Righteous vs. indignant

Last Tuesday (Nov. 18), the Chico City Council made a decision on a small wildland area. From the headlines, blogs buzz and letters, you’d have thought the council enclosed Bidwell Park in a Plexiglas bubble and hermetically sealed it for all time. No, they just made a sliver of it out-of-bounds for disc golf.

This came during deliberation over the master management plan, a sweeping document covering the entire park, not just the 1 percent that’s drawn so much attention.

Let me make clear that I disagree with the decision, and there’s a good chance the 4-3 vote won’t stand (more on this later). I take issue with the blatant overreaction—celebrating and sulking—from various concerned parties.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, so I won’t drop the ax only on a particular chamberlain, but this open letter to the four prevailing council members typifies the discourse:

“The decision to remove disc golf from Bidwell Park can only be interpreted as a nakedly political payback to a distinct minority of stakeholders, and a slap in the face to the many moderate citizens who have undertaken to negotiate in good faith to create a better Chico for everyone. You discard that good will at a profound cost to your credibility and future effectiveness.

“…[E]ven those who do not play disc golf are justifiably outraged at this usurpation of their natural sovereignty. I foresee an incalculable backlash, and a return to the status quo ante. It has been a pleasure being able to work with you over the past two years. I am sorry to learn that no longer will be possible.”

Translation: You went against me, so you must be wrong and corrupt. And in the immortal words of South Park’s Cartman: Screw you guys, I’m going home!

How petulant. (Bright side: At least he didn’t name-call, as others have.)

I’ve spoken at length with the councilmembers in question: Mary Flynn, Andy Holcombe, Tom Nickell and Ann Schwab. I didn’t give ’em hell, as someone laughingly suggested I do, because I have a sense of proportion. I did speak directly on points of contention and ramifications, such as:

• Potential referendum pushes (see Downstroke).

• Potential legal challenges to Nickell’s and Schwab’s eligibility. (A judge may well disagree with the city attorney on whether council members with conflicts of interest on the holistic plan can vote on one element. Throw out these two votes, and it’s a 3-2 decision the other way.)

• Potential legal challenges under CEQA. (Under the state’s environmental-protection regulations, simply abandoning an activity may not equal a zero-sum when considering overall impacts. EIR for that?)

Holcombe, the outgoing mayor; Schwab, his likely successor; and Nickell, potentially the next vice-mayor, all have made concerted efforts to find a new disc-golf locale. Is this sincere follow-through or pure self-interest? I believe the former, which makes low blows counterproductive.

It’s easy to take a cynical paradigm and apply it universally. I don’t happen to think the council is at the same level as the Legislature, Congress or presidency. The money just isn’t good enough to abandon core beliefs. Does anyone seriously think Friends of Bidwell Park has enough cash for tempting kickbacks? Puh-leeze.

Council members deserve criticism when they make poor decisions. But there’s a big difference between criticizing and demonizing. Do the latter at profound cost to your credibility and future effectiveness.