Ten other stories that captured Chico’s attention
Towers of babble
Two proposals to put cell phone towers in northeast Chico were much in the news this year. One would have located a 125-foot tower, disguised as a pine tree, on the Elks Lodge site at Manzanita and East avenues; the other would have extended two light poles at the Hooker Oak ball field from 85 feet to 110 feet, added antennas to them and an electronics hub on the ground nearby.
Both ran into opposition—the former because it would be located close to homes, the latter mainly because it was in Bidwell Park. Wireless companies said new antennas were needed in the area, stressing the importance of emergency service to Upper Park. Sweetening the Hooker Oak proposal was the rent money the companies would pay to the Chico Area Recreation District.
In the end, the Hooker Oak proposal got a green light from the city (though it faces litigation). The Planning Commission also approved the Elks Lodge tower, shortened to 85 feet, and the City Council will hear an appeal of the decision in coming weeks.
Grand Jury shakes things up
The Butte County Grand Jury uncovered a lot of concerns this year, ranging from Oroville city government to the County Jail to the county auditor-controller’s office.
The auditor-controller’s office also took quite a hit. The management skills and qualifications of both the auditor-controller and his assistant were questioned, and the grand jury recommended cutting the auditor-controller’s salary by 25 percent.
As for the County Jail, conditions in the women’s wing were deemed sub-par, as were the policies regarding documentation of prisoners.
With 90 days to respond to the allegations, many departments decided either to deny any problems or address them. A copy of the responses should be available on the Butte County Web site soon.
The future of Chico’s stray animals came into question this summer when the city announced it would take charge of the Fair Street shelter run for 19 years by Butte Humane Society.
That decision, disseminated via press release, shook animal lovers. They packed City Council chambers for a public meeting in August, calling for the city to resume negotiations with BHS.
Turns out that move was already afoot. To loud applause, Councilman Larry Wahl said he expected the shelter operation “to remain with the Humane Society,” and indeed, the organization and the city began meeting weekly to hammer out a contract. The agreement, addressing operational concerns from the city and resource concerns from BHS, should come before the council in early 2007.
Co-op at a crossroads
Chico Natural Foods has been a community fixture for more than 30 years, providing healthful products—many procured locally—to loyal members. First its existence, then its identity, came into question in 2006.
One strategy: sell meat. Vegans and vegetarians voiced passionate opposition, but a vote of the membership showed about two-thirds in support. CNF now stocks canned and dry-packaged products with meat; frozen meats will come in early January 2007.
Care workers get a raise
As the year began, home-care workers in Butte County, the more than 2,000 folks who take care of the elderly and disabled so they can stay in their homes, were earning just $7.11 per hour without benefits—and hadn’t gotten a raise in years.
Their union, California Homecare Workers United, launched an aggressive campaign. In radio and TV ads, it chided the county for giving its employees and supervisors large raises while doing nothing for its home-care workers.A state legislator, Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, entered the fray, holding a hearing on the issue May 11 at Chico State University. In the end, the groups went to the bargaining table, and in August they signed an agreement to increase workers’ pay to $8.15 hourly, with the county chipping in an addition $.60 per hour toward health insurance.
Dorothy Parker: grandma, activist, inmate
In late January, then-76-year-old Chico grandmother Dorothy Parker was sentenced to two months in federal prison for an act of civil disobedience. Parker had been one of 37 protesters to trespass onto Fort Benning in Georgia in November 2005 to protest the military training school there. The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, has been accused of training Latin American officers in tactics including torture and execution-style killings.
Parker spent 57 days at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, in the Bay Area.
“Not everybody agreed with what I did, but they’ve gotten more informed about things that are going on around the world as a result,” Parker said in November, before taking off to protest again at Fort Benning. This time she joined a national group formed by fellow Chicoan Cathy Webster, called 1,000 Grandmothers. Webster crossed the line and will face a similar sentence, but Parker didn’t follow this year, because as a second offense it would have meant six more months behind bars.
A lawsuit and a leaked memo
Although Yuba City developer Tom Fogarty’s $17 million lawsuit against the city of Chico and four of its councilmembers was filed in December 2005, it played out in an interesting way in 2006.
Fogarty filed after the four liberal councilmembers changed their minds on his long-delayed 1,324-unit Oak Valley subdivision off Highway 32 and voted not to allow him to build any houses on its easternmost foothills section. Originally the council had approved 80 houses there, but later it insisted they be moved into a lower part of the project.When the Enterprise-Record published a leaked confidential memo from City Attorney Dave Frank to the councilmembers—warning them beforehand that, if they moved the houses, Fogarty might sue—the lawsuit became political fodder.
Conservative candidates mentioned it repeatedly during both the primary- and general-election campaigns as an example of liberals causing undue financial hardship to the city, but it did them little good: They all lost. Meanwhile, the lawsuit is still working its way through the system.
Chico State has grown accustomed to athletic success, but few years have been as special as 2006.
In March, the women’s basketball team reached its first NCAA Division II Final Four, due in no small measure to the program’s first Kodak All-American, Amber Simmons. Three months later, the baseball team came within two strikes of upsetting the No. 1 team and winning its third national championship.
Success did not come without a price, however: Both teams’ coaches—Lynne Roberts and Lindsay Meggs—departed for Division I.The fall season brought characteristic achievement for the cross-country teams (the men placed fourth at nationals, the women ninth) … and a breakthrough in women’s volleyball. Cody Hein’s squad finished 21-6, made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years and advanced to the regional semifinals.
Now, will Hein follow the lead of Roberts and Meggs or stay in Chico? “So far so good,” said Athletic Director Anita Barker, “knock on wood.”
The Chico News & Review made headlines instead of just printing them when Tom Gascoyne, the paper’s editor since 1999, announced his departure in early March. By the end of the month, Associate Editor Devanie Angel—a 9 1/2-year veteran—and News Editor Josh Indar had also left. Only Arts Editor Mark Lore and Calendar Editor Jason Cassidy remained.
Needless to say, the future of the paper was uncertain as longtime readers lamented the loss of familiar voices.
Interim editors filled the gap until Evan Tuchinsky succeeded Gascoyne on April 3. Robert Speer, a CN&R founder who helped fill the sudden void, agreed in early May to stay on as news editor. One month later, Meredith J. Cooper—a St. Louis native and former colleague of Tuchinsky at The Press-Enterprise in Southern California—came in as associate editor.
Charrettes on wheels
Chico had three planning charrettes, or participatory workshops, take place in 2006—its most ever in one year, all lasting four or five days.
The first, held March 23-27, was a response to questions about the need for a proposed, and controversial, new parking structure downtown. When the charrette report came out two months later, it said the structure wasn’t needed yet, though it probably would be needed in the future. More important, it came up with a wide range of creative strategies for improving downtown parking. An implementation plan is expected early next year.
In June, the city, county and state held a jointly sponsored charrette to explore how Nord Avenue can be improved and came up with a bunch of good ideas; in November, residents of the Avenues met over several days to design a new plan for their neighborhood.