Supervisors nix Chico group’s plan

Give final approval to Wahl-designed redistricting map that splits south Chico

“I’m tired of the whining.”

That was Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly’s blunt response after listening to about 25 people talk about the board’s supervisorial redistricting plan during its final public hearing on the matter Tuesday (July 26).

He was referring specifically to the several Chicoans present who had spent the past two weeks “frantically,” as one of them expressed it, studying population data, feeding them into a computer program and putting together an alternative map—called Option 6—that would leave the entire Southwest Chico/Barber and Chapman/Mulberry neighborhoods in Supervisor Larry Wahl’s District 2.

As they told the supervisors, their map did a better job of creating districts of equal population than the Wahl-designed Option 4, which the board tentatively approved on July 12, while keeping the two neighborhoods under a single supervisor. They apologized for coming forward somewhat late in the process, but noted that they’d learned what was proposed for their area only after it was discussed at the board’s June 14 meeting.

Connelly wasn’t impressed by this exercise in participatory democracy. “I see this as an attempt to gerrymander a district more to their liking,” he said.

He then voted, along with Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi, Steve Lambert and Wahl, to give final approval to Option 4, which Wahl designed and which puts half of the liberal-leaning Southwest Chico neighborhood and Mulberry District in Lambert’s south-county District 4.

District 3 Supervisor Maureen Kirk dissented, again saying, as she did on July 12, that there was plenty of time to consider additional public contributions to the redistricting effort, as a final map wasn’t due until Nov. 1.

Kirk argued that by considering Options 4 and 6 together and picking what was best in both, the county could come up with an even better map.

Yamaguchi, who voted in favor of Option 4 on July 12, wasn’t interested. “We have did it [sic] in an open process and have had more meetings than I can count, so I’m going to stick to what I voted before.”

Yamaguchi’s fractured syntax was characteristic of a meeting in which people in high places seemed unable to speak the English language fluently. Early on, board Chairman Steve Lambert spoke of “supervisual” districts, and County Clerk Candace Grubbs stumbled over the word “contiguity” several times, promising at one point to practice saying it before doing another presentation.

Grubbs started off the hearing by giving a confusing PowerPoint backgrounder on the redistricting process to that point. On several occasions she was unable to explain her office’s own maps and had to call on a subordinate for help. Compounding the problem, several of the maps were mislabeled as to whether they had been rejected or approved, further confusing Grubbs.

Maria Phillips was the first member of the public to speak, presenting Option 6 to the supervisors. She said a “grassroots group” of concerned Chico citizens had used software available at the site to come up with the plan, which she said created districts that all had less than a 1 percent deviation from perfect population equality.

In addition to population numbers, she said, the group also considered such criteria as contiguity, communities of interest, geography, topography, integrity and so forth. Doing so, she said, they were able to keep the Southwest Chico and Chapman neighborhoods in District 2.

The one change that “you’re not going to like,” she told the board, was that the plan moved Forest Ranch from Kirk’s district into Yamaguchi’s District 5, which covers the Paradise area. The problem is that Yamaguchi would have to drive to Chico, leaving his district, to get to Forest Ranch, something he’s said he’s unwilling to do.

Adam Fedeli followed Phillips and stressed that Option 6 was a draft and meant to be studied and used along with the other draft maps “to come up with the best possible plan.”

After that, testimony degenerated into a political squabble.

Former Chico Mayor Karl Ory accused Wahl of pursuing the same goals with redistricting—to “diminish the impact of Chico voters”—as he’d done with the unsuccessful Measure A.

He was followed by Chris Nicodemus, who accused the Option 6 folks of using “stalling tactics” and mounting an “ongoing soap opera” to keep the board from selecting Option 4.

And so it went, in a crescendo of charges and counter-charges culminating in Chicoan Rick Clements’ insistence that “Option 6 was definitely drawn in Bob Mulholland’s bedroom”—referring to the state Democratic Party organizer who is also former Supervisor Jane Dolan’s husband—and county Planning Commissioner Mary Kennedy’s charge that its real purpose was to get a Larry Wahl recall drive on the ballot.

Hilary Herman, a resident of the Southwest Chico neighborhood, said Option 6 was a draft map drawn by a grassroots group, “not in anybody’s bedroom,” and that redistricting is a “work in progress.” She reminded the board that the state’s redistricting commission was slated to release its plan Friday (July 29), and urged the supervisors to wait at least until then to make a final decision. “Let’s all continue to work together,” she said.

With the exception of Kirk, her appeal fell on deaf ears. For his part, Wahl described Option 4 as “a collaboration between board members and county staff” that met the needs of a “diversity of interests.” It was a “balanced approach,” he said, and he pledged to serve all residents of his district and, indeed, all county residents to the best of his ability.