Other notable stories in 2009

The best of the rest

This is the doublewide mobile home in the Gerber area Assemblyman Jim Nielsen has cited as his residence in order to run for office in the Second District. There is no evidence that he has ever lived there, a fact that some people won’t let him forget.

This is the doublewide mobile home in the Gerber area Assemblyman Jim Nielsen has cited as his residence in order to run for office in the Second District. There is no evidence that he has ever lived there, a fact that some people won’t let him forget.


Nielsen birddogged on residency

Every time Don Bird and Charlie Schaupp see Jim Nielsen described as the District 2 state assemblyman from Gerber, they wince. That’s because they believe Nielsen actually lives in Woodland, outside the district, has never lived in the mobile home he owns in Gerber, and thus is in office illegitimately.

Bird is the Tehama County resident who has stubbornly refused to let the matter die, and Schaupp is the Yolo County farmer who ran against Nielsen in the 2008 primary. He intends to run again in 2010 and to make an issue of Nielsen’s alleged untruthfulness.

Bird has taken his crusade to the streets, mounting protests in Red Bluff and accusing county officials and judges of being in cahoots with Nielsen. He’s also written numerous letters to the editor and, most recently, claimed he intended to make a citizen’s arrest.

Interestingly, in Los Angeles County the district attorney is going after Assemblyman Roderick Wright, an Inglewood Democrat, on the same basis: That he committed fraud and perjury when he said he lived in the district but actually didn’t.

Barbara Vlamis (right) offers her explanation of events surrounding her firing at an extraordinary meeting attended by nearly 150 members of the Butte Environmental Council, as members of the BEC board (to her right) look on.

Photo By robert speer

Vlamis booted from BEC

Nobody ever doubted that Barbara Vlamis was a fierce and capable advocate for wildlife and the environment. She’s proven that countless times, and gained a reputation statewide for her efforts and skill.

So it came as a big surprise when the board of the Butte Environmental Council abruptly fired her, after 17 years as executive director, on June 25. As it turned out—and as was revealed at an extraordinary general-membership meeting on July 20 attended by more than 150 people—her skills as an advocate had been offset by her weaknesses as an administrator, especially when it came to dealing with her employees. More than 30 people spoke to the dual aspects of her directorship.

The board had sought to split her job in two, keeping her as advocacy director and hiring someone else to manage the nonprofit, but Vlamis, seeing it as a demotion, had refused.

Turnovers at the top

Three longtime department heads—Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff and county Fire Chief Henri Brachais—decided to call it quits this year. Hagerty stepped down in June; his interim replacement, Capt. Mike Maloney, got the job on a permanent basis in September.

Reniff and Brachais, both highly respected administrators, retired on the same day, Dec. 30, after long careers in public service. Reniff was replaced by his nominee for the post, Capt. Jerry Smith, and Brachais by his nominee, Deputy Chief George Morris.

In related news, 2009 also saw the exit of county Chief Administrative Officer Brian Haddix in March, after just 17 months on the job. Haddix, a former CAO in Tulare County as well as top official in the state Environmental Protection Agency, arrived with much promise, but he didn’t take hold in Butte County. His wife and family never joined him, and he commuted to Fresno on weekends.

He was replaced on an interim basis by Greg Iturria, the county’s chief financial officer, who did yeoman’s work leading the county through the fiscal crisis this year. In December, supervisors hired veteran administrator Scott Tandy on an interim basis so Iturria could return to the position he likes best, CFO. The search for a permanent CAO continues.

Dan Logue’s jobs jihad

The new District 3 assemblyman rode into office in 2008 on a platform that emphasized his strong stance on immigration, but since taking office in January he’s been banging a different drum: how the state of California’s many regulations are driving businesses away or out of business altogether.

He’s been going up and down the state, holding hearings on job and business losses due to the burden of overregulation. He even went to Reno, where he claimed that Nevada is benefiting greatly from the many businesses fleeing California to relocate there. As the Reno News & Review’s Dennis Myers pointed out, however, the existence of such an exodus is doubtful.

Logue also prevailed on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to release a year-old study claiming that regulations have deprived the state of an astonishing $492 billion and 3.8 million jobs. The study didn’t say what those regulations were, however, so it was impossible to know how many of them were like, say, the California Environmental Quality Act, which most Californians strongly support.

And, as some media pointed out, the study was extrapolated from a Forbes magazine article ranking states for their hospitality to business, making it somewhat less than credible. Perhaps that’s why it sat on a shelf for a year.

As an adjunct crusade, Logue has been trying to roll back AB 32, the state’s landmark climate-change law, saying it’s a business killer, even as numerous reports and articles note that it has spurred the green-technology industry, which has become the fastest-growing business sector in the state.

Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher Tim Crews at the entrance to the 1,600-acre Holzapfel farm and its family compound, where Bud Foglesong met his death.

Tim Crews’ crime crusade

Is there a Guinness Book of World Records category for “most series in a newspaper report”? If there were, Tim Crews would have it won—33 and counting.

That’s how many articles Crews has written in his series, “Who killed Bud Foglesong?” about the mysterious death by explosion of the brother-in-law of Glenn County District Attorney Robert Holzapfel. (See “An accident or murder?” CN&R, Sept. 3).

Crews, the editor and publisher of the Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror, is convinced Foglesong was murdered. The investigation of his death was mishandled by all parties, especially the Sheriff’s Office, Crews contends, hinting strongly of a cover-up designed to protect one or more local VIPs.

Sheriff Larry Jones has twice reopened the case, but neither investigation has gone anywhere. By all indications, Crews intends to keep up his series indefinitely.

In early December, Crews was honored by the California Newspaper Association as its executive of the year for his unwavering commitment to exposing violations of the state’s open-meetings and public-records law.

Curator Catherine Sullivan outside The Turner’s new home on the first floor of Chico State’s Meriam Library.

Photo By matt siracusa

Arts merry-go-round

Chico’s arts community is accustomed to change. In this rural college town, it’s fairly easy to start, but tough to sustain a grass-roots organization or small business. As deflating as it is when an arts venture sinks, the churning arts waters of Chico often send new hope to the surface.

This past year was no exception to the tumult, naturally. In 2009 we lost the 24-Hour Drive-by Gallery (after two decades!), TiON, the CN&R Art First Saturday art walk and even the little Half Ass Art Gallery and the Under Western Eyes bookstore with which it was connected on Eighth Avenue.

But Chico also gained some promising new players, including the eclectic Café Culture, which made its mark on the scene with an impressive calendar of touring world musicians; The Artistry gallery came to the front half of the All Fired Up ceramic studio, The Frame opened in the TiON space and Butte College’s new Art Building opened with its very impressive black-box theater plus a new home for the Coyote Gallery.

There were other changes as well: Chico State’s Janet Turner Gallery moved to a new dedicated space on the first floor of the Meriam Library building and changed its name to The Turner, and the Museum of Anthropology moved next door to it and changed its name to the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology. The Dugout below Lost on Main downtown turned into The Down Lo and started hosting jazz, rock and jam bands; representatives from Avenue 9 Gallery, 1078 Gallery and All Fired Up combined forces to start the arts-supporting Chico Visual Arts Alliance (ChiVAA); and Shakespeare in the Park came in from the park and onto the stage at the Chico Women’s Club.

Who knows what’s in store for 2010?

Chico Unified vs. charter schools

This past year was tough on the Chico Unified School District, what with state budget cuts and enrollments dropping. But what seemed to be one of the biggest issues of the year was charter schools. A number of entities have come before the CUSD board with proposals for new charters (the Green School, an online school, and even Hooker Oak is considering becoming a charter), showing a trend toward more choice in Chico’s educational environment. Perhaps the biggest issue between CUSD and a charter, however, was a clash between the district and Chico Country Day.

At the beginning of 2009, a dispute over how much the charter school owed the district left Chico Country Day without an official contract for the 2009-10 school year. In October, the district started threatening eviction if “rent” wasn’t paid immediately. “[CCDS] is occupying the space without authority,” CUSD Superintendent Kelly Staley wrote in a letter to the school.

The other object of contention was $8.4 million from state Proposition 1D (part grant, part loan) issued to the school in 2008. Principal Paul Weber said he and a host of parents and teachers had been urging the board to approve its allocation so improvements could get under way. The board failed to do so, but in December it was discovered that CCDS doesn’t even have the money to repay the loan, making the issue moot.

GreenDot Designers Lounge owners Kris Nunes and Julie DeMaggio work on one of their eco-friendly designs.

Photo By

Local threads

“It feels like an emerging thing that’s happening … partly in response to the struggling economy, and as a re-evaluation of where people are getting their goods and services.”

Those words, by Chico fashion designer Muir Hughes (from “Community threads,” CN&R, May 7, 2009), seem to sum up what has been a watershed year for locally made clothing. As a member of the groundbreaking six-woman Chikoko design/performance collective, Hughes has been at the forefront of the current local-fashion movement ever since Chikoko kick-started things with its popular multimedia art party/fashion shows. Now, she says, “There are so many people doing fashion that I can’t even keep track of what’s going on.”

In the last year, the Chikoko designers have been joined by a slew of local fashion artists—jewelry/clothing designer Claire Fong, Amber Bass’ Renouveau Clothing line, Anita O’Harra’s Off the Hook crochet/weaving line—selling their wares at individual online stores at Etsy.com, at various fashion/craft/art events and at new downtown stores catering to locally made clothing.

Joining the 3-year-old GreenDot Lounge (where one could sell clothes, take sewing classes and buy designs by owners Kris Nunes and Julie DeMaggio) downtown in the past year were Three Sixty Ecotique (511 Main St.), a second-hand store that also carries works by local designers (and hosts occasional designer showcase/parties); and the de-facto hub of local fashion, BOHO (112 W. Second St.), which carries a wide range of locally designed fashion and jewelry in addition to vintage second-hand items.

Of course, local designers are susceptible to the same economic trends as other businesses, and earlier this month, the influential GreenDot closed up its downtown shop. The owners will continue making clothes at home, but DeMaggio says that they will no longer be offering classes or operating the storefront.

Jacob Perry (not pictured) was just 13 days old when he was removed in April by child-welfare officials from the home in which he lived with his developmentally disabled mother Dorothy Perry and his grandparents Rita and Al Perry (at left). On Dec. 8, Rita and Al Perry lost a bid to gain legal guardianship of little Jacob, now nine months old.

Photo By meredith j. Cooper

Perrys’ baby blues

The CN&R received an unusually large number of letters this summer in response to our June 25 news story (“Where is my baby?”) telling the story of Dorothy Perry, the 22-year-old developmentally disabled Chico woman whose 13-day-old baby with a cleft palate was taken away by Children’s Services. The agency cited “failure to thrive” as its reason for putting Jacob into foster care, even though Dorothy and her parents, Rita and Al Perry, were seeking help for Jacob’s condition.

Local pediatrician Amy Dolinar was quoted as saying that Jacob’s newborn weight loss “sound[ed] like typical weight loss for a new baby.” On Dec. 8, after a series of Juvenile Court hearings at which Rita and Al—represented by local attorney Margaret Bomberg—tried to become the legal guardians of little Jacob so that he could come home to live with his mother and grandparents, Judge Tamara Mosbarger ruled against the Perrys and moved to give legal guardianship to the foster family with which Jacob had been living for the past eight months.

At a Dec. 22 hearing, the foster parents changed their minds about guardianship, instead asking that they be permitted to adopt the baby. A hearing is scheduled for April 20. Rita and Al Perry plan to appeal.

Fraternal flap

It was ironic that the first test of Matt’s Law would happen in Chico. After all, the anti-hazing legislation is named in honor of Matthew Carrington, a local college student who died as a result of a dangerous initiation rite about five years ago.

But apparently the ice baths and strenuous exercise the frat boys of the now-unrecognized Beta Theta Pi inflicted on their little bros during initiation back in the spring of ’07 didn’t rise to the level of the law.

A jury tossed the case in less than three hours at trial in August, acquitting former Chico State students Christopher D. Bizot and Michael F. Murphy and former Butte College student Matthew W. Krupp.

In the meantime, the fraternity sold its old house on East Third Street. The big Greek letters are gone and the place got a major overhaul.

Councilwoman’s plea deal

In the summer of 2008, Chico Councilwoman Mary Flynn was arrested on the misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs after hitting her car against the wall outside Great Harvest Bread Co. on Forest Avenue. She was mostly mum on the issue, which took until mid-2009 to be resolved in court. Flynn, who also serves as director of Chico State’s Community Action Volunteers in Education, pleaded guilty to reckless driving. In November of this year, she decided to go public with her story, in the pages of the CN&R (see Guest Comment, “What I have learned,” Nov. 5).

It turns out a mixture of medications had made her sleepy behind the wheel, causing the small accident and resulting in her arrest.

“While I cannot change the past, I can use what happened in my life as an opportunity to make other people aware of the dangers of combining medications,” she wrote. “I hope other people can learn from my mistake. I know I have.”

Discussions over the summer about moving the Saturday Farmers’ Market got pretty contentious at times between farmers and a few downtown business owners, but you wouldn’t know it by visiting the quaint event.


Farmers’ market mayhem

People love the Saturday farmers’ market, and they let that be known when the city appeared to be toying with the idea of relocating the popular event.

A potential move certainly didn’t set well with the market’s vendors, who operate at its current downtown location—the municipal parking lot at East Second and Wall streets—through a franchise agreement with the city.

The issue pitted those vendors against nearby business owners who said the event hurts their business because patrons have a hard time finding parking. Much of the discussions during Internal Affairs Committee meetings revolved around the idea that it move just two blocks south—to another municipal lot next to City Hall.

The issue largely dissolved toward the end of the year, after a survey by Chico State classes indicated that the market largely aided downtown businesses. In the meantime, Chico Certified Farmers Market’s agreement with the city had automatically extended for another year.

Butte College’s 77,000-square-foot, eco-award-winning Arts Building celebrated its grand opening Aug. 29.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Green building revolution

This was a big year for eco-friendly construction in Chico.

Former CN&R Editor Evan Tuchinsky’s Jan. 1 story “Green building code cometh” set the tone for a year in which we saw a number of prominent new green projects completed around town.

The CN&R’s Aug. 29 issue included three stories on three new green buildings—Chico State’s Wildcat Recreation Center (WREC), which achieved a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification; its intriguing Gateway Science Museum, located next to Bidwell Mansion, and targeted for silver LEED certification; and Butte Community College’s state-of-the-art Arts Building, which received the 2009 UC/CSU/CCC Best Practices Award for Design in HVAC Energy Efficiency. Butte College followed its Arts Building triumph with the completion of its new three-story, LEED-gold-certified Student and Administrative Services Building, which celebrated its grand opening Dec. 9.

No less of an accomplishment is Habitat for Humanity’s East 16th Street Infill Project—a seven-home low-income subdivision under construction on city-annexed property in Chapmantown—poised itself this year to become Butte County’s first LEED-certified subdivision.

Butte Humane Society Executive Director Heather Schoeppach gives a tour of the shelter to USA Today Live cameramen after being listed in the top 20 for Zootoo.com’s shelter-makeover contest.

Photo By Meredith j. cooper

Local shelter gets prize money

Starting in late 2008, the Butte Humane Society, which was in dire need of structural improvements, began its bid for Zootoo.com’s shelter makeover contest, with a grand prize of $1 million. As early as April, it was clear that Chico’s beloved shelter was well on its way to getting that million bucks when it made it into the top 20, garnering a visit from Zootoo officials, complete with a camera crew from USA Today Live. Nearly 500 local residents showed up to greet Zootoo founder Richard Thompson when he visited April 5.

While BHS didn’t end up winning the big prize, it did come in as first runner up, winning a much-needed $50,000 in upgrades. According to shelter Executive Director Heather Schoeppach, most of that money has already been used—mostly for equipment, from buying new industrial washers and dryers to repairing the vans to getting walkie-talkies so staff can communicate from one end of the shelter to the other.