Political science 101

A student guide to local government

Many college-age students were among the local music lovers who showed up at a recent City Council meeting to protest certain potential restrictive provisions that the council will weigh as it establishes a policy for future businesses that sell alcohol.

Many college-age students were among the local music lovers who showed up at a recent City Council meeting to protest certain potential restrictive provisions that the council will weigh as it establishes a policy for future businesses that sell alcohol.

Photo By melissa daugherty

As part of our back-to-school issue, we offer this guide to local government and the people behind the decisions that may very well have an impact on college students. This includes things like the city’s disorderly-events ordinance—a law that in its initial version actually included a ban on slam dancing and stage diving. No kidding.

And there are plenty of other examples of policies—or attempts at making policy—that affect students.

Two years ago, for example, there was an effort made via a ballot measure—Measure A—to move the election for Chico City Council seats from November to June. Proponents said it was to keep the local race from getting overshadowed by the state and national political contests that take place in the November general elections. Opponents said it was to keep the college students from voting. The measure—on the June 2011 special-election ballot—was soundly defeated.

Welcome to Chico, where politics can be fun and lively, where City Council meetings offer drama and conflict, and where students are often accused of not paying attention to local-government workings, unless assigned to do so by their political-science professor or journalism instructor.

Chico is a politically passionate town. Here, matters that may seem mundane to the outsider—location of a disc-golf course or a farmers’ market, a ban on single-use plastic bags, a law against sitting and lying on sidewalks, a ban on karaoke where booze is consumed—take center stage and create hours of debate, making for great theater. It is Chico citizens’ deep concerns about their town that launch these political debates that are often settled at the ballot box.

Local politics is relevant to students since Chico most likely will be their home for the next four to 50 years (depending on their major and/or study habits), and some of the decisions made by the council, as mentioned above, can and do have a direct effect on the student lifestyle.

A few ordinances in this town have been written, at least in part, because of the behavior (real or imagined) of students. Besides the disorderly-events ordinance, there is the noise ordinance aimed at controlling neighborhood parties, the no-open-containers-in-downtown-Chico law, the glass-bottle ban during certain holidays, and the aborted attempt a number of years ago to clear front porches of couches and dilapidated La-Z-Boy recliners.

In other words, local government is well aware of the student population and sometimes makes decisions with it in mind.

The members of the Chico City Council (left to right): Ann Schwab, Tami Ritter, Randall Stone, Scott Gruendl, Mark Sorensen, Sean Morgan and Mary Goloff.

Photo By tom gascoyne

So what should students do? Get involved, go to council meetings, read the local newspapers, and—a novel idea that scares the pants off some local politicians—register and actually vote.

Following are the members of the Chico City Council, whose decisions may well affect your stay here. (Depending on where you live, you are also under the sway of one of two Butte County supervisors—Maureen Kirk or Larry Wahl—but their respective votes seldom have direct consequence on student lives.)

Mayor Scott Gruendl was first elected to the council in 2002 after a few failed attempts for both the local seat and a state office. He’s served as mayor before and unexpectedly took over that spot again on Aug. 6 when then-mayor Mary Goloff suddenly gave up the gavel after eight months of calling the shots. (Actually the mayor, who is picked by vote of the seven-member council, runs the meetings by introducing agenda items and pounding the gavel when things get out of control, or when members of the public exceed their two- to three-minute comment time.) Gruendl, who is the director of the Glenn County Human Resources Agency, tends to vote progressive.

The aforementioned Goloff is a high-school math teacher and former director of Chico State’s Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE). She is serving her second term and is fairly unpredictable in her voting patterns, which angers the progressives and pleasantly surprises the conservatives. (Note the Chico State connection.)

Ann Schwab is in her third term as a council member. She is part owner of a downtown bicycle shop, Campus Bicycles, and serves as program manager for CAVE. She has served as mayor and is probably the most progressive of the seven current council members, if only because the other two progressive-leaning members have been on the council only eight months. (Again, note the Chico State connection.)

Mark Sorensen is in his first term and was elected vice mayor on Aug. 6 to replace Gruendl. Sorensen, who serves as the city administrator in the Butte County town of Biggs, is a straight-laced conservative who keeps his eye on the financial bottom line.

Tami Ritter is one of those progressives-by-nature. She was elected last year. Ritter’s headed up several social-service agencies, including the Torres Community Shelter and Habitat for Humanity. She is a longtime friend of Goloff, but the two often split on votes.

Randall Stone is the other progressive first-time council member. He is a financial manager and, with his brother, a builder of affordable housing, including a recent apartment complex spanning Eighth and Ninth streets just south of downtown. Stone has an impressive vocabulary and quite often uses multisyllabic words to hammer home his point.

Sean Morgan was also elected last year and is a business instructor at Chico State. He is also listed as the managing partner of a company called Castle-Side Partners. Morgan is a fiscal conservative who works closely with Sorensen. Morgan has a good sense of humor, which sometimes confuses the city staff. (Once again, note the Chico State connection.)

One last note: When you come to a meeting in the City Council chambers at 411 Main St., you might notice the sign on the doors that says no food or drink allowed. Not true—the council gets to munch on appetizers and sandwiches from trays, and swig coffee from silver dispensers that are located behind the council dais.

Do yourselves a favor and attend council meetings when you can; they take place the first and third Tuesdays of the month, beginning at 6:30 p.m.