Rematch game

The District 3 race just barely went to a run-off, and now it’s really up in the air

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

June 6, Maureen Kirk came tantalizingly close to a seat on the Board of Supervisors. With just 79 more votes—a 1.2 percent bump—she would have been Mary Anne Houx’s successor in District 3.

Instead, Kirk finds herself in a tough runoff election against fellow Chico City Councilmember Steve Bertagna. Chuck Kutz, who got 8.6 percent of the vote in June, has thrown his support behind Bertagna, a fellow business owner and conservative, who got 42.5 percent.

How many of Kutz’s 585 votes go to Bertagna, and differences in the electorate for the summer and fall elections, likely will decide this race. This June, Republican primaries were moot in the North State, while the Democratic primaries mattered. More conservatives will vote Nov. 7 in the general election.

Kirk has the endorsement of at least one Republican: Houx, who has served on the board since 1990. Bertagna has plenty on his side, including assemblymen Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa.

Endorsements have been a focal point of this campaign. Bertagna’s, listed on his Web site,, include the Chico Chamber of Commerce, the Hooker Oak Alliance and Butte County firefighters and deputy sheriffs. Kirk’s, on, include the Butte County Farm Bureau, the Chico Greenline Coalition, the Butte/ Glenn Central Labor Council and the Sierra Club. The lists came up several times at an Oct. 12 candidate forum, in which the two exchanged barbs but insisted they like each other.

Who are Bertagna and Kirk?

Bertagna is a fifth-generation resident of Butte County. He has owned a business for 21 years—you can find All Around Sound on Mangrove Avenue. He and his wife of 20 years, Kari, have three children: Brittney, 16, Joshua, 15, and Raeanne, 13.

He has spent 10 years on the Chico City Council, including a stint as mayor (1999-2000). Should he win the supervisor seat, he would forgo the final two years of his third council term.

Kirk has lived in Chico for 24 years. She is a dental hygienist by profession and has been married for 35 years to Larry Kirk, professor emeritus of chemistry at Chico State. Their son, Brian, is a Navy ROTC midshipman and a university student.

After four years on the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, she was elected to the City Council. She served as mayor from 2002 to ‘04 and has been vice mayor twice, including this term.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The issues for the runoff, understandably, changed little from the June election. Here are some of the biggest ones:

Growth—Even though supervisors make few decisions regarding individual developments, the county’s General Plan includes growth directives and is getting rewritten this term. So Chico’s hot-button issue has spilled over to the county race.

Kirk charges that Bertagna “has rarely seen a development he doesn’t like” and that about half his campaign funds came from developers and development-related interests. Bertagna paints Kirk as inconsistent on growth, citing contradictory votes on the proposed Oak Valley subdivision as an example. Both agree farmland should be protected.

General Plan—Kirk says the revision should consider traffic, housing, open space and water. Bertagna says the process is the most important factor—making sure the county coordinates with its cities.

Economics—Kirk pledges to support balanced budgets and sees boosting local businesses as a prime way to foster economic development. Bertagna wants to lure industry to the county and says “a job in Oroville benefits Chico.”

Oroville Dam—Both support the concerted push for a more favorable contract with the state. The current pact expires at the end of this year. The county has lobbied for increased compensation and low-cost electricity, in line with other recent relicensing agreements, and pledges legal action all the way to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t get favorable terms.

Bertagna calls this “a wise gamble at this time,” and Kirk says this is something the county needs to do.

Water—Both say protecting our groundwater and aquifer rights is a priority. Bertagna says we have to identify our resources and make sure we don’t lose out to Southern California demand. Kirk calls for local management as opposed to a regional agency such as the Northern California Water Association.

Mechoopda project—Tension between Chico and the county arose this summer over the proposed Indian casino at the junction of highways 149 and 99. The county opposes the project, citing an array of concerns at the site, and has gone as far as to question the Mechoopda tribe’s legitimacy. Houx and board Chairman Curt Josiassen forcefully lobbied City Council not to even start negotiations with the tribe for a public safety contract. Bertagna took exception to their tone, Houx’s especially, and he reiterated his criticism at the Oct. 12 forum.

Both Kirk and Bertagna oppose the concept of casinos in the county and say Chico should not provide services at the Mechoopdas’ site. Despite his sharp criticism of the board, Bertagna says he will be able to work with the four incumbents.

Interestingly, the most bitter disagreement between Kirk and Bertagna is about something simple: time.

Kirk plans to stop all her dental hygiene work and dedicate herself full-time to being a supervisor. A supervisor has to have office hours, she says, as well as travel around the county for meetings and functions.

Bertagna objects to the notion that his business responsibilities will detract from his ability to serve on the board—"Someone who has nothing to do is no more qualified than someone who is busy.” He says he can set his own schedule and would be “on duty all the time.”

The latter, at least, is something they agree on.