Mad as hell

Developer Andy Meghdadi is the man Chico loves to hate because he cut down a lot of trees while preparing land for a housing development. He took down more than the city said he could. There have been saddening—and artful—photos of the downed trees on the front page of the Enterprise-Record. What seems to drive people’s anger toward Meghdadi is the mystery behind the massive tree cutting, which apparently served no purpose toward building his housing project. Of course, this is not the first time a local developer has gone against city orders in the pursuit of building a bunch of houses. Ten years ago the late Dan Drake bulldozed 5.5 acres of wetlands while preparing for his Foothill East project out by the airport. Though he had the city’s preliminary permission to destroy the wetlands, he did so before gaining a grading permit. He rushed the job because he knew that the fairy shrimp that lived in the vernal pools and stood between him and his development goals were about to be listed by the federal government as an endangered species, which would have thrown a wrench into his plans.

Yes, there are differences. Most people do not equate old oak trees with vernal pools, yet both provide an important habitat for wildlife, and both have disappeared from the state in great numbers. Trees can be replanted. It is still not clear whether wetlands can be recreated. There are a number of factors at work here. Drake was considered a hometown boy. Meghdadi is considered an outsider (he’s from Iran, for goodness’ sake!), though he’s lived here since the 1980s. Drake gave boatloads of money to pro-development city councilmembers over the years. Meghdadi has not done so. (I can’t help but think some of the anger coming from councilmembers is manufactured for convenience’ sake—"See, we don’t coddle developers!") Drake had a reason for his transgression, but nothing was done about it—the city issued a permit after the fact. (Only the Butte Environmental Council cried foul, by filing a lawsuit against the city and then losing its yearly community funding handed out by the city each year.) Where were the protests? Where was the collective anger? Maybe Chico has become more sensitive to such issues in the last 10 years. But somehow I doubt it.

Last week I wrote in this space about what I believed at the time to be an illegal Chico police speed trap set up across the street from my office. Two motorcycle cops, one with a radar gun, parked their motorcycles on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Second and Flume streets to catch motorists traveling in excess of the speed limit or making illegal turns. Since civilian motorcyclists are not allowed to ride on the sidewalks in Chico, I assumed the cops weren’t either. Calls to District Attorney Mike Ramsey and City Manager Tom Lando seemed to confirm my assumption. But a talk with Chico Police Chief Mike Efford, who called the day that column hit the streets, set me straight. The chief patiently explained that the police, according to the vehicle code, have the right to order motorists to drive up onto the sidewalk should conditions warrant. So in effect, I guess, these motorcycle cops have the authority to order each other onto the sidewalk so they can conduct a speed-monitoring checkpoint. The chief said they will be back and asked why we at the News & Review complain about the dangerous intersection and then turn around and complain when the cops try to do something about it. I told him I wasn’t complaining, that my column was more an exercise in thinking out loud. He said he hadn’t read the column, but that I shouldn’t worry about “revenge.” I told him I hadn’t thought about revenge until he mentioned it.

I do wish to thank those who’ve written of their support for what turned out to be my cockeyed view of reality. I’d also like to acknowledge the less-supportive anonymous e-mailer who said, "I don’t see why your little liberal paper has nothing better to print than what law enforcement is doing. You hate us when we do our job, but as soon as your little house gets robbed or something else bad happens and you need us we are there!" To this person I say: My taxes pay your salary. That is why you respond when my little house gets robbed. You don’t do it as a favor. Good cops—and most of them are good, including, I presume, those motorcycle guys—realize and accept this arrangement. One of them called and asked for a blow-up reprint of the photo we ran.