Handful of hopefuls
Meet the five folks seeking a supervisorial post
Two Butte County Board of Supervisors seats are up for grabs next month, and both happen to be those representing Chico. In District 2, which covers the northwestern corner of the county, incumbent Larry Wahl faces a single challenger for the seat he’s held for two terms. In the case of District 3, which encompasses Cohasset and Forest Ranch in addition to the eastern half of Chico, three candidates have emerged as contenders to succeed longtime Supervisor Maureen Kirk, who is retiring at the end of her third term.
All five have been making the rounds at a number of forums leading up to the biggie: the Butte County League of Women Voters’ recent televised event at Marsh Junior High School, during which each impressive hopeful shared his or her positions on a variety of hot topics—though they appeared to diverge on only a few of them.
Incumbent Larry Wahl noted a life devoted to public service—first in the military and later as a member of Chico’s Planning Commission and City Council. For many years, he owned and operated local UPS stores.
Challenger Debra Lucero, a powerhouse in the arts community and tourism realm who raised three children here, pointed to her deep ancestral roots in Butte County. She started her own furniture business when she was 25 years old, she said.
Bob Evans was the first of the trio of District 3 hopefuls to introduce himself. Chicoans may remember him from his two-year stint on the Chico City Council, having been appointed to the panel when Wahl departed for the county board midway through his term. Like Wahl, he’s a veteran. Following military retirement, he served as plant manager at a school photography company, and re-entered public service following retirement from that job.
Self-described political “newbie” Norm Rosene is a Chico native whom locals may not recognize by name but whose résumé is notable. He’s a longtime local dentist and owns a winery. He served two terms on the Butte County Airport Land Use Commission, started Jet Chico (an effort to return commercial air service to Chico), and helped found the Chico Air Museum.
Last up was Tami Ritter, a former Chico City Councilwoman who has spent two decades working in the social services realm: as the founding executive director of the Torres Community Shelter, executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Butte County, and as a drug and alcohol counselor. These days, she’s the director of Family Court Services for Glenn County Superior Court.
The major issues
Transparency in government:
Each of the candidates pointed to the importance of public access.
Lucero noted that citizens must dig through the Board of Supervisors minutes to see how each of the five members of that panel voted. She suggested technology upgrades, including creating a glossary tracking how the five members of the panel voted. “This is a good place to start, because then it makes it easy for the public … [to] determine how our elected officials are representing us.”
Wahl appeared to think the county was sufficiently transparent. He added it’s a “shared endeavor,” calling for citizens to do their own research by reading the meeting minutes and local newspapers.
Local cannabis growing regulations:
Making it a land-use issue, rather than a criminal one, has been the correct move, the candidates stated.
However, Ritter said that there isn’t consistent enforcement of the growing ordinance. She pointed to recent hearings on properties in violation—“There were some people who got three-month extensions, there were some people who [were subject to a lien immediately] going on their property.”
Lucero said she wants to examine enforcement expenditures and revenues to see if the ordinance should be reviewed.
Greenline and affordable housing:
All of the candidates called for the demarcation protecting agricultural land to stand, even in the face of the local housing crisis.
Regarding the latter, Ritter called for the strengthening of the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care, taking aim at the Chico City Council for codifying laws that “criminalized homelessness,” resulting in the federal government cutting funding to that multiagency group tasked with ending homelessness.
Wahl criticized the state Legislature for enacting burdensome building regulations, and he said the county and city must make more land available for housing. He also supports tiny houses for transitional living.
Lucero called for higher-density development and infill projects—and a greater variety of housing types, including for millennials.
Evans largely echoed Wahl. And while he wants to protect the Greenline, other areas encircling Chico need to be considered for growth, he said.
Rosene said marginal grazing lands—properties “that aren’t good for agriculture”—need to be made available for construction. He also criticized the state for adding regulations that add to housing costs, making home-buying an option for less than a third of Californians, he noted.
Outstanding problems—short- and long-term:
Wahl said public safety is a short- and long-term issue; housing is, too.
Lucero pointed to the budget—the county needs to look at the services it provides and consider collaboration with local municipalities.
Evans also noted the budget, saying costs are going up faster than revenues.
Rosene listed off numerous issues: Budget, public safety, acute homelessness, growth (determining how the city grows), and economic development. Regarding the last point, he said the city desperately needs to get back commercial air service. Losing it led to the departure of Facebook and Google’s Loon project, he said.
Ritter’s priorities: water policy, implementing “housing first” and emergency preparedness (in light of the Oroville Dam spillway failure).
Rosene pointed to comprehensive efforts of the county and cities—including law enforcement. Tiny homes are part of the solution, he said.
Ritter called for housing first and low-barrier shelters, saying those will relieve the burden on hospitals and law enforcement, which is “not the appropriate entity to be responding to the housing and homeless crisis.”
Wahl supports the Jesus Center’s move and consolidation, and, again, tiny homes.
Lucero noted that the county needs detox centers and mental health facilities, including a unit that can respond to crisis situations 24/7.
Evans, like Wahl, supports the Jesus Center’s move, and said that housing is “an integral part of the solution.”
Regarding sanctuary laws:
Because they conflict with federal law, Wahl, Rosene and Evans say they oppose sanctuary state legislation—protections against deportation for undocumented immigrants.
Wahl talked about how the county voted unanimously to send a letter to the Legislature and governor opposing sanctuary policy. He noted that the county sheriff posts the names of those released from jail, “so that ICE, if it wants, can come pick up the folks when they are released.”
Ritter pointed out that there are many conflicting state and federal laws—cannabis use, for example. Because state law already allows law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials in the case of arrested violent criminals, Ritter said she “absolutely support[s] sanctuary.”
Lucero noted that the county depends on migrant farm workers, and that she was disappointed in the board for the vote Wahl mentioned. “If you talk to farmers, it is impacting our county, it’s impacting our agricultural well-being.”