Paradise council remakes commission

Business quickly done, it turns to anecdotes about the fires

Tuesday night’s Paradise Town Council meeting had all the makings of a dramatic evening. It had been pushed back a week, from July 8, because of the Butte Lightning Complex fires that threatened to leap across the Feather River Canyon from Concow. On the agenda were the selection of two planning commissioners and five members of the newly formed, hard-fought-for Tree Advisory Committee … though only two people had applied for the latter and five for the former.

Would the councilmembers appoint the sustainability advocate (Scott McNall) or the Wal-Mart supporter (Sam Dresser) to the commission that influences how the town develops? And would they see the dearth of applicants for the tree panel as a lack of interest—or importance—to residents and consider disbanding it before it met?

Well, actually, no.

With a mere modicum of debate, the council re-appointed L. Craig Woodhouse to the Planning Commission and selected developer Greg Bolin to replace outgoing commissioner Loretta Griffin. Both of their terms run through 2012.

The Tree Advisory Committee, meanwhile, will wait for another meeting. Turns out the delay to July 15 yielded two additional applicants—ex-Mayor Dan Wentland and Butte College Fire Academy Supervisor Thomas Cole. Councilman Steve “Woody” Culleton said he knew of two others, including former Fire Chief Jim Broshears.

So the council extended the deadline to Aug. 1 to see who else might apply along with Planning Commissioner April Grossberger and Chico Urban Forester Denice Britton, both members of the Tree Felling Permit Committee that the new committee replaces. The council will make the appointments at its Aug. 5 session.

The delay from July 8 also meant the council had two retroactive votes. Town Manager Chuck Rough had signed a $12,000-per-year contract with a provider of reverse-911 service, which town staff utilized during both the Humboldt and Butte Lightning Complex fires; and Gina Will, CFO of an educational consulting corporation, already had begun work as town finance director/treasurer. Good thing the council approved both decisions, 5-0.

The deliberation over the Planning Commission boiled down to a recommendation, a few quick speeches and dueling motions.

Culleton, Griffin and Mayor Alan White comprised the panel that interviewed four of the five applicants—McNall was out of town. They didn’t find immediate consensus, so they met for an hour on another day and finally came up with Woodhouse and Bolin (who Culleton said afterward were his top two all along).

“None of the three of us thought there was a bad choice,” White explained to his colleagues. “The two we recommended we thought would be the best choice for the community at this time.”

Architect Larry Campbell, the other candidate, was on hand, as were Bolin and Woodhouse (Dresser arrived just ahead of the vote). Councilwoman Robin Huffman asked to hear from Campbell; impressed by what he said and his credentials, which include planning the Southern California community of Westlake Village, she moved to appoint Campbell and Bolin.

Her motion nearly died without a second, until White spoke up. The other motion was first, though, and its 4-1 approval—over Huffman’s no—rendered Huffman’s moot.

Huffman said she didn’t have anything against Woodhouse—"I always like fresh faces and to use new people.”

Experience, however, worked in Woodhouse’s favor with the councilmen who interviewed him. Both Culleton and White praised how Woodhouse does his homework on each project the commission considers. Moreover, Culleton added, there’s a learning curve—he was swayed by the sentiment that “now that I’m fully vetted in this position and can do journeyman work, I’m ready to do that for four more years.”

As for appointing Bolin, a working developer, to a body that rules on development, White responded: “I think it’s a good thing, because it gives us a voice with professional insight to know what works and what won’t. Most of what he’s done in the community has been to code and wouldn’t go to the commission anyway.”

In the absence of drama came some a series of anecdotes about the fire as well as announcements, mostly as asides during the course of council business. They included:

• White will run for re-election to the council this fall (throwing his hat in a ring that includes Culleton; Huffman remains undecided about seeking a second term).

• Mutual-aid response from the California Highway Patrol and neighboring police forces, including Chico, gave Paradise the largest police force in its history during last week’s evacuations.

• Police were so concerned about looters that even Rough came under scrutiny. A Chico PD sergeant ran the plates on his van after noticing it in front of Rough’s house, since patrols hadn’t seen it there the previous three days.

• July 15 marked Rough’s 12-year anniversary on the job, making him the town’s longest-serving manager.

• During the fires, town staffers worked 12-hour shifts in the Emergency Operations Center, and firefighters worked 24-hour shifts with just a few hours in between.

• Councilmembers did volunteer work on behalf of the town—Culleton and White, for instance, served donated tri-tip sandwiches to firefighters, and Vice Mayor Frankie Rutledge, former Town Clerk, manned the EOC from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to spell Joanna Gutierrez as public-information officer. (Rutledge particularly appreciated “midnight dessert” in the EOC, courtesy of Councilman Scott Lotter.)

• Firefighters liked the tri-tip so much that White procured a table for 22 at the Smokie Mountain Steakhouse. A doctor at a neighboring table picked up the whole tab.

• The new reverse-911 system contacted 6,500 residents in under 20 minutes. With the old system—20 phone lines and two T1 lines—it would have taken more than seven hours.

• Five-hundred residents have signed up for e-mail and/or text message alerts of emergency evacuations. Others can follow suit at or calling Town Hall (872-6291).

• Rutledge’s son is a 36-year-old Chico police officer who directed evacuation traffic during the Humboldt fire and was pleasantly surprised by the cooperation he received. “I’m very proud of this community,” the vice mayor said.