Other stories of significance from 2005

Mary Anne Houx

Mary Anne Houx

Photo By Tom Angel

So long, Mary Anne
Butte County District 3 Supervisor Mary Anne Houx announced in June her intention to retire at the end of her current term, ending a career in local politics that has spanned almost three decades. Houx, who entered public service in 1977 as a Chico school board trustee, also served a short stint on the Chico City Council before moving over to the county in 1990. A moderate Republican who was well known for speaking her mind, Houx said she always tried to put her constituents first, even if it meant bucking the party line.

“In all things, there is a compromise,” she said. “It’s a little bit like a marriage. You can’t have it your way all the time.”

Giddy for the Gov TV news team interviews young Schwarzenegger supporter.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Houx endorsed moderate City Councilwoman Maureen Kirk as her replacement. Kirk will have to run a tough race against weatherman-turned school board member Anthony Watts, who sports conservative backing and plenty of local name recognition.

Arnold muscles his way into town
The musclebound, movie star governor of California made two brief appearances in Chico this year to promote himself and his pet causes at tightly controlled PR events. On July 28, the govinator swooped in between fund-raising stops to congratulate Sierra Nevada Brewery on its purchase of a $7 million, 1-megawatt fuel cell power plant. He used the opportunity to tout his own hydrogen power programs. Two CN&R staffers were kicked out of that event for taking photos from unauthorized spots.

His second visit came Nov. 4, a few days before this year’s disastrous special election, in which California voters turned down all of the governor’s most-favored initiatives. Both visits brought out hundreds of protestors, mostly organized by public employees and nurses’ unions. At the governor’s November visit to the Cozy Diner on Mangrove, patrons were asked to wear stickers declaring their support for Arnold. It was later alleged that a protestor threw a cup of ice at the governor as he was leaving, but no charges were ever filed.

R.I.P. El Rey

Photo By Tom Angel

You can buy that house now—or not
With Chico house prices flat through much of the 1990s, potential homeowners were shocked in recent years to see price tags of $225,000 and up for tiny, two-bedroom abodes and at least $300,000 for three-bedroom, two-bath “family” homes that would have been half that a few years earlier. Chico made national lists of “inflated” markets. Market-watchers blamed big-city transplants along with the usual culprits of land and labor costs.

Finally, in mid-2005, the market began to flatten out, with houses staying on the market longer and sellers even lowering the initial price tag. Prices are still out of reach for many median-income earners, but they’re stabilizing.

Camp Casey comes to Chico
For two weeks in August, Chico had its own version of Crawford, Texas’s Camp Casey. A blue tent, signs proclaiming the advantages of peace over war or criticisms of the president, an American flag at half-staff, a dry-erase board with a schedule of activities and a table of fliers, documents and other peace-related information occupied the south end of Children’s Park. Local activist Bob Trausch and some fellow war protestors stayed at the Camp Casey spinoff—the first in the nation, they said—that popped up in support of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Casey Sheehan, the dead soldier for whom the original camp is named. Camp Casey in Crawford seemed to have coalesced into a national peace movement. In cities and towns across the country camps like the one in Chico sprung up just as the president’s approval ratings reached all-time lows.

Chet Francisco

Photo By Devanie Angel

A month or so later, Susan Sullivan, mother of a Chico High School student, complained to school officials that Army recruiters on campus were being less than honest about collecting information on her son and others. The recruiters brought a rock climbing wall to campus and made those who wanted to climb sign a release form that also asked for personal info before they could climb the wall. The school administration took responsibility (and the collected information) and said the Army was wrong.

Bidwell Ranch finally settled
After years of debate the 750 acres of land next to Bidwell Park and known as Bidwell Ranch was finally zoned as open space. The land was once slated to be filled with houses, but locals fought it every step of the way until the City Council was forced to purchase the land from the developer. A last-ditch effort was launched to try to get the city to sell the property to a developer, with the idea money could be raised to pay for city parks. But the council, wisely we thought, voted not to do so because the city would have had to sink a lot of money into the land infrastructure-wise to get it entitled for development before any builder would touch it. The land-for-parks argument was a red herring

No más El Rey
Although manager Rick Gorman said business was good, Regent Entertainment Group decided to sell the 100-year-old El Rey Theatre in January after months of speculation.

Plaza construction

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

The building was purchased by Eric Hart, who also owns the Senator Theatre as well as buildings on the corners of Third Street and Broadway, including those that house the Ballroom on Broadway, Starbucks Coffee and The Pita Pit.

Hart said he would save the theater if he could, but that its run-down condition and the fact that single-screen movie theaters cannot compete with modern-day multiplexes made that option less than desirable.

Hart said he plans on eventually turning the building into retail and office space with a partially underground 15-space parking lot.

Downtown changes: tower, hotel, park
This year the downtown saw some changes from skyline to ground. Wayne Cook’s ambitious renovation of the old Hotel Diamond was finally completed in early spring and a tour revealed Cook cut no corners on a project that took a lot out of him financially and physically. It’s a beauty and a great asset to the downtown, but turning a profit on the place may be next to impossible—every room needs to be occupied for every night for the next decade or so, we hear.

Eric Hart finally put the rebuilt tower back on top of the Senator Theater. It looks all shiny and clean, but has an obvious lean to it. But that gives it character and we were assured by the city that it is not in danger of toppling onto the street.

And the great renovation of the Downtown Plaza Park began with the removal of all but two trees, one of which was picked up and moved about 30 feet. The $2.4 million project is currently surrounded by cyclone fencing and looks like a war zone. But the artists renditions of the final product, attached to the cyclone fence, look pretty good.

Supe switch
After six years of mixed reviews, Scott Brown resigned as superintendent of the Chico Unified School District, but stayed on during the search for a replacement. Brown had been credited with great hires and skillful bookwork on the plus side and antagonizing the teachers’ union and leading the charge to demote popular Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan on the negative. By the end of his reign, Brown had mellowed and everyone pretty much made up, except for some of the Sloan folks.

Worried that the CUSD wouldn’t be able to snag a supe amid a nationwide shortage of qualified school leaders, trustees were thrilled in September to land Chet Francisco, head of a larger Riverside County district where student’s test scores are high and innovative programs abound. The CUSD upped the ante to pay Francisco $170,000 a year, much more than his predecessor but about what he was making in Murrieta.