Dolan’s view of Southside

The issue isn’t annexation—it’s money and leadership

Supervisor Jane Dolan had an interesting take on our cover story last week about Oroville’s Southside neighborhood (“On the ground in Southside,” by Christine G.K. LaPado). She and I had gotten together Tuesday (May 18) to talk about other matters, but when I asked her what she thought of the story, she had a lot to say. That didn’t surprise me, since she knows Butte County better than anyone I know.

She liked the story, thought it captured the flavor of Southside and broached some of the issues and obstacles facing the community, but was incomplete. I suggested it wasn’t trying to be the last word on the subject, that it was instead a gritty, unflinching street-level tour of the area during which residents were asked whether they thought Southside should be annexed to the city of Oroville.

That’s not the real issue, she said. The real issue is money—money to fix the roads, solve the drainage problems, rehabilitate the decrepit houses and generally make the neighborhood more attractive and livable. And the way to get that money is to go looking for it. That takes leadership and hard work.

Annexing to the city of Oroville wouldn’t magically result in big bucks to restore Southside, she said, even if city leaders wanted to add the neighborhood, and its many expensive problems, to their jurisdiction.

I brought up Chapmantown, which is in her district and in some ways is to Chico what Southside is to Oroville. Soon after being elected in 1978, Dolan said, she realized that Chapman residents didn’t particularly want to become part of Chico. They preferred the semi-rural nature of their neighborhood, where, for example, they could keep chickens if they so desired. But they also wanted certain problems—lack of fire hydrants, poor drainage and roads—to be solved.

With Dolan’s help, Chapman residents organized, held numerous meetings and sought—and obtained—funding for various infrastructure improvements. They also developed a neighborhood plan for future growth. They worked to make Chapman better.

So did Dolan, of course. Unfortunately, so far none of the supervisors who have represented Oroville over the years has accepted a similar responsibility for Southside. And without such leadership, it will continue to struggle.

Musings on Mangrove: I drove past the Chico cemetery the other day. It was early morning, and golden sunlight was sliding under the green tree canopy and illuminating the headstones. It was a beautiful sight, and I realized how glad I was that the hedge that once blocked the view of the cemetery had been cut lower.

Having the cemetery in the heart of town is a good thing. It reminds us that we’re just part of history’s flow, and that Chico today is the fruit of the work of those who came before. The Bidwells are buried there, as are many of the town’s other early leaders, along with so many residents who played smaller but essential roles—the teachers, preachers, plumbers, builders and farmers without whom a town cannot function.

The sight of headstones always reminds me of the fleeting nature of life—and how important it is to make the most of each moment. That’s the main message the cemetery conveys, I think—that, and respect for our ancestors. I’m glad it’s there as a reminder.