Cream of rice

Oh, those crop subsidies. Farmers don’t like us writing about them, and frankly, it’s not that much fun to do, because the “price supports"—designed to offset inequities in the world market so growers of commodity crops like rice, cotton, corn and wheat don’t go out of business—are more complex than the black and white of the cries of “corporate welfare” on one side versus “save the family farmer” on the other.

But if you want to talk corporate welfare, take investment king Charles Schwab’s duck club in Glenn County. A report last week by the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted Schwab’s 1,550-acre Casa de Patos (I guess that’s more exotic-sounding than “house of ducks.")

(It’s the same duck club where, a lawsuit set to go to trial in March alleges, Schwab invited the late Chicoan Walton Powell of fly rod fame for sport before allegedly taking over his business and sending him into relative poverty.)

There’s some rice grown there, so Schwab, who’s worth about $4 billion, last year took in $564,000 in taxpayer money. Good hunting.

Always on top of the subsidy issue are the advocates at the Environmental Working Group of Washington, D.C., which this month used public records to compile a list of where the money went. Their thinking is that, while it’s important to help farmers make it, a policy change is in order, as the subsidy program has been abused by big farming conglomerates and landowners who, arguably, don’t even need the money. Meanwhile, there are few incentives for more conservation-minded programs.

In California, subsidies usually means rice. For the period between 1996 and 2000, Butte County came in fourth, following Colusa, Fresno and Kern counties, as farmers here took in $156,483,255 divided among 1,242 recipients.

If you go to, you can search the Farm Subsidy Database by county or even recipient.

It’s timely to know all this because the next farm bill—$170 billion worth—is in the works, and this while subsidies were supposed to be phased out in favor of self-sufficiency.

Mall cats

The Chico Mall has new owners: Gregory Greenfield & Associates, Ltd., of Atlanta.

The real estate advisory and development firm gathered several private investors to make the buy from the Equitable Life Insurance Society (go figure) at a price that they, naturally, wouldn’t reveal. (But hey, I asked.)

Spokesperson Jane Benefield said in a telephone interview that the company is excited to be taking on the decade-old “new” mall, which caught its eye because “we like the market and we like the great tenant mix.” She said the mall is about 97 percent full, so there’s not much to revamp in the tenant-seeking arena. “We may just do some normal maintenance and repair,” Benefield said.

The company also owns a couple of malls in Southern California, but the closest is probably Rogue Valley Mall in Medford, Ore., which I’ve visited many times and can attest that it’s a pretty good mall—having two, count ’em, two stories.