The candidates and the wild card
Council race features a strong field and an interesting uncertainty
This year’s race for three seats on the Chico City Council is unlike any in recent memory, for a couple of reasons.
One is that three of the six candidates—Dan Herbert, Mark Sorensen and Michael Dailey—are running as a declared conservative slate. Voters often group council candidates along ideological lines, but the last time like-minded candidates formed a slate was in 1985.
The other is that the race has a wild-card factor. When all the votes are in, the final make-up of the council may still not be known. That’s because one of the two council members in the runoff for the District 3 county supervisor post, Steve Bertagna, has two years left on his council term. If he loses to Maureen Kirk, he’ll remain on the council; if he wins, the council will have only six members and will need to fill his seat.
If that happens, they will have to choose whether to hold a special election or appoint someone.
If the council is split—that is, if at least two of the three conservative candidates win, creating a 3-3 tie between liberals and conservatives—the likelihood is that the council will be unable to agree on a replacement and will call a special election.
If, however, one of the camps emerges with a majority on the council—if all three conservatives win or two liberals win—that group will pick a replacement who shares its values and enjoy a 5-2 majority.
It’s easy to overrate the importance of ideological differences, however. Veteran council watchers know that many if not most decisions the current council makes are not 4-3 votes reflecting its liberal-conservative breakdown. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are vague anyway, and most people, being the contrary creatures they are, defy such categorization from time to time.
Having said that, though, the candidates do come to the office with certain values and associations, and their grouping into opposing liberal and conservative camps is a natural result of their differences. And those differences do play out over the course of four-year terms.
Here’s a look at the candidates, beginning with the conservative slate:
Dan Herbert—A Chico resident for more than 30 years, he’s part-owner and president of Sheraton Real Estate Management. Before that he was an executive for 24 years with Tri Counties Bank. He’s been active in the community in many ways, notably in the Chamber of Commerce, the Jesus Center and the Neighborhood Church. He’s served eight years on the council, two years (2001-02) as mayor. He’s been married for 27 years and has three children, all college-age or older.
Herbert hasn’t outlined a platform as such, but it’s fair to say he wants to foster more development to keep housing prices affordable, favors what he calls “fiscal responsibility” and spending on public safety and infrastructure first, would keep the Greenline intact, and does not favor putting high-density housing in incompatible neighborhoods.
Mark Sorensen—A native of Chico who met his wife while they were students at Chico High, Sorensen left town for 10 years to work in Southern California, where the couple’s three daughters (all now students at Chico State) were born. They returned to Chico in 1990, when he purchased a satellite-TV business. According to his remarkably detailed Web site, www.marksorensen.net, he’s served on the board of Catalyst Domestic Violence Services for 10 years, on the board of the Chamber of Commerce for five years, and recently chaired the 2006 Redevelopment Agency Citizens Advisory Committee.
His platform emphasizes focusing on what he calls the city’s “core missions": police and fire, roads and traffic, the park system, fiscal responsibility, “intelligent planning, without pushing high-density everywhere,” and “real economic development and job creation.”
Michael Dailey—At 28, Dailey is a branch manager for Bank of America. A Chico native, he attended Champion Christian High School and Chico State, where he was student body president. In that role, as he notes on his Web site, www.votedailey.com, he played an active role in developing “creative solutions for the annual Halloween problem downtown.” Recently married, he has a year-old son. He says his “fresh perspective and enthusiasm would be a welcome addition on the Chico City Council.”
He shares most of the values of his fellow slate members, including “fiscal responsibility” in the face of projected budget deficits, providing adequate infrastructure, fostering “well-paying jobs and affordable housing” by not overly restricting development, and supporting business.
The three conservatives have been endorsed by the Chico Chamber of Commerce and the Hooker Oak Alliance, a group of business owners and developers. In addition, Sorensen and Herbert have received the backing of the Chico Police Officers Association.
As of Sept. 30, Herbert had raised the most campaign money, $13,688, followed by Sorensen with $9,024 and Dailey with $8,845. Many of the contributions were large and from business and development interests.
Here are the three liberal candidates:
Scott Gruendl—A native of Oakland, Gruendl attended Chico State, where he received a BA in public administration and completed the coursework for a master’s in the same field. He’s served two terms on the Chico Planning Commission and one on the City Council, the past two years as mayor. He currently is the chief health official for Glenn County. His Web site, www.votescott2006.com, is unique among the candidates’ sites because it also functions as a blog.
Gruendl’s platform has six elements: protecting the environment, investing “from the city center out,” supporting local entrepreneurs, strengthening the Greenline (by creating a buffer zone), requiring sustainable housing and improving transportation.
Mary Flynn—A math teacher at Chico High School, Flynn is a long-time resident who began her teaching career locally, then spent several years in the Bay Area, where she was publisher at a major educational publishing house, before returning to Chico and teaching. As her Web site, www.maryflynnforcouncil.com, states, she’s been an active volunteer and is a founding member of the Chico Community Shelter Partnership. As chairwoman of CCSP’s board, she led the effort to build the Torres Community Shelter.
Flynn’s platform has three main planks: support for local entrepreneurs and “sustainable economic development,” valuing Chico’s neighborhoods, and preservation and expansion of parks and open space.
Tom Nickell—A 23-year California Highway Patrol officer, Nickell has lived in Chico since 1995. Before entering law enforcement, he worked in property development and management in Southern California. Scheduled to retire in May 2007, he is the only candidate who has pledged to be a full-time council member.
According to his Web site, www.tomnickell.com, he places a high priority on public safety, including protecting people who “walk, ride bikes, or use public transportation.” He wants to improve the city’s “deteriorating infrastructure,” nurture local entrepreneurs, and “implement, install, and move forward on projects and programs for alternative energy sources.”
Gruendl, Flynn and Nickell have been endorsed by Chico’s firefighters, the Sierra Club, The Esplanade League (a liberal PAC), Chico Conservation Voters and Friends of Downtown. In addition, Gruendl has been endorsed by Chico police officers.
As of Sept. 30, Flynn was the top fundraiser, with $21,361, followed by Gruendl with $13,219 and Nickell with $11,358. Most of their contributions came in the form of small donations from individuals.
Here are some of the issues on which the candidates tend to diverge:
Bidwell Ranch—The liberals believe the 750-acre parcel at the entrance to Upper Park should and will remain as open space and a wetlands mitigation bank. The conservatives would like to put to a public vote the idea of selling about 200 acres of it.
Downtown parking structure—The conservatives all believe that another parking structure is needed to keep the downtown economically viable. Gruendl also has said he’s willing to consider a new structure. Flynn and Nickell disagree, arguing that many parking spaces are available downtown and there are many more creative and far less expensive alternatives to try first.
Finances and budget—The conservatives are charging the current council’s liberal majority with “reckless spending” on such things as the Comanche Creek greenway ($1.6 million) and the new City Plaza ($4.2 million). Only Gruendl was on the council when those expenditures were authorized, however, and Flynn and Nickell have said they intend to exercise “fiscal responsibility.” The conservatives have seized on City Manager Greg Jones’ estimate of a long-term budget deficit of $40 million to $50 million to insist council members need to “sharpen their pencils” and begin cutting services, but Flynn believes Jones’ “underlying assumptions” should be examined before the council ties itself to the estimate.
Growth—Broadly speaking, the liberals on the current council worry about sprawl and prefer to maintain a compact urban core as much as possible. Ideologically they favor higher densities, but in practice they are inconsistent, as are the conservatives. The two groups argue about densities a lot, but when faced with an actual proposal, neither is comfortable imposing high-density projects on lower-density neighborhoods.
The conservative candidates want to make it easier for development proposals to move through the planning process, believing that will get more houses on the market and help bring down prices. The liberals emphasize “smart growth"—careful and creative planning and design to foster alternative transportation, open spaces and optimal use of space.
Greenline—All of the candidates support the Greenline, but when the issue of the Bell-Muir area, which is no longer viable for farming, comes up, they seem to agree it eventually should be moved inside the line. Gruendl also has suggested that it makes sense to move the line in northwest Chico out to the more natural boundary of Mud Creek, which would free up several hundred acres contiguous to the new, 500-acre Northwest Chico Development Area.
As you may have gathered, and as their fundraising indicates, these are all solid candidates with viable constituencies. At this point nobody is making any predictions about who will win Nov. 7, though obviously Gruendl and Herbert have the advantage of incumbency and name recognition.
Much will depend on how much additional money they raise in these last weeks. One of the keys to success in City Council elections is direct mail. Those who have the funds to blitz the community will have an advantage.
Meanwhile, we’ll be watching to see what happens in the District 3 supervisor race.