Don’t worry about the government

A quick guide to the policy-makers who set the rules in Butte County

I FEEL YOUR PAIN<br>Chico City council members Coleen Jarvis, Dan Nguyen-Tan and Rick Keene listen to public testimony.

Chico City council members Coleen Jarvis, Dan Nguyen-Tan and Rick Keene listen to public testimony.

Photo by Tom Angel

CHICO CHECKPOINT: Chico has a “weak-mayor” system of city goverment. Voters elect seven city councilmembers, who then choose one of their own to run the meetings and take on ceremonial mayoral duties.

Politics. When most people read or hear that word, they almost involuntarily turn the page or turn to run. All politicians are crooks, right? Your vote doesn’t matter because the game is rigged. Hey everybody knows that.

Well, maybe on the national level, but this is Chico, where politics can be fun and lively. Not to mention that local politics could be important to a new arrival—especially you students. Chico will most likely be your home for the next four to 50 years (depending on your major), and some of the decisions made by the Chico City Council or the Butte County Board of Supervisors can have a direct impact on your life in Chico.

Certain ordinances in this town were written, at least in part, based on the behavior, real or imagined, of students—laws like the noise ordinance, which is aimed at controlling neighborhood parties; the law prohibiting open containers on the street; the glass bottle ban during certain holidays; and the failed attempt a few years ago to clear Chico’s front porches of broken-down couches and weathered LA-Z-BOYs.

In other words, local government is keenly aware of your presence and will make decisions with you in mind. Used to be students weren’t seen as a factor in local politics because a vast majority didn’t vote. Then, during the 2000 presidential campaign, the one that was eventually handed to George W. Bush by his daddy’s pals on the Supreme Court, Ralph Nader, presidential candidate of the Green Party, came to town and ignited the students’ interest in politics.

And now, with America in a seemingly never-ending war against terrorism, the draft—the device that got your parents so interested in politics 35 years ago—could come back into fashion.

So what can I do, you ask? Keep abreast of the news, national and local, and get involved. Go to City Council meetings, and—here’s a novel idea that scares the pants off some local politicians—register to vote and then do so when the time comes. We have a City Council election this year.

With all of that in mind, let us now introduce you to your local representatives, beginning with the Chico City Council:

Dan Herbert is Chico’s mayor, though following this November’s election the council will probably pick a new mayor. The position is sort of an honorary thing, as the mayor has little more power than the other six councilmembers. Herbert, who is up for re-election, was first elected in 1998. A banker for most of his working life, Herbert more recently got involved in the real estate game by trading in his banker suit and becoming CEO for Sheraton Real Estate Management, which rents to many, many students. Herbert’s a nice guy who means well but lacks the imagination to vote outside strictly conservative parameters.

Maureen Kirk is also up for re-election in November. A gentle and well-mannered woman, Kirk never snarls, shouts, pouts or belittles members of the public or her colleagues. Elected in 1998, Kirk is the council moderate, though she’s suspected by the far right as being a straight-up liberal. In her real life she is a dental hygienist. Consider her a friend to the students.

Rick Keene, first elected in 1994 and therefore the longest-serving councilmember, will not be around after the end of the year. That’s because the politically ambitious criminal-defense attorney is running for state Assembly, having won in the March Republican primary. Keene, who has a good chance of winning the Assembly seat, is a traditional small-government conservative who believes government should provide only those services private industry can’t or won’t provide.

In his first try at public office, Steve Bertagna received the most votes in the council race of 1996. He won by stressing his family’s deep roots in the area (the Bertagnas, so goes the legend, hung out with the founding family the Bidwells) and his commitment to governance via “common sense,” the conservative buzzword of that particular year. He didn’t do quite as well in 2000 but was re-elected. He was mayor just before Herbert and was a natural at the job. He’s funny, quick-witted and conservative. He is the moderate-progressives’ best hope as a swing vote. He made a run for county supervisor this year but lost in a close race. His term on the council does not expire until 2004. Bertagna is a mortgage broker and runs a car stereo store called All Around Mobile Sound.

Coleen Jarvis was also elected in 1996 after a vicious, libelous mud bath in which she was smeared as a lying communist welfare mother. (Local politics can be highly entertaining, especially if you like the kind of combat offered by the WWF.) Jarvis is an aggressive and articulate advocate of the city’s traditional liberal concerns. Conservatives sometimes accuse her of not being civil (read: “ladylike"). In other words, she speaks her mind. An attorney, Jarvis works in the county’s public defender program. She is also a supporter of students.

Dan Nguyen-Tan (pronounced win-tawn) is the smartest and probably most open-minded of the councilmembers. He’s not afraid to challenge the status quo by questioning sacred cows or casting an unpopular vote. Like Jarvis and Kirk, he’s one of the students’ best friends on council. He runs an investment company called, appropriately enough, “Dan Nguyen-Tan.”

Larry Wahl is a former Navy pilot and current Mail Boxes Etc. owner. A straight-laced conservative, Wahl in his first year on the council didn’t realize he wasn’t allowed to vote on matters that could affect the values of property owned by him or his wife or those things that could affect his business. He knows now and takes care to disqualify himself from such issues. He is a champion of keeping the Chico branch of the public library open longer hours. He was elected in 2000 after serving as a planning commissioner.

The City Council meets the first and third Tuesday evenings of the month beginning at 7:30 and occasionally holds special meetings.

Representing you at the county level, depending on where you live in town, is one of the two most experienced and smartest of the five-member Butte County Board of Supervisors. Most likely Jane Dolan is your supervisor, since her Second District covers most of studentville (west Chico). Her east Chico cohort is Mary Anne Houx. Both are responsive and care about their constituents. Their numbers are in the phone book, or see them in action at a supes’ meeting at County Center in Oroville. Those meetings take place every other Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m.

At the state level you have Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, an oral surgeon from Grass Valley. But, because of term limits and redistricting changes, he will not be your assemblyman past the end of the year because he is now running for state Senate.

You’ll read all about the candidates for Senate and Assembly as November draws near. Like we said before—surprise everybody and register to vote.

In Congress you have Wally Herger, a nice man who since 1986 has somehow balanced his propensity for low-profile ineffectiveness with local name recognition come election time to keep his congressional seat. Of course the fact that he represents a heavily conservative, Republican district that the Democrats don’t dare challenge doesn’t hurt. It’s a neat trick, but don’t expect him to do anything for you unless you own a lumber mill or run an agribusiness. He, too, is up for re-election, though his inevitable return to office is such an automatic, he may not be aware his seat is up again.

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