The numbers are in, and they aren’t surprising. The pro-Otterson folks, the well-heeled, SUV-driving business and real-estate elite of our town, put together $30,164 in contributions for their cause. The NEFR people, the brown-rice-eating, bicycle-riding, gray-haired hipsters, raised a modest $5,060.84. Before you start blasting me with outraged e-mail, cryptically threatening anonymous phone messages and exclamation-riddled letters to the editor, let me admit that the above descriptions are grossly simplistic stereotypes. To a certain extent, however, they reflect how each side views the other. (Please note, however, that the NEFR folks do enjoy the support of some fiscal conservatives, people who probably prefer Potato Buds over brown rice.)

The battle over the $2.9 million Otterson Drive extension, bridge and park-fund-provided landscaping is in many ways symbolic of the struggle that has defined politics in this town for three decades. It sets the business leaders and big land developers—those folks who genuinely believe they know best how to run this town—against those who live in the older neighborhoods, are connected to the university and prefer S&S over Safeway, Duffy’s over The Black Crow. Look how the Coalition for Parks and Jobs, those who want to build the Otterson Bridge—the new gateway into the Hegan Lane Business Park—raised its money: The largest contribution, $2,500, came from the California Association of Realtors, which is based in Los Angeles. That organization, I assume, is very similar, if not the same thing as, the California Real Estate PAC (CREPAC), which weighs in on local elections by funneling money to developer-friendly city council candidates. In 1996, CREPAC split up $1,900 among local candidates, including Councilmembers Steve Bertagna and Dan Herbert. The group collects campaign contributions from the 140 or so realtor associations across the state and then cuts checks as requested by local boards.

As NEFR points out, making the argument that the coalition does not enjoy broad-based support, 11 contributions came in at $1,000, making up more than a third of the total raised. (Add the L.A. Realtors’ contribution, and you’re halfway there.) Those $1,000 donors are business park owner Doug Guillon‘s Central Development Corp.; Hegan Lane Partnership; Craig Alger‘s V-Tech, an occupant of the park; Chico Electric, Susy ("Homemaker") Durkin; housing tract builder Epick Inc.; Tehama Bank; the Butte County Farm Bureau; 101 Ranch Berrendos Orchard of Red Bluff; Fred Davis and Associates; and Slater & Sons builders. The rest is made up mostly of 12 $500 contributions from, among others, Mid Valley Title; Nichols Melburg & Rossetto architects; Guillon partner Bill Brouhard; Darlene Thomasson, whose family owns the property needed to build the project; and the Chico Chamber of Commerce political action committee. The chamber also donated $1,143 in postage and staff assistance.The coalition spent $36,263, including $12,289 sent to Competitive Edge Resources and Communication of San Diego for a local phone “survey” that asked respondents to vote for Measure A. Another $6,599 also went to San Diego to pay Campaign Strategies for campaign consultation. COGS South of El Monte was paid $2,975 for campaign paraphernalia, and Thora Gutherie of Visalia got $1,310 for campaign literature. NEFR, by comparison, raised three-quarters of its money so far in contributions of $50. Susan Mason kicked in a relatively generous $300, and school board member and bike shop owner Steve O’Bryan gave $100. And so it goes. Another election where those with money wield their clout. Many of these same people, those SUV drivers, helped put the four councilmembers who approved the project into office. But when that happened those darned brown rice eaters organized a petition and got the matter placed on the ballot. And that is what makes this town so great to live in. Can’t wait for June 5.