Enduring legacy

Jane Dolan honored for a lifetime of environmental stewardship

Jane Dolan continues her environmental work by serving on the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and heading a Sacramento River restoration group.

Jane Dolan continues her environmental work by serving on the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and heading a Sacramento River restoration group.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Honor roll:
Previous winners of BEC’s Michael McGinnis Lifetime Achievement Award.
2016: Kelly Meagher
2015: Karl Ory
2014: John Merz
2013: Wes Dempsey

If you haven’t seen Jane Dolan lately, or thought about her in a few years, you might think she’s disappeared from advocacy and public service.

Dolan had a high profile in Butte County—Chico in particular—for the better part of four decades, most notably as an eight-term county supervisor. Her run ended in 2010, and she hasn’t sought elected office since.

Without many headlines or much fanfare, however, she’s continued to work on matters that concern her. She stays active in Democratic Party politics along with her husband, Bob Mulholland, who’s maintained his prominent presence in the party. She serves on the state’s Central Valley Flood Protection Board; first appointed in 2012, she’s up for reappointment again by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dolan also works part-time as executive director of the Sacramento River Forum, a Red Bluff-based nonprofit dedicated to restoring fisheries and riparian habitats from Keswick Dam to Verona.

So, when the Butte Environmental Council honored her Oct. 21 with its Lifetime Achievement Award (named after founding member and former Chico Mayor Michael McGinnis), the tribute recognized someone continuing to contribute, albeit less conspicuously.

Executive Director Natalie Carter, in explaining how BEC’s board selected Dolan, said that “she’s been a champion for environmental issues for decades and has had a very powerful and strong voice in our community standing up for values that our members hold dear. We really couldn’t think of anybody better to recognize this year.”

During the phone call in which Carter told Dolan the news, Dolan responded, “I’m shocked.” She expressed gratitude, too—a sentiment echoed in an interview with the CN&R last Monday (Dec. 18). Dolan was introduced at the ceremony by Karl Ory, the former mayor and current councilman who received the award in 2015.

“I learned some things I wasn’t expecting during her speech,” Carter said. “The pieces that stuck with me the most, of all the things, was when she talked about being a woman on the Board of Supervisors in her earlier days and being called a ‘Supervisorette’ [by a staff member]. It was interesting to get her history and her perspective, from being a woman in a powerful role in a room that was pretty male-dominated at the time.”

Dolan was first elected to the board in 1978--in an election that changed the makeup of the panel from majority male to majority female. She defeated Bernie Richter, whom she’d unsuccessfully challenged four years earlier, and would turn 30 her first year in office.

None of the other four supervisors would second a motion of hers, even for a simple procedure such as approving the minutes of an earlier meeting. Members told her, “We wish you’d leave”; one pledged he’d make her cry.

“I grew up with three brothers—I’d heard that before,” said Dolan, born in Oroville, the county seat. “So I wasn’t going to do that.”

She became known as “the 4-to-1 supervisor,” casting the opposing vote, commonly against development she didn’t see incorporating principles of planning that took into account impacts such as transportation, water use and the environment.

“They continued to approve subdivisions on septic tanks, on the existing road network, without any identification of whether there’d be school sites or park land,” she said.

“I played on a softball team at that time,” she added. “My team gave me a shirt, and my number was 421.”

Dolan’s signature local achievement—one singled out by BEC—remains championing the Greenline. The boundary along Chico’s western edge stemmed from an initiative that would have prompted the county to create a preservation policy for agricultural lands.

“That passed very strongly in the Chico and north county area and [fared] very poorly in the south county area,” Dolan explained, “but strong enough in the Chico area to start a discussion on how much are we going to sprawl into farmland?

A line was drawn—originally called the Redline (for “where are we going to stop the development”) but, “because I’d already been called a communist and a socialist for supporting solar energy, I thought, ‘Eh, maybe not Redline.’”

The Greenline passed in 1982 on a 3-to-2 vote. The supervisors in support were Dolan, Chico’s Hilda Wheeler and Paradise’s Len Fulton. Fulton was a progressive (becoming a supervisor by appointment from Brown during his first gubernatorial stint); Wheeler was a conservative but was pressured by constituents in an election year.

Thirty-five years later, the Greenline endures—codified in the county general plan.

“We were going to stop Chico from sprawling into Durham and marching out to the Sacramento River,” Dolan said. “But I knew right then that it would still need to have attention paid. Adopting policy [and] implementing it are two very different courses of action. So of course I needed to run again, to make sure they didn’t destroy it.

“I never intended to serve 32 years; that wasn’t my goal in 1974 and 1978. But each time the election came around, I felt like I was still contributing, and there were new things to do.”

She worked on improving the county bus system. She pushed for traffic improvements, bikeways and pedestrian access. She began what’s become an enduring commitment to the Chapman neighborhood, which got shifted from District 5 (the Ridge) to District 2 (Chico) during her tenure. Dolan keeps involved there, even though Larry Wahl has been the district’s supervisor since edging her out by 277 votes in 2010.

Would she run for anything else?

“I never rule it out,” she replied.

In the meantime, she’s focused on her state board and regional nonprofit.

“I wanted to stay busy on issues that improve the environment,” Dolan said. “And I am.”