Disc golf back on agenda

All options will be on the table at Jan. 6 council meeting

In his final full meeting as Chico’s mayor, before sliding over to a regular council seat, Andy Holcombe pledged to continue seeking resolution to the disc-golf debate that’s divided the community. He and other council members who voted against the activity in Upper Bidwell Park on Nov. 18 have met with proponents and opponents of the Highway 32 courses, and he told the CN&R in November that “it’s something I plan to agendize for the second meeting in December, after talking to the new mayor.”

That meeting came Tuesday (Dec. 16), and the matter came up as the final item for consideration. “It is incumbent on us to protect the Bidwell Park Master Management Plan,” Holcombe told his colleagues. “I want to isolate that issue and address it, regardless how that plays out with the referendum.”

Supporters of the referendum—including the Restore Disc Golf group as well as Councilman Larry Wahl—have been gathering signatures on a petition to undo the entire park plan. They see the 4-3 vote on disc golf as a component of the overall plan, not separate. Indeed, organizer Lon Glazner said, that is the advice they got from their attorney when crafting the referendum.

Holcombe, an attorney himself, and City Attorney Lori Barker believe otherwise. Barker advised two council members—Tom Nickell (who was absent Tuesday) and current Mayor Ann Schwab—to disqualify themselves from voting on the overall plan because they live close to Lower Park but gave the OK for them to vote on disc golf because it’s not proximate to their homes.

Throwing out the master management plan would not affect the policy for disc golf, Holcombe argues. He sees “two separate tracks” and hopes that if the council does reconsider the disc-golf decision—made before Jim Walker, a former park commissioner, joined the council—supporters of disc golf would deem the referendum moot.

Councilman Scott Gruendl, who dissented from the majority with his support for a compromise alternative, seconded Holcombe’s motion, which passed unanimously. So all four alternatives previously weighed will be on the table at the Jan. 6 meeting.

“I’m very happy that they’re willing to go back and consider it,” Glazner said after the vote, as Wahl and Gruendl approached the back of the chamber. “I [just] wish they would have done that a few weeks ago, and then we would have been able to reconsider the referendum.”

The deadline to file the referendum petitions is 5 p.m. today (Dec. 18). The minimum number of valid signatures required is 4,761, or 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. Glazner estimated the group had gotten 6,000, which County Clerk Candace Grubbs will have 30 days to verify.

That timetable was one impetus for pre-emptive action. Primarily, as Holcombe explained by phone Wednesday morning, “the referendum may have been aimed at the Highway 32 site, but their aim was off. If the master management plan gets thrown out, the disc-golf decision still stands, or at least it’s still there to be dealt with.”

May Holcombe vote differently Jan. 6? Yes. The key consideration for him is “when does the scale tip toward less-intensive use? If we relocate the short course and there’s management of the lesser use that’s left"—i.e. the long course—"there’s a change in facts” from the initial decision and cause for him, at least, to swing his vote the other way.

Earlier in the meeting, after hearing that independent auditors found the city Finance Department’s books to be wholly in order, council members opted to change the procedure for appointing members of commissions and boards.

Previously, the council has heard from and voted on all candidates in a single meeting. The applicant pool for the six boards and commissions totaled 62 the last time around, so each individual was permitted to address the council for only one minute.

Mary Flynn, a brand-new councilwoman in January 2007, confessed she left the meeting “pleased with who was selected, but surprised,” and she “walked away wondering if this was the right process.”

Walker already felt it wasn’t. He’d been on the other side four times, and now that he’d be an appointer, he hoped to avoid hand-raising with “no talk about what we want [or] a philosophy of how to move forward,” with a result of homogenous boards.

And the lone public speaker, Jason Bougie of the Butte Community Builders Association, said “there needs to be a change from the one-sided popularity contest that’s happened in the past.”

Schwab and Holcombe talked about “being intentional,” and toward that end Flynn suggested splitting the deliberation into two meetings: one in which the candidates would speak to the council and the council members would express their preferences, and a second for nominations and voting. In between would come what Holcombe termed “an additional window for reflection,” which he added “may not help, but I’m not averse to it.”

Though Wahl, the lone conservative, expressed reservations about the need for two meetings, he joined the progressives in voting unanimously for the change. The meetings will happen Jan. 8 and Jan. 20.

Schwab hopes they help. “It’s important that we represent the entire city,” she said afterward. “While there may not be a college student on this council, we need to make sure that age group is represented. We don’t have obvious cultural diversity—it’s important we make sure that’s represented.

“[Former Councilman] Steve Bertagna left us with some good advice: While some 15,000 people voted for us, there were far more that didn’t vote for us, and it’s those people we need to remember we represent.”

Commission openings
Because of a record-low number of applicants, City Clerk Debbie Presson has extended until Friday (Dec. 19) the deadline to apply for commissions and boards. Here are the city panels with the number of openings and current applicant totals:

Airport (2) 6
Architectural Review (3) 3
Arts (5) 5
Human Resources (3) 2*
Parks (4) 8
Planning (3) 7

*two others listed this as second choice.