Keep your eye on ’em

Who to watch in 2007? CN&R editors identify 10 people certain to make headlines

Andy Holcombe

Andy Holcombe

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Just a few days have passed since the start of the new year, and already we have a strong sense of what 2007 will hold.

Drama. Development. Power plays and power shifts, double plays and power chords.

We’re not psychics, so don’t expect iron-clad insights over the next few pages.

We’re more like oddsmakers, and we think the chances are excellent that the 10 people on our Who to Watch list will do a lot to shape the area over the next 12 months. Chico’s new mayor, Butte County’s new supervisor, Chico State’s interim baseball coach and familiar names with new projects all seem destined for headline-making in 2007.

If not, just wish us better luck next year.

A lawyer with heart
Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe

When Andy Holcombe took the mayoral gavel from Scott Gruendl at the Dec. 6 Chico City Council meeting, he acknowledged the challenge of succeeding a well-respected leader.

Gruendl “pushed the envelope” in the city’s weak-mayor, strong-council form of government. He was active in the agenda process. He made frequent public appearances, speaking with a distinct blend of warmth and polish. And he didn’t hesitate to get out in front of issues he believed in, going so far as to march—with Holcombe—on behalf of service workers at Enloe Medical Center.

“He did it with heart and head,” Holcombe summarized.

The new mayor’s supporters expect him to do likewise, of course. Holcombe is a practicing attorney who focuses on tenants’ rights cases—if that doesn’t say head and heart, what does?

He’s no Gruendl clone, however. “I’ll do my best to fill the mayoral shoes in my own way, over time,” he said that night.

How—and how soon—will be significant. He is up for re-election next year. Whether his first council term will also be his last most certainly will hinge on his performance in the big chair.

Gruendl proved that point when he retained his seat, comfortably, two months ago. In many ways, though, he is a counterpoint.

He got elected mayor with a contentious, partisan 4-3 council vote. His chamber chair marked a dividing point: fellow progressives to one side, conservatives to the other, and the man in the middle charged with keeping order.

The vote for Holcombe was 7-0. Such was the solidarity that Steve Bertagna—a conservative—was the one who moved to close nominations right after Holcombe accepted. He’ll have to brook opposition, but likely not as much with the 5-2 cushion he and his allies enjoy.

So what should we expect from him?

“He’s more of a quiet individual and has a legal background,” Gruendl said, “so he strives to be technically correct on stuff.”

Also, Gruendl said, “he’s going to champion different issues than I did"—such as homelessness. “I advocated for issues that were easier to get people to coalesce around, such as business development and venture capital. It’s harder to get people to coalesce around issues they don’t want to deal with.”
—Evan Tuchinsky

In the minority now
County Supervisor Maureen Kirk

Maureen Kirk

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

It took the better part of a year, but Maureen Kirk finally earned a seat on the Butte County Board of Supervisors. First she campaigned against Chico school board member Anthony Watts. Then Watts dropped out and was replaced by Steve Bertagna—one of her ideological rivals on the Chico City Council. Then businessman Chuck Kutz jumped into the race, and when June 6 rolled around, Kirk came up 79 votes short and was forced into a runoff with Bertagna.

One the night of Nov. 7, her election was too close to call. Finally, three weeks later, she was declared successor to Mary Anne Houx, who died two meetings shy of completing her fourth term. Houx had wholeheartedly endorsed Kirk.

“I know she’s excited about it—she really wanted it,” said Andy Holcombe, Kirk’s council colleague for two years. “She was not in a position where she needed to run for public office again. It’s a good fit for her and where she is in her life.”

Be careful what you wish for.

The demands on a county supervisor make council obligations seem simple. Meetings are longer and often more intense. Supervisors have office hours plus engagements across the county. Theirs is a full-time job, and constituents expect them to earn that paycheck.

Kirk also steps onto a board with deep-rooted divisions. She has a strong ally in Jane Dolan, but Dolan is the ideological opposite of the other supervisors, whom Houx derisively called “the three gents": Curt Josiassen, Bill Connelly and Kim Yamaguchi. A failed attempt to redraw the districts of Dolan and Houx represents just one battle the women on the board have had to fight.

“She’s been on the other end of that the last two years,” Holcombe said, meaning in a majority. “But Curt Josiassen represents [part of] Chico, after all, so there certainly should be grounds to forge a coalition. She’ll definitely be an advocate for Chico but also realizes she has a broader scope of responsibility. If anyone can forge a coalition, she can.”
—Evan Tuchinsky

Man with a plan
Development Services Director Tim Snellings

Tim Snelling

Courtesy Of Butte County

Tim Snellings’ first day as the director of Butte County’s Development Services Department was on Halloween. He came dressed as an M&M. “I was the only person in costume,” he said with a laugh. “That set the tone.”

That was in 2005, a bad year for the department, which oversees planning and permitting. Snellings was taking over an unhappy agency, so a little humor went a long way.

Snellings is an amiable, easygoing man of 47 whose last job was as community services director in Yuba County. He faced several daunting tasks at the outset: 16 of 45 positions were vacant, he lacked a management team, and most importantly county supervisors wanted him to start updating the general plan right away.

He filled the positions and brought in a trusted Yuba County associate, Pete Calarco, to be his assistant director. So now the big deal is the general plan. Much of the old one was so out of date it was virtually useless. In addition to the plan itself, Snellings must also come up with a new zoning ordinance as well as environmental-impact reports supporting both projects.

2006 was spent “charting the course,” as he puts it. His staff analyzed existing conditions and issues in the county; in April he held a community forum attended by 142 people; shortly afterward he hired a Berkeley consulting firm—Design, Community & Environment—to coordinate and write the plan; and he put together a 34-member Community Advisory Committee.

Now he’s ready to “set sail” in 2007. A major goal this year is to develop planning coordination between the county and its five municipalities. Another is to develop the land-use alternatives that eventually will be presented to the Board of Supervisors—perhaps the most important aspect of the process. Readers can get a sense of the scope and direction of this four-year effort by going to
—Robert Speer

Meriam Park front and center
New Urban Builders’ Tom DiGiovanni

Tom DiGiovanni

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Tom DiGiovanni has been preparing for 2007 for the past three years. That’s how long it’s taken his company, New Urban Builders, to plan its third—and biggest—Chico project, the proposed Meriam Park development.

The draft environmental-impact report on the project was released in December 2006, so much of 2007 will be spent shepherding it through the city’s permitting process, first before the Planning Commission (in February) and then before the City Council.

It’s the biggest proposal—up to 3,200 living units, as well as a commercial center and a professional baseball park—since the 2,900-unit Rancho Arroyo project in the 1980s, which was approved but shot down via a citizens’ referendum.

Meriam Park is not expected to face that kind of public disapproval, however, largely because of its innovative design emphasizing traditional neighborhood forms.

Meriam Park also has the benefit of being proposed for the last large remaining piece of developable land, 272 acres north of East 20th Street and west of Bruce Road, contiguous to existing neighborhoods—land that will be developed, one way or another. And New Urban Builders has shown, with its Doe Mill Neighborhood project farther east, that it builds attractive communities that emphasize walkability and personal interaction.

Construction is about to start on another project in Chico, Westside Neighborhood on Nord Avenue north of Eighth Avenue—191 units on 20 acres, including live-work spaces, single-family homes and row houses. “We’ll be going vertical on that soon,” DiGiovanni said.

The company also has a project in Redding, called Parkview Neighborhood. The first phase, 35 homes, is done, and work will begin on the second, 40 to 45 homes, this year.

For DiGiovanni, 2007 is going to be busy and exciting. He’s quick to credit his staff. “It’s a fabulous group at this point,” he said. “We have a real pride about building neighborhoods first and homes second.”
—Robert Speer

Push comes to shove
County CAO Paul McIntosh

Paul McIntosh

Courtesy Of Butte County

If you don’t recognize Paul McIntosh now, you will by the end of the year. Butte County’s chief administrative officer is the point person for every major undertaking—and none is bigger than the relicensing of Oroville Dam.

The license covering the dam’s first 50 years will expire Feb. 1, after which it will operate under a rollover extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC oversees the relicensing process, which is near the pivotal phase.

The county feels it got short shrift under the soon-to-expire license and is seeking greater compensation this time. McIntosh’s office submitted a response to the draft environmental-impact statement (available at, and the final report is expected to reach FERC by late spring.

“I’d expect he’ll be traveling back to Washington, D.C., with the board chairman quite a few times to talk to FERC and make our point,” said Starlyn Brown, assistant chief administrative officer. “He’s been spending a lot of time raising knowledge about this"—meeting with the public and rallying support from legislators, whom he then keeps “in the loop” with updates.

“That’s just on this one issue,” Brown continued, “but it’s a huge issue, and from our view it’s the biggest decision for Butte County to help determine our future. Our ability to provide services could be significantly enhanced, and economic-development impacts could be in the billions.”

Meanwhile, the county will continue work on an updated general plan and embark on what Brown calls its “first all-inclusive capital improvement project"—construction and renovation of facilities. McIntosh’s staff is working with counterparts in the Superior Court office to secure funding for a $20 million justice center in the north county, as well as on transferring court facilities from local to state jurisdiction.

County departments are computerizing operations such as payroll and purchasing. ("Paul is very much a proponent of centralizing and moving things into an electronic format,” Brown said.) McIntosh also has a brand-new department head to hire, General Services director. Headed to his in-box: reviews of county leases and updates on development-impact fees.

“There are about four different pushes going on at the same time,” Brown said, “but it’s all good.”
—Evan Tuchinsky

Second in command
Chico State Provost Sandra Flake

Sandra Flake

Courtesy Of Sandra Flake

One of the questions Sandra Flake sometimes asks when speaking to students is, “Do you know what a provost does?”

Flake was named to the somewhat nebulous title of provost for Chico State in mid December, becoming second in command only to the university president as the vice president of academic affairs.

When Flake takes over officially in April, she’ll be responsible for all academic programs, managing the academic budget and faculty development.

“She is committed to the same things that guide our Strategic Plan,” said Chico State President Paul Zingg, citing regional stewardship, diversity, civic engagement, community service and a focus on students as examples.

Flake will take over for Scott McNall, who served as provost since 1994 and is now the president’s special assistant for sustainability.

The job is nothing new for Flake, who’s held the position of provost at the University of West Florida since 2004. Before that she served as dean of the College of Arts at the University of Colorado from 1997 to 2004 and of the College of Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse starting in 1994.

It was during her years attending the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (where she earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in English, respectively) that Flake began to see first-hand the challenges facing minority students, something that has stuck with her to this day.

Flake said regional-comprehensive universities like Chico State are important for their affordability to first-generation students. But one of the issues Flake emphasizes is holding universities accountable for effective learning and meaningful assessment of programs.

“You don’t educate students by just throwing them in a classroom,” Flake said.

Having a son who attends the University of Northern Colorado, Flake has a personal interest in what goes on at the college level.

“That’s something that has always interested me,” she said, “watching people making those big transitions in their lives.”
—Mark Lore

Out to prove himself
Wildcats Baseball Coach Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor

CN&R file photo

Interim head coach—that title usually suggests a loyal assistant coach stepping in for a boss fired midseason for losses or scandal, or both. “Interim” then becomes “former” as the gap-filler gives way to someone new.

Dave Taylor is an interim coach, for the Chico State baseball team. He left his job at Cal State Los Angeles—head coach, not interim—when Lindsay Meggs left Chico for Division I Indiana State. The Athletic Department will conduct a national search; in the interim, the Wildcats are Taylor’s to coach.

Thus, 2007 is a big year for Taylor. Even without a return trip to the Division II College World Series, he most likely will stay at Chico State. But his title does have that I-word in it …

In the interim.

“Dave Taylor’s a great coach,” said Athletic Director Anita Barker, who will have the biggest say on the matter. “He was here eight years [as an assistant coach] and built a winning program. He went to Cal State L.A and had success there. Dave fits in well with the staff and the community. He was definitely high on our list to come back to Chico.”

And coming back to Chico was high on his list—he gave up a secure job to do so, saying: “The opportunity to return to Chico State was too good to pass up.”

Taking over a sub-.500 team, Taylor posted a 58-39-1 record in two years at Cal State L.A.—with NCAA tournament bids both seasons. That followed the eight-year stint as Chico State pitching coach that included five appearances in the College World Series and two national championships. The Wildcats reached the title game last year, too.

What does Barker expect this season?

“Exciting Wildcat baseball. I don’t expect us to have anything different.”
—Evan Tuchinsky

Musical chairs
1078 Music Committee head René Stephens

René Stephens

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

There will be a new face in charge of live music at 1078 Gallery, but it’s a familiar one at least.

René Stephens—the lip-studded woman about town and former owner of the all-ages venue Fulcrum Records, which closed in 2005—is excited about her new position as head of the music committee at 1078. During a recent conversation, Stephens rattled off a list of show ideas and other fun events that will surely keep with the gallery’s avant-garde approach to music and art.

“Jason [Cassidy] did all the hard work of convincing them to keep music,” she said. Cassidy is her predecessor on the committee as well as CN&R calendar editor and columnist.

The prospect of having a lasting, all-ages venue went from promising to bleak after 1078 moved to its new digs on Broadway in August. A solid two-month run of quality live shows came to a halt in early October while the 1078 board tried to figure out a way to make music and visual art co-exist under one roof.

After nearly two months of dormancy, a plan finally sprouted. The gallery will set one week out of the month, in between exhibits, when live shows can be booked.

When Cassidy recently stepped down, Stephens was an obvious choice to take over, with her experience running Fulcrum.

Stephens said she likes the idea of booking only a few shows a month, hoping that it will keep people from getting burned out and keep attendance up. The gap between events would also seem to lend itself to booking better shows. Stephens said she wants to continue with theme nights in the spirit of the upcoming Elvis vs. Elvis (that’s Presley vs. Costello), Jan. 12, as well as having potlucks and jazz/metal fusion nights.

Stephens is firm on keeping a committee of volunteers on hand to help work the door and do sound. To her, it’s all about building a sense of community, and she wants to include high school bands and even local businesses that may want to sponsor events.

“It makes this town that much better when there’s eclectic stuff going on,” she said. “And if anyone has a suggestion on anything, I’m takin’ ’em.”
—Mark Lore

A lucky break
The Lost boys

Lost on Main’s Tyler Eckes, Kyle Ullrich and Neil Andrus

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Anyone who’s walked into Lost on Main can attest that the night club looks nothing like its former incarnation, Mr. Lucky. With softly lit art pieces lining the walls and its über-hip décor, it could even be argued that Chico’s newest hot spot doesn’t resemble anyplace else in town. And as one of the only live 21-and-over venues downtown, it will be interesting to see how things unfold in the next year.

The vision of four young men finally came to fruition in early November 2006 after months of gutting and cleaning and, of course, making sure everything was up to code.

“It’s definitely been a great learning process,” said Neil Andrus, who owns the bar along with Kyle Ullrich (some might remember Ullrich from his days at the Riff Raff Rock Bar). Andrus and Ullrich, along with general manager Tyler Eckes and music promoter Tommy Sprague, are the brains and the brawn behind Lost on Main—a project that took nearly eight months to get off the ground.

Eckes said aside from a few minor details the final product is pretty close to what he envisioned.

“We try to keep it fresh and new, which is very difficult to do,” he said.

Although the place is new, Ullrich and Andrus have known each other since they were preteens growing up in Orange County. The two came to Chico in the mid-'90s to attend Chico State. Ullrich stayed, but Andrus moved away until early 2006, when he and Ullrich found out that Mr. Lucky was up for sale. Eckes, who bartended at Duffy’s Tavern with Ullrich, jumped on as the club’s GM, and Sprague took charge of booking shows.

So far the club has hosted CD-release parties, national touring acts and a number of theme nights, including the ever-popular reggae night every Thursday. Jazz and techno nights are also in the works. On top of that, the space also includes revolving pieces from local artists.

As with any new business, the team of owners, managers and bartenders are still working out the little kinks, but they say the response has been nothing but positive.

“It’s like any art project,” Eckes said. “It evolves as you go.”
—Mark Lore

Talk about a big job …
Enloe’s new CEO

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

It’s an understatement to say that 2006 was a big year for Enloe Medical Center. It was huge. First there was the whole approval process—contentious hearings before the city Planning Commission and City Council—leading to the OK of its controversial expansion plans, and then the rebellion in the doctors’ ranks that forced CEO Dan Neumeister to resign.

Since then the hospital has operated under an interim CEO, Beth O’Brien, and begun a search for Neumeister’s replacement. The Board of Trustees hopes to hire that person by spring. Whoever it is will have a demanding and highly public job on his or her hands.

There’s the expansion, for starters. Construction, with all the disruption it brings, has begun, so the new CEO will have to get up to speed quickly there. The local fundraising effort is still $3.7 million short of its goal of $10 million, so the new chief also “will have an active and visible role in raising money,” Laura Hennum, Enloe’s public-relations director, said in a recent phone interview.

Also, the hospital administration is still tussling with SEIU, the union that wants to represent its service employees—a community relations sore point.

Medical staffing will be a challenge. The hospital now has five full-time anesthesiologists, Hennum said, and with the help of traveling doctors has been able to keep the operating rooms functioning. But five is a far cry from the hospital’s stated goal of having a dozen full-time anesthesiologists.

Just as important, the CEO will have to resolve the issue of specialists—orthopedists, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists—being on call for emergencies. More and more physicians are unwilling to be on call, but a Level II trauma hospital like Enloe must have 24-hour access to their services.

Patient safety will also be a big focus, Hennum said. The hospital is committed to having “all the pieces in place” to ensure patient safety, and it will be the CEO’s job to make sure that happens.

Finally, she said, the new boss will need to demonstrate remarkable communication skills. He or she “will have an opportunity to create a different reality” when it comes to relations with hospital employees, doctors, the Board of Trustees and the larger community. That may be the new boss’s biggest challenge, she said—and biggest opportunity, as well.
—Robert Speer