SWOT team

Was Doug LaMalfa convinced? Highly unlikely

The Chico City Council’s “State of the Community” forum, held last Thursday (Feb. 9) in council chambers, was enlightening in unexpected ways.

The idea was to invite leaders representing several important public institutions in Butte County (Chico city government, Chico State, Butte College, the Chico school district, CARD, county government) to do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of their agencies as a way collectively to assess the “SWOT” of Chico and Butte County.

An outsider of sorts, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, was also present. He didn’t exactly SWOT the Legislature, but he did admit it had “a hard time coming together and getting things done” and faced unrelenting budgetary problems because “the shoebox” didn’t contain as much money as lawmakers wanted to spend. LaMalfa, a Republican, has staunchly resisted any new taxes.

As it turned out, a lot of the threats others mentioned came from that selfsame Legislature. Financially, most of the agencies (CARD, a special district, is the lone exception) are downstream from the State Capitol, and all are threatened by state budget uncertainty and loss of revenue. As university President Paul Zingg put it, “The declining economic support [from the state] is tragic.”

What was new here was seeing so many local leaders saying the same things in the same place. Their message to LaMalfa was powerful: Needs aren’t being met, the situation is desperate, something must be done. Zingg gave an especially impressive presentation, cataloguing the school’s many accomplishments, making it clear that something had to give, but insisting as well that “our best days are yet to come.”

Andrea Lerner-Thompson, president of the Chico school board, also gave a strong presentation. After listing the many threats the district faced (declining enrollment, increased poverty, budget uncertainty, deferred maintenance), she said, “The real threat is that we will come to accept this [state of affairs]. The thing we most have to fear is complacency. É We must help our children become their dreams.”

When the agency leaders had finished speaking, members of the City Council got their turn.

Jim Walker recalled working on the CARD board with Ray Richter, a staunch conservative, and how despite their philosophical differences they were able to get things done by each giving a little. Lawmakers need to do the same, he told LaMalfa.

Andy Holcombe was more explicit. Returning to something Butte College President Kimberly Perry had said about all the new buildings at the college that were financed by bond Measure A, he insisted that “bond measures and taxes are a good thing for governments and our community. É We need to invest in the services government can provide.” Let the people vote on taxes, he said. “We need a bigger shoebox and a new pair of shoes.”

Was LaMalfa convinced? Highly unlikely. From what I can tell, Republican lawmakers believe they know better than the many city council members, county supervisors, college presidents and school district presidents who are trying to deal with the mess they’ve created.