include code enforcement, community service calls, park and trail patrols, responding to misdemeanor property crimes and serving as dispatchers. Municipal officers do not carry service weapons and are not expected to make arrests.

Other problems Goodson hopes to address include high water rates and bolstering the city’s overall economy and employment.

“We need to support local business and grow local business,” she said. “The financial health and stability of our city affects everybody, and we need to keep the local tax dollars local.”

Goodson is one of at least eight candidates looking to fill three seats on the council. Incumbents Al “J.R.” Simpson, David Pittman and Thil Chan-Wilcox (currently serving as vice mayor) are all running for re-election. In addition to Goodson, the other challengers are Barbara Cheri Bunker, Linda Draper, Clay Hemstalk, Mark Grover and Scott Thomson. An application from Alfred Jones III (also from Southside) was not qualified as of press time, according to Jamie Hayes, an elections official with Oroville’s City Clerk’s Office.

Oroville’s current mayor, Linda Dahlmeier, said the annexation of Southside has been relatively smooth-going and that residents of the area have already reaped some benefits in resources formerly unavailable to them, like small business loans and first-time home-buyer programs. When asked Tuesday (Aug. 9) what major issues the next City Council will face, crime and economics topped her list.

“The city has a $1.8 million deficit, which is obviously a huge problem,” Dahlmeier said. “There just isn’t any money to move around to close up holes in the city budget. And the tax rate in the city is 7.5 percent compared to a state average of 8.5 percent. Our community deserves better than below average.”

Dahlmeier, who supported Southside’s annexation, said that city officials have been “really thinking outside of the box” in order to deal with shortcomings in services and finding new solutions. She held up the city’s partnership with The Hope Center—a faith-based, nonprofit community service organization in Southside dedicated to helping the homeless—as an example of the type of effort she said has a big impact on the community.

“Homelessness and its related issues can wear heavily on a city because of the need for repeated contact with law enforcement and other services,” she said, “but The Hope Center has helped by getting a lot of people off the street and reunited with their families.”

Annexation was an issue close to the heart of Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly, who grew up in South Oroville and even did a little dance on the dais when the Board of Supervisors approved it in late 2014 (see “Annexation, at long last,” Newslines, Oct. 23, 2014).

“I worked hard on it for eight years because it was the right thing to do and long overdue,” he said this week. “It’s working OK so far, and the sky hasn’t fallen like some people predicted.”

As for the impact Southside’s inclusion in city politics will have on the next City Council, Connelly said it’s up to the neighborhood’s residents.

“I don’t think it can change the face of the council too drastically, because there’s only a few thousand people there, but they’ll finally have some representation,” he said. “It’s incumbent on them to get out and vote now that they have that right.”