Fed (and pumped) up
Chico business owner announces run for City Council
Chico business owner Toby Schindelbeck is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. He’s so mad, in fact, he’s decided to run for a seat on the Chico City Council.
Schindelbeck, a competitive bodybuilder who moved here in 2006 from Riverside County, says he’s tired of the city of Chico, which touts itself as a haven for entrepreneurs, trampling on the rights of small-business owners like him.
Schindelbeck, 33, owns Chico’s two Nutrishop weight-loss and health-supplement stores. What drove him to run for office, he said, was the recent lane modification in front of his Forest Avenue shop, which sits in a business complex near Highway 32. That modification, which prevents traffic heading south on Forest from turning directly into the small shopping center where his store is located, was completed Jan. 2. Since then, Schindelbeck said, his business has decreased severely.
January sales were down $11,000 from the same month last year, he said. Other businesses in the same complex were also hard hit, Schindelbeck added, including the 7-Eleven, whose owner reported a 27 percent sales dive during the same period.
“It was like Chico told me, ‘Happy New Year, you’re screwed,’ ” Schindelbeck said. “But the straw that broke the camel’s back and got me to run was when I found my network of business-owner friends all had similar horror stories.”
The roadwork in front of his store was completed in time for the new CVS pharmacy, which opened a few weeks ago on Forest Avenue, directly across the street from his shop.
“At first I thought having a CVS here would be awesome because it would bring more people since we had no pharmacy in this part of town,” Schindelbeck said. “Then the construction started and my sales plummeted.”
Vikramgit Gill is the franchise owner of the 7-Eleven on the corner of Forest and Highway 32. “All my losses since January have been due to the road changes,” he said.
Schindelbeck said he sees what has occurred as favoritism of big, nationally owned businesses over locally owned ones.
Bob Greenlaw, the city’s senior civil engineer, said the changes have been in the works for years—long before the CVS store located there—as part of a larger project to widen Highway 32 from Yosemite Drive to Highway 99. Those changes include the creation of a cement median along that block of Forest, cutting off the middle turn lane.
That means southbound traffic on Forest must travel an extra half-block to Humboldt Avenue and then either make a U-turn to get to the Forest Avenue entrance or a make a left and then enter the complex through the Humboldt access to the parking lot. That Humboldt entrance is busy at certain times during the week with cars taking students back and forth to nearby Marsh Junior High School.
Both Schindelbeck and Gill received a map of the scheduled changes from the city in mid-December, but they said it was a confusing, hand-drawn depiction that led them to believe a left turn into their businesses from Forest would still be possible. As such, they didn’t fully read the involved written explanation of the changes on the back of the map.
Once the impacts were felt, Schindelbeck and some other owners in the complex arranged meetings with City Manager Dave Burkland, city engineers and City Council members. They wanted four changes: 1) painted wording on the street in front of the Humboldt entrance reading, “Do not block”; 2) changes to the Humboldt parking-lot entrance, which now forces cars to make a tricky “S” turn; 3) a change in the timing of the two traffic lights on Forest to facilitate traffic; and 4) reopening the old Forest Avenue left-turn lane mid-block.
The answers they received, they said, were noncommittal, but held the promise of continued discussions and traffic monitoring.
“We told them we wanted action steps now because we were losing money,” Schindelbeck said.
Greenlaw said all four demands are possible, but noted that changing any one element affects the other three. He said that opening up the old left-turn lane is least likely because traffic on Forest—both north- and southbound—is so heavy that turning left in the middle of the block across two lanes could be risky.
He also defends the city by saying it had notified the public and affected businesses of the changes since 2009 via invitations to workshops, focus groups and letters. The city has also taken out ads in this paper and the Chico Enterprise-Record.
“We reached out,” he said.
But Schindelbeck is less than satisfied with the city’s response to his situation. In a Jan. 30 press release announcing his plans to run for council, Schindelbeck said other business owners he’s talked to have similar stories.
“They want people on the council who represent them, who know how hard it is to start and grow a business and employ people,” he said. “The small businesses of Chico and their employees need an advocate on the council, and I am the man to do it.”
He goes on to say he is “tired of the ‘good ol’ boys network’ of career politicians who have held the city of Chico back for years.”
On Feb. 7 Schindelbeck addressed the Chico City Council at the end of its meeting, without identifying himself as a candidate. He told the council of his and 7-Eleven’s January sales losses.
“With all due respect to the city engineers,” he said, “I’m sure their engineering capabilities are considerable, but it doesn’t seem like they have their finger on the pulse of what it takes to run a small business.”
He mentioned the meetings he’d had with Greenlaw, Burkland and Councilman Bob Evans, adding that the results were less than satisfying.
“We need to get this taken care of and we need to get something fixed,” he told the council. “I cannot take the wait-and-see attitude the city has taken, and do more traffic counts and see what they can do. We need action now.”
Others who have filed papers of intention to run for City Council at this early juncture are incumbents Ann Schwab and Bob Evans; Planning Commissioner Dave Kelley and Park Commissioner Mark Herrera;, and newcomers Sean Morgan, a Chico State instructor, and Andrew Coolidge, who runs a public-relations firm. Kelley and Herrera have both run in the past.