Eye on ‘08
CN&R editors put nine in our sights for the annual Who to Watch issue
It’s the first week of the year, and you know what that means: crystal-ball time in newsrooms worldwide. Here at the Chico News & Review, we identify local people we expect to make headlines in the coming 12 months. It would’ve been too cute to pick eight for ‘08, so we’re going with nine. (Such rebels are we.)
Meet the new boss …
When Paul McIntosh left his post as chief administrative officer of Butte County earlier this year, the search began for his replacement. It wasn’t long before the arrow pointed at Brian Haddix.
Haddix had held the CAO position in Tulare County; he’d served as undersecretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; and prior to that he worked with the agriculture industry. And he happened to know McIntosh.
Upon his appointment—his term will last three years—Supervisor Jane Dolan said in a statement, “The Board of Supervisors is very pleased to hire someone with the depth of experience and financial knowledge of Mr. Haddix.”
In a way, he couldn’t be much better prepared for life in Butte County.
“When I arrived, I asked each board member to give me a tour of their district,” Haddix said. “They’re each very distinct and attractive in their own way.”
So distinct and attractive, it turns out, that he still hasn’t decided which one he wants to call home. To be fair, though, he’s been here only since November, and there’s been no lack of work to be done.
In 2008, Haddix will have quite a bit on his plate, including, of course, the Oroville Dam relicensing, a general plan update and budget issues. Knowing his predecessor has paid off in that he’s been able to gain insight into the county and various projects from McIntosh.
“Butte is in great shape,” he said. “I want to take it to the next level.”
By taking it to the next level, Haddix means increasing services to the community while maintaining the area’s charm.
“The population in Butte County is growing because people are moving here,” he said, noting that some other areas grow only when babies are born. “The trick is to not make this L.A. or San Jose, but to keep that flavor.”
While working for Tulare County, Haddix was able to grow the budget while increasing services. His long-term plan for Butte, he said, is to look inward, at how things work, and then outward.
In the meantime, projects like the dam relicensing will take quite a bit of his time—"there’s been no let-up in energy,” he said. Recently the county received letters from Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
“Securing these letters lends credence to the fact that we have a very valid argument [for the dam],” Haddix said. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent in the community and county—it’s critical.”
—Meredith J. Cooper
Interim, for now
Long hours are nothing new to Dave Burkland. Even before he became the city of Chico’s top administrator, he put in long days and weekend days, though not enough to become an absentee husband and “Cats in the Cradle” dad. In fact, his children—all adults—ask him for advice, and he gives their calls and text messages priority.
In the five months since the City Council promoted him to interim city manager, Burkland has found that meetings and conversations with staff take up most of the day. Thus, he tends to get a lot of work done after hours. And even though his wife of 27 years, Joanne, might prefer their empty nest to be a bit fuller, he hopes to keep the city manager’s office now that he’s grown comfortable in the chair.
“I’ve applied for the job,” he said. “I love this community—I’m absolutely committed to the community and the [City Hall] organization. I’m looking forward to whatever council decides. Frankly, I’d expect them to pick the best person for the job, and if it’s not me, I’ll certainly be here to support whoever it is in the transition.
“I do have 16 years with the city in a variety of positions; I certainly didn’t expect to be in this position at this time. In some areas I’m better prepared than in others. But sometimes I surprise myself at how I’m able to adapt. It’s really interesting when you get to challenge yourself.”
Burkland, assistant city manager for a year and a half under Greg Jones, got the challenge when Jones unexpectedly resigned to become city manager in Hayward, closer to his grandchildren in the East Bay. The City Council gave its full support, with Stave Bertagna declaring himself “absolutely Dave Burkland’s biggest fan on the planet.”
Burkland earned more fans by sticking his neck out to offer recommendations for budget cuts. City finances remain a major concern, with the City Council approving only a partial, short-term solution with a police contract due for renegotiation.
Other issues on his radar: the city’s general plan update; relations with the university; infrastructure, capital projects and facilities needs; a downtown plan dovetailing with the general plan; economic development; and the airport.
Interestingly, the man with interim in his title is also working on succession planning.
“I think that’s important for the organization to work on over time, for all of the management positions, to provide opportunities for employees who want to advance,” Burkland said. “We have to work from within, because we do have some [good people] interested—as I was early on, when I was encouraged by [former City Manager] Tom Lando to look at management as a possibility.”
And look at him now.
Right off the bat, let’s address a perennial rumor: the imminent retirement of Chico’s police chief. Bruce Hagerty had spinal surgery last April, a few years after making a worker’s compensation claim for back pain. If that’s where he carries his tension, he’s not likely to feel better this year amid a budget pinch, renewal talks for his officers’ contract and continuing opposition to the “disorderly events” ordinance.
So, chief, about 2008 …
“I have no plans to retire—in fact, I’ve told the city manager I plan to be around for at least another five years,” Hagerty said, in the office he’s occupied for just about that amount of time. “I’ve got some irons in the fire, some things I’d like to see complete, like the 10-year plan [for the department]. So I don’t have any immediate plans to retire.”
OK, that seems settled. Other key matters aren’t.
The Chico Police Department’s long-range plan addresses manpower and resource needs that go along with the city’s projected growth. The estimated cost to bring Chico in line with other West Coast cities this size: at least $3.5 million—and up to $7 million—a year.
CPD made this presentation at the City Council’s budget session in June, where then-City Manager Greg Jones explained that the city was overspending the general fund by around $6 million a year.
Not the best timing.
And now the police officers are due a new contract with provisions comparable to the lucrative six-year deal the city gave firefighters last year.
“The challenge for me is how are we going to continue to meet the needs of this growing community with growing-community issues,” Hagerty said. “It will be a challenge to find the money in the budget to hire the people we need to service the community over the next few years.”
One possible solution is a sales-tax increase earmarked for public safety. Ironically, there’s a chance this could appear on the same ballot as a referendum to repeal one of the Police Department’s new tools.
Over the summer, capping a two-year drafting process, CPD presented the City Council an ordinance designed to let police break up wild parties without having to escalate matters by citing individuals. The council ultimately approved it 6-1, but because the events described included such things as funerals and marches, a group called Chico Citizens for Civil Rights launched a petition drive to get the ordinance overturned.
“I’m really disappointed, frankly,” Hagerty said. “We had folks saying, ‘You’ve got to do something as a police agency to control out-of-control parties …’ We have tools right now, but they’re higher-level tools than we want to use in Chico. I don’t want to have to put my officers in helmets, vests, and use tear gas and batons to put down unruly crowds. I would rather do it at the lowest common denominator we can.”
Based on legal advice the department received, the ordinance did not single out parties or specific areas in town—yet the expanded scope is what opponents have targeted. Hagerty sees a different problem: the “boogeyman syndrome” of people expecting the worst-case scenario.
“I predict we rarely, if ever, will use the ordinance,” Hagerty said. “It’s a deterrent.”
On the personal front, he is president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley and this summer will become a board member of Chico Rotary.
Summed up Hagerty: “2008 will be interesting.”
Lesson in patience
Much has changed in the three years since Jann Reed won her bid for a seat on the Board of Trustees for the Chico Unified School District—a five-member panel previously composed entirely of men.
The mother of three spoke as the lone female voice for a couple years. She has since been joined by two other women helping guide the future of Chico’s public education system.
“It has definitely changed the flavor of the discussion,” confirmed Reed, recently chosen by her peers as board president.
Reed insists a dedication to Chico kids is first and foremost among the things that have remained the same during her tenure, though challenges continue to plague the district.
Controversy has seemed continual over the past several years, as the district lost not one, but two superintendents. The board also had to figure out what to do with bond money earmarked 10 years ago for a high school that’s not needed today. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the district is in the midst of a second lawsuit tied to the dismissal of a former junior high school principal.
In hindsight, the school-board membership has been a bit more complicated than Reed had anticipated, especially when it comes to financing CUSD’s $100 million annual budget. She learned the hard way shortly after getting elected, when a majority of the board chose (against her vote) to close two elementary schools to eliminate a $1 million deficit.
These days, Chico schools are quiet for the winter recess. But when students return Monday (Jan. 7) and the board meets mid-month, the trustees may be hit by the state’s looming financial crisis. Reed is holding her breath, waiting to hear about any mid-year budget revisions out of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office. Funding reductions could spell immediate changes to the makeup of classrooms and the existence of programs.
Reed said any setbacks from Sacramento would compound existing money problems. Last year’s flu outbreak knocked down revenues tied to attendance levels, and long-term issues, including declining enrollments, have had a hand in tightening the coffers. Anticipating the need to dip into reserves next year, the district has already gotten creative by merging classrooms.
A newly formed budget committee is charged with considering all sorts of cost-saving measures, from student-to-teacher ratios to campus lighting and watering. Layoffs aren’t out of the question if the financial issues aren’t resolved when all of the ideas are exhausted. But Reed stressed that while teachers are the district’s most expensive assets, they’re also the most valuable
“That is never something we take lightly,” she said. “Our kids benefit from the richness and experience of all of our teachers.”
That’s a statement their union may find encouraging come bargaining time this year.
Pulling triple duty
The fact that California will hold three elections this year ensures that Candace Grubbs will receive attention. But Butte County’s clerk/recorder/registrar won’t be in the spotlight by default—"There might be more attention than I want,” she said with an earnest expression.
You see, Grubbs is no fan of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who shelved electronic voting machines statewide. Butte County’s machines are secure, Grubbs stresses—testing has borne that out, and so have elections, including November 2006 when Bowen got voted into office.
“Her directives in what she calls conditions of certification are neither in the code nor have all of them gone through the process of the adopted code of regulations—they were just dropped on us,” Grubbs said. “So counties are looking at these issues. Many of them are going to be expensive to do.”
One already faces a legal challenge. Last month, San Diego County sued Bowen over recount procedures for the February primary. Grubbs said other registrars could mount their own challenges. She didn’t commit Butte to that path, but clearly she hopes for change.
“While I’m all for increasing security,” she said, “I am definitely not for using our equipment, and that’s where we are now. I’m hoping the secretary takes a look at this next election, and as the manufacturer comes forth with some increased internal security, then say we can go back to using them. So it’s a wait-and-see game.”
One thing is certain: Grubbs and her staff will have a lot of votes to count.
For the February election, which includes California’s presidential primary, 52,000 ballots will go out. The numbers should be comparable for the June primary, which includes local races, and the November general election.
Just how many people actually cast a ballot depends on a number of factors, ranging from the obvious (interest level) to the esoteric (whether the weather is good). Another variable is absentee balloting—"I think you’re going to see an escalation of people voting by mail statewide,” Grubbs predicted.
Mail-in votes can’t be totaled by election night. Without electronic voting, results will be available far later than in the last election, November 2006, when Grubbs’ staff had all the precincts tabulated and posted online by 11:30 p.m.
“This is an electronic world,” Grubbs said. “We’re busy people … we’re not going to get less busy. If we want more people to participate, we’d better make it more convenient.”
Grubbs, who lives in Oroville on property that traces to her husband’s family in 1866, has overseen county elections for 21 years. That’s only part of her job, though. As clerk-recorder, she oversees the office responsible for logging deeds and other documents. That part of the operation is self-supporting, funded entirely by fees.
She and her new boss, CAO Brian Haddix, share a common goal of putting more forms and information online. Already, the clerk-recorder’s office has touch-screen computers near the reception desk. Grubbs would like an electronic method for the recorder component, as well as a “hall of records” on the Internet. Later this year, she wants to get software running that will post campaign-donation forms with private information redacted.
“There’s many things we’re trying to do with our Web site, but we’re totally engrossed on the election side,” Grubbs said. “When we get through this, we’d like to try to be more interactive.”
‘This, I think, is the year’
Heather Schlaff made the CN&R’s list of People to Watch for 2006. Not a lot happened that year, but she’s kept the fire burning and made her way back on our radar for 2008.
“This, I think, is the year,” she said.
Schlaff spearheads a campaign to stop Wal-Mart from expanding in Chico. She opposes the proposed transformation of the existing store on Forest Avenue into a supercenter, as well as the construction of a new supercenter on the north end of town. Both proposals will be up for discussion this year.
The draft EIRs were published last year at about this time. Schlaff rallied the troops, who presented their objections to the City Council. The final draft on the south site expansion is set to go before the Planning Commission in February. The north site plan will follow.
“Chico is at a crossroads for growth,” Schlaff said. The small-town atmosphere and emphasis on local businesses in Chico could be lost with the addition of a supercenter, she argues. Plus, with proposed Wal-Mart stores in Oroville and Paradise, Chico is not the only place for people to shop.
“We have a chance to keep Chico’s character, where you know the people you shop with,” she said. “Do we want to lose that to anonymity, where everything looks alike?”
Back in 2003, when Wal-Mart first announced its plans for Chico, Schlaff—a transplant from L.A.—helped put together C.A.R.E.
Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy is an organization dedicated to keeping the big-box from expanding in the community. Her group’s support has grown into the thousands. A lot of people think Wal-Mart’s plan is a done deal, she said, “so I periodically get the word out that it’s not over.”
When the Planning Commission addresses the south site, Schlaff anticipates an overwhelming number of community members to attend the meeting. And despite being up against a giant, she remains upbeat.
“I think we have a good chance to beat them both.”
—Meredith J. Cooper [page]
Day and Night Club
It’s 8:30 a.m., and David Day is surveying the bar, making sure things are in order after the previous night’s rock concert with local acts Aubrey Debauchery and Biggs Roller. Everything looks clean, though there are the remnants of a guitar on the stage—the true mark of a good show.
Neon signs—from Coors Light and NASCAR to Sierra Nevada and NFL—line walls and hang from ceilings. In fact, the first thing one might notice when walking into the newly named Nick’s Night Club is how much brighter it is than the venue’s former incarnation, Off Limits.
There’s no Nick behind Nick’s Night Club—Day, 41, named the place after his younger brother, who lives in Southern California, where they grew up.
After a bit of moving around, David Day came to Chico in 1988 when he was recruited to play football under Coach Mike Bellotti. (Remember football at Chico State?) He’s been here ever since. Day bartended through school, and one of his last gigs was mixing drinks at the very venue he now runs—then called the Wild Hare Saloon.
After graduating, Day worked in construction before getting his real-estate license in 2004. The former bartender-turned-broker sealed the deal on the popular bar/music venue in October 2007.
Day’s vision for the new venue is pretty straightforward: “Sports bar by day, music venue by night.” He says the two vastly different worlds of sports bar and rock venue coexist in harmony, with most sporting events ending around the time the music will take over.
Nick’s Night Club is certainly set up for it. By one end of the bar there’s a well-lit room with three pool tables, dart boards and the new addition of a shuffle board. The opposite end, where the music happens, also has a noticeable glow to it.
Although the crowd who preferred the dark, dive-y ambience of Off Limits might be put off by the bright new look, they’ll hear a drastic improvement thanks to the addition of a much-needed new sound system. In the works is a plan to move the stage to the other side of the room, which Day says should make the acoustics even better.
Most important, Day is keeping the hard-working Katie Perry of Devil Kat Rock Productions on board to book the shows. It is his hope to have at least three shows a week. As Day puts it: “Rockabilly, punk, country-western—I don’t care.”
Careful what you wish for …
Kathy Barrett & Tom Hayes
Neither Kathy Barrett nor Tom Hayes ever planned to be part of the Planning Commission. But when two spots came open, with the resignations of Steve O’Bryan and Kirk Monfort, they were the two appointed.
Why, you ask?
Well, for one, their terms will expire in just a year instead of the usual four. And although they have little in common when it comes to their backgrounds, they both come into the commission with enough experience to allow them to start swinging.
Barrett, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butte County, has served on the Chico Arts Commission, which has given her an understanding of what her role will be as a planning commissioner.
“I understand I’m not in there to set policy, but rather to enforce policy,” she said. “It’s very tempting to want to change the rules, but that’s not what you’re there for.”
Hayes, a retired senior planner for the city, comes into his new role with a deep understanding of policies as well as the area.
The big issue of the year, they both agreed, will be Wal-Mart. The final draft environmental-impact report on the expansion of the existing store into a supercenter is expected to come before the commission in February. Plans for a new supercenter on the north end of town should follow.
“There will be a lot of emotional comments,” Hayes said. “We all have our opinions, but we’ll have to try to really determine what impact it will have by looking at these things in an objective way.”
Also on the agenda for 2008 are updating design guidelines for the city, which both new commissioners are excited about, and the general plan update, which no doubt will require some attention from the commission. One thing they will be looking at is growth areas for Chico—a point of contention between the city and county.
“My personal view is that the county should be taking a backseat approach to growth,” Hayes said. “I hope the county and city can work together.”
More important, Hayes and Barrett hope the commissioners will work well together. The Wal-Mart debate likely will put dynamics to the test.
“I came on board thinking that the commission was somewhat dysfunctional,” Barrett said. “But that hasn’t been my experience. Everyone seems willing to listen to each other.”
—Meredith J. Cooper