Other stories of note from 2003

Photo by: Tom Angel
DNA and the Senator
Get out of Senator, right now
A nonprofit group that hoped to restore the Senator Theater in downtown Chico was evicted in May. The Right Now Foundation, headed by local figure DNA, had sought to turn it into a community performing arts center.

But property owner Eric Hart was apparently tired of dealing the crew, which was two years behind in its rent and had yet to negotiate a purchase agreement.

Since then, a plan by a local church to lease or buy the theater fell through. By all accounts, the 1920s-era building, which is undergoing an external face-lift, is run-down and suffered for years at the hands of prior owners United Artists.

Downtown awash in changes
A simple walk downtown is enough to confirm that the heart of Chico has gone through a lot of changes this part year.

The most prominent exit was that of Chevy’s, which paid top dollar to renovate and rent the former bank building at Second and Broadway. The second-largest business to take a hike was Sports LTD, which eschewed its Third and Main digs for a Mangrove strip mall. Both properties remain vacant. Sierra Stationers, a staple since the 1930s, was bought out, moved and now only deals with other business owners.

Regulars also mourned the loss of Cory’s Sweet Treats, the Shadetree vegetarian restaurant and Sam’s House of Hof-Brau.

However, some new restaurants are under construction, the Upper Crust is expanding, at least three clothing stores have moved in, and developer Wayne Cook is making headway with his renovation of the Diamond Hotel.

CMS criticized in audit but blazes on
The controversial, expensive computer software project forced upon campuses by the California State University Chancellor’s Office was undeterred by a March auditors’ report that uncovered conflicts of interest and logistical problems.

The study by the state Auditor’s Office, undertaken at the direction of the state Legislature after university unions complained, found that the Common Management System designed to manage almost all information on campus is costing $312 million more than the CSU estimated and may not have been needed in the first place. The audit also found that in the process of securing a contract with PeopleSoft, key CSU employees may have personally benefited from their dealings on behalf of the university system.

Former Chico State president dies
Glenn Kendall lived to be 101, and almost until the end of his life on March 5 he loved reminiscing about his days as president of Chico State.

He ruled the school from 1950 until his retirement in 1966 and was noted for bringing it from a small teachers’ college to a full-scale state university as the post-World War II era ushered in thousands of education-hungry students.

At times controversial, Kendall was known for his strong will but also for his down-home nature: The “Southern gentleman” would show up at new faculty members’ houses to welcome them to Chico.

No high school, but at least they’re talking
When federal agencies agreed over the summer that it would be OK for the Chico Unified School District to build on a southeast Chico parcel, it wasn’t the go-ahead residents have been hoping for. That’s because, nearly six years after the bond to build a new high school was passed, the CUSD has yet to strike a deal with the property owner to buy the land.

But in recent months, the CUSD and the George Schmidbauer family of Eureka have at least been trading dollar amounts, leading trustees to feel more optimistic. If the land is secured, the struggle will likely shift to whether the district can afford to staff the darn thing.

Killer bud
The yearly autumnal battle between police and pot growers escalated in Butte County this year, as sheriff’s deputies shot and killed two Mexican nationals who were tending a garden in the hills above Oroville Sept. 19.

The deputies were later cleared of any wrongdoing, as an investigation found that one of the growers had leveled a loaded AK-47 at them. Another Mexican national was taken into custody during the raid, which netted some 11,000 nearly mature pot plants. The violence is part of a growing trend among foreign drug cartels, which have started clearing remote, forested areas in the United States for use as marijuana plantations.

It’s gettin’ hot in here
Chico was hit by a string of arson fires in 2003, one of which caused $20,000 in damages to a trailer at the Chico Boys & Girls Club. That blaze was part of a string of late-night fires in the downtown area that police have yet to solve.

At least four frat houses were also damaged by arson fires this year, including one that was allegedly started in broad daylight by a guy who claimed to have been beaten up by frat members in revenge for a bad drug deal.

Photo by: Tom Angel
Downtown elms fall
The last of the towering American elm trees that had stood guard in the Downtown Plaza Park for past 130 years were all removed in a weekend after one of them fell without warning and injured a park visitor in May. The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission voted unanimously to remove the remaining 21 trees, accelerating the city staff recommendation that calls for the trees to be taken over the next two years.

The fallen treee revealed interior deterioration, long suspected by city staff, was further advanced than previously thought. The Friday Night concerts in the park were moved to Children’s Park, the gazebo was removed and plans to remake the park were unveiled.

The trees suffered from root rot, which may have been triggered many years before when 18 feet of fill dirt was added to raise the downtown. The added soil on the trees caused the elms to put out new root systems above the old ones, causing them to disintegrate and rot, a process that eventually worked its way up and into the rest of the trees.

How we love our parks
But how do we pay for their development and maintenance? As acres slated for park development have sat idle in and near neighborhoods across Chico for years, the debate on how to best pay for them has raged.

This year, for the first time since last century, new-growth impact fees to help shoulder the cost of land acquisition and development were increased, though not as much as staff, an outside consultant and the council’s own Finance Committee had recommended.

Based on a nexus study—a determination of the fair share of park costs based on the impact of new development—the recommendation was an increase from $1,429 to $2,196 for single-family residences and from $1,208 to $1,857 per unit for multifamily residences. Instead the council approved increases of $2,064 and $1,857, respectively.

For years, the matter was successfully kept off the council agenda by the former conservative council majority because the local building industry finds even the talk of fee increases so distasteful. In fact, the one time park impact fees did make it to the council, they were actually decreased. While there is still a considerable funding gap to fill, the council did finally move to fix the city’s stagnating park situation.

Fifth of July fireworks
On a scorching Saturday after the Fourth of July, the old Enloe Hospital building on Flume street erupted in flames, consuming three businesses and two apartments. As onlookers who’d drifted across the street from the Farmers’ Market looked on, firefighters doused the leaping angry orange flames and fought successfully to keep the fire from spreading to the Victorian houses that sit right next to the old building.

An overheated electrical insulator in the basement of the 90-year-old building was blamed for the blaze. At first it was thought the owner, Roy Ellis, would have to tear down the remains of the building, but structural integrity remains, so it will most likely be rebuilt. Today, nearly six months after the fire, the building’s exterior still looks the same as the day the firefighters finished their job.