Other notable stories

The best of the rest of the top stories from 2017

Monca opens.

Monca opens.

Photo by Steve Scarborough

Monca (finally) opens

Noodle bars, poke restaurants, a craft distillery and now a bona fide art museum … did Chico just become legit? Last April, after some six years of planning and fundraising, the Museum of Northern California Art (Monca) opened the doors of the beautifully renovated Veterans Memorial Hall on The Esplanade and overnight increased Chico’s cultural currency.

The foundation of the museum’s collection is Chico art collector Reed Applegate’s donation of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and ceramics by nearly 100 Nor Cal artists. Additionally, as is spelled out on the Monca website, “The vision of the museum is to extend its collection beyond the Applegate gift, not only in size, but also in breadth to include video art, installation art and conceptual art.” And over its first several months, Monca’s board and volunteers have fulfilled that vision with multiple art shows, performances and lectures at the museum, which is already a cultural hub of the community.

Racism at the Sheriff's Office

In September, a lawsuit filed against the Butte County Sheriff’s Office cleared a major hurdle when a federal judge denied the county’s request for summary judgment. The suit, filed by deputy Michael Sears, alleges he was the target of racial slurs and jokes and that, upon alerting supervisors, he was passed over for promotion despite being qualified.

The big issue here is that Sears’ lawsuit paints a picture of a department plagued by pervasive racism and sexism. It includes testimony from fellow deputies who corroborate Sears’ allegations, saying they feared retaliation for speaking up and pointing to specific superiors as perpetuating a climate in which racism and sexism is accepted.

The case moves forward to trial, with a date pending.

Trafficking in Chico

Human trafficking happens here in our backyard. For years, the CN&R has written about S.T.O.P., a Chico State-affiliated group that helps raise awareness of trafficking—modern-day slavery, be it for labor or prostitution.

But this past August, we delved deeper into the issue and found the statistics related to youths especially disturbing. For example, 1 in 5 runaways will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of hitting the streets, totaling an estimated 300,000 annually in the U.S., according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Moreover, there are documented local cases. Over the summer, a Chico woman was sentenced to 16 years in prison for a case in which she forced a 15-year-old girl to engage in paid sexual encounters. Then, on Dec. 14, a Chico man was charged by federal grand jury with sex trafficking of a child by force and coercion.

Garbage deal sealed

After years of talking about it, the Chico City Council voted this past summer to enter into a 12-year franchise agreement with two waste-hauling companies—Waste Management and Recology.

Under the new agreement, which went into effect in October, Waste Management handles all residential accounts and splits the commercial ones with Recology. The haulers pay the city 10 percent of gross revenues—totaling an estimated $800,000 in annual fees, which the council earmarked for roadway repair.

CN&R 40th anniversary cover

Though city officials touted the benefits for city infrastructure and the environment, critics say the deal stinks because it effectively established a monopoly in the trash-hauling market and stripped away consumers’ right to switch if they’re unhappy with the service. It also stands to become burdensome on ratepayers moving forward, as pickup fees could increase by 5 percent annually starting July 2018.

1078 Gallery booted

On May 31, the art died. When the landlord of the 1078 Gallery’s Broadway Street location decided that the live music portion of the longstanding local arts organization’s programming was no longer compatible with the other businesses on the block, the gallery was given notice. Caught off guard by the eviction, the 1078—which had been in operation for 36 years at a series of three different locations—had nowhere to immediately relocate, and just like that, the extensive offerings of Chico’s most vibrant art space were no more, leaving a huge hole in the cultural scene while the board searched for a new home.

The good news is that, in early December, 1078’s board found a place—at 1710 Park Ave.—and will be back to pushing Chico’s arts buttons before we know it.

Oh, the humanities!

Rumors swirled and staff morale was low among faculty and staff in Chico State’s College of Humanities and Fine Arts toward the end of the spring semester, when it came out that the college was facing a $1.2 million shortfall heading into fiscal year 2017-18. The university’s administration failed to give advance notice before cutting 68 classes from the fall schedule—including 44 just ahead of the semester. The cuts left many instructors unexpectedly short on income, and students were forced to make last-minute changes to their schedules or miss out on required classes.

The university administration took the stance that the College of Humanities and Fine Arts wasn’t paying for itself. Specifically, it’s been losing money on upper-division classes due to enrollment that has been steadily dwindling since 2008. Provost Debra Larson, who is responsible for setting the budget, explained to the CN&R in April that “our experiences are, unfortunately, in line with the national trends in enrollment by students in the arts and humanities.”

Still, a little heads-up would have been appreciated.

CN&R turns 40

But we don’t feel a day over 39!

This summer, the Chico News & Review celebrated 40 years since its birth date, Aug. 1, 1977. From those early years of rebellion when the team behind Chico State’s Wildcat newspaper split from the university, to the current days of fighting the good fight in a fractured America, we have been telling Chico’s story with the mission of bettering our community.

It’s been a wild and sometimes bumpy ride, but we’re still here and you’re still with us. Independent local journalism, since 1977.

A deadly year

When it comes to crime, 2017 was plagued by homicides. The first victim was 28-year-old Joey Strickland, whose body was found behind a silo on River Road on March 17. Less than a week later, on March 24, another body was found nearby—that of William Kohnke, 33, who’d been missing since January. Both cases were deemed homicides, but no arrests have been made.

A few months later, on July 12, Audra Houston, 34, who’d been living at the Safari Inn on The Esplanade, was found beaten and strangled in her motel room, her body stuffed underneath the mattress. Video surveillance caught footage of a man entering Houston’s room through her window. The suspect, Marc Valcarenghi, was also homeless and staying at the motel. He was arrested a few days later and charged with murder. A jury trial is set for February.

Bill Hack resigned after less than a year on the job.

Photo by Howard Hardee.

On Oct. 1, 32-year-old Travis Robertson, who’d just moved into an apartment after living in a tent, was robbed and shot several times on Fourth Avenue. Jason Jackson, out on parole at the time, was charged in his death and has a court date scheduled for January.

Finally, on Nov. 9, 26-year-old David Bledsoe was found shot to death in his North Cherry Street apartment. No suspect has been named.

Tree expert hired

Nearly four years. That’s how long it took Chico—the City of Trees—to authorize the funding to fill the position of urban forest manager, after the departure of Denice Britton, who got married and left town in the summer of 2013, following a big shake-up at City Hall wherein 55 jobs were eliminated. Those cuts were in response to a multimillion-dollar budget deficit attributed to the effects of the Great Recession, including the loss of redevelopment funds.

And then … in April of this year, the city hired new urban forest manager, Richard Bamlet, a Scotland transplant. He’s in charge of the city’s skeleton tree crew, which has struggled mightily since those cuts to maintain the city’s more than 31,000 street trees and meet the public’s demand for service.

Butte turns 50

Mid-September, Butte College, which serves Butte and Glenn counties, celebrated a half-century of educating students. It was a major milestone for an institution that started in portable buildings at an old high school in Durham.

Indeed, much has changed in 50 years. For starters, the community college moved to its main campus in the Oroville foothills in the mid-1970s. Since that time, it has replaced most of its portables with state-of-the-art facilities, some of which have been revamped over time to keep up with modern construction and technology. Its student enrollment has likewise grown. Today, the college—which has satellite campuses in Chico and Orland—serves about 13,000 students each semester.

Smog shop sex crimes

On July 25, a woman reported a horrific experience at Table Mountain Tires and Smog in Oroville. The shop’s owner, Lee Fong Vang, allegedly made sexual advances before forcing himself onto her and repeatedly sexually assaulting her.

As detectives from the Oroville Police Department investigated the claims, more women came forward—five total, according to District Attorney Mike Ramsey—claiming they also were victimized by Vang. Ramsey said two victims alleged nonphysical sexual harassment beyond the statute of limitations, but that their testimony shows Vang’s “propensity to sexually harass women in his shop.”

Vang is charged with eight felony counts including sexual penetration by a foreign object, sexual battery by restraint and assault with intent to commit a felony. He was released from custody on $750,000 bail Aug. 29, and was scheduled to appear in court for further arraignment (Dec. 21).

Armed rangers

On Sept. 5, the Chico City Council voted 4-2 to transition the city’s three park rangers to armed members of the Chico Police Department. That decision came despite opposition from dozens of community members, including members of watchdog group Friends of Bidwell Park, and at least one now-former ranger who quit rather than accept the change.

Proponents of the plan—pitched by Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin—said the move is necessary to deal with increased criminal activity in the park. In voting against the proposal, Councilman Randall Stone called the move a revenue grab by the CPD and characterized the underserved Bidwell Park as the city’s “perpetual whipping boy.”

The Bailey clan.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

The transition to sworn officers is scheduled to happen next summer. Under the new arrangement, the rangers’ traditional interpretive and educational duties will be partly supplanted with patrolling the parks and waterways beat as sworn officers. City officials say rangers will remain focused on the park except in emergency situations, though many people have expressed fears they will be relegated to performing police duties.

Advocate to skate

“It’s probably one of the most significant civic projects I’ve ever seen.” That’s a quote from Chico Area Recreation District board Chair Bob Malowney, singing the praises of Chico Skatepark Solutions back in October. The group had just capped off two years of campaigning for the improvement and expansion of the Humboldt Avenue Skatepark, raising $113,000, mostly via a couple of dinner events at the Sierra Nevada Big Room that raised $40,000, and two clothing-sale fundraisers in which clothing donated by Lulu’s yielded $70,000.

The impressive feat of community activism was spearheaded by local teacher Scott Bailey, who wanted a better facility in Chico for his kids to skate. After handing CARD an $80,000 check at the end of October, the dream started to become reality as ground was broken on the project on Dec. 6.

Trouble with Chico Fire

When Bill Hack was a division chief back in 2014, he wrote the proposal for a federal grant that awarded the Chico Fire Department $5.3 million to hire 15 firefighters for two years. At the time, he considered it his greatest professional accomplishment.

That changed after he was appointed fire chief in November 2016, and it soon became apparent that the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant hurt more than it helped. While other city departments recovered modestly from the Great Recession, Chico’s fire department had been artificially buoyed by the grant, and when that money went away early this year, Hack was forced to reduce daily staffing to 14 firefighters—two fewer than the worst point during the Great Recession and the lowest level since the early 1990s.

Before stepping down as fire chief this summer and taking the same position for the city of Rocklin, Hack told the CN&R he regretted applying for the SAFER grant in the first place: “It’s become my greatest professional disappointment.”

PBID gets the OK

Ah, the PBID (property-based improvement district). For those unfamiliar, under such districts, property owners pay a self-imposed assessment, with the funds dedicated to the management and improvement of an area under the governance of a board.

In the past, attempts to get downtown Chico property owners on board with such a district—that is, to form one—have crashed and burned, including an effort back in 2004.

That makes 2017 the year of the PBID.

Back in May, the City Council voted in favor of its creation, and shortly thereafter the majority of the region’s property owners gave it the go-ahead as well. Each property within the district’s boundaries is levied a fee, based on square footage, that will pay to, as PBID proponents put it, “enhance safety, maintenance and beautification programs in downtown Chico.”

Museum mystery

The Chico Museum’s unexpected closure in mid-September came as a surprise to many, even some volunteers—like Cherie Appel, who told the CN&R she wasn’t given warning or explanation before a sign appeared on the door announcing the museum would be “temporarily closed” through Nov. 30.

Details are still vague, but last week steering committee member Amy Kao provided some information about the museum’s future. She said it is breaking with the Far West Heritage Association (FWHA) to become an independent, all-volunteer nonprofit group called the Chico History Museum Organization. Kao is serving as president of the new group.

The museum reopened with limited hours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays) Dec. 16, and continues with that schedule until at least Dec. 30. Kao said the group’s immediate goals are to get enough volunteers to be open Thursday through Sunday (interested parties should email chicohistorymuseum@gmail.com) and to work with FWHA to transfer conservatorship of artifacts to the new organization.