Other significant stories from 2004

Taser crazy
Following the latest national trend in law enforcement, the Chico Police Department, University Police Department and Butte County Sheriff’s Office all bought a limited number of Taser stun gun weapons this year. Without exception, the heads of those agencies all maintained that their new acquisitions, which pump 50,000 nervous-system-disrupting volts into anyone shot with the yellow, gun-shaped weapons, are far safer than firearms and will result in fewer officer and suspect deaths.

While it is probably too early to tell if that assertion is true or not, it is a fact that local police have already used Tasers in scores (and possibly hundreds) of incidents—some involving armed assailants, some not—without any reports of death or injury. But there has been increased attention and skepticism focused on the use of Tasers following a Taser-related death in Modesto and a recent Amnesty International report claiming that more than 70 people have died as a result of their use.

Up, up and away
Neighbors of the Chico Municipal Airport and local environmentalists lost their battle to prevent the airport from expanding, which city planners and local aviation boosters maintain is essential to the future economic growth of the city. Despite hearing arguments that increasing the runway length was unnecessary and would harm Mud Creek (which will likely be rerouted to accommodate the longer runway), the Chico City Council unanimously improved a new airport master plan.

Still, it could be years before any new construction begins, because the FAA holds the purse strings on the project and is just now getting started on its own study and approval process. If and when the plan is implemented, the airport would undergo a federally funded $38 million transformation, one that would lengthen both runways, update the main terminal, build new hangars and construct a 210-acre office/industrial park.

In the meantime, airport administrators are set to step up their search for a new passenger carrier.

THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER Chico Police Lt. John Rucker takes a 50,000-volt blast from on the the department’s new Taser stun guns.

Photo By Tom Angel

Growing pains
In other NIMBY news, some of the residents surrounding Enloe Medical Center continue to fight what increasingly looks like a losing battle against the hospital’s proposed expansion. Called “The Century Project,” the expansion would add a five-story tower, two large parking garages and a central plant to the hospital on The Esplanade, doubling its footprint and spreading into the historic Vecino neighborhood, where it would partially close Magnolia Avenue and take out several houses.

Neighbors’ concerns include traffic, construction noise, the imposition of the new buildings and preserving the character of the John Bidwell-era neighborhood. Hospital administrators say they will continue to work with area residents to alleviate their concerns, but they also point to the fact that the hospital is 30 percent too small for the area’s needs, according to industry standards.

The expansion, taking the hospital from 268,201 square feet to 439,201, would see the facility through the year 2025. Beyond that, the hospital would eventually like to take over land currently occupied by other medical facilities and stretch across The Esplanade and several blocks north and south.

Paws enforce laws
The Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Aug. 18 to contract with Interquest for $18,000 in drug-sniffing services.

Terry Bogue, of Interquest, told parents at the 13th District Parent-Teachers Association training day, “We have seen our districts go from double-digit expulsions for contraband … down to, for some of them, zero,” he said. “If you don’t have any contraband, you don’t have to worry about it.”

However, the former president of the School Board, Steve O’Bryan, and current board member Anthony Watts initially had a few hang-ups before finally agreeing to go forward with the decision.

NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT Chico Unified School District will dish out $18,000 this year to have dogs sniff around for illegal drugs.

Photo By Tom Angel

O’Bryan said he had concerns about the potential embarrassment for students who might be singled out because of false alerts from the dogs but said conversations with parents and administrators convinced him.

Watts, on the other hand, had issues with the dogs sniffing legal drugs like Sudafed but said since there would be no automatic arrests of students and that kids should be taking medications in the nurse’s office, he decided in favor.

Robed ones take up pot case
Two years ago, Oroville resident Diane Monson watched as agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided her home garden and ripped out six marijuana plants, the number permitted to medical patients under Butte County guidelines, despite pleas from Monson and Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey not to do so.

Monson now finds herself before the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the largest medical-marijuana cases in history, as well as a hot topic in the national media. Monson and Angel Raich, who use medical marijuana to deal with multiple ailments, went to the Supreme Court Nov. 29 to defend the right to keep growing and using the plant for their debilitating illnesses.

The court is questioning whether state medical marijuana laws are being abused by people who aren’t actually sick. Eleven states have passed medical-marijuana laws since 1996.

In December 2003 a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 in favor of the women, stating that the federal government’s actions were unconstitutional. The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the case by June 2005.

BUMMER, IT’S A HUMMER In late summer city of Chico officials learned that many of the larger SUVs clogging our streets were in violation of the city municipal code, by two or three tons. So rather than enforce the code, the city changed it.

Photo By Tom Angel

End in site
After six years, land for the future site of Canyon View High School was finally purchased earlier this year.

The Chico Unified School District made the announcement on April 22 that it had agreed with the landowner, the Schmidbauer family of Eureka, to buy 50 acres on the west side of Bruce Road near Raley Boulevard.

The high school was supposed to be completed by fall 2002—at least that’s what was in the minds of Chico voters when they passed a $48 million bond in April 1998 that allotted $40 million for the city’s third high school. The original land cost was supposed to be no more than $3 million, but inflation and rising costs in Chico bumped the price up to a little over $5 million.

Steve O’Bryan, then the president of the CUSD Board of Trustees, said he was relieved when the purchase was finally made. “Until we put the deal in ink I was never sure it was going to happen.”

City allows really heavy SUVs
On Nov. 16 the Chico City Council made it official: SUVs weighing more than three tons are welcome on any city road. In September city officials were alerted to the fact (by this paper, acting on a tip from a local bike enthusiast) that the antiquated city municipal code set a 6,000-pound vehicle limit on all non-truck routes in town, which accounts for about 80 percent of the city’s streets.

Fritz McKinley, director of Public Works, said in a memo that while there seemed to be a trend “to purchase larger, heavier vehicles, lighter vehicles are also gaining popularity.” In other words, the lighter vehicles are counterbalancing the heavy ones, and besides that road construction standards had improved over the years and newer Chico streets should be able to handle the added loads.

DEATH TRAP One man was killed and another severely injured when an explosion occurred during routine cleaning of a gasoline storage tank at this facility in south Chico.

Photo By Tom Angel

After the council first took up the issue in September, it sent it to the Internal Affairs Committee, which sent it back to council without a recommendation. That committee, made up of Mayor Maureen Kirk and Councilmembers Steve Bertagna and Dan Herbert, was unable to reach a recommendation because Herbert was absent and Bertagna had to excuse himself from voting because his personal vehicle is a truck that exceeds the current maximum weight.

It came back to the council, which bandied it about and then sent it back to Internal Affairs in October. The story was picked up in a couple of other newspapers, including USA Today and the Arizona Republic.

Charter gets changed
Ordinarily the Chico City Charter, the city’s “constitution,” so to speak, doesn’t make news. It’s just sort of there, in the background, quietly governing how things are done. This year was different. Not only did the charter get a going-over and updating, but it also figured in a political dust-up.

The dust-up occurred in July, when the council, on a 4-2 vote, cancelled a special election to fill the council seat vacated when Coleen Jarvis died. (The council previously, on a 3-3 vote, had refused to replace her with her husband, as she’d requested.) Although the winner would have served only one meeting, until being replaced by the winner in the Nov. 2 general election, Councilman Scott Gruendl, seeking to make a point, challenged the decision as illegal under the City Charter.

His challenge went nowhere, but the problem was considered by the council-appointed Charter Revision Committee, which was already in the process of going over the charter to recommend needed changes.

As a result, on Nov. 2 voters were able to approve a provision increasing councilmembers pay (to $500 per month), turn thumbs down on allowing citizens under the age of 21 to run for council, and clean up charter language, including that dealing with filling vacancies.

BARBER RUBBLE Corrugated metal and blackened timbers are all that remain of the old Diamond March Co. lumber warehouse after it was torched by a teenager in November.

Photo By Tom Angel

Tank explosion closure
A saga that began in 2001 when a spark caused fumes in an empty gasoline storage tank to explode, killing one man and seriously burning another, finally ended March 26, when the owner of the company responsible for the explosion, Howard Jacobson, 72, was sentenced to a year in the county jail, given three years’ probation and fined $1.3 million.

Jacobson supervised the cleanup of tanks at the Jesse Lange Distributor on the Midway in south Chico. The explosion—heard across most of south Chico—was caused by a spark from an improperly grounded vacuum hose.

Jacobson was “criminally negligent,” said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey: “All the things that he did not do added up to a blueprint for disaster.” The family of the dead man, Jack Nickerson, told Judge Mike Kelly that prison wouldn’t bring Nickerson back, and Ramsey said he respected Kelly’s decision.

Barber fires
This year saw the loss of two of the century-old buildings on the old Diamond Match property in southwest Chico, which is slated for some type of mixed-use development over the next few years.

The first fire, in early August, took down the structure known as the apiary, because bee hives were once made there. Investigators said the blaze was most likely sparked by a human hand; natural causes, lightning, electrical malfunction or gas leak were ruled out because of the clear weather and the fact there are no longer any utilities hooked up to the structure.

Then, on Nov. 20, the massive lumber warehouse went up in flames, again under suspicious circumstances.

Four days later a 16-year-old boy was arrested in connection with the fire. On Dec. 8 a 15-year-old boy was arrested for suspicion of arson in the August fire. Eventually the 16-year-old was tied to both fires with charges of intentional arson. The 15-year-old admitted in Juvenile Court on Dec. 22 to intentional arson on the apiary and will be sentenced Jan. 26. The 16-year-old is set for Juvenile Court on Jan. 5.

The buildings and the 145 acres of property they sit on are owned by Jeff Greening.