Other noteworthy stories

Ted Meriam

Ted Meriam

photo by Mark Thalman

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City Council member Larry Wahl had a dream: keep Chico’s county-run public library open for more hours. It’s a big dream in the post-Proposition 13 era. But the pleas of library supporters won over the council, which voted to spend $120,000 to extend the branch’s hours from 35 to 60 a week. Even as it did so, city staff warned that the change—though a welcome one for voracious readers and story time lovers—might not be permanent if the budget shifts.

Short end of the suits
Chico State University found itself at the pay-up end of at least two lawsuits this year. In May, a Butte County jury determined that Janette Lambert was, as she had claimed, “constructively terminated” and defamed. A university employee off and on for 20 years, Lambert had most recently worked in the school’s Educational Support Program, where, she alleged, her bosses retaliated against her when she reported that certain workers allegedly got free time off and other perks. She won damages totaling nearly $300,000, but the judge later reduced the amount and granted a new trial on part of the case.

Then, in November, the California State University Board of Trustees authorized a payment of $300,000 to settle a suit brought by sociology teacher Moon Jee Yoo-Madrigal, who had charged that she had been discriminated against and harassed because she is Korean, female and middle-aged.

The great gym debate
The big battle at Chico State in 2001 centered on whether a new recreation center should be built with student money. Advocates, including university administrators, said that, in order to be competitive, the campus needed to offer a place to work out and play. But competition is exactly what stuck in the craw of Chico health club owners, who launched a pricey campaign against the rec center. Ultimately, the students voted, in March, not to raise their fees to pay for the center, but it’s an issue that’s sure to resurface.

Businesses go bye-bye
Every year, a number of businesses just don’t make it. Big and small, they just shut down, leaving their employees in the dust.

Fleetwood, which had been one of the area’s biggest employers—and with pretty good wages, at that—closed its Chico motor-home-building operations early this year, leaving 345 workers unemployed.

A downtown mainstay, Tower Books, fell to the corporate ax in March but is now selling used CDs and records as an extension of its music store next door. Sundance, which had been selling music downtown since 1969, closed a couple weeks after Tower Books, and a new used-CD store took its place. There were massive layoffs at Spectra Physics and also at Mike’s Mobile Windshield. Nationally known Feather River Wood & Glass closed amid bankruptcy, but its door division was later purchased and reopened, bringing back several employees.

Enloe suffers a loss
The Enloe Hospital community grieved the death of veteran pilot Ron Jones, who was killed Sept. 22 while piloting the FlightCare helicopter. The copter crashed at Butte Meadows during an attempt to rescue people who sustained minor injuries in a car crash. Two nurses in the chopper, Stacie Reed and Mike Ferris, were injured, Red more seriously. It was the first FlightCare accident in Enloe’s history.

Three to remember
Among those Chicoans who passed away in 2001, three stand out as significant figures whose loss was felt throughout the community: Ted Meriam, Dan Drake and Jonathan Studebaker. Meriam was of course “Mr. Chico,” the most influential civic leader since the Bidwells. When he died in August, at 91, the town lost its most important living link to its past. Drake, who died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 79, was Chico’s foremost developer, the man who built more homes than anybody else and also was, via his campaign contributions, a major behind-the-scenes force in local politics. And Studebaker, the 35-year-old former city planning commissioner, was an outspoken and articulate advocate for the disabled—until his lifelong congenital disability, Osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle-bone disease, finally caught up with him in April.

Deputies do difficult duty
It was a story that seemed custom made for headlines: Butte County sheriff’s deputies spend months in an investigation of the First Amendment Club north of Chico videotaping themselves watching nude dancers, stuffing dollar bills (taxpayer dollar bills, mind you) into strippers’ panties, and then elaborately bust the place after scheduling a fake bachelor party this spring.

After all that work, they squeezed out surprisingly few arrests: The manager and his girlfriend were pinched, for possessing ammunition and supplying the undercover cops with a small amount of pot, and later 10 dancers were charged with prostitution because they were caught on undercover videotape having “skin to skin” contact with customers from the stage.

Talk about overkill.

Between Rock Creek and a hard place
You almost have to wonder if, at this point, Supervisor Mary Anne Houx wishes some of north Chico would flood. Not that she’d want anyone to lose property or be injured, but she has to be frustrated by the group of north Chico residents who are banding together against a flood control plan she’s pushed that’s designed to protect their swanky properties. The way she sees it, she’s trying to help them. Plans for the project are still being developed, but the landowners are sure that the resulting levees will ruin their properties’ looks and open the secluded areas up to trespassers.

Curiously, though, all the residents we talked to about this issue agreed that something needed to be done to protect the low-lying area from flooding—just not in their back yards.

Probation chief put on probation
Whatever happened to Helen Harberts? She’s the county Probation Department chief who was suddenly, and without notice, put on administrative leave while the county performed a $25,000 management study of her department. In the months before she left, there were rumored complaints about her “heavy handed” management practices, but an official reason for her sudden departure remains elusive.

Harberts has been on paid leave since June, and there’s still no estimate of when—or if—she’ll ever be back.

The ‘merry medical marijuana man’ gets his goods back
2001 was, as potheads say, a long strange trip for Mike Rogers.

Charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession of marijuana in 1999, Rogers never denied that he was trying to distribute pot. Indeed, he unapologetically admitted that he was part of a now-defunct fledging network that gave marijuana plants to those with medical recommendations for the herb. He argued vehemently that he was no drug dealer and that his was a noble mission to help sick people. This fall, Rogers was acquitted by a Superior Court jury.

After two years, the charges were dismissed, and Rogers’ growing supplies—what was left of them—were returned. Still, Rogers said he’s uncomfortable with the anti-pot-law enforcement culture in Butte County, and he said this fall that he’s considering a move to that infamous “Green Triangle,” Humboldt County.

Homeless shelter finds a home
On June 5, the Chico City Council voted unanimously to purchase five acres of land in southeast Chico with the intention of leasing part of that property for use as a homeless shelter. The lot would also be home to a new dirt bicycle park, and each facility would be built with privately raised money. The city has not had a permanent shelter for four years, and the burden of housing the homeless during winter months has fallen upon 12 churches operated a rotating shelter system.

Those churches indicated that after this year they would be less willing to shoulder the burden and cost of sheltering the homeless. Now the Chico Community Shelter Partnership will operate the permanent, year-round facility, which it hopes to have ready to go before next winter.

Senator’s heart still beating
We thought it had died when, a year after tearing down the Senator Theater’s tower, United Artists sold the building. But Eric Hart’s purchase opened the way for the impossibly optimistic—and gutsy—DNA to step in. Chico’s favorite impresario proceeded to tear down the walls that compartmentalized the once majestic movie house, returning it nearly to its full glory. Then he and his partners set up a non-profit to manage the place and start bringing in shows.

It still has a way to go; a required sprinkler system is about to be installed, and it could use some air-conditioning in the summer and some heat in the winter. Plus, we’ve heard that Hart would like to sell the theater to the nonprofit. If it can be accomplished, we’re betting DNA can do it.