Holcombe takes on disc golf

Even at his most concise, Andy Holcombe is a deliberate speaker. Sound bites just aren’t in his vocabulary. So each “My lunch with Andy” column has been an exercise in editing.

With all the controversy surrounding the Chico City Council’s split decision to bar disc golf from Upper Bidwell Park, I wanted to give the former mayor—considered by some to be the swing vote—to explain the matter, which may well come before him and the council again in response to the referendum push.

“I went into the disc-golf vote thinking that I’d be able to favor disc golf staying there,” he said. “But by the time I’d pored over all the facts and the policies, particularly the policies reflecting in our new park master management plan that we adopted almost concurrently, it was a simple, easy decision for me to make, as controversial as it was.

“It was the wrong place for that type of use; as beneficial to the community in a certain way as it was, in terms of long-range planning and my responsibility to the entire community and our policies that we’d just adopted, I felt it was the right sport in the wrong place.

“Ultimately, it’s a decision I’m very comfortable with, which is a good thing, because we’re getting a lot of heat for it. But if I wasn’t comfortable with it, it would be professionally challenging and personally challenging.

“Now that I’m personally and professionally comfortable with that decision comes the question, How do we build on that?—which means finding a place where disc golf is appropriate in the community, just the way, in my view, we found a place that was appropriate for housing growth in Mountain View/Sycamore Glen, weighing competing interests.”

I reminded him of the pledge he made on the dais that night to find a site, and asked if he would continue to take leadership on the issue even after relinquishing the mayorship.

“I’m certainly going to try to. It’s something I plan to agendize for the second meeting in December, after talking to the new mayor. I mean, you don’t need to be the mayor to be a leader on the point. I think there already are people stepping up, who want to work—people off the council who vehemently disagree with me, people off the council who do agree with me.

“I really think if the personal invective and misinformation is put aside or separated, people will realize this is a legitimate policy dispute. Right or wrong, we need to build on that as our policy, and I really hope I can exercise my leadership and find an alternate site. It’s certainly my intent to do that—I’ve spent a lot of time on that the past two days [the Wednesday and Thursday after the Nov. 18 meeting] in spite of the personal invective that’s been spread that I don’t think does anyone any good.”

On the last point, I asked if he saw this as a sign that Chico politics—relatively benign the past two years—remain divisive, or is this just an isolated, polarizing instance?

“I appreciate that, even though I know you favor disc golf and your paper favors disc golf and you said in your editorial that you disagree, that’s fine, that’s your role—but now that you’ve held my feet to the fire, OK, build on that and make something positive, so we’re on the same page as far as moving forward.

“I hope most people would see it that way. What’s distressing to me is leaders who could step up and help solve this problem are saying this is a purely political vote to pay back the environmental community for campaign contributions. That is so ludicrous from my point of view that I hardly know where to start …

“I find it hard to believe that the people who are saying that could really believe that, yet they are still making it personal, trying to forward a purely political agenda, and aren’t looking for the best interest of the community as a whole by doing that. It’s annoying because it distracts from the real issue that there are legitimate policy disputes.

“I laid out the basis for my decision; people can disagree on the facts or [feel] that it’s bad policy, but to imply that it had to do with a campaign donation is just ridiculous. Does that mean if I had voted differently or the people who voted against me, was that because of their campaign donations?

“I don’t think either side votes the way they vote because of campaign donations; I don’t accept that analysis. I think it’s an insult. We vote because we all on both sides work hard for what we think is best. But when I get e-mails that criticize my vote as payback for an environmental group that didn’t even give me any money—which actually misses the point—it gets in the way of working together to solve the problem in terms of meeting legitimate needs of the community for recreation.

“It’s been very frustrating. It’s almost like someone inciting a crowd to riot or yelling fire! in a crowded theater. People who I think are responsible people are creating ill will, and I think it misinforms people. When I get 30 e-mails with that message, I know it comes from people who logged onto a Web site to get their information.

“One of the reasons there’s been a lot of hurt and invective from the disc-golf community is they’ve been ill-served by their leaders, who have put out a message that’s wrong, and I think people know it’s wrong, but they’re still doing it for their own personal political agenda instead of focusing on the policy.”