Politics as usual
Be aware of local government—it can help you or hurt you
Please pay attention. I’d like to talk to you about local politics. Hey, you there in the back, wake up!
I know, I know, you read or hear the word “politics,” and your eyelids get heavy, your neck muscles weaken, and the next thing you know you’ve buried your face in the crook of your arm and a little pool of spit has formed on your desktop.
But this is Chico, where politics can be fun and lively, where City Council meetings are more entertaining than that show where the dreadful English woman commits verbal assaults: “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” I should also mention that local politics could be important to someone like you. Chico will most likely be your home for the next four to 50 years (depending on your major), and the some of the decisions made by the council can have a direct effect on your lifestyle.
A few ordinances in this town were written, at least in part, because of the behavior, real or imagined, of students—things like the noise ordinance aimed at controlling neighborhood parties, the no-open-containers law, the glass bottle ban during certain holidays, and the aborted attempt a few years ago to clear front porches of couches and old LA-Z-BOYs.
In other words, local government knows you’re here and will make decisions with you in mind. So what can you do? Get involved, dudes. Go to council meetings, read the local press and—here is a novel idea that scares the pants off some local politicians—vote.
The student presence has an influence on local government. How else could you explain why a controversial election this year was held when most of the students were gone? That’s because certain members of the City Council didn’t think most students who voted would vote the way they wanted them to, so they decided to hold the election after the students were gone for the summer.
Used to be students weren’t seen as a factor in local politics because a vast majority didn’t vote. Then last year Ralph Nader, presidential candidate for the Green Party, came to town and ignited the students’ interest in politics. Will it carry over? Time will tell.
Anyway, here are your local politicians:
Dan Herbert, mayor. Herbert was elected in 1998. A banker for most of his working life, Herbert recently got involved in the real estate game by trading in his banker suit and becoming CEO for Sheraton Real Estate Management. Herbert’s a conservative, a nice guy who means well and does a competent job as mayor, which means telling members of the public they’ve exceeded their three-minute time allotment for addressing the council.
Steve Bertagna. In his first try at public office, Bertagna received the most votes in the council race of 1996, achieving election by stressing his family’s deep roots in the area (the Bertagnas, so goes the legend, hung out with the founding Bidwells) and his commitment to governance via “common sense,” the conservative buzzword of that particular year. He was mayor before Herbert and was a natural. He’s funny, quick-witted, conservative and the moderate-progressive’s best hope on swing votes, though he seldom delivers. He runs a car stereo store called All Around Mobile Sound. Look for him to run for county supervisor in 2002.
Coleen Jarvis. Also elected in 1996 after a vicious, libelous mudbath in which she was smeared as a lying Communist welfare mother, Jarvis is an aggressive and articulate advocate of the city’s traditional liberal concerns. Conservatives sometimes accused her of not being civil (read: “ladylike”). In other words, she speaks her mind. An attorney for Legal Services of Northern California, Jarvis is also said to harbor higher political ambitions.
Rick Keene. Elected to a first term in 1994, Keene capped a tumultuous 16-month term as mayor with resounding re-election in 1998. He is now the senior member of the council and also a former mayor who used that position to shepherd through the council a series of revisions to the city’s General Plan; those provisions most objectionable to developers “disappeared,” in one local architect’s words, “like magic.” Keene is a traditional small-government conservative who believes city government should provide only those services private industry can’t or won’t provide. Keene, an attorney, retains some surprisingly progressive views on the state’s criminal-justice system, which may cause him some problems in this “string ’em up” district when he runs for Assembly.
Maureen Kirk. A gentle and well-mannered woman, Kirk never snarls, shouts, pouts or belittles members of the public or her colleagues. Elected in 1998, Kirk is the council moderate, though suspected by the far right as being a straight-up liberal. In her real life she is a dental hygienist.
Dan Nguyen-Tan. Look out for this guy. He’s funny, smart and open minded, which spells trouble for the status quo. He’s not afraid to question sacred cows or make an unpopular vote. Along with Jarvis, he may well be students’ best friend on council. He runs an investment company called simply Dan Nguyen-Tan.
Larry Wahl. A former Navy pilot and current Mail Boxes Etc. owner, Wahl is a straight-laced conservative who until very recently didn’t realize he wasn’t allowed to vote on matters that could affect the values of property owned by him or his wife, or those things that could affect his business. He knows now and takes care to disqualify himself from such issues. He was elected in 2000 after serving as a planning commissioner. He ran unsuccessfully in 1998.
Representing you at the county level, depending on where you live in town, is one of the two most experienced—and smartest—Butte County supervisors, Jane Dolan and Mary Anne Houx. They are responsive and care about their constituents. Their numbers are in the phone book, or see them in action at a supes’ meeting at County Center. They take place every other Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m.
At the state level you have Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, an oral surgeon from Grass Valley, who is conservative but not of the Cro-Magnon type; that description would be reserved for your state Sen. Rico Oller, who blames everything, and I mean everything, on liberal wacko environmentalists.
In Congress you have Rep. Wally Herger, a nice man who since 1986 has somehow balanced his propensity for low-profile ineffectiveness with local name recognition come election time to keep his congressional seat. (Of course the fact that he represents a heavily conservative, Republican district that the Democrats don’t dare challenge doesn’t hurt.) It’s a neat trick, but don’t expect him to do anything for you except maybe kiss your baby if there’s a press photographer standing nearby. (If you own a lumber mill or agri-business, you may have more luck.)
There you go. Pay attention, read the papers and vote when there is an election. You will be tested.