Results? What results?

Chicoans should know what economic-development investment is netting

Larry Wahl is a bottom-line sort of guy. Again and again, from his right-side seat on the Chico City Council dais, he’ll seek hard numbers and fine-detail impacts of measures under consideration. Whether he’s a vigilant watchdog or political hound is a matter of opinion; what’s undeniable is his contribution to transparent, responsible city government.

We, who have often criticized him, appreciated a particular line of questioning he took at the last council meeting (Feb. 17). During an update on city finances, Economic Development/Redevelopment Manager Martha Wescoat-Andes explained her efforts for fiscal year 2008-09 in general terms, and Wahl pushed for actual accomplishments.

How many new businesses have you recruited? Four, via proposals “channeled through the state.” So it’s fair to say we haven’t picked up any new business the past seven months? From out of the area, no, but “a lot of Chico employers are expanding to maintain their investment in Chico.” Has the expansion rate exceeded the contraction rate? “Hard to say.” Do you have a feel for the commercial vacancy rate? Chico’s Realtor board doesn’t keep a database.

Afterward, Wahl said tracking such things “would seem to be a reasonable use of the economic development director’s time and expertise.” We agree, and we’ll even go one step farther: It should be a job requirement.

We appreciate Mayor Ann Schwab’s perspective that recessionary impacts are beyond Chico’s control, and we can appreciate the networking Wescoat-Andes has done. But talk is cheap, and the city—cash-strapped as it is—is funding a $127,000 salary (plus benefits) for a results-oriented position. Taxpayers should know the return on that investment.