Other notable stories in 2013
Food trucks, Caper Acres and death on the tracks
Torres Shelter’s troubles
It was a tough year for the Torres Community Shelter, the 120-bed homeless refuge in south Chico. The troubles began in the spring with a bed-bug infestation that required covering the shelter with a tent and fumigating the building. Though guests were relocated for only three days, ongoing financial costs related to keeping the shelter pest-free proved to be a financial burden as the year wore on.
All of that—coupled with a 4,000-square-foot expansion including a full commercial kitchen, case-management offices, a cafeteria and space for activities—drained the shelter’s financial reserves and made the annual Christmas Tree Auction & Holiday Festival, the organization’s main fundraising event, even more important than in years past. Thankfully, the event was well attended and the expansion is set to be completed in January.
Those damn Afghanimals! Local boys Brandon Squyres and Adam Switzer were already falling behind when the other (less-impressively) bearded team on The Amazing Race—fun-loving cousins Leo and Jamal (the self-proclaimed “Afghanimals”)—“U-turned” our guys (sending them back to do another “Detour” task), and essentially put an end to Chico’s vicarious adventure. But it was great fun having a home team to cheer on during the 23rd installment of the popular reality-TV series. The childhood friends—the local metal-band vocalist (Squyres) and the off-the-grid farmer (Switzer)—were both charming and funny, and they did Chico proud as they seemed to enthusiastically embrace the challenge and adventure provided by such a unique opportunity.
Californian or Jeffersonian?
On Sept. 3, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a “declaration to withdraw from the state of California,” making that county the flashpoint of the latest effort to separate the Golden State into separate entities. The idea of splitting the state has been bandied about for years, the Jefferson movement itself taking its name and inspiration from a 1941 attempt waylaid by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The gripe is that rural North State counties don’t have adequate representation in Sacramento, and it has since spread well beyond Siskiyou—Modoc’s supervisors have approved a similar declaration, with other efforts currently underway in several northern counties including Butte, Shasta, Del Norte, Tehama, Glenn, and the Yuba-Sutter area.
Labor Day float goes flat
For years, there’s been an effort to tame the shenanigans that take place during the annual Labor Day weekend float down the Sacramento River. In 2013, that goal was apparently achieved, based on the number of tubing participants—3,000 this year as compared to 12,000 last year—on Sunday, the busiest day of the float. Last year saw the death of a 20-year-old Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo student, and 63 water rescues with 13 people taken to Enloe Medical Center by ambulance. In 2013, there were only five rescues with one taken to the hospital for alcohol intoxication.
This was the first year that there was an alcohol ban both on and within 50 feet of both sides of the river. Last year, the ban was in effect only on the Butte County side. Glenn County adopted similar measures this year, effectively taming the annual holiday tradition.
Caper Acres saved by convicts
Early in July, Bidwell Park’s Caper Acres began closing four days a week. The popular children’s playground is a sacred place to many Chicoans. But it got caught up in city efforts to balance the budget, which included the elimination of three park workers. That meant a cut to cleanup efforts and playground inspection.
An online petition was launched and collected 2,578 signatures in about a week. The petition carried no legal weight, but it did send a message. Local maintenance company ServPro stepped in and offered its services in other areas of Bidwell Park, which freed up the remaining park workers to take care of Caper Acres. When that arrangement ended in November, the city brought in Butte County Alternative Custody Supervision inmates, who otherwise sit at home under house arrest. They now work in the park twice a week to help keep Caper Acres open.
Edward Abbey redux
In a page that could easily have been taken out of a book by the late environmental author Edward Abbey, local psychiatric nurse and CN&R contributor Allan Stellar was fined $250 in late November by a Lassen Volcanic National Park officer for entering and camping within the closed park during the government shutdown in October—after he penned a Nov. 7 CN&R cover feature called “Lassen Solitaire.” The story—a well-written, nature-reverent piece—elicited a number of letters to the editor both in support of his actions and against.
As Stellar put it in a follow-up to his cover story, “I’d been attempting to visit Lassen Park legally in the run-up to the government shutdown, and when closure happened, I was inspired in the spirit of Abbey, who encouraged such acts of civil disobedience. After all, the real criminal in this situation is a congressman by the name of Doug LaMalfa, along with his Republican cohorts, as well as the tea partyers who voted for the shutdown of the park in the first place.”
Hail to the chief
In May, after a long and storied career with the CN&R—including being one of its founders, moving what started as Chico State’s college newspaper, The Wildcat, off campus and into a for-profit community newspaper—Robert Speer stepped down as editor. Speer had held many positions at the CN&R since its inception in 1977, and mentored countless staffers over the years, including current Editor Melissa Daugherty. And though the paper has evolved over the decades, the imprint of Speer—who has been credited with being its “architect”—remains with the publication.
As it has been in so many other communities in the Western U.S., water has become a prominent topic of discussion here in the North State. And perhaps nothing exemplifies the area’s concerns about water use and availability more so than the debate that has arisen around California’s planned twin-tunnels project—two multibillion-dollar, 40-foot-diameter tunnels designed to ship precious North State water south. Locally, the Butte Environmental Council, among a number of other groups and individuals, has been active all year long in raising awareness about the controversial project; BEC’s Code Blue series, featuring a variety of educational workshops and field trips, kicked off in February.
In related water news, a water-resource scientist working for the Butte County Department of Water and Resource Conservation weighed in late in the year on the concerning decline of Butte County’s groundwater levels, exacerbated by chronically dry winters.
While a spate of alcohol-related deaths of college students in 2012 led the community to unite against an obvious common enemy, tragedies struck the campus community in far stranger and more random ways this year. On April 28, 22-year-old Chico State student Marissa Madrid succumbed to head trauma incurred when she fell about 20 feet from a tree she was climbing at the One-Mile Recreation Area in Bidwell Park. On Aug. 27, 18-year-old Pa Houa Lor was killed by a falling tree branch while sitting on a campus bench between Lassen and Butte halls. And on Nov. 15, James Lowder, 19, was hit by a train on the railroad tracks between West Sixth and West Seventh streets.
Dioxins in Oroville
The long-running story of dioxin-contamination in Oroville is over, except for the out-of-court settlement with the producer of the pollutant—New Jersey-based Covanta, owner of the recently closed Pacific Oroville Power Inc. (POPI)—and the actual eradication of the toxin.
Actually, the dioxins have had two suspected sources over the past 50 years—POPI, which produced energy by burning urban waste, and two fires at the long-closed Koppers wood-treatment plant, both of which were located in the Highway 70 Industrial Park. Tests by Chico Environmental Science and Planning showed levels of dioxin at 83.8 parts per trillion (40 ppt and higher are considered unhealthful by the World Health Organization) about a mile south of POPI and 46 ppt near Oroville Dam Boulevard and Highway 70, and higher-than-normal traces were located near an orchard in Durham and cornfields in the Glenn County community of Artois, where the ash was used as a soil amendment.
The Butte Environmental Council has received two grants to help spread the word of the dioxin contamination to the citizens of Oroville.
Food in the road
The number of street-food options that have flooded Chico over the last year or two is impressive—Mayhem Gourmet Grilled Cheese, the Paleo-rific The Hunter & The Farmer, the wood-fired gourmet pies of Pop’s Pizza, and all the rest of the carts, trucks and tents that have become ubiquitous at nearly every community event in town.
Part of the impetus for the rise in local street-food culture has been the “Street Food, Chico” Facebook page maintained by John Geiger (owner of the Crazy Dog cart, with his wife, Ethel, who operates Inday’s Filipino food truck), and his daily updates of 30-or-so food-truck locations.
But the watershed event for local “mobile cuisine” was arguably the first Fork in the Road rally that Geiger and the owners of The Hunter & The Farmer—Jenna Hunter and Analise Farmer—put on behind Manzanita Place in July, with more than a dozen trucks and hundreds of diners showing up. The response was so great that many trucks ran out of food as people were still waiting in line to give orders. Since the debut, they’ve worked out the kinks, upped the number of trucks, and transformed Chico’s food scene with the monthly community event.
Court ruling defends muckraker
Old-school newspaperman Tim Crews; his paper, the Sacramento Valley Mirror; and newspapers throughout the state dodged a bullet in July when a state Court of Appeal in Sacramento overturned a Glenn County judge’s ruling two years earlier that Crews pay the Willows Unified School District $56,000 in court costs.
Back in 2009, Crews had made a public-records request from the district, which failed to meet the timeline required by state law. And when it did respond, documents were delivered in an electronically unsearchable format with 2,300 pages omitted. Crews sued the district, but Glenn County Superior Court Judge Peter Twede dismissed his suit, ruling it was frivolous, and ordered him to pay the school district’s attorneys’ fees.
Crews was supported in the form of friend-of-the-court briefs from the Los Angeles Times; McClatchy, which owns The Sacramento Bee; MediaNews Group, owner of the Chico Enterprise-Record; and the First Amendment Coalition, which also helped finance Crews’ case. “Without them, we would have been sunk,” Crews said.