Govern our city ‘the Chico way’

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric around the city manager’s radical cuts

Paul Friedlander, a retired music professor, is the author of Rock and Roll: A Social History and a new blog called For the People He raised his son in Chico.

Chico is a special place. Our town offers so much: high-quality, healthful food for the table; extraordinary nourishment for the mind and soul; a breathtaking environment; a place to thrive as an individual, raise a family and live in the golden years. This exceptional “hometown” has been carefully managed by balancing the needs of our citizens, local businesses and the environment. This is “the Chico way.”

When the 2008 recession hit, the tax base that supports our public safety, education, recreation and commerce fell dramatically. Then the state, with devastating consequences, took nearly $20 million more. These were funds allocated for housing, roads and neighborhood improvement. We experienced what City Manager Brian Nakamura called “whack-a-mole” while in Hemet: You pass one budget and then the state takes more.

The city cut spending, successfully negotiated reductions with employee unions and reduced staff by 70. They drew from stable funds, because this was an emergency. As the economy turned around, they planned for increased revenues to rebuild the “rainy day” accounts.

Now, the economy is improving. Tax revenues are up. Houses are being built, magnet stores are opening at the mall, and downtown is holding its own. Yet, the local newspaper is filled with scare tactics: “The liberals ran the city into the ground. We have a $20 million deficit.”

The doomsayers want to slash city services, redefine our culture and reimburse the depleted funds immediately! They cry “deficits of mass destruction.” Our new (at a $160,000 annual salary) administrative-services director (aka finance director) from San Diego says cut jobs and services to pay back the funds.

What does that mean? We’d eliminate 19 police positions. In Bidwell Park, we’d lose lifeguards who protect swimmers, a park ranger who protects citizens and the environment, and the volunteer coordinator for hundreds doing great work at no cost.

If we buy this “austerity plan,” all citizens will feel it. Departments may barely function with their skeleton staffs. Some will suggest privatizing city services and selling city resources. Under administrators Nakamura and Assistant City Manager Mark Orme, Hemet franchised out city services and brought in consultants to run public safety. Citizens, having no accountability, finally said no.

We are being offered a Southern California solution to a Chico challenge. Chicoans should not be fooled by the rhetoric around these radical cuts. Let’s urge our City Council to adopt a more moderate, patient approach, and restore our economy and community the Chico way.