Other notable stories in 2011

County’s rush to redistrict

The U.S. census was taken in 2010, which meant 2011 was a year for redistricting, including Butte County supervisorial districts. Statewide, a nonpartisan citizens’ commission was responsible for drawing new Assembly, Senate and congressional districts, but Butte County supervisors got to draw their own lines.

They did so in a quiet way, at least for a while. Outreach was so poor that only four people showed up to comment at early meetings. But when residents of District 2, in south Chico, learned that supervisors had tentatively approved lines that would divide their neighborhood, a bunch of them mobilized to create an alternative map.

But when they presented it to the board on July 12, it went nowhere. Although a final map wasn’t due until November and the board had plenty of time to work out a compromise, it chose not to do so. With little discussion, the supervisors adopted the map designed by Wahl.

The Labor Day float continued without a hitch in 2011.

photo by howard hardee

Let the boozing continue

Students and other fans of the boozy float on the Sacramento River have elected officials in Glenn County to thank for squashing the much-debated alcohol ban that Butte County’s law-enforcement contingent (especially retiring Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney) lobbied hard for in 2011.

The multiple agencies patrolling the event complain it has become increasingly expensive to curtail the drunken behavior—including violence—that takes place on and around the river.

In August, Butte’s Board of Supervisors approved a local ordinance to enforce the prohibition following the passage of a state law allowing for such a ban during summer holidays. Because the river is smack dab between two counties, however, the prohibition relied on Glenn County’s Board of Supervisors adopting an ordinance, too. That panel stopped the plan in its tracks less than a week before the annual event. The float went on as usual with 11,000 participants.

Public-safety officials say the crowds were fairly tame, but one state parks representative said the environmental damage at Beer Can Beach was the worst he’d seen in recent years.

Praveen Ram and Greg Fletcher fought for Café Culture, but had to close.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Café Culture closes

Greg Fletcher and Praveen Ram started off 2011 hoping to finally get the green light on a beer-and-wine license for Café Culture, the eclectic venue they opened three years ago. They were up against a mighty opposition, however.

City staff and the chief of police argued that the Fifth Street center was dangerously close to the railroad tracks and less than three blocks from one of Chico’s rowdiest party areas: Fifth and Ivy streets. The area is already filled with several college bars, fraternities, sororities and dozens of homes that are the scenes of perpetual partying and frequent police calls.

A few violent incidents, including a shooting earlier in the year, had occurred at Café Culture when it was rented, for direly needed financial support, to private, outside entities for late-night dance parties. The owners promised that if granted the license they would no longer need to rent to these outside groups.

Things looked promising after an April Cit Council meeting that ended with a 4-2 vote to find a way for the café to sell beer and wine, but in the end it was not in the cards. On Nov. 19, Fletcher and Ram moved the last of their belongings out of the venue and it was shut for good.

A taxing solution

In November, a group of community leaders in several fields came forward with a proposal that they said would allow Chico to take back control of its financial destiny from the state of California.

Led by former City Manager Tom Lando and NorthStar Engineering owner Jim Stevens, the group came up with a laundry list of goodies, ranging from putting more cops on the streets and funding the library to building a new community center and repairing potholes, that it said could be financed by a three-quarters-cent hike in the local sales-tax rate.

Calling themselves “Chico Helping Chico,” the group said it hoped to put the tax hike on either the June or November 2012 ballot. The group proposes using the revenue generated, about $12 million annually, to “provide a long-term, sustainable funding source for critical hallmark services and priorities,” as its Statement of Principles reads.

The measure will require two-thirds approval.

Chico State fees go up again … and again

With the Legislature unwilling or unable to fund higher education at traditional levels, Chico State students and their parents are being asked to pay more and more in tuition and fees. In 2011 tuition was hiked twice, and by the end of the year it was hiked once again, effective next fall. That’s three times in one year.

On July 12, the Board of Trustees of the California State University system approved a tuition increase of 12 percent, on top of its previous approval of a 10 percent jump scheduled to go into effect in the fall semester.

This hike was especially controversial because it came at the same meeting during which the trustees approved a $100,000 salary increase—to $400,000—for the incoming president of San Diego State.

Then, in November, the CSU raised tuition another $498 annually, beginning in the fall of 2012. That will make Chico State’s total in tuition and fees $7,360 annually, up from $6,207 in 2010 and $2,070 back in 2001.

Artist Gregg Payne and historian Michael Magliari argued for the preservation of John Pugh’s mural Academe.

Photo by Meredith J. Graham

Construction controversy

It’s hard to believe that construction projects at Chico State are still getting the green light amid all the economic pressures on the state university system, but they are. This past year, two related projects got the go-ahead: a refresh of Taylor Hall (called Taylor II) and the creation of a parking structure across the street at Second Street and Normal Avenue.

Both projects came under fire this year for their environmental-impact reports. The first—Taylor II—will require either the demolition or move of Academe, the mural on the side of Taylor Hall painted by then-unknown John Pugh. It was Pugh’s first large-scale mural, and because of its “trick-of-the-eye” technique, it’s very location-oriented, argued Mike Magliari of the Chico Heritage Association. Pugh has offered to repaint it if it comes to that (but that’s not quite the same, Magliari countered).

The four-story parking structure is problematic because of its close proximity to historic houses, said CHA President John Gallardo, calling the project a “modern monster.”

Chicoan Shawntel Newton hit prime time.

From burials to The Bachelor

Shawntel Newton was already a familiar face in Chico before she hit the national stage. The 25-year-old works as an embalmer and funeral director at the family business—Newton Bracewell Chico Funeral Home—and has regularly appeared alongside her father in local commercials.

However, Newton experienced an altogether different kind of celebrity in January when she made her first appearance in ABC’s reality dating show, The Bachelor. Her national television debut showed her guiding cameras through the shiny white mausoleum of the funeral home, where she said, “And one day, I’ll be buried here, too.”

Newton successfully navigated the show’s first episode by receiving a ceremonial rose from bachelor Brad Womack, and would go on to be one of the show’s final four contestants. She brought Womack home to Chico in February, where she introduced him to her family and her profession. During a few scenes, Womack lay on an embalming table while Newton walked him through the process. There has been speculation that the unorthodox date may have led Womack to deny her a rose at the end of the episode, which left her, she admitted, heartbroken.

Aaron Rodgers touches down

The past year was a big one for Chico’s Aaron Rodgers. To start the year, on Feb. 6 to be exact, the Pleasant Valley High graduate quarterbacked his NFL Green Bay Packers to the highest honor in football: the Super Bowl championship. That day he and his team defeated the Pittsburg Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XVL. And guess who that historic game’s Most Valuable Player was? That’s right, Chico’s own Aaron Rodgers.

The momentum just keeps building. This fall, he’s led his team to the best record in the NFL. During much of that time he’s been lauded by many as having one of the best regular seasons in NFL history. Just last week, in fact, he was voted the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for 2011.

He was also chosen this week as the starting Pro Bowl quarterback for the NFC, while his TV commercials for State Farm Insurance saturate U.S. living rooms. Rodgers and his Packers are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, so fasten your seatbelts as they make a run at a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.

Schatzes cop pleas

Paradise couple Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz made headlines in 2010 after the death of their 7-year-old adopted daughter Lydia, who had been beaten with a piece of plumber’s tubing. Her sister, also adopted from a Liberian orphanage, was hospitalized for injuries, and another daughter—one of the Schatzes’ six biological children—showed signs of abuse as well.

But the Schatzes’ story didn’t end there. In April 2011, Kevin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, torture and misdemeanor cruelty to a child. Elizabeth pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, infliction of unlawful corporal punishment on a child with great bodily injury and misdemeanor cruelty to a child. By pleading, they avoided making their children testify.

In June, Kevin was sentenced to two life sentences for second-degree murder and torture. Elizabeth was given 13 years for voluntary manslaughter and corporal injury on a child.

Lost Park found

Chico’s Lost Park, the long-overlooked and forgotten section of Bidwell Park that runs through the north end of downtown, was rediscovered this year. On Oct. 22 an army of volunteers ventured into the park that straddles Big Chico Creek between the Camellia Way bridge and The Esplanade and gave it a good cleaning.

Earlier in the year Lost Park had made the news for a sexual assault and a stabbing that led to a mini-riot behind the nearby 7-Eleven store.

The park, obscured by a long row of parking meters and overgrown vegetation including invasive, nonnative plants, has offered a sheltered stage for such activity. The 7-Eleven’s new owners agreed to stop selling single containers of high-alcohol beers and ales, which police suspected fueled some of the bad behavior.

The cleanup was part of the annual Make a Difference Day and members of the Chico Noon Rotary Club and Friends of Bidwell removed trash, debris and massive amounts of the vegetation, literally raising the curtain on the park.

“It’s sort of like Lost Park has been found,” said Dan Efseaff, the city’s parks manager.

Bottling plant fizzles

Crystal Geyser Water Co.’s plan to build a water-bottling facility went down the drain in 2011, after two years of legal wrangling.

The company started out on the wrong foot with residents by keeping its identity secret while working with city officials behind the scenes. But news like this doesn’t stay quiet. and before long the whole town was aware of the company’s plan to construct a 112,000-square-foot facility.

Leading the charge in opposition were Save Our Water Resources and Friends of Orland, groups formed by local residents opposed to the construction of a plant in a rural neighborhood on County Road 20. In August, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the city had not followed the state’s environmental-impact-report requirements when it approved the plant back in 2009. In November, the company’s vice president announced Crystal Geyser was abandoning its plans for the Orland site.

Newspaperman Tim Crews headed to court over “frivolous” public-records requests.

Photo by Kyle Delmar

Muckraker dinged

Tim Crews, the muckraking publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, was in the news himself this year. Crews had filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the Willows Unified School District saying it had failed to respond in a full and timely manner to a public-records request, an information-gathering tool Crews has employed often in his 20 years with the paper. But Glenn County Superior Court Judge Peter Twede ruled the suit was “frivolous.”

Crews and his attorney, Paul Boylan, appealed but the ruling stood, and as the losing party Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in court costs. The story caught the attention of both the Chico Enterprise-Record and the Willows Journal, Crews’ competition in Glenn County. The Journal story quoted Willows City Manager Steve Holsinger as suggesting Crews filed lawsuits to generate revenue to keep his paper in print. And David Little, the Chico E-R’s editor, made a public-records request of his own to see how often Crews made such requests and for any litigation connected to them.

In the meantime, Crews continues to fight the ruling and is scheduled to be in court again on Jan. 13.

PIC collapses mysteriously

In February the Private Industry Council (PIC), which provided training and employment services to county residents and operated on $7 million in annual federal funding, suddenly shut its doors.

Citing health problems, PIC’s longtime director, Bill Finley, had recently stepped down. Some 90 percent of PIC’s budget had been spent by the third week of January, only halfway through the fiscal year.

Butte County Auditor-Controller Dave Houser audited PIC’s county-related funding, a complex arrangement in which PIC subleased county-owned buildings as a source of revenue. The audit did not reveal criminal activity, Houser said, just some “sloppy bookkeeping.” The federal funding also was audited; no criminal wrongdoing was found there either.

Finley was replaced by John Peace, president of the 19-member PIC board of directors and husband of Fran Peace, Chico district office manager for Rep. Wally Herger. One of the reasons cited for PIC’s shutdown was fear that its federal funding was getting slashed. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ federal budget proposal called for cutting federal workforce revenues like those funding PIC. Herger voted for the budget.

The prosecutor’s boxes of evidence against pot-for-guitar trader Joel Castle overwhelmed his public defender and, ultimately, the jury.

Photo by Meredith J. Graham

Joel Castle heads to prison

The past year saw widely known medi-pot activist Joel Castle’s case go to trial for trading medical marijuana for a guitar back in 2010. Represented by public defender Larry Willis, who called no witnesses (except Castle, at his own insistence) and submitted but one piece of evidence, he didn’t stand a chance.

A jury found the 63-year-old Castle guilty of felony possession and sale of marijuana. He was sentenced to two years, eight months in prison—but because he’d insisted on spending the bulk of the year and a half between arrest and sentencing in county jail, that sentence was substantially cut back because of time served. He did ship out to High Desert State Prison in June, and he was released in October.

Castle has filed an appeal with the 3rd District Court of Appeals, so there may be more to come in the new year.

Humane transition

The Butte Humane Society is one of Chico’s most beloved nonprofits—a testament to the community’s love of animals—but it has been no stranger to controversy and employee turnover throughout the years. 2011 was no different.

Over the summer, the city and BHS announced plans to alter a long-term arrangement. Since 1987, the city had contracted out to the BHS for mandatory sheltering of surrendered or lost pets. Starting in February 2012, they said, that contract would be taken back and instead those duties would be performed by the city.

The relationship between the Chico Police Department’s Animal Control department and BHS staff seemed good, and Jaime Veglia, who oversaw Animal Control, already had set the shift in motion. Improvements were made to the shelter building and the outdoor facilities.

That was the end of smooth sailing. Veglia was let go, and the job went to Capt. Lori MacPhail. The last we heard of it was during a City Council meeting in November when Chief Mike Maloney caught flak because estimated costs related to the shift had gone up. The book’s not closed on this one yet. Stay tuned.