Supes pick Yamaguchi’s wild-card plan

Let’s get ready to rumble.

That was the feeling at this week’s Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting, after the emerging conservative majority sent a message of solidarity by ignoring a parade of impassioned arguments and voting to adopt a controversial, last-minute redistricting plan, called Plan 5, that threatens to politically cripple Chico-area Supervisors Jane Dolan and Mary Anne Houx.

Despite hours of testimony from Chapmantown residents, whose community would be divided under Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi’s plan, and others who called the plan illegitimate, fellow Supervisors Bob Beeler and Curt Josiassen stuck to their guns in what is an obvious attempt to dilute Dolan’s and Houx’s voter bases before next year’s supervisorial elections.

While a few members of the overflowing audience, mostly older folks wearing “Plan 5” stickers on their shirts, spoke in favor of the plan, the larger Plan 5 opposition in the packed supervisors’ chambers was an amazingly diverse coalition that included the Chico Chamber of Commerce, the Butte County Farm Bureau, the Chico Peace and Justice Center, former District 4 Supervisor Ed McLaughlin, the League of Women Voters and longtime Chapmantown advocates and activists Dorothy Johnson and her daughter Darcia.

Even promises of a referendum to overturn the plan and threats to unseat Beeler and Josiassen should they vote for Yamaguchi’s plan didn’t deter the triumvirate, which rejected five other plans (actually four with one slight amendment) to adopt Yamaguchi’s.

That plan was unveiled on July 24, two weeks after the public comment period for the other plans, which made minor adjustments to reconcile with the county’s population growth, had been closed. Yamaguchi, who first called his a plan of “consensus” and later labeled it “a return to fairness,” said he devised the new districts to reflect those that existed 20 years ago.

Houx, who opened the issue with a blistering attack on Yamaguchi, said she suspected the state’s open-meeting laws were violated by Yamaguchi’s actions to bring his plan forward at the last minute. She also questioned the merits of his plan.

“There are three tests for good public policy,” the veteran supervisor told the freshman Yamaguchi. “Is it honest, is it presented openly, and do the citizens want it?”

She then called the plan “another shady, sneaky, backdoor scheme.”

A stoic-faced Yamaguchi weathered Houx’s verbal attack and vowed he would not “sling mud or engage in name calling.”

The presence of one person sitting in the front row of the supe’s chamber was undeniable. David Reade, Yamaguchi’s political consultant, was mentioned more than once, and he was accused as being the brains behind Plan 5.

Former Supervisor McLaughlin, a conservative farmer from the Durham area, said Reade’s fingerprints were all over the plan. “It is time,” he told Yamaguchi, “to separate yourself and cut the umbilical cord to David Reade.”

Reade is the son-in-law of the late Bernie Richter, who lost his supervisor seat to Dolan in 1978, a defeat many observers say Richter never got over.

Reade sat next to attorney Charles Bell, who was invited to the proceedings by Yamaguchi to testify that Plan 5 didn’t really break the spirit of the state’s redistricting laws. Bell said he is with Constitutional Advocates, the nonprofit arm of People’s Advocates, a taxpayer watchdog group founded in 1974 by Paul Gann, co-author of California’s infamous tax reform law, Proposition 13.

After the meeting, Reade denied playing an active role in crafting Yamaguchi’s plan.

“I get credit for more things than I do much of the time,” he said. “I’m always talking with my friends. And during the process I’m giving them input.”

On Aug. 28 the supervisors will officially adopt the new districts, but their implementation will almost surely be delayed before the elections next March, when Houx’s and Dolan’s seats are on the ballot. That delay will be forced by a referendum to stop the new plan and bring it before the voters at the same March election. And judging by the outpouring against Plan 5 at the meeting, gaining the necessary signatures is a distinct possibility.

This is a purely political battle that’s been simmering since July, when Yamaguchi introduced his personal plan to redraw the supervisor districts, a task taken on every 10 years based on the latest population census.

Plan 5 would take 9,237 voters out of Dolan’s and Houx’s Chico-area districts, meaning they would not be able to vote for supervisor until 2004. Most of those voters live in Chapmantown, which Dolan represents. The rest are in Houx’s north Chico district. Opponents say that such a great shift goes against state redistricting laws by deferring too many votes and splitting “a community of interest.”

By contrast, Plan 4 would move about 2,000 voters from their present districts.

Stirling City resident Roy York, a Plan 5 supporter, said that if the folks in Chapmantown wanted to vote next year, they “would have to move. That’s the way it works.”

Former Chico City Councilman David Guzzetti asked Beeler and Josiassen if they would be comfortable carving up their own districts. He said the plan was obviously a “vendetta” against Dolan, Houx and the city of Chico.

Some of the speakers in favor of the plan had complained that Chico had succeeded economically at the expense of the rest of the county for long enough. “I don’t know if this is Chico envy or Chico hatred,” Guzzetti said. “You’ve got a Wal-Mart,” he joked, referring to Oroville. “What more do you want? You’re attacking the community you want to emulate.”

Chapmantown resident Richard Roth promised, “I will work to unseat those who vote for Plan 5. It is time to rumble, and by voting for Plan 5, it is the signal to begin.”

Edger Glenn, a Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II vet, referring to the way Plan 5 emerged, told the board, “The cutoff date was July 10. You either stick to your rules or you dump on yourselves and your integrity. Any supervisor who votes on this plan is out of order.”

Dolan has already hired an attorney and threatened to sue. That is hardly an idle threat. Dolan’s husband is state Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland, who has a reputation for playing hardball politics.

Mulholland, who was at the proceedings pacing the back of the chamber and carrying a document-stuffed cardboard file, promised the referendum drive to collect 6,562 signatures by Sept. 27 would begin as soon as the plan is officially adopted.

With Mulholland on the attack, Butte County may learn more about Yamaguchi and Reade than it ever wanted to know.