Houx in a huff

Mary Anne Houx, long this paper’s favorite local Republican politician, has requested that I stop spreading the rumor that she will not be running for re-election as 3rd District county supervisor when her term expires next year. I am guilty of suggesting such a thing in this column some time back, when I noted that City Councilmember Steve Bertagna and Chico Chamber of Commerce President Tod Kimmelshue were both pondering a run for Houx’s seat. So last week Houx told me to just knock off such talk because she has no intentions of hanging up her supe shoes. In fact, recent power shifts in the county have invigorated her, she says. “I want to leave this county in better shape than I found it when I was appointed.” In 1991 Houx was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to replace Kevin Campbell, the respected poet/dentist who died unexpectedly that year. For his part, Bertagna, who has an exploratory committee for the supe seat in place, says he will wait to see what Houx decides.

I read where Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville, is going to bat for George Schmidbauer, owner of lumber mills in Eureka and Texas and property in southeast Chico, in Schmidbauer’s efforts to sell land to the Chico Unified School District, which wants to build a new high school. Herger, according to the Enterprise-Record, will use his influence as a long-time congressman to talk with newly appointed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton. The property in question until now has been deemed unacceptable for a new school because of environmental constraints, and so far the Army Corps of Engineers has put the clamps on any development. Actually, the 50- to 70-acre lot needed for the school would be acceptable for development by itself, but Schmidbauer wants to tie additional acreage onto the deal and get blanket approval for residential development in the process. So I guess Herger hopes to convince Norton that the vernal pools, meadowfoam and fairy shrimp present on the property don’t need as much protection as they did under the Clinton administration. I don’t see where it will take much convincing on Herger’s part. Norton is the former Colorado attorney general who’s been called “a friend to industry,” which is a fairly common description of those filling the Bush administration’s cabinet posts. In other words, the change in political winds blowing out of Washington, D.C., will most likely be felt here on the regional level fairly soon. Just last week Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck resigned after four years on the job under a Democratic administration. Dombeck was a biologist, someone who understood how ecosystems work and who questioned the scientific validity of using commercial tree harvesting as a means of forest preservation. Under the Bush administration expect another “friend to industry” to be placed in charge of our national forests, including Plumas and Lassen.During the last few months I’ve been working on a story about Jonathan Studebaker, who was one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met. I’d wanted to do the story since I first met him back the 1980s. I’d noticed that in the past six months his health had seemed to be deteriorating—his visits to the hospital were more frequent, his stays were longer. I felt a sense of urgency to do the story. So in the past few months we spent hours working together on the thing, both in and out of the hospital. But the more I got to know the guy, the harder it became to put the story together. I’d complain about that. "Hey," he’d say in that voice that sounded like he’d just inhaled helium, "You’re the journalist. You figure it out." The last time I talked with him was on March 16, the day before I went on a week’s vacation. "Let’s put it off until I get back," I told him. I’d felt like I’d been pushing him, and I think he was glad to hear we had more time. "I haven’t told you everything yet," he said. We said our good-byes. Turns out we were wrong about having more time.