So eager to please

State of the City event was an exercise in self-promotion

That was quite a love-in Tuesday night (Jan. 26) at City Council chambers, when the city of Chico staged—I use the term purposely—its own State of the City gathering for the first time.

It wasn’t at all like past State of the City events. Heretofore these annual exercises in municipal self-accounting and self-promotion have been sponsored by the Chico Chamber of Commerce and presented before a breakfast crowd of business owners, people who aren’t shy about asking sharp questions. The events have also been formatted to allow each of the seven council members time to speak, which has usually led to some spirited back-and-forth about city policies and practices. Councilman Larry Wahl, in particular, has been famous for calling his more-liberal colleagues to account for what he sees as their anti-business and anti-libertarian stances.

There was none of that Tuesday night. The whole thing was carefully scripted, beginning with a slide presentation—prepared by City Clerk Debbie Presson and narrated by Mayor Ann Schwab—touting the city’s accomplishments during 2009, from finalizing the Bidwell Park Master Management Plan (no mention of the $600,000 cost) to winning an award of excellence for the new City Plaza (no mention of cost there, either).

But there was something cheesy and squishy about the whole thing, as if the city—and in particular the council’s liberal majority—was trying too hard to convince us that Chico is the cat’s meow. A slide announcing the city’s receipt of the plaza honor by referring to it as an “award of excellance [sic]” seemed to exemplify this almost childlike eagerness to please and convince.

Perhaps I’m being too critical. I already knew about most of the city’s and the council’s accomplishments last year, especially their skillful handling of the budget at a time when other government agencies were floundering under huge deficits. I appreciate the many other things they’ve fostered—the bike tunnel in Annie’s Glen, the Verbena Fields nature preserve, the new Old Muni Building, the general plan update.

And Schwab’s call, toward the end of her speech, for more civility in the community’s discourse is welcome. I realize the council has been under fire from certain quarters. But a little more hard-headedness and a little less horn-tooting would have given the State of the City address greater gravitas.

I guess I’ll have to wait until Friday at 7 a.m., when the Chamber is hosting (at the CARD center) “Community Forecast 2010.” Council members and city staff will be discussing “the most important issues facing our community.” My guess is that it will be much more lively and substantial than the State of the City event. I sure hope so.

Après le déluge: Some readers may have noticed that last week’s issue hit the stands later than usual. That’s because we lost power 90 minutes before final deadline, with unedited stories still on our server. After several hours in the dark, we sent Managing Art Director Tina Flynn and Arts Editor Jason Cassidy, along with the server, off to our Sacramento offices, where Tina finished designing the paper at about 9:30 p.m. Thanks to them for their effort and to the Paradise Post, which adjusted its printing schedule to accommodate our tardiness.