Chicoans protest ‘Son of Measure A’

Charge redistricting plan cuts their neighborhood in half

About 35 residents of the historic Barber neighborhood held a press conference on June 30 protesting what they call the “Larry-mandering” of their neighborhood by removing half of it from Supervisor Larry Wahl’s District 2.

About 35 residents of the historic Barber neighborhood held a press conference on June 30 protesting what they call the “Larry-mandering” of their neighborhood by removing half of it from Supervisor Larry Wahl’s District 2.

Photo By melissa daugherty

A county redistricting plan is coming under fire, with some Chico residents protesting that it prejudicially breaks up their neighborhood and others charging that it’s another effort to manipulate the electoral process à la Measure A.

At a press conference Thursday (June 30) and again on Tuesday (July 5) at the Chico City Council meeting, residents of southwest Chico—the historic Barber neighborhood—stepped forward to protest the way Butte County supervisors are redistricting them and the rest of the county. In particular, they think it is being gerrymandered (“Larry-mandered,” as they put it) to benefit Supervisor Larry Wahl’s re-election chances.

They’re also objecting to the fact that the supervisors are creating their own districts—in effect, choosing their own voters.

The council discussion occurred because Councilwoman Mary Flynn had requested that the council agendize the sending of a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking it to create an independent citizens’ commission to draw the district lines and to involve the public more in the redistricting process.

The supervisors began the redistricting process in March and have held several public hearings in Oroville, but the particular plan that has these Chicoans worried—called Plan 4—will be up for discussion for the first time next Tuesday, July 12, beginning at 1 p.m.

According to maps now up on the county website, Plan 4 will put several thousand south Chico residents in either District 5 (Paradise) or, in the Barber neighborhood’s case, District 4 (Gridley, Biggs and Richvale). The Barber neighborhood is currently in Supervisor Larry Wahl’s District 2. Wahl narrowly defeated longtime Supervisor Jane Dolan in June 2010 to claim the seat.

Several Barber residents told the council that, quite simply, putting half the neighborhood in District 4 was a bad fit.

Linda Furr, who said she had lived in District 2 for 50 years, said it was “absolutely surreal” that her largely urban Chico district would be represented by the District 4 supervisor. That would be Steve Lambert, who lives on a cattle ranch near Oroville.

But most of the dozen or more people who spoke against the plan argued that the process clearly had failed to involve the citizenry and that it was wrong for the supervisors to be drawing their own districts.

Local peace activist Chris Nelson suggested that Plan 4 was “retribution” for the fact that the neighborhood voted solidly against Measure A.

“This has been tried before,” said local Democratic Party operative Mike Hawkins, reminding the council that in 2001, when the supervisors approved a similar redistricting plan that split up south Chico, residents mounted a successful referendum campaign that cost the county a lot of money.

Calling Plan 4 the “Son of Measure A,” he charged that it was the same idea with the same people behind it.

Indeed, Chico Tea Party Patriots members (and Measure A backers) Mary Kennedy and Stephanie Taber were there to argue that voters had had plenty of time to participate.

“There’s been an enormous amount of opportunity for public comment on this,” Taber insisted.

Another speaker, Pat Jones, seemed to get to the heart of things when she said the council should stay out of the matter. “I live in District 2,” she said. “I finally have a conservative in Larry Wahl, and now you want to take him away from me?”

For his part Wahl, who was in attendance, also insisted that people had had “ample opportunity” to weigh in on the redistricting process. If the council wanted a local meeting, it should schedule one, he said.

The council quickly voted unanimously to agendize and discuss sending the letter. Councilman Andy Holcombe said he thought it was too late to change the redistricting process, but that with this “groundswell of public interest … it behooves us to ask the supervisors to step back and take more time to provide input.”

Councilman Mark Sorensen suggested that, given Chico’s population, “there was no way to [redistrict] it without dividing [it] into three pieces.” He said he supported sending a letter seeking more public participation, but not creation of a redistricting committee.

Ultimately, though, the council voted 6-1, with Sorensen dissenting, to send the letter.

In other council news: On a 5-2 vote, the council agreed to give Chico Scrap Metal five more years to move out of its East 20th Street site, on condition that it pay the cost of the required public hearings to extend its amortization schedule. The company had until Dec. 31 to move, but council members recognized that doing so in a down market would be difficult. District Attorney Mike Ramsey’s contention that the company could have moved if it hadn’t spent so much money on lawyers to fight pollution violations was noted but had little impact.