What have you gotten yourself into?
You may have noticed that California has earned a reputation as perhaps the most politically volatile (if not the goofiest) state in the union. Don’t expect any less from the politics that play out in Chico and the rest of Butte County.
Newcomers may be surprised by the passion of locals on all sides of all issues—from land use to political elections to bond measures. But the fact is, the more impassioned the populace, the better the chances the town from which it hails is worth shouting about.
Chico is no exception.
The city is led by a seven-member City Council, each with a four-year term. Elections are staggered every two years—three seats up one cycle and four the next. Candidate campaigns for office are brash, boisterious and bold, and candidates must raise and spend up to $20,000 or more to gain a position that pays $500 a month.
We generally get top-notch people to fill these seats, people who are subjected to the criticism of their contituency, which amounts to everybody in the city limits for each candidate—councilmembers are elected at large and thus do not represent separate geographical districts.
Obviously, councilmembers have day jobs, too, which means they have to cram for the issues that come up at the semi-monthly meetings. And, as if that weren’t enough, the council members also serve on sub-committees and make up the Chico Redevelopment Agency, which acts on projects to stimulate property tax revenues that help the city finances.
The Chico City Council is a weak-mayor system, meaning the mayor is not elected to that office by the voters but is rather appointed by the elected City Council, and possesses only figurative power, handling the gavel to control the meetings, police the behavior of other councilmembers and cut ribbons at public functions.
Butte County government, most of the offices of which are located in Oroville, is guided by five elected supervisors, two of whom represent Chico because of its relatively large population.
The supervisors’ meetings, too, can be heated affairs, marked by political ambitions, hidden agendas and passions for what is best for the people who live here.