Otterson campaign heats up
Six weeks before election, sides crank up propaganda machines
As the two sides in the battle for the hearts and minds of Chico voters circle each other in preparation for battle, one thing is startlingly clear—there is a world of difference between the two camps.
The fight is over Measure A, the initiative-spawned ballot measure that on June 5 will determine the fate of the $2.9 million Otterson Drive extension and bridge into south Chico’s Hegan Lane Business Park. The project would run through a riparian habitat and come within a stone’s throw of a long-time semi-rural neighborhood whose residents keep horses and grow organic vegetables.
Proponents, calling themselves the Coalition for Parks and Jobs, have begun a full-blown campaign including a phone survey/pitch—"Can we count on you to vote for Measure A?"—and the mailing of a slick, full-color brochure that says “Measure A makes dollars and sense for Chico.”
The coalition has gained the help, including office space and phones, of the Greater Chico Chamber of Commerce. On its Statement of Organization, which it is required to file as a fund-raising committee, the coalition lists the chamber’s address as its own. A call to the coalition’s phone number connects you to the chamber, and a request for information about the coalition gets you in touch with chamber President Jim Goodwin.
The project opponents—NEFR (Neighbors for Environmental and Fiscal Responsibility)—appear to be operating more of a shoestring campaign that relies on press conferences and letter writing.
Trying to get its message out, NEFR held a sort of a rag-tag press conference on April 15, tax day, in front of the Vallombrosa post office, where it’s members handed out little squares of paper that said, “You probably wish this handout we’ve just given you was worth 2.9 million dollars!”
NEFR’s low-cost approach to getting its message out was not lost on a KHSL Channel 12 cameraman covering the tax day press conference. “All they want is free publicity,” he grumbled as he began videotaping the dozen or so people holding signs on the sidewalk in front of the post office.
NEFR spokesperson Mike Smith says that among the problems he has with the project is the way it will be funded.
“If you break it down,” he explained, “about $300,000 comes from park fund money that is intended for city parks, $1.3 million comes from redevelopment funds, which are intended for blighted areas, and $1.3 million is from road development fees. Those fees are to be used for general impacts of development put there for the community as a whole.”
He characterized the project as providing more of a private than public benefit.
The coalition said in its mailer that no taxpayer money would be spent on the project because the city does not have to dig into its general fund to pay for it. Those funding sources, says Goodwin, exist expressly for such projects.
“This is not general-fund money,” Goodwin pointed out. “This is not money that is coming from everybody out there on the street. It is dedicated for these kinds of public-works projects. This didn’t just come out of left field. The needs have been addressed.”
Those needs, he said, are to alleviate traffic problems in south Chico and, by making an easier entrance to the park, lure more businesses and their job opportunities to Chico.
NEFR counters that the $2.9 million will benefit only a few people and financially undermine other street improvements in town that are much more pressing. Smith also questioned the chamber’s involvement with promoting the project.
“I think [the chamber’s] current funding from the city is about $90,000,” he said. “They say they can keep their money for tourism promotion and political activities apart. But you have to wonder. There is just a problem with them being so involved in this.”
The project, he said, benefits only a few elite members of the chamber, Smith charged. “[Builder] Howard Slater, for instance, has property right next to Hegan [Lane Industrial Park] that he plans to develop, and of course [business park owner] Doug Guillon. The chamber does not identify their interests.”
Goodwin does not downplay the chamber’s role in the campaign. Insiders say he has staked himself to the cause and is dragging the chamber along with him.
“We are very much involved,” he said, “which is no different from a long list of other chamber involvements.”
The chamber PAC has made a financial donation, and each of the 26 members of its board of directors was asked to contribute $100 to the cause. Not all agreed to do so. Goodwin would not say how much money the chamber had raised, noting that the information would be made public, as required by law, on April 26.
He said the decision to jump on the pro-Measure A bandwagon was reached by consensus of the board of directors, which he said is made up of “a broad-based group of citizens.”
Included in that 26 are so-called ex-officio members that include Chico State University President Manuel Esteban, Chico Police Chief Mike Efford, Butte College President Sandra Acebo and News & Review General Manager Kathy Barrett.
Esteban, Efford and Barrett all said they had not attended the meetings in which the matter was discussed.