Taking back our town

A group of community leaders has a plan

Can Chico retake control of its destiny from the state? That’s the question a group of community leaders is asking these days.

Can we, for example, support high-school sports and keep Bidwell Mansion open? Can we put more cops on the streets, fund the library adequately, promote theater, music, art and industrial arts in our high schools, repair potholes in our streets, refurbish the veterans’ hall, and maintain and improve the One-Mile and Five-Mile recreation areas?

And, while we’re at it—we’re thinking big now—can we build a new community center and baseball park in Meriam Park, as originally planned? And an aquatic center that would attract competitive swimmers from all over California?

Sounds like a pipe dream, right? Who’s going to pay for all these things?

Well, we are. The residents of Chico. But this isn’t some cockamamie proposal cooked up by spendthrift politicians. The two men touting it are former City Manager Tom Lando and Jim Stevens, of NorthStar engineering. Their group, which is made up of about 40 community leaders from a variety of fields, calls itself and its effort “Chico Helping Chico,” with the subhead “Taking Back Our Town.” These are hard-headed and fiscally conservative people. They’re just sick of being jacked around by the state of California, which keeps lifting money—vehicle-license-fee and redevelopment funds especially—out of Chico’s pocket. They see the town they love deteriorating and unable to realize its full potential—its dreams, we might say—and they want to do something about it.

The idea is to build support for .75-cent sales-tax measure on the June or November 2012 ballot to replace the one-cent temporary statewide sales tax that just ended. The group proposes using the revenue generated, about $12 million annually, to “provide a long-term, sustainable funding source for critical hallmark services and priorities,” as its Statement of Principles reads.

The group has roughly penciled out the numbers and is convinced it will work, as long as Chico voters approve the tax hike. Two-thirds approval will be required.

Now’s a good time. Most people hardly noticed a difference when the sales tax dropped by a penny. Upping it by a smaller amount would be even less noticeable.

Speaking of spendthrift politicians: The Chico Enterprise-Record editorialists beat up on the council majority recently (big surprise there) for spending on embellishments along the new Highway 99 bike route. The complaints are downright petty: questioning light poles painted purple instead of gray, for example, or the presence of granite boulders to be used as rest seats, as in: “What do bike riders need with seats? They have them on their bikes.”

The E-R seems to wish the city had made the bike route ugly and boring and sent back the feds’ stimulus money. Me, I like the pretty stuff and the granite seats, and the prices weren’t outrageous. You can’t buy custom-made metal wind vessels at Home Depot, after all. And I figure if we didn’t spend the money, some other city would.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.