Reasons for hope

As the year ends, it’s easy to look back and write off the 12 months we’ve just navigated through as something considerably less than a pleasure cruise. Right off the bat we were strapped with a president a majority of Americans did not vote for. Then we watched as a once incredibly robust and long-expanding economy skidded to a halt. Finally, in September, we witnessed a crime of horrific proportions, an assault on all humanity that will haunt us forever.

Since then, we’ve seen our civil rights threatened under the guise of public safety. Our nation’s tolerance for those who dare ask questions or voice unpopular opinion has eroded significantly.

Locally, an embarrassingly out-of-control majority on the county Board of Supervisors wasted taxpayer money, alienated good and decent public servants like County Clerk Candice Grubbs, and displayed an arrogant disrespect for county residents.

We were subjected to ugly and hostile neighbors rallying against a transitional family housing project moving into their neck of the woods, and once again good local people were derided, criticized and in some cases even threatened.

There’s been a split in the local environmental community over rights of public access and how best to spend bond money intended for both park lands and habitat restoration.

But some golden nuggets in an otherwise dismal year shone through and gave rise to hope for the future. Nationally, Sept. 11 sparked new feelings of love for our country and a greater solidarity in the face of adversity. It also has increased our understanding of the Middle East and our awareness of the interdependence of all nations in a shrinking world.

Locally a progressive-moderate faction came together to defeat the well-heeled and normally all-powerful right wing. First they did it in Chico by qualifying a referendum on a questionable $2.9 million “public” road project and then overcoming the considerable weight of the Chamber of Commerce, the local economic-development crowd, housing industry money and the conservative council majority to defeat the Otterson Drive bridge.

Following that, a similar progressive-moderate mix formed at the county level to rise up against the rightist majority on the Board of Supervisors and easily qualify a referendum to defeat a sneaky, questionable and highly politicized plan to redraw the supervisors’ districts.

What this shows is that most reasonable people in Chico and Butte County, be they thoughtful progressives or moderate Republicans, can agree on what is best for the future. Growth will happen. As progressives, we can’t hide our heads in the sand and fight every development proposal that comes down the pike. But, by the same token, growth must be well planned to avoid sprawl. Despite what conservatives like City Councilmember Rick Keene say, it is not a good idea to allow only the market to dictate how and where Chico and the rest of the county will grow.

That is why we have planning commissions and general plans. If the progressive-moderate mix that forged victories this year continues to get involved, the future looks pretty good from here.

Oh, and one other thing: The 2001 World Series was one of the greatest ever. Never mind that the New York Yankees lost. It was a splendidly played and hard-fought series and a small reminder of what really makes this country great.